Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Maryland Romance Writers at the Baltimore Book Festival this Weekend

This weekend, if you live anywhere near Baltimore, you’ve got a wonderful opportunity to hang out with members of Maryland Romance Writers—including me.

This year we have a fabulous location. Our tent is located right at the main entrance to the Festival, on Charles Street below the Washington Monument.

Starting Friday afternoon, we’ll be providing a wide variety of programming on the book industry, the craft of writing, and everything you need to know to succeed in fiction’s best-selling genre.

We kick off on Friday, September 28, at noon, with a meet and greet.  Come talk about books, receive promotional materials and browse the Ukazoo Bookstore!  Following are panel discussions throughout the book festival.

Getting the Courage to Write

Everything you ever wanted to know about how to get started in a fiction- writing career. Come prepared with questions! Authors include: Debra Anastasia, Robin Covington, Cheryl Klam, Sophie Perinot and Rebecca York.

On this panel I’m going to talk about what I call “the writing muscle.” The more you write, the easier it is to do it. (Not that it’s ever easy.) And I’m going to tell you everyone gets rejected—even if you’ve sold a hundred books.

On Writing Young Adult Romance Series

Authors talk about the challenges of writing engaging series and offer readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Participating authors are Jennifer L. Armentrout, Claudia Gabel, Lea Nolan and Jeri Smith-Ready.

3 pm
Craft & Character Lessons

Authors offer advice, guidance and tricks of the trade in developing your writing craft and characterization. Authors include Miranda Neville, Jeri Smith-Ready, Rebecca York and Laura Kaye.

Some of the topics we’ll cover include:

  • Do you come up w/ character first or plot first? Why?
  • Do you plot out your story or do you “wing it”?
  • Do you develop your characters at the same time you develop your plot?
  • How do you come up with well-rounded characters?
  • What are important traits for a romance hero? Heroine?
  • Do you have favorite characters you’ve created?

4 pm
Historical Accuracy in Historical Fiction

Authors talk about their take on research and issues of accuracy in historical romantic fiction and read from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles.  Authors include Eliza Knight, Janet Mullany, Miranda Neville, Kate Poole, Kate Quinn and Amy Villalba.

Trends and Readings In Romantic Suspense

Authors discuss what romantic suspense is, what trends define the genre, and share readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Natalie Damschroder, Joya Fields, Caridad Pineiro and Rebecca York.

I’ll talk about exactly what my new Sourcebooks editor asked me for in my new Sourcebooks romantic suspense series.

Blood and Chocolate

Indulge your chocolate cravings with dark and delicious chocolate samples from Maryland Romance Writers, while authors talk about why vampire fiction remains hot and share readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Debra Anastasia, Laura Kaye, Janet Mullany, Caridad Pineiro, and Amy Villalba.

Debating the Erotic and Readings

Authors talk about the differences between erotic romance, erotic fiction, and erotica and offer readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Laura Kaye, Janet Mullany, Caridad Pineiro and Kate Poole.

Saturday, September 29 

Trends and Readings in Young Adult Romance

Authors talk about what’s hot in young adult romantic fiction and share readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Jennifer L. Armentrout, Em Garner, Cheryl Klam, Alethea Kontis, Lea Nolan and Leanna Renee Hieber.

Moderated by Elissa Petruzzi, YA editor, RT Book Reviews Magazine

What is Women’s Fiction?

Authors talk about what defines women’s fiction, how it differs from romance, and offer readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Stephanie Dray, Lisa Verge Higgins, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Hope Tarr.

Fantasy In Romance/Romance In Fantasy

Science fiction romance. Time travel. Ghost stories. And more! Authors discuss weaving fantasy and romantic elements together and offer readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Debra Anastasia, Catherine Asaro, Eliza Knight, Loni Lynne, Leanna Renee Hieber and Hope Tarr.

No Holds Barred with Agents and Editors

Come prepared with questions you’ve always wanted agents and editors to answer. And, for the especially daring, come with five copies of the first page of your manuscript, and the panelists offer feedback on what works and what to work on! (One-page instructions: typed, no name, place title/genre at top, double-spaced, one-inch margins and 12-point font.)  Agents and editors include Elaine English, literary agent and attorney, Elaine English Literary; Claudia Gabel, senior editor, Katherine Tegen Books (imprint of Harper Collins).

Publishing Contracts: What Authors Need to Know

An attorney and literary agent, Elaine P. English breaks down publishing contracts and offers advice on clauses to avoid, negotiations and other legal considerations for authors.

4:50 pm
Trends and Readings In Historical Fiction

Historical fiction has been making a big comeback, exploring new time periods and the lives of lesser-known historical figures. What’s behind the trend, and where is the genre going? Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Kate Dolan, Christie Kelley, Sophie Perinot, Hope Tarr and Diane Wylie.

