Writer’s Rush vs. Reader’s Rush: What I Learned from Susan Elizabeth Phillips

April 11, 2011

I finally finished Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP). At first glance, that’s not an amazing statement. I read—a lot. But when you consider that I’ve owned the book since it came out in January and SEP is one of my all-time favorite authors, it makes you wonder.  Why did it take me so long?

I was afraid to read the book.

Yes. Afraid.

Danielle Steel was the first writer to draw me in with lush scenery and bad characters that made my teenage eyes blink triple time. Sinful, passionate and so beyond my suburban high school reality, her books were like a box of Ho Hos® stashed under my bed. Then I found Judith McNaught, and my relationship with Danielle Steel was forever changed.

Judith’s characters touched my heart and then ripped it out. And when they gave it back, I was exhausted, stuck in her world, and craving more of the people she created. I read every Judith McNaught book with breathless glee, knowing exactly the reader’s rush that was in store for me. Not a hidden box of Ho Hos®—no, nothing so fleeting. Because when Judith’s characters fell in love, I did too.

And so my addiction to romance novels began, leading me to SEP.

I’m pretty sure I read once that this icon of romance novels takes a year to write a book. In other words, she’s not pumping out one novel after another. In other words, her fans spend a lot of time waiting. (Not that we mind, because the end result is worth the wait.)

Back before Call Me Irresistible was published, I’d done some research into when to expect from SEP’s new release, and I came across a brief description of the novel. A few words stuck out: calls off the wedding. That’s when my turmoil began.

See, I’d been concocting a story in my mind that involved a called off wedding, and I refuse to read a book with a similar plot to what I’m writing.  I had a couple choices. I could either write my story before Call Me Irresistible was released, thereby granting myself the freedom to read and enjoy another SEP novel, or I could hold off on writing my story until after I’d read her book, thereby throwing myself into the murky depths of possible published author influence.

I chose to write my story first.

When Call Me Irresistible came out, I purchased and downloaded the book to my iPad. But my story wasn’t finished, so I waited. Agony. The book called to me. When I was halfway through my story, I gave in to temptation and started reading Call Me Irresistible.

For some reason, it wasn’t easy. I wasn’t getting lost in the book. I spent too much time criticizing. How can I like this heroine? She broke up her best friend’s wedding. Ick!

I put the book aside. I read my usual Harlequin reads (Blaze and Desire). I read Jaci Burton’s Perfect Play. (Holy hot read, Bat Man! They don’t call that stuff erotic for nothing.) I cooled down and tried Call Me Irresistible again. When I put the book aside again, I wondered what the hell was wrong with me.

SEP is my rock star. Why can’t I get into this book?

I started thinking maybe it was because I’d been surviving on mini meals of 200- to 300-page category romances. Could that be it? Was I unable to digest a full meal? Was I out of sync with the single-title romances I once stayed up all night to finish?

I started analyzing my reading habits. I enjoy my Blazes and Desires, but funny thing…no reader’s rush. Oh I get the mushy feeling when a particularly yummy hero cups a heroines face and kisses her into oblivion, but the full-body, flushed-face, heart-racing reader’s rush of McNaught, SEP and Rachel Gibson (particularly Zach and Adele’s ladies’ room make out scene in Not Another Bad Date) was missing.

I had to know: was it me that changed or had the writing changed? If I finished Call Me Irresistible, would I find the reader’s rush again?

I spent this past weekend with that mission in mind. And you know what?

I felt the rush. I dreamt about the characters. I woke up wanting to tell Meg (heroine) something I’d thought about in my dream. I actually entertained the idea of pulling an all-nighter on Saturday to finish the book (something I haven’t ever done with a category). Once I did close the book for the last time (figuratively speaking, since I read on an iPad), I walked around Sunday with a feeling of sadness, wanting to spend more time with these people I’d come to know so well.

I analyzed my feelings and decided the puffed-up page count allows for more detail and a slow burn that builds into full-blown love, allowing the reader time to adjust and feel the same emotions.

:Sigh: Books like that keep me reading.

If books like Call Me Irresistible keep me reading, then what does that say about me as a writer? (Write what you read and all that jazz…)

I started out writing single title. Naturally, I wondered if I should I try my hand at it again.

And there it was. The truth, like a plug of chocolate fudge in the bottom point of a Nutty Buddy ice cream cone. I knew if I read Call Me Irresistible, if I felt the reader’s rush again, that I’d question why I was writing anything but single-title contemporary.

And so the questioning begins. I doubt and redoubt. I pout. I deny. I get angry at the time I may have been “wasting.” But then I calm down. I remind myself that there’s no waste as long as I’m writing, and there’s no reason I can’t write both.

So today, I’m taking a deep breath and finishing my current category ms and then moving on to another I’ve been eager to write (if only to get it out of my head). And then…then I’m going to face my fear. I’m going to read ludicrous amounts of single titles and I’m going to decide where my heart lies. If it’s with single title—like I suspect—I’m going to take a break from category and concentrate on creating the rush for both sides of me, writer and reader. I’m pretty sure that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and I just got sidetracked with this push for publication.

Thanks SEP for the reminder.

3 Responses to “Writer’s Rush vs. Reader’s Rush: What I Learned from Susan Elizabeth Phillips”

  1. Tari Says:

    Oh my gosh Elley, I experience this same conflict every day. Which book do I write? Am I writing this one for the right reason….does it matter why I’m writing it? Sometimes I’ll get side-tracked from my category and move back to my mainstream when I hear them calling. I do love my characters though….

    But, I often remind myself that I had similar feelings when I wrote non-fiction. When I wrote advertising I’d wonder what I was doing, I enjoyed writing advertising it was quick and fun… but I loved writing magazine articles, the research, the writing, everything about it….and when I was writing magazine articles I wondered what I was doing….I wanted to be writing fiction, my true passion…but magazine articles were relatively quick and paid the bills. So now on to fiction….I love writing category romance, but I have these mainstream novels just screaming to get out….

    Good luck with your category….and moving on to your single title…and the voracious reading, I’ve got a stack I can’t wait to get to…..

  2. Thanks, Tari. I think it’s just a matter of staying true to your story. Sometimes category is exactly what I want to be writing in order to tell certain characters’ stories effectively. What bothered me most was that I had closed the door on single title without knowing it. I just walked away after one real attempt. I put that book under my bed and said, “There’s my first novel, and there it will stay.” And maybe that’s exactly where it should stay, but that’s not to say another single title isn’t in me somewhere. 🙂

  3. […] (Okay. This is a really simple statement on a topic I’ve been struggling with for months. See this post for oodles of backstory.) I find I’m still not an automatic fan of multiple POV. My first instinct […]

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