Writing today, then gardening

Hello all!
Today I am deep in the part of a writing project I call “Hold on and just keep going.” It’s the part where all my ideas and characters try to pull me off task, onto tangents and limbs that my story cannot support, a deep dark hole of temptations that I must resist. I want to have this particular project done for my writers retreat in early June, so time is of the essence.
To help with attaining this goal, I am really trying to stick to an outline for the first time ever.
I will let you know how it goes.
Later, I will do a bit of gardeniing whilst my story is marinating in the back of my brain.
Have a lovely day in your part of the world, and if you have any insights to share on getting through the rough draft, share them int the comments.
Until next time-
Lillian

What do you read while writing?

Gentle readers, I am working on not one, not two, but three separate projects at this time! While this is an amazing feat of organization and creativity, at times I need a palate cleanser.

Here is what I am reading right now…

Radiance, by Catherynne Valente. It’s Gilded Age Hollywood meets Greek tragedy meets space travel and the theory of relativity. A creative delight.

The Gentleman, by Forrest Leo. A dramatic VIctorian poet discovers he is broke, marries for money and then sells his wife to the Devil, thus realizing he needs to rescue her. Hilarity ensues.  Its roots are as a play in London, which is evident by the strong dialogue and fast pace.

Both are fascinatingly creative which always keeps my creative side humming and juiced.

Please share what you are reading in the comments!

Until next time,

Lillian

Researching historical facts

Gentle reader, if you have read my novel Prodigal Spell, you know I write historical fantasy. This post is directed mostly to fledgling writers out there, and it is a warning. Ignore historical accuracy at your own peril. Research is necessary, but is its own cruel challenge.

My novel is set in 1790s London and the Caribbean. It would be ludicrous to NOT have slavery present- my heroine is a landowner. I researched the slave trade, transport routes, auction sites, the whole sordid mess because I wanted as much historical accuracy as my fantasy novel could support. My London scenes were researched as thouroughly- I actually cut two scenes set in the British Museum because I could not verify if the  real- world exhibits I included in my fictional world were on display at the time. Unable to crystallize those facts, the scenes were removed in the final edits.

Readers who digest historical works want accuracy. If I pick up a Cold War spy novel, it better have actual adversaries in the world-building. If there is a Colonial work about witch trials in the American colonies, I subconsciously look for a reference to the Salem Witch trials. It matters, and how you incorporate it into your stories is where to be clever.

Here is where historical accuracy can become a whirlpool to the center of the Earth; an author can spend so much time researching, agonizing over the tiniest details, that the writing lays discarded. I heard that siren call myself and lost a good three months of productivity. I am a slow writer, so three months of lost words is like three novels worth of time for others:)f

Too little facts, and the book floats in its own sphere, not quite here and not grounded. The other end of the spectrum is just as faulty- too much real-world and the book is a history book disguised as a work of fiction. Few authors can pull this off well.

My process is thusly- first, I research the general time period and “all the things I think I know” and keep these web clippings in one place. I use OneNote and Evernote for this, but as I move to Scrivener, it may make sense to have this in the WIP binder. Next, I outline the work. My outlines are not as robust as some and I add as I write, but it is a good way to know where my thoughts land. Lastly, I keep a running list of things I ponder as I outline or write, and research JUST THOSE THINGS as I am writing. Too much free-form reading while creating and I am lost. Once my rough draft is complete, I let it marinate for several days before starting the editing process. As I edit, again I track down details and incorporate them into the story, so that I feel comfortable by the end of the first edits that I have the historical details correctly reflected in the work. None of this is foolproof, and every time I have a beta reader for my work there is always a detail that needs fleshing out, but they are few. This process works for me to balance the writing and researching- your mileage may vary.

Don’t let the idea of researching a topic deter you from writing a novel. Have a plan, make a plan, and stick to it. That is the best writing advice for any stage of writing. 

I hope this helps any newbies out there!

