Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much?

Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much_

As authors, we ask our readers to open their minds and believe the unbelievable. Writers of fantasy and sci-fi, paranormal and horror wouldn’t make a penny if readers couldn’t put aside reality and enjoy a good story. The Martian would never have taken off, and we would never know who Luke and Leia and the rest of their universe are, never mind them being household names.

Writers who write in those genres have a flexibility not all of us have–yet they are still held to some kind of realistic expectation. Why do characters behave the way they do? Why are things the way they are? It’s why in comics and huge worlds like Game of Thrones and Star Wars, origin stories are so popular. Knowing why helps us understand.

Writers who write contemporary fiction stories that take place in the real here and now struggle with this, too. More so.

When I wrote All of Nothing, I struggled with what I could get away with and what I couldn’t. If you read my reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see that to some people, I failed. Jax Brooks accidentally shot someone, and I made him suffer for it–for 15 years. I got called out on it. No one would suffer for that long, or to that extent, for 15 years. Or would they? Did I make him suffer for too long? Should I have shortened my timeline?

Raven Grey was homeless for 13 years. That’s a long time to be homeless. I didn’t write her with a mental illness or a drug addiction, so anyone who wasn’t afflicted with something like that . . . would they have let themselves live on the streets for that long?

I asked the reader to believe she would have. I’ve never been homeless, or feel that hopeless. So I guess I truly don’t know if someone would drift through life that way when they had resources at their disposal to help them. But when she did turn her life around, it made it that much more poignant. Did making Raven homeless for so long add to the story, or did the implausibility of her situation take something away?

We’ve all read books that ask the reader to set aside real-life expectations. But how much is too much depends on the reader. I stopped reading Stephanie Plum at number 15 because after so many books, I just didn’t find the character believable anymore. She fumbles around as a bounty hunter suck in a love triangle, and she never changes. After so much time you’d expect her to take self-defense classes, or at the very least, learn how to shoot her gun. But she doesn’t do anything because Janet Evanovich relies on Stephanie’s ineptness as a bounty hunter to give us a laugh. And that’s great. I did enjoy the first fifteen books, and the couple of books that took place between the numbers. But eventually, and this is where real-life comes in, people need to grow and change. Most writers who aren’t writing a series only have one book in which to show us that their characters have changed, grown up, learned a lesson. That Stephanie Plum hasn’t grown, changed, in 15+ books (I think Janet’s up to 25, but I lost interest a long time ago) just makes her character worse.

stephanie plum

Katherine Heigl as Stephanie Plum. Her expression says it all. You can read the article and see more pictures at cinemablend.com or by clicking here.

No one is going to believe that in all the time that goes by, if Stephanie really wanted to take a real stab at being a bounty hunter she wouldn’t try to improve her skills.

But do readers care?

Janet Evanovich is a bestselling author, so I’m guessing most readers are along for the ride and don’t care Stephanie still can’t shoot, still can’t choose a man, and still blows up every car she drives.

I read something once that said as writers, right away we’re asking our readers to believe in a coincidence, an act of fate. Like the man meeting just the right woman at the beginning of a romance. Or a man killing the wrong person at the wrong time at the beginning of a mystery, or a child kidnapped just as a famous detective travels through town on vacation. How was it that Hercule Poirot happened to be on the Orient Express?

coicidence and fateAlmost every inciting event will be a coincidence, and readers accept that because that’s how a story starts.

But anything you ask her reader to believe after that just builds up until the reader throws the book across the room in disgust because the writer has asked them to believe too much.

Readers aren’t stupid, and you can’t write to them as if they are, yet some writers can get away with asking their readers to believe the impossible.

In 50 Shades of Grey, Christian Grey is a self-made billionaire at twenty-seven. Doing what, who knows. It is possible, but not likely. Not unless you’re working from your mom’s garage creating the next big thing that will replace Facebook.

Anastasia Steele was the same way, professionally. Would she really be an editor at an distinguished publishing house because her boss was fired? Probably not. She majored in English Literature. A publishing degree is a real thing.

How do you know how much is too much?

Unfortunately, you probably won’t know until you get feedback. Hopefully that is in the form of beta reader feedback and not bad reviews.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind:

  1. How old are your characters?
    If you have a 20-year-old who is running a million-dollar company, ask yourself why. Why is your character 20? Is he a genius? How does his age contribute to the story? Could he be 30? 40? Could he have a different occupation? Are you writing the next Doogie Howser?
  2. Keep technology in mind. 
    All of Nothing Paperback Cover

    Do you want to check out All of Nothing? It’s now WIDE and you can click here for your favorite retailer.

    Today, anyone can know anything with a touch of a few buttons. If you’re keeping your characters in the dark about anything they could find out online, you better have a good, and believable, explanation.
    I walked a thin line of that myself in All of Nothing. Jax didn’t know the identity of the person he shot, and Raven’s parents didn’t know the identity of the policeman who killed their son. How did I explain that? The city paid Raven’s parents not to ask questions, and they kept Jax in the dark to help him put the accident behind him. That’s why I put the accident so far in the past. I didn’t need social media interfering in my story. These days, everything is splashed everywhere online. Especially police brutality. Everyone knows everything in an instant. Maybe even with a video. I couldn’t afford that because the whole premise of my book were the facts Jax didn’t know whom he shot, and Raven’s family didn’t know who took her brother’s life. Yeah, this blog post revealed a big spoiler, but did I pull it off? You’ll have to let me know.

