After promoting other people’s debuts here, it feels weird to be promoting my own, but here I am. Save My Soul: Book One in the Kemmons Brothers Baseball Series was released March 25. What I like most about this book is it’s not what normally passes as category-length, contemporary romance for me. When I wrote it years ago, I was heavily influenced by paranormal’s popularity, and honestly, I was in a confusing space in my life.

Rather than prolong this self-promotion, I’ll leave with this. Nicole said it best: “If you like vivid writing, sparkling sexual tension, and emotional reads check out Save My Soul.”

Save My Soul by Elley Arden

Buy it now at: Amazon and iTunes (BN.com to come)

For more about Elley and her books, visit her website.

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When I wrote and edited non-fiction, writing romantic fiction in my spare time was a release. My stories were made-up and barely plausible, and I loved them. My reading tastes were similar—the grander and more far-fetched the better (as long as the stories were set in present times and had a happy ending). My writing and my reading were an extension of my imagination—convoluted and lofty. *grins*

But then I quit my non-fiction job and started writing fiction fulltime. And the longer I wrote fiction and learned about the publishing industry, the more my writing “calmed down.” I strove for stories that would resonate with readers, paint a truer picture of interpersonal relationships, not alienate with too much wealth, power or beauty, and seem plausible. And damn, I struggled, because my brain doesn’t naturally work like that. Crazy things happen in there. 🙂

I’m reading a book right now that I suspect a few people will brush off because it’s a real stretch in the plausibility department. There’s no major angst and little heavy backstory and emotional scars. What’s there is handled without melodrama. And while there’s sexual tension, so far, deep into the 80,000-word book, there is no rush to hit the sheets. It’s a funny, flirty, far-fetched love story, and I ADORE it. I’ve missed books like this. Why aren’t we writing fiction anymore? (I say that tongue-in-cheek of course.) Why is everyone so broken and realistic?

Now, that’s not to say I don’t like a good meaty read with darker characters. I do from time to time. I understand the arguments for realism in fiction, but I happen to be one of those people who prefers to read about the impossible happening. (Maybe that’s because I don’t believe anything is impossible—but I’ll save that for another post.) And I don’t know…maybe this isn’t an issue in other genres. The bottom line is I worry the pressure on writers, especially new writers, to follow the trends and write to specific publishers and even people (editors, agents, other writers, friends) will sanitize the fiction pot. It sure as heck takes the joy out of writing for me.

It comes down to personal preference. It ALWAYS does. That’s why they say write the book you want to read. You won’t please everyone with it, but when it hits the hands of a likeminded person, you’ll make their day.

Elley

While I was cheating on my Twitter diet, I read a post about paranormal romance series vs. contemporary romance series and the zest with which readers follow them. (Does that make sense? It might be afternoon, but it’s dark and dreary here, and I’m not sure my brain is working.)

I don’t usually interject my thoughts into scholarly debates about the romance genre (others are so much more qualified to do so), and this time was no exception. I didn’t even follow the link to read further, but the general question stuck with me:

Why are paranormal romance series readers more enthusiastic, more faithful, more rabid (not meaning this in a bad way at all!) than contemporary romance series readers? (This is TOTALLY paraphrased.)

I’m a contemporary romance reader. Twilight is the only paranormal anything I’ve ever read. (Yep, I didn’t even read Harry Potter.) Oh wait, that’s a lie. I read Mary Janice Davidson’s Undead & Unwed (vampire H&H) and the next three or so books in that series until I lost interest. But that’s irrelevant. Where I was going here was that as a decades old lover of contemporary romances, I have a clear idea of why I read what I read. What I read has included a few series (Nora Roberts’ Bride Quartet and…is that the only series I’ve read? Think. Think. Think. Shoot. Really? I mean I’ve read books in series, but I don’t usually follow through with all the books in a series. Ah ha! Jaci Burton’s Play-By-Play series should be the next complete series I read, since I’m two down and intend to read the third when it’s released.) But as you can see, being part of a series isn’t a selling point to me. I’m one of those haphazard contemporary romance series followers.

So what does this mean? (Lord, I just sounded like the Double Rainbow Guy in my head.)

I read mostly to feel, not to escape. Not that escape is a bad thing. On the contrary, there have been times in my life when escape was exactly what I wanted. I wanted to be transported. I wanted to be dumped into this world where nothing remotely like my own life lurked. I wanted to get lost for as long as possible and know that I could return when I wanted—when I needed—to. To satisfy all of those needs, a strong, paranormal series would’ve done the trick (and maybe that’s why/when I started reading Undead & Unwed).

Today, I read for a quick fix, a quick rush, and I read for a reminder that love is the reason I’m here, my husband is here and my children are here. I read, feel and then move on with a bigger smile, targeting my husband, because damn it if I’m not entitled to loving my hero the way any romance heroine loves hers. If the first book in a series delivers on this quick rush, then I’ll read the next. But the first book has to deliver big for me to be motivated to search out the next book.

I buy and read every book as a single-title, because I’m in a hurry. I want to get the goods, feel the rush of a happy ending and move on with my real life. The next time I’m power buying at the Apple bookstore (grab and go…this works…this works…baseball hero? Sold!), I won’t even remember to search for the next book in a series unless the first book hit me so hard I can’t let go (and sometimes I’m hit hard in an odd way…like when I read my first erotic romance between the cracks of my fingers…and I went back for more).

I’m not sure any of this contributes anything to the original Twitter conversation that sparked my thinking, but I find it interesting as a writer who has both standalone single titles and series titles in her repertoire. I enjoy writing both, and since I’m first and foremost a reader, I need to keep in mind that more contemporary romance readers may be like me—not automatically gravitate toward a series.

What does this mean (by now you should’ve watched the video so you can read with proper inflection)?

Strong characters drive a strong plot. In any given book in any genre, the main character is the focus. A character who readers can’t get enough of transcends whether a book stands alone or is part of a series. (Honestly, in my limited series exposure, I have yet to come across a character I loved as much in secondary books as I did in the primary book.)

We get hung up on the perfect place, the perfect plot, the perfect secondary characters (especially if we’re hoping for series potential), and in the meantime our H&H could be suffering. The result is a good book, but not the great book that keeps this contemporary romance reader coming back for more.

Elley

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.