Confessions from a Romance Writer!

One of my favorite bloggers is featuring confessions by writers today. I thought I would join in the fun and put my little secret out there. A shout-out to her post is here. http://www.patricialynne.com/4/post/2012/09/written-confessions-blog-hop1.html

My confession has two parts.

Here goes…. I read (and write) trashy kidnap/abduction romance novels. Yes, I admit it. (They say that’s the first step, right?)  I like all kinds. The hero (or heroine) has to be a good guy who is doing this bad thing for the right reasons. It doesn’t have to be a forcible taking, although that’s the best. The heroine could agree to go somewhere and then not be able to leave. Historical, paranormal, contemporary — you name it, if it’s got a romantic kidnap plot I will snatch it up. Why is that? I don’t know, but why fight it?

Do I want to be kidnapped by a Scottish laird and sent back in time, or trapped on a pirate ship? Of course not. But man, it makes for some steamy reading. So any writers stumbling across this — if you have a kidnap plot, post a link in the comments and if you’re under $5 on the kindle you’ve got almost a guaranteed sale. If I don’t already own it.

My current work in progress, A Strategic Alliance, has the barest hint of a kidnap plot, but it was enough to keep me going.  Stolen away on a yacht with a gorgeous hunky man? I’m there.

The second part of my confession is that, despite my obsession with kidnap/abduction plots, I have not read the big bondage trilogy out there right now. Too many writers that I respect said the writing was atrocious. Plus, the price point was higher than I want. I can get my erotica fix elsewhere, so I passed. (Since I haven’t read it, I don’t know whether there’s a kidnap/abduction component or not, but bondage usually has some elements of forcing or what would be the point?) Let me be clear that most of my kidnap plot ideas are the actual taking. The romance comes later, and and rape, fake-rape, or rape fantasies are never ever involved.

So there you have it. I put it out there. What about you? Do you have a confession?

Scrivener — Writer’s Little Helper or Busy Work?

I recently discovered Scrivener, a software package that, from their website, is “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.”

Scrivener; for Microsoft Windows

Here is a link to their website: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php

The cost is $40 for the Windows version, and I decided to give it a try.  I’m a few days into the 30-day trial period (which is 30 days of use, not 30 contiguous days).  So far, I love it.  I think it will be great for a project started from scratch. I plan to buy it soon.

At this point, I’ve imported my current manuscript, about 67k, and I’m working on a fairly substantial revision. I’ve found it helps me move between different chapters and scenes easily to edit where I need to edit. This is definitely easier for me than paginating through a 170-odd page Word document to find where I need to be.

However, having all of the scenes broken up is a double-edged sword for me, because I have lost all sense of the length, or the idea of a page. While I can certainly use word count to estimate length, and I can compile and print, I’m struggling with day to day editing knowing the size of a chapter or its composite scenes.

I wold love to hear from other Scrivener users out there who have found a solution to this issue.

So far, my review would be thumbs up with a definite plan to buy. I’m excited about learning more about the nuances of program. I took the tutorial, but I’m an experiential learner, so I can’t wait to get down and dirty with it.  I think in a new project the character templates would be helpful, but in this instance, I don’t have the time to do all of that.

Have you looked at it? What do you think?

If you Self-Publish, Please Please Please Please Hire a Copy-Editor

I don’ t knowhow I can be clearer.Lets just say that I’m so tired of reading messed up print from indy authors. “I’m also tired of missing quote marks, she said.

Did you like reading that? My guess is no.  I didn’t like writing it, either. It hurt my fingers to type it that way. Get the picture?  Ugh!!!

My Bachelor’s Degree is in English Literature from the University of Georgia. I also have a Master’s degree. I read ALL of the time. I chose not to go on and get my Master’s in English because I wanted to write genre fiction, specifically romance, and that kind of fluff was frowned upon in academia. It still is, for the most part.

