Thursday, 29 November 2012

Falling Out of Love...?


I think we're all familiar with the age-old advice that you should probably only write in a genre you read and love? How often have you heard authors criticised for writing in a genre just because they think it might be 'easy' or lucrative and not because they read it themselves? If this is true, and if the basis of which genre you should write in can be gleaned from your current bedside-reading stack, then according to my current Goodreads To-Read bookshelf, I should be...wait for it...

...a Sci-Fi / Fantasy author.


That's right. Wall-to-wall Stephen King, Robin McKinley, Charlaine Harris, J.K. Rowling...the list goes on. I've even made a separate bookshelf called 'Guilty Pleasure' on which to store these non-Romance sins, as if they were my junk-food addiction! It appears that I am a secret-reader. A sci-fi/fantasy binge-eater.

It has not escaped my notice that of late, I have not been particularly...enthusiastic, shall we say, about reading romance. As this is my genre of choice, this poses a little problem, as well as the question, "WHY?"

(Okay, not as in, "OH MY GOD, WHY?!?" Let's not get overly dramatic.)

So I've had a long, hard think about this (read: sipped a glass of wine and pondered during the commercials of the hot hot men of Chicago Fire). I've advised myself NOT to panic. But it begs the question... have I fallen out of love with Romance!? And if so, am I writing in the wrong genre?

After some deep soul-searching (or was that deep fridge-searching?...still watching Chicago Fire), I came to a semi-solid conclusion for myself.*

The reason I haven't read anything romance-y in a while is because I hadn't found anything really GREAT that is romance-y to read. Maybe I've been frequenting the 'free books' section of eBook sites too much. Maybe I haven't been actively pursuing the best authors out there. All I know is I have countless novels on my Kindle of which I've read the first page and then hit the HOME button in a hurry. I'm not reading them because I'm not enjoying them, and I'm not enjoying them because I DON'T LIKE THEM.

So this is obviously where I get on my (little white) high horse, right? No, not really. Okay, granted, some of these books were complete drivel and were painful from the first sentence, but some of them were just...not my style. Coming to this conclusion reminded me of something very important. It reminded me of why I started writing in the first place. That, "I could totally write something as good as this," moment. That, "I know what I LIKE and I want to read THAT," moment.

The reason I may not be someone else's 'Perfect Reader' (and run away after the first page) could be because I am MY OWN perfect reader. Okay, that sounds weird and pretentious, but really, it's why I write in the first place. I like to read about a particular kind of guy. I like to read about a particular kind of girl. I like a particular mix of mystery or suspense or psychology or whathaveyou.

So this got me thinking. Am I actually thinking carefully enough about what I like as a reader when I'm writing my stories? Because if I'm my own perfect reader, I better write something that is a) GOOD, and b) something I'm going to LIKE.

So what next...?

I'm going to try two things:

1. Find some romance I really love, and read/re-read it. Rekindle the spark. Remember what I loved about it and why.

2. Nail down what it is I REALLY, TRULY love to read about, and make sure I'm putting 100% of that into my writing.

So what drives you away from your genre? Is it true that you should read predominantly in your chosen section of the bookstore, or should one have a varied diet?

Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it.    ~ Jesse Stuart

* Disclaimer: This may not be the same reason that YOU stop reading romance. You might have found a new hobby, for example, such as crocheting or reading Fullmetal Alchemist. Each to their own.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

And then she went 'Kaboom'...

Tonight marks exactly a month since I dove in the deep end of Twitter (and several other social media sites).

As a new / 'indie' / self-pub author you are bombarded with advice from all angles about blogging, guest-blogging, tweeting, book trailers, conferences, live tweet-chats, writing contest, flash fiction, tweet fiction, Facebook, Klout, Pinterest, Tumblr, Flickr and any other cute new site that ends with 'r' (and should REALLY have an 'e' because really...they're spelling it wrong). And published or unpublished you must push push PUSH your social media 'platform' so that you have a network or an audience or a 'sphere of influence'...

And you follow. You follow lots of other writers and join the 'community' and retweet and repin and reblog. And you allow yourself to be bombarded by the tweets and retweets and blogs and ads and #hash tags and @mentions and more blogs and more websites until your eyelid develops a nasty twitch and you read and you read and you READ.

