We’re thrilled to have Bonnie Vanak blogging with us today! A prolific author, Bonnie has penned seven Egyptian historicals for Dorchester and now also writes paranormals for Silhouette’s Nocturne line. She began writing as a child, when she penned adventure stories and poems. After receiving a journalism degree from the University of Florida, Bonnie worked for several years as a journalist. She left newspaper reporting behind when she took a job writing for a large international charity. A few years ago, she discovered she needed a diversion from the emotional strains of traveling to poor countries and encountering horrific suffering. So she began writing romance novels. THE FALCON & THE DOVE was her first book. It won the historical category of the 2001 RWA Melody of Love contest.
Visit Bonnie’s website at www.Bonnievanak.com
Bonnie will be giving away a copy of MIDNIGHT CRAVINGS to a lucky winner so be sure to leave a comment!
Book of the heart or book of high concept? Why not both?
By Bonnie Vanak
High concept. Agents and editors want it. Writers strive for it. High concept is typically described as a fascinating idea that can easily be explained in a short sentence. It’s different, has a terrific hook, and takes something everyone knows and puts a new twist on it.
For example, Dracula meets teenage angst. Twilight, of course.
Great high concept, but how did the idea evolve? In a dream. Stephenie Meyer dreamed of a couple conversing and one person was a vampire. She didn’t sit down at the computer and say, “Let’s see. How can I arrive at a high concept idea, and get published with a book that will become a worldwide best-seller and a major motion picture?”
Sometimes the best ideas can come when you’re thinking of something other than a best idea! High concept is wonderful, and if you can conceive of such an idea off the top of your head, more power to you.
I start out with a character or plot premise that engages my emotional interest. I get an idea, run with it, and then adjust it according to market needs.
Face it, the book of your heart may be wonderful and fascinating, but if it doesn’t have the elements an editor or agent need to sell it, most likely it will get a pass. This doesn’t mean you should toss that book into a bottom drawer. If you start with an idea that sparks your interest, or emotionally engages you, you can shape that idea into a high concept novel.
It happened for me when I read an article in National Geographic magazine about the Egyptian pharaoh Akhetaten. He had a secondary wife named Kiya. Kiya mysteriously vanished around year 12 of the pharaoh’s reign. No one knows why or why her name was erased from the ruins of the ancient city. Her tomb has never been found.
I became intrigued with the mystery of Kiya. Who was she? Why did she vanish? I began playing the writer’s game of “what if?” I created a tribe of great warriors dedicated to Kiya for more than three thousand years. They were brave, fierce fighters like the windstorm they were named after…The Khamsin warriors of the wind.
The idea became a book called The Falcon and the Dove, my first romance novel. The sheikh of the tribe, Jabari, abducts Elizabeth, the American who is after Kiya’s sacred shield. Eventually, the two come to realize they are reincarnated lovers from the past.
The Falcon and the Dove is The Mummy meets The Sheikh. That’s high concept. Yet the idea stemmed from an article I read out of sheer interest.
The seeds of the original idea resulted in a harvest of subsequent books. The latest, The Lady and the Libertine, is my seventh Egyptian historical. In this book, a handsome English earl desires to seduce a virginal beauty so he can steal the vast treasure she guards in Egypt.
Nigel is a very naughty earl who strives to steal from Karida her virginity and a rare ruby that unlocks a pharaoh’s treasure. Yet in the process, he finds she may steal something he guards more than any priceless treasure – his heart.
Nigel is badly in need of redemption. He keeps trying and wanting to change, and then reverting back to the bad boy. Karida longs for love, and yet she holds fast to the moral compass that guides her, for she fears diverting from anything but the straight and narrow. Together they make for a fascinating pair as they experience adventure and danger in both London and Egypt.
Nigel was a character written from the heart. I had a vague idea of the plot when I set out to write his story. I only knew his story should be told. It presented a huge challenge. How can I make what appears to be a very unlikable character, perceived as a villain in my last book, into a hero? One way of overcoming this was to create sympathy by giving Nigel a goal that involved an innocent party he’s trying to rescue. He does the wrong things for the right reasons. Nigel also has a tortured past he can’t seem to overcome.
