As much talk as there is about romance being “escapism” and “fantasy” and how it sets “unrealistic expectations” one of the things I look for and enjoy most in a romance novel (or any novel) is a sense of realism. I tend not to get as drawn in by stories of princesses and fake countries or Greek tycoons and multi-billionaires, because, as good as those books might be, you don’t get that feeling that they could really happen.

So, one of my favorite authors right now is Sarah Mayberry. All of the novels I’ve read by her have this common thread. They seem like they could happen. Okay, sure, not every guy on the planet is really hot and built, but the characters, the conflicts, the resolutions draw me in because they feel real. Mayberry’s books don’t rely on misunderstandings or power plays or plot devices to create conflict, the characters themselves create the conflict. From tortured past, to bad marriages, to simple fear, her characters’ emotions and the conflicts because of them seem like they could be from anyone.

Mayberry’s books aren’t romangst. The characters deal with their issues, usually together. They have conversations. They behave like real couples. There are dark moments they overcome, but in a way that is usually mature and sensible. For me, those are the most powerful love stories.

Nicole

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When I’m sitting at a cubicle in the Katy Geisert Library in Torrance, marking the hard copy of my manuscript with red pen and dreaming of getting my WIP published, it’s hard for me to imagine having more than a hundred and thirty books published. Okay, maybe I have no problem imagining it, but at the moment, it’s just a dream.

For Susan Mallery, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, and speaker at the Orange County Chapter of RWA’s 30th Birthday Bash last weekend, this is her life. Susan took an interesting path to this career. First she got her degree in accounting, and then decided what she really wanted to do was write fiction. Once she made that decision, she got to work and made it happen, selling her first book just months after she began writing.

Not only is Susan Mallery a prolific writer, but she is an intelligent, funny and very motivating speaker. She gave lots of great advice during her presentation and considering her success, I intend to follow it. Possibly the most important thing she said is this: “It is in your hands, in your power to achieve this. You just have to do the work.” In other words, if you want to be successful you have to write. Having a thousand followers on twitter is great, but are you writing your pages? Lunch with your writer friends can be good for you, but did you get your pages written? Polishing chapter one is necessary, but first write some pages.

I’m reading my autographed copy of Susan’s book Only His right now, and I can see why she is such a successful writer. Just as she is in person, Susan’s writing is intelligent, funny and engaging, and I have to tear myself away to write my pages. I think however that Susan will understand if I read slowly, because I’m taking her advice.

I’m off to write, then write and write some more. And what about you? Have you written your pages today?

Although my WIP is contemporary women’s fiction with a romantic element, my recent reading binge has been historical fiction…and of course, The Help. But not too long ago, I responded to a blog post by Sue Grimshaw, Editor at Random House, on her blog Romance at Random. She sent me a copy of Debra Dixon’s steamy Loveswept novel, Tall, Dark & Lonesome, a western romance, and the first book I’ve read on my Kindle.

So I happily switched gears and as I clicked through the pages I found myself in familiar territory…Wyoming. Some of you may know that this Los Angeles South Bay beach girl spent six years living in central Wyoming with my hunky husband, Paul, and our three sons. After three years back in Los Angeles, driving through the chaos on the 405 Freeway and Pacific Coast Highway and living in the concrete and asphalt of the city, an escape to the peace and open space of Wyoming was just what I needed.

As a writer when I read I’m always looking for something to learn. I’m looking for dialogue that flows, plots and subplots and description that gives me enough, without slowing down the story. In Tall, Dark & Lonesome I found myself lost in the setting. Debra Dixon wove a heated love story into the seductive backdrop of the Wyoming landscape and lifestyle.

While living in Wyoming, the closest I ever came to experiencing a cattle drive was stopping our car to watch one cross the highway in front of us in Pinedale, Wyoming. This is also the closest that we ever came to an actual “traffic jam” while we lived there. After reading Tall, Dark & Lonesome I felt like I had experienced the cattle drive with the heroine, Nikki Devlin, and sexy, rancher Zach Weston. I could just see Zach sitting on his horse silhouetted by the brilliant Wyoming sunset and tipping his Stetson to me before he rode off to…well wherever sexy cowboys ride off to.

