If you are writing a story that has a romantic element to it, at some point in time you will have to decide how heated the physical relationship will be. Will your characters be having sex on the page, kissing with fervor, or exchanging looks of great longing? All of these levels of intimacy have their place in books. A few factors will help you decide your level of heat.
Who is your audience?
Without getting into an argument about censorship, I don’t believe that sex on the page should be in a book intended for young readers. If you are writing for readers other than adults, give the level of heat some serious thought, check with publishing houses for what they consider acceptable for YA fiction and younger.
I cut my teeth on Harlequin romance novels. This was the early 70s and a fierce embrace was about as heated as it got. These days, Harlequin has multiple lines of imprints from chaste handholding Amish romances to stories so hot you need to wear asbestos oven mitts to hold the book. Some readers are all about the sex, while others just want that warm fuzzy feeling of a happily ever after. Figure out the expectations of your readers, and turn up the heat accordingly.
What is your comfort level?
One writer could not write a sex scene while her mother was alive. Another writer is constantly searching for the best sources of bondage equipment so that she can describe it accurately in her scenes. The point is, if describing intercourse makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. A love story can have a satisfying ending without the characters making love. Romance is about the heart, not the libido.
Does it move the story along?
Every scene in your story needs to have a purpose. Writing a story about a resort where people come to have mindless sex with strangers? Then frequent sex scenes make sense. There has to be a reason for characters to have sex. And there has to be a reason for the characters to have sex in a particular scene. If it’s their wedding night? Sure. If they’re running from a bear? Doubtful. Throwing in a sex scene serves no purpose if it doesn’t move the story along.
You can write chaste. You can write bawdy. It doesn’t matter. As long as the scene fits the story and as long as it’s worth the words.
Goodreads lists 452 books inspired by Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” These include “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith, “Death Comes to Pemberley” by P.D. James, and a personal favourite, “Pride” by Ibi Zoboi. That’s a heck of a lot of inspiration, which leads me to ponder the universal appeal of Austen’s novel.
Part of it is the reflection of English society at the time. A well-bred young woman had so few options available to her, marrying the odious Mr. Collins seemed like a good idea to Lizzie’s best friend Charlotte, knowing full well how ridiculous he was.
Sharp-tongued, too smart for her own good Lizzie Bennet is unwilling to adhere to the limitations of civilized society. And as much as she is able to, she will live life on her own terms. She has no interest in the rich, brooding, condescending Mr. Darcy. She is not blind to the foolishness of her family but they are her family, she will defend them, and he has no right to mock them.
When she kicks Darcy to the curb, everyone who has ever been spurned by someone who later realizes how fabulous you are, rises up to cheer. Take that you pompous bastard!
I love the fact that Lizzie doesn’t compromise, while recognizing that her world is better with Darcy in it. I love that Darcy apologizes, because every good alpha male should know when to apologize.
I don’t care for Caroline Bingley. She is scheming and vindictive, constantly trash talking the Bennetts and displaying their flaws. Perhaps it’s because I don’t like mean girls – I believe that women should be lifting each other up instead of tearing each other down. But every book needs a villain, and she does the job admirably.
I think Caroline deserves a redemption story. Perhaps that will be my next book…
Best selling author Sabrina York shared her self-editing process. These are steps that she learned along her journey with the help of editors who showed her the way. Yes, it's a lot of work, but your book will be stronger because of your efforts.
· Errors in capitalization
· Some grammar and punctuation
· Spell Check does not catch everything
· Dangling & misplaced modifiers
· Misused words/misused homophones
· Unnecessary/redundant words
· Show vs tell
· Disembodied body parts
· Passive voice
· Generic vs vivid verbs
· Adverb/adjective abuse
· Varied sentence structure
· Overused actions
· POV/head hopping
· Historical accuracy
· Cultural References/Product names
· Eliminating the frame
· Repetitive words
· Awkward phrasing
· Using italics
· Similar sentence structure
· Remove unnecessary tags
· Beware information dumps
· Vary character speech patterns
· Kill weak dialog
· Unnecessary sight direction
· Use other senses to develop character or move the story
· Remove detailed clichés
The image of an author at work is often that of an individual, laboring away in solitude, or camped out in a busy coffee shop, headphones clamped on to diminish the noise. But crafting a book all by yourself is not necessary.