The result was The Lady and the Libertine. If I pitched that book today it would be Heathcliff in Egypt.
Of course Heathcliff is a different time period, (my book is Edwardian), but you get the picture. Nigel is dark, brooding, has a tormented past, and is quite ruthless when it comes to getting what he wants.
Ideas can stem from anything. One day you might be talking with friends, or see something that intrigues you. Or you can even experience heartbreak that leads to a book, and a new direction in your writing.
That was the case for my Silhouette Nocturnes. In 2006, our beloved Shih Tzu was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer. Tia was more than a pet. She was a family member, a friend, a lively, sweet dog who was an important part of our lives.
I was devastated to know that I was losing my beloved dog to the same disease that claimed my mother. To cope, I began writing a story about a woman trying desperately to find a cure for her dog.
The woman became Maggie, the veterinarian, and then the hero became Nicolas, a werewolf belonging to a race called the Draicon. They were powerful shifters with deadly enemies, Morphs, who could shapeshift into any animal or insect form. Maggie had untapped powers to heal anyone or anything, including her dog. It became Nicolas’ job to bring her back to the pack, and teach her to accept her powers in order to heal Damian, the pack leader. The underlying theme through the story is loyalty unto death and Maggie’s acceptance of both her powers and her real “family.”
That book eventually became The Empath, my first Nocturne. The pitch would be The Godfather meets The Big, Bad Wolf.
I liked the world I built so much that I kept writing about the Draicon. In The Empath, there was a secondary character named Baylor, adversary to Nicolas. Yet Baylor, and his clear affection for another character named Katia, proved intriguing to me because they both lost their destined mates.
My Draicon werewolves seek their destined mates. Long ago, they were one entity, who split into two beings to lessen their magick so they could live on earth and learn from it. When destined mates reach a level of emotional commitment during sex, they bond during the “mating lock” and become one, exchanging memories, emotions, and the missing half of their magick powers.
Destined mates are common in paranormal romance. Yet I’ve always wondered what happens to those whose destined mates are dead? Are they doomed to live without love?
Undestined mates. That’s taking a common theme and putting a new, creative twist on it. High concept. The result was Baylor and Katia’s story, Broken Souls, in the Midnight Cravings anthology.
Katia deeply cares for Baylor, yet refuses to make any commitments to him until she finds her father. But when Katia’s spell summoned a Morph claiming to be her father, nothing Baylor said could convince her of the danger. Baylor knew too well the cost of trusting a loved one who’d turned and desperately wanted to save Katia the pain he’d lived with for so long. He also knew that if he spared the Morph, it would destroy Katia, but if he killed this evil being, he risked losing her love forever.
Katia fears that making love with Baylor will mean turning her back for good on her past, as is evidenced in this scene from Broken Souls.
“Katia, why do you keep putting me off? I know you want me,” he burst out.
Silence greeted him. Katia turned and saw the stark anguish in his deep gray eyes.
“You’re like quicksand, Baylor. Every time I draw near you, I sink deeper and it’s more of a struggle to release myself. And yet I can’t help but be close to you. You make me feel alive and happy, but it’s frightening. If we make love, I’m afraid I’ll sink down for good. It means too much to me.”
She heard his intake of breath across the room. “I’d never hurt you. No matter how far you sank or deep you went. I’m with you all the way.”
“I feel so adrift, so broken.” Her voice dropped as she rubbed a knuckle against the glass.
“I’ll be your anchor, sweetheart. Let me.”
It is Baylor’s tender assurance and his deep feelings for her that enable Katia to finally forge a new beginning. Together they face danger, but in the end, as is the case with all my books, love always wins.
High concept or a book of your heart? I firmly believe it’s possible to have both. With a little imagination, and a lot of work, you can do it. Go for it!