Monday, October 30, 2006

Do You Ever Wonder

Do you ever wonder why a reader reads our books? Or why you hear over and over again—show don’t tell?

Readers connect—or don’t!—with a book on a gut emotional level. Even when the book is nonfiction—history or science or philosophy—if the person is reading it by choice and not simply because he or she needs to do so for work, I believe there is an underlying emotional connection to the material.

With thrillers, part of the appeal, I believe, is the secret desire so many of us have to be heroes. For science fiction or fantasy where the theme is “stranger in a strange land” there is the connection of all the times we have felt that way. For romance, well, the deepest human need that exists is to be loved. Babies can literally die from lack of love.

What does this mean to us if we are writers? It means we need to keep always in our minds that our readers need a way to connect emotionally with our characters and/or the situations in which they find themselves. Readers don’t necessarily have to feel they would make the same choices, only be able to understand why our characters make the choices and take the actions they do.

This also means that the strongest opening to a novel will be one that resonates on a gut or emotional level with readers or it will be one that evokes laughter. Readers who quickly feel that they like the characters and want to spend time with them will keep reading. Readers who laugh and believe they will be entertained will keep reading. Readers who want to believe in the fantasy of power being offered will keep reading.

Example: Consider the impact of the following two possible openings for the same book.

Sarah sat down to pay bills. There probably wasn’t enough money in the checking account because her sister had taken most of it last week when she left town with her biker boyfriend. Now she was afraid her landlord might throw her out of her apartment before she could get a second job to pay the bills.


Sarah was going to kill Martha. She had it all planned out. She’d tie Martha to a stake, pile up all these bills at Martha’s feet, and light them with a match from her sister’s purse. It wasn’t as if she could afford to buy her own matches, after all. Not since Martha had emptied out Sarah’s purse and bank account and took off with that low down, no account biker who came through town last week.
Yup, Sarah had it all planned out. The only problem left was how to persuade her landlord not to throw her out before she found a way to get the money to pay her rent and other bills. Briefly she wondered how hard it would be to rob a bank but then concluded she’d probably end up feeling sorry for the teller and give it all back. Nope, she was just going to have to work two jobs. Again.

The second opening lets the reader deeper into Sarah’s world. Hopefully it makes the reader laugh a little and really feel the desperation that lies under Sarah’s fantasy, see her determination to succeed and ultimately care what happens to her. will you let your readers into the emotional world of your characters? How will you create emotional points of connection for them?

And if you are a reader, what draws YOU into a book? What do YOU remember most about the best books you have ever read?


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Writing Through Difficult Times

I’m often asked by my coaching clients or when I give writing workshops how we can keep writing through difficult times. It’s come up in my own life—sick kids, death of a parent, friends in need. It came up again this past week. My friend fighting breast cancer had a set back and ended up in the hospital for several days. A few other things pulled at my attention as well. But I have an editor and an agent who asked to see a manuscript that needs a few revisions first.

So it’s fresh in my mind. How do we write in times of stress? (And who doesn’t have stress in their lives?)

These are the questions I ask myself and suggest my clients ask themselves:

1) Why do I write? Why does it matter to me to be a writer?

2) Why does THIS particular project matter to me?

3) What do I love about my writing?

4) What’s the cost to me if I don’t write NOW?

5) How can I honor the concerns in my life AND write?

6) How can I bring laughter into my life, every day, even if something terrible is happening or has happened as well?

I know MY answers. They are what keep me writing even when it’s difficult. My answers won’t necessarily be the same as yours or any other writer. Each of us needs to know what matters to us.

Ironically, as I turned to books by fellow writers and discovered gems by Lois Winston and Irene Peterson and Caridad Pineiro, I was reminded how often readers have written to me to say that my books got them through a difficult time and it was one more reason to go back to my computer with renewed energy and enthusiasm for the project I’m working on. (Which is why books by Eloisa James, Mary Jo Putney, Anne Stuart, Jennifer Cruisie, Terri Brisbin, Elizabeth Keys, and others are still waiting to be read.)