Many writers rely on the support of like-minded individuals. Persons, who, like themselves, scribble down stories any chance they can get. Writing communities can be both physical or virtual. They can be as informal as an online group that commits to write together at the same time, or as structured as a chapter of an organization.
There are many benefits to being part of a writing community.
· Suggestions for writing resources.
· Accountability partners to hold you to your goals.
· Someone to help you figure out how to get your hero off the cliff.
· Moral support for the times when the words just won’t come.
My own personal community is the Greater Seattle Romance Writers Association. This awesome group brings in speakers each month who share their expertise. I have made friends, improved my craft, and learned valuable information that I have used in my stories.
I encourage you to find a community. Your people are out there waiting for you.
Don’t know where to start? Go to the Google and type in “How to find a writing community.”
I’ve chewed off all my fingernails. Yep, I’m a nervous wreck. You see, my masterpiece, my great Canadian/American novel is with my editor. Why is that you may ask. Aren’t you an editor? Yes, I am. However, I can’t edit my own work.
My editor has not lived with the book for the past year. They have not sweated over it. They don’t think every word is perfect.
When they look at it, they will do so with fresh eyes. My editor will be looking at the story as a whole, and will let me know if the story hangs together and what parts need to be revised or possibly thrown out. They will see one main character is fully developed while the other is a bare outline. They will see unresolved conflicts and the multitude of plot holes. They will see head-hopping, passive voice, continuity issues, and – you get the picture.
I’m really hoping they won’t find all of those problems, but I’m girding my loins, just in case. I expect it’s going to be like getting waxed. Painful, but the results are worth it.
So my character got his happily ever after and it was time to expose him to the world. It was with great trepidation that I sent the manuscript to my beta reader. I chose my beta reader carefully; someone who reads in the genre I am writing, someone who is not a writer herself, someone who would be honest, constructive, and not brutal.
I’ve been a beta reader and I gotta tell you, sometimes it’s a slog. So I was unprepared for her to text me the next day to say she was finished reading. While the story was still fresh in her mind, I sent her a bunch of reflection questions.
Not wanting to reinvent the wheel, I went to the Google to find questions specifically for beta readers. The ones I chose I found on writingcooperative.com. They were great. Some were pretty basic “Did the story hold your interest from beginning to end?” Some were quite inciteful “Were there parts that frustrated or annoyed you?” I shipped off the questions, she completed them within an hour and then we discussed them over the phone.
She pointed out things that were a stretch, things that weren’t believable, places in the story that needed more development. One surprising thing, the character that never made it past high school had a vocabulary that was broader and more refined than the college-educated character. Definitely food for thought.
Now I have to read over her responses and work on the next draft.
What a great experience, especially when she said that she looks forward to reading the next version and asked if I had plans for one of the minor characters. Which I do because I have already started the outline for the second book.
Most writers have figured out when to use LAY vs. LIE. Lay is a transitive verb and requires an object. I lay the baby on the bed. Lie is an intransitive verb. It does not need anything attached to it. Regardless if I am telling a tall tale or sleeping on the job, I lie.
The sticky part is when we must conjugate the verbs.
You can go to the Google to find many references, but here is one that works well for me.
In his book, Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer created this tidy little chart. Yes, it is confusing. I myself have yet to memorize it. I reiterate Mr. Dreyer’s suggestion, if you can’t commit it to memory, dog-ear the page in the book (193).
I’m reading three novels at the moment. And I gotta tell you, my head is spinning. One is on audio, one is an ebook, and one is a hardcover. While the books are wildly different, they have two things in common.
A strong main character who you care for and want to succeed. Each of them is highly flawed, and at times I want to smack them upside the head. However, that means that their potential for growth is huge.
