Finding the Formula Machine

Sunrise 10_16_2014 Santa FeI had a Twitter conversation yesterday that went like this. Because these gals crack me up, I’m sharing a bunch of it. It, of course, started because I was being a smart ass. Though you can see that Maisey Yates was snarky first.

Then Lexi Ryan chimed in.

 

We riffed for a while, with various gripes on this theme, then dwindled off. Lexi came back a few hours later.

The thing is, if you know these authors – or follow the links I thoughtfully provided 🙂 – you’ll recognize them as highly regarded, very prolific and bestselling authors. I know these gals and they work amazingly hard and produce wonderful books that, not incidentally, sell very well. And that saw about Harlequin providing its authors with the Magic Formula that Maisey references has been making the rounds for-fucking-ever. I remember my mom saying something to me along those lines when I was much younger and she thought romance were trashy literature that I shouldn’t be reading. No, Harlequin does not tell us the characters should kiss on X page and have sex on Y page. Yes, editors do give direction on story structure. However, the guideline that the first act climax should occur somewhere around the first 25% of the story and all the stakes should be set at that point applies to pretty much every entertainment genre. Maybe books in the Literary Genre don’t do that, but they’re arguably going for something other than storytelling and entertainment.

There’s a pervasive idea that writing a book takes a REALLY long time. And, in truth, writing a first novel CAN take years. Because of the learning curve. I wrote a post the other day about trying to be creative on deadline and a big piece of that is building the craft and skills to do it. However, the belief persists that quality writing should be a long, slow process. With the reverse assumption being that quickly produced work is shallow, low-quality and – yes – written to a formula. I saw a blog post by a writer the other day who championed the many virtues of writing his novels by hand, with pen and paper. He proudly stated that he could draft an entire novel this way in “only” 14 months. I also saw a tweet yesterday from a writer advising that everyone has their own process and you don’t HAVE to “churn out” 2 books a year.

While I respect both of their perspectives, I’m bothered by the implicit lack of respect for my process. It took me 84 days to write the 91,000 word first draft of The Tears of the Rose, which just received a Top Pick GOLD review from RT Magazine. I take that to mean it’s a pretty decently written book. I worked really hard on it. Yes, I structured the story about major plot points, with major events occurring at the act climaxes. Nobody gave me a formula.

It surprises me still when people call me a prolific or fast writer. It doesn’t feel that way. At the same time, taking 14 months to write out a novel long hand sounds excruciatingly slow to me. I had (or will have) five books come out in 2014 and I don’t feel like I’ve “churned out” anything. Every one has taken long hours of concentrated work, extensive crafting and pieces of my soul. I realize this is an enviable place to be and I count my blessings that I’m able to write fast.

That said, I’ve also put in a lot of effort to make sure I can. I keep my brain as uncluttered as possible. I remove all distractions, rather ruthlessly. I put in long hours. So do these other gals. They also manage to take care of small children at the same time, which I can’t even fathom.

This turned into more of a rant than I intended. I think my point is that I’d really love to see the end of this concept of the anguished author who spends years writing his magnum opus. It feels fueled to me by the sort of person who wants to be seen as someone artsy and glamorous – the Writer – rather than putting in the time to get the work done. I don’t see anything admirable about not getting the book written. We like to fetishize artists, but other kinds of work don’t get this shiny gloss on what is, ultimately, not doing the job. The grocery store checker who never quite manages to get all the groceries in the bag loses his job. The stockbrocker who just can’t overcome her personal agony to sell those stocks won’t be a stockbroker for long.

I blame the artist for this, really. We’re incredibly good at spinning convincing stories from our pain. That symphony we never delivered? IT WAS THE VOICES OF DEMONS! That studio full of blank canvases? THE BLEAK DESERT OF MY SOUL! That novel I spent ten years writing while I hung out in coffee shops and debated the shivering joy of the sound of a fountain pen on good paper? STILL NOT WRITTEN BUT LOOK HOW PROFOUND I AM.