Steve King says to 'shut the door' when you write. Shut the door? How can I shut the door when I've just woken up to the reality that I am no longer in a room that HAS a door? And there is no door because I'm sitting in the middle of a airplane-hangar size waiting room full of other people all shouting at the top of their lungs to be noticed and there IS NO DOOR.

And then you kind of go... kaboom.

In a small, quiet moment, your mind finally says...'Enough.' And it implodes. Slowly, gently.

And you remember something.

You used to write, once. Once upon a time...a month ago. You used to write. You used to sit, quietly with your laptop, and create characters and scenes and think about exactly which word to use to describe the light when the leaves move and you're with someone who's talking but you're only half listening because you can't stop watching the light as the leaves move...flickering back, and forth....back and forth.

So here's the lesson I teach myself today. The airplane-hangar will always be there. But have to shut the door.

Image credit: United States Department of Energy via Wiki Commons, 1952. Alterations by me.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Where do you start...?

credit: The Pen And Ink Blog (link below)
I'll be the first to say that I'm still pretty new to this whole 'writing' thing. I've observed from the outside, watched other people write, beta-read for them, etc etc. But until doing it for myself I didn't entirely appreciate how different everyone's creative process could be.

I expect there are some obvious and well-cataloged cognitive reasons for all our writerly differences, and maybe someday I'll get the time to study them fully. What I'm intrigued by at the moment is our starting points. How do we get that lil' toehold into a story and wrestle it until it tells us all its secrets?

I've read plenty of insightful blog posts and articles on how you need characters to build plot and plot to build character and somewhere in there you chuck a few pinches of setting and a few teaspoons of concept and hey presto you have your cake- I mean...story.

But why do we naturally start from different places? Why do some of us build extensive outlines and construct scale-model worlds out of mental-matchsticks and superglue, while others have whole entire people wandering around inside their skulls waiting to jump out into something...anything...they really don't mind what.

These differences were really made clear to me recently. I'd been beta-reading (okay, blatant sneak-peeking!) for a writer friend, and she finally came back to me and said 'Okay, I have to bite the bullet and get some structure into this thing - there's too much going on.' (Okay, my paraphrase, but that's basically it.) I had to sort of mentally blink at the idea that you could have characters wandering around, encountering each other, creating whole scenes...and not actually know exactly where they were headed in the long-run.

Now this is where I must make it very clear that this thought was not one of criticism. More one of revelation. See, here I'd been plotting my stories out from beginning to end, then dropping my half-formed characters into them and seeing how they reacted to the hoops I made them jump through. Yes, I'm one of the plot-structure-lovers. The logic-adoring, detail-oriented neat-freaks of the writerly universe (go on, I know we irritate you!). It had never even crossed my mind to just create a person, and walk around in their shoes for a few months. 

So I'm just getting to grips with this, when I read an interview with author Susan Spann on Chuck Wendig's blog, Terrible Minds. She says that for her, "...character building flows from world building. It’s much easier to write strong characters when I’m inserting them into a three-dimensional, fully developed environment. Knowing the layout of a character’s bedroom, house, and neighborhood makes it easier to understand what kind of person would inhabit that space."

So you mean you can create a world, right down to the furniture and the wallpaper, and your character comes walking right out of the type of carpet you chose for them?! Mind = blown.

Now, I've encountered some of these sorts of differences in people with regards to how they learn. It's pretty common knowledge that there are different 'learning styles' and that everyone has a slightly different combination of cognitive jigsaw pieces that make up how they process their interactions with the world around them. So buried in there somewhere must be some parallels to how we naturally choose to dive into our story-writing, right? I've now read a few...left brain vs right brain, etc, but the jury is still out.

My next thought is that with learning styles, it's advised to try and cater towards people's natural preferences, but that they should also work on 'exercising' those other underused cognitive 'muscles' so as to have a more well-rounded learning experience. So does this mean I should spend time bulking up on other methods of story-writing? Should I try out a character-driven method or a world-building method as a way to jump-start me into a story? Or maybe I just need to start including a few writing exercises for these areas into my initial story-process.