A Bientôt, 

Lillian

A girl walks into a bookstore

I had the opportunity to travel for a week in March, and as always, new books to read are as important as packing sunscreen. I have a firm conviction that reading a book on the beach should really be reading a book on a beach, and I rely on e-readers only as a last resort.
So off I go to the local bookstore, a list of novels in hand (thank you, Janet Walden-West and Laura Taylor) and scour the shelves to find the recommended reads.
NONE OF THEM WERE IN STOCK.
Now, I am willing to grant that perhaps some were older and a long-shot at finding in the bookstore, but of the ELEVEN books on my list I found ZERO.
So I head to the friendly customer service counter – you know where this is headed- and NOPE. None in the backroom. None expected in the next shipment later that week. None at the other branch in town.
I head off to my friendly neighborhood independent bookstore- and again, no luck. At least the bookstore had several other books that looked interesting, and scored a sale from me.
When the publishing industry wrings its hands and wonders why sales are down, why the rise of Amazon and independent authors… DON’T MAKE IT SO HARD TO FIND A DECENT BOOK TO READ. My local box bookstore I swear has the SAME books on its major displays as the previous 3 months. An author I particularly like, Olen Steinhauer, a New York Times Bestselling thriller author with a newish book out had NO books on the shelves to purchase. I guess he can’t compete with the celebrity biographies stealing all the shelf space.
Please, if you want me to read more books, then publish more variety. I can get more offerings in one tiny search on Amazon that in spending 2 hours searching in vain.
A bientot,
Lillian

Keeping it real

Gentle reader, March is the cruelest month. For some, it is the rush of their Spring break. For others, it is the crashing tsunami of academic work barreling towards the exam shoreline. For me, it is the clawing terror that YET AGAIN I have allowed THREE MONTHS of writing time to slip away beneath my fingers in the post-Holiday season apocalyptic landscape. Creativity never flourishes for me in the taffy sweet clutch of opposing forces pulling me in a variety of directions.

This year, I am trying something new. In years past, I waited until I magically had free time to write my little stories. This never led to productive word counts, and the words I did write were crap. This spring, I want to desperately try to stick to a modest writing schedule that allows some time for creativity, but not at the expense of everything else. you cannot wait for your Muse to appear, and you cannot wait for time to free itself for your writing.

To that end, I encourage every writer to plot out their time, and schedule writing like any other appointment. If sticking to a strict schedule is not your thing, then promise yourself protected writing time each week. Whatever scheme works for you, decide on a plan and stick to it.

A bientot-

Lillian

 

It’s not all Fabio and Bodice-Rippers by Janet Walden-West

Today, gentle reader, you are in for a treat! The incomparable Janet Walden-West agreed to stop by and talk about romance. Thank you, Janet!

Know what happens when you show up to a spec fic critique session with a romantic suspense excerpt in hand? You’re branded for life, and eventually, The Lovely Lillian asks you to write about what goes into a modern romance or romantic sub-plot.

Since one does not argue with The Lovely Lillian, here goes.

Romance.

A simple seven-letter word. But on closer inspection, one that belongs up there with sex, politics, and religion as far as topics that can lead to heated, unpleasant disagreements ‘round the dinner table.

Why it’s a polarizing topic, at least in literature and media, is problematic. Maybe because many people equate romance with sex and Americans still see sex as “naughty.” Maybe because it’s largely a genre written by female-identifying people, for female-identifying people. Whatever the reason, romance gets an unfair treatment—“unrealistic,” “mommy porn,” “bodice rippers,” “anti-feminist propaganda,”  “garbage for bored housewives” are a few of the accusations leveled at the genre, usually accompanied by a disdainful eye roll or worse from co-workers, that random guy on the subway who keeps reading over your shoulder, and other writers.

Yet romance is a billion dollar a year industry, and accounts for a major percentage of the adult fiction market—far more than the two closest genre contenders, Mystery and Suspense/Thriller, and close to the entire combined sales of General Fiction.

And that doesn’t factor in the books that have a romance of some form as a major subplot. The Fault in Our Stars and You Before Me? Neener-neener, buddy—tragic romances. The Princess Bride? Romance. The Maltese Falcon? Romantic subplot. Star Wars? Major romantic subplot.

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Which is the long way around of saying a lot of people read romance, and a lot of people write it, so if you’re considering dipping your authorial toes in? You go for it, Sunshine.

But check any outdated assumptions at the door because the romance readers and writers of 2016 expect quality writing, a balanced approach, and thoughtful plots. I’ll preface this list by saying this is my take on what constitutes a successful romance, keeping in mind there are always outliers at either extreme that throw off the curve, so if you want to search out books with awful gender stereotypes and dino-porn to wave as proof I’m wrong, you’ll eventually find them.

However, tossing aside those outliers and oddities, what points are the baseline for modern romance?

#1) Sex isn’t romance. Let’s get that assumption out of the way up front. Romance may contain elements of sexual attraction (but not always) and implied or explicit sex scenes, but sex and romance are two different creatures. If you don’t believe me, check out the Erotic Romance sub-genre. Slapping a gratuitous “Insert Tab A in Slot B” scene, or series of scenes in a manuscript, does not a romance make.

