Hello! I'm a book-lover since
childhood, and a writer with many minor
credits who's aiming for major
ones. I live in a small town in
Arkansas; I'm studying computers. I
enjoy many types of books,
both fiction and non-fiction.
You're welcome to e-mail me at
firstname.lastname@example.org; and to
contact me through my
Happy reading, writing,
Thank you, Cheryl. I love good-guy heroes! They're hard to find, so it's great to discover your works.
I suppose my ultimate romantic hero is in my ultimate romantic film, "Somewhere in Time". Richard Collier falls in love, but he's up against more than the usual obstacles. She's in a different time. A touching tale of love vs. fate. He was played by Christopher Reeve, who's alive and well in my heart.
Thank you for your post, Sara. Have I had any celebrity sightings? Yes, twice.
The first was Patrick Duffy, then starring in the hit TV series "Dallas". I was a fan of his, and wanted to get his autograph. But I didn't. This happened backstage at a convention of a religious organization we both belonged to. I'd heard that at this event he wanted to be treated like everyone else. Just another person, not a star. So all I did was look.
Not so with my other celeb sighting. Leonard Nimoy came to the college I was attending to give a talk. Afterward I saw him elsewhere in the building. I was wearing a shirt with a picture of Spock on it and flashed him the "Live long and prosper" sign. Though it was the end of a long day for him, he smiled at me and gave me his autograph. Great guy!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Tasha. All three possibilities are terrible. But if I had to choose one, I'd be a rich woman trapped in a loveless marriage. If I'm going to be miserable, I'd better be wearing the latest Paris fashions!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Dawn. There's an unusual first-meeting scene in the movie version of "Gone with the Wind". Scarlett learns from Ashley he's dumping her for Melanie. He exits; she throws a vase in anger, and it crashes behind the couch where Rhett is hiding, eavesdropping on her and Ashley. He shows himself and commends her for her dramatic scene. She gets mad at him for the first of many times. Is that any way to start a romance? In this case, yes!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, R.C. Yes, I love cowboys!
Some romance readers go for billionaires; some for dukes; some for vampires. But I prefer a hero who's down to earth, close to the elements, rugged on the outside and tender on the inside. One who lives by a code of honor, who can and will act in a manner that's truly heroic. Of all the popular types of male leads in romances nowadays, cowboys---in the broad sense---are the ones most likely to fill this bill.
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Elizabeth. I read most romance subgenres, but my favorite is contemporary. I write mostly fantasy and futuristic romances. I still haven't figured out why my interests in these endeavors don't match.
In any subgenre, whether I'm reading or writing, my kind of romance is about what I consider real love, in which the other person's happiness is more important than one's own. I enjoy reading and writing about love in all its beauty, power, and wonder. And yes, sometimes its mystery, if not outright strangeness.
What I definitely don't want to read, and refuse to write, are power fantasies. I know, for countless readers and writers romance is all about power for the woman, redemption for the man, and mind-blowing sex for both of them. My concept of romance is different, and hard to find. So I write my own stories.
Good luck with the release of "In His Brother's Place".
Thank you for your post and question, Carolyn. My answer: I'm somewhere in-between. Some conflict is necessary; without it there's no plot. But---just my opinion---too often authors, especially romance authors, overdo it.
It's easy to generate a story when the hero and heroine hate each other but are forced to interact closely, then discover they have the hots for each other. But to me that's sheer contrivance. I just don't buy it. How often does this happen in the real world?
Far more credible, and (more to the point) more romantic, when both characters love each other, or (at first) one does. But they live in the real world, so there are always other demands that conflict with love. This creates complications, including a clash of egos.
But the romantic connection is still there. It's all about real love, not just lust or the drive for power over the other person. And it resolves the conflict in a natural manner, without contrivance.
To me this is romance fiction at its best. If only it were more common!
Good luck with the release of "Just a Cowboy and His Baby"!
Thank you for your post, Lisa Marie. I see the apocalypse a bit differently. I think the world will end not with a bang, not with a whimper. Rather, it will end with a great shout of "That's not my responsibility!"
Thank you for your post, N. G. Osborne. I wish more authors would think this way, and write accordingly.
One of the aspects of romance fiction that troubles me most is the fact that so many authors and their works celebrate involuntary matrimony. They romanticize and glorify marriages in which the man and the woman are forced to marry each other, for one reason or another; or marriages that are technically voluntary, but are actually merely marriages of convenience. The first kind strikes me as legalized rape; the second, legalized prostitution. Neither is my romantic ideal.
Sure, romance fiction like this has its fans. I doubt such a reader actually wants to be forced or manipulated into marrying someone she doesn't love. It's all part of the fantasy setup, a convenient way to get the two focal characters together in a dramatic situation. And whereas fictional marriages of this sort always end happily, with the couple truly in love with each other, I can't believe such real-life marriages ever do.
Like you, I hope things are changing for third-world women. But sad to say, they're coming very slowly. And in the meantime there will be a great deal of death and suffering.
Those of us fortunate enough to live in a more progressive society must never take our rights and freedoms for granted. That includes the right to love. And yes, I'm talking about men too!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Laura. I can think of one more item for your list.
If men (or women) in the military are serving in a dangerous place, and most such characters in fiction are, they must often if not constantly face death. Therefore they must come to terms with their mortality any way they can.
This gives their lives a whole different meaning. They tend to seize what life has to offer with a passion not typically found among those who lead safe, comfortable lives.
This factors into their love lives, to their relationships with those they love. Not to mention the intensity of their love.
Good luck with the release of "One Night with a Hero"!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Maria. Your novels in this trilogy sound like more than just good reads. They're reminders that we must not take for granted the freedoms and rights we enjoy nowadays.
Good luck with the release of "Escape" and its sequels!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Sara. I swear this is the first time I've seen a romance novel with "Construction" in the title!
I've spent most of my life in the small town of Russellville, Arkansas. I have too many memories to list in a Fresh Fiction comment, and I can't choose which one is my favorite. Suffice to say that I have no plans to move away from here, and I hope my best memories will be the ones I make in the future.
Your new novel sounds like a fun read, especially to readers who dig small-town romances. Certainly I'm one of them. Good luck with the release of "Construction Beauty Queen".
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Jeanne. I have plenty of keepers. Most aren't titles or authors the Fresh Fiction crowd would easily recognize. They're just books I've read over the years and enjoyed. I rarely reread them; how can I with the flood of new and reissued titles? But I can't bear to part with them.
You asked us for the titles of books that impacted us when we were children or teenagers. Well, I certainly read a lot when I was young. But if you're talking about books that changed my life, none of them did---then, now, or at any time. The only things that have changed my life have been my actual experiences in the real world.
That's why I don't hold with the idea that a book, movie, type of music, video game, or any other cultural product can have a powerful adverse effect on its consumers. Or for that matter, a beneficial one.
I believe we read, watch movies, listen to music, and so on for aesthetic enjoyment. It can transport us, but not fundamentally change us. For that, there's reality.
Good luck with the release of "Deadly Little Lies"!
Thank you for your post, Elisabeth. I just got a job that pays well, but is way outside my comfort zone. I'll be selling vacuum cleaners. I'm not exactly a born salesperson, but I'm confident I'm up to the task. There's a lot I don't know, but nothing I can't learn!
"Deep Autumn Heat" sounds like a fun read. Good luck with your new release!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Erin. I say you should stay put, for two reasons.
1. You're writing fiction, not a travel guide. You can and should write about the Scotland, and Scotsmen, of your imagination. That's what the readers pay for. It's the Scotland of their imaginations too. If they want information on the real country and its people, they know where to get it.
2. That segues into my second point. If you need info about the setting of your novel, you know where to get it. You don't have to go there physically. In other words, thank goodness for Google!
Good luck with the release of "More Than a Stranger"!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Catherine. The special behind-the-scenes people in my life are my mother and grandmothers. I'll honor them this Mother's Day by remembering them and all that they did.
Where they are now, they can't receive my cards and presents. But they live on in my heart.
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Carly. Like an eye-catching painting, a work of fiction typically requires both light and dark elements.
To me, what matters most is not how light or dark the overall story is. It's which particular elements the author puts into the story, and how much emphasis she gives them.
I can't think of any themes I wouldn't read about if they're just secondary themes. But as for the central theme, the one the whole story revolves around, there are some I love. And some I love to hate. If the latter turns up in a piece of fiction, I simply won't read it, no matter what else it might have going for it.
Thank you, Judi. "Beauty and the Best" sounds like a fun read.
