Saturday, December 31, 2011

Romance: HEA & HFN vs. Unhappiness

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I'm an unapologetic romance reader - sure, I dabble with reading the occasional bit of suspense, fantasy, mystery, non-genre literature, and, recently, erotica - but my true love is romance.  It doesn't matter if it is historical, contemporary, regency, or paranormal - if it is romance, I'm game. 

I've read a lot this year. Well, a lot for me, anyway - and a third more than I did last year.  That's good, right? (And, yes, it was almost exclusively romance.) 

So, I figure I have a good understanding of what it means for a book to be classified as "romance."  For me, romance is a happy ending.  It could be a happily ever after (HEA) or a happy for now (HFN), but happy is mandatory.  If I wanted unhappy, I'd chose my books from a different part of the bookstore.  Yes, I know there are love stories that don't have happy endings... and that is why I'm calling them love stories and not romances
Most books I read follow this "happy" rule, but every once in a while I find a book in the romance section, which has been tagged as a romance, but it lacks the "happy."  Of course, I don't know that until I reach the end of the book - and what a cruel surprise that is!  (After re-reading the last page in disbelief and flipping through the pages in a desperate attempt to locate that happy ending, I have to suppress the urge to rip the book in half with frustration.)

Sometimes the author has written / is planning to write a follow-up to the book - presumably something that will resolve that mess of unhappiness they created in the first book - but, as a reader, how can I trust the author again?  What if I get to the end of the second book and it too is brimming with unhappiness and angst? 

My trust has been broken.

Generally, I will buy the next book when it is available (I can't stand loose ends, and it drives me crazy that there hasn't been closure).  In that instance, then, the author gets one more book sale.  But after that?  No way.  I avoid the author.  How can I trust them to deliver what I want and expect?  They've tricked me once and I would be foolish to set myself up for another disappointment. 

So, I would encourage writers to be aware of reader's expectations - particularly if you write genre fiction.  Treat those expectations with care and be mindful of them.  If you break the "rules" of that genre, you may lose more readers than you gain.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Starting a New Project

I am nearing the end of my current work-in-progress.  (Yay!)

Getting to “The End” has gone more slowly then I would have anticipated.  In the past, I haven't taken this long to get my draft out.  Why is this different?  I have been working with a critique group on it – maybe that’s the reason.  Instead of getting my messy typo-ridden draft in place and then starting to edit, I have been adjusting pages before I submit and after we meet.  I think, overall, that has been helpful.  It has allowed my critique group to see the story develop and me to adjust pieces as needed.  However, we have a cap on our submissions length, so rather than send what I've completed I usually submit to the maximum allowable, which means I have surplus pages that wait until the next submission date.  Instead of being continually pushed on, I've had a leisurely stroll to "The End."    

This leisurely stroll has been, well, a long one, but that isn't what has been worrying me.  The other day I realized that it has been a long time since I started a new project.  I used to be inundated with new ideas, but somewhere along the line that changed.  Was I done?  Sure, I could go back and dust off an idea I had from a year ago, but if it didn't inspire me to write it then, should I invest time in it now? 

I have a lot to do before starting a new project - at least three stories to edit and actually submit to someone - but then what?  Did I have any stories left in me?  Were they all finished?  Was I finished? 


(Image: © Mariusz Prusaczyk | Dreamstime.com)

Then, I woke up on Friday morning and I knew.  My next story skidded into my head sometime while I was sleeping and it hasn't stopped badgering me since.  I asked for this, I suppose.  I should have just accepted that I didn't need to worry; instead, it appears I have just given myself one more distraction.

Now, I'm trying to figure out how to wrap up this new idea in bubble wrap and stick it away until I'm ready to pull it out and play with it.  

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Critique Groups: 5 Lessons Learned

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|Dreamstime.com)
Four of us from my writing, group, ARWA, created a critique group earlier this year.  We are on a temporary hiatus for December, so I thought this might be a good time to consider how things have gone so far. 

Quick Background: Our critique group has a fairly structured process and meeting.  We submit our pages via email on a particular date, usually a week before we meet.  Then, we read and mark up copies of the submissions.  The night of the meeting, we focus on one person's writing at a time.  Reviewers get the opportunity to say what they think.  Then we give the pages to the writer and move to the next person. 


