Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday Snippet: A Conversation with Zara

I feel a little guilty about what I'm doing to my heroine. It's a common enough trope, although that wasn't why I chose to use it. In Romancelandia, you have to bring people together and keep them that way for a while. Then apart, then together again. It's a process. Meet-cutes tend to happen under extraordinary circumstances. Having the hero, Callum, kidnap her--*cough, cough*-- accomplishes that, along with a bit of danger. See? Not nice. Hence, the guilt. But I'm doing it anyway. 

I know my heroine will be okay and you, as the reader, likely know that too. What I've been struggling with is how or whether or when my heroine will know that. I figured that out. That is for another post though.

Here is a conversation with Zara, my heroine. She's a tad reluctant to see herself in the role of protagonist. That's why I'm dragging her into it. She'll be fine though. 


Thank you for wanting to write a story for me but, truthfully, I'm not sure I'm heroine material. Other than the princess aspect, I'm not pining away in a tower. I have much to prepare for as the heir to the throne and I have no time for silliness and adventure and love. What good would that do me? I have duties to fulfill and a demanding queen to try to please. I have responsibilities.

Yes, I have fun. Times I spend with my sister are fun. She can be rather silly. You should write a story about her. Me first? Well, that’s…that’s awfully kind of you. And it’s a romance? I’m betrothed already and it is no love-match. He has been quite gentlemanly if a bit mysterious. He is handsome but not my type. Not that I have a type.

You want to know how I’d feel if someone from my past kidnapped me? What kind of a question is that? Is this a person who would want to hurt me? No? But he’s pretty desperate? What good could come from kidnapping me, other than a ransom?

Why I…I have no idea how I’d feel. I supposed I would be anxious to get back home once I got over being scared. We princesses do train for that though. Calm under pressure and all that.

There is one person from my past whom I wouldn’t mind stealing me away. A boy I almost fancied. But he died. Callum was…unique. Free. It was an eventful summer when I met him. He was so charming and dashing and handsome. Exactly what you would picture a young prince to be. Some can be rather petulant you know. But he was exuberance and light. I can’t even imagine him stealing me away. That would be…exciting.

Maybe that would be a good story.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Snippet: A Conversation with Callum

It seems that in Romancelandia the number of people who are too busy, too tired, too scared, or too damaged to want to fall in love abounds. That is why they need a story, I suppose. In real life, love can happen unexpectedly too. I happen to believe that people tend to go after it even in the midst of a chaotic time in their lives. And finding someone who loves you can soothe and buffer one through a crisis.

But characters in Romancelandia seem to fight that concept for one reason or another. This week, I had a conversation with my hero, Callum. I tried to understand his point of view. He took some convincing. Here is what he had to say:

Ainsley, I want you to know how grateful I am that you are helping us in our mission to destroy the Usurper and regain the throne for my family. We have fought many years now and need the assistance as our resources are dwindling. Our hearts are loyal to Essex and our desire to win is unmatched. 

What? I thought you were helping us. You want to help me? [frowns] Will this assist me in defeating Gracchus? You’re not going to tell me? [crosses arms across chest] But you are reasonably certain this will aide in our mission? Well, then, tell me what we need to do. 

Back to me? Listen, lass, you are sweet to help me, but I am focused on one goal. Aye, I know they’ve a new tactic they want to convince me to use. I’ll hear them out but it sounds like a lot of asking for trouble. 

Wait. You think all of this can happen together? If I stop this one princess from getting married? [narrows his eyes] Doesn’t she want to marry this prince? Not really? I don’t know what they told you about me, but I don’t interfere in those matters and I am not in the habit of kidnapping women or innocents. Not at all. 

Which princess is it? Zara? Of L’Ortagia? Still unwed? Sure, I remember her. A comely lass. A bit shy. Long dark hair. Quirky. 

Does she remember me? Nevermind. I have a rebellion to plan, so…[raises an eyebrow] Really? [scowls and waves his hand] This is not what we do. Nevermind that back there. [sticks his head out of the back of the tent and yells for someone to keep it down] I think we may have to sort this out. Let me see if I understand this: if I prevent her from marrying, I will both thwart my enemy and get to spend time with the princess? Time I do not have, but I see your point. What use would I have for a princess now? I’m a soldier in the middle of a rebellion. 