So where do you start? Do you think you should stick to what comes naturally, or push yourself to do something that doesn't? 

[Picture credit: The Pen And Ink Blog ]

Sunday, 16 September 2012

My first week on Twitter - A survival story

I did it. After resisting for years, I am finally on Twitter. I now tweet. I now retweet. I @mention. I do #followfridays. I am now completely and utterly addicted. Oh dear.

Okay, so I only have 26 followers (Oh...make that 27!) so far, but it's a start! And it is have the up-to-the-minute thoughts from heads like Stephen Fry. I get it now. I totally get it.

So why did I stay away for so long? My list of excuses went something like this:
"I don't have a's just so difficult to check them on a computer."
"I don't get how it works! Who's tweets am I looking at? Why are someone else's showing up in that feed!? Help!"
"Only people with constant, interesting thoughts use Twitter."
"Only people with constant, boring, irritating thoughts use Twitter."
"Who wants to hear about what I had for breakfast anyway?!"
"I don't know anyone on Twitter! Who will follow me? I'll look like such a loser..."

You get the idea. But in the end, of course it didn't take long to figure out how it worked. I just got started, and it went from there.

1. Set up account. Uploaded picture. Pretty simple. Phew.
2. Found one person I knew, clicked 'follow' and held on for dear life. Nothing bad happened.
3. Looked at people I was a fan of and found out who they followed and/or followed them. Stole them.

And then...someone I didn't know started following me. And then someone else. So I followed them (after checking to make sure they weren't some crazy sex-ad spam bot of course). And then some of their followers followed me. Wow. REAL LIVE TWITTER FOLLOWERS. And I was hooked.

A few things I've learned so far...

@ Mentions

  • They seem to work like links, i.e. you can click on them to see that person's profile
  • They work as a sort of tweet delivery system if put right at the front of the tweet, e.g. @YourName Hi there!
  • They make a tweet visible to others if you're following the person @mentioned. I think. Still puzzling that one out.

#ff #FF #followfriday
I found this fascinating (okay, enough 'f''s!). A totally viral way of doing a 'shoutout' to others to recommend they follow someone you're following. Apparently it's expanding from just Fridays to Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. Human beings really are attracted to ritual, and this is steadily becoming a Twitter tradition.

What NOT to do
  • Have every tweet be yet another ad for your book/blog/facebook page. Please...please just stop. Are you a real person? Is anyone actually in there? Are you so, so important that all you can do is spam me?
  • Schedule tweets with a tweet service. Again, I want to feel I'm following a human being, and when you tweet every 15 min right through the night I know you're off having a great time doing something other than paying attention to your followers! Shame on you.
  • Only ever talk about yourself in real time and never share anything of your own or of others. I have my own stream of consciousness to contend with let alone adding yours thank you!

There are some really cool people on Twitter!
I had no idea there were so many other writers out there. All reading, all writing, all talking to each other. It's fantastic, and I am meeting people already I would never have stumbled across on any other network.

So if you aren't already, why not follow me? I promise not to spam you. I promise to be a human being. I will do my very best to not be completely and utterly boring.


Monday, 10 September 2012

Love, Kisses and...Condoms?

"Oh Luke," she moaned in soft, dulcet tones as he slid his deft, manly fingers along her luscious thigh, brushing oh so near her virginal womanhood. His rakish touch set her whole body on fire as she arched fluidly against him, begging for more.
"Babe, I want you so bad," he breathed, raining kisses along her sleek, swan-like neck, pressing his taut, muscular thigh between her willing knees.
"Just a sec," she muttered, scrabbling furiously around in the drawer of the bedside table. "I could have sworn I put some prophylactic supplies in there just the other day. I'm on the birth control pill, but you never can be too careful about sexually transmitted diseases, right?" 


Okay, so I'm having a bit of fun!

The other day I came across an article by relationship psychologist and author, Susan Quilliam, At first the article made me a little sniffy, as I've grown used to reading diatribes by women who feel the entire romantic fiction genre is a waste of space and insult to their womanhood (no, not that womanhood). But I made myself reread the article with a cool head, and while I may not entirely agree with her on all points, she raises some valid questions.