Five Lessons I Have Learned
  1. Some people will like what I write.  Others will not.  Both sides can be vocal.  The positive comments are easy to accept, but learning how to deal with harsh criticism is probably a more valuable skill.  Sometimes the negative criticisms can expose a weak spot I need to address.  Other times I realize that the comment won't work for me and my vision, in which case I always have to remind myself that I can't please everyone.
  2. I always try to let my fellow writers know what I enjoyed about the writing and where I see their successes.  I don't just focus on where I think they need to improve. 
  3. Our group discusses opinions.  The writer can ask questions.  We didn't intend to do this, especially when some of the "how to do critique groups" articles specifically say not to talk, but we discovered it works for us.  If a couple of people have noted a particular passage as being awkward or difficult, we brainstorm ideas on how it could be adjusted.  We are flexible.  So, regardless of what someone else says are the "rules" - we do what makes sense for our group.
  4. In our group, we each seem to have a bit of a niche.  I like looking at the "big picture."  I need to know how this scene fits in with the other scenes (past and future).  Other people notice the nuances of language, character actions and reactions, or how moving one sentence from here to there makes the passage stronger.  We have found that our critiques are best when all of us can attend the meeting.  Now, we re-schedule if someone can't attend. 
  5. After our formal critique group meeting, some of us go for drinks and snacks in a different location.  We are more relaxed and can talk about ideas for future scenes and discuss some of our concerns.  It is a more fluid discussion. It helps us synthesize and explore the ideas.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Beyond Virgins & Earls

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I enjoy reading historical romances.  I like the rigid social structures, the gowns, the carriages, the candle light, the propriety, and, well, the romance of it all. 

Nevertheless, as a reader, I was starting draw away from this sub-genre until I discovered some new trends. (Or, at least new-to-me trends).

You see, I was getting tired of the heroine always being a virgin and the hero always being an earl or a duke.  And, how icky is it to always have an older, experienced man find a girl who is barely old enough to have developed breasts as the most intriguing creature he has ever met?  (Okay, so that was more prevalent in earlier historical romances... but still!)

Maybe it is because it's been a long time since I've been a virgin (I can say this in public, because I'm pretty sure my mom figured out when I got married that my virginity was no longer an issue).  I can't relate to the breaching of the hymen scenes. I start to flip the pages, ho-hum. "Oh, so big" "Ouch" "Sorry"  "Oh, no, it's okay. I think I'll orgasm now." Blah, blah, blah. (I admit I have written half my stories with virginal heroines - so, really, should I throw stones?  Probably not.  But, as a reader, I'm a little bored.)

And, surely someone besides an earl or a duke was worthy of finding love in historical times. How many earls and dukes populated those eras anyway?  They couldn't ALL be earls and dukes, could they?  And, really, would all of these bright-eyed, barely-old-enough-to-read virgins be intriguing and captivating to them?  Really?  Didn't they just want a young miss to keep under their control while she birthed heirs?  They probably saved conversation for their mistresses.  And, would all the virgins be so interesting, speaking with unparalleled wit or acting like women of independent means (regardless of their situation)? 

I understand there are some things - like the whole virginity and age issues - that may be more historically correct, but sometimes fiction needs to be fiction.  Besides, what of the widows or other non-virgins?  Don't they deserve to find love?  Oh, and, does the heroine always have to have her first orgasm with the hero? (But, ahem, I see that I digress.)

Therefore, I am pleased to have discovered four series that don't quite conform to those limitations. (Warning: I've tried to not put in spoilers... but read at your own risk.)

I thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth Hoyt's four-book series Legend of the Four Soldiers.  For one thing, there is only one virgin in the bunch.  Yay!  One of the heroes is an "uncivilized American."  Yay!  From what I can tell, Elizabeth Hoyt is continuing to write refreshingly new characters in her latest series, Maiden Lane, too - where one of the heroes is even a pirate come shipbuilder without later being revealed as a disgruntled, Robin Hood type duke.  (A hero in trade - shock of all shocks!). 

In Lisa Kleypas' Hathaway series, sure, there are virgins a plenty, but there is only one lord among the lot (at least in what I've read so far).  The heroes are unconventional and aren't even the typical rake, scoundrel, etc.  This freshness doesn't stop at the characters - or perhaps the characters' make the rest possible - but is further developed with dialogue, settings and plots.  Again, here are heroes who have actually had to work at something. 

