I was an apologist for the romance genre for a long time.
Initially I felt uncomfortable telling people I wrote romance because I was unpublished for five years – so I felt my writing didn’t count. Which, when you think about it, is as stupid as saying the only important part of the iceberg is the third above the waterline.
A lot of hard work takes place in the unpubbed years when you’re struggling toward a dream on faith, learning the craft, and all the time scared half to death that you’re never going to make it. The longer I went unpublished the more I developed the attitude, Hell, this deserves respect.
So I started saying things like:
Did you know that published romance writers take an average of 5 years and 4.5 manuscripts before they get the call?
It takes years to learn how to be a good writer and Harlequin picks up only a tiny percentage of new authors from the thousands of manuscripts they receive each year.
Sure, I might not succeed but at least I’m following my dream...and how many people do that?
Then I got published and hit another problem. As a cynical journalist, admitting I wrote romance implied that I believed in true love and happy endings. As it turned out, the cynical journalist was the pretending part. I was just being a chicken, because admitting to being an idealist in a cynical world takes guts.
So I got some.
Along the way I discovered that how I told the anti-romance brigade that I’m a card-carrying romance reading/writing devotee made a difference to how they responded.
Being defensive or slightly apologetic gave them tacit permission to denigrate the genre. But when I took an attitude of quiet pride, the sarcastic comments they were dying to make tended to remain unspoken. I saw them thinking, ‘She doesn’t realise she’s supposed to be embarrassed’. Suddenly they were the ones having to justify their anti-romance position rather than me having to justify mine.
And that helped get a real conversation started. Bring up questions like, Have you ever read a romance? What are your reading tastes? Let me prescribe one that might suit them. Because as any romance reader knows, our genre has something for everyone.
If I come across the rare critic who has actually read romances and STILL dislikes them, then the question becomes, ‘Should romance readers take any notice of someone who disapproves of their choice of reading material?’
When I began writing romance I swore I’d never put kids in one of my books. Kids and romance – oil and water. Two things reinforced this view:
Motherhood (wait a minute, isn’t the baby supposed to fit around our lifestyle?)
Reading books that shoehorned a kid into the story to show how caring the heroine or hero was without the hero or heroine actually having to do any work.
My son was three months old when I threw a book against the wall because the heroine had twin babies who went down like angels at six p.m. and slept twelve hours. After which she dressed in pre-baby clothes, served her new love – the hero – a three-course dinner by candlelight and engaged in passionate all-night sex. Yeah right!
Then I started writing and a kid sneaked into my first book, forcing my hero to stop being cool and urbane and demonstrate a little ineptness, a little uncertainty. Dragged my hero (and me) out of our comfort zone.
In my next romance, my hero was very good with kids. In fact he had such a special bond with his former girlfriend’s child that it really hurt him to do the right thing and encourage the boy’s relationship with his real father. The heroine fell in love with him. So did I.
I pulled back on the kid thing in the third book - after all, it was a very sexy premise - but somehow a smart baby and a sharp-tongued delinquent sneaked in anyway.
I guess I discovered that kids in books often force the hero and heroine to be heroic in a very real and powerful way. So these days I begrudgingly admit that sometimes kids can work in a romance.
Well, kid, you’re done. You’ve finally outgrown those awful teenage years of driving me crazy with revisions and line edits and you’re ready to go out into the world and take your chances. No book’s perfect but a lot of love went into your upbringing and I’m sending you off with the knowledge that I did my very best with you. What happens next?
Well, from my experience with your brothers and sisters I know that you might get lost among all the hundreds of other books released this month.
And some people will look at your cover or your title or your genre and write you off without a second glance. That’s life I’m afraid, everyone has their prejudices. Don’t take it personally. Of those people who do buy you, some people will get you, some won’t. Again, that’s life. But the good news is that a few will love you as much as I do. If you’re lucky – and luck plays a big part in this business – you may even find many who make a home for you on their keeper shelf. That’s what I wish for you.
But whatever happens - whether you rise to the top or sink without trace – just remember my feelings for you will never change. You’re my baby and always will be. Love Mom.