I've had an experience similar to one you described. A few months ago I googled myself. I was looking for a job and wanted to know what a prospective employer might find if he entered my name in a search engine.
When I checked Google Images for my name, guess what showed up first. A mug shot!
A little research revealed that there is a career criminal in another state with almost the same name as mine. She spells her middle name "Ann" rather than the way I do, "Anne". But to Google both names are the same.
My name-twin has quite a rap sheet. If anyone were to see her picture and mine, it would be obvious we're not the same person.
But what about a potential employer who hasn't met me? Someone who knows me only from an application and resume I mailed or emailed? Such is life in the Information Age!
My favorite villain? Hard to choose, and most have already been mentioned.
But one who hasn't in Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings". He's an antagonist, one who gives the good guys plenty of grief. But not really evil. Just obsessed, even possessed. He's a stand-in for anyone in the grip of an obsession, addiction, or compulsion.
The most obvious change in category romances since I started reading them 35 years ago is diversification. Nowadays one can find just about any subgenre of romance fiction represented by one or more series. And new subgenres keep popping up.
With the huge number of new titles flooding the market, readers can be very picky concerning their tastes and standards. Going through the long lists of new and reissued titles takes up too much time that could be spent reading. It helps greatly if a reader can find a series tailored to what she is looking for, without lots of titles outside her search field.
I expect this trend to continue. We'll see more series aimed at more specific groups of readers.
What do I wish we could see in series romance? More heroes who are either truly heroic, who accomplish great deeds for the sake of others; or beta males, nice guys who are already lovable. Stories in which the character with heavy issues is the heroine, not the hero. Or in which they fight fate more than each other.
And romances in which the hero isn't rich and powerful. There's lots of plot potential in money and career problems!
Thank you for your post, Susanna. Like you, I prefer to read works that HAVEN'T been updated. I think such revisions are a bad idea for the reasons you cited, plus three more.
First, when an author revises her work, too often she does so to make it more appealing to today's readers. Or at least, she tries to edit it to fit what she perceives to be the demands of today's readers.
As a result, the book will end up resembling all other works of its type now on the market. And if a reader wants those, she can access them easily. She doesn't have to make the extra effort to find an older one.
Therefore, the reader is most likely deliberately looking for a book representative of its period. In terms of the reader's needs, updating the book would be defeating the purpose.
Second, I haven't heard any demand for updating from the readers' community. Therefore I must conclude that such revisions matter only to authors, and possibly publishers. Readers don't always notice these details. And they make a difference even less often.
Lastly, it's impractical, perhaps impossible, to update a book often enough to keep up with changes in technology. Not to mention the cultural-social changes that take place in connection with technology. An author would have to revise her backlog every five years or so---probably more often in the future, since the pace of change is increasing. This would leave precious little time for her to create new works.
Therefore, unless we're talking about typos, grammatical errors, anachronisms, scientific errors, or the like, I say the author should re-issue her works as they were originally published. It's fine with this reader---and, I suspect, most others.
For the publisher and author, the purpose of a title is to sell the book. For a reader, the purpose is to suggest what the book is about.
Both parties' interests coincide when the title is evocative---the more powerfully, the better. It should indicate in a concise but compelling manner the central theme of the book. Ideally, it should hint at even more.
Titles that perform this function make we want to check out the description of the book. And that's what guides my decision to buy it.
Good luck with the release of "The Devil and Miss Jones"!
Can a woman be too tough for her culture? Yes. But can she be too tough in dealing with the hardships, challenges, injustices, and dangers she must confront? No! And that applies in both fiction and real life.
Good luck with the release of "Vigilare: Hell Hound".
Do I find it difficult or empowering to read about people struggling through hard times? Actually, the word that most precisely describes my response would be inspiring. And if the story involves tragedy, cathartic.
There are some bad things happening to good people---or bad people, whatever---that I simply can't read about. At least, not for a whole book. Most of these themes relate to my own experience, literally or figuratively. Reading about them would be too painful. I don't mention them on the Internet, for obvious reasons.
But that still leaves a great many hardships and obstacles that I can and will read about. And though sometimes I'm in the mood for a light story, at other times I'm more receptive to one dealing with heavy issues.
Characters struggling against fate with the odds not in their favor can and often do fascinate me. Identifying with them helps me in my real life on a profound level.
Your new book sounds like a winner. Good luck with "Woodrose Mountain".
What qualities do I look for in a man? In both real life and fiction, to me the most important one is the last on your list: integrity.
Looks might attract me, but they won't last.
Devotion is welcome, but I wouldn't expect total devotion. No matter how much a man might love me, I would always have to share him---with his career, his causes, his friends and relatives, his other commitments.
Whether he has a sense of humor doesn't matter to me. I can crack enough jokes for both of us.
In this day and age, the sense of protection should be mutual. Both the man and the woman should provide for each other, on various levels.
But in any era, the last quality on your list is fundamental, essential, paramount. He must think and act in terms of the highest principles. Or at least, do his best in this regard.
To me at least, a romance hero should be truly heroic. And for real men, and women, their struggles in everyday life can also represent a form of heroism.
Good luck with the release of "Lessons in Loving a Laird"!
Many romance readers and writers, and virtually all editors, have a list of traits and attributes a heroine must and must not have, of what she must and must not do. I have only one requirement.
She must be deeply involved in a situation I find interesting. Or better yet, fascinating.
Having said that, I can relate to a wide variety of heroines---active and passive, rich and poor, beautiful and plain, conformist and square-peg, sophisticated and simple, worldly-wise and naive, ambitious and laid-back.
But there are two types I probably wouldn't be interested in. One is a heroine who is downright stupid. Not ignorant; that can be dealt with by learning more. Stupidity is when someone can learn and should learn, but won't.
The other is a heroine who's a control freak. I've suffered too much at the hands of real ones. Everybody has. If she eventually realizes the error of her ways and changes---well, good for her. But I won't follow her story that far.
Good luck with the release of "True Highland Spirit"!
Thank you for your post, Roseanne. "Wildest Dreams" sounds like a fine read. And I love the cover---a real eye-catcher with those rich but realistic colors. It evokes romance, and at the same time captures the spirit of the Old West.
For me, the most important aspect of a work of fiction in any genre or format is its central theme, what the plot and characters revolve around. But this has to do with substance, and you asked us about what matters most when it comes to style.
So to answer your question, for me it's the way the author uses language. This includes how clearly and fittingly she describes characters, settings, emotions, events, and situations (as in Flaubert's "le mot juste", the exact word); how well she puts abstract, complex, and/or unfamiliar concepts into language readers can understand and relate to; and how effectively and memorably she assembles all of her narration together. Also under this heading is the author's voice, her distinctive way of telling a story---an important factor in the author-reader relationship.
This should come as no surprise: I'm fascinated by language and the ways it can be used and misused.
Thank you for your post, Kaylea. I haven't read any romances with military heroes lately, but yours sounds like a great read. I'm always in the market for a brisk, lively action romance. And the evocative cover of your new novel really catches the eye.
Like you, I dig war docs, especially those broadcast on the History Channel and PBS. They really make history at its most crucial moments come alive.
BTW, you mention that Special Forces and Special Ops aren't the same. Since there's so much confusion on this score, especially with elite forces making headlines these days, can you please clarify the difference?
Good luck with the release of COVER OF DARKNESS. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for your post, Andrew. I especially appreciate the part about how your protagonist deals with the torments of his past.
Too often these days main characters don't. They're heavily burdened by their emotional baggage, frequently reliving the miseries of their past. They let their misfortunes control them, rather than the other way around. This leads to anger, cynicism, brooding, self-centeredness, and self-destruction.
Your hero's attitude, his approach to his past sorrows and ordeals, is far more mature and constructive. And appealing, at least to this reader. It's hard to come to terms with his experiences, yet he's up to the challenge. How I wish there were more characters like him. Not to mention real people!
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Caroline. If I could visit London, I'd hit all the usual tourist attractions, and more. I'd visit the places associated with my favorite literary, artistic, and historical figures.
BTW, the cover art of your novel is lovely. Do you know who painted it?
Thank you for your post and giveaway, Nan. "The Gin & Chowder Club" sounds like a fine read.
Like you, I love stories of tragic, star-crossed love. The power and poignancy of such tales deeply move me. These include many of the great love stories from history, mythology, and literature. Stories of couples who follow the rules and end up together and happy tend to get forgotten.
How I wish we could read such novels and watch such movies nowadays. But they're few in number and hard to find.