Sex and Historical Fiction Novelists

Authors talk about the role of romance and sex in writing and telling a story of historical fiction and offer readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Stephanie Dray, Sophie Perinot and Kate Quinn.

Fifty Shades of Hot!: Erotic Taboos in Fiction and Readings

Authors offer readings from their latest works and talk about writing the forbidden, including identifying and pushing their erotic boundaries, where the line crosses into pornography, and how to enjoy the risks and the payoffs of writing and reading erotic taboos. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Stephanie Draven, Megan Hart, Eliza Knight, Caridad Pineiro and Pam Rosenthal/Molly Weatherfield.

Sunday, September 30 

Many Paths To Publication: ePublishing and Self-Publishing

Authors talk about the many options writers have to get their writing before readers and will discuss the pros and cons, the journey to publication, and the risks and rewards of epublishing and self-publishing. Authors include Christi Barth, Kate Dolan, Megan Hart, Eliza Knight, Amy Villalba and Rebecca York.

I’ll talk about how I’ve added indie publishing and e-publishing to my traditional career.

The Writing Mother

Authors discuss the challenges of and tips for how to balance a career in fiction writing with the demands of family, motherhood and other jobs. Authors include Robin Covington, Patricia Eimer, Jamie Michele, Lisa Verge Higgins and Laura Welling.

Writing Funny And Romantic

Authors talk about incorporating humor and comedic elements into romantic fiction and share readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Debra Anastasia, Jennifer L. Armentrout, Christi Barth, Stephanie Draven, and Patricia Eimer.

Readings In Contemporary Romance and Romantic Suspense

Authors discuss the challenges and benefits of writing stories set in the contemporary world, talk about researching contemporary stories, and share readings from their latest works. Authors include Ann Arbaugh, Christi Barth, Robin Covington, Joya Fields, Lillie Finn, and Jamie Michele.

The Healthy Writer

Authors share the challenges of maintaining a healthy lifestyle and offer tips on how to how to stay healthy while pursuing a career in fiction writing. Authors include Sharon Buchbinder, Kate Dolan, Eliza Knight and Rebecca York.

I’ll discuss how I fit exercise into my writing life (including my new treadmill desk) plus how I keep my diet healthy.

Making Old Stories New

Authors present on how to create engaging fiction based on fairy tales, folklore, mythology, and history, and how to make those old stories new, fresh, and exciting. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Kate Dolan, Natalie Damschroder, Stephanie Draven, Laura Kaye, Alethea Kontis and Catherine Asaro.

Creature Feature! Trends and Readings in Paranormal Romance

Authors argue the case for their favorite paranormal creature, talk about trends in paranormal romance, and offer readings from their latest works. Giveaways/Raffles. Authors include Sharon Buchbinder, Stephanie Draven, Laura Kaye, Loni Lynne and Laura Welling.

Come meet some of your favorite authors, and get some great writing advice.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Details Details

As you plan your book, every detail of the story should be your conscious decision.  You leave nothing to chance in shaping your book.  This applies to the characters and the plot—along with all the other elements, you also have to consider setting, dialogue, conflict, the resolution, the pacing.  Each detail determines the shape of the story.  As I said in a previous post, this is not reality.  It must seem real to the reader, but you are the one who picks each detail.

You develop your plot through a series of scenes which are self-contained yet linked to the rest of the action of the book.

Each scene has a beginning, middle and end.  And each scene should have more than one purpose—to reveal character, advance the plot (what's happening in the story), give the setting, or show the character's problem and how the character deals with the problem.

Every incident of the plot should be there for a reason.  Nothing should happen at random.  Every element in a story should have significance in terms of the rest of the book.  It should contribute to the effect you want to create and build toward a crisis point or the climax of the story.

You may have heard that if a writer has a character discover a gun in a drawer, that somebody better fire that gun by the end of the story.  And sometimes this situation is literally true.  Night over Water, by Ken Follett, a book I’d call romantic suspense, is set on a Pan Am Clipper flying from England to North America.  During the course of the story, a boy discovers a gun in the pilot’s drawer—a boy who knows how to shoot.

In Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight, two girls are having a sleepover at one of their houses.  One girl shows the other the loaded gun in her father’s drawer, and we wonder if the scene is going to lead to tragedy.  But we know for sure that Coben, like Follett, is going to use that gun.

In both these books, the characters bring about a resolution to the problems generated by the plot.  And this is a must in your own stories.  In today’s fiction, no author should rely on the deus ex machina.  The phrase means “a god from the machine,” and it was used frequently in Greek tragedy.  At the end of the play, a god would come in and make everything right.  In your book, if the heroine is going to be saved at the end of the story by money she inherits from her Uncle Herbert, then we need to know about this uncle.  We need to know he’s sick or off on a dangerous expedition where he might get killed.