Each character has obstacles aplenty to overcome. The obstacles are hard for me to deal with, because when I like a character, I don’t want them to get hurt. But if there aren’t any obstacles, the characters don’t get a chance to grow. So, I’m biting my nails as I peer around corners with the following three kick-ass women.
Life Lik3 by Jay Kristoff is a dystopic YA novel. Eve is mostly human with a cyber-optic plate in her head who scavenges to keep herself and her grandfather (or so she thinks) alive. All goes to hell when in the midst of a bot battle she is able to destroy a machine using her mind. Now everyone is after her.
I am not a fan of the undead. However, Jesse Petersen has changed my mind with her book Married with Zombies. Sarah and her husband are in counselling. They show up to their appointment to discover their therapist snacking on another couple. They haven’t been a team for a while, but must work together to outrun the zombie apocalypse.
I’m late to the party in reading Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. I was afraid to read the book because it would make me cry. Well, that hasn’t happened yet, but this book has all the feels. A young girl is left alone to raise herself in the North Carolina marsh. Kya is resilient in the face of adversity as she figures out why she is always being left behind. I started this as an audiobook. I love it so much I bought a copy for a friend; however, I may wind up keeping it. I have a feeling I will be reading this book again and again.
I’m not sure if they will each get a happily-ever-after, but I sure hope so. Because kick-ass women deserve it.
I encountered a client at a coffee shop recently. Before the caffeine had a chance to catch up with my day, she had an editing question for me.
When do you capitalize mom?
She'd been told that it doesn't matter, tht she could upper case or lower case the M, and as long as she did it consistently, she was fine. But that is so not the case. (See what I did there?)
When you are addressing a person, using mom in place of their given name, mom is capitalized, because it is being used as a proper noun.
"Hey Mom, you look fabulous!"
When you are referring to your mom, it is not capitalized, because mom is being used as a common noun.
"My mom looks fabulous!"
Why is capitalization important?
Your writing reflects you. It reflects how much you care about what you are writing, and how much you care about who is reading it.
Towards that end, employ a professional to help you navigate the treacherous waters of English grammar conventions. Your document will be presentable, and your mom will be happy.
When should you capitalize mom? When it can be substituted for a name.
"Hey Lynne, you look fabulous!"
When don't you capitalize mom? When there is a possesive or an article in front of it.
"My mom looks fabulous."
You've got this! You can thank me later.
It is a curious thing to be able to type your name into the Amazon search box and find a book with your name on the cover. When the book dropped (that's publishing lingo) I must have looked it up a dozen times. The next day my publisher texted to tell me that the book was #1 in Methodist Christianity. That didn't last terribly long, but still.
Filling the Void started with a conversation. Rev. Kristin Joyner is a United Methodist pastor. In the spring of 2018, she and I were talking about the many stories of good things accomplished by congregations that never get heard. We realized that if those stories were going to be heard, we were the ones who were going to have to tell them.
We reached out to clergy members throughout Washington State and asked them to tell their stories. Specifically, where they see God at work in the Pacific Northwest.
The stories came in. Stories of hope, and stories of transformation.
Each chapter was written by a clergy person who had witnessed individuals and congregations working with God in transformation, and embodying the love God has for all.
I submitted the book to a huge publishing house. Crickets...
I submitted the book to a small publishing house who responded within twenty-four hours. In less than two weeks, I received an offer. Woo hoo!!
Kevin Slimp, the patient publisher of Market Square Books, explained that massive amounts of money would not be made on this book. Not a problem, Kristin and I decided that proceeds would benefit the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
It was a seriously cool experience. However, working with clergy was a lot like herding cats - it took a lot of patience and perseverance. Not sure that I'm ready to do it again.
September 29, 2019
Cleaning out my office, I came across a notebook that was filled with story starts. Two to three pages of meet-cute scenes with snarky dialogue, and then ... nothing. Flip the page and another story start. Another meet-cute with different names and a different setting, and then ... nothing.