The Article
The main thread of her article surrounded the question of  the impact of romantic fiction on the state of sexual awareness, safe and consensual sex, and emotional health of the female population. You cannot deny the sheer prevalence of romantic fiction and the endless staggering volume of the literature consumed every day by women worldwide. So I'll give her that one. It must have an effect.

Her main beef seems to be around the potential for romantic fantasy to wrongly inform women about:

  • Healthy roles and status in relationships (due to fainting damsels and devilish rogues etc)
  • Accurate knowledge about what is consensual sex and what is not ('sexual awakening' themes in stories etc)
  • Safe sex and condom use
  • The realities of pregnancy and the effects of childbearing on a relationship
  • Orgasms and realistic sexual fulfillment

So what?
Knowing this...knowing that romance readers seem to have developed an allergy (not literally!) to condom use, and are apparently filling up therapist waiting rooms globally due to sexual and relationship woes; what do we do about it, if anything?

As writers of romantic fiction, do we bear some responsibility for ensuring that the women who read our books are given the true picture? Or are we providing what women actually want; a fantasy, an escape from reality?

I have a suspicion that even with the 50 Shades-style literature that is swamping our eReaders, most women are pretty smart, and they know the difference between fantasy and reality. I also believe that romantic fiction as a genre may be headed towards a slightly gritter real-to-life style in any case. But it's something that bears thinking about.

A Question...and A Challenge?
If you can't write a love scene and make safe, consensual; is it the fault of the subject matter or the ability of the writer? Can you make condoms sexy?

Quilliam, Susan. ""He Seized Her in His Manly Arms and Bent His Lips to Hers...". The Surprising Impact That Romantic Novels Have on Our Work." -- Quilliam 37 (3): 179. Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, 20 May 2011. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <>.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

So you want to be a writer?

I've done it. I've taken that step into the 'world of writing' and decided I shall become...a writer. Very noble. Very ambitious. Pats on the back for me.

But having stepped into the 'world of writing', I have discovered, as many (many) have before, a certain truth. A truth that freshly-graduated artists discover their first summer looking for an 'art job'. The truth that aspiring actors discover at their first oversubscribed audition.

That thing you wanted to do...that thing you felt made you special and unique and, well, 'above' the general mundane riff-raff? Yup, you got it. Everyone else on the planet seems to want to do exactly the same thing.

You try to process this. You try to tell yourself that you didn't just scroll through twenty-five 'writers' blogs featuring entries identical to the entries on your own (special, unique, 'above') blog. You didn't just flick through screen after screen (after screen) of self-published wannabees on Amazon who have...oh dear...the exact same story premise as the gold-dust gleaming novel saved onto your laptop's hard-drive.

This is reality. Everyone out there wants to do exactly the same thing as you. Everyone out there is potentially as good if not better than you at writing. You are part of a messy, unruly rabble all chasing each other to the coveted finish-line ribbon that has the words 'full time writer' embossed on it.

But the pie is finite. Not everyone will get a piece.

You have a choice. 

a. Find the most specialised field of intergalactic bacterial research and go do that.

b. Keep going and believe you can carve out a tiny slice of that pie for yourself. If you just hang in long enough. If you write hard enough and often enough to actually begin to get good at it and have someone notice. Just...keep going.

So what'll it be?

"Eighty percent of success is showing up." - Woody Allen

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Judging a book...

I'll be the first person to say the old, 'Don't judge a book by its cover', though I find this generally applies more to people than to books. I'll admit it, I am a sucker for an interesting/beautiful/well-designed cover. At a glance, I want to be drawn in, intrigued, informed. A book cover should tell me something about the genre, the feel, the darkness/lightness of the book, and so on. Which might be why I have more posts about covers than about writing, which is a little worrisome! But let's go with it.

My confession is this: I do judge a book by it's cover. And, I don't believe I am alone in this.