One problem with plotting is that you know what’s going to happen.  You know Colonel Mustard bashed the victim over the head in the hall with a candlestick, and you’re bursting to tell the reader about it.  If you spill the information too quickly, you may have turned your eighty-thousand-word book into a short story.  You have to hide the information and string the reader along.

By the same token you must make sure that the climax of the story is not a surprise.  You must lay the groundwork for the way you end the book.  In Lassiter’s Law, my action climax is precipitated by the heroine’s surrendering herself to the villain.  On the face of it, that’s a pretty foolish thing to do, and I spent a lot of time during the book preparing the reader for her actions by showing how much she needed to prove herself.  She was in jail for several years.  Her self-esteem is low.  She’s willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good because she thinks she’s not worthy of a happy life.

One romance plot trope I hate is when either the hero or the heroine has a deeply held conviction that keeps the couple from working out their problems.  Then at the end of the book, the hero or heroine completely reverses himself or herself—for no good reason.

I had this problem with Shattered Magic.  It’s been drummed into the hero, Prince Grantland, all his life that witchcraft is evil.  Now he’s making an alliance with a witch.  How can he change his mind?

I hope I’ve made it clear that he’s doing it because it will benefit his kingdom.  He’s doing something he hates but says that sometimes a ruler has to make difficult decisions.

I’ll talk more about plotting next time.  Do you try to make sure you’ve got more than one reason for every scene you write?  Do you consciously think about how each scene you write is moving you closer toward the climax of the book?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Theme of a Romance Novel

Back in high school, you probably hated it when your English teacher asked, “What’s the theme of this novel?”

Theme is the least understood aspect of fiction, perhaps because it’s never explicitly stated in the book. You have to read the story and tease out the theme. It’s what the writer wants you to take away when you’re finished.  Some people call it the “moral of the story,” but I see from Wikipedia that this is an “old-fashioned concept.”

So what’s the theme of a romance novel?  The healing power of love.

Your characters have been wounded in some way before the story begins—perhaps by each other.  Often in my books, it’s the hero who has problems so serious that he could never overcome them on his own. He’s been deeply hurt in the past, which makes him unwilling to risk his emotions in a relationship. But my heroine may also have a background that makes her afraid to trust the hero or allow herself to believe in the relationship they are building.

I spoke about internal conflict last time and how you use it in your story to make it seem impossible for the hero and heroine to work out their differences. What changes everything for them is the deep love they come to feel for each other.  In many romances, this starts off as sexual attraction, even lust, but it must morph into strong, positive emotion.  Love finally gives them the courage to drop their barriers and admit their true longings. Or to put it another way, love makes them brave enough to reach for what they haven’t been able to admit they want.

Let’s look at some examples of what this means.

In my Harlequin Intrigue, Guarding Grace, the heroine has discovered she’s a clone, adopted by a family who have no idea that she was designed to be used for spare parts if the woman she was cloned from needs her. Imagine how much this makes her feel less than human.  Is she brave enough to trust the hero with her secret?  And brave enough to believe that a man could love her, even after he finds out what she is.

In the award-winning Meant to Be Married, by Ruth Wind, the hero and heroine ran away to get married when they were eighteen and expecting a baby.  Then her father forced her to leave him and give up their baby for adoption.  Each thinks the other is at fault.  Now, years later, they’re back in the same town and forced to deal with the relationship on a more mature level—and finally admit what they’ve been denying for years, that they love each other.

In my Decorah Security novella, Chained, the heroine, Isabella Flores, is being pursued by killers.  When she hides out at her father’s ranch, she encounters what she thinks is the ghost of the man she loved—Matthew Houseman.  Matt vows to protect Isabella, even though he thinks he’s dead.  At the same time, he knows there’s no way he could have a lasting relationship with her. He must leave her, for her own sake—unless her love for him can convince him that he’s wrong.

In one of my Intrigues, Never too Late, the hero is a documentary filmmaker in the heroine’s dictator-run country, and the heroine was forced to betray him.  As a result, he was imprisoned, tortured and deported.  He doesn’t know that she did the only thing she could to save his life.  Six years later, they’re being chased by her country’s secret police and forced to deal with hard truths from the past.

In Her Baby’s Father, my Intrigue out this month, the heroine is killed in a car crash. Instead of escorting her to heaven, angels send her back in time, giving her a chance to save the life of the man who fathered her child. But he was seriously wounded in Afghanistan, and he’s learned to be suspicious and mistrustful, especially of a woman who seems to be weighing her every word. And how can he credit her crazy claims that she knows someone is going to kill him because it all happened before? The only way he’s going to save his life is if he realizes that she’s acting out of love and desperation to change his destiny.