At its core romance is about emotions—the emotional connection between two (or more) people. Sex may or may not enter into the story.

#2) Respect is key. Basically, the modern romance is the opposite of the clichéd bodice ripper, with its thinly veiled sexual assault (often served with a side of misogyny, racism, and interpersonal deceit) dressed up as the prelude to a romantic partnership.

Nowadays, both people bring something to the relationship and it’s a true partnership between equal, capable adults.

Because we are talking about a relationship between equals, consent is also key. And consent isn’t limited to intercourse.  Consent can include something as overlooked but problematic as replacing the swoop-in-for-a-kiss trope with asking first. Young Adult and New Adult romance writers nail making consent normal and sexy. One partner doesn’t get to physically intimidate the other, either, by preventing access or denying them the ability to walk away from a conversation.  Neither character gets away with the outdated “I’ll make decision your decisions, for your own good” trope, either.

#3) Autonomy is important. Character agency is important. Some writers and readers maintain more traditional gender roles, but they do it with that equality in mind. Other writers turn roles on their ears, with fascinating twists. Now, the White Knight may be the virgin, and after the Damsel saves him, she recruits the dragon and executes plans to win over the kingdom with her PR team.

#4) Plot is important. “Romance is formulaic” gets trotted out as the reason the genre doesn’t deserve respect. Now, romance readers do enjoy their tropes, and the Romance Writers of America defines a romance as “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” But lets be real. All genres have certain expectations as far as plot and resolution. Cozy mysteries, pulp, thrillers, fantasy, and science fiction all have familiar, readily defined patterns. Readers look for those patterns.

However, romance isn’t all about over-the-top heroes swooping in to claim the heroine’s virginity and make her life whole.

Now, the hero or heroine is busy taking care of business (sure, that kind of business, too), as opposed to pining away, waiting for a mate to give their life, and the story, meaning.  Thus, sub-genres abound.  Contemporary Romance, Romantic Suspense, Inspirational, Historical, YA/NA, and Paranormal all have plot requirements, aside from a Happily Ever After or Happily For Now.

#5) Diversity, baby. What surprised, and thrilled, me was the level of inclusiveness and diversity present in romance now. There’s a lot of talk now about the trend towards diversity in publishing. I don’t believe it’s a passing trend, but more a long overdue reflection of the world around us. Many, many writers feature main characters of multiple races, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, ages, physical abilities, and neurodiversity. More agents and publishers are seeking out marginalized writers, to write #ownvoice characters. LGBTIA+ characters are gaining ground, and not as simply so-called issue or message stories. One of my favorite, most poignant reads this year featured an asexual protagonist, and the romance level and sheer feels were off the charts.

I hope my ramblings at least cause a few people to reconsider the intelligence of devoted romance readers and talent of romance writers. Maybe someone will even get the urge to try penning a romance or fitting a romantic relationship of whatever flavor into their other genre WIP. At the very least, exploring and learning to write realistic emotions serves any writer well, whether it’s in the quest for a happily ever after, the throat-tightening terror of a hacker proven right in their doomsday scenario, or the righteous vengeance of a futuristic space knight ending a tyrant’s rule.

For a more complete overview of the romance world and opportunities for diverse manuscripts and writers, check out the links below.

The Romance Writers of America  https://www.rwa.org

Rainbow Chapter of RWA http://www.rainbowromancewriters.com

Cultural, Interracial, and Multicultural Chapter of RWA http://www.cimrwa.org/about-us.html

Write in the Margins-Helping Underrepresented Stories Find Their Place http://writeinthemargins.org

The Mad Rush to the End

Gentle readers, I hope you have had a lovely thanksgiving break. For me, Thanksgiving is not only the juggling act of family and work, but also the signal for the mad rush to the end, that rising lump in my throat of all the goals I have set for the year that fell to the march of time.

Yep- I found a list of my writing goals for 2016.

This year, it is not so bad- I have met 72% of my goals. I am proud of this achievement, but as I do every year, I will go for a run, and think about ways I can meet 100% of my goals. In the meantime, I will try not to rush to put words to paper, thinking it means a goal achieved, when really, I need GOOD words on paper to feel accomplished.

Do not join me in the mad rush- it is a hazardous swamp of exploding ideas, story tangents, and dead ends. Stay calm, and write at your own pace. Goals are great, but do not sacrifice quality for quantity. That is one goal I hope I keep for the remainder of the year.

Until next time-

Lillian