Friday, February 19, 2016

How I Came to Write Romance Novels

As I sit and write page after page of my romantic women's fiction novel I recall how I came to write romance at all. After all, I started my writing life with poetry and was barely writing any fiction at the time.

It had to be thirty years ago. I was teaching creative writing in adult education classes and had met a few writers who eventually came together in a weekly writing group. At the time I was writing poetry and short stories. I didn't even read romance novels, thinking they were too formulaic and simple. Instead I immersed myself in literary fiction writers like Margaret Atwood, Gail Godwin, Joyce Carol Oates and poets like Rod McKuen and Sylvia Plath. 

One night at a local library several romance writers were coming to speak and my little critique group decided we would go and see what it was all about. The talk was interesting and still I had a negative view of romance novels. Of course I had never read any so I held my opinion until I picked up a couple and gave them a try.

The writing was technically good, but still the stories seemed too cute, the turning points too pat, the characters too simple and sometimes inane. So I put aside the idea and returned to the psychological depth of my literary fiction.

Fast forward years later, like the past five years, and my outlook has changed.

First of all I leaned toward wanting to write romance because it seemed like such fun. And I wanted my writing to be be fun, for me as well as my readers. Besides, all the novels I had been writing contained some element of romance and I enjoyed the sparks between characters and the inherent happy endings. So I went to Barnes and Noble and perused and bought a few romance novels. I looked for writers I'd heard of and who were recommended to me and then further narrowed my search by finding romance series since that thought had entered my writer's mind.

I read series by Kristan Higgins, Susan Mallery, Brenda Novak and Robyn Carr. And what I discovered about the romance novels being written over the past ten years or so is that they have more depth, the events that occur between the hero and heroine seem more realistic and good and bad vibes occur out of backstory and fears rather than coincidence. I also found that these new romances carry a subplot that addresses deeper issues like spousal abuse, teen pregnancy and grieving. 

This has given me a renewed interest and a deep desire to write these kinds of books since I want my novels to include social issues and have some psychological meaning and yet I want the writing itself to be easily read and more commercial rather than literary.

It feels rather late in my life to be writing these books and to be just launching a novel writing career, but better late than never and I won't look back and stack up regrets when I can look forward and stack up pages, chapters, books and hopefully publications.

It's been a long journey but I have finally arrived.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Writing Success Breeds Writing Success

I was sitting in a Weight Watchers meeting one night when a member uttered this eye opening comment. "Success breeds more success." I clearly saw how it related to weight loss as each pound shed helped me believe I could lose more.

Two years later I am finally grasping how that mantra could lead to writing success. As I attempted once again to revive an old short story, and once again to start a new novel I intend to actually finish, I came upon that age old wall called writer's block. I never believed I had writer's block as I defined it as not having any idea what to write. My problem has always been having too many ideas and not being able to decide which to work on first.

My writing wall comes when just feel like all this writing, the time and the paper and ink involved will lead to nothing but file cabinets filled with half-finished or forgotten stories, novels and poems. I ask myself why bother? Why not just go out and have fun?

But then that little phrase nudged against my brain and I thought, well, I have numerous stories, essays and poems published so why not learn from them.

Personal essays have been published in a number of anthologies. Short stories and poems have been published in journals such as Persimmon Tree, Storyteller, Metro Moms and The Writer's Eye. That being the case my writing must be pretty decent. If I've published before then surely I can achieve some publication success again. I even once had a full novel manuscript requested based on my query letter. Though it wasn't accepted, it did make me feel somewhat successful. Well, at least I'd had a good story idea.

So whenever I feel like sitting at my desk writing is a waste of time, I remember that I have had moderate success as a writer. And that must mean there is more success to come. 

I have to keep going to my notebook and writing page after page of this novel until it is complete. Then I have to revise it. Then revise again and then submit.

Sooner or later that wave of success will return and I will be on my way. I cannot get discouraged. I must write on.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Short Story Writing

This is a difficult post to compose because as usual I have always waffled among many genres and that includes both writing and art. But I feel like I've had an epiphany and I need to voice it.

I've been reading Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Big Magic" and in it she talks about not "doing what you would do if you knew you could not fail" but "doing what you would do even if you knew you would fail." It strummed a chord for me. If I knew for sure I would never publish a novel I would never spend years writing one. If I knew I would never publish another poem or short story, or knew that my art would never see the light of day outside my little craft room, I would still write poems and short stories and make art. My career days are over and now it's time to spend my remaining years on what drives me creatively.

So I will continue to create art and I will continue to write poems and as for fiction my focus will be on writing flash fiction. 

I have two binders of flash stories that need to be sent out. I have ideas for several chapbooks of connected flash fiction stories. And since I have the attention span of a flea I suppose this is the right genre for me. 

My short story collection had moderate success and I've published individual stories in journals so I know I have some talent. I can build on past success by writing more and submitting more and settling into a writing practice that makes more sense for me. If I can write a rough draft in an hour, revise in another hour and then send out a story, I will feel more accomplished and successful and not constantly ruminate over unfinished work taking up space in my overcrowded writing/art room.

I know the advice is to read what you want to write, or write what you like to read. And it's true that I prefer to read novels. But writing them is not my style. My writing voice in novels seems flat while my voice in flash fiction seems to sing with more poetic flair. I will just have to intersperse novel reading with some anthologies of flash fiction and study the form a little more.

I just feel I'm onto something and I have to follow my voice toward a more prolific writing life.