In Sabrina Jeffries' The Hellions of Halstead Hall series, yes, there are lords and ladies - but they actually do something besides socialize!  One couple comes together because of their brewery endeavors.  One heroine writes novels!  And, I can't wait for the fifth book, where the hero is a Bow Street Runner!  Brilliant. You can't get much further from an earl or duke than a Bow Street Runner, can you?

In Cara Elliot’s The Circle of Sin series, the women are scholars.  Wow.  No little parlor misses there.  And, they aren’t all virgins either!  Yay! 

So, here I am, happily reading these historical romances, while I wonder how many clich├ęs I've included in (and need to weed out of) my own stories. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Is the hero a perfect lover?

If romance novels are a place to escape, then of course it stands to reason the hero should be perfect and wonderful, right?  After all, who wants to escape with a dud?

According to some, the hero should be god-like in bed - almost like a pornstar without the cameras, awkward positions and intrinsic sliminess. 
Yes, the hero shall be perfect for the heroine - without the sliminess.
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He should last longer than any other lover.  He should be bigger.  He should be able to tease out the heroine's big "O" when no one else had ever been able to, or even if it is her first time.  He should be turned on, not off or indifferent, by any physical imperfection the heroine thinks she might have.  He is always in control.  He is an experienced, legendary lover.  He is always aware of what the heroine needs or wants or feels, even if she doesn't, and even if it is his first time. The heroine is his perfect fit and vice versa.  Their relationship outside of the bedroom may need some adjustments and growth, but when they touch everything goes forth like it has been blessed by Aphrodite. 
Indeed, the hero should be perfect. 

Except, the thing is that I don't buy that idea, because ultimately heroes are characters that are supposed to be based on living and breathing humans.  And, well, humans are not perfect. 

I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few weeks... well... since one of my critique group meetings, actually.  My hero was not a god-like pornstar, and one person concluded he was therefore "unheroic."  The other crits didn't have a problem with the scene... but this one evalutation has had me wondering - how perfect is the hero? 

[Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

In Elizabeth Hoyt's To Seduce A Sinner, after the first time the Melisande and Vale are in bed, she ends the scene being unsatisfied, thankful she hadn't been an innocent.  Vale was rumored to have been a wonderful lover, and he wasn't.

In JR Ward's Lover Awakened, Zsadist, the hero, is physically ill when Bella touches him. 

In JR Ward's Lover Enshrined, Phury is a virgin hero, who spills himself when they start getting busy (this happens more than once). 

____


I liked those stories.  I like that the hero could be overwhelmed by the heroine.  I like that he isn't alway in control with her.  I like it because, in my opinion, not every hero can or should have superpowers in the bedroom every single time.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

My 2011 Writing Goal: Query Something, Dammit

I wrote this a few months ago, when I was experimenting with a different blog... but it still seems applicable.

Starting a blog seems monumental.  Though I suppose it is only monumental if I continue blogging for the rest of my life.  (Damn, that’s a hell of a commitment… maybe it is better not to think of it that way.) 
Question: Why start blogging now? 
Simple Answer: It is time to take a serious jump at this crazy goal of becoming a published writer.  (Yay!  Clapping is appreciated.  Champagne also works.  ;) )  Blogging, I hope, will help me stay focussed along the way.

Extended Answer: More than ten years ago, in the summer of 2000, I submitted a manuscript to Harlequin.  (God, I don't think my co-workers were even out of high school then.)  It was the first time I’d ever written anything so BIG.  I finished it.  Yay!  I edited it to the best of my abilities.  I had someone read it.  I edited it again.  Then I printed it off, packed it up and sent it to New York. 

I had no idea what I was doing.

In my own defense, I’ll just say that I was at a cross roads in my life - with that whole “Let’s see what happens" approach to life.