Book covers never used to be a factor I would have to consider when purchasing a book, but with the advent of eBooks on Amazon and Smashwords, I find it affecting my purchasing decisions more and more. You may also have noticed a lot of the self-published titles have...interesting...covers. Bad stock photos at best, flat colour and some ill-advised fonts. Never have scrolly fonts, comic sans and drop-shadows been abused in such a way! Why, I ask, do self-pub titles have to have such terrible covers?! It really is putting me off reading them.

These particular eBooks may be spectacularly written, but I wouldn't know, as I would never be tempted to download them...sorry.

Now, I'm not saying that a beautiful cover immediately promises a well-edited, beautifully written book. Ohhh no. I have tossed out plenty of books with pretty covers which proved to have some challenges in the basic spelling and grammar department in just the first few pages. So even I can be fooled.

Here are a few things as a reader I would most strongly suggest to those looking to self-publish in our brand new world of publishing freedom:

1. Get the cover art right. It must match the feel and tone and genre of your book. MUST. If you didn't make it past 5th grade art class, don't worry, there are eBook cover design services springing up all over the internet. But be careful how much you pay...

2. If you go with a professional cover, make sure the contents match the pretty outside! There's nothing like the let-down of being fooled by the packaging, and you'll likely lose readers forever.

3. Once you have your design and book ready, get feedback. From people you love. From people you hate, or hate you (it will at least be honest, right?)

Your writing is obviously the most important part of a book, but make sure that you are always putting your best foot forward. Don't give readers any reason to not click or pick up your book. Do it as a matter of professionalism. Covers do matter.

Further reading...

Monday, 25 June 2012

"Remove the love triangle...".

A question of genre...

I'm a huge fan of George Takei, both as Mr. Sulu (yes, I'll admit it, I'm a not-so-closet Trekkie!) but more recently as a follower of his fan-fed humour feed on his Facebook page.

That being said, I have a teensy bone to pick with one of his recently posted memes:

Okay, so we all like to join in on a little Twilight-bashing from time to time. It's popular, it's riddled with teenage angst and did I mention that it's incredibly popular. I will be among the first to start listing the elements about the series (the books or the films) that irritate me, but in this case, I'm stepping up. I'm standing up for Twilight. Perhaps not as an entry into the great writing of Western culture. Perhaps not as a generation-defining masterpiece. What I want to defend here is the genre.

Let's have a look...

The Hunger Games

This story is set in a futuristic, dystopian society. The central plot focuses on the fight-to-the-death survival story. Genres we could easily assign would be Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Young Adult. Is there a romantic element in the story? Yes. But it's a sub-plot.


In my mind, Twilight fits into several genres if you consider the series as a whole. Fantasy, Young Adult, Vampire. Some might say even Urban Fantasy due to the concentration on Forks, Washington and the supernatural elements. But if we're looking at the first book particularly, the most important genre categorisation here has to be Romance.

My evidence? Vampire-boy meets human-girl. They fall in love. The competing character of Jacob gets in the way, along with that tiny issue of Edward being a vampire and Bella a human and how it means they can never be together (perfect plot device!). Love prevails. Yup. That's a romance.

Just to double-check myself I went onto and checked up on the genre categories that each book was listed in, as they're usually pretty accurate:

The Hunger Games:


Oh hey! Look...they pretty much match what I thought. Fancy that.

"So get to the point already!" you say...

Okay, it's simple really, and you've probably already sorted this out. But just to be clear.

A. Remove a romantic sub-plot from The Hunger Games, and yes, you will still have an intact plot.

B. Remove the central plot from Twilight, and of course you have nothing left but setting!

I rest my case. And I shake my pompoms for romance. Because, after is important. And it's still pretty damn popular, even if there isn't always a fight-to-the-death-survival story included. Oh wait...wasn't there one of those in Twilight...?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

'Blue Dalton' - A quick analysis

Some months ago I made a promise to start doing some analysis reviews of the romantic fiction I was reading. I suppose I should make good on that promise! I did some detailed analysis of a book I was reading at the time, taking notes and everything (very studious of me, don't you think?). But that was when I was in the middle of jury duty, stuck in the juror 'tank' waiting to be called up for a case (which never did materialise). Long story short, I'd better start with something a little fresher in my mind. Not that I have a short attention span, salad.

