Category Archives: Writing

Comments about the writing process.

CAN AN OLD DOG LEARN NEW TRICKS?

Or to be more specific, can someone who has been doing something in one way for a very long time learn to do the same thing a different way?

qThis is a question that looms before me as I embark on a mission to learn Scrivener. I’m starting a class in how to use this program in a couple of weeks. The author who wrote “Scrivener for Dummies” is teaching the class, so she sounds like the perfect teacher for someone like me.

I bought Scrivener months ago. I didn’t even take the “30-day free trial” offer. I was so confident I could use it I just bought it. Because I had more pressing things going on, I let its icon sit on my desktop for a couple of months before I opened it. I’m not an expert at the computer, but I’m reasonably savvy. After an hour with Scrivener, I was ready to pull out my thinning hair.

Since then, I’ve gone back to it. Even tried to fit my WIP (THE CATTLEMAN) into it, but haven’t advanced one iota. So it’s time for a class.

For those of you who have never heard of Scrivener, it’s writing software designed to replace or enhance Microsoft Word. For novelists and screenwriters, it’s supposedly more intuitive and more organized, with authors in mind, than Word.

And why am I trying to do this? Because I want to be faster and more efficient in my writing. I need to be turning out more than one book a year.

I wrote my first book, THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, as a pantster. A pantster is someone who writes organically. Stream of consciousness. Whatever pops into one’s head goes on the page. But being a pantster wastes a lot of time as you can probably imagine. You write stuff, then throw it out and replace it with something new. I don’t know about others, but by that method, I’ve ended up with stories that didn’t resemble the ones I had imagined in the first place.

After I became published by two of the Big Six publishing houses under two different pseudonyms, I no longer had the luxury of being a pantster. Time became precious. I *had* to become an outliner and a planner because I had to present new stories for the editor to consider before she would renew a contract and I had to meet deadlines. Consequently, over time, I developed a clumsy way of outlining in Word and in Excel. And that’s how I’ve written the last few books, with not much time for a story to “gel” in my mind.

But now I want to try something I hope will be better. So here I go into yet another class. <sigh> I’ve taken so many. :-/

“And speaking of THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, it will soon be available in print from Amazon.AnnaJeffrey_TheLoveofaCowboy_200px Hopefully before the end of the month.Amazon has a new feature for authors to offer those who want to hold a printed book in their hands. If you buy the printed edition, you can buy the same book in e-book format for a reduced price. Of course, the author has to opt for this feature. I’ve added this to the books I’ve got in print, THE LOVE OF A LAWMAN and SWEET RETURN. And I will soon be adding it to THE TYCOON.”

Meanwhile, wish me luck as this old dog sets out to learn a new trick.

6 Comments

Filed under Writing

HECTIC, HECTIC, HECTIC…

AND AN EXCERPT…

Hectic week. Up to my neck in writing. Don’t even have time for opinions.

I’m trying so hard to get THE TYCOON ready to market. I did find some beta readers, but I still haven’t settled on a copyeditor. As it turns out, that appears to be the most expensive part of this e-book project. When I start to get it put into print, I expect that, too, to be expensive.

But I do have the cover! So I have to claim progress. Since I discovered the awesome Kim Killion, the covers have become the easiest part of this.

Here’s an excerpt from the heroine’s first encounter with the hero:

“Her family’s bucks aren’t a temptation to a high-roller like Drake. He’s a lone wolf. And if she hasn’t figured that out, she’s dumber than I think.”

Lone wolf. High-roller. The words stuck in Shannon’s mind as if they had been thumb-tacked. If they were true, the guy was even more dangerous than she had first thought and that idea sent another potent surge through her. “How is it you know him so well?”

“I just do.”

As Shannon puzzled over that non-answer, the beautiful couple and the short man were joined by a slender middle-aged woman. She, too, was tall, with silver shoulder-length hair and draped in silver lame that fell to the tops of silver cowboy boots. She wore chunky Southwest style jewelry. Boots and turquoise were not choices Shannon would have worn with that particular dress, but the look had an old-world panache and screamed I’m-from-Texas-and-proud-of-it.

“And there’s his mommy,” Jordan said snidely. “He’s a mama’s boy.”

Shannon gave Jordan a look. “You really don’t like him, do you?”

“Like I said. He’s an asshole.”

