Saturday, April 30, 2011

Choking Your Muse

Finding inspiration has never been a problem for me.

Okay, so feel free to snort and turn away now.

Seriously though, I am the kind of person who gets a story idea from a news item I read in the newspaper, a snatch of conversation overheard in a coffee shop, a name, a turn of phrase, a dream—pretty much anything, in fact. In my teenaged years, I realized that there were going to be far more story ideas in my life than time to write stories so I started jotting them down in my journal and keeping those ideas for the anticipated barren future, when the ideas run out—Peak Idea, I like to call it.

My problem is motivating myself to work on one of these ideas, one at a time, until completion. I love starting a story, or a novel, or a blog post, and then dreaming up a hundred different endings for them, while actually putting none down on the page. Sometimes I can spend hours over many days internally spinning out one of these endings and that, it turns out, is a surefire killer to any story (or book or blog post).

In my head, I’ve already figured out how it all turns out. I feel like I’ve already written the book. So no need to write anything more in real life, right?

Well, the problem is that the average reader is unlikely to know what’s written in my brain, much less appreciate the full intricacies of characterization and plot that I have created there. There are no prizes for such stories contained only in the writer’s head, though maybe in future…

So back to the page, or the computer screen, to churn out this idea onto the page (assuming I haven’t already thought the book completely through, thereby killing my interest in ever finishing it). The good thing is that once you’ve put something, anything, down on the page, you’re no longer staring at that dreaded…dat dat duh…blank page. Writers are born with an instinctive fear of that. I’ve even been known to recoil at a package of fresh white 20 lb paper. I still run screaming out of the occasional Staples store.

Die, blank page, die.

If you’ve put down a sentence, you’ve started to write your book. Congratulations. I know, I know, the sentence must be a grabby, hookish, kick-you-in-the-teeth-hold-you-down-and-force-you-to-read-until-the-end, kind of sentence. A hook. Captain Hook. Battle of the Hook. Okay, I will stop now.

Chances are, if you’re writing the book, you’ve already been grabbed by just such a sentence. You’ve put it down on the page. It may not be perfect. It may not be pretty. It may not hook more than a small minnow whose feeling rather sickly anyway. But it’s there. Good enough for a first draft, I say. We’ll destroy all egos and sentence structures later…that’s call editing yourself.

So you’ve got at least a sentence down when you come back to your writing. That, my friends, is called a starting point. You don’t have to stare at a blank page or screen because you have this sentence, page or more even, to start with.

Now this is important…make sure you end your previous day’s work at a promising place. If you are now looking at your own work, instead of a blank page, every morning—you must ensure that you can pick up where you left off and continue on through the day. Nothing is worse than shooting yourself in the hand and not realizing it until you wake up the next day and try to type your allotted 500, 1000 or 5000 words.

How many times have I woken up cursing yesterday’s Nan? Too many to count. In the end, all I can do is promise today’s Nan will be more sympathetic to her future self and leave off their shared book on a good (read: promising) note.

Now, a good ending from yesterday does not necessarily close off a scene or chapter. That’s nice, of course, leaving you today with a fresh start and a new page (in no way related to the dreaded blank page). Instead, it can provide you with an opening into a new scene that perhaps you didn’t have a solid grasp on the previous day. Don’t worry, your subconscious has been diligently plugging away at the scene all night and it may well be ready to tackle it today.

Or, as I like to do, you’ve left off in a place where you have a vague idea of where to go but no step-by-step directions as of yet. The next day, you may have a choice: carry on in the direction you briefly planned yesterday or embark on a brand new one. If the pages don’t work, you can always cut and paste into a junk file (I usually have a companion file for my novel entitled Title_Notes into which I throw ideas, future plot points and whole scenes which just didn’t work out).

So this is how I choke my muse every day. Poor lady. She deserves better. But she’s stuck with me.

Photo courtesy of Pixomar at

Friday, April 29, 2011

Writing Sexual Tension: Slowing Your Roll

A black tie awards ceremony.  An attractive man sees a beautiful woman across the room, one of the awards recipients.  He likes the look of her.  She spots him checking her out.  Their eyes connect and...he yawns.  Hard day at the office.  Boy, is he tired!  Maybe he should check out early and go home.  Lie in bed, watch some television, or maybe go over those figures for that early morning meeting one more time.  He's sure he saw some discrepancy...