  3. Keep your timeline in mind.
    Unless you’re writing the next 24, your characters are probably going to need time. People don’t fall in love in a day. Murders aren’t solved in a day, or even a week. People trapped in a cabin during a blizzard with no food won’t live two weeks without something to eat.
  4. Because I said so.
    If you have to say this, or any derivative of this phrase to someone asking about details of your story, you’re covering up lazy, sloppy writing. Because I said so is for children who don’t want to eat their vegetables. If you have to explain any aspect of your story, you’re doing it wrong. You can’t be over every reader’s shoulder trying to validate and justify all your choices. Your reader may come away from your story loving it or hating it, but they should always understand it.

    Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much2

Human nature is weird. There are things people put with for years and years, and in the same situation, a different person would tolerate it for only a moment.

Sometimes you can get away with it. Soap operas do. After a few years watching Days of our Lives, I finally asked, “If living in Salem was so miserable, why didn’t they just move?” You can’t tell me Bo and Hope wouldn’t finally have found some peace and quiet if they would have moved out of Salem and away from Stefano DiMera.

When I was writing The Years Between Us, I confronted this possibility as well. The whole book depends on blackmail and lies, much in the vein of a soap opera. I had a few beta readers read it and I asked them if it was too much, and all of them said no. I hope it isn’t. I hope the plot is still believable. I hope that what people willing to do for love is enough of a reason to carry the story along. You’ll have to decide.

Your readers will only accept so much. You can’t please everyone, of course, but at some point you are going to have to keep an eye on what is believable and what is not. You’ll have to decide if inconsistencies and discrepancies are intentional or the byproduct of lazy writing. Plot holes are never okay, and explaining why a character did something by saying “She was crazy, that’s why!” isn’t good enough. Even crazy people live on their own plane of reality, and it’s your job as a writer to show us that.

Suspending Belief in Fiction. How much is too much3

As writers, we are always going to be asking our readers to believe something that has a small chance of happening in real life. But after that initial leap, keep your story grounded in facts, otherwise you are going to lose them.

Fiction is fiction, we read to escape, but your story needs to make sense, or the next thing you know, your bounty hunter will have been on 25 jobs and still won’t know how to shoot a gun.

And that’s just not realistic.

Callie and Mitch blog graphic


picture attribution:

Andy Meyer from Pixabay” cellphone with castle

coincidence and fate

woman with books, canva.com

woman on stability ball, canva.com

Antagonists: Who, What, When, Where

I rarely give out writing advice, preferring to focus on indie publishing, promo results, and my own progress. I feel those topics are a lot more useful than writing tips. After all, you can finding writing tips anywhere. But I was thinking about antagonists and how ambiguous and subjective they are.

cruella de ville

Cruella is a perfect example of an evil villain. Who would want to kill cute puppies for a coat?! picture from pixabay

Antagonists in a story are usually the villains. The bad guys. Twitter chats center around them. What is their favorite color? What are they doing right now? What makes them bad? What makes them evil? What do they eat for breakfast? The hearts of their enemies, of course. Which is everyone.

There are some pretty famous villains in books and movies:

Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes
Lady Tremaine, Cinderella
Annie Wilkes, Misery
Sauron, Lord of the Rings
Darth Vader, Star Wars
Joker, Batman

**For more examples, since I could list them forever, look here, and here.

These are tangible characters; in these stories they are flesh and blood. They do cruel things to our main characters. Who they are is pretty cut and dried.

But sometimes things that aren’t always people can be the antagonist in a story, and sometimes the protagonist will be his own worst enemy, which will also make him the antagonist.

Let’s explore that one first.

When the protagonist is also the antagonist

woman with demons

Characters who have to battle inner demons can be their own worst enemies. photo from pixabay

This happens a lot in romance. Characters have been burned before and refuse to fall in love again. Or they don’t believe they deserve to be in love, of having someone care for them. They’ve done naughty things in the past and they believe they need to atone for those sins for the rest of their lives. This is actually a pretty popular trope in a romance. Where the hero has been in the military and something happened to his team, or the detective/cop whose partner is killed on a case and our hero blames himself. He doesn’t feel worthy of love, or he thinks why bother because he’ll just fuck that relationship up too, or worse, get her killed through his own negligence.

In these cases, the protagonist is also the antagonist. They are battling inner demons. There is a lot more to the plot than that, but in the end your hero’s love interest is supposed to help them see they are worthy of love. S/he feels they fail toward the end of the book and the hero/ine realizes if s/he doesn’t get his shit together, he’s going to lose out on the love of his/her life.

Memories, nightmares, the ex still in the picture, precinct cops who blame your hero for the death of their team member, a child left behind, they are secondary antagonists used to enforce your character’s beliefs about himself.

Gone With The Wind

Scarlett and Rhett photo taken from huffington post

Scarlett O’Hara had a couple things working against her, namely her immaturity, selfishness, and her love for her family’s plantation, Tara, not to mention, Ashley Wilkes. She wasn’t ready for Rhett to love her, and she had to live through the deaths of her father and two husbands, plus a war, before she grew up enough to understand Rhett. We all know his famous last line, and by the time she gave a damn, he didn’t.