Debra Dixon’s book has me thinking about the setting of my own book. How important is it to the plot? Will my reader feel like she is running along the South Bay coastline with my heroine? Will she feel the history of the old buildings? How do I get the reader there without ‘over’ describing? I can smell the sagebrush and hear the sexy drawl in Zach Weston’s voice…

What books have made you think of setting? How important is setting in the book you’re writing? How do you put your reader where your heroine lives?

It’s Friday, the day when we take off our writer’s caps and put on our reader’s caps in order to gush about an author or a book. And I was prepared to do just that with the book I was reading until the final sex scene blew it all to hell.

I’ll spare you the details, mostly because I know we all have different preferences when it comes to bedroom activities. But what I would like to know is how often you—as a reader—are icked out by a sex scene in a romance novel and if it’s something you can get over quickly or if it ruins the book for you?

Me? This time? It ruined the book. I was left staring at the page, feeling oddly betrayed by two people I thought I knew so well. (Ridiculous, I know.) I mean, would I dump a friend because she shared with me that she and her partner have done the very same thing? Of course not. Each to his and her own. You know? So why am I annoyed by two “people” I’ll never meet? And for God’s sake what does that say about me as a writer? Would I really censor my characters’ intimate moments because it makes ME feel uncomfortable? (Apparently, yes I would, because just thinking about writing said scene makes me feel, well, icky.)

As I’m typing this, other books come to mind. And I realize I’ve cringed at sex acts and dialogue before, and I wouldn’t say it ruined those books. But those books were different. Different how? Well for starters, the H&H didn’t seem so normal to begin with. They were those larger—and harder—than life sort of “people” who promptly proclaimed they wanted sex hot, fast and often. And so it was. And so it went. And I didn’t expect them to do much more than that—like that—until the end of the book when they had the “love revelation.” It was what it was. Simple as that.

But this book could have been so much more. This book could have been one of the few books that picked me up and pulled me in, allowing me to feel like I’m the heroine rather than a privileged Peeping Tom. But one scene…one stupid scene…plucked me right out of those pages and relegated me to peeping. Don’t you hate it when that happens?

It’s Friday, which means it’s FANatic Friday, a day on the blog where we take off our writer caps and put on reader caps to gush about the authors and books we love.

I’ve been reading romance novels since I was about twelve years old, and they’ve always had this “rep” of being naughty books for women. I grew up in a small town where there was no library nearby, no bookstore, and back then my mother didn’t have a car of her own, so on a lazy summer afternoon when I had nothing of my own to read, I would look around the house for any books that had been stashed here or there. I’d look in the coat closet, sometimes under the sofa…I read whatever I could put my hands on. This is how I came to read Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln. This is also how I fell in love with romance novels.

Despite their “rep,” when I started reading romances they were pretty innocent. As soon as there was a passionate kiss they’d fade to black, then a new chapter would start. Many of them are still innocent, however now there are some imprints and authors who really do get naughty. Every now and then I have to read a naughty one, and one of my favorite writers is Harlequin Blaze Author Tawny Weber.

Tawny’s books are smart, sexy, and explore some of our favorite fantasies—or at least some of mine. Who hasn’t had daydreams about being involuntarily trapped with a sexy hunk as in Tawny’s Just for the Night, when a power outage traps Larissa and Jason? Or maybe you’ve fantasized about having a fling with a hot stranger while on vacation as Drucilla does—or at least tries to do—in Riding the Waves. A good book can fulfill those fantasies that we would never live out in real life, and maybe even inspire us to live out some of them.

I often live out my fantasies in writing and love an author who can bring fantasies to life. Tawny does this with eloquence and some serious heat. (You may want to sit near a fan while you read her books.)

If you’re looking for a way to fulfill your fantasies, check out Tawny’s books at her website or follow her on Twitter.

Do you read to live out your fantasies? Do you write to inspire them? Which writer’s know just how to fulfill for your fantasies?

It’s Friday, which means it’s FANatic Friday, a day on the blog where we take off our writer caps and put on reader caps to gush about the authors and books we love.

If you follow me on Twitter, you can probably tell that I’m a fan of Jaci Burton. I follow a lot of authors, but rarely do I engage the authors while I’m reading their books, and rarely do I tweet specific comments about books. This is a personal rule that I have, because I know that enjoying a book is a subjective thing. Even the most highly acclaimed books have readers who hated the stories from beginning to end. So why do I break the rules for Jaci Burton? Because she’s Changing the Game. (Cheesy segue, I know.)