Meanwhile, the woman is thinking about that cute little leather jacket she saw in the store window that afternoon.  Can she afford it?  Maybe if the cheque that goes with the award is big enough, she'll swing by and pick it up...


Not very interesting, is it?  Why?  Well, apart from the bad writing (which is my fault), the scenario is missing one of the biggest aspects of romantic fiction: sexual tension.  If a man and woman aren't feeling that frisson of awareness when they first glance at each other, that alert energy when they first speak, that hot shiver when their lips first meet, then neither are we as the readers.  And let's face it, that's what we all want to feel.

So how do you create sexual tension in a romance novel?

First of all, we slow things down (and not in the needle screeching over a vinyl record sense we saw above).  We savour.  We hear about that first look in detail.  Their eyes meet.  What do they feel?  What do they think?  What do they see in each other?

Tension builds as we see our characters anticipate the next step.  They don't just race across the room and start making out, they see each other, maybe they ask some of the other guests about that man or woman across the room, in the designer suit or tailored black dress.  Perhaps they rub each other the wrong way.  She thinks he's barbaric and sarcastic.  He thinks she's snobby and full of herself.  But fate keeps throwing them together.  They advance, they retreat.

Sexual tension is all about anticipation.  They notice each others' lips.  They start thinking about what it would be to kiss.  Maybe one of them has a naughty dream that seems all too real.  When they finally do kiss, time slows down to a near stop.  We read about the texture of their mouths, the rate at which their breathing speeds up, the rigidity of his arms around her back, a sigh, the slip of a tongue.  Bliss.  And it's all the more blissful for the delay.

Sex scenes can be the hardest ones to write.  When we get to that moment, we may be tempted to speed right through it.  Do the opposite.  Slow it down.  Spin it out.  Describe the details that evoke every sense: sight, smell, touch, sound, taste.  Red lips, fragrant perfume, soft tongues, softer sighs, the lingering flavour of the chocolate dessert they've just eaten at that awards ceremony.  Wait, what awards ceremony?

Photo courtesy of Carlos Porto at

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The End of the Affair

Over the years, I've written more than a dozen romance novels.  These manuscripts live in the bottom of my hard drive, coming out only once in a while or so to be re-read, re-loved, and wrapped up carefully again and put away.  They are, by default, for my eyes only.  Some of them I have tried to publish, been rejected, and tried again.  Each rejection leads to revisions, doubts, and self-flagellation.  But each rejection also makes me hug my creations closer.  My poor manuscripts.  If I don't love you, who ever will?  The answer is clearly no one.

Some of these manuscripts I have never submitted for publication.  These are truly creatures of my own midnight experiments, written long after the networks no longer air entertaining programs and most reasonable people are in bed.  I, too, should have been in bed on those nights where I was clattering away on my laptop and falling in love with my many characters.

Over the years, I have not only created more than a dozen loving couples (well, in the end they end up loving -- in the beginning of the book, they might fight like gladiators).  I've agonized over what they will do, what they will say, and, most importantly, how they will react to one another.  I've learned how they talk, walk, kiss, and make love.

But it's more than that.  I can obsess about my friends and family in that way (not that that would be at all healthy).  But my feelings for my characters go beyond mere interest, concern, curiousity or even love.

These are my creations.

I breathed life into each and every heroine, have molded each and every hero.  Given them names.  Given them their mannerisms, their laughs, their personal sense of style.

So how do I say good-bye to them?

Well, first of all, I've left my characters in a good place.  If I've done my job as a writer, all doubts and misunderstandings have been explained and swept aside.  All loose ends are tied in a tight little bow.  So, the plot is resolved.

Secondly, the characters have grown.  My plot has put them through a lot.  Their love has been tested, but even more so has their character.  The woman who never felt that she belong can find belonging in the dawning of her new life.  The man who was left bitter by betrayal can trust again.  And so on.  So the characters too have progressed to a place where they can be set free.

Lastly, and most importantly for me, the emotional rollercoaster I've put both characters and reader (singular, since it's often just me at this point) has come to an end and the paying ticketholders can exit the ride.  After running through the gamut of emotions, I can let everyone off of the hook, satisfied and cathartically released.  Because, really, isn't that what we all need -- to feel vividly alive as we read, yet knowing that we can put the book down at the end of the day and head back into our real real lives?