With two kids close together, I had cut way back on reading, because I didn’t have the time. But with my Kindle, I can read wherever I want — while waiting during my daughter’s dance class, waiting at the school, waiting at the doctor’s office. I’m a fast reader, and having a whole bookstore in my hands at all time didn’t bode well. In fact, I spent a fortune on e-books. More recently, as I have begun to look more at publishing my own novel, I have turned away from the mainstream publishers like Harlequin and have looked at more of the self-published writers.  My thought was if I download their free book and like it, I’ll give them a good review and strongly consider buying something else from them. That seemed like a reasonable trade to me.

I just started a book yesterday that I downloaded last week. It has a compelling story, and a great cover, but there are issues. I won’t name the book, because I’m not sharing negative publicity, and I don’t want to cause any issues or problems. I’m two chapters into it, and while it’s a compelling story, the lack of a copy editor is glaringly obvious.  Words run together. Quotes are missing. I want to know what happens, but I don’t know if I can go on. It’s pure torture! (I’m borrowing my son’s words when I ask him to clean his room). I went back to the book’s listing on Amazon and it has two reviews, both a 3, knocking it for a lack of an editor. These aren’t style issues. These are flat-out typos. All I can say is I’m glad I didn’t pay money for it.

The sad thing is, I really like this writer. I have to check. I may actually be following her on twitter.  I just want to send her a tweet and tell her to hire a d@mn copy editor!  Maybe it’s formatting issues switching from word processing to the Kindle book format, but wouldn’t you read your own book on the kindle and pull it if it looks ridiculous?  She’s self-published, so it’s not an issue of another company giving her permission to pull it to fix it.

Traditional publishing is competitive enough. It seems that Indy-publishing is competitive in a different way. Since anyone can do it, rising above the trash and riff-raff will be difficult. I still have a lot to learn about digital publishing and the indy-author world, but it seems that the only way to make any kind of mark is to make ABSOLUTELY sure that you have a file that’s mistake free.  Most readers will forgive one or two, but when I’m two chapters in and there have already been several, I have to question the author’s commitment to her work.

Alternate Reality of Fiction

A Feminist Professor’s Closing Chapters

If you are interested, the link above is to a moving description of a woman fighting ovarian cancer. I felt blessed this morning reading her story. I want to pay tribute to her by talking about a quote she has lower in the article.

“I am always happier when I have a book in progress,” she says. “Living with a book in process is like living an alternative reality. You are out of time, it is a kind of transport, a kind of addiction.” (Quote from Susan Gubar, Professor and Feminist at Indiana University)

As a writer, the quote above hit me between the eyes. This is so true!!  I have my reality (my husband of 13 years, two children in those pre-teen years, and a full-time job) and I have my fictional world, which at the moment is careening between Vegas, Miami, Atlanta, and the Bahamas. And when the words are coming, it is an addiction. When the words aren’t coming, I get immersed in my life and find excuses not to look at the Word file taking up space on my netbook.

I’m working right now on the story arc, morphing a series of random events into a compelling story.  Because in fiction, it has to all tie together, it has to make sense, and it has to be compelling.  No one cares if a couple starts dating, decide to date exclusively, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after with 2.2 kids, a dog and a cat.  There’s no drama.  There’s no story. But throw in some betrayal, missing corporate funds, and a sister who is somehow connected and now missing, and you’ve got something.  I hope.

Busting Up the Concrete

Image

I took this picture where I work a few days ago. Look at this mess. The parking lot was fine, but there were problems with the curbing. To fix the curbing, a whole section of the parking lot had to be dug up and the spaces were unusable. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how perfect the concrete is, you have to bust it up. 

I’m working on a new ending when the current ending worked fine. It was fine, but that’s all it was.  It wasn’t a zinger. It wasn’t wow.  It was more like an ‘eh’. Don’t get me wrong.  I loved parts of it.  But even when I read it in sequence for the first time, part of me knew that I was taking the easy road.  Perhaps I had poured concrete over a large root to a dead tree.  Perhaps I had poured over an uneven area. Over time, it became more and more obvious that i would have to dig up that section and make it better.

But it was paved!  (Sigh). It was a beautiful piece of concrete.  (Insert justification here.) It looked perfect. But the characters whispered to me that this ending wouldn’t hold up to foot traffic.  They didn’t think anyone would buy it.