So what's the most recent romantic fiction I've read? Well, like zillions of other people I'm a recent Kindle adopter, and I'm slowly making my way through the FREE books, putting off that moment when I actually have to pay money for them. It's okay. I'm a few chapters into Crime & Punishment, which I probably wouldn't have started without a certain level of desperation. Being cheap can actually lead you to the classics! Who knew., don't leave yet. I'm not going to analyse Fyodor Dostoyevsky book! That would require actual understanding of it, not quite there yet...


Okay, so let's start with (what felt like) a somewhat short novel called Blue Dalton by Tara Janzen, a New York Times bestselling author. From what I can see from Amazon, this is among the many (many) works of fiction that went out of print several decades ago and has had a rebirth as an eBook. So, I will try to keep that in mind as times have changed a little since then (let's not mention 50 Shades).

Okay, so here's the structure:

1. Chapter 1 Exposition - basically - what do we find out and how?
By the time you're done the first few pages, you find out a fair deal about Blue (the lead female character), in that she's on a mission to find something, is convinced she's just killed a man, and isn't about to stick around for the long arm of the law to coop her up before she has a chance to complete her mission.

We get a first glimpse of Walker Evans (love interest, and general all-round Adonis), who has been enlisted by said long arm of the law to track Blue down, if not for murder then at least for shooting someone and leaving them for dead. It's pretty clear from the beginning that Walker intends to play his own long-game.

2. First meeting - when do they first clap eyes on each other?
Nice start to a romance, I thought, when he looks her in the eye for the first time down the barrel of her rifle. In terms of where, Kindle makes this a little tricky, definitely chapter 1 (well, you do need to have your inciting incident early on, right?) and approximately 9% of the way in.

3. Key kiss - Robert McKee's term for that point-of-no-return intimate moment
Plenty of build-up to this, mainly from Walker's point of view, as Blue is somewhat out for the count for some time. Nice way to get into his head. Ch 3 gives us the key kiss, and I have to say, the memory of it does keep surfacing throughout the book for both characters, so Tara has deliberately set it into stone, which is rather interesting.

4. What’s to keep them apart?
Do the words 'family feud' suffice? 'Nuff said without super-duper spoilers (I should be encouraging reading of these books, not ruining the endings for you!).

But of course, that is only the surface reason. How about Blue, not having experienced real love before, and not trusting it from Walker. And Walker, rebelling against the attraction he has to a type of woman he's never been with before?

5. What key turning points bring them together?
Walker is there for her when she needs to be bailed out of jail, emotionally and physically. The intimacy of his ranch house also pushes them closer and forces them to examine themselves. Walker's emotional hand is forced when she puts herself in danger, and as a result, puts things in perspective for him.

6. Which key turning points push/pull them apart?
Walker's competing need for the family treasure definitely stands between them, aggravating any attempts at building trust. Blue makes a hurtful discovery at the very end which threatens to have her running away completely from their attraction.

7. When are they fully committed?
Walker is more aware of the point of no return than Blue, but the complete trust doesn't come until nearly the last pages.

8. Sub-plots!
I have to say, other than the romance and the family feud/treasure, there are no sub-plots here. This might account for the shortness or short-feel of the book. But it's a sweet romance, with very well-written descriptions and Blue and Walker did come alive for me as I read it. A nice simple read.

9. What is her major flaw and how does she overcome this?
Inability to trust anyone, really. In the end, she needs a great deal of help from Walker, but you have to give it to her...she gives it up, and leaves it in the past.

10. Any other notes...
While I don't expect epic Lord of the Rings type storylines from any romance novel, this does show that if you want the full-length feel, there have to be some additional layers of plot to buoy up the central story if you want a really satisfying 'long' read.

P.S. Can I just say that the photo on the cover really didn't match what I had in my mind from reading the book at all. Sometimes Kindle books are great that way  - you just read it and don't even see the cover!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Searching for a Heart of Gold...

So the finalists for the 2012 RITA and Golden Heart Awards have been announced by RWA (Romance Writers of America). If you're not familiar with these awards, the RITAs are for works of romantic fiction published in the previous year (2011 in this case), and the Golden Heart Awards are for us so-far unpublished authors. These truly are the Oscars of the romantic fiction world!