Now, of course, we have to put the book down and I have to press Save and store my completed file away.

Saying good-bye is like closing the book.  I suppose, literally, it is...The End.

Photo courtesy of nattavut at

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Belonging to the Popular Kids’ Club

We’ve all read the statistics: romance novels make up roughly 50% of the book market. The industry accounts for in excess of a billion dollars a year, an incredible figure! Little wonder that so many aspiring authors (myself included) want to write the next breakthrough romance novel, take home the RWA plaudits, soar up the bestseller charts, and retire on piles of cash.

So how realistic is this dream?

Well, if you’re like me, a woman, you might already be on your way. Romance novels are geared primarily for an audience of women so, not surprisingly, its authors are predominantly women. Score!

Really, it makes sense. Who else knows as intimately what women want (Mel Gibson movies notwithstanding) than other women? After all, we’re paying a lot of money to devour the books we love so it makes sense that female authors are the ones who largely profit from it. Not to mention the female editors, publishers, literary agents, etc., who keep the market hot hot hot.

Romance has grown and evolved. The powerhouses with their august history still dominate but they too have branched out beyond the traditional categories of romance into brave new realms.

In recent years, the traditional subgenres we all read and loved: the westerns, the historicals relegated to certain specific time periods, the traditional kiss-and-hug and nothing more, have given rise to paranormal, time travel, fantasy, steampunk, and a host of other areas that are as diverse as their readers.

In recent years, women of colour have been able to read romance novels about women who look and sound like them, and even speak their own language! No wonder romance still commands such a large share of the book market; it has moved and adapted in tune with the times. Now online and e-reads are rising in popularity and availability, letting more and more aspiring authors arrive on the scene.

We dominate, ladies! Long may we rule.

Photo courtesy of winnond at

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Writing Contests – Romance is Dead (Or Not)

Okay, so that title is probably sour grapes. The sourest, in fact.

Like so many other aspiring romance authors (822 in total), I entered last year’s Romance is Not Dead writing contest, part of the New Voices campaign from Mills & Boon. My entry, At the Desert King’s Pleasure, ended up in the middle of the pack, according to the user votes, and wasn’t short listed for the ultimate prize.

Here’s the link: see for yourself:

my contest entry

I was devastated.

In fact, I haven’t posted on the Harlequin/ Mills & Boon forums since, although I was active before and during the contest and received (and gave, I hope) a lot of support from my fellow writers in the community. Not a word. Not even a “J”. I was too upset. And I sincerely thought that I was done with

My problem? Aside from presumably terrible writing (or worse, mediocre writing – blech), I mean. It’s that I have an eternally optimistic disposition. I honestly believe that every query I send out, every contest entry I submit, every step I take in my writing journey, will be accepted, winning, or ultimately successful. I’ve thought about it a lot and I also believe that I have a more realistic view of my own writing. So, no, I don’t think every word I put down on the page is gold. Heaven forbid.

So, end result?

Next contest, you will find me there. Front of the line, clutching my potentially prize-winning entry in hand. I can’t say I won’t be devastated if I lose but I can tell you that I won’t be checking out for half a year afterwards. Next time, it might only take me five months to recover.

Photo courtesy of healingdream at

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hard Choices, or Making Yourself Write When You Don't Want To

Today, I have a choice.  It's the same choice I face every day, in fact.  Should I come home and do what my body and brain tell me, which is zone out in front of the television or computer and wait for bedtime to come?  Or should I force myself, against all of my natural inclinations, to get up off of the couch and do something?

I'll tell you, most of the time, inertia wins.

I've worked a long day at a job that takes some brain power, sitting in front of a screen for much of the time, giving advice, answering correspondence, and generally tiring myself out.

Don't get me wrong, I like my job!  I like it even more for the fact that, without it, I would starve.  But the love of my life is my writing.

If someone told me tomorrow that I would have the choice of doing my job or not, and I would still get paid for it, I would stop showing up to work every morning.  But if that same omnipotent person told me to write or not, and I wouldn't get paid for it either way, I would keep writing.  Actually, that's what I do.  I write.  I don't get paid.  I write some more.  I dream of getting paid (or at last garnering some attention).  I don't get paid.  Oh well.  I still write.

Someone will have to pry that pen (mouse, keyboard...whatever) from my cold dead hand.

