Susan chimes in: I took Mary Billiter's non-credit Book Writing Basics class this fall through Laramie County Community College and benefited greatly from her insight. She writes romance, some under the pen name of Pumpkin Spice, and she talked about writing "heat" -- adding a little spark, shall we say. I asked her to share some of her thoughts on that subject.
My girlfriend is an elementary schoolteacher. During the summer she enjoys life again – lunch out with other teachers, catching up on lost reading, and of course, sleeping in. I teach on the college level – long lunches are the norm, reading is a requisite and instructing night courses I always sleep in.
Still when summer hit, we both enjoyed the fact that we no longer had to grade papers, be ruled by an academic calendar, or attend staff meetings. This last break, she invited me to join her elementary brood to raise a glass and toast to the start of summer, but I had to pass.
The only thing that was filled with ice that I was raising was the ice pack that I laid on my swollen abdomen. I was sidelined from an abdominal hysterectomy that made it hurt to laugh, let alone move. Worse still, during my miserable recovery my plumbing decided to back up. There’s a thousand jokes in that last line but I’m not going there.
So as my third grade teacher friend headed toward a beautiful sunny day of iced yummy oblivion, I waited on a plumber to return to fix what he hadn’t the day before. I texted my teacher friend the sad state of my affairs.
She texted back. “Is it Brent's plumbing?”
Slade is her husband, who I’ve never met, but with a name like Slade I have to at some point. But after reading her plumber review I responded.
“My guy's Martinez, didn't notice his eyes, and he hasn't called back, but now I want your plumber guy. What's his number?”
However before relinquishing blue-eyes’ number, she gave fair warning. “I told Terri to call Brent's plumbing cuz she needed a plumber. I warned her about his eyes. She was all geared up and when she opened the door, his helper was standing there instead. Boy did we giggle and giggle.”
I held the ice pack to my stomach as I laughed and laughed. Terri teaches the first grade and isn’t much taller than her students. I imagined her opening her front door, hoping to look into blue eyes and the disappointment that followed. Terri wouldn’t mask it well. I was still laughing when the next stream of text rolled forward.
“Still you need to lay your eyes on this man. His eyes. He’s married – but oh my!!!! Look him up on the Internet. Maybe there's a photo of him... But that wouldn't be safe. His eyes....”
At this point, I wasn’t sure if she was still texting me or having a text conversation with herself. It hurt to laugh, but I couldn’t stop. I finally interjected.
Her reply came quickly.
“If only it was Brent...You'd be singing a different tune. Try him next time... His plumbing skills, that is... LOL”
By this time, I was convinced she had already started happy hour. Then her final text reminded me she hadn’t begun drinking, she was simply an overworked educator spending her summer working on her Master’s degree.
“I made myself laugh out loud. Oh my. I need to get my paper done. This class might kill me. I'd rather be waiting for a plumber who has boring eyes to call. 😓 I thought I had his contact number. I looked. Sorry. Look it up. Brent the babe plumbing. And request the owner. LOL. And his eyes. Straight to your heart. They will make you melt. Ahhhh. Off to lunch! Enjoy!”
My ice pack had all but melted by the time our text conversation wrapped up. I found the number and was about to call when the doorbell rang. I slowly made my way to the front door and opened it.
“So I guess I didn’t fix the leak?”
I looked into his eyes, but the sun blocked my view. “What color are your eyes?”
“They’re hazel. Blue, green and gold around the pupil,” he said.
I nodded with a smile, welcomed him back into my home and closed the door.
So…what do two teachers, a hysterectomy and a plumber have to do with writing heat?
Setting. Sure, there’s also characters, conflict and of course - the bait. But at the core we started with setting that created the mood. And with adding heat to a story it's all about the energy of the work that brings it to life.
One of the best ways to bring something to life is through the interplay of language between the characters. To have that interaction work to your advantage, setting becomes integral.
Lucy Baker is in the airport with her bestie, Rachel, waiting to check her bags, get her boarding pass and make the big jump from Orange County, California to a new job that's waiting for her in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Lucy’s nervous, scared, and excited. The pastry chef is leaving the life she knows for something she knows nothing about.
When an impatient, outspoken cowboy in line tries to hurry them along with an off-putting remark, Lucy turns on the heels of her boots and takes the bait. She comes eye-to-eye with two cowboys. But the sparks that ignite immediately between Lucy and Ben can't be ignored. They bicker back and forth in a heated verbal repartee that is laden with sexual tension. Lucy wants nothing to do with Ben but they keep getting thrust in situations with each other that make their desire impossible to deny.
Ben and Lucy’s chemistry naturally fed into a frenzied build-up, which culminated into a release that exploded on a plane, train and back on a plane. Hey, they had a lot of friction to work out.
Developing build-up for our characters is part of the payoff for our readers. It's the foreplay. And the best foreplay takes time. So don't rush the set-up. Place your readers in the scene.
Whether it's two teachers text talking about a plumber or two girls in an airport with two cowboys behind them in line – show your readers what's happening to set the scene and let them be there with you.
Develop the moment. Savor the setting. Deepen the mood. Build the tension. Throw in a little a humor. So when the plumber rings the bell you're as eager to find out what he looks like as the main character.
Mary will have a book signing for her latest novel, Do Not Disturb, at the Cheyenne Barnes & Noble on Saturday, Nov. 12 beginning at 11 a.m.
More about Mary and her work: www.marybilliter.com
Follow Mary on Twitter: @MaryBilliter