Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Romance Book Reviews

Last week was a crazy, crazy writing week. I completed over 15,000 words of a novel, and most of it was good enough to keep! (If you've ever written a book, you know what I mean - you can write an entire scene, and, upon rereading it, realize it either has nothing to do with the story line or doesn't move the story forward. Trimming the fat is never easy, but always necessary.)

This week, I'm still writing like crazy, but thought I'd put a question to all you viewers out there (this blog, by the way, had over 400 unique visitors last week). I'm thinking of trying my hand at reviewing some romance books. I read enough of them - I average about 3 or 4 per week.

Any suggestions? What are some of your favorites? What's currently on your bookshelf/nightstand/Kindle/Nook?

Reply in the comments - if I pick your book, there may just be prizes! Email me if you have trouble commenting. 

image copyright Bell, Book and Candle

Friday, May 10, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

I spoke with an editor at a romance publisher today. It was enlightening, and kind of a little scary.

For the past ten years, I've been writing in some way, shape or form. I've also been keeping up (as best an outsider can) with the romance industry - I've combed through Romantic Times magazines  stalked publishers and agents' websites to see what they were looking for, and followed all the advice I could find (that made sense for me, anyway).

And then, I get so close to publishing. SO. CLOSE.

My manuscript in the hands of editors at major publishing houses? Check. My manuscript in the hands of editors at smaller presses? Check. My manuscript in the hands of agents? Check.

They've all come back with the same kind of comments. Positive feedback: I like your writing. I love the voice. You can write. I laughed out loud

Negative feedback: We just can't market this. This romance sub-genre isn't selling. Readers want your voice...just not in your chosen sub-genre.

Frustrating? Of course. Disheartening?

The fact is, my own reading tastes have changed. Of course they've changed; no true book lover stays stagnant in only one thing. When I first started writing, all I read were time-travel romances. Lynn Kurland, Karen Marie Moning, Janet Chapman. My three favorites, all right there at my fingertips to enjoy. (I admit I haven't read Diana Gabaldon. I know, it's like I blasphemed right there. Forgive me.)

Now, I read many romance sub-genres  such as historicals (Regency England), contemporaries, some romantic suspense (but not a lot, I'm not a fan of heart palpitations, and I get really into a story). There's a "new" sub-genre that's called New Adult, focusing on the early twenty-somethings; I think those would be neat to read. 

But there really hasn't been much that excites me about what's out there for time-travel. 

This is when people may start chiming in with, This is a perfect opportunity to jump in and really blow the socks off of people! or, Your writing can really bring the sub-genre back to its glory days!

But the fact is...I'm not looking to do that. I'm looking to have a career, one that inspires others. I love writing. I love writing about people; the setting is secondary for me. And that's what makes this decision actually rather easy.

I'm hanging up my time-travel pen for now. For now. The market can't support it - and I understand and accept that. In the future (insert groan), when time-travel cycles back as it certainly will, I'll have something ready. And by that time, I'll have made a bit of a name for myself, so perhaps I'll be good enough to have a reader base that will be willing to give it a try, because I've proven to them that I can deliver on a well-told story. (That's always been my goal - a reader base who knows that when they pick up a book of mine, they're in good hands.)

After much work on the time-travel books, it's time to start writing what two editors and three agents have asked me for...and that's contemporary. Present-day people, present-day issues, and present-day setting. 

Letting go of my current book isn't going to be easy, but it's certainly doable. After all, I'm the writer. That means I get to be master of my universe, and right now, another galaxy is in need of creation. I'm on it. For better or worse. But the optimist in me thinks this is definitely for the better...perhaps, even, a happily-ever-after.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Everyone Needs at Least One...

Lucy and Ethel.

Laverne and Shirley.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha.

I'm talking girlfriends, and a book (chick-lit, women's fiction and romance in particular) just isn't as good without at least one. In fact, life isn't as good without a girlfriend.

If you're lucky, you had friends in high school (I really was rather unlucky in that sphere). If you're really lucky, you carried one or more of those relationships throughout college (I was slightly more lucky). If you're incredibly lucky, you became part of something bigger than yourself and made friends for life (this is where I am most lucky).

Luck isn't really luck so much as confidence. The more confident you become, the more friends you make...and keep (that's the key). A good friend makes you feel confident.

A girlfriend makes you feel empowered.

Girlfriends are great for thousands of reasons. I recently read an article that stated GFs are like husbands without the sex or jealousy. I started to think about that, and I thought that there may be something to it. I'm not sure about the jealousy (I married a rather level-headed man who can keep his wits about him in a major crisis; he's not going to get jealous if I splash Adam Levine all over my Facebook page - right, honey? Right?) but I did see some merits to the thought. 