“I would so not do that,” Windsor told me, her hands on her hips.

“She’ll do it, because she loves me,” Grady said and winked.  That’s when I knew it wasn’t going to work, because Windsor wasn’t there yet, and Grady was still being an ass.

William Faulkner once said “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”  It doesn’t matter how beautiful the writing is, or how cool the scene is, if it doesn’t contribute to the story arc it has to die.  I can’t wait to see my fresh new paving.

Technology in Contemporary Romances

I’m still stuck in editing hell….Here are some more of my thoughts as I plod along tightening language and working on some plot issues.

I have found myself toning back references to technology in my book and trying to be more generic with terms like phone, or SUV instead of a specific model.  I remember I worked on a women’s fiction novel about ten years ago, and had what I call a “bottom-drawer” draft that sat for a few years. Then I pulled it back out after a while and asked my longsuffering husband to take a look at it.  He grunted when I had the male character driving a Dodge Durango. When I wrote it, Durango was the latest fad in SUV’s, but several years later it ahd fallen out of favor, and they even stopped making them for a year to retool.  I also realized that a couple of the phone issues could have been resolved with a quick text, technology that wasn’t in existence when I wrote the first draft.

Technology is a tough call. You want to stay in your character’s voice while at the same time you don’t want to date your story.  Just a few years ago, a Blackberry smartphone was the market leader, especially in the business sector. Now, Apple and Droid are dominating, Two years from now, who knows what the latest craze will be? I’m going back with the generic “smartphone” instead of iPhone.

Social networking is another issue that i see lacking in most of the contemporaries that I’m reading. Facebook and twitter have permeated our culture, but referring to a generic “social network” seems really forced. So I’m thinking at this point most authors are leaving it out.  But what about that critical moment in a modern relationship when it becomes “facebook official?” Or the angst of how much to comment on his page, or potential problems of seeing a guy you have the hots for tagged in a picture with a drop-dead gorgeous beauty?  Since I’ve seen very little mentioned about facebook, I’m curious how authors are handlign it (if at all) in their WIP’s. I’m thinking social networking could eventually replace the tabloid press photos that pop up in so many Harlequin-style contemporaries–I still laugh every time about the ready availability of newspaper gossip pages and incriminating photos. And no, the tabloid press doesn’t hound every single CEO of the Fortune 500.. 

There is even a bigger issue at work here. How many of the plots of Seinfeld would be completely unworkable with a cell phone? Remember the restaurant scene where George tells his date to call the restaurant? There were several episodes where they missed each other where one call to a cell phone would have solved the problem. There was also the 2-line phone storyline, Remember they got lost on the way to a cabin – meet Mr. GPS.

As a reader, I have found myself balking over a misuse of technology. I get frustrated in a contemporary when characters don’t have cell phones–almost everyone does these days unless they are either dirt poor or live in an area where there is no reception.  It’s more believable to me that the battery died, or the signal is unavailable than that they don’t have one.  In one I read recently, the character didn’t have a cell phone and was stranded on the side of the road, but I finally accepted it because the author explained that she had a cell phone for the job she had just quit. But I still thought about it — would anyone I know take off cross-country without even a pay-as-you go phone? I would have believed it better if the character had a phone but had no reception in the desert. I recovered and got back into the story, but it was as jarring as a digital watch in a fourteenth century romance.

Where do we go from here? Maybe some fiction is meant to be dated. I recently read some older romance novels, and they are completely different, both in the levels that intercourse is described (not at all) and the amount of dialogue (very little). The same book has some racist language that few modern editors would let slip through, but it was consistent with the beliefs of the day, which was the turn of the century.

So, remember to give technology and modern issues as much attention as you would for a historical. Make it a little more generic, and pay attention. You don’t want readers questioning your story because the technology is wrong or missing.  If you’re working on it for more than a few years, you may have to rethink some of your technology assumptions. In a few years we will have gay married couples popping up everywhere.

Where do Ideas come from?

Where do Ideas come from?

A writer friend of mine posted this in her blog talking about where her ideas come from. Friends ask me this all the time.  I’ve found my hardest problem is coming up with the main premise, and that often, the main premise or tag line changes completely from what I originally thought.