I think it's fantastic that there is a platform with such visibility for those of us who aren't with publishers yet (or perhaps don't even plan to be).  I've hovered around the RWA website on numerous occasions, scrolling through the scarlet and gold annals of past winners and the already-successful, wondering what it would be like to enter.

So then comes the dilemma. Call for entries will open again come September for the first 1,200 hopefuls. Final deadlines are mid-November, going by past years. My first (ever) story is in its final draft stage, and the temptation is there to do some quick editing as well as work on the synopsis that is required.

I wanted to find out...what was it actually like to enter? What were the pitfalls? What were the pros and cons of entering? The RWA website, while thorough, obviously didn't contain the 'real-world' advice I was after. After some furious Googling, I did locate a few websites that I found helpful, and thought I'd share:

The Ruby Slippered Sisterhood -

From what I've read, this site and group-blog was started by the Golden Heart Finalists of 2009. Just like a graduating class, they've created an 'alumni' site to track their respective journeys in the romance writing world, provide support for each other and some useful information for the rest of us wannabes! So far I've found:

  • Interviews with current and past Golden Heart Finalists
  • Success stories
  • Self-publishing and publishing advice

The Golden Network -

This is an online chapter of the RWA, and while to actually fully join the group you must already be a Golden Heart Finalist, they do run an annual writing contest of their own call The Golden Pen. This contest is modeled very closely to the Golden Heart Awards, but the bonus is that you get feedback, and I have read that it is a great way to test your work before submitting to the more daunting (and expensive) Golden Heart Awards.

I'd be very interested to hear from anyone else who is contemplating submitting this year! Leave a comment or email me...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A different type of heroine...

I've been doing my homework this week, reading up on some of the greatest names in romantic fiction. I found myself on Nora Roberts' site, and from there reading an article of an interview with her by Carole Cadwalladr of The Observer called Nora Roberts: The woman who rewrote the rules of romantic fiction.

Click to read the article
You can't argue with the fact that Nora is incredibly successful at what she does. I remember reading a few of her books when I was still nicking them out of my mother's bedside table, but I've not really been drawn back to them for some reason.

She is incredibly prolific, able to write a novel in 45 days and then just start on another! Can you imagine?

One thing that's been at the back of my mind and bothering me somewhat is what is said in the article about her heroines. They're all very ambitious women with high-powered jobs and somewhere on the spectrum of swash to buckle.

If I'm honest, if the heroine is engaging enough, I don't mind a story like that, but what I really like in a story is possibly someone a little bit more like me. Not a high-powered superwoman, but someone who may need physical rescue. Of course she has to be the emotional rescuer in the story, or she wouldn't be interesting at all.

Ironically, it was the so-called push-over type heroines that Nora was trying to get away from when she wrote her own first novels as she said the heroines just weren't 'feisty' enough.

Considering her popularity, this gives me pause. She wrote what she enjoyed reading, and she's sold millions of books. This means that women love to read about her type of heroine. But is my type of heroine actually of interest to anyone? Will they just think she's weak?

In Bronte sister terms, do I try to write my heroines as Catherine Earnshaw or Jane Eyre? I think I'm just going to have to follow my heart, and my gut.

But thanks to Nora and the others who have forged Romance into a multifaceted genre, perhaps there's room for everyone, even me?

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Romance Cover of the Week

I can't resist. After all my digging around to find all the second-hand romance novels I remember from my youth, I just can't get over the cover art.

Times have changed, so just for fun I'd like to feature some of the best (in my own humble opinion of course!)  as well as some of the...well...wonderfully bulging, melodramatic, beefed-up, bodice-bursting covers of yester-year!

DISCLAIMER: I am making choices based purely on the cover art - yes, judging the book by the cover. I make no comment on the contents and in no way wish to cause insult or injury to any romance writer who happened to publish in print during the unfortunate years of the '80's and early '90's.

This week's theme: SCOTTISH ROMANCE

Oddly enough, both of these books published in 1993, but one has been savvy and created an updated cover for what looks like a re-released eBook version of the original book.