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Can you guess what happened?
I received my manuscript back with a nice little form letter saying “no thanks.”  (I'm pretty sure I still have the envelope, my m/s and the letter in a closet downstairs somewhere.)
My next step? I enrolled in a master’s degree in a completely unrelated field. 
Over the years, I thought about that fork in the road.  A lot.  It haunted me.  I finished my degree.  It haunted me.  I moved to a new city.  It haunted me.  I started my new career.  It… well, you get the picture. 
I thought about “what could have been.” 
Writing became a compulsion, an addiction of sorts.  I couldn’t stop.  I wrote at my lunch break.  I wrote at the local coffee shop.  I bought books on writing.  And, I did what addicts do - I joined a support group.  (http://www.albertaromancewriters.com/)  
At the meetings and workshops, I met people who understood me.  They shared my obsession to always have a pen and notebook handy.  They knew how ornery characters could be.  They didn’t think it was troublesome that I had voices in my head… voices that belong to characters living their own lives, struggling with their own problems, and refusing to shut up. 
My fellow ARWAnians also taught me a lot.  I see these years as my apprenticeship.  You know – that whole “write a million words” thing.  And, I have written and written... and written some more.  Over these last ten years, I've reached "The End" on seven stories and have several others in various stages of completion.

And, (drum roll please) it is now time to jump into the exciting and crazy process of trying to get published.  <gulp>  (Yes, my lovely, supportive family and friends, this is finally that moment!)
I am stating right here, right now: I will send out at least one query before midnight on the eve of my birthday.  (Okay – that may not seem like a particularly aggressive goal, but after an apprenticeship that’s lasted over a decade, I think it’s pretty spectacular.) 

Hey, who knows, maybe I'll even send out more than one query!  ;) 

Oh, and I have prosecco chilling in my refridgerator ready for that moment when I "hit send."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I'm unpublished... so, ummm, do I need a website now or do I wait?

The following are excerpts from a few blogs and websites - all with varying opinions - on that very question! Click on the links to check out their full articles.
There are a lot of varying opinions!
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Jody Hedlund:“I don’t think unpublished authors should put too much pressure on themselves to have a website before getting a book contract…  On the other hand, a website can help unpublished authors begin to prepare for the future and can possibly save time and effort later.”

Moira Allen (as posted on Writing-World.com): “Designing and maintaining a site can be an excellent way to promote your writing and advance your career, but it should not be allowed to replace writing.”

Stacy Verdick Case (as posted on Ezine @rticles): “Do you need a website or not? Welcome to the twenty-first century--yes you need a website!”

Will Design for Chocolate: “Deciding if you need a website at this stage depends on two things: where you are in your career and what your goal in having a website is.”

Judi Fennell (as posted on Gather): “It’s a great way to get your name out there if you’re serious about becoming published and it shows you are in this for a career.”

Scott Eagan (Greyhaus Literary Agency): “I want you to take the time and work on your story. When you get an agent, and certainly, when you get an editor, then get that website up and running. Until then, just write.”

After reading these articles, my conclusions are:
  • I need to write my book and not worry about (or get distracted by) creating a website. 
  • I need to finish, edit and polish my book.  
  • I need to sell my work. 
  • Then, a few months before release date, I need to create a website.  
Okay.  Website is on hold... for now.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

September & Summer Commitments

Today I registered for my 2011-2012 ARWA membership.  I'm excited to start the new program year.  This giddiness probably comes from my long stint in school and university.  Every September I get nostalgic - itching to learn new things and see old friends.

In some ways, it'll be bitter sweet though.  You see, every June, when my writing group breaks for the summer, we write down our summer commitments: What do we plan to achieve?  We can choose whatever we want, but ideally it is something writing related.  The secretary collects our "commitments" and holds them for us.  Over the summer, I usually forget about my promise until it gets close to September.  Then, the first meeting back, the secretary reads aloud from the collected commitments and we have to say how we did.
My goal this year was to finish the first, ugly draft of my current work-in-progress. 
(Image: © Tomas Jezek |Dreamstime.com)
At the time when I made the commitment, I had... oh, I don't know... about 11,000 words written.  Since then, I've written another 33,000.  My goal is 80,000 words in total. 

Crap.

In my own defense - yes, there are excuses ahead - I've been working closely with my critique group, so hopefully what I have written is pretty solid.  I really want to meet that 80,000 word count though.  There are sixteen days to that first meeting.  With 36,000 words still needed, that's a "whole lotta" writing!  <Gasp> 
Okay - ready, set, TYPE!