What are other things that could be an antagonist?

Animals

Jurassic Park is a good example of this. There was no antagonist, per se. John Hammond wasn’t evil–he just wanted to open a theme park where people could enjoy seeing dinosaurs. (This brings about the ethical question, “Just because we can, should we?” But that would be the theme of the story, which is a little different than what I’m talking about here.) There were a couple of people around who were selfish and greedy, but they were not the cause of the problems in the story. I’m thinking of the first movie–the old original with Sam Neill and Laura Dern.

Other books/movies that have used animals as antagonists?
Moby Dick Herman Melville
The Birds Alfred Hitchcock/Daphne du  Maurier
Cujo Stephen King
Anaconda director Luis Llosa
Jaws Peter Benchley
Piranha director Joe Dante

It’s important to note that in most cases, humans were not ordering or forcing these animals to attack. They were not weapons. Be it survival, nature, self defense, or rabies, these animals were acting on their own accord.

Disease

Disease is a popular antagonist. In Outbreak, a man who wants to sell a monkey on the black market passes along a fictional Ebola-like virus, Motaba, and all the characters spent their time doing damage control. As with the animals, it’s important to note that in cases where disease is used as the primary antagonist, it is not being used by a human as a weapon, in which case the human using biological warfare for power/revenge/etc would be the antagonist and the disease would be the weapon. In Outbreak, I’m thinking of the movie with Dustin Hoffman and Renee Russo, there were other people who wanted to contain the disease in a different way than our characters, and others who wanted to keep past illegal activity a secret and would do anything to make that happen. Does this make them antagonists? Sure, and they provide more conflict and more hurdles for our main characters to jump over. But the main antagonist is the disease. Without it, there would be no story.

Other stories that use disease:
Andromeda Strain Michael Crichton
Two by Two Nicholas Sparks (a secondary character dies of cancer)
The Fault in Our Stars John Green
Five Feet Apart Rachael Lippincott
My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult

I was taking a look at some other opinions about whether disease could be an antagonist, and I found rather snarky blog post saying of course not. I think she missed the point of using disease as a plot device, and you can read it here.

Nature

The setting of where your book takes place can be a powerful antagonist. When your characters are trying to farm land that won’t grow crops and your characters are dying of hunger, or your characters are involved in a plane crash and they have to escape a mountain covered in snow to survive.

The weather can be a powerful antagonist, as well. Tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters that will put your characters in harm’s way are fabulous antagonists.

Books/movies that use the land and weather as antagonists:
Twister director Jan de Bont
The Mountain Between Us Charles Martin
Alive director Frank Marshall
To Build a Fire Jack London
We Are Unprepared Meg Little Reilly
For other books that use nature as an antagonist, look here.

Mental Illness/Addiction

This may be unfair, but a character with mental illness can be the antagonist. This might take the form of an alcoholic like The Girl on the Train, or a character being a complete psychopath like Gone Girl. I read a book by Lisa Unger where her male MC went completely delusional, living his “perfect life” in his head while his real life fell apart. Characters who believe they are going crazy like The Woman in Cabin 10 are their own antagonists. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a human antagonist, as the case with The Woman in Cabin 10, but the plot is even murkier and the characters harder to trust if they are suffering from a mental illness or addicted to drugs.

Unreliable narrator is what this writing trend is called, or Grip-Lit as Tara Sparling likes to call it. To read her blog post about the subject, click here.

Other books where the character is also a psycho, I mean, antagonist, and/or battling addiction:

The Shining Stephen King
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
The Flight Attendant Chris Bohjalian


Antagonists aren’t always cut and dried, like a kidnapper in a mystery, or a serial killer in a murder thriller, but that doesn’t make the story boring when the antagonist deviates from what we normally think of as the villain. I frequently use blackmail and secrets in my stories.

As a new writer, you may not fully realize that an antagonist does not need to be a real person, and you restrict yourself if you feel you need to put a human into this role.

I just finished A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult and while there was a real flesh and blood antagonist holding those people hostage, the women’s center where the story takes place is just as much the antagonist in the story for the feelings, emotions, ideals and heartbreak that building stands for, for the people being held in that clinic.

An antagonist is anything that works against your character to keep them from what they want. If you don’t have a flesh and blood human to do that, what do you have? A cemetery like in Pet Semetary?  A sinking ship like the Titanic? A concept like freedom in The Purge?

Open your mind to what a good antagonist can do for your story. Maybe it will be an AI like Hal, or maybe it’s infertility like The Children of Men.

Whatever you choose–make it hurt.

Those make the best antagonists, and those make the best stories.

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

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Who are your readers?

I have to admit, I get a lot of blog ideas from Twitter. It’s a great place to “eavesdrop” on people who complain talk about agents, querying, reviews, and writing in general.

Unwisely, I stuck my nose into a thread, and while she was polite in response, I could tell my opinion wasn’t welcome.

The thread was talking about silly things people have said about your work. The reason I stuck my nose in was what the person had told her wasn’t all that silly. I’ll write a separate blog post about that, but it did make me think–who is your reader?

who is your reader

You don’t want everyone to read your book, or you’ll end up with reviews like: “I didn’t like this book. It all it had was romance in it, and I hate romance novels” when you write contemporary romance. Or someone who reads your horror who prefers sci-fi. You want people who like your genre to read your books.