What did you say? She’s my true love? [looks down, a small grin passes across his face] I haven’t had a thought about that in a long time. Ha! True love. There isn’t much left of me that could love someone. Oh, you’re so sure? [another crash outside; winces] Fine. I’m your man. Or her man. Or—point me to the fight and I’ll get it done. And, no, I don’t fight with women. I was raised as a gentleman. [coughs and spits into a corner] Gotten a bit rough around the edges lately. Let's, as you say, do this.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

How Long Can Authors Keep the Magic Alive? A Reader’s Perspective

I’m a reader, first and foremost. Sometimes I have to be pulled away from a book. Aside from a couple phases of my life when there was very little time to (pleasure) read—namely, school and babies—I don't see myself giving up my hobby. I love getting lost in a book.

I started reading before the internet was around to offer reader reviews, recommendations, and author emails detailing up and coming projects. Aside from a close friend in junior high who shared my love of the romance genre, there weren’t a lot of ways I knew of to find new authors. (Newsletters and review publications were around, but I didn’t read them. Live and learn.) So the way I found new authors was hit and miss, scanning library and bookstore shelves. And, of course, when I did find one I liked, I’d pour through her backlist, giddy about there being more to love.  

Because when I find an author whose work I love, I go all fan-girl. I LOVE those books. And I stay a faithful, devoted, grateful reader for a long time. I buy on release day and stay up all night reading, then usually rereading all over again. Er, until one day I don’t.

We all have our favorite authors. Hubs prefers the term “auto-buys.” But even though some of my old-school auto-buys are still publishing, I’m not reading them as much as I used to. And newer authors on my fav-list sometimes only stay there for a few years.

So, as a newer writer it makes me wonder what changed? How does a published author lose a reader? (Especially a reader who LUH-HUH-HUHVED her books?) Is there a way to get readers back who no longer love—or even want to read—what you write?

While I realize examples help to demonstrate points, I’m making the decision not to name names. That’s not what this post is about. We’re talking ideas, not particular writers.

Here are some possible causes for why I fall out of love with certain authors’ books:

1. I’m a picky reader. Oh, absolutely. I stopped making myself read a book I wasn’t loving long ago. Life’s too short. I read for pleasure, not work.

2. I want to LOVE it. As much as I can be a low-risk kind of person in real life, I adore the roller coaster of a good story. Move me. Make me cry. Make me shake my fist in frustration. Be so funny I’ll read a section to my husband—who will also laugh because it’s that good. Sometimes I wish I could just enjoy any book from the romance section, but I can’t. When I find an author I like I read what she writes for at least ten to twelve years. (See? Picky, but loyal.)

3. I wasn’t that into them. Since I am aware of my pickiness, I do try to lower those expectations and give a new-to-me author's book a good try. And sometimes it works. I’ve read amazing books this way. Books I wouldn’t have stuck with if I had let myself set them down the first time the author did something that bugged me. (Noting this here: sweatpants bug me and in a post-Fabio world, longhaired heroes sometimes bug me. But those are topics for another day.) I’ve noticed that with authors I am slow to warm up to, I don’t tend to stick with them for long. To be specific, for one such author, I read at least twelve of her books. At least. Some of which I still go back and reread happily. But some of the things these authors do in their writing, they continue to do and I've moved on. The books aren't badly written. Just no longer my cuppa.

4. The writing is amazing but the (sub)genre is outside what I like to read. I’ve found some of my favorite new authors when someone I already like recommends their work. This just happened again last year and I spent most of the summer agonizing how I had missed this writer (for years!) and yet loving that there was a long backlist to work my way through (woo!). For another such writer whom I found from an auto-buy’s rec, her writing style is evocative, layered, and just plain gorgeous. Seriously. Every random paragraph is luscious. But, this writer writes in a sub-genre that I don’t particularly enjoy. Still, because the work is so good, I’ve followed her into it. Some of her books I can handle, and some I just can’t do. But it’s really the sub-genre. For each book she publishes, I decide whether I want to brave it.

5. The writer doesn’t write in my favorite sub-genre anymore. I get it. At least, I think I get it and I don’t blame them. This is a creative profession and writers need to push themselves, expand, and try new things. Sometimes readers go along with them and sometimes they don’t. Same goes for me. It can be the author’s same voice, but if I don’t like that genre, I may not stick around that long to read more in it. No harm, no foul.

Corollary: I’ve learned to like new sub-genres this way. My favorite subgenre of romance is historical. Love, love, love it. So when some of my favorite authors started delving into paranormal in the late 1990s/early 2000s, I dragged my feet. Briefly. Sometimes a favorite author branching out can teach their readers to love something they never thought they would. Just try it, you’ll like it as you can imagine was a tough sell for me as a kid. But I do it and have been pleasantly surprised. And, yes, now count among my favorite subgenres paranormal romance. Adore it. This is the same way I fell in love with romantic suspense. Dipped in my toe, swirled it around happily, and then jumped in. Well, toe-dipping along with a long fling with Sidney Sheldon’s books back in the day. Ahem.

6. I’m over the series. This has got to be a tough one for writers, if certain readers want more from a series and others are tired of it. Or the writer is tired of it. Yeesh! What a dilemma. Sometimes what has been the final straw is the build-up of a book featuring a favorite secondary character that falls flat. From my own reading, if I didn’t love the whole series anyway, I was getting ready to move on and for auto-buys, it takes me a long time to fall out of love with a series I adore.  

As a reader, I walk the balance between wanting something great to read and branching out, sometimes feeling a bit disappointed when I can’t love everything I read. As a writer, at least from my perspective, my list shows me how freaking subjective it all is anyway. So, yes, being aware of trends seems important and may work in terms of pulling faithful readers along to new ones. Some readers may stick with you for decades and some for just a few books. While I may not read all of my old-favs’ new work, I still love their books. Hard. And probably always will.

So what’s a writer to do? Write great books. Readers will want to read them. Some will follow you along every journey, and some won’t.  They may not love everything you write forever and ever. But that’s how it goes. Keep writing because you might pick up some new readers who will delight in finding you.

What do you think? In terms of their writing, what are things an author can do to keep readers? As a reader, what makes you move on?

Comments are welcome, but please play nice. Just stick to themes or issues, and no identifying specific authors. Thank you.

Sunday, March 10, 2013


I talk about self-care in my day job. A lot. And I try really hard to practice it myself. But the past two weeks have been particularly challenging and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to do about it.

Let me backtrack a bit. When I feel stressed, I tend to carry it in my shoulders. They get tense, tighten up, and creep up towards my chin. Usually the muscle tension lasts for a few days, sometimes a few weeks. It depends on the stressor(s). Other people get break-outs, have upset stomachs, or headaches, etc. under stress. But for me, I know I'm stressed when my shoulders are a mess. Even hubs confirmed, they were "the worst" they've ever been the past two weeks. Strangely, they were only bad during the week. On the weekends, time I usually set aside for writing, my tension was gone.

Aha! Day job = stress, writing = less stress. Woot!

No, I'm not quitting my day job and writing full-time, among many reasons because paying the mortgage = way less stress. It does make me smile to think that putting extra time into something I love has helped me relax.

Instead, I've been reconsidering the things I give my time to. The world of work can be empowering and it can also be very demanding. There is always more to be done, with never-ending to-do lists, paperwork, and unexpected issues that suddenly become urgent or annoying. For instance, this week, my work email wouldn't open via my laptop. Argh. As Rosanne Roseannadanna liked to say, "It's always something!" (Here you go.)

I haven't totally decided how I will reallocate my time, but it feels good to put it out there that CLEARLY something needs to change. There's only so much time, and so many things are clamoring for it. Choose wisely and reassess as needed.

P.S. And remember, writing = happy.

How do you know when you've taken on too much? What do you do to protect time for your writing?

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Pantser, Plotter, or Hybrid

I like to know the big picture.

I can handle details, complexities, and even ambiguity. But I need to know where I'm going. I need the frame first. This was especially true in school. If a professor started a lecture by stating the main goal for that day, I was in. When they would use examples first, then ask the class to draw conclusions, I got antsy. Just tell me where this is going. This lead me to think I'd be a total plotter.

At the same time, I'm a bit of a spontaneous person. Not wild or impulsive, by any means. But, in my natural element, at a gut-level, I don't like being tied to a rigid structure. I like to be able to adapt, especially if I get new information. Sometimes that manifests as a late-night trip to Target. Sometimes it means I'll let the kids have a sleep-over when they ask at 7pm. See? Pantser qualities.

So when I started writing I (thought I) knew the general frame of a romance: meet, smoulder, conflict, sexy times, more conflict, crisis (The Big Misunderstanding, Being Kept Apart by a Big Bad, for example), crisis resolved, and HEA. In putting my ideas together, I roughed out an outline and then started typing. Along the way, I'd been reading several books and blogs on fiction writing, and romance in particular (topics I'll cover another day, with links). Back and forth, I've been planning and writing, discovering ideas that work, and some that don't.

I find I'm between both worlds. I plot and outline and even created what Blake Synder in Save the Cat referred to as "The Board" yesterday. (Woo!!!) Sometimes when I just put butt to chair and write and write and write, new ideas evolve, problematic elements find solutions. I tend to believe you need to do what works, and right now, this hybridization is working for me.

Which style works for you? Does it depend on the book or project? Is your writing style in sync with how you approach other areas of your life?