A book deadline’s starting to kick in which means I’m mooching around like a kid with homework telling myself that ‘seriously dude, you really need to concentrate on the assignment’ but willing to be distracted by almost anything else. Including horrors, housework.
I know I’m in trouble when I’m cleaning windows and buying oven cleaner. Writers are crazy for any creativity tip or trick that will get our butts into the chair and writing. Here are my favourites:
Setting an alarm – you only have to write thirty minutes and then you can go play for thirty minutes..Write thirty... play thirty and so on. It’s kinda like Jack Bauer and 24 only instead of racing to save the president you’re either racing toward your computer or away from it. (Yeah, we’re real sad cases).
Immediately on waking, fall out of bed and go to your computer and write, write, write before your brain wakes up and says, "Hey, wait a minute, we haven’t done our procrastinating yet!" This one really worked...for a while. Until it got too hard to stop my little hand from simply turning off the alarm and my little eyes from closing again. I have heard of an alarm clock that tumbles off the bedside table and rolls around the floor forcing you to get up and shut IT OFF!. I’ve known about it for two years.
Eric Maisel: This creative and entertaining psychologist spoke at Romance Writers of America conference one year. Break a raw egg in a bowl of water at your computer before starting work and stir it three to five times to break your mental resistance to writing. (Yes, you add the shell, saving it to cook later is missing the point). I did this once but I’m a Virgo and I can’t stand a messy, broken egg in my workspace so I had to get up and clear it away. Did I go back? Not telling.
Someone else suggested, (and it may or may not have been Eric), to sit at your computer and instead of whining, ‘I hate my characters’ and ‘why isn’t this working’ and ‘Isn’t there a toilet that needs cleaning,’ to say, "I’m devoted to the work." Which of course, is the truth. You are. I just need reminding occasionally.
And of course romance mega diva Nora Roberts just says quit whining and get on with it. Fair enough, Nora.
Reflections on the writing life - an insight for readers and writers.
I took part in an interesting essay on Dear Author talking about Aussies and Kiwis writing for the US market. What slang do we change? What do we get to keep? Do readers want strange phrases or prefer words Americanized.
When life gets too serious read a romance novel. Check out this 'for fun' romance promo on YouTube from best-selling authors Jill Shalvis, Robyn Carr, Kristin Higgins, Deanna Raybourn, Susan Andersen, Sherry Thomas, Victoria Dahl....and me.
Defending Romance Novels - I was an apologist for the romance genre for a long time. Initially I felt uncomfortable telling people I wrote romance because I was unpublished for five years – so I felt my writing didn’t count. Read more>>
Kids and Romance - Do They Mix? - When I began writing romance I swore I’d never put kids in one of my books. Kids and romance – oil and water. Read more>>
Letter to my latest book - Well, kid, you’re done. You’ve finally outgrown those awful teenage years of driving me crazy with revisions and line edits and you’re ready to go out into the world and take your chances. Read more>>
Just do it! Creativity kick-starters - A book deadline’s starting to kick in which means I’m mooching around like a kid with homework telling myself that ‘seriously dude, you really need to concentrate on the assignment’ but willing to be distracted by almost anything else. Read more>>
Harlequin SuperRomance - romance has never felt more real! - The tagline says it in a nutshell. Write real for SuperRomance. If you're targeting the line, think contemporary, believable romance with a modern tone, incorporating today's women's concerns. Read more>>
The Secret To Getting And Staying Published - We all know there's a magic formula, quality, secret...whatever you want to call it, that separates the published from the unpublished. When I first joined RWNZ and met published authors I knew they'd cracked a code more important than Da Vinci's... Read more>>
Advice For Aspiring Romance Writers - For years I wanted to be a romance writer without actually doing much about it. I read ‘how to’ books and attended NZ romance writers’ conferences, then wrote a paragraph and rested until next year. I waited for it to become effortless... Read more>>
Celebrating Rejection - Okay that got your attention. Why the hell would any sane person do that? Here’s two reasons... Read more>>
*My short story published in the Australian Women's Weekly August 2007*
The Ultimatum - "Don't do this," said Jack, his grey eyes steady on hers and for a millisecond Cassie nearly took it back... Read more >>