So who are you writing for? Knowing this information is helpful in a lot of ways:

  1. It will help you buy/target ads. When you have a person and their lifestyle in mind, it’s easier to target ads.
  2. You’ll know where your readers hang out online, and in real-life. My trilogy is about characters who run (the sport). I could set up a table at a women’s run expo. When I bought my cat to the vet, there was a self-published book about adopting animals sitting on a table in the waiting area. How did I know it was self-published? It had the KDP Print stamp on the back page. Depending on the author and his or her marketing tactics, that book could be sitting in every vet’s office in the city.
  3. You’ll write better. Know who your audience is, and you can tailor your books just for them. Yes, this is the evil writing to market, but if you have your reader in mind, not only do you have a built in audience–you’re assuring future sales of your work.
  4. It helps with networking. Romance writers are the most generous writers out there. They love to share information and support. The RWA is fantastic. Knowing what genre you’re writing in can help you find your online support group.

I was thinking then, who is MY reader?

To figure that out, you need to know what you’re writing.

I write contemporary romance books. My books contain real-life problems. My characters aren’t always rich, and if they are, I make sure their lives are miserable in other ways.

My characters worry about paying bills, affording the mortgage. They have ex-spouses. They find themselves in trouble of their own making, sometimes they are at the mercy of others. Their lives are hard. But I hope I write my characters as likable, lovable, people. People you grow to care about–people you would want to be friends with in real life.

They also fall in love, even if they don’t want to. Even if they think they don’t deserve it. Even if being together forever is going to take a helluva lot of work. They did the work, they grew, they learned from mistakes, and their lives are better for it. They live happily ever after.

My books may contain a glimmer of a mystery, but nothing that would put them in the romantic suspense category. My books don’t contain magical elements the way a lot of Nora Roberts’s books do. My books usually contain someone who is bitter and jealous and likes to make others miserable. I do realize that’s a trope I’ve used often, and it’s in the back of my mind when I write more books I need to lean on other plot conventions going forward.

My characters are usually in their thirties. They struggle with finding a partner. Their biological clocks are ticking. They’re getting married. Holding real jobs, making car payments.

I probably won’t stay too far from this type of book.

A bare “man chest” on one of my covers would look out of place. My characters have sex, but they lack the “dangerous edge” that those books seem to contain. No sexual rules are broken, no one is tied up as prisoner. Sex is used to express feelings, falling in love. I know the types of books that need a dangerous man on the front of their covers, and my books are not them.

This is all very helpful because now I can pin down who wants to read my books.


My reader is probably someone like me. (I’m hoping you write the kinds of books you enjoy reading, and I hope you read in the genre you enjoy writing.)

I’m in my early forties, but my characters are usually in their thirties. I do this for a couple reasons: Because of my age, I don’t care to read about younger characters so I don’t write them. And I think it gives me a little flexibility when it comes to my readership. So I think my base readership is, maybe,  25-55 years old. I wouldn’t go any younger than twenty-five. My subject matter wouldn’t interest a young adult. That’s what YA and NA is for, and all the “dangerous man chest” books I was talking about earlier seem to have a younger heroine, so maybe those types of books have a younger (18-25 year old) readership.

Having a picture in mind of the woman who reads my books, let’s call her Jane.

jane, my reader

Jane is 25-55. She might have children. She probably does. She has a day job. Maybe it’s a bit stressful. She could be an office manager, or a professional, like an HR director or a nurse. Maybe she’s a stay at home mom. She appreciates a light read–something she doesn’t have to think too hard about to enjoy. When does she read?

  • Maybe half an hour before bed.
  • During her kids’ nap times.
  • Maybe in the tub if she can get a few minutes to herself.
  • Maybe while her kids watch TV, or her husband takes them to grandma’s for the afternoon.

She doesn’t have much time to herself–she brings a Kindle to her son’s dance practice, and to her daughter’s soccer games. She likes a cup of coffee to sip on and a cat in her lap while she reads. She owns a mini-van or SUV. Her husband works a lot. Or maybe she’s divorced. A lot of women in their thirties and forties are these days. That doesn’t mean she wouldn’t enjoy reading about a meet-cute in the pick up line at school.

She might feel unattractive or frumpy (kids will do that to you).  She wants to work out but she doesn’t have time. A trip to the salon is a luxury for her time-wise. Maybe she likes her Kindle for the cheaper books. Or her life could be a bit happier–her parents live near her, which means she has plenty of help with her kids. She loves her job. She and her husband still get along.

Where does Jane hang out online? She shops on Amazon, of course.  Maybe she buys her kids’ clothes, and things for herself at Kohls.com. As for social media, she’s on Facebook, because who isn’t? She posts pictures of her kids, and maybe she’s joined a mom’s group or two. I don’t think she’s on Instagram, but I could be wrong. I think she’s more interested in Pinterest right now, for recipes and craft ideas for the kids. Maybe that’s her way of looking for hair styles. If her kids are small, she might hang out on websites like BabyCenter.

Lots of different kinds of women live different kinds of lives, and I don’t want to make assumptions just how my reader lives because I’m only limiting myself if I do that. The only real assumption I can make is the busier she is, the less likely she has time to read, but then I’m not aiming my ads at her, and she wouldn’t be interested if she saw them.