You get the picture. I prefer to write by the seat of my pants. I can't be bothered to outline a story, I just have an idea and go.
Which is strange, because I am a list maker. Grocery lists, chore lists, to-do lists. So it would make perfect sense that I would be a plotter; a writer who outlines from start to finish knowing what the ending is going to be before they put pen to paper.
It wasn't until I collaborated with Celeste Joy on a novel that I saw the value in outlining. It was like having a road map for where you want to go. We did the same thing for our second novel.
When it came to writing my own novel, #HotAndHandy, I fell back into old habits. Which was why it was taking me forever to get the story down.
Then I chatted with this wonderful author/editor who recommended a book to me. OMG was it helpful. It allowed me to plot and pants at the same time.
Now, my book isn't finished yet, but I'm following a map, and it is making life a heck of a lot easier.
Reading for me is a pleasure, a passion, and a joy. Here are some books that resonated with me and I remember fondly.
August 19, 2019
I’m pretty superficial when it comes to recreational reading – I like books that make me smile and have a Happily Ever After ending. But I am often challenged to step away from the light and fluffy and read something that’s good for me. It’s kind of like having to eat your vegetables before you can have dessert. Sigh.
I belong to a book group comprised of women who read both broad and deep. As a result, I have been exposed to some seriously thoughtful stuff – both fiction and non-fiction. One recent book that provided lots to chew on was “Good and Mad” by Rebecca Traister. The author looks at the history of women’s anger, the double standard perpetuated against women, and the transformative power of collective fury. We had quite the discussion that evening, and I don’t think that I will be able to look at women in the news the same way again.
We also read “The Birth House” by Ami McKay. I love historical novels set in rural Canada and this one does not disappoint. Dora Rare is the first daughter in five generations of Rares. In a superstitious community, she is different and is blamed for unusual and unhappy events. She reluctantly becomes a midwife in a small town in Nova Scotia just before the first world war. Life is not always kind to women. They have little control over their bodies and their futures. But Dora manages and does it quite well, pissing off a lot of men in the process.
My running partner is one of the many people in my life with whom I talk about books. She introduced me to “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson. It took me a few pages to get into, but OMG has this book got me by the heart. Set in Kentucky coal mining country in 1936, it follows Cussy Mary, who is a traveling librarian and, wait for it, has blue skin. Look it up, it’s a real thing. People refer to her as Bluet and not in a kind manner. The preacher thinks she is an abomination that needs to be cast out. The doctor thinks she is a medical anomaly that needs to be researched. But the readers who live in the hills and valleys think she is a blessing, because she delivers the world to them through books. I enjoyed this so much, I had to read the ending twice.
August 7, 2019
Written by Kate Quinn, The Alice Network is a story about two women whose lives were shaped by two different wars. I dragged my feet because I wasn't really interested in another book about war. But it was recommended to my by my sister, and she has never steered me wrong.
Speaking of which, she led me to Australian author Jane Harper. The Dry is a murder mystery set against the backdrop of a drought in a small farming community. The ending left me breathless. And the second book was equally as compelling.
I in turn introduced her to Joe Ide. His first book is titled IQ, which is also the name of the main character. IQ investigates crimes in his community of East Long Beach. Very engaging and satisfying. You can't help but feel for the guy.
Recently I discovered Rebecca Zanetti. Hidden is the first book in her Deep Ops series. This is a romantic suspense novel featuring beefy men with decidedly unromantic names. I mean who names their heroes Malcolm and Clarence? But the stories also feature a German shepherd dog with a drinking problem. What more do you want?
I adored Amor Towles lovely book A Gentleman in Moscow. Set in 1922, Count Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a grand hotel. Over a span of thirty years the count's life changes considerably. The book is both captivating and heart-breaking.