Once the characters are there, they take on a life of their own. They can create all sorts of problems when they won’t cooperate with what I want them to do! Nonsense, you say, they are your creations. You try telling them that!  If I attempt to go in a direction they’re not interested in, they will clam up and not feed my muse.

So what do you think? E-books or printed copies? I am a true convert to e-books. Take his poll and join in the conversation.

Secret Readers: Romance Novels

I want to commend Maria Bustillos for her article “Romance Novels, The Last Great Baston of Underground Writing” that appeared on www.theawl.com.  There is a link below to a great overview of why romance novels are so popular.  As someone who cut her teeth on Harlequin and Silhouette, I understand exactly what she means.

I stopped reading them in college because there was a stigma to being seen with them, especially since I was majoring in English Literature.  After college, before I got married, and after I married, I read mostly women’s fiction, such as Ann Rivers Siddons and Dorothea Benton Frank.  After I had kids, when they were young, I didn’t read at all. Who had time?

Then everything changed. My husband bought me a Kindle for our tenth anniversary, and I am such a fast reader, I couldn’t keep it stocked with books.  I discovered that Harlequin and Silhouette sold book bundles on the Kindle — all the books they published for the month for one tidy sum.  I could still read a bundle of nine books in a week, but you couldn’t beat the reduced price.  The kicker — no one could see what I was reading.  Harlequin and Silhouette have since discontinued the bundling practice. Or they may bundle a story sequence, for example eight books about a single family or company.  I’m still reading.

I’m not the only one.  Romance readership is at an all-time high because of the e-readers.  Women can give in to their guilty pleasure without anyone looking down their nose and making judgments.

The romance genre has really gotten a bad rap because some of the older books can come across as sexist, and even go as far as to be misogynous.  Some publishers have also been slow to change some of their formulas to adopt to modern mores. Up until a few years ago, I think Harlequin Presents heroines still had to be virgins, no matter how old they were. Remember that when Mills and Boon was founded in 1908, women weren’t in the workforce, and if they were, it was as household staff, teachers, and nannies. Almost all office positions were held by men. It’s understandable that this filtered through into the books.

In many of the current books, the men aren’t interested in marriage at all, but rather want a no-strings-attached-affair.  The heroines won’t settle for that long-term, and eventually win the hero’s heart as he realizes that he does want a family after all.  Current books are much more sexually detailed than years past, but everything about our lives is more sexual than the past. The best writers find a way to deepen the relationship through the sexual detail without being obscene, and that can be difficult. For me, it’s tough to decide when to close the bedroom door and when to leave it wide open for my characters.

Yes, I read romance novels. And I write them. Now if I could just get this “hot mess” revised I’d have something.

http://www.theawl.com/2012/02/romance-novels

The Creative Process ~~ or Roses in the Trash Can

Trashed Roses

Broken Heart, or Dead Flowers?

One of the things about having all of these imaginary people in your head is that they show up in every day life in the oddest places. Yesterday at work I was surprised to see these beautiful roses resting in the wastebasket just inside the restroom door. To me, they still look beautiful. They aren’t dried, they aren’t wilted or faded, and they made the trash smell fabulous. But why were they in the trashcan?

The writer in me envisioned Windsor (the main character in the book I’m editing) tossing these into the trashcan because she was furious with the sender and didn’t want to see any part of him in her office. Would she smell them before she tossed them? Did a thorn catch her finger on the way into the trash? In this little vignette you’ve got four of the five senses: the lush red of the roses, the soft texture of the petals juxtaposed against the sharp thorns, the scent of roses under the antiseptic spray from the restroom, the sound of the leaves crinkling among the plastic of the trash liner… All we are missing is taste. Add in a salty tear… Maybe that’s overkill, or maybe that brings it home.  The anger of tossing the roses, the tear for what might have been…

The real story? The assistant of the woman who threw them away told me that they came from Ecuador in a box, and they had died too quickly.  I guess her standards for roses are higher than mine, because to me they were still beautiful.  My story was better.