So why would I even question giving over the few free hours I have each day to my writing?  I love it.  It gives me pleasure.  It's just who I am.  Yet, every day, I want to stay in front of the t.v.  Every day, I have to fight with myself to write.

When I force myself to write, you would think that would make writing less enjoyable.  It doesn't.

So, how do I force myself?  Here are a few of the tactics that have worked (sometimes!) for me:
    • Make it a habit - Once you start off on Monday with thirty minutes of writing, it's easy to follow that up on Tuesday and Wednesday and so on, until it becomes ingrained.  I've read that it takes anywhere from 15 to 30 repetitions to make an action into a real habit.  Treat it the way you would when you break a bad habit.  Put it in the front of your brain.  Inertia will eventually start working for you, leading your feet automatically to the study/ den and your fingers to the keyboard.  Try it.  Keep at it.  And don't get disheartened when you miss a day (or ten).  Just start over again.
    • Make it routine - Routine and habit are closely related but this is a different tactic from the one I suggested above.  The way I've broken it down is this: habit is about getting your body used to doing something, routine is about slotting the time for that habit into your life.  No time in your busy schedule, you say?  Yeah, right.  If you say you can't find the time to write, I say: do you take a bus or train in the mornings?  Write during that time.  Pull out your notebook or laptop or even your smartphone and type, type, type.  You may get in a page or a paragraph or a sentence but it's something.  If you drive to work, use your breaks, use your lunch hour.  Get into work a half hour earlier and use that time.  Your boss will think you're a superstar.  Do you watch t.v.?  Do you surf the net?  Do you twitter?  Then you have the time.  You only have to carve it out and dedicate it to your writing.
    • Set yourself a reminder - Set your phone or computer with an alarm that tells you when it's time to write.  If you're living in 1985, set your clock radio.  Put the device sounding the alarm far enough from you that you actually have to get up off the couch to turn it off.  Once you're on your feet, you will find it easier to continue on to your writing nook rather than returning to the couch.  Trust me.
    • Tell the world - Your friends and family are just as tired of hearing you whine about needing to find the time to write as you are worrying and whining about it.  Get them on your side.  Tell them what you've set out as your writing schedule and get them to help to remind and encourage you to go.  They will be happy to see you happily typing away.  And not whining as much.  I'm just saying.
These are some of the cheats that have worked for me.  You may find some of them more or less helpful but, please, try them.  Trust me, the couch could use a break.

Good luck!

Photo courtesy of luigi diamanti at

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fav 5 - My Five Favourite Writing Things


At this juncture, my preferred writing utensil (Computer # 1 or Kitchen computer as it has somehow chosen to dub itself) is the good old desktop. Sure, it sits atop a desk and requires a chair which combine to occupy a full third of my study, but the screen is large enough to see a vast swathe of any story at one fell glance and the keyboard allows for free range of movement rather than cramped little pecks with fingertips.

My netbook is beloved, a pert carry on for business and pleasure trips, but, in my book, it still qualifies as a fashion accessory rather than a real utensil. It will do for the pinched confines of a train yet my hand never reaches for it at home.


One of my hobbies is purchasing journals—you know, those funky, flashy, frilly or just simply cool ones they sell at book and stationary stores. I probably have about a dozen lying in wait for me, ready for when I finish my current tapestry-covered model.

I jot down ideas for future writing in my journals, along with names for characters and places, bits of dialogue I imagine a character yet uncreated saying or great phrases that would make good book or short story titles. Often, I have come up with a strong title first and then written the story to fit.

It typically takes me a year or more to finish a single journal. I have about a dozen completed ones, dating back to my adolescence. I love the feeling of accomplishment I get when I sign my name on the last page and tuck it into my closet to gather dust.

I don’t read my journals again. The ideas are kind of like a savings account for future days when I fear running out of ideas. Don’t worry; there’s no harm of that right now!

Technology will come and go but, for me, the sheer tactile enjoyment of a journal and pen will never be replaced.

Flash drive:

With the many computers I use everyday (from desk top to laptop to netbook to work computer) I need a quick and easy way to ease myriad versions of files from one to another. For a long time, I stuck to the old plastic contain with a floppy disk or two trapped within. Now, several flash drives later, I wonder why I was hanging onto the fragile, noisy and eternally short-on-space dinosaur when the new species had arisen to conquer all former technology.