Anyway, Jane likes to read. She reads three or four books a month.

Now that you have your reader in mind, how do they sync up with your books? How would I target an ad with what I know about my reader?

I could target her with these keywords and groups:

  • coffee drinker
  • pet owner
  • mother, step-mother
  • mini-van driver, or SUV
  • Divorced (I include both groups since my characters have been divorced and are looking for a second chance at love)
  • Happily married
  • likes bubble baths
  • likes to drink wine
  • loves chocolate

What books would she read that are similar to yours? Target those authors and their readers. Though if you target Nora Roberts and well-known authors like her, your bid to make your ad seen is going to have to be very high–so think of some mid-list, not-so-well-known authors in your genre who are moving books. (Ad targeting and how to do it is a different blog post, and I’m not experienced enough to do that for you. There are lots of authors out there who will share their experiences such as Michael Cooper and Mark Dawson.)

My books have a tone like Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr, Brenda Novak. Maybe Jennifer Crusie, but hers are more funny and on the chick-lit side of things than mine are. Still, her readers may be willing to cross over to my books. I read Jennifer Crusie, but that doesn’t mean all I read is chick-lit.

This is a good reason to stop into a bookstore. Locate the shelf where your books would be and write down the authors your book would be neighbors with. Especially the authors you’ve never heard before.

If you don’t know where your book would be shelved–that’s a problem. Look at general fiction, or literary fiction, and do your best.

Their readers are your readers. Those are paperbacks–and lots of popular authors are indie and offer e-book only. That’s fine–Google the top Amazon 100 in your genre. Again, find books similar to yours.

Knowing who your reader is helps you write the books they enjoy reading. I KNOW you’re supposed to love what you’re writing, but if you can’t find anyone who will enjoy reading it, what’s the point of writing it? Self-satisfaction only goes so far. (Yes, my mind went there!)

Writing to Market

And knowing what your reader likes, dislikes, what she wears, where she works out, can help you target your ideal audience when you’re ready to target ads.

It’s always a surprise to me how many people write books with no audience in mind.

It’s imperative you know who your reader is or you can’t find them to advertise to them.

Create a character like Jane. Figure out her likes and dislikes.

That’s a great place to start!

PS

This is just a small end note:

Did you see anywhere where I said my reader is also a writer? Is Jane writing her own book right now? Does she go to writing conferences, or attend a writer’s group? Do I know Jane from the #writerscommunity on Twitter?

No.

No, I do not.

Do you know why? Because my readers are not part of the writing community. Yes, I read romance, and yes, I am part of the writing community on Twitter. But if I were to market my books as if my readers were nowhere but part of the writing community online, I wouldn’t have very many readers. I represent a minuscule amount of people like me, and people like me who will read your book will not make your career.

And, maybe more importantly, I don’t WANT my readers to be writers. Writers are picky and hard to please. Do you know how I know? Because I read like that. And I don’t want my books to be read the way I read.

And neither should you.

writers are not readers

I appreciate my friends who take the time to read my books. But I learned a long time ago that my readers are not on Twitter. If you can have a light bulb moment like that, marketing your book will suddenly become a lot easier.

look beyond twitter for readers

Who are your readers?

 

Thanks for reading!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

Where I’m at with my Wedding Party Series

jaredandleah

My first try at creating an aesthetic. All pictures taken from Pexels/Pixabay/Unsplash


 

I said since there is going to be such a long time between releases, I would try to update my fabulous readers better on my writing process while I write my Wedding Party Series. It used to be called my Bridesmaid Quartet, but as I was planning out my characters, I realized I was writing about only three bridesmaids and a groomsman. The Wedding Party series is a little more accurate, and more than likely that’s what I’ll call it when I publish it.

So where am I at?

Okay, well, first of all, I had carpal and cubital tunnel surgery on January tenth. I was able to write 35,000 words (about half of my book) before that, and I was pleased the book sounded as well as it did as a first draft. Had I not had to take time to recuperate, I more than likely could have had the first book done by now.

But I did something I don’t like doing.

I left a previous book undone. The Years Between Us was technically done when I opened the file for Jared and Leah (I always name the file by my characters’ names because it takes a while for me to think up a title), but it wasn’t edited. That’s what I had planned to do while I was in recovery.

Recovery took a little longer than I had expected, and I slept a lot. I watched a lot of Netflix. Luckily, I had thought ahead and planned out a few blog posts, so my website didn’t go neglected. I tried to tweet when I could. But mostly I gave myself a pass and took two weeks of a needed break from a very hectic publishing schedule so far.

The Years Between Us

The unofficial cover for The Years Between Us. Made with Canva.com and photo from canstockphoto.com

I have been able to give The Years Between Us two on screen editing sweeps. I usually print it out and edit it on paper, but I’m thinking this time I’ll skip that step and go straight to the listening part of it. Thinking about this after writing this section of my post, I realized I can’t skip this step. When I edit on paper, that is when I break up my book into chapters. I don’t write my book with chapters in mind, only breaking up my POV changes with scene breaks, and when I print out my book, it’s easier to “chunk it up” while in paper form.  

I’ll be working on two books simultaneously, and I don’t particularly care for it, but I like writing Jared and Leah and there’s no rush to put out The Years Between Us. When I DO get it done, it will be going on a long preorder, just so I don’t have so long between books, though by romance indie publishing standards, since I published All of Nothing in October, I should have another book out now.