I even realized that the darkness that had crept into the writing before I went to the NJRW conference because I was worried about my friend could be replaced with a lightness that makes me laugh as I rewrite the scenes. (Note: I hadn’t worried about the darkness, even though my initial vision for Black Cat of the Family was lightness because I’d been hearing editors wanted dark paranormal. But guess what? The editor wants to see the lighter version—a reminder that my initial instincts were on target and I should have trusted them.)

So how do you write in stressful times? What are your answers to the questions above? It’s worth asking yourself the questions and brainstorming strategies when things are going well because it’s much harder to do so when you are under stress. And I truly believe that tapping back into the writing can give us an intangible something that helps us cope with those challenges.

I hope that each of you find your own answers to the questions above and the strategies that will allow YOU to write when you most need and want to do so.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Conference and Politicians

Okay, so I was just going to write about the New Jersey Romance Writer’s Conference that took place last weekend. It was, as always a wonderful event! There were, of course, terrific speakers, wonderful and welcoming NJRW members, and excellent editors and agents who attended.

I love writer’s conferences. I love speaking at them and sharing what I know that can make writing easier, more fun, and more effective. I love being inspired by and learning from other authors. I love the energy, the enthusiasm, the wisdom and the sheer joy that abounds at these things. I came away with renewed confidence and impatience to get back to my own work.

Now about politics....

There is a politician in Texas who thinks it’s okay to trash romance novels. Fred Head seems to think that writing about love and honor and commitment and making love within the bounds of a loving, monogamous relationship is somehow wrong. He calls it pornography. I am deeply disappointed that he feels he has a right to treat romance writers and readers with such disrespect. I am deeply disappointed that he would rather take cheap shots at his opponent Susan Combs than deal with real issues. I feel angry that he thinks we don’t matter.

I suppose I’m angriest because I believe so deeply in what I and other romance writers write. I believe in hope and love and commitment and optimism about life. I believe we need a genre that is dedicated to the issues, hopes, and dreams of women. I believe we need a genre that shows both men and women triumphing over the challenges in their lives. I believe we need a genre that explores the ways men and women can come together that empowers both of them so that each is stronger and safer and more capable than if each was alone.

I am a feminist. It’s one of the reasons I began writing romance novels. In my lifetime I have seen a profound change in the roles for men and women and I believe one of the great challenges we have is to explore these new possibilities.

I also write romance novels because I believe there is too much darkness, too much pessimism in the world. I believe that we romance writers show a way to live that focuses on taking action and triumphing over challenges rather than being victims.

I write romance because in a world where love is often treated so carelessly, I believe we need models of men and women who do treat love with the respect it deserves. We need to read about people who are committed to fidelity and monogamy and do the work it takes to have a relationship that lasts.

Fred Head has chosen to attack something I dearly love. In doing so, he has lost my respect and any chance I would ever vote for him for any public office ever. He owes Susan Combs and every romance author and every romance reader a profound apology.


Tuesday, October 10, 2006


She wore a bracelet sent to her by members of the Masai tribe in Africa. Two playboy bunnies stopped by to wish her well. She was surrounded by friends and we laughed and joked and cried with her the night before she went in for surgery for breast cancer. It was aggressive breast cancer, moving very fast, they said. She had chosen a double radical mastectomy. We knew they expected to keep her a week in the hospital to recover.

That was Thursday night. The surgery was Friday. She came home on Saturday. It was her choice. She wanted to be home where she would be more comfortable and could sleep better. She wanted to be where she could be surrounded by friends and loved ones and her dogs.

She was and is still in pain, but every day, all day, she moves around, gets up and down and does what she can—careful not to strain herself, but determined to do whatever it takes to heal and be well again.

That’s courage.

She’s already prepared for the months ahead. Her hair is cut short in case it falls out. She has a collection of hats ready and big, splashy earrings. She’s figured out how she will do the things that matter most and still make sure she gets the chemo she needs.

For those of us who are writers, this is the kind of woman many of us want to write about—someone who triumphs over every obstacle put in her path, someone who goes on when others might give up, someone who continues to laugh and love and LIVE in the face of terrifying adversity, someone who is passionate in everything she does. In short, she is the heroine of her own story.

May we all find courage to face the adversities in our lives and live and love and laugh as we do so. May we all be the heroines of our own stories. May we all have whatever courage we need, when we need it.