Now, all four computers fit comfortably on my dog tag look-alike flash drive with plenty of space to spare. My back up for all of my computers is a tiny pink vault and my cute pink-ribboned black drive has now been handed down to my mother, the digital photo snapper, to discourage her from saving these masterpieces on her camera itself. Truly, technology is old and established when it has been passed up to a senior generation.


Okay, not technically a ‘writing thing’, more of a reading thing in fact, but I cannot finish up without referring to my favourite treasured bookmarks of past and present.

My first favourite bookmark was a Garfield astrological sign one about Geminis (my sign, of course). I can’t remember the exact quote but it started off with a string of complimentary adjectives and ended with “the kind of person you love…to hate”. I loved that bookmark! I used it constantly until I either lost it or tucked it away for safekeeping, ultimately from myself.

My favourite from recent memory is a row of postage stamps encased in hard plastic. I like the fact that it is only incidentally a bookmark but somehow classic than shoving an envelop or paper napkin between the pages of your book. It’s also pretty enough to please my aesthetic needs without overpowering its functionality (I am not fond of dangling ribbons or strings—worse yet, with beads attached). My favourite bookmark is small, strong and nearly indestructible, for while I am careful with my books, I am less so with other items.

Tote bag: 

Confession: I collect tote bags. They’re cheap (my most expensive was $20.00) and space saving, occupying a flat space atop a box in my closet compared to the many feet of shelf space dedicated to my handbags. They’re environmental, ready to be rolled up in a ball until needed and they’re individual, each loudly proclaiming a different view—from my musical tastes to the places I’ve been and seen.

I have a tote bag from almost every rock concert I’ve attended in the past few years (Blue Rodeo and Crowded House come to mind) and from writer’s festivals where I conveniently use them to stash my latest literary journal finds—festivals often sell packaged lots of last year’s editions at a great discount. Thrown in the mix are a few chain store versions that look pseudo-funky and I am good to go.

I take a tote bag along to each of my monthly writing group meetings since they are the perfect size to hold a big notebook, a few pages of manuscripts and a book or two to be borrowed or lent that month. I like the casualness of a tote around the shoulder rather than a handbag clutched in palm. I also like the free form nature of a tote, meant to stretch and fit rather than dictate the terms of its contents with zippered pockets and compartments. The books and pens and keys must coexist together in a milieu rather than skulk, each in its own corner. A handbag is for work and its order while a tote is for me and my own way of doing things.

Photo courtesy of Phiseksit at

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Six Foot Four and Violet Eyes

Why do we read romance novels?  For entertainment?  For an escape from reality?

Whatever makes us to it, to bottom line is that romance novels give us pleasure.  The men in the books we read (and write) do and say those strong-willed and strong-hearted acts and words that we often don't see on the bus, sitting in traffic, in our office buildings or outside in the backyard (no offense to our dear spouses and partners!).

The books we read give us men who are men, to use a tired old cliche, and women who are free and independent, spirited and adventurous -- women we want to be, let's face it, and often can't.  Sure, I can work up the courage to ask for a raise next time I feel I deserve it, and after researching the how-tos and what-fors endlessly on the internet.  Maybe I'll even get the raise (fingers crossed!).  But I don't know if I could everything I know for the love of a man.  I don't know if I could venture into an uncharted land in search of intrigue and end up in a stranger's bed.  I don't really think I want to find out.  But the books we read let us do that.

We can see the exception to our workaday rules in the romance novels we love, where every man:
    • is at least six feet tall (and often taller);
    • is handsome (runners up: craggy, "vital" or rugged);
    • has muscles; and
    • carries about him an "air of" sophistication, power or raw sexual energy.
The women we imagine ourselves to be are just as fantastic.  These heroines are:
    • young;
    • beautiful;
    • plucky;
    • violet-eyed (runners up: turquoise, azure, emerald etc.); and, invariably
    • trim, slender, or voluptuous (but never as a euphemism for chubby).
We get older.  Our violet eyes fade.  But our heroines are eternally young and lovely.  Entertainment?  Escapism?  How about just pure pleasure?