Anyway, I did realize not long ago while I was reading my friend Aila’s blog, I’ll need to change a few things, and the sooner the better. Most of the time I don’t care what I name my characters as long as I haven’t used the name before, and it matches what I think the character looks like. Towns are the same. Sometimes I look up names, sometimes I steal them from work. (I work in a call center and see names of cities and towns all day long.) Sometimes I use a name generator. I didn’t think anything of using Blue Ridge, Minnesota for my small town’s name. Until I was reading a blog post of Aila’s. Color me surprised when I saw this:

Harlot of Blue Ridge

Beautiful! (And used with permission. Thanks, Aila!)

All I can think is that the name of her book kind of got stuck in my mind. I mentioned it to her, and she was very gracious, saying I didn’t need to change it. But she thought of it first, she’s further into her WIP than I am, and seriously, there are so many other names to choose from, I don’t need to steal borrow anyone else’s. I can’t tell you how excited I am to read her book though, and if you want to follow along with her writing journey, you should follow her blog and give her a follow on Twitter. I can’t tell you enough how impressed I am with what she gives to the indie writing community.

I am not going to lie: it’s been hard to get back into the swing of things. I’m not 100% healed, meaning, I’m not 100% pain free. My doctor said it could take my body up to 12 months to repair itself. On the bright side, I don’t feel any worse than when I did before my surgery, and if I could type through the pain then, I can type through it now.

I went back to work last week, so I’m hoping that returning to a schedule will help me make better use of my time.

In my next blog post, I’ll break down what I’m doing with Jared and Leah, and maybe share an excerpt or two of what’s been going on!

Until next time!

jared and leah for end of blog posts

 

My Writing Plans & Goals for 2019

hello 2019

Lots of people feel like 2018 sucker punched them right in the gut. But to be honest, I think a lot of people felt like that about 2017, too. Each year may be better in some ways, worse in others, but it’s fair to say that each year brings about new challenges. Sometimes we can rise to the occasion and kick ass, and sometimes we can’t.

I got a lot done in 2018. I released two books I’m proud of–Wherever He Goes and All of Nothing. Each book brings me closer to improving my craft and realizing my goals of being a career writer.

I went through a divorce and came out, for the post part, unscathed, due to my kids, the support of my sister, and the love and a support of a special man in my life. We’ve had our ups and downs, too, and I hope in 2019 we have more ups than we do downs, but time will tell.

As far as my writing goals for 2019, it’s something that I talk a lot about on this blog. Write what you want, but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t sell. So I’m going to follow my own advice. While my stand alones are doing okay (for the lack of marketing I do for them) there’s lots of evidence out there that series sell. I’ve seen this myself in read-through for my trilogy (at least when I boost up the first book with a promo).

That being said, it’s time to write another series. I’m going to set aside 2019 and write four books in my Bridesmaid Quartet. That subtitle may change–I may change it to The Wedding Party, or something else entirely as the wedding that brings this group of friends together will remain in the background and is only a catalyst for the things that happen. I’m even tinkering with making the Bride a matchmaker of sorts. These four books are in the planning stages, as you can tell, while I edit The Years Between Us. I’m going to edit my May/December romance, send it out to betas (if you want to read it, send me an email or DM on Twitter!) and more than likely put it on an extended preorder. I released All of Nothing on October 16, and I need to sit on The Years Between Us while I write my series. I won’t wait for a long time–I’m thinking maybe an April release–but I don’t want to publish it as soon as it’s done because then I won’t have anything for quite a while.

To make up for that time where I’m not publishing anything, I’m going to be doing a lot more blogging and maybe some Instagram posts in regards to my series’ progress.  I’ll be doing aesthetics, sharing more snippets than I have in the past. I’ll be releasing my character sheets for my characters. In short, I’ll be blogging about what goes into writing a four book series, and all the headaches that go into tackling 200,000-280,000 words.

Right from the start this presented a challenge because I already wrote about a group of friends with my novellas, Summer Secrets. Those were erotica, but still. It’s easy for a writer to write the same thing over and over again, so I need to be careful to make these different. Comparing my sexy novellas to this series will always be in the back of my mind.

plans and goals for the new year

Other things that will be happening in 2019:

I’ll be getting carpal and cubital tunnel surgery done on my left arm in January. The 10th to be exact. Progress on my series will only go as quickly as I can recuperate. I’ve heard from several people that it’s a piece of cake, and even my doctor said I’ll be back to everyday activities after two weeks. I’ll then be scheduling my surgery for my right arm.

If surgeries and recovery go according to plan, I’ll be attending the Sell More Books Show Summit in Chicago in May. I cannot wait to take a short vacation, meet some other authors, and learn how to sell more books!

I’ll be moving my list wide and paperbacks to Ingram Spark extended distribution. I blogged about that already, but since my books don’t drop entirely from Select until February, dispersing them wide and doing the covers to meet IS guidelines will be a project that will take a few months. I think I’ll be doing a lot of that during recovery as I’m hoping that tweaking my covers to fit the IngramSpark cover templates won’t be too complicated.