Nobody can argue that publishing is changing. Electronic media has changed the reader’s experience. (I can’t tell you the last time I was in a brick and mortar book store.) Electronic media has changed the writer’s experience too. Websites that were once fancy business cards are now fully operational storefronts, where authors sell books, workshop registrations and transcripts from past lectures. Facebook pages where nibby high school friends once came calling now corral thousands of potential book buyers, giving an author prime access to their target audience.

Let’s face it, as a reader you’re more likely to engage your favorite author on Twitter than you are at a book signing these days. And I’m not thinking that’s a bad thing…

I “met” Jaci Burton on Twitter before I read a single book she’d authored. I read her tweets and marveled at the relationships she seemed capable of building without face-to-face contact in 140 characters or less. Watch and learn. (It’s not ancient, secret advice. We’ve all heard this before.) So I watched Ms. Burton interact with writers, editors, agents, bloggers, reviewers and readers like me. The more I watched, the more I liked and the more I thought about buying one of her books.

The Perfect Play had me at the cover. And while what was between covers—erotic romance—wasn’t exactly the heat level I was used to in a romance novel, I finished the book with a very favorable opinion of Ms. Burton’s writing abilities. It was during reading The Perfect Play that I finally got up the courage to direct a couple tweets to Ms. Burton, and her responses were gracious, filling me with the kind of Sqwee! only a fan can have.

Months later, Jaci Burton is an auto-buy for me. I still blush and hide the iPad screen from my husband and teenage sons while I’m reading Changing the Game next to them on the couch. I still think, “Holy Hemmingway, this book is too hot for me!” But I keep reading, and I will keep buying, because I’m a fan of Jaci Burton. She’s a wonderful role model for authors looking to grow their brand and their books in this new world of electronic media.

Jaci Burton’s latest book, Changing the Game is available in print and electronic formats. To learn more about Jaci Burton, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

It’s Friday, which means it’s FANatic Friday, a day on the blog where we take off our writer caps and put on reader caps to gush about the authors and books we love.

“But why didn’t anyone tell me that writing would change the way one reads.”

I almost laughed when I read this line of Mary Jo Putney’s bio on her website this morning. I just finished reading MJP’s book Nowhere Near Respectable and because I loved the book and knew that I would be sharing the love with you, I’d gone to her website to learn more about her as a writer.
I had already started writing this post and had begun with, “I’m no longer reading just as a reader. I’m reading as a writer, studying what I read.” I guess I’m in good company.

Writing does change how one reads. I’m studying the characters, flow and voice. I’m reading not just because I like the author or the story, but I’m reading because I want to know why I like the author and the story. Writing has changed how I read.

I love a good rogue, a man a little rough around the edges but with a strong sense of honor. The kind of man you know you shouldn’t want…but always do. The kind of man I married. Also the kind of man in Mary Jo Putney’s historical romance, Nowhere Near Respectable. Mary Jo’s hero, Damian Mackenzie, is both a rogue and a gentleman. And I’d say no less about her heroine, Lady Kiri Lawford, a first class lady and yet she is bold and takes risks that no true lady should take…or so many of us were taught.

I love that although the hero rescues Lady Kiri (I think I can tell this without revealing too much of the story) she is not helpless or clingy. In fact, MJP has created characters with strength and confidence, but very human weaknesses as well. Although my story isn’t historical fiction and doesn’t have the same drama of MJP’s compelling story, as I do my rewrites, I’m looking for places where these traits can come through more clearly in my own characters. We all want to create compelling relate-able characters, and Mary Jo Putney has a gift for this, a gift I would like to develop.

This is why writing changes how we read. All other writers become our mentors, teaching us technique, voice, characterization, helping us to refine our skills. In fact, before we were ever writers, every book we read, every author we loved had begun our training and led each of us to look for our own writing voice.

Mary Jo Putney, if you happen to read this, I’d love to know more about your writing style. Are you a plotter or a panster? Who were your mentors? What lessons would you like your writing to share with other writers?

For the rest of you? Who are your favorite authors? What makes you love their writing? How has writing changed the way you read?