Photo courtesy of Jomphong at

Friday, April 22, 2011

Every Day I Write the Book - Before You Start Writing

This is the conceit of this series of posts, and I beg of you to bear with me: I write with a strong “I” (even the title of the series, Every Day I Write the Book includes an “I”) yet I am writing to “you” and titling my posts accordingly. Make no mistake about it, I am attempting, in my own poor way, to share how I write, and I am not trying to tell you how to write. I can only hope that, in sharing my tips and strategies, I can in some way provide a little worthwhile, useful or strictly entertaining information to you. Enjoy.

I am fortunate. Always, I feel as if I have a hundred more ideas floating around in my skull than I can possibly put down on paper (or screen). This means I don’t usually have to struggle to find ideas for stories or books but I do have to recognize which ideas are grand enough and worthy enough to spend time on trying to recreate outside of my head and which should simply be jotted down in my journal and laid to—perhaps permanent—rest.

In a perfect world, I would be able to find the time (and energy) to pursue all of my ideas. However, the limiting factors are many.

I have only a finite amount of time and enough ideas to keep me scribbling twenty-four hours a day without working at my day job, sleeping, eating or seeing my family and friends. Let’s even leave out the other activities that add depth and interest to my days, like reading, listening to music, surfing, exercising and watching TV. At the end of the day, I may have an hour or two to devote to writing, usually by giving up one of the last category of “lifestyle” activities. Even so, I end up writing several different stories and novels at the same time.

So why do I pick those one or two specific stories to write that day, out of a possible thousand?

The grand ideas are usually the most persistent. When I put them aside, they come back up to the surface of my mind with staggering persistence. I once left a story treading water for years before I put it down on paper. The wait was well worth it. The story had gained strength and agility by swimming around in my head for so long a time, until it emerged full formed and ready to take foot on land.

Rather than running with every idea that pops into my head, I wait for these stories. I know they will be worth it.

Photo courtesy of nuttakit at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book by the Cover

I'm a big fan of vintage romance novels circa the 1950s and 60s.  I hunt for them in secondhand bookstores, in the past travelling many miles to do so.


Because they are so sweet and stereotypical, yet include a great deal of variety in terms of style and scope.  Many of the vintage titles in my collection are set in Africa or South America back when it wasn't possible to check for the best airline prices online.  They were innocent yet adventurous, just like the heroines who star in them, often the younger sibling or relative of a pioneering Englishman living abroad.

Just as the heroines are invariably young (very young, compared to contemporary titles -- often barely out of adolescence), the heroes are usually older sophisticated men of the world.  They are the manliest of the species when the species was considerably hardier.

But, really, what drew me to these books in the first place were the covers.  Or, to be more precise, the cover art.

Illustrated covers have always captured my imagination. A photograph, while lovely, can only show you the faces of the models who pose for them (Fabio overdose, anyone?). But a drawing done by hand is evocative.  I can fill in the story between the pencil lines, adding my own touch in my imagination. Plus, those vintage drawings are absolutely adorable. The nearly cartoonish quality to some of them remind me of well done anime, except more realistic. Or maybe they just remind me of my childhood dolls, with their clear waxen features and smirking semi-smiles.

Whatever this elusive allure is, it is borne out of nostalgia -- for an innocent time I lived through and an innocent age I didn't get to experience.

Photo courtesy of nuttakit at

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What Does a Good Romance Heroine Look Like?

Let's start with the looks.  Come on, let's be fair, it's often where the men start, isn't it?

But, truthfully, there is little room in traditional romance novels for the plain Janes (unless she transforms into a swan somewhere along the way, often with the hero's help), for the bookish types, the nerds, the geeks.  I'm all four of those (and all for them, of course).  So little wonder that I write romance novels, rather than star in them.


So, first point, a heroine must be beautiful.

She must be slender or average-sized with curves.  She can be a little chubby if it comes with extra curves.  She cannot be overweight.

Yeah, I know.

Their rules, not mine.

She can be blonde or brunette or redheaded.  There are a lot of redheads running around the pages of romance novels, statistically many more than exist in nature.  So what?  Romance novels are for dreamers so if your feisty heroine acts like a grown up version of Anne of Green Gables, why not make her hair auburn or Titian?

Now, a decent heroine must have eyes of azure, emerald, silver, or (more rarely) deepest sloe.  Common enough hues such as medium-brown or bluish-gray are out.  Colours must be singular.  The eyes themselves may be rounded or slanted or almond but they are usually quite large.  No one wants to read about a heroine with a squint.

Facial features should be clear and regular.  Very important: neither nose nor chin nor aforementioned eyes must protrude.

