Read-a-Romance Month

August is Read a Romance Month! What’s that?  Simple–a month to celebrate readers, writers, and lovers of romance!  If you’re already a romance reader, be sure to check the link above to see 93 great authors sharing guest posts on the Celebrate Romance blog.  If you’re new to the genre, maybe you’re looking for a place to start.

Maybe you’re not the kind of person who ever pictured him or herself reading a romance novel with “one of those” covers.  But if you’re also the kind of person who’s ever enjoyed a tear-jerker romantic movie, or can’t resist watching a romantic comedy every time it’s on, you might be surprised by how much you can enjoy a romance novel.

Not surprisingly, I tend to look at romance through the Young Adult (and now New Adult) lens, so I wanted to share a few recommendations with you.

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In Which I Collect the Wisdom of the Interwebz…

…just for you, my faithful readers.

There’s been a lot of good stuff in the blogosphere lately.  Or, maybe I’ve just been procrastinating too much, but the fact remains that I have entirely too many windows minimized on my desktop for too long now, and the time has come to disseminate the goods to you fine people.

First, Dawn Rae Miller’s love/hate letter to her Kindle made me laugh.

Next, Roni Loren puts the smackdown on the stigma against romance novels.  And I laughed again.

Then, Chazley Dotson compares revisions to building a Lego castle in a cave.  And it was true.

Finally, John Scalzi slays me again with his Electronic Publishing Bingo Card.  So I laughed some more.

And now, your moment of zen:

(Background:  This is a real Bollywood movie, but the subtitles are buffalax’s interpretation of what English words the original Hindi sounds like–not the translation.  Hilarity ensues.)
Happy Monday!
– Liz

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Why I Write What I Write

I’ve said in this forum and others that I wish I could write something “more meaningful” than light romance. This is a position I’ve slowly eased away from over the last two years as I realize that every writer has their niche and forcing anything else will land you with nothing more than forced prose. Yuck.

So, then I had to wonder–WHY do I write light romance? Considering that I’ve never dated, it’s kind of an odd genre choice for me. Maybe I’m trying to fill some psychological desires, who knows? Then, the other night, my husband and I had an interchange in the kitchen that made me realize where my inspirations come from.

The scene: I’m in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, when my husband wanders in for a glass of water.

He presses his glass against the dispenser in the refrigerator door and gets the usual cacophony of the ice machine. Nothing falls in the glass.

“Huh, that’s weird,” he says.

Comprehension dawns, and I stifle a laugh. “I may have put another Popsicle in the ice chute.”

(The important fact here is that I put a Popsicle in the ice chute the day before, which resulted in his receiving the plastic tube of partially eaten red juice along with a handful of ice cubes in his glass–an incident which confused him a great deal until I explained.)

His expression goes from confusion to annoyance in the span of a second. “Why did you–?”

I cut him off, “I won’t do it anymore!”

He makes a huffing sound that would make a thirteen year old girl proud.

“Would it help if I flashed you?” I offer.

“It wouldn’t hurt,” he says, but he’s not looking at me, because he thinks I’m lying.

So I flash him.

He catches the movement out of the corner of his eye and snaps his head around, grinning.

Then he opens the freezer door. The Popsicle has formed a dam (pretty damn impressive consider it’s about a half inch thick) and all the undispensed ice is backed up behind it. Ice explodes out from the tray, rattling across the floor, and cracking him on the knuckle of one bare toe.

This time, I get the full stank eye.

“I said I won’t do it again!” I protest.

Another Junior High huff. “I just hope it isn’t broken.”

“I highly doubt one Popsicle could break the whole ice machine.”

But when he’s got all the ice scooped out of the chute and the door closed again, the dispenser only churns, but doesn’t drop a single cube in his glass. He glares at me.

So, I have to throw a Hail Mary. “Wanna see my boobs again?”

* * *

Romantic? Not really, but I can certainly imagine myself writing a similar scene in one of my books. So, I guess I’m writing what I know. With a heavy coating of imagining to fill out the rest.

I’m going to get the stank eye for writing this in my blog, I’m pretty sure. Luckily, boobs never seem to lose their charm.

Does your art imitate your life?

– Liz

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The Way Back Machine

I’m currently revising an older project in the hopes of revitalizing it for agent interest. It’s made the rounds once before, without much success–a fate I attribute largely to my poor query letter. This time, the letter is going to kick ass and I’m going to be more careful about which agents I go after. It can be done.

The major task of this revision is changing the timeline. Originally, it was written as a series of flashbacks laid out between present-time scenes. I thought it was a nice structural device. However, I got a very thorough critique from a very nice agent (who no longer has the time to offer such extensive readers, sadly) who told me that flashbacks are inherently weak story telling. He said there is no tension in them, because we already know the characters have lived to tell the tale.

