Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Muddle Through with Guest Blogger: Karen Harper

Win a copy of The Irish Princess and meet romance author Karen Harper today at the Book Boost!

Here's what she had to say...


For several years I have been writing both historical novels set in Tudor England and contemporary suspense set in modern day America. Published since 1982, I have written over 50 novels. But in creating each one, my biggest challenge is in writing a strong middle of the book, which I have come to think of as the muddle of the book. Each time I have to say to myself, “No sagging middle” –and I’m not talking about middle age spread or the need of a diet. The middle of the book must be lean and mean—it must move!

The problem is that, by the middle of the novel, I’m juggling a lot of characters, and in my suspense novels, more than one who-done-it character who might be the villain. I’ve worked hard to get off to a grabber beginning. I pride myself with those to get the reader immediately involved in the story and the main character’s dilemma. I often know what the exciting, rewarding ending of the book will be—ah, but to get there with flair and excitement, that’s the task.

It usually works to add something shocking, another death or murder, or to be certain the main character is in a real mess in the middle of the book. The short excerpt I’ve included below comes from the middle of my recent release, The Irish Princess, where the Irish heroine, a real historic woman whose family was nearly wiped out by King Henry VIII, gets an opportunity to wreak revenge—to kill him. He has locked up her father, “the uncrowned king of Ireland,” in the Tower of London where he died, he’s had her brother and uncles executed and her Irish castle besieged, so it’s easy for the reader to see what motivates her.

In the romantic suspense novel I’m writing now, Return to Grace, book #2 in my new Amish trilogy, a key character who could be the murderer in a rural Ohio town heavily populated by the Amish goes missing—simply vanishes. No sign of a struggle, his car in the garage. Although this man was trying to take over Amish farmland, the Plain People willingly go out on a foot search in hilly terrain for him. The mystery of how and why he’s gone missing; the suspense of the search for him; and the reader’s (hopefully) being surprised the author would ‘get rid of’ one of the prime suspects, hopefully ups the ante and carries the reader through what could have been a sagging section of the book.

One thing I’ve noted again and again, including right now when I’m in the muddle of that novel, is that, while I write the muddle, I try to keep my outer world very organized—as if that would help control the book itself. I drive my husband crazy over-cleaning and over-arranging things. I straighten my desk, clean out a cupboard, the car’s glove compartment—anything to control something when the middle of the book seems messy.

But the reader needs an extra to boost the middle, so it’s worth working hard for. Keep the reader turning the pages! Being aware of this whether as a writer or a reader is fascinating. They say that, once you’re a writer you never really read only for pleasure again, that you’re always looking at how the story is constructed. And propping up a possible sagging middle will keep the reader whizzing through the pages, unable to put that book down and looking for the next one. And thankfully, for twenty-nine years now, there has always been a Karen Harper book on American and foreign bookshelves—and for e-readers too.

A Note from the Book Boost: Thanks for sharing your techniques on muddling through the middle book slumps, Karen! This has always been a problem for me as well. I love how you cope with the out of control feeling by "driving your hubby crazy". LOL Please tell us more about your book.


From the national bestselling author of Mistress Shakespeare comes a grand-scale drama starring Gera Fitzgerald, a would-be Irish Princess who is forced from her homeland and thrust into King Henry VIII’s treacherous Tudor court.

Though bold and rebellious, Gera holds close to her heart Edward Clinton, an ambitious courtier who understand her heart. Even as Gera works to undermine King Henry, she seeks to protect his young daughter Princess Elizabeth, a kindred spirit fighting to survive, whose future is linked to Gera’s own.

From County Kildare’s lush green fields to London’s rough-and-tumble streets and the royal court’s luxurious pageantry, The Irish Princess follows the journey of a daring woman whose will cannot be tamed and who won’t be satisfied until she restores her family to its rightful place in Ireland.


The king was dying, but I was going to kill him anyway.

As I took a silent step into the king’s bedchamber, I felt the tip of Dudley’s dagger prick my elbow. Truth be told, I had come to kill the king for my people and my country, and for all those he had foully murdered while claiming to be the savior of his people. But if my other enemy’s dagger did the deed and was discovered, let John Dudley suffer for it.

I moved silently, giving my eyes time to adjust, though there was little enough to bump into but the bed, which dwarfed everything. I felt I’d opened a long-sealed tomb. No air stirred, and the stench of the king’s abscessed leg, the very smell of death, sat heavy here.