The silver-haired woman and the blonde moved away together, but Drake continued in conversation with the shorter man, seemingly unaware that half the women in the room must surely be drooling over him. Then, he raised his head and for absolutely no reason, turned Shannon’s way. His eyes locked on her for the briefest moment and her heartbeat stuttered. His gaze moved over her and though the whole thing happened in a matter of seconds, Shannon felt as if she had been undressed and thoroughly examined and her whole body grew warm. She turned quickly toward a server and exchanged her empty champagne glass for a full one.

Besides THE TYCOON, I’m starting work on formatting THE LOVE OF A LAWMAN. (This is the original print cover.) I’m getting more proficient at this, so hopefully, I’ll be able to do it a little faster. LAWMAN first came out in print in 2005. I can’t believe it was that long ago. How time flies when you’re having fun.

I say that, but then I get a couple of readers posting on Amazon about all of the mistakes in THE LOVE OF A STRANGER. So I’m also going back through *that* book to see what went wrong there.

Mistakes are very bad. I hate them. I dislike them enough in books I read by other authors, but I absolutely abhor them in books I write myself. <huge sigh>

I offered THE LOVE OF A STRANGER free in the Kindle Book Store a couple of weeks ago. Had very good results, IMHO, and a lot of downloads. It climbed to #3 on the Top 100 Free Books in the Kindle store. Hopefully, Anna Jeffrey found some new readers.

Last, I just want to say that I know you probably grow weary of my comments about writing and what I’m doing with it, but now that I’m my own promoter, I can’t let it slide. Just have to keep blatting about what I’m doing.

I wish I had the time to post on other authors’ blogs, but I just don’t.  So far, the only one I post on is THE NAKED HERO the 2nd Tuesday of every month. In April, I posted about heroes to laugh at, who were Buddy Overstreet and Vic Martin from the Dixie Cash books. What’s not to like about those two guys? Tall, dark and handsome and tall, bald and tough. LOL

And speaking of Dixie Cash, my sister and I are underway with the next Dixie Cash book. No official title yet, but when I took the poll on this blog, the title most people seemed to like was “You Can Have My Heart, but Don’t Touch the Dog.”  …..  It’s already emerging as a very funny story.

Oh, and one more thing. I’ll be offering THE LOVE OF A STRANGER free again in the Kindle store on May 14th and 15th. The link will take you to the page. Hopefully, by then, I will have found the errors and fixed them. So if you would like to read STRANGER, there’s an opportunity to get it free for your Kindle or your computer.  …..  If you have an iPad, an iPod or an iPhone and have the Amazon app downloaded, you can get it there, too.

2 Comments

Filed under Books and Publishing, Writing

AN EXCERPT

My sister and I are pounding away on the next DixieCash epic. We’re up to Chapter 5.

Midland, Texas, where most of the story takes place

One of the main characters in the books is a dog named Wafflle.

And here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 1

The last thing Trudy Coffman wanted on a blistering July day was a trashy alley. As a specialty pet food merchant and the owner of the only pet food bakery in Midland, Texas, she insisted that the area around her shop’s back door be kept neat and clean. LaBarkery did not need an open invitation to bugs and vermin. Trudy had been known to rent a high-pressure hose and blast the alley.

Recently, to her everlasting consternation, the City had placed a Dumpster almost directly behind her back door. The other shop owners up and down strip mall claimed to feel the same about the alley, including the owners of the mom and pop burger joint two doors away. But so far, they hadn’t contributed much physical effort to keeping the Dumpster area clean. As far as Trudy could tell, they hadn’t even reminded their teenage employees who closed at night and took out their garbage to have a care whether they hit the Dumpster.

So after she finished her lunch, she gathered her trash and stepped out into the sunlit alley to dispose of it. To her horror, the area around the Dumpster looked as if a garbage bomb had exploded. Trash cans were upended, including hers. Debris lay everywhere. She knew that unfortunately, she had no choice but to pick all of it up. Besides her personal stake in keeping the alley clean, her neighboring tenants had come to depend on her as the “alley policeman.”

Her shoulders sagged. The temperature hovered around a hundred. “Oh, hell,” she mumbled.

She recognized some of the refuse as coming from her own shop, but sure enough, most of

it had come from the burger joint. On a sigh and a grumble, she righted the garbage cans, placed her plastic bag of trash inside one, then bent and began to pick up the surrounding litter.