Sidenote: The 3 year-old is in charge of the iPod right now, and he’s chosen Kings of Leon. My kid is the coolest.

It’s an interesting point. We see flashbacks in movies fairly often. In fact there was a movie a few years back that told its story in much the same way that my project did. It was called Definitely, Maybe. Starring the adorable Ryan Reynolds, it told the story of a man’s romantic past as his daughter tried to guess which of the names-have-been-changed-to-protect-the-innocent women was her mother. Not the greatest piece of cinema ever made, but certainly passable. (did I mention Ryan Reynolds?)

There is also an entire sitcom based on this structure. How I Met Your Mother, which oddly, also features a father relaying the story of his dating youth to his (very bored) children. I happen to love this show, but not because of the structure. It’s funny, and that’s enough for me. Neil Patrick Harris is a bonus, ’cause, you know, sometimes he sings. And I love that.

All of that being said, the mystery agent is correct: we already know these characters have lived to tell these tales. Does that destroy the mystery, or does it just ease the tension?

As I slog through the middle of these revisions, I find myself wondering if I’m doing it all for naught. Part of the reason romance (or romantic comedy in my case) is popular is that readers know what they’re going to get. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. We love it. We want it to happen that way. Do flashbacks mean we’re not interested in the details? The details are the very reason we’re here.

So, I am at a crossroads and I am confused. To flashback, or not to flashback? I just don’t know. At this point, I intend to slog my way through to the end in chronological order, because I’ve started it, and I’m just stubborn enough to see it through. But will I be happy about it? That remains to be seen.

What are your feelings on flashbacks? Clever structure, or weak storytelling? Your input will mean the world to me.

– Liz

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To Genre or Not to Genre

I’ve fallen in love. With a literary agent. I haven’t even queried her, but according to her blog, we’re a match made in heaven. Of course, that declaration will also fall to her opinion, but I’m dreaming anyway. So, how does my newest publishing crush have to do with genres? Believe it or not, I’m going to bring this around.

I’ve said in the past that one of my life’s ambitions is to write something more meaningful than light romance. In a way, that’s true. Who wouldn’t like to write the next Great American Novel? Well, okay, me. But, I would love to write some fabulous crime novel or a really great piece of literary fiction that lands on Oprah’s Book List. What I’ve learned through experience, however, is that you can only write what you can write.

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

But, I’m serious. In the vast, rattling space that is the inside of my oversized head, I have two glimmers of thrillers in my head. One of them, I’ve attempted to write, the other I know better than to touch. Here’s what happened: the one I attempted to write turned into romance. Sure, it was a little angstier than my usual stuff, but other than that–romance. The ideas that come to me are romance. The characters that come to me are not detectives, killers, or 40-something professors with a penchant for stumbling into globe-trotting historical mysteries. The long and short of it is, I can only write what I’m “inspired” to write.

Which leads me to my next point: you have to target your work to the right agent and the right readers. The internet is a beautiful place filled with equal parts fiction and fact, but one thing you can rely on is anything that comes straight from the horse’s mouth (Good God, could I fit more cliches into this blog? Mea culpa, mea culpa…). What I mean, is that if an agent is kind enough to tell you exactly what he or she is looking for, believe it.

I would be foolish to send my queries to anyone who categorically does not represent Romance, Chick-lit, or Young Adult. There are plenty of agents in the literary sea, and all of them have opinions about what’s worth representing. Know your genre, love your genre and only go after those people who feel the same way about it.

It has taken me some time to get comfortable with being a genre writer. It was all in my head, of course. There is no stigma against writing whatever it is that you write–provided you write it well. There are readers out there who are exclusive genre devotees and they will wait just as eagerly for the next best thing in Mystery/Romance/Thriller/Horror/Inspirational/etc. as English majors wait for the next great piece of literature (which they probably think can’t come out of the modern era, but that’s a rant for another day). My point is: there is a skill set to writing each genre, and if you ain’t got it, you ain’t got it.

My writing group/ad hoc group therapy session has been invaluable to me in this regard. We are a pan-genre group and everyone brings their unique perspectives to the weekly conference calls. While I am amazed at the fantasy writers’ world-building capacities, the thriller-writer’s sprawling political knowledge and air-tight plots, the poets’ command of rhythm and rhyme, the comedy writer’s endless wit, and the horror writer’s creativity, they are in awe of the romance writer’s ability to base a plot entirely on the minutiae of human interaction. That is the romance writer’s forte–to capture the everyday successes and failures of ordinary people. To walk the line between reality and fantasy. How else can we make readers want to be our heroines and fall in love with our heroes? They must be rooted in reality, but just that degree or two more desirable, lucky, or gifted. Just enough to make us green with envy and turning the page.

To make a long story even longer, write what comes to you and don’t worry what anyone else will think. If you love it, and it inspires you, you will tell the story so well that anyone could read it.

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