I parted the bed curtains so I could see within. At first, I thought I saw only a pile of pillows, but the king was propped upon them. I knelt on the mattress, dragging my skirts and the shawl around my waist. I crawled closer, my fingers gripping the dagger handle so hard that my entire frame shook as I began to lift it.

I held my breath and positioned myself to strike. Then a voice, soft, wheezing, said from the depths of the black bed and the huge, fleshy frame, “You’ve come to bed at last, my dearest love, my angel.”

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Emma said...

Loved the excerpt! Especially the opening line. Boy, was that 'Irish!'

For me, the middles are difficult. Sometimes I have to go back to the character sheets to see why I liked these characters to begin with. The good thing about that is sometimes I can find something that will give me a solution--a secret to be revealed, an obstacle to be overcome--that gets me going again.

I also enjoyed your remark about reading. These days, I catch myself starting a critique and I have to stop and say 'why are you doing this?' Well, I know why. I'm learning from someone else's success or mistake. But, that said, I also like to read for pleasure so this is another time when the 'inner critic' has to be told 'not now!'

Mom said...

Wow! What an excerpt! It almost made me forget the great points you made about muddles -- I mean middles!

Writing about Ireland as I am at the moment (but 1809ish) I smiled at the Irish contrast to Henry VIII's court. Strange man he was -- that's for certain.

Beppie Harrison (sorry about the identity -- my daughter set up the account and I'm trying to change it!)

TheWaldos said...

This story sounds amazing! You had me at "Irish". All things good start there.

I look forward to checking out your Amish suspense as well. Fascinating concept.

--JC Waldo

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

I'd have a clean house, too, if I worked that hard to figure out a good and interesting part of my story. My worst nightmare is the beginning chapters and then I seem to take off at the middle. Maybe we need to work together. :)

Your story sounds wonderful and your cover is beautiful. Whatever it takes to get those stories done should be followed. I don't know why the early parts of my stories always need extra love, but maybe I should start cleaning my house more.

Jena Lang said...

Karen - I love your Tudor novels, especially the Queen Elizabeth mystery books. Do you plan to write more books in this series?

THE IRISH PRINCESS sounds like a terrific read! Thanks for the giveaway!


Karen said...

Thanks for the great posts so far! I won't be writing any more of the QUEEN ELIZABETH I MYSTERY SERIES, but I am enjoying writing about Tudor England. THE QUEEN'S GRACE, out in paperback soon, tells of Bess Tudor's dangerous early years, told from the point of view of her "foster mother" and governess, Kat Ashley. (Kat has a great love story of her own too.) Next year, I'll have MISTRESS OF MOURNING out about the parents of King Henry VIII. Best wishes and happy reading to all!

Caroline Clemmons said...

That cover is absolutely gorgeous! I love everything Irish and look forward to reading this book.

Cynthia Owens said...

Karen, I loved the excerpt. I love all things Irish, both my books are set there, and I'm always looking for more to read about my beloved Emerald Isle. Even though I've only visited once, I consider it "my" island, and I can't wait to go back!

For me, beginnings, middles and ends are difficult, depending on the story. I find listening to traditional Irish music - since most of my stories are set there or have Irish characters - helps get the creative juices flowing. And if all else fails, take a chocolate break!

I look forward to reading The Irish Princess.

Eliza Knight said...

Great post, Karen! And loved the excerpt. I am a huge fan of the Tudor era and Ireland. Your book sounds awesome and I love the cover!

I too have problems with the middle. Whenever I seem to run into a muddle, I throw in conflict or something to trip the characters up.

Nancy said...

Loved the excerpt. My question is this: did you really base your heroine on a real historical woman? Where did you find your best information?

Miriam Newman said...

I knew there was a reason I needed to clean! Seriously, this is a dreaded part of the book for me, too. But on the last one, with the encouragement of a gifted critique partner, I did something I had never even contemplated. I...cut it out. Yep. Gone. It worked and got my page count down, too. Who'da thunk it?

Highland Lassie said...

Wow, what a fabulous post, and a wonderful excerpt!!

I LOVE anything that has to do with Henry III and the Tudors!!!! And you throw in the Irish that just makes it even better!!!!

AND I couldn't agree with you more about the Sagging middle- sigh* What a trial!! But I have to say, you don't seem to have any trouble!!! Atleast not from what I have read!!!

This book looks fabulous,and your Amishs mystery! Wow!!

Best wishes to you Karen!