Maggie & Abby's Neverending Pillow Fort-Will Taylor; Jane, Unlimited-Kristin Cashore; Does My Head Look Big in This?-Randa Abdel-Fatah; The Water Seeker-Kimberly Willis Holt; Dumplin'-Julie Murphy; Nothing But The Truth-Avi; The Diary of Anne Frank-Anne Frank; Don't Breathe a Word-Holly Cupala; Wizard for Hire-Obert Skye; Girls Made of Snow & Glass -Melissa bashardoust; Alls' Faire in Middle School-Victoria Jamieson; The Confidence Code-Claire Shipman & Katty Kay; A Blade so Black-L.L.McKinney; The Invisible Library-Genevieve Cogman; Restart-Gordon Korman; Resistance-Jennifer Nielsen; Camino Island-John Grisham; Grant Park-Leonard Pitts; The Worst Best Man, The Christmas Fix , The Fine Art of Faking It, Finally Mine, Whiskey Chaser- Lucy Score; Small Town Girl-LaVyrle Spencer; Book Boyfriend, Cocky Roommate, Hot Single Dad, Broken Miles, Forbidden Miles, Sidecar Crush, Reckless Miles - Claire Kingsley; Possession, Kingdom, Poet, Let There Be Light, Breakaway-A.M. Johnson; The Purpose Driven Life- Rick Warren; Christmas in Harmony-Philip Gulley; Fresh Catch-Kate Canterbary; The Dry-Jane Harper; Lethal White-Robert Gailbraith; Kingdom of the Blind-Louise Penny; PRIDE-Ibi Zoboi; Us Against You-Fredrik Backman; Naked in Death-J.D. Robb; Hot Head-Damon Suede; The Life She Wants-Robyn Carr; The War That Saved my Life-Kimberly Brubaker Bradley; Stud in the Stacks, Mr. McHottie, The Pilot and the Puck-up, Royally Pucked, Beauty and the Beefcake, Rockaway Bride, Hot Heir, The Hero and the Hactivist - Pippa Grant; Romancing the Werewolf-Gail Carriger; Pride & Precipitation-Heather Horrocks; Righteous, Wrecked-Joe Ide; Trudy Madly Deeply-Wendy Delaney; The Kiss Quotient-Helen Hoang; Crazy Rich Asians-Kevin Kwan; The Outside World-Tovah Mirvis; Pressure Head, Relief Valve, Lock Nut-JL Merrow; Riptide-Kathryn Nolan, Widdershins-Jordan L. Hawk; Record of Blood, A Bitter Draught, From the Ashes-Sabrina Flynn
Whew! Just got back from Emerald City Writers Conference which is presented by the Greater Seattle Romance Writers Association.
I know, a lot of you do not, nor ever will write romance. But here's the thing, writers conferences are valuable. There are classes on marketing, project management, taxes, pitching, as well as the craft of writing itself.
Add to that the value of networking with other writers, and a weekend conference is worthy of the time and expense.
So check around and see if there are any writers conferences near you that may help you with your own particular project.
And yeah, I have indeed started writing. But, I will always be a reader.
December 10, 2017
I am almost finished reading a book that is not particularly good. At times, I considered adding it to my reject pile, but something kept pulling me back.
This happens to me a lot.
In the past, I have kicked many books to the curb without a backwards glance. But since becoming a professional reader, I have become a more compassionate reader.
Yes, I managed to say that with a straight face.
The thing is, I have great respect for writers, particularly writers who have the grit and stamina to finish a book. And writers who are then willing to share their work with the world? Wow.
Which is why I don’t post negative reviews on social media or Amazon. Especially for books that have been self-published. Often, self-published books have never been professionally edited and have significant errors. I understand authors thinking that they are saving themselves some money, but in the long run, a negative review can cost a lot more than a proof-read.
An author’s first book is often not their best book. Like everything else, writing improves with practice. One friend gives an author a two-book try, before making a judgement. Another friend, when encountering a new author, does not start with the author’s first book. Not a bad idea, but difficult if it is the start of a series.
So tonight, I will finish reading that book, and appreciate the author’s efforts to take a story from an idea to publication.