Eh. Okay. I guess what I’m getting at is, don’t buy the song and dance, people. A creator creates. Buckle down and do the work. Don’t throw stones at people who do it faster. Don’t succumb to the temptation to glamorize what’s bogging you down. Solve the problem, take the stone out of your shoe, get to work.

Which I’m going to do now.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Some of the Things I Learned at #RT14 – Part 1

Deanna Raybourn, Helen Kay Dimon and Jeffe KennedyI got to sit a few minutes at Cafe Beignet with Helen Kay Dimon and Deanna Raybourn during the RT Booklovers Convention. Both such smart writers and lovely, charming women. I also scored a copy of Helen Kay’s new book, Mercy, which I’ve been gobbling up! So good.

Sunday on Word Whores, I mentioned that this conference brought me into so many great conversations about the industry. I’d like to talk a little more about that today.

First, I should mention that the amazing E and Has Bookpushers are running a seven-day Release Week Bonanza Giveaway for me, to celebrate the release of The Mark of the Tala a week from today! These gals are so awesome to me. You should run over and tell them so, even if you don’t want to win a fabulous prize or follow the Vacation Guide to The Twelve Kingdoms. 😀

I already waxed on about how grateful I am that Megan Mulry put together the group she did. A lovely and gracious person, Megan also possesses a gift for bringing together really wise, interesting people. Anne Calhoun, whose books I’ve always loved but I only had met glancingly, turned out to be as super smart and insightful as her stories. At one point she said:

“Unlike love, there’s not enough power to go around. For one group to gain power, another must lose some.”

That became a resonant theme through the week. She also talked about her Masters Thesis, which traces the changes in women finding their own agency through the roles, desires and expectations of the heroines in romance novels. I really want to read that.

Also sharing our house was Janet Webb, who reviews for Heroes and Heartbreakers. She had an amazing and insightful perspective on the romance genre – as someone with an extensive understanding of both the canon and emerging works and writers. We had a terrific conversation on the role of condoms in romance novels, how editors and publishers really insist on couples using them, which she finds artificial as a reader. She’s since sent me a fascinating article on an HIV-prevention drug that’s vastly underused. So interesting. I want to work this into a story now.

 

In a terrific stroke of serendipity, Janet was also reading The Mark of the Tala for a H&H First Look. She shared her notes and impressions about the book and gave me insight into my own story. Amazing experience. Janet’s longtime friend and avid reader, Andrea also stayed with us, bringing enthusiasm and sunshine to the week. Sasha H @caribbeanaccent

Another book blogger housemate, Sasha Harrinanan, who does Caribbean Accent Book Reviews, seemed to be out and about most of the week, gathering her prodigious pile of books. That’s her by the gate to our French Quarter home. She came and went like the went, but such a delight to get to know a little better.

Rounding out our blogger contingent was Julia Broadbooks. She also writes for Heroes and Heartbreakers. We’ve talked on Twitter many times, but this was our first to really get to know each other. Absolutely delightful person.

I’d never met Lexi Ryan before, but she’s just terrific. A savvy marketer, Lexi sat down with me and filled my head with excellent advice from her perspectives on self-publishing and marketing. She is not one of the loud, strident voices in the Indie publishing community and she’s doing very well for herself. I loved getting her perspective. Her best advice? “Be everywhere.” We talked about serials and what works and what doesn’t.

She also taught us how to play Cards Against Humanity and may have spent some time stroking her Bigger, Blacker Box. Just saying.

Historical romance author Miranda Neville was also someone I’d never read or met before. I came home with two of her books and tremendous respect for her, her body of work and Georgette Heyer. Seriously, it’s totally Miranda’s fault that I now have summer reading to improve my understanding of the canon.

Also new to me was Lisa Dunick, PhD professor of English, Romance Novel Center editor and also writer of YA as Lisa Maxwell. Another sharp, savvy woman with a terrific understanding of books and genre, Lisa contributed to my broadening view that the loudest voices in our industry don’t comprise the majority opinions.

More to come!