When I create a girlfriend in my stories, there are some definitive traits she must possess. Here are some of what makes a good girlfriend great:

  • No matter how stupid of an idea it is, she's got your back
  • When you need to break a diet, she's already at the door with wine, chocolate and a babysitter
  • You stay up late into the night texting like a teenager about nothing...and you can't stop giggling like one, either
  • She cares about everything you have done, will do, or haven't yet thought to do
  • She is at major events in your life because she wants to be there (or because she remembers the time you attended her great uncle's wake and helped her clean up her dress after you made her laugh so inappropriately hard she spit coffee from her nose)
  • She knows when to talk...but more importantly, when to listen
  • If she were a guy, you would've proposed eons ago
These qualities are the sum of a whole - and there's many more than just these few. When I see these in a book, I'm immediately invested in the story. I can relate - and the girlfriends in my own stories certainly reflect those who have been and are in my life. 

Zesty. (It's a girl thing.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Talking to Strangers is Encouraged

I talk to everyone I meet.


I can talk to people in an elevator (why not? you've got 3 minutes), in a bar (especially at writer's conferences, nothing like debating the merits of 50 Shades over a cocktail - yes, pun intended), in a parking lot (really, if you see someone struggling to put their groceries away, just lend a hand already)...the list is truly endless. Seriously, pick a place, and I can strike up a conversation. I find personal satisfaction in meeting an introverted person (someone who doesn't really enjoy small talk), drawing out what they're interested in, then getting into a discussion about whatever it is.

Point of pride for me, really. 

The fact is, if you have a random conversation with a stranger about something, and you enjoy it, that's a great thing. It's reassuring that humans are still humans, despite all the technology we can hide behind (I'm looking at you, Facebook and Twitter). That face-to-face interaction is one of the key things that makes us more evolved than, say, dolphins (although, were they to get their fins on some of our technology, I'm not sure if my statement would stand. I wonder if they can squeak in 140 characters or less). 

I'm also the kind of person to whom people tell stuff. The woman who sold me my new glasses last week is a prime example. I was watching her rearrange a giant image of my eyeball on her computer screen when I mentioned that I liked her glasses (they were red - who doesn't love red glasses?! They're so bold!). That led to a discussion about other things, and at the end of it (about 10 minutes in all), I learned her husband had a nervous breakdown last year but was recovering nicely, her daughter and her fiance were moving into their own place (with a roommate, though, to save costs), she planned to retire in the next 5-6 years and she was so grateful to have her husband back that she didn't care if she had to work for the rest of her life to ensure he didn't go back to the high-stress job that caused the breakdown in the first place. 


Although I didn't have time to find out what that job was, it was fine. That nice woman got to dump some of her stress, and I am not the kind of person who stresses out for others - and I think people can sense that. It's the only explanation I've got for why strangers tell me about their personal problems and triumphs. For triumphs, I offer my heartfelt congratulations (I mean, how awesome do you feel when a complete stranger shares your excitement?! Validation, people, validation...). For problems, I don't offer solutions, because I've found that most people don't want you to fix things, they just need to unload.

Well, to them, I say: Unload away. It makes for some great writing.

(Oh, stop looking at me like that. You have oddities too, you know. Everyone does. Come on over, and we can chat about it.)

Photo copyright One Big Photo. Modifications are my own.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Truths About Children and Writing

  • Truth #1: I skip without kids. I skip in heels and boots (it's what I love to wear because shoes are my lifeline. Along with my purses.).

When dropping my daughter off at preschool, we skip across the parking lot. Why? Because it's fun! When is the last time you skipped anywhere? I highly suggest it. And if you're concerned about what other people think, my only question is...why? Why do you care? Is your happiness based solely on the fact that you entered someone's mind in a less-than-positive way? I spent most of high school feeling that way. Shortly after I graduated, I decided to never let someone have that power over me again. It was freeing in a way that is hard to explain, but it's changed everything about me for the better. Give it a go.

  • Truth #2: I listen to what kids say. Their words may sound like nonsense, but they are telling you their innermost thoughts without fear. That takes a courage that many of us lose throughout a lifetime. I respect that.

My son's discussions with me are getting shorter as he gets older. What were long, rambling answers to the most basic questions are now replaced with merely, "I dunno" or "I guess" responses. When he does decide to chat, I give him my full attention because I really want to keep up with how his mind works. Sometimes, his observations are more insightful than my own. He sees things that I miss, and I love that he's so observant of people and their feelings.

  • Truth #3: I enjoy conversations with children - their perspective is usually unfiltered and pure, free of the various experiences (both positive and negative) that shape adults. The simplicity is striking, poignant...and frequently, funny as hell.

My children (and their classmates and friends) provide a LOT of comic relief to my daily stresses. There's something contagious in a child's laugh - maybe because there isn't any embarrassment behind it (a three year old isn't concerned if she's laughing through her nose, and what someone might think about that) or because they only laugh when something's truly funny (you can't force a kid to laugh at something just to spare feelings - trust me on this one). I've been asked about God, nature, sex, adoption, the ickiness of boys, the snobbishness of girls, and, my personal favorite: "Was there color when you were a kid?" (That gem was provided by my very own offspring. Apparently, I'm older than color.)