Learning a screen-recording software so I can record some barebones tutorials on how to make book covers in Canva. I scouted around YouTube a few months ago to see if making a full cover (back, spine, and front) for a paperback was even possible using that particular software. I didn’t find anything that had all the steps a newbie writer would need to successfully make a cover, and for it to actually come out looking nice.

Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be one of those things that is on the top of my list. First off, because I’m not sure how deep I really want to go into the non-fiction sector. There are some full-time writers who split their time between fiction and non-fiction, like Joanna Penn. I still have a day job, and if I have a few hours, I’d rather write my fiction books. But because I didn’t find anything about this topic, I think it would be a real help to the indie community if I could record a couple how-to videos. Especially since I’ve done it twice now and have the paperbacks to prove it can work. But I would need to find/buy software and learn how to use it. Then I would need to take the time to map out the videos and record them. I don’t know how to edit anything, either. So. Plus I’ve been tinkering around with writing an self-publishing self-editing book, and I don’t want to put my fingers into too many pies.

Mostly though,  I abide by the old, “Should you be writing, instead of . . . ?” question when thinking about doing other things, and the answer is almost usually “Yes.” It’s what I enjoy the most and what I hope to build my career on–my fiction books.

Because, after all, who doesn’t love a happy ending?

Happy New Year, everyone, and I hope 2019 goes very well for you!

the end

Writing a May/December romance and what it means to me in the #metoo era.

I have to admit, that even though this book is my 6th, it was still bittersweet to write the last scene, save it, email it to myself, and close the file. Besides editing, I can say goodbye to Matthew and Zia and start to plot a massive project I have decided to take on in 2019.

blog post maydecember romanceThe Years Between Us is a May/December romance. Writing it involved some tricky scenes, as she’s twenty-five and he’s fifty, and while I tried, tried so hard, to make that the most romantic thing in the whole world, the fact is, it can be a bit creepy, too. Especially since at the beginning of the novel, she’s eighteen and he’s forty-three, and in an intimate scene I’m going to try very hard to edit just right, he takes her virginity. Don’t get me wrong, their ages get them into trouble, but fast-forward seven years, it still ends happily-ever after.

May/December romances used to be sweet. The innocent ingenue taken under the wing of a mature, wise gentleman willing to take care of her, guide her into womanhood. My mother read them, and I grew up reading the books she finished and set aside for the next trip to the library. These were more of the gothic romance variety: a young woman, for whatever reason, finding herself in a dark castle, falling in love with the older-than-her-by-a-lot gentleman who has been turned bitter by the ways of the world. She turns his heart with her purity. Their ages are rarely mentioned, but the covers of these books told it all. Silver fox, strawberry-haired girl.

Matthew and Zia are my take on these favorites.

But my mom read those books a long time ago. Before Harvey Weinstein, before a hashtag was created specifically for women to band together against men who use their power and position as a way to force women into sexual activities they don’t want or ask for. We live in time now where the fairy tales are looked down upon because a prince kissed a sleeping princess without her consent. We live in an era where cheeky christmas carols are called upon as sexual harassment, and not seen for the fun and flirtation that they were intended to be.

dark romance

So, what is it like to write a May/December romance now? How will it be received? I don’t know. I don’t make their ages an in-your-face issue. Sure it causes problems, but despite their ages, they are only people who love each other. How wrong can that be? I guess it depends on how they feel while they’re in their relationship, and after it’s over.

Joyce Maynard. You may not know who she is. I didn’t. Not until I recently read an article about her in Vanity Fair.  She evokes both sympathy and scorn. People sympathize with her because at 18, she had an affair with JD Salinger, who at the time, was 53. She dropped out of college to live with him, put up with his abuse, and ultimately, he kicked her out. Scorned because, well, forty-six years later, she’s still talking about. She’s accused of stretching her fifteen minutes just a little too long. Does she have a right to do so? People accuse her of using his fame to catapult hers. She says she keeps talking about it because he used and abused her and she wants the world to know. They say he has a right to privacy. She says because of what he did, he doesn’t deserve any.

Would their story had turned out differently had true love been involved? If they had gotten married? I don’t know the details, but maybe, I’m going to go out on a limb and say, he used his reputation to get her into bed, she, as a wannabe writer was dazzled, and that’s that. Only, she can’t let it go. She places full blame on him. He used her. He made her drop out of school to live with him.

Can’t 18 year old girls think for themselves?

Are we giving teenage girls any credit if we say no?

It’s something I touch on in my novel.  Matthew sends Zia away, and she goes to college where she nurtures her talent to become a famous artist. At one point, he’s asked if he regretted doing that to her, for her. And he says,

“. . . She was fresh out of high school; she needed to explore, find her talent. She never would have become what she had without me sending her away. There were nicer ways to make her go, but it still would have broken her heart.”

He took it upon himself to make sure she had a full life, and that meant without him (for a while). Do we give men any credit if we say they aren’t capable of that in real life?

wedding rings with leaves

I have a couple men friends who are “older” (age is subjective, isn’t it?) and I asked them about this. One, a gentlemen I work with at my job, said there’s a rule men follow: “half your age plus seven.”  I didn’t understand it, so I asked him to explain. He said, men have a rule when deciding how young is too young. You take your age, halve it, then add seven. He said it keeps men from dating anyone who could be young enough to be their daughter.