The novels I’ve described above illustrate the basic theme of all romances.  They are about people conquering their fear of intimacy in order to achieve the warm, close relationship that all humans crave.  Only if they dare to embrace love can they overcome the internal problems that plague them.  This surrender to love is what allows them to live happily ever after. They achieve what has become their mutual goal:  to join their lives in a committed relationship.

When someone tells you romance novels are fluff or porn—or whatever else they say when they are uncomfortable with books that focus on relationships—tell them about the theme of a romance novel.  Ask them if books full of hope and optimism are worth reading.

Of course, there’s also a variation in the romance novel where the conflict is lighter and diffused with humor, the province of such writers as Jennifer Crusie and Vicki Lewis Thompson.  I do like reading humorous romances.  And I try to include some humor in my books.  But the overall story will not be light because I gravitate toward heavy-duty topics where the characters must trust each other enough to overcome their serious internal problems.

What kind of romance do you write, and why?  And what kind do you read?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Conflict–the Essence of Good Fiction

How do you keep a relationship story from getting boring?  They meet each other. They’re attracted.  They fall in love.  They live happily ever after.  What keeps the reader turning the pages?

As in any good genre fiction, the plot must serve up problems the hero and heroine must overcome.  There must be enough happening in the book to keep the reader interested.

Here’s a quote from an article John Irving wrote long ago in Publishers’ Weekly:
"Plot' isn't what compels many novelists to write or some readers to read.  But if you choose to write a novel without a plot, I would hope three things for you: that your prose is gorgeous, that your insights into the human condition are inspirational, and that your book is short.  I am directing my remarks, of course, to those writers (and readers) of long novels.
I’ve taken his advice to heart, and I make sure there’s enough conflict in my story to keep the plot moving along.

Conflicts are divided into internal and external problems.

If you’re writing romantic suspense–you’ve got a whole spectrum of psychotic killers, evil overlords and dangerous wiseguys to threaten your hero and heroine.

But conflict is also essential to a romance without these danger elements.
You might for example write about a heroine who’s an environmentalist, and he’s a slash-and-burn developer.

Or she has a small business that’s in competition with his big hairy conglomerate.

Or what if she’s a homicide cop, and he’s a famous mystery writer who wants to tag along on her cases because he’s writing a female detective?
Those are external problems, but the strongest romances give the reader the emotional impact of gut-wrenching internal conflicts that make it look like these people can’t possibly end up happy together.

Suppose the heroine’s husband was accidentally killed by a cop, and the hero’s the man who shot him?  He knows who she is, but he can’t stop himself from falling in love with her.  But he’s terrified of what will happen when  she finds out who he is.  And, of course, she will.  How can they possibly overcome that?

Or he’s a detective who’s been hired to find a serial killer, and he thinks it’s her brother.  Or he thinks it’s her.  He gets to know her because he’s investigating the murder, yet he can’t help falling for her.

Suppose you have a hero whose parents were each married and divorced several times, and he was shuffled around from home to home.  Now he’s fallen in love with a woman, but he thinks that his background has made it impossible for him to be a reliable marriage partner.

Those are some conflicts that make it seem impossible for the hero and heroine to make a commitment to each other.  But during the course of the story, they will have reasons to reevaluate and change.

As you plan your story, you must give your characters life.  The readers must like them and identify with them.  Yet they must have flaws that make them three-dimensional and human.

One of the best examples of a famous flawed character is Scarlett O’Hara.  I don’t even have to tell you the name of the book she’s in.  You know.  She's so well drawn that we understand her goals and desires--even if we don't like the ways she tries to achieve them, including marrying her sister’s fiancĂ©.  We may hate her reasons for marrying, but we understand her need to save her family home.

Then there’s the hero of my novella, Chained, who thinks he’s dead, which makes it difficult for him to imagine an ongoing relationship with the heroine. <g>

In a romance novel, the hero and heroine’s internal problems will make them afraid to reach out for love.  And the conflict can’t be easily solved.  It must be strong enough to carry through to the end of the novel.
In Mary Kirk’s Embers, the heroine’s been sexually abused by her brother, which makes her afraid to have a physical relationship with anyone–even the man she loves.

In Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, the hero was thrown into a savage boarding school environment, where he was bullied and taunted.  Now rich and powerful, he’s vowed never again to let anyone reach him emotionally.  Then he falls in love–only he’s too damaged to admit it.  I said in one of my previous posts, “Who are these people, and why will they drive each other crazy?” That’s a question you must consider if you want to keep the reader reading.

How do you think about character conflicts in your own work?