I really like the artwork and font choice for this one – I would be tempted to pick it up and have a read. Not in its 1993 cover though!

Slightly cringe-worthy…
And the winner is…Scottish Ecstasy!
Is it just me, or does he look a bit like Joey from ‘Friends’?

(if you can't see the pics properly, I do apologise - blogger and me are having slight differences of opinion today)

Monday, 13 February 2012

Valentine's Eve...and why we love Romance

So why romantic fiction? Perhaps we should be asking the buyers who spent $1.36 billion on romantic fiction books in 2011!

I'm definitely in search of understanding what makes readers tick and what they love so that I can incorporate this into my own writing. I remember what it felt like to find a book where the characters and the story really stuck with me and I relished every page, bought a copy of the book and reread it every few years just to enjoy it all over again. We're so diverse in our emotional and psychological backgrounds that it's obvious that we won't all like the same books, just as we don't all enjoy the same food tastes. But surely there are some common factors that appeal to most?

I am a reader too, and while it's been some time since I read romantic fiction avidly, getting back into it again has reminded me of what I loved about it before. Writing in the genre is even more exciting. You have some control over how the story goes, but once the characters are out of the box, they take over certain aspects and they drive how things unfold.

So what do I enjoy most about romantic fiction?

Falling in love.

If you haven't already done this in your life, then you get to live the fantasy of what it might feel like if it happened to you. Guess what, when you have fallen in love, it is so enjoyable that you want to re-live those emotions over and over again. Perhaps some readers need to hang onto the falling-in-love honeymoon period because their actual relationship has drifted into dullness. I can certainly empathize with this from previous relationships, and it's not a great place to be. But even when your relationship is alive and exciting, many years on, remembering what it felt like to fall in love is just like looking back at your wedding photos. It brings back all the excitement and reminds you of why you fell in love in the first place.

That's the only explanation I can think of for why I can never get enough of watching the end of You've Got Mail, or Sense & Sensibility for that matter...or Pride & Prejudice...or reading the last chapters of Jane Eyre...

Ignore all the anthropologists and biologists who go on about natural selection and pheromones and biological compatibility (though I'm sure there is truth in all those things as well). Falling in love is a strange, mysterious and wonderful thing. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

'Bodice Busters'...those were the days!

So here's the thing. I always told myself, whenever I flipped through my mother's romance novels (which I wasn't supposed to be reading, especially the bits that said 'thigh' or 'turgid', the latter being surprisingly common word in the genre), that I could write this stuff.'s not Jane Austen after all.

Of course back then, pretty much every romance novel sported Fabio on the cover. Yeeks. I never really did get the appeal...

Seriously, he's totally naked?!

It took me a while, but I'm finally doing it. Writing, that is (what were you thinking?). And more than that, I'm actually enjoying it. I have a whole story, but at this point it's not quite fleshed out enough to qualify as a standalone contemporary romance title. More work to be done!

But in the meantime, I've started a little project.

A rather wise man said the best way to learn how to write well, particularly for a specific genre, is to study that genre in great detail. Break it down, find out what makes it tick. Find out what makes the genre what it is. You're working with the expectations of readers who know what that genre usually offers. So that means meeting their expectations, and if at all possible - exceeding them!

So I'll start with one of my favourite romance authors, Karen Robards

I've been busy on Amazon buying up used copies for my 'analysis'. By the time I'm finished I expect I shall have enough of them to build, say, a small cabin. A nice DIY project for the summer perhaps.

But here are some of the criteria I'm going to try to collect for each book I read, so I can go back and compare and spot the trends. I'll share these on the blog and see what you think.

1. Chapter 1 Exposition - basically - what do we find out and how?
2. First meeting - when do they first clap eyes on each other?
3. Key kiss - Robert McKee's term for that point-of-no-return intimate moment
4. What’s to keep them apart?
5. What key turning points bring them together?
6. Which key turning points push/pull them apart?
7. When are they fully committed?
8. Sub-plots!
9. What is her major flaw and how does she overcome this?
10. Any other notes...

Let's see how it goes - I'd better get reading!