Applying this logic to my book, Matthew’s age for most of the book is 50. Half that, you get 25, then add 7, making the youngest he could go 32. Zia is 25 for most of the book, so my main male character fails miserably at this. I hadn’t heard of this rule before, but it intrigued me and in a weird way, kind of made sense. I don’t know of any women who follow a rule like this. My sister is 27, and she said the oldest she’d date is 60. I wonder how people would look at them in public if she were to be involved with a man that much older than she.

I wanted to write a novel about love, and that’s what I did. Of course I’m going to offend someone. Probably lots of someones. But I get offended too, reading books about rape, about violence against women at the hands of men. I just move on because these books should still be written. Real life is full of harsh realities, and books reflect that.

You can call Zia stupid for falling in love with an older man. You can call Matthew a pervert for wanting an eighteen year old girl. But the fact is, they loved each other. Call them right or wrong, but they both made sacrifices for each other, and no one can say that her sacrifices meant any less because she’s younger that he is.

It will be interesting to see how people like this book. I’m excited for the feedback that will surely come my way.

Tell me what you think. Do you like May/December romances?

Let me know!

What to read about other May/December real-life romances? Check out this link.

More articles about Joyce Maynard:

Revisiting the legacy of Joyce Maynard, the teenager Salinger had an affair with

The Queen of Oversharing
The personal essay may be over—but Joyce Maynard isn’t.

You can find Joyce’s memoir here.

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Weak writers, strong characters?

I am a part of a DM group on Twitter. We were talking about the weather where we live, and I live in Minnesota. I mentioned blizzards and the potential hazards. I said now that my husband has moved out, this winter may be a little nerve-racking as I’ll need to shovel and get my daughter to school by myself. I have to deal with maybe my car not starting or getting into an accident because some moron doesn’t know how to drive on the snow and ice.

I said, “I’m sorry. I know I sound weak. It’s just nice to have a man around sometimes.”

What exactly was I apologizing for? All the women in my group are married to men. They know it’s nice to have a partner, someone around to help.

In our society today, we encourage strong women. We have #GirlPower. Women are encouraged to raise their daughters to be strong and independent. We fight for equal pay. We fight the glass ceiling. We fight for our reproductive rights. We pay our own bills we make our own way.

glass ceiling

Women don’t need men.

I write romance. I make sure my heroines can take care of themselves. They have jobs; they pay their bills. Sometimes they’re searching for love, sometimes love finds them. My heroines don’t need a man.

But they want one.

Does that make them weak?

powerful woman 2

Even in the comics, Diana Prince was paired with various men over the years. The epitome of a kick-ass woman, she still likes to snuggle at night.

I’ve been told, “Don’t make the man rescue the woman.” But isn’t that what a romance is? I mean, rescuing a woman because he has to. It’s part of a mission. She’s been kidnapped because her father is a billionaire. She needs a bodyguard. She’s cured cancer, and people want to kill her. She’s a rock star, and someone is out to get her. There are a million plots to go with that trope. The hero rescues the heroine, they fall in love. The end.

There’s a reason why that trope is popular.

Women take care of themselves (and their children) alone all the freaking time. Reading is an escape. We want our man to step in and say, “Let me take care of this because I’m falling in love with you.” My favorites, and hopefully the kind of books I write, is when they rescue each other. Maybe he can get her to the hospital for her life-saving surgery, but when she opens her eyes, he knows she really saved him, by repairing his broken heart and giving him his life back.

Most times after the “big fight” I have my man go to his woman first. Not because I want to put my woman in a position of power. Not because my heroine wants a man groveling at her feet. But because it’s romantic. It feeds into what women fantasize about. Men saying, “I was wrong. I can’t live without you. I’m sorry. Marry me.”

What I didn’t realize though, is that it takes a strong woman to give a man the space he needs to figure it out and admit that. For him to have time to see his mistakes and go to her.

It takes a lot of bravery for a woman to face heartbreak if the man she loves doesn’t come for her. For her to say, “If he can’t admit he was wrong and apologize and admit that he loves me, I can’t have the kind of relationship I need with him to be happy.”

Women in romance can be kick-ass and still want a man. I’ll never write a sniveling idiot as a female main character.  Men, characters or otherwise, don’t want a woman who acts like that. Women who act like that in real life never find true happiness or true love. 

So in my DM, what was I apologizing for? Because in my group, we are all writers and we all pride ourselves on writing kick-ass women characters. How can I write a strong woman character when I, myself, I am not a strong woman in real life?

kick ass woman

Maybe not this kind of kick-ass. 

I’ve been on my own now for two months, since my husband moved out. I pay my bills with my own money (and a little help from alimony and child support). I work full-time. I’ve always paid our bills so balancing a checkbook was nothing new, I just don’t have as much money to work with. I drive a dumpy car, and it’s not lost on me I’ll have to work a car payment into my budget at some point.

But guess what? I have written characters who have also live paycheck to paycheck. That’s real life.

I have good friends. My sister lives in the same town as me. Even my soon to be ex-husband would help me out if I ever find myself in serious trouble. I’m not alone, and I don’t feel like I am. Our split was amicable, and I haven’t been this happy in a long time.

I am a strong woman even if at times I don’t feel like it. We all need love, security. We all want love, someone to protect us, have our backs. That doesn’t make us weak.

I write romance.

My characters fall in love.

They aren’t weak, either.

They’re human.