EVERY conversation has something of value to it. A new way to use an old phrase, a slightly misplaced adjective to change the meaning of a sentence, or the simplicity in a heartfelt "I love you." It all adds up to great interactions, and I am not ashamed to admit that these conversations provide me with some great interactions in my books. Whenever I get stuck, I just think back to the last time I was on the playground, or picking the kids up from school, or volunteering during a school event.

Think about it. This is the stuff that makes characters on a page jump out:

Two girls, normally best friends, are yelling and crying at each other on the playground over some perceived slight. A boy runs by, tugs one of the girl's braids, then runs off. Immediately, argument is forgotten and the girls band together, linking arms and running after to him avenge the braid-pull.


That is the start of a great friendship. And great friendships can really start a book out right.

Copyright Verissima.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Dreaded Second Act

Why is it that the second act of a novel is the hardest to write? I can get into the beginning, and I know where I want it to end. But inevitably, there's a lull in the writing process...and it's usually right in the middle of the story. This is the crucial place to keep a reader entertained, involved, connected and feeling.

It's really, really hard.

I know I've found lots of things hard lately. But this is all good - I'm challenged. If writing a book was easy, everyone would do it, right? And I must say, anything that's worth something is rarely easy. Hard work and perseverance - that, plus talent and a little luck - are what defines success.

Comment below and tell me what you're working hard on, and about your own success stories!

(Credit to FutureDocs blog)

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Inner Crazy

Yeah. I've got one.

Most writers do have one - the inner crazy who resorts to flailing, attention-seeking antics. Successful writers usually keep the inner crazy in check. Mine decided to rear her ugliness at me last night. 

I blame the synopsis.

Writing a synopsis is hard. I've been trying to write it for days now, and I think I've figured out why it's been so tough: I'm giving a straight, blow-by-blow account of my story - and that isn't my style. I love adjectives and adverbs (I know, those are considered the kiss of death for many writers). I like the details. I love dialogue. But a synopsis has to be dry, straightforward writing so an agent or publisher can see, at a glance, the arc and plot points of the novel.

After working so long to lovingly craft (or furiously type, whatever you want to call it) a novel, creating relate-able, believable characters...I fell into the trap of "My work has been reduced to this?" when looking at the bare bones laid out in a linear fashion.

It was then my inner crazy poked her chin out, tangled her fingers in her frizzy hair, and cried out in her best "Leave Britney ALONE!" voice:
" story is SO MUCH MORE than this!!"

After wrestling her back into the deep recesses of my mind and promising her lots of chocolate, coffee and wine if she promised to stay there and behave (I ended up resorting to duct tape, I don't have time for that), I'm back to working on this synopsis with my business hat on.

How did your synopsis turn out? Give me something positive...Quickly, before the inner crazy chews her way out...

This is the extent of my artistic abilities.
Stop laughing. 

...seriously. I can still hear you.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The People You Meet - New England Chapter of the RWA

When I went to the big conference in the beginning of April, I was blown away by all the sessions there were - character development, self-publishing, how to land an agent...the list was seemingly endless. It was a great, albeit slightly overwhelming, experience.

The conference this past weekend was different, and in a very, very good way. 

The New England chapter of the Romance Writers of America had a wonderful conference with incredible sessions ranging from a class with Julia Quinn (we discussed colons! Semi-colons! Hyphens vs. commas! It was thrilling, and I am absolutely not joking) to the benefits of obtaining an ISBN number for a self-published work. 

But the best thing this conference had was some the most welcoming, down-to-Earth, friendly, wonderful people you could ever imagine. From the moment I walked in and registered (where I met Sandy, who made me feel like I had always been a part of the group) all the way through when I said my goodbyes to Veronica (whom, after meeting once, I felt I'd known for years), it was as though I'd come home.

Groups of women tend get a bad rep. We do. We're categorized as contrary, snarky, mean backstabbers. We've been portrayed that way throughout history, and throughout literary history as well. This is not to say that we aren't shown in a positive light - we most certainly are, and definitely more positively than negatively across the board. But the sad fact is that many, if not most, people remember the negatives.

Let me tell you about the romance writers I met this weekend. Universally, they:

  • support each other through every up and down
  • read each other's work
  • respect each other enough to give an honest review of said work
  • dance on a tiny dance floor, other people's views be damned
  • laugh loudly
  • cry together
  • make room at tables for anyone, at any time, because you can never have too many friends in one spot
  • jump up and down in the middle of a hotel when someone shares good news
  • welcome each and every person into their group because the success of one is the success of all

It's a sisterhood. It's the feeling of safety, where you can make a fool of yourself and know it's going to make for a great conversation later, because you will be getting together later. It's continuing the journey with people who have been there, are thinking of going there, or are on their way. Like-minded people who are friendly, open, and brutally honest - and you know they're that way to make you better and see your success.

If you haven't already, get yourself to the nearest chapter of RWA and check it out. I can't guarantee that they are all as fantastic as the NE (or the NJ!!) ones, but the feeling of sisterhood (and, for those men who write romance, you are included in this family) is one that is very, very hard to replicate.