Likewise, with height, she can also be any of: tall and slender, short but determined, or average.  When in doubt, always stick with average.  It varies from country to country but you can be safe in most Western countries using 5'2" to 5'4".

Remember: your heroine's description shouldn't read like a police report.  No scars, no piercings, no tattoos.  No distinguishing marks of any kind.  A proper heroine should be recognizable by her violet eyes alone.

Okay, so we started with the looks.  Shall we end with them too?


Okay, a solid romance heroine must also be spirited, smart (but not too smart), sassy (or secretly yearning to be so), courageous and virginal.

Virginal?  Really, still?  Yes.


Yes.  Just deal with it.

Photo courtesy of m_bartosch at

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Books that Stick in your Head

What kind of novels stick in your head long after you've turned the last page?

For me, I don't necessarily care how innovative a book is (although, that can often catch me as I'm browsing the aisles of my favourite bargain bookstore).  Sure, I like the aliens living among us or the well done apocalyptic tale as much as the next person, but I also like the tried-and-true done right.  That is, maybe with a little bit of a twist somewhere in the plot or a few strange new characters never before encountered (one of my favourite quirky books contains a bad Elvis impersonator and a pair of Siamese twins).

But I'm a fan of genres that tend to stay largely on the safe side: romance, both contemporary and historical, with a side order of mystery/thrillers.  So what makes a romance novel stand out to me as a reader?  Well, it's exactly what I strive to accomplish every day in my writing:
  • vivid characters
  • clear, crisp prose
  • minimal but compelling detail
  • a bit of foreshadowing but not enough to ruin the story
Of course, these are broad strokes and subject to exceptions.

Sometimes characters are flat because they don't have to be fleshed out in detail to push the story along, although the main characters (hero and heroine) have to be "real" in every sense.  I want to know how they dress, how they talk, even what they like to eat.  I want to live in their world for a while, after all, so I need to know what that world looks, sounds, and tastes like.

Same with the writing (both prose and the amount of detail).  Clear and crisp is my preferred style but sometimes it's wonderful to luxuriate in pages of adjectives, like snuggling into a sun-warmed quilt that's been hanging out in the summer sun all day.  Or something like that.

Lastly, like a good mystery novel, I want to look back and know why things turned out as they did at the end of the book.  Put another way, I want to follow the clues.

I don't want to read about a heartless hero who gives the heroine every reason to slap him full across the face ends up being a big old softie underneath, after he's kicked the dog and his grandmother down the stairs a few times.  I want the signs of his softness peeking through at odd times in the book, and I don't want to read about him doing something that leaves such a bad taste in my mouth that I'm not rooting for him in the end.

Maybe I'm a softie too, because I want to leave a book with a good taste in my mouth.  A little sweetness, perhaps.  Knowing that the world is alright again and everything is as it should be.

Photo courtesy of Matt Banks at

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Few Minutes with Nan

My first blog post.  Wow, finally Nan jumps into the 2000s!  Too bad it's now the 2010s.

Oh well, better late than never, I suppose.

First, a little about me:  I'm a thirty-two (soon to be thirty-three) year old unpublished romance writer.  I'm hoping that this is the year when that all changes but I won't be holding my breath either.  If it happens this year, great!  If not...there's always next year.  And the year after that.  And the one after that.  Hey, I'm nothing if not patient.

Why am I so patient?  Well, I've been reading and writing romance novels pretty much all of my life.  My mom actually read a ton of Mills & Boons [British based romance publishing house] while she was pregnant with me so I guess "my romance with romance" started even before I was born!  Romance is in my blood so I will keep reading and writing it as long as I life, whether or not I actually land an agent or get a single word published.

I spent much of my tweens and teens sneaking a peak at these books and when I got my first real job, I spent most of my salary on the newest titles.  Ah, the awesome power of Johanna Lindsey and Charlotte Lamb, and to mention Janet Dailey, Catherine Coulter, Emma Darcy...the list goes on.

I was a shy bookish teenager and I wanted to live in those exciting books.  Eventually, I wanted to write like my favourite authors.  I can't copy a Lindsey or a Lamb but I did end up writing around a dozen manuscripts, all of which have languished in my underwear drawer (actually, my old obsolete laptop).

Is it time to bring these creations out into the light of day?

Here's hoping!