Just as she reached for a sack of discarded French fries, a large scruffy dog came from behind the Dumpster and began to wolf down everything in sight. Common sense told her to give a stray dog a wide berth, but he was so thin his sides were sunken and her heart went out to him. Among the things she had never been able to ignore was an animal in need. And for proof, she had two rescue cats, two dogs, an opinionated parrot, two hens and a one-eyed rooster at home.

As she replaced the lid on the trash can, she said to the stray, “Hey, sweetheart, are you friendly?”

The dog looked up at her with soulful brown eyes and wagged its tail, but kept its distance, as if it feared a blow or some other cruel response. From the looks of it, it had been on the street a long time.

She felt a stab in her heart. “Awww, don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you.”

A soft voice seemed to work. The dog inched toward her. Wagging its tail more, it began to dance around. Trudy noticed it was male. She didn’t know when she had seen an animal so starved since a weekend trip to Juarez with her friends. Down there, mongrels ran free, but they were timid and scared, slinking around with their tails tucked between their legs.

The dog wore a collar, so he had belonged to someone. She saw no tags. Unfortunately, now he had fallen on hard times and was getting by the best he could. A heaviness filled her chest. She related all too closely. Been there, done that. Not that long ago, she, too, had belonged to someone, then been abandoned.

Sand storm that passed over Midland, Texas, Fe...

Sand storm that passed over Midland, Texas, February 20, 1894 at 6:00 p.m. Windmills and houses visible just below the whirling sand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6 Comments

Filed under Books and Reading, Writing

BOOKS AND EXCUSES

I now have the cover for THE TYCOON. And it’s gorgeous.

I’ve already posted the blurb and the trilogy arc a few weeks back. I don’t know when I will get this uploaded. I was hoping for March, but now it might be May. This is taking me so much more time than I originally thought.

I’ve also finished and uploaded THE LOVE OF A COWBOY to Kindle and to Barnes & Noble. This book has been on a journey. I thought I would never get the copyright back. I’m so happy to now have it available again.

The  cover for it is gorgeous, too. The cover designer’s name is Kim Killion. And she’s awesome.

Work on these two projects, as well as some more personal demands on my time, is what has kept me from blogging for the past couple of weeks. There’s just so much to do. I’m trying to figure out how I can give up my day job so I can spend all of my time writing new books and marketing the old ones.

Also, my sister and I are hard at work on a new Dixie Cash epic. We’re up to Chapter 5. Here are some title ideas we’re kicking around. Let me know if you like any of these. Or if you have some ideas of your own, throw those out there, too. Bear in mind a dog and a loud-mouthed parrot will play prominent roles in this story.

1.  “Paws for Love (instead of Pause)”

2.  “You Can Have My Heart, but Don’t Touch My Dog”

3.  “My Heart is Yours, but the Dog is Mine”

4.  “Milk Bone Triangle”

5.  “The Bride Was a Beauty, but the Best Man was a Dog”

6.  “Canine Cupid”

7.  “Canine Custody”

Thinking of titles for these books has always been fun. In the New York publishing houses, selection of titles is done by committee. So please be our “Committee” and help us select a title.

Some of you might have noticed the book movie in the upper right hand corner of this blog has disappeared. The site where I designed it went offline and I haven’t yet mastered another method of putting up the covers. Another time-consuming task. New movie coming soon.

Hang in there with me, folks. Sooner or later I’ll get it together.

20 Comments

Filed under Writing

WORK ON THE BOOK GOES ON…

Work on the first book of my new trilogy continues. Everything takes so much longer than I thought it would. So many more authors are self-publishing now, which slows down the process. But that’s good that aspiring authors who have been shackled or shunned by traditional publishing are finding an outlet.

I now have a title and have ordered the cover. That’s going to take several weeks. Not too long ago, it took a few days or a week. I don’t know yet how long copyediting will take.

At this moment, I’m planning an e-book release, followed by a POD release through Amazon. The title I’ve landed on for the trilogy is SONS OF TEXAS. And the title for the first book is THE TYCOON. The second book will be called THE COWBOY and the third will be called THE HORSEMAN. The setting is Fort Worth and rural Texas.

The book titles are fairly self-explanatory, but here’s the trilogy arc:

“The three grown children of an old wealthy but dysfunctional Texas ranching family find love in unexpected places in spite of their quarreling parents. Crisis and near tragedy ultimately reunite the parents who have been the root of the family’s breakdown and harmony that has been missing for many years returns to the Double Barrel Ranch.”