I realize there's a huge market for feel-good power fantasies that follow the standard romance-genre formula, including the inevitable happy ending. But what about something for the rest of us?
Thank you for your post, Taylor. It brings to mind a one-liner: "Facebook: The legal way to stalk".
Your comment about an author's voice is especially significant. Now that e-publishing is here and the number of available works is going up exponentially, it is becoming increasingly important for an author to stand out from the crowd.
One way is for her to develop a highly characteristic voice. It distinguishes her from other authors in the same field and enhances the reading experience for her readers. It results in a stronger bond between an author and her readership.
Good luck with "Mind Game". Keep up the good work!
Thank you for your post, Eliot Pattison. Your new novel sounds like one that really pushes the envelope. The cover art is quite evocative.
I live in a small town in the Bible Belt. Here most of the talk of the Apocalypse is the Christian fundamentalist kind, the End of Days as described in the prophetic books of the Bible and cut-and-pasted into the timeline of dispensationalism.
In this scenario, there's no use preparing for a post-apocalyptic world. Either you're saved and you'll go to Heaven in the Rapture, or you're damned and must endure the miseries of the Tribulation, and eventually go to Hell. And the end is always said to be near, despite the dismal record of doomsday prophecy.
Of course, I don't see the future that way. I don't know whether an apocalypse will take place.
But if it does, my guess is that it will be an event few if any of us can foresee, and nobody will prepare for. How prepared were the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for getting A-bombed?
Recently I was asked in a Facebook poll how I thought the world would end, with a bang or a whimper. I replied, neither. It will end with a great shout of "That's not my responsibility!"
Of the four tropes you mentioned, I can read romances that revolve around all but marriage of convenience. I hope I don't get in trouble for saying this, but to me there's nothing romantic about legalized prostitution. Consider the value of romantic love in cultures where arranged marriages are common, and what life is like for women there.
I've never read of any historical examples of such marriages that led to true love. At least, not between the husband and wife.
I'm a great believer in love that occurs naturally, willingly. That's the only kind that can stand up to my favorite trope: love vs. fate.
It's thrilling to read of love so powerful it causes those who feel it to overcome great obstacles, brave terrifying dangers, and endure painful hardships. Often they have to break the rules and defy authority. They must learn to think and act outside of the box to reach the fulfillment of their love.
They grow and change in the process; so does their love. If the focal characters are not true heroes and heroines at the start, they are by the end.
How I wish there were more romances like this on the market! Since there aren't, what do I do? You guessed it. I write my own.
Thank you for your post, Carolyn. Your new book sounds like a real fun read!
I live in a town in Arkansas that's probably similar to your neck of the woods. Or watermelon fields, whatever. And I don't even own a pair of high heels. How can you run from a mugger in them?
So to answer your question as best I can: I'd give anything and do anything for my dream man. If I love him and he loves me, nothing would keep us apart. Not even my issues on the inside. I can't think of a stronger motive for me to deal with them once and for all.
Good luck with the release of "Love Drunk Cowboy"!
Thank you for your post, E. V. I've read quite a bit about near-death experiences. I believe there's something going on---more than just a dying brain starved of oxygen, as some have theorized. But just what that might be, I'm not prepared to say. Yet.
Thank you for your post, Crista. Though beta heroes are rare, I prefer them to alpha heroes. Nice, average guys appeal to me, and (I suspect) quite a few readers whose needs aren't being met.
Nowadays alpha heroes tend to be just too alpha! The bar has been raised so high that they're often caricatures of masculinity. How can a reader like me take them seriously, let alone find them appealing?
Sure, it's easier to write a romance in which the hero is a nasty, brutal, arrogant, cynical alpha. And even I can't deny how popular this type of character is.
Many readers demand an alpha hero so the heroine, the reader's surrogate, can fight and eventually subdue him. Usually this is couched in the notion that she's redeeming him, saving him from himself.
That's not my idea of real romance. I'd rather read about heroes---and yes, heroines---who are able to give love and worthy of receiving it. Romances in which the focal figures fight obstacles to their love rather than each other. Couples who have more going for their relationship than just sex. Stories that demonstrate the power of love, rather than provide power fantasies.
Hopefully the romance genre will become varied enough so that all of us can find works to our liking. In the meantime, what do I do to find my kind of romances featuring my kind of heroes? The same thing a lot of us are doing. I write my own!
Thank you for your post, Stefanie. The cover art for "The Devil in Disguise" is splendid. Do you know who painted it?
As for newsletters from authors, I'm most interested in info about their current and upcoming releases, what's going on in the author's life (nothing TOO personal, of course!), her recent professional experiences---such as conventions, sales, researching on location, meeting other authors, realizations that might interest readers, her development as a writer.
Since I pick my reading material based on the main theme of a work, I rarely read excerpts. For the same reason, I'd probably skip book recommendations. Pictures of pets, kids, and significant others are fine.
As for recipes, if I need one, I either google it or go to my copy of "The Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book", which my mom bought in the early 1950s. Of course, after sixty years of kitchen use, it's in terrible shape! But as long as it's still legible, it's a mother lode of classic recipes.
Finally, there's one part of newsletters I just can't resist. The same is true of most readers, I bet. You guessed it: contests!
Good luck with your debut novel. Hope it's just the first of many.
Thank you for your post, Joanne. I know this isn't exactly a fictional couple, but my favorite romantic pair is Tristan and Isolde.
I'm a sucker for lovers who must defy the most daunting odds, break the rules, rebel against authority, and think and act outside the box. The idea of "the world well lost for love" moves me deeply. And to note the obvious, I don't demand that a romance end happily, just meaningfully.
If only we readers were allowed to get tragic endings nowadays! But we're not, so those of us who enjoy a good cry must look somewhere other than romance fiction.
Thank you for your post, Zoe. During my childhood, I didn't even know what science fiction was. I spent part of these years in countries where there was little or no TV. Even when I could watch it, there was hardly any sci-fi available. I rarely went to the movies, and I doubt my parents would have let me watch the typical sci-fi films of the era: monster movies.
But I discovered science fiction books when I was about twelve. I've loved the genre ever since. And a little later I was back in the US in time for "Lost in Space" and "Star Trek".
I was one of the original Trekkies. My first big crush was Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock. I doubt my mom ever figured out why I was so in love with an alien spaceman who had green blood and pointed ears.
Yes, I'm a fan of science fiction films. My faves are too many for me to list here. But allow me to note that the film I love best in any genre happens to be a science fiction romance, "Somewhere in Time".
I go for lively, colorful, fast-paced science fiction adventures with plenty of subtext. I call them space operas for the thinking reader. And if there's a moving romance in the mix, I'm really hooked!
I'd hide this diamond ring in plain sight, in a box or drawer full of junk jewelry. Realistically, I wouldn't keep it anywhere at home. I'd put it in my lock box at my bank. But there are more posibilities for fiction with the first option.
To answer your second question, the easier one: What goes best with reading for me is one of my cats curled up in my lap or by my side. When I'm reading for pleasure it's usually late and night and I'm in bed with Spartacus, my big golden tabby, and/or Farrah, my little calico-tabby bobtail. They make great reading companions. They have never complained about my choice of reading material or interrupted me just as I'm about to get to an exciting part.
To answer your first question, it depends on the book. But I jump at any chance I can find to read a romance that starts with instant attraction.
Why? Partly because they're so rare. In 99.9% of romance fiction, it's hate at first sight.
But more importantly, the "slow burn" bit fits in with the concept of romance as a power struggle punctuated by sexual attraction. Obviously it's the most popular type of romance.
But if the hero and heroine are instantly attracted to each other, it fits in with another concept of romance, that of the power of love in action. Two people fall in love at first sight or fairly quickly, but face tremendous internal and external obstacles. The story traces their efforts to overcome them, and the complications that arise when they succeed, or think they do.
This is my favorite concept of romance, but nowadays it's very rare and hard to find. So how do I keep myself supplied with them? You guessed it. I write my own!
Thank you for your post, Emily. The "Hummingbird Lake" cover art is beautiful! Who created it?
An author's self-promotion alone has caused me to buy a book twice. That's all, twice. I typically rely on my tastes and interests when selecting reading material. I'm also influenced by whatever mood I'm in.
Advertising and promotion can call my attention to a title. But it won't persuade me to buy it. I must do that job myself.
Most historical romances take place in settings in which there was little if any social mobility. Therefore, in order to be true to the mindset of the period, characters would typically take for granted the notion that they would spend all their lives in the class into which they had been born.
Indeed, I doubt members of the lower and middle classes gave the idea of rising above their station any thought. How could they, if they didn't know of any examples? It simply wasn't done.
But as for aristocrats who lost their fortunes and had to live well below the manner to which they had become accustomed---well, they'd probably move heaven and earth to get back on the top rungs of the social ladder. I can't picture someone like that becoming content with genteel poverty, or the not-so-genteel kind.
Bitter, angry, resentful, yes. Some might become resigned to their fate, but never happy with it. And others would resolve to return to what they no doubt regarded as their rightful place in the world, no matter what rules they had to break or whom they might hurt.
To answer your question about which classes I'd like to read about, personally I wish there were more historical fiction that focuses on characters from the lower and middle classes. Therein lies so much literary potential, so many stories that can't be told if writers deal exclusively with upper-class protagonists.
I might get kicked off "Fresh Fiction" for saying this, but I vastly prefer a romantic hero who must work for a living; who isn't rich, powerful, and notorious. To me at least, ordinary guys are far more appealing. But they're few and far between in contemporary fiction, and even harder to find in historicals.
Frankly, I wish romance publishers and editors would allow us to read stories that DON'T end happily ever after. All we get is relentlessly upbeat, feel-good fiction, in which feisty (a word I hate) heroines always tame arrogant, egotistical heroes. Sure, there's a huge market for these power fantasies; but what about romance for the rest of us?
In real life there's no such thing as happily ever after. Even the most blissful union will eventually end in death.
Pain, loss, unrequited love, complications outside the formulas for romance fiction---all these are part of love in real life. It would mean so much if we could read and write about them. Why can't we?
I know; they're not commercial. But if enough of us demanded them, they would be!
Since I'm unemployed, my ideal work day would be doing just about anything that pays me enough to live on, and isn't illegal, immoral, or fattening. And by now I'm pretty flexible about the third condition.
But while I'm looking for work, I'm also studying computers and writing. And as far as those endeavors go, any day when I get a lot done and I'm pleased with the results is a good day.
I try not to pay attention to the actual conditions under which I study and write. Consider the fact that some famous works have been written under terrible conditions.
Cervantes wrote "Don Quixote" while he was in prison. The same goes for Malory and "Le Morte d'Arthur". Richard Tregaskis wrote "Guadalcanal Diary" on the front lines of the title locale, where he was often under fire.
Alexander Solzenitzen composed long works of poetry in his head while he was locked up in a hellhole in Siberia, with no access to paper or pens. After he was released, he wrote them down.
William Faulkner wrote his first major novel, "As I Lay Dying", while working the graveyard shift in a heating plant. He tended a boiler and used an upturned wheelbarrow as his desk. When it was time to refuel the boiler, he stopped writing, turned the wheelbarrow upright, and hauled coal with it.
With these examples in mind, I can't complain because my own writing conditions are far from perfect!
Thank you for your post, Kaily. Your novel sounds intriguing. I'm always on the lookout for romances that push the envelope.
To answer your question: Many readers and writers, and just about every editor, have a list of traits a romance heroine must have. They also have another list, usually longer, of traits she must NOT have.
I have only one requirement. She must be deeply involved in a situation I find interesting---or better yet, fascinating.
The situation should enable me to relate to the heroine, and usually to identify with her. What she goes through to resolve it, or (if she's passive) as it plays itself out, should seem to the reader like the next best thing to being there.
Good luck with your new release. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for your post, Monica. It's great to find out that someone is incorporating reincarnation into popular fiction. This theme is rare these days, but is so rich with fascinating possibilities.
Like you and many of the commenters, I believe in reincarnation. It's part of my religion, Buddhism. But I believed in it for years before I converted.
I've made a few attempts to explore my own past lives, but at least in my case I'm not sure that's a good idea. For one thing, there's this principle that we can tell what our past causes were like by looking at our present effects. Likewise, we can tell what our future effects were like by looking at our present causes. In other words, we can examine our karma. And we don't need hypnosis for that.
Also, the lifetimes I've discovered, assuming they were real, have been hazy and unverifiable---with one possible exception. I relived it in a dream, or more precisely a nightmare.
I was a victim of the Holocaust, locked up in a concentration camp. I was one of the six million who did not survive.
The experience was too horrible to describe, but this time I came up with a verifiable detail: my name was Constance Stillman. I've considered researching records from WWII to find out if any such person is listed on the camp death rolls. With more and more information of this sort available on the Internet, such a search become feasible.
But for now, it's enough to know that if this experience was real, it would explain a lot about me. And even if it's not, it provides plenty of food for thought.
I suppose many, perhaps most, romance readers read it for the reason you give; or it's an important reason among more than one. But with some readers, I suspect the motive isn't to recapture past emotions. It's to experience emotions they haven't, but wish they could.
Thank you for your post, Debra. I doubt romance fiction is suffering from the Rodney Dangerfield syndrome because it's written for and (usually) by women. Not in this day and age.
Rather, it's the strict, commerce-driven formulas. The hero must be arrogant, overbearing, rich. The heroine challenges him, but is the only person who can save him from himself.
The two are forced together by some plot device, e.g. a marriage of convenience or a common mission. In most scenes they're arguing or having sex, or both. Eventually she realizes she loves him. Later he realizes he loves her, and surrenders to her control. The End.
Yes, the demand for this power fantasy is tremendous and profitable. But formula fiction and power fantasies don't garner respect in the literary/cultural community. True creativity does. If only publishers were brave enough to allow fiction that deals with romance, but doesn't follow the formula.
Consider how diverse romance fiction has become. I hope publishers will recognize the market for romance that breaks the rules and pushes the envelope, that focuses on real love rather than power fantasies.
That should win respect, but the authors, editors, and publishers behind such works shouldn't produce it for that reason. They should do it for the readers who enjoy it, and are now being offered little if any.
I recommend this pop-classic novel that delves into a father-child relationship: Francoise Sagan's "Bonjour Tristesse", an international bestseller back in the fifties. It's still a compelling story of an unconventional father-daughter bond. Both are at best free spirits, at worst totally reckless and irresponsible. This attitude leads to complications in their relationships with romantic partners and each other. It all ends in tears, as hinted at by the title---"Hello Sadness". A bracing alternative to the obligatory upbeat attitude and HEAs of today's romance fiction. I also recommend the 1958 film version, with David Niven and Jean Seberg as the father and daughter.
Thank you for your post, Sherry. Here are a few of many interesting tidbits of history I learned through reading historical romances.
In Jeanne Lancour's "The Storm and the Sword", set in medieval France, there's an assault on a castle in which the characters under attack refer to a siege tower by a term customary to this time and place: a "mal voisin". That's right, a bad neighbor.
Also, in one episode of Susannah Kells' "A Crowning Mercy", set during the English Civil Wars, the protagonist is condemned to be burnt at the stake. Someone smuggles into her prison cell a small bag of gunpowder. To help her escape? Not exactly. She's supposed to tuck it into her bodice. That way, when she's tied to the stake and the flames reach her dress, the gunpowder will ignite and explode, killing her instantly. She won't undergo the agony of being roasted alive. This being a work of escapist fiction, she gets rescued anyhow. But there must have been cases in which this sort of mercy-killing took place.
I'd time-travel to the future. I'd probably really screw up there because I can't even make sense of all the technological changes in the present. Still, it'd be fascinating.
As for going back to the past, there are plenty of periods that interest me. However, I don't believe there's such a thing as "the good old days."
Therefore, traveling to the past would be for practical purposes only, such as trying to prevent something terrible from happening. But if my understanding of karma is correct, that wouldn't work, would it? All that has happened has done so because it HAD to happen.
BTW, Stephen Hawking says time travel may be possible at subatomic levels. Who knows, maybe it'll be possible someday on the human scale. But for now, I've got enough to work on right here in the present.
I'm an anywhere mouse. I've moved 13 times in my life, mostly when I was a child. My father was a pipeline construction engineer; we had to move to wherever he had a project going.
The largest city I've ever lived in is Caracas, Venezuela. The smallest town was probably Wassenar, a suburb of The Hague, The Netherlands.
However, I've lived for thirty years now in Russellville, Arkansas---a town half the size of your fictional Fool's Gold, California. And in my state a municipality of 43,000-plus residents would be considered a city, not a town.
I don't think there's such a thing as an ideal-sized town or city. Major metropolises have their functions; small towns have theirs; everything in between has theirs.
Your new book sounds interesting. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for your post, Marie. Judging by all the comments, you've provoked a lot of thought.
It's easy for me to look back and see a great many choices I made that I now regret. But---and it's a big but---I made these choices because it was my karma to do so. All that happened couldn't have happened any other way.
All I can change is what's ahead. And I'm working on it right now. That's the best I can do. That's the best anyone can do.
I remember watching a psychologist/crime expert interviewed on TV some years back. He made an observation that has stayed with me: "When someone creates a villain, he does so out of his own experience."
I wonder how this applies to writers of romantic suspense and other genres of thrillers. What's been happening an author's life that caused her to create her kinds of villains and their deeds?
I've heard of cases in which authors draw their inspiration from real-life criminals. But I wonder what caused this particular author to draw inspiration from this particular criminal.
Maybe the author doesn't know. Or doesn't want to. And that just adds to the mystery.
Barbara: In response to your question about people in cover artwork, I'm all for it. IMHO, two are better than one. If a novel is about two people in love, what could be more fitting than a picture of two people in love?
But I have one BIG problem with the way cover models appear nowadays. Judging by other readers' reactions on blogs, websites, social nets, etc., there are a great many readers with the same complaint.
You guessed it: these hunky shirtless guys and women with elegant gowns falling off are displayed with their heads or the top halves of their faces cut off by the top margin. I call it "The Invasion of the Headless Romance Heroes and Heroines".
I think it's unsightly and absurd. If we can't see the models' eyes, we can't tell their emotions---thus defeating much of the purpose of portraiture. This cropping ruins what might otherwise be a fine piece of cover art.
The publishing companies must think such a practice sells books. Just how is beyond me.
At any rate, someday this fad will go the way of the tedious floral covers of the 90s. And I can hardly wait!
Thank you for your post, Barbara. Now I've just got to check out your books!
Yes, covers matter to me. I select reading material based on what the publication is about rather than who wrote it or how the reviewers rate it. Therefore the most crucial element of a cover is the description on the back cover of a paperback, or the inner flap of a hardback.
But it's the art on the front cover that first draws my eye. There I prefer what I call real art to cartoons; I'm sure there must be an industry term for it.
The art on your covers is lovely; they should attract plenty of readers. If only all writers were so lucky!
I realize that from the standpoint of the publishers, the purpose of the art and all other cover elements is to sell the book. But from the standpoint of the readers, the purpose is to give us an idea of what the book is about, so that we can decide whether or not to buy it.
And it helps if the covers rely this information accurately and adequately. The first description means the cover gives a true, honest idea of what's inside, with no misleading information designed solely to sell the book. The second means we get enough information so that we can make up our minds, but not so much that there's too much. We don't need spoilers.
Good luck with your new and upcoming books. Keep up the good work!
Amelia et alles: It's hard for me to chose a single favorite one-liner. However, one that sticks in my mind persistently is the opening title in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid": "Not that it matters, but most of what follows is true."
As a reader, my expectations concerning a character, especially a protagonist, are pretty simple and basic. He or she must have something going on in his or her life that seizes my imagination, that I can relate to.
This character might be someone I can see myself in and can identify with. Or someone I CAN'T see myself in, or don't want to---a real anti-hero or villain. Such a figure can be bad on my behalf, and can act out my worst tendencies in the safe realm of fiction.
Since personal taste is notoriously fickle and hard to describe in detail, and subject to one's mood at a given time, I can't be more specific about what I go for in a character. At any rate, that would be just one reader's opinion.
I realize my approach to characters as a reader is of limited use to me as a writer. Therefore I appreciate information from writers like you who, unlike me, already have published novels to their credit.
I've never read guidance on creating characters quite like your extended comparison of characterization to composing music. Since I'm more of visual type, I'd probably liken the process to creating a picture. But your piece still provides plenty of food for thought.
My ideal image of a romantic hero and heroine? They can be anyone, anywhere, in any period. They can be rich or poor, handsome or homely, sophisticated or simple, conventional or square-peg-like. They can be smart or they can be like me.
But there are two traits they MUST have. They must be able to love, and they must be worthy of love. The rest is up to the writer.
Like you, I dig Celtic history and lore. Here's my favorite St. Patrick's Day joke: What happened to the snakes of Ireland that St. Patrick drove into the sea? They swam across the ocean and founded the American Bar Association.
Thank you for your post, Miranda. I think romance protagonists are often orphans for two reasons.
One, they're on their own. They must overcome their problems with no support from their parents, the very people who are supposed to help their children no matter what. This makes for a more difficult struggle, and a sweeter victory. Both factors lend themselves to greater emotional involvement on the part of the readers.
Two, in a genre in which connections between people matter, and the importance of family is a given, an orphan has a great sense of something missing. The parent-child bond has been broken by death. Implicitly or explicitly, the reader understands that this character must form another type of close personal bond, namely a romantic relationship. The need is so pressing that this character will go to greater pains and overcome more daunting obstacles than otherwise.
Of course, in real life I doubt this holds true. What makes a person put forth heroic efforts for the sake of love most likely has nothing to do with whether or not one has living parents.
Still, it's an effective literary device. And a popular one, seeing how often it's used.
Thanks again for bring up this thought-provoking topic. Good luck with your new release, and keep up the good work!
What do I read for "work"? I'm studying Spanish, so I'm reading "Spanish for Beginners" by Charles Duff. Plus, as research for a fiction project, "The Psychic Detectives: The Story of Psychometry and Paranormal Crime Detection" by Colin Wilson; and, in the field of general skills for living, "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie, whose works have helped me and many others immensely.
For fun, I typically read whatever I'm in the mood for at the moment. And right now I'm in the mood for something futuristic.
I'm reading two books; one is a sci-fi novel from 1981, "The Path of Exoterra" by Gordon McBain, which I've read a few times before. I highly recommend it for readers who are good are finding out-of-print titles, and enjoy science fiction with the emphasis on adventure and wonders rather than violence and brutality.
The other is a Dorchester futuristic romance, "A Distant Star" by Anne Avery. It was published in 2004, but I bought it new just yesterday. I'm only a few chapters into it, but I'm hooked by this example of imaginative sci-fi combined with out-of-the-box romance.
In a few weeks I might be in the mood for a dramatic contemporary romance. Or a colorful historical romp. Or a really weird fantasy. Or a gripping romantic suspense novel. Or a hilariously funny read in any genre.
All I can say for sure is I'll check with "Fresh Fiction" to see what's happening in popular fiction. Keep up the good work!
Thank you for your post, Joanne. I'll be on the lookout for COWBOY TROUBLE.
There are lots of plots, characters, settings, and themes I'd love to see in romance fiction that are difficult if not impossible to find nowadays. Contemporary romances that deal with real-life issues. Historical romances set in countries where people don't speak English. Fantasy romances without vampires, werewolves, or demons.
But what I wish I could find most of all in romance fiction, and almost never can, is a hero who's an ordinary guy. Not a millionaire, not a duke, not a vampire. Someone like the men in my world, who must work for a living and live within his modest means. Think of all the plots and situations a writer can generate out of such a character.
I'd definitely prefer it if he's not a cynic, if he has a healthy attitude toward the world in general and women in particular. I've had it with all these cynical romantic heroes. They're the richest and most powerful men imaginable. What do they have to be cynical about?
It'd be great to have a charming hero with an attractive personality for a change. Yes, I know it's harder to generate plots out of good guys than bad ones. But who said writing is supposed to be easy?
Thank you for your post, Karen. Congrats on the 70th novel!
I wish more romance writers would incorporate real-life issues into their fiction. If done right, it doesn't detract from the romance. It makes it more convincing. It makes it more likely that the work will well and truly move the readers' emotions. And isn't that what a love story is supposed to do?
Thank you for your post, Vicki. I like dogs, but I've never had one for a pet. I'm definitely a cat person. During the last 20 years I've had 12 cats. Not all at the same time, of course!
Right now I have four: a black-and-white adult male named Archimedes (Arky for short), a five-month old calico/tabby bob-tailed female kitten named Farrah, a white adult female named Lucretia (Creesha for short), and a golden tabby adult male named Spartacus. They're my "furry children"!
Sara: I'd like to know whatever happened to paranormal romances that are NOT about vampires, werewolves, or demons.
During the eighties and especially the nineties, there were many different fantasy themes in romance fiction. Today there's just one: the hero is some kind of nasty, dangerous creature and the heroine must "save" him. And that's just not my cup of blood.
Barbara Delinsky: Thank you for your post. I hope it will encourage other writers to venture into topics and themes they have not already covered.
Based on my experience, I've found that though there's much I don't know, there's nothing I can't research. One of the best investments for a writer (or anyone else) is to spend a little time learning how to use efficiently the research avenues provided by the Internet.
I can remember the days when any information worth having was hard to come by. Today the big problem is TMI: too much information.
The number of sources of information is huge and growing all the time. The trick is to find the exact information one needs, no more and no less, in as short a time as possible.
A researcher must also consider how good the information is. Is it up-to-date? Is it complete? Is it objective? Was it written or compiled by someone with an ax to grind? Do others consider a given source credible and reliable?
Careless reporting, rumours, factoids, hoaxes, urban legends, and other forms of misinformation have always posed problems for researchers. Now that information can be disseminated in a flash, the situation has grown exponentially worse.
Remember the news story in late 2009 that Obama would call the White House Christmas tree a "holiday tree"? That proved to be false, but not before many people believed it and raised a big fuss over it.
There's a saying in journalism: "If your mother says she loves you, check it out." To verify a piece of information, there's no substitute for a second independent source.
Sharon Lathan and Sherry Russell: The Dudley Moore movie you're referring to is "Micki & Maude" (1984), a comedy directed by Blake Edwards. The two title roles (played by Ann Reinking and Amy Irving) are Moore's fertility-challenged wife and too-readily-pregnant girlfriend, who go into labor at the same time at the same hospital.
Thank you for your post, Lori. As you demonstrate, writing is no career for control freaks.
I believe readers and reviewers would be gentler and more understanding toward authors if they knew what really goes on behind the scenes in the publishing industry. But the only ones who know even a hint are writers trying to get published.
Yes, I'm one of them; and lately the industry news has been pretty appalling. And that's just the info that's been released or leaked out!
May I voice a polite disagreement? Despite what you think about the "Wild Heart" cover, I like it! Attractive models, dramatic poses, excellent period flavor, an almost palpable feeling of romance. And I'm so grateful your publisher's art department didn't cut off the hero and heroine's heads! Too often nowadays we see that on romance-fiction covers.
For me, a story set before or during World War I is automatically a historical. That's because in terms of our society and culture, WWI marks what I consider the most significant watershed.
But a story set since then can be a historical if the main theme, plot, and characters are closely tied to the events, lifestyles, and zeitgeist of its setting. And if they aren't, I wonder what's the point of setting it in that period rather than making it an "eternal present" contemporary story.
I've lived abroad twice, but in both cases I was a kid---age 3 to 6, Caracas, Venezuela; age eleven to thirteen, The Hague, The Netherlands. Each time my family moved because my father, a pipeline-construction engineer, had a major project there.
Of course I remember the second time much better than the first. Nowadays I wish I'd learned more than a few words of Dutch and socialized more with the residents.
Still, I got enough of a feel for the place to make my stay there an enriching experience. Maybe someday I'll get to go back.
Come to think of it, I remember one Dutch phrase that's relevant for this website: "Ik hout van jouw", pronounced "ick howt van yow." What does it mean? "I love you."
Kathryne Kennedy and Jane Lange: Thank you for your advice. No, I don't belong to the RWA; but based on what you wrote, I'm considering joining.
In response to Jane's question, I already have quite a few short works published in various fields of fiction and nonfiction. But all that really counts is getting a novel published. I'm writing a futuristic romance novel, and have projects planned in other genres.
Once I write "The End", my priority will be finding an agent. Few publishers are interested in unagented submissions from unpublished writers. Except for that big company that just started a vanity press. And I have no intention of taking that route!
I think writers should use as their inspiration any method that works for them. What works for one writer might not work for another.
That's why I'm very leery of so-called authorities who tell writers what to write and what not to write. I'm grateful that instead of taking that approach, you offer several suggestions.
In my case, I'm already using some of them. I would use the rest if I could.
For example, your suggestion to interact with other writers isn't feasible for many of us, including me. All the writers I know are busy with their own work. And how can I blame them? They simply can't spare the time to work with unpublished writers.
Even other unpublished writers aren't of much help. I've been trying for months to find a critique partner. It's just not going to happen.
It seems that only after a writer has published a book, and it performs well in the marketplace, can she get help from other writers. And by then, she doesn't need it, at least not as much as she did when she was unpublished. Sort of a Catch-22 situation.
In short, if a unpublished writer wants to get published, she must do it on her own. However, that's not stopping me, or even frightening me.
(con't) It's not fair to the authors, who don't get a share of the purchase price. But what else can I do when publishers currently just aren't interested in readers like me?
Sorry I can't remember the first novel I read that was aimed at grownups. It probably would have been mainstream or sci-fi. That's what I was into back when I was what is nowadays called a tween.
I have several keeper shelves. Any book that well and truly moves me gets placed there. So does any work of nonfiction that contains info I might want to look up later on. I've never weeded out my keepers.
I used to go back to consult my nonfiction keepers pretty frequently. However, nowadays when I need a bit of info, usually I google it.
I reread my keepers only once in a while, but I'm still glad I have them. My book collection represents the story of my life.
Sorry I got a bit carried away! I usually don't get so long-winded in my responses. But do you realize how rare it is for someone to ask me what I like about ANYTHING?
Thank you for your questions, Sandi. And congrats on your new furry baby.
Which subgenres of romance do I prefer? I'll read any of them, with two exceptions. One is inspirational romance; I'm WAY outside of its target demo group. The other is erotic romance; why? Don't get me started!
But most romances I read nowadays consist of two types. The first is contemporary romance that avoids power fantasies. That is, it's NOT the zillionth account of how some powerless, conventional woman tames a rich, arrogant, headstrong man. I can't buy the notion that she "reforms" him so that he abandons his womanizing ways and becomes a poster boy for traditional family values.
In romance novels of this type, two incompatible people forced together into a miserable relationship always end up happy and in love. In real life, this never happens.
I'd rather read about real love, the kind that requires both the lover and the beloved to bring out their best. This can't be forced; it must come naturally, or not at all.
My idea of romance is a story about how real love can endure any hardship and overcome any obstacle, from both within and without. And it doesn't have to end happily ever after. The catharsis of tragedy is also welcome, or would be if the genre didn't ban it.
The second type of romance I favor is what I call non-horror fantasy romance---i.e., no vampires, werewolves, or demons. I also love its cousin, futuristic romance---provided its setting isn't really nasty and depressing. I've found that nasty, depressing settings produce nasty, depressing people. This isn't always true in real life, but it is in fiction.
The same principles stated above for characters, plot, and theme also apply to my choices in fantasy and futuristic romance, and other subgenres.
The types of romance I favor are very hard to find nowadays on the retail book racks. Hence most of my reading comes from second-hand stores and garage sales. It's
Elisabeth: Thank you for your post. Like you, I think a secondary romance adds to rather than detracts from the primary one. At least if it's done right, when both relationships have considerable bearing on each other.
As a rule, if the primary romance works, the secondary romance works---and vice-versa. With this reader, anyhow. And if one fails . . . you get the idea.
William Faulkner had a great way of handling critics. When one wrote a particularly nasty review, Faulkner replied, "This is a free country. You have the right to say what you want about me, and I have the right to ignore you."
Keep up the good work, and like the ancient Romans used to say, "Non illegitimati carborundum." Don't let the bastards grind you down!
I too love historical fashion. I appreciate it when an author takes the trouble to describe details such as clothing and accessories, and ties them to other aspects of the book. For example, a telling detail can reveal as aspect of a character, refer to a backstory event, or reinforce a theme.
But as for answering your question, well, I can't. There are simply too many styles covering too many periods for me to list my faves.
I'd like to meet all the main characters in every piece of fiction I've ever read---or, if we're talking about movies and TV shows, all those I've watched---if the work well and truly moved me. Why? Because if the story, movie, or TV show did its job, it did so largely because of the characters.
I once heard this from a forensic psychologist: "When someone creates a villain, he does so out of his own experience."
I suspect this also applies to readers. When a reader can truly relate to a villain, it reflects on the real-life antagonists she has faced.
For me, as both a reader and a writer, the villains with the greatest impact are authority figures who abuse their authority, therefore harming if not destroying those with little or no power.
Such antagonists are most interesting, and harmful, when things aren't going their way. The most dangerous person, in both real life and fiction, is a control freak whose life is spinning out of control.
Heather Long: Thank you for your article. I know only too well what you've talking about.
Usually I can spot early on whether I want to finish a book. The first chapter, at most two, should be enough. How much of a fish do you have to eat to tell whether it's rotten?
If I'm deep into a novel and run into a problem, it depends on how big a problem it is.
If, say, a lead character I've emotionally invested in turns into or is revealed to be someone I can't stand, often because he/she does something I abhor, I'm through with that book. There's no point in reading more because there would be no payoff for me. And I certainly would not be interested in finding out what happens next to that character.
What if the author goes wrong in a small way? E.g., an obviously contrived fight scene results from a misunderstanding and could have been cleared up in a few lines.
I figure the editor told the author to add the scene so there would be more conflict between the characters and drama in the story, even if it's clearly artificial and therefore ineffective. Or the novel had to be longer to meet the required word count. I just shrug it off, hope that doesn't happen again, and keep on reading.
I've long had trouble with the adage "Write what you know"---at least in its shallow, literal sense. For many of us, it's impossible to apply. And I don't just mean authors of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction.
I mean writers like me who don't have and have never had anything going on in their lives worth transforming into fiction. And if a subject doesn't interest the writer, how can it be expected to interest the readers?
However, if we go into the deeper, more figurative meaning of "Write what you know," it becomes more relevant. Writers can make like method actors and incorporate emotions and basic situations they know first-hand in their works.
Still, there are times when the imagination must take over and research must back it up. And though there is much I don't know, there's nothing I can't find out!
Dawn Detkowski: I believe everyone has inside at least one story worth telling. Not everyone tries to get it on paper or in pixels.
But if it's at all possible, I urge your to tell yours, then try to find your readers. They're out there for every writer. Reaching them is just a matter of time, effort, and persistence.
Like you, I'd like to see more romantic heroes of the non-brooding kind. A load of emotional baggage, a destructive bent, and a bad attitude are NOT sexy! Emotional maturity, a constructive motivation, and an upbeat attitude are.
Alas, it's much easier to generate stories out of the first kind than the second. But I for one would much rather read the latter.
I suspect that authors get their inspiration for characters from many sources. Real people they know. Real people they've heard of or read about. People who aren't real at all, but the author wishes they were. Other authors' characters. Archetypal figures. Embodiments of traits that deeply concern the author.
And of course, there are characters who seem to come out of the blue, with no discernible origins. Which of course they have, but they arise from deep in the subconscious of the author and/or the collective unconscious of the culture that produced the author.
I also suspect that many characters, especially powerful, memorable ones, are really composites. They derive from more than one source, perhaps all of the above.
Which type of character is best? Whichever one works best with the readers.
And as for your idea of writing a short story about Adam Temple, please do so! And he'd be a great source for other heroes in other novels. No reason why he can't have a bunch of brothers!
Linda Wisdom: Thank you for the news about your "Blair" witch project.
I really go for active, assertive romantic heroines, ones who can take on anything and anyone. If they're witches, they'd have to be that way. Otherwise, men would just use them as hex objects.
I also go for adorable, cuddly, furry creatures. Only in my case, it's cats.
Not that there's anything wrong with dogs. It's just that I'm a cat person. Even as I type this, my cat Lucretia is sitting in my lap purring away. It's no mean feat to blog for hours on end with a cat in one's lap. Especially one this big and heavy!
I dig romances in which pets play significant roles, but I can't imagine a were-cat. And you know how proud cats are. They'd probably consider turning into a human a step down.
As for what kind of supernatural being I'd most like for a romantic hero, I'd say a ghost. I don't believe in them, but I wouldn't mind being haunted by one. Especially if he looks like Patrick Swayze did in that movie.
Margaret Carroll: Thank you for your blog. Here you raise a fascinating possibility.
I'm intrigued by your idea that an author writing about a fictional person (or, I assume, a real one), or a reader reading about one, can analyse that person to find out what one's own self is really like. One can ask: What is it about this person that causes me to identify with him/her? Of the many traits in that one figure, which ones are the most meaningful to me? Why?
I must try this technique, with both the characters I read and those I create. The results should be interesting, possibly eye-opening.
Carly Phillips: Thank you for your blog and contests.
What do I want in a contemporary romance? It must be just that, CONTEMPORARY! Not only in setting, but also in attitude. And of course, with characters and relationships that reflect the reality of life nowadays.
There I go again, using the "R" word. But that's what makes a contemporary romance work for me. They are firmly grounded in the REALITY of today, rather than some revival of the good old days (which were probably terrible; but that's another story).
Being truly contemporary means no marriages of convenience, no shotgun weddings, no old-time roles for men and women, no lead figures who accept if not uphold the double standard. And no marriages for the sake of the hero and/or the heroine's children.
Alas, the themes I don't care for in contemporary romances are very popular with other readers. So I must grin and bear it, and keep looking for those themes I go for.
Which themes? Career women. Love under contemporary stresses. Women who are not afraid to take on challenges. Men who are at ease with strong women, who respect them and don't have to engage in power struggles with them. Marriages motivated by love alone.
This subgenre can, and at best does, allow readers to identify with heroines who take full advantage of the opportunities the modern world has to offer. We can vicariously experience the numerous possibilities contemporary life has to offer women who are bold, assertive, and adventuresome enough to explore them.
This is what the contemporary romance subgenre can do that other romance subgenres can't do as well, or can't do at all. Therefore contemporary romances should do it for all it's worth. And then some!
Like you, I prefer to stay home and read. But unlike you, I'm terrified of snakes!
Some open questions for FF readers:
What effect has the growth of the Internet had on book signings? Have they become more or less effective as a means of reaching readers?
Do book signings help bestselling writers more than midlist writers, or vice-versa? Or is there no difference in this respect?
Does anyone know of any scientific studies concerning the effectiveness of book signings, in terms of helping to sell both the author and the individual titles? If so, are those results available anywhere on the Web?
Sara Edmonds: Thank you for your article. Now the rest of us with reading routines can come out of the closet.
When I'm reading for pleasure, it's almost always late at night and I'm in bed. With me is usually at least one of my furry babies, aka cats.
The TV is off. The computer is off or on standby. I adjust the light on my bed stand to just bright enough to see the print clearly and easily, but not bright enough to be glaring (I'm kind of photosensitive).
I put on my reading glasses, place Spartacus, Lucretia, and/or Archimedes in my lap or along my side, pick up the book, and read. And I keep reading until I fall asleep.
Usually there's more than one book I'm currently reading. Which one I actually pick up depends on what I'm in the mood for.
Claire Delacroix/Claire Cross/Deborah Cooke: Thank you so much for your list. Your advice is most helpful, especially concerning one's writings in the long-term perspective of one's career.
Your recommend to aspiring authors, "Once you know the defining characteristics of your work, you essentially know the shape of the piece that you need to fit into the puzzle of the market." This is most encouraging to those of us who are pushing the envelope, defy formulas, and bucking trends. Too often I hear how writers like us haven't a chance. Yet from your POV, even we have a place in the overall picture.
Your second piece of advice recalls to my mind Sir Phillip Sidney's famous poem about his writer's block. When he was stumped for inspiration, and imitating others wasn't working, he asked his Muse what he should do. Her reply? "Fool! Look in thy heart, and write."
Thank you for your article. Scuba diving in Alexandria Harbor---talk about surreal! No wonder an experience like this inspired you to write your new novel.
Like you, I'm an ancient history buff. I've studied quite a bit about classical antiquity, have quite a few of my favorite spear-and-sandal movies on DVD, and never miss a doc about the era on The History Channel. I've even named my cats after famous people from ancient times. As I type this, one of then, Lucretia, is sitting in my lap, purring away.
However, I've been told that I shouldn't try to write a novel in that setting. It would be hard for readers to relate to a period so long ago and far away. It's especially risky if, like me, the author doesn't have an impressive track record.
Yet you seem to be doing all right. Any advice?
Uh-oh; Spartacus just started to play with my mouse. Hope there aren't any typos!
Mary Anne Landers www.facebook.com/maryannelanders
My favorite recent novel-to-film project? No contest here; it's "The Lord of the Rings" series. Doing justice to the original novels is a tall order; this one does so beautifully.
In one respect, the film series does the impossible and improves on the originals. Tolkien's novels contain almost no romance and pay little attention to female characters. The movies take care of both.
The film version of "The Da Vinci Code" was okay, but it should have been more than that. It didn't send me the way the novel did.
My favorite romantic novel-movie combo is "Somewhere in Time". The film version is considerably better known than the original Richard Matheson novel, "Bid Time Return". However, I give both the highest recommendation. The movie, released back in 1980, is especially poignant nowadays in light of what eventually happened to its leading man, Christopher Reeve.
If I can think up more examples that other Fresh Fiction fans might be familiar with, I'll let you know. Happy blogging!
---Mary Anne Landers www.facebook.com/maryannelanders
Rosemary Clement-Moore: Thank you for your post and your request for comments.
The best-known example of food-driven fiction I can recall is Marcel Proust's "A la Recherche du Temps Perdu". The protagonist dips a piece of cake in a cup of coffee. He eats it and remembers the first time he tasted it. This triggers a flood of recollections which he goes on and on about.
As for food as a plot device in popular fiction, right now I can't think of any. But then, I haven't been on the lookout for any. When I'm reading romance fiction, I'm paying attention to a certain other type of hunger!
Sincerely, Mary Anne Landers www.facebook.com/maryannelanders
I too wish I could visit Derbyshire, and all the places in the UK I've read about. But that would take a "vacation" of a couple of years!
Another country tying for first place on my list of overseas vacation destinations is Greece. It calls to me the way the sirens called to Odysseus. Oh, by the way, I'm an ancient history buff. (She added, most unnecessarily.)
However, right now I'm stuck in a small town in Arkansas. As you noted, thank goodness for the Internet---and for writers like you who bring these faraway places to those of us who can't go there otherwise.
Keep up the good work!
---Mary Anne Landers www.facebook.com/maryannelanders
If he were my husband, I'd buy him a gift card from his favorite book store and let HIM decide which titles he'll purchase. There is SO much choice on the retail book shelves that I wouldn't trust myself to decide for anyone, even someone I know better than anybody else.
Suzanne Arruda: Thank you for your post and your request for feedback.
Here's my opinion. Perhaps when we get down to it, there aren't any characters or real people who are larger than life. They're larger than what we expect in life.
They're larger than what we anticipate, are comfortable with, can readily process, and conveniently deal with. Through their words and deeds, through their very existence, they challenge our assumptions, both individual and social. Intentionally or not, they expand our thinking, which can result in expanding our actions.
And thank goodness such people exist! Both fiction and reality would be so much duller without them.
Sara Reyes and Sara Edmonds: Thanks you for replying to my comments.
I can't discuss urban fantasy heroes, vampires and the like, because I'm not one of their target readers. That's not my cup of blood. But considering how popular this type of romance fiction is, clearly I'm in the minority.
Perhaps I should've used an adjective other than "standard" to describe the cynical, revenge-driven, mucho-macho type of romance hero. "Substandard," maybe?
At any rate, I think the point of this discussion is that there are potentially many different types of romantic heroes. Which one is "best" depends on the tastes of the individual readers. However, which type predominates in the market depends on which one editors and publishers think will sell best.
If a reader has her idea of a dream man, and a heroine she can identify with, starring in her idea of an exciting romance story, and it doesn't happen to be in the new-release fiction market, she has alternatives. One is to to daydream. Another is to turn those daydreams into fiction manuscripts and submit them to agents.
She can always hope that not only will they sell, but also by the time they reach the market readers will be ready for something new and different. Guess what I'm doing!
---Mary Anne Landers, www.facebook.com/maryannelanders
Sara: Thank you for your article and your request.
My favorite type of hero? In both fiction and real life, I think brains are sexy. It helps if he has a heart. I'm a great believer in the adage, "If you want to be loved, be lovable."
He should be courageous, resourceful, open-minded, capable of learning and changing---for the better, of course. Whether or not he's physically strong, he should be so emotionally.
Soulful, sensitive, charming men are at the top of my list. Some chicks think Scarlett O'Hara was out of her mind because she carried a torch for Ashley Wilkes when she could've had Rhett Butler. I don't; I'd have felt the same way.
My least favorite men? I'm probably going to tick off lots of Fresh Fiction readers, but I don't care for the standard romance-fiction hero, Arnold Alpha-Male. Nothing turns me off quicker than arrogance, egotism, closed-mindedness, callousness, obnoxiousness, and sexism.
Toting around a lot of emotional baggage isn't appealing either. That goes for lead characters of both sexes. A guy's girlfriend double-crossed him years ago; now he despises and distrusts all women. I want to shout, "Good God, what's the matter with you? Get over it!"
Also, I wish I could find heroes who aren't rich and powerful. The rich guy-poor girl bit sounds too much like legalized you-know-what.
I mean, what's wrong with the average Joe? Think of all the plot and character possibilities when the hero must watch his spending, live within his means, and deal with money issues the same as the rest of us.
Too often, a romantic hero has a problem just so the heroine can "save" them. He's wrong about something just so she can be right about it. Sorry, I'm not buying it. That reduces a story from a real romance to a power fantasy.
Now that I've shot my mouth off, I'm eagerly awaiting what other readers think.
---Mary Anne Landers, www.facebook.com/maryannnelanders
Like you, I'm spending this long weekend cleaning up the place. No kids to take care of, but there are my cats. Plus shopping, visiting friends, blogging, and paperwork---there's ALWAYS paperwork! And trolling the classifieds and the Web, looking for a job.
But I don't intend to neglect my reading. No current books on my nightstand, but plenty of yard-sale, rummage-sale, and bargain-store books. Maybe when these lean times pass . . . .
However, my most important book is the one I'm writing. Unlike most Americans, I'll spend Labor Day laboring. But in my case, it will be over a manuscript.
Keep up the good work!
Sincerely, Mary Anne Landers www.facebook.com/maryannelanders
Thank you, Ingrid Weaver. I've noticed some of the same effects, variations on others.
While at the computer, I keep hard-copy reading material nearby to relieve monitor-related eyestrain. These are usually items I can spend a few minutes perusing during a slow upload, such as today's newspaper, magazines, and a quotation dictionary. Yes, I'm a quote freak; but I'll spare you this time!
For better ergonomics, when I just can't sit any longer I get up and exercise, which usually means doing physical chores or taking a walk.
I have carpal tunnel syndrome in one wrist so badly that sometimes I must wear a brace. In my regular (sort of) job as a substitute teacher, I once told my students I wear it to recover from wounds I got while fighting alligators. I meant it as a joke, but now they call me "Alligator Lady."
I sit down on a cushion or pillow in my chair, and vary them. Maybe I can't keep my butt from getting big, but I can sure help to keep it from hurting.
Frequently Lucretia, my big fat white cat, likes to sit on my lap while I'm typing. She's cat-napping there now, but sometimes she demands my attention. Otherwise she'll sit on my mouse or block my view of the screen. I must break my concentration and play with her, but I probably need the break. I figure stroking her and listening to her purr do me good.
I've had voices in my head since long before I started writing seriously. I can't blame writing for that.
NOTHING decreases my reading drive. There's never, ever enough time for all the reading I want to do. However, writing has had this effect: I no longer have any patience with works that aren't as good as what I think I can do. Whether I actually can do as well is another matter.
Keep up the good work!
Mary Anne Landers www.facebook.com/maryannelanders
Wow, what a question! I can think of plenty of things I did and wish I hadn't. And many more I didn't do and wish I had.
However, I believe just about every action has varying consequences---some good, some bad, some in between. But most are combinations of the above in all sorts of mixtures. Therefore, preventing an action with undesirable effects will also eliminate its desirable effects.
It all gets pretty complicated. At any rate, we can't change the past, just the future. That's what I'm focusing on.
And I'm looking forward to HAUNTING BEAUTY. I can already tell it's got a marvellous cover! Thank you, Erin Quinn.
Sandi Shilhanek: Thank you for your thought-provoking commentary.
If you ask me, there's no such thing as empty literary calories. If someone is taking the time and effort to read something, ANYTHING, when there are plenty of other works to read and things to do, then that piece of writing must be filling some sort of need. Or more likely, needs.
They may not be obvious or even apparent to anyone, including the reader. It might be hard to discover and define them. But there's there. And neither ridicule from others nor embarrassment from the reader will make them go away.
If someone picks up a book that's "good for you" rather than what that person really wants to read, what do want to bet it will be put aside for good after the first chapter or two? And even if it's finished, what will the reader get out of it? Nothing. How much did any of us get out writings we hated, but had to read in school? Can we even remember anything about them?
W. H. Auden once said about reading choices: "Pleasure is not an infallible guide, but it is the least fallible guide."
BTW, "the great American novel," or the great any- nation novel, is a poorly-defined term. Nobody can agree upon what it means or which examples qualify. I should know; I have two English degrees. The same would go for "empty literary calories" if anyone took the time and effort to study extensively that which they look down upon.