Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Season for Gratitude

When I next pick up the “How to Write a Romance Novel” thread, I’ll speak about research, but it’s that time of year that requires introspection and resolution. Except I don’t make resolutions. I love new beginnings and making plans, but the contrary in me refuses to do so at this time of year. I’d rather look back on some dates. Like February, when I acquired a new agent, or April, when I sold my series. Those dates mean more to me. And I have dates to look forward to. I have to finish the third book in the TIME OF TRANSITION series, tentatively titled TOIL AND TROUBLE. I have new proposals to write and new novels to finish. I’m attending RWA national in July this year, and I’m still thinking about attending RT at the end of April and RomCon in Denver in July. Most of all I’m looking forward to May 2010 when THE WISH LIST comes out.

January 5 is another date I celebrate. It’s my 25th wedding anniversary. Yes, I do have a family and apparently a husband who still loves me. We are a team, Bob and I; he pulls me back to earth when I am in danger of getting lost in my emotions and imagination, and I make him fly when he’s too focused on work. I don’t like to talk about my family here, but this time I think it deserves some attention. I certainly don’t feel as if I’ve been married to the man that long. We have too much fun together, and I am not that old. OK, maybe I am, but I don’t think it, and it’s largely because Bob keeps me young.

The holidays are over, and the new year is coming. It’s just a date and a number--fairly arbitrary if you ask me. But I love the holiday season: time off from the day job, my family is home, and I am grateful for so many things this year. So instead of resolutions, I’d rather just bask in family, enjoy where I am in life, be grateful for the having the joy of writing. I hope you can bask in your life too.


Books I’m reading now:
Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts
Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Spirited Brides by Amanda MacCabe

Friday, December 11, 2009

Agent appreciation day

A fellow writer told me about this day, and I thought it was fantastic. OK, Jen K Blom is also a client of my agent, but, nevertheless, I am ready to gush.

Marlene Stringer is wonderful. She is never too busy for her clients. She answers my questions and responds to my e-mails promptly and with great wisdom. I can bounce ideas off her, get as much or little support from her as I wish, and I trust her. Trust her to tell me if my work isn’t good, and trust her to tell me if it is.
I went through a long drought with my writing. Oh, I was writing, but I wasn’t selling. My confidence was low to the point of non-existence. I had won or finaled in contests in the meantime, but I had no confidence left in my writing.

The day Marlene e-mailed me, I burst into tears. After I talked to her, I was even happier. Here was an agent who knew the business, understood authors, and who wanted me as a client.

Well, she sold my novel (THE WISH LIST, May 2010) and two more a month after we had submitted it. I know it’s about the work and whether the editor likes the submission, Marlene added her insight to my novel and knew which editors to submit to.

I still have major doubts about my writing (a drought will do that to you), but knowing I have a champion in my corner helps me lift those doubts and think that maybe, just maybe, I can write.

So I thank Marlene Stringer of the Stringer Literary Agency for giving me back my confidence and giving me the strength to face this fickle business. It would have broken my heart to quit because I can’t imagine doing anything that would satisfy me more than writing.

Books I’m reading now:
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig

Saturday, December 5, 2009

How to Write a Romance Novel--Style

What to say about style…hmmm.
Style has everything to do with writing ability, grammar skills, mechanics, and voice. This is the part where you groan and say, “Grammar? Isn’t that what I have a copy editor for?”

Uh, no.

Style requires work, study, and instinct. Style is the part of writing that is the hardest to define. If’ you’ve ever judged a contest, you’ve probably run across entries that are perfect but missing that spark that makes you settle into the story with pleasure. Or you’ve seen entries that have great voice, but you can’t read it with without wincing because of grammatical errors.

Literary devices and tools are a part of style. Metaphors, similes, satire, irony, imagery, word choice are all tools that can elevate your writing from ordinary to extraordinary. We’ve all run across sentences that take our breath away (My husband calls these "gems".) Words that move you, words you remember. Like this one:

“That’s what I love about books: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another but there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive--all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment” (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society; uses repetition.).

Or this one:
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here” (The Secret Life of Bees, a book I didn’t really love, but I’ve never forgotten the line).

Learning to use literary devices will lift your book with rich language and unforgettable sentences.

Grammar and mechanics are probably the easiest thing to fix. Even if you don’t remember a thing from high school (or earlier), you can find so many good grammar books to teach you what you need to know. So why is this important? How can it not be? How can you claim to be a writer if you don’t know the language? OK, maybe that’s harsh, but mastery of language allows you to play with language to achieve effects that will make your writing pop. Look at the following poem: Hazel tells Laverne. The author could not achieve the humor or the sadness without breaking grammar and mechanics rules. Besides, knowing these rules shows you care about your product.

Now look at your voice. Do you write a light-hearted novel? Are you into the deep and dark side of human nature? Do you use curse words? Big words? I believe voice is one of the hardest aspects to master. Can’t you recognize your favorite authors by the way they write? If you pick up a Jayne Ann Krentz novel, it reads like a Jayne Ann Krentz novel no matter which name she’s writing under. Susan Elizabeth Phillips writes like Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Find your voice if you haven’t already.

Finally, the most important tip I have for you about style: Read Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. This slim volume teaches you everything you need to know about style. I re-read it every year. Yeah, I have friends (you know who you are) who haven’t made it through the book, but I find it highly readable, succinct, and informative. Every serious writer should own this book and study it. (Yes, I realize that is an opinion, but this is my blog, so I’m allowed to state my opinion.)

Keep on writing.

Books I’m reading now:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
The Duke Most Wanted by Celeste Bradley
The Temptation of the Night Jasmine by Lauren Willig