The flag of Fort Worth, Texas currently in use...

And here’s the blurb for THE TYCOON:

“When successful, wealthy Fort Worth businessman, DRAKE LOCKHART, encounters a beautiful redhead at a fancy charity ball, the last thing he expects is a tryst he can’t forget with a woman who disappears. With her continuing to haunt him, he’s driven to search for her. Once he finds her and persuades her to spend time with him, he recognizes that his bachelor days are over. But she has no trust in love or in him and erects barriers between them. Just when he thinks he’s winning her over, without his knowledge, an associate in his powerful company goes head to head with her in a business deal involving real estate she desperately wants. Restoring her faith in him is a challenge Drake must face and win if he’s ever to be happy.

Presented with the opportunity to spend time with one of the most successful businessmen in Fort Worth and one of Texas Monthly’s most eligible bachelors, SHANNON PIPER, smart, successful real estate broker in the small town of Camden, Texas, cannot deny her wilder side. Falling in love with a man she doesn’t trust isn’t on her agenda, yet she can’t ignore his attention or her own attraction to him. Her solution is to confine their relationship to “just sex.” After he claims to love her, his treachery in a business deal proves her original fears well-founded. She can’t easily be convinced she can ever trust him. Her unexpected pregnancy forces both of them to stop playing games and embrace their true feelings.”

English: Actor Hugh Jackman at the 83rd Academ...

Drake

As always, Hugh Jackman is my mental image for Drake, but I haven’t yet found one for Shannon. Sometimes I think of Julia Roberts, but with green eyes. Suffice to say Shannon’s beautiful and smart because all of my heroines are beautiful and smart. This book will be a typical steamy Anna Jeffrey drama. 🙂

English: Julia Roberts attending the premiere ...

Shannon

I had hoped to get it out the door by the end of February, but that isn’t going to happen. So now I’m pushing for the end of March. <sigh> I’m nothing if not flexible.

I welcome your comments.

14 Comments

Filed under Books and Publishing, Writing

DIXIE CASH, ER… RIDES AGAIN…

The saga continues. After a lot of angst and hand-wringing, Dixie Cash is going to attempt a comeback.

Here’s a little history. When the marketing department at our publisher, Avon, (an offshoot of Harper-Collins) decided that the public was no longer interested in Debbie Sue Overstreet and Edwina Perkins-Martin, my sister and I more-or-less threw in the towel. The books were getting harder and harder to write anyway and as long as they were being marketed as they were, they really didn’t have a chance to reach their true audience. They were getting to be an exercise in futility.

Our editor at Avon wanted us to come up with new characters and take Dixie Cash in a new direction. We made a stab at that, but after seven books, we were sort of  wedded to Debbie Sue and Ed and their zaniness. After all, we knew them better than we knew our kids.

Our agent believed Debbie Sue and Edwina were not dead. She wanted us to take them to a new publishing house, but at the time, my sister was changing jobs (her *real* job) and neither of our heads was in the right place to give it our all. Still, we made a stab at that, too. We came up with a couple of ideas we thought were good ones, but our agent believed they weren’t “strong “enough.

Through that whole process, I’m asking myself, what was so *strong* about the books we had already written? “Strong” is one of those words you hear bandied about by the New York crowd a lot. I never have known exactly what it means. “Funny” seemed like the word we should have been looking for, since laughter was what we had always wanted.

We have always believed the books should have been marketed at mass market paperbacks, as SINCE YOU’RE LEAVING ANYWAY, TAKE OUT THE TRASH was. TRASH hit the USA Today list and stayed on Walmart’s shelves for a month. And here’s an irony for you. At about the time we were going into contract on a second book, I attended a writers’ conference and sat in a lecture given by a well-known and highly respected New York agent who talked about what a mistake it is to take an author into hardback before a broad fan base had been established.

So what happened? A couple of weeks later, lo and behold, Avon decided to publish MY HEART MAY BE BROKEN, BUT MY HAIR STILL LOOKS GREAT and I GAVE YOU MY HEART, BUT YOU SOLD IT ONLINE, in hardback. My sister and I squalled like mashed cats. We whined to our agent , but she was giddy from the dollar signs swimming in her head. The books went on the market at somewhere around $25. What my sister and I wanted and hoped for were mass market paperbacks in the neighborhood of $5. Volume, you see.

But it was not to be. It goes without saying, the sales on the 2 hardbacks tanked. Avon came out a year later with the same 2 books in trade paperback, but it was too late. The bloom was off the rose.

Unfortunately, Avon didn’t, and still doesn’t,  really have a paperback line in which the Dixie books fit. Avon is, after all, a romance house and the Dixie books aren’t romances. Avon tried to market them in trade paperback as Southern humor, which they love for some reason. But they don’t fit that category either.  And the trade paperback books still had to be sold for $15.

For the most part, the only place they were for sale was in book stores. I don’t know about you, but I know very few people who travel to book stores to buy books. The people I know buy them where they can get them the cheapest, which isn’t book stores. So the Dixie books in trade paperback never did show up regularly in a venue where the largest number of people could even see them, much less buy them. Occasionally, one would show up in Sam’s or Costco or even Target, but that wasn’t a regular thing. They *never* showed up in Walmart stores or in grocery stores. Consequently, the marketing department determined readers must be tired of Debbie Sue and Ed.

I’ve written before about what happens when you sell a book in New York. It can be like finding a pot of gold, i.e., Harry Potter or he “Twilight” series. Or it can be like slipping and falling into a water slide head first.

For a struggling  author, you see, unless you’re Nora Roberts or John Grisham, every day brings a surprise if not a shock. One of the surprises came in the form of a lengthy conference call with a Hollywood producer who pitched a sit-com idea to one of the networks, using Debbie Sue and Edwina as characters. We crossed our fingers on that one, but it was a huge long shot. Beyond that, Avon flew Pam and me all over the South, to book signings, book fairs and festivals, which only went to show that those events don’t do much for sales in the final analysis. We did entertain a lot of people and we had a lot of fun.

So now we’re at it again. Pam and I decided to go ahead and write one of the stories we proposed that our agent rejected. And we’re going to self-publish it. We *do* believe it’s *strong.* It doesn’t have a name yet, but we’ve started. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Because this time, we’re on our own. And if we screw it up, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. Yikes!

68 Comments

Filed under Books and Publishing, Writing

ON TO TITLES (bugle blaring in the background)…

Last week, I closed by saying we would talk about titles and how they come to be. So I’m simply going to describe my own experience. I’m not speaking for anyone else. I’m sure every author has a different experience.

“What’s in a name,” we ask. Well, if you’re writing books or songs, the answer is, “A lot.”

I always stick some kind of name on whatever I’m writing. But that doesn’t mean that’s what I will finally call it. But you have to have a way to identify the file, if nothing else.

I sold my first book in a 3-book contract. I had titled it “For the Love of a Cowboy.” I had this notion that the title should perhaps reflect something about the book. Since the book was Dahlia’s story (the heroine), I wanted it to say what she did because she fell in love with a cowboy.

Well, it took only about 30 seconds for the editor to inform me that for marketing reasons, they had changed the title to THE LOVE OF A COWBOY. I did not know at the time that the marketing department has almost as much sway as the editors.   …..  Granted, they hadn’t changed it much.  So, I said, “Fine.” Because I didn’t really care what they called it.  …..  Nobody in publishing tells you much. You sort of have to ferret out information on your own or learn it by accident. So it took me 3 books to learn that most of what happens with books is decided by committee, of which the marketing department is a large part.

I titled my next book “Out of Ashes.” The story had a fatal fire in it, which played into my thoughts at the time. But I also thought about Doug and Alex, the hero and heroine building a relationship out of the ashes of their troubled lives. Melodramatic, huh?  …..  I did not know at the time that a book about Saddam Hussein had the same title.  😦  …..  Although, thinking back, I don’t know if that would have mattered.

At that point, I had a new editor who didn’t like the story or the characters and who was a bit more heavy-handed than the editor who bought me originally. She and my agent got together and renamed the book, THE LOVE OF A STRANGER. Again, I didn’t care. But I learned something.

I didn’t even put a title on the 3rd book. I just called it Book #3 and waited for them to name it. And they did. They called it THE LOVE OF A LAWMAN.

In the end, all 3 of the books were appropriately named, I thought, though they were not titles I chose. All 3 of the stories are set in the same small town in Idaho, and the play on the phrase, “The Love of,” seemed like a good marketing idea.

My next experience was with SWEET WATER. My title for that book was “The Mayor of Agua Dulce.” The book is set in the West Texas desert and a well for drinking water was an important item. Marisa (the heroine) is the de facto mayor and agua dulce is Spