Friday, November 24, 2017
A couple of years ago, at a writing workshop, I fell into conversation with another writer.
"What's your story?" she asked me.
I started to explain that I wasn't really far enough along with the book I was working on to provide a synopsis, but she shook her head.
"Not your book. What's your story?"
She'd once heard Julia Quinn explain that every author has a core story they tell over and over with various plots and characters. Something inside them makes them revisit this theme over and over.
For Julia, it's the marriage of convenience. Most of her books are about strangers forced to make a go of a relationship not of their choosing.
Other authors love the Cinderella story. They'll tell the poor-downtrodden-girl-meets-handsome-wealthy guy story over and over. Still others are suckers for second-chance-at-love or enemies-to-lovers or fake engagements or jilted brides.
Kay Keppler, one of my friends from Eight Ladies Writing, mentioned the other day that the most common trope among among self-published authors, it's billionaires (which is the Cinderella story.) Among Harlequin romances, it's cowboys. I haven't read any Harlequin's in a long time (except for medical romances written by my chapter-mater, Robin Gianna), so I don't know what the core stories are there.
Jenny Crusie, my former teacher at McDaniel's romance writing program and all-time favorite romance author, writes about women who have spent their entire lives fixing things for other people and finally decides to fix her own life.
(Thanks to Eight Ladies Writing contributor, Jilly Wood, for that analysis.)
My own core story emerged a few years ago after I wrote a post inviting readers to chime in on which book I should work on next. When I posted the link on Facebook, one friend commented that all my books seemed to be about "asshole guys who have to learn their lesson."
His comment made me laugh, but after I thought about it, I realized he was right. Jilly suggested an alternative view might be "woman with impossibly high expectations of herself learns not to demand so much." And she's got a point. While the guys in my books generally learn unselfishness and responsibility, the women mostly learn to lighten up on themselves.
So, what's your core story?
Friday, November 17, 2017
Recently, I went back and read a make-out scene I'd written a couple of years earlier, where the guy basically shoves my heroine up against a lamppost, sticks his tongue down her throat and presses his erection against her belly. At the time I wrote it, it seemed sexy. It was also well justified because the male character was possessed by a demon. (Although the demon's actually the good guy and the bad behavior is all on the part of his human host, but that's a whole, quirky story--The Demon's in the Details, coming in October, 2017).
When I reread the scene in light of Harvey Weinstein/Kevin Spacey/Roy Moore/Louis C.K./Matt Taibbi/Al Franken/ad infinitum/ad nasuem, it didn't work for me anymore. I didn't like the hero for what he did, I didn't like the heroine for not punching him in the face for doing it, and I didn't like myself for perpetuating the myth that men who ignore a woman's right to affirmative consent are sexy.
I went back and rewrote the scene. My hero still has to be a little off-the-chain because of the whole demon-possession thing, but he at least starts by asking to kiss her.
I've seen other writers on Facebook say they're having the same experience--when they review scenes with alpha heroes making alpha sexual approaches to their heroines, they realize they're no longer comfortable with what they've written.
Here's the problem: alpha heroes tend to go from their gut. They trust their instincts, so when their instincts say the woman is interested and willing, they believe it. They're not given to lsecond-guessing themselves, or long, chatty conversations. None of this is a great setup for politely requesting affirmative consent.
On the other hand, it is doable. After the rise of AIDS back in the eighties and nineties, romance authors began mentioning condoms in their love scenes. These days, I rarely read a detailed love scene that doesn't specifically call out the use of a condom.
I suspect that, because of the Weinstein, et. al. (and it's starting to look like I do mean all--two of my state representatives have resigned in the past couple of weeks over unspecified "inappropriate behavior"), we'll start to see more explicit mention of affirmative consent.
I think we may also see a rise in the number of beta and gamma heroes. Beta heroes are gentler than alphas, more sensitive to the heroine's needs, less prone to jealousy and general bad behavior. Gamma heroes are a mix of alpha and beta--the strength and the "bad boy" traits, but not possessive and arrogant, as the alpha tends to be. These guys would have no problem asking for affirmative consent.
What do you see in the future for romance heroes?
Friday, November 10, 2017
For my first-ever interview, I asked Priscilla Oliveras, a fellow RWA® 2015 Golden Heart® finalist. I chose Priscilla because she's kind of a hero of mine, for reasons I hope will become apparent as you read the interview. Priscilla's first book, His Perfect Partner, was released in October 2017.
Question 1: You were a Golden Heart® finalist four times. What made you keep entering when your first final didn’t result in publication?
Probably my love for the genre and my desire to share the stories and characters I kept imagining. This is a tough business. Rejection, unfortunately, is a large part of it. Being an active member of RWA has blessed me with a great network of fellow romance authors--friends and mentors--whose successes and misses both inspire and fuel me. My family is a great source of support, too. They've encouraged me through all the ups and down, never giving up on me. So there's no way I was giving up on myself, either.
Whether is was fate or faith or whatever you wanna call it, each of my GH finals seemed to come at a time when I needed the boost. When the reminder that maybe I wasn't just knocking my head against the wall, and maybe my goal of publishing had potential, soothed my psyche. Each final was the shot in the arm I needed at that specific moment. And the instant GH family that forms when you final is an incredible gift.
Did I wish I had published sooner and no longer been eligible to enter the GH? Sure. But I'll take the good that comes my way and focus on that to keep fueling my desire to do better.
Question 2: Although in recent years RWA has begun to focus on diverse voices, the industry in general hasn’t been hospitable. What are your thoughts/feelings on that?
Unfortunately, this isn't a new issue. I mean, authors like Beverly Jenkins, Brenda Jackson and others have been calling for diverse voices to be heard and diverse characters to be the heroines and heroes on the page and book covers for decades. Thankfully that list of authors championing diversity is growing as more of us speak out. As a member in good standing, I'm proud that RWA is part of that cry of inclusivity for all. As a Latina author who writes about Latinx characters and families, it's important to me that all facets of all cultures and identities be represented in the books that are published and that more doors are opened for diverse authors penning the stories they want to tell.
At the heart of it all, I'm a romance writer who loves writing stories about people romance readers can fall in love with and family situations readers can identify with on some level. The fact that my characters are shaped by their cultural heritage provides an added layer, a texture rich in tradition that, if I've done my job correctly, enhances the story world for my readers.
Question 3: I know, from your postings on social media, that you have a warm and loving relationship with your dad. (You've made me cry more than once.) The father in His Perfect Partner is very ill. How did it feel to create a character that must be, in many ways, similar to your dad, and then subject him to life-threatening health issues?
Oh gosh, I still get teary-eyed when I think or talk about Papi, the Fernández sisters' father. Reynaldo (Rey) was a joy to write. I actually wrote several scenes in his point of view, but they were cut during one of my revision rounds. Don't despair, I still have those scenes and am considering releasing them between books 2 and 3 (Her Perfect Affair and Their Perfect Melody), or at some point down the road as the Fernández family continues growing.
You're right in that I have a really close relationship with my dad, as well as with my mom. Really, with pretty much all my family members. It's why I'm drawn to writing family-themed stories. Because good or bad (let's be real here), my family has shaped me, and I've shaped them. I wouldn't be the person I am today without their love and support, and the occasional spat. The stereotypical close-knit Latino family wouldn't be stereotypical if there weren't facets of it that were true.
With that in mind, how did it feel to subject the sisters and Papi to his life-threatening health issue? Extremely difficult. Hopefully, that's a good thing, and I did Papi and the girls justice by creating believability on the page for the reader. That's really the pressure I feel when I'm writing. I love my characters, so I strive to write their stories in a way that will make readers fall in love with them, too.
As for Papi, he will always hold a special place in my heart. Just like my Papi does in real life.
Photographer/ fotógrafo: Michael A. Eaddy
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS is a Kensington Publishing author & four-time Golden Heart® finalist who
writes contemporary romance with a Latino flavor. Proud of her Puerto Rican-Mexican heritage, she
strives to bring authenticity to her novels by sharing her Latino culture with readers. Since earning an
MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, she serves as adjunct English faculty at her local college and also teaches an on-line course titled “Romance Writing” for ed2go. Priscilla is a sports fan, a beach lover, a half-marathon runner and a consummate traveler who often practices the art of napping in her backyard hammock. To follow along on her fun-filled and hectic life, visit her on the web at www.prisoliveras.com, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/prisoliveras or on Twitter via @prisoliveras.
PRISCILLA OLIVERAS es una escritora de Kensington Publishing y cuatro veces finalista del premio Golden Heart® la cual escribe romance contemporaneo con sabor Latino. Muy orgullosa de su herencia Puertorriqueña-Mejicana, se esfureza para llevar autenticidad a sus novelas compartiendo su cultura Latino con sus lectores. Desde completer su MFA en Escribiendo Ficción Popular de la Universidad Seton Hill, ella sirve como profesora adjunta de la facultad de Inglés y también enseña un curso on-line titulado “Escribiendo Romance” através de ed2go. Priscilla es una fanática del deporte, amante de la playa, corredora de medio-maratones y una viajera consumada la cual a menudo practica el arte de tomar siestas en la hamaca en su patio. Para seguirla en su divertida y agitada vida, visítela en el web www.prisoliveras.com, en Facebook www.facebook.com/prisoliveras o en Twitter através de @prisoliveras.
Friday, November 3, 2017
“Don’t you dare tell Kermit,” Vanessa replied.
“You think he’ll be angry?” Erica asked.
“It’s my money. I saved up for this.”
“Remember, I’m just a phone call away if you need me.”
The assignment was to add beats to the existing dialogue to create depth. A lot of the students added beats that showed how concerned both women were about Kermit's potential reaction. This is what I came up with:
“I can’t believe you went out and bought one.” Erica stared at the frog-leg cooker on the kitchen table in horror.
“Don’t you dare tell Kermit.” Vanessa removed the fry basket and hefted it, as though calculating how many little green limbs it would hold.
Erica licked her lips and edged toward the door. “You think he’ll be angry?”
Vanessa crossed her arms. “It’s my money. I saved up for this.”
Friday, October 27, 2017
My overarching goal is to release three books next fall (September/October/November, and then a boxed set of the three in December), but there are numerous milestones along the way to let me know if I have a prayer of hitting that target.
I accomplished the following in October:
1) Spark Creative Partners completed my website.
Okay, so that sounds like I'm taking credit for their work, but I'm the one that kept testing the site and prodding them to fix/make changes until we got it the way I wanted it. I also chose the font and the starting point for most of the graphics.
I'll be releasing it into the wild on Tuesday, October 31. (If you look before that, you'll see the crappy one I did as a student project back in 2013.)
I really like what they came up with. I hope you do, too.
2) I booked my editor, Karen Dale Harris, for three more engagements:
- To do a second pass edit on Book One, The Demon Always Wins, starting in January
- To do a first pass edit on Book Two, The Demon's in the Details, in March
- To do a first pass edit on Book Three, The Demon Wore Stilettos, in June
6) I also managed to fit in an online Dialogue class offered by From the Heart Romance Writers, an online chapter I belong to, and taught by award-winning author Linnea Sinclair. Fun class, and I learned some new tricks.
Consequently, next month's goal is limited to one thing: complete another 125 pages in The Demon's in the Details.
Friday, October 20, 2017
For the past couple of weeks, I've had a bad case of book brain.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it refers to the severe absent-mindedness associated with being deep into writing a novel.
The reason for this is that humans are capable of holding five to nine (or about seven) pieces of information in their brain at the same time. If you use five of these slots to track what's happening in your book, that doesn't leave much for real life.
Under the effects of book brain, I have:
- Forgotten appointments
- Burned dinner
- Completely forgotten to make dinner
- Missed my turnoff
- Missed birthdays
- Looked up to realize Old Dog has been waiting for a response for a really long time
- Solved knotty plot problems
- Created inticate characters
- Described settings so real you could be there
- Written some really great stuff that, even when I went back and re-read it months later, I still thought was great stuff.
Friday, October 13, 2017
I'm currently working on the second book in my Touched by a Demon series, The Demon's in the Details.
So far I'm liking it. (Which is good, because that is not always the case.)
One thing that I suspect isn't so good are the jokes I'm writing into it.
Some of you are now thinking, "Jokes are good. And Jeanne's pretty funny, so they're probably good jokes."
These jokes are really goofy. They take a dopey premise (the physical act of a demon possessing a human--have you ever given any thought to just what that choreography would look like?) and wring every last drop of comedy gold (and silver and copper and tin and lead and that grody stuff you have to scrape from the the crack between the stove and the countertop) out of it before I let it go.
When I hand the book over to my beta readers, they are going to ask me, probably unanimously, "Why is this crap in here?"
Um, because it's funny?
No, they will assure me, it isn't. The first time was mildly humorous. The next fifty iterations under varying plot conditions definitely weren't. And the last hundred made us want to punch you in the face.
And I will believe them, because they've been my beta readers for a very long time and are generally on the money with their critiques. And I'll edit out all those really-not-that-funny jokes.
So why, you ask, am I putting them in in the first place?
1) It just seems to be something I have to get out of my system. For whatever reason, I can't ever let them go until someone tells me, "Jeanne, they're Not Funny."
In the last, book, there was this absolutely hilarious joke about the demon coming Aboveworld (Hell's term for Earth) in a kind of animated mannequin body. Said body was equipped with an enormous penis. It was a send-up of that romance trope where the guy is always well-endowed. The joke was touched upon throughout the book, cracking me up with every reference.
Right up until my first beta reader said, "Why does he have to use a mannequin body? What's wrong with his own body?" And I realized there was absolutely no reason for it, other than to set up the joke. I removed the references and never looked back.
2) What else are beta readers for?
If you're truly listening to the Girls in the Attic (Jenny Crusie's term for one's writing muses, comparable to Stephen King's Boys in the Basement) you're going to put a lot of stuff in your first draft that doesn't necessarily fit with the finished story. By the time you've written three or four hundred pages, you won't necessarily be able to tell what belongs and what doesn't.
At least, that's true for me. I find it really tough to tell what belongs on the page and what's just back story that needs to remain as subtext. My beta readers are great at telling me what works and what doesn't, what needs to be clearer, what needs to be more subtle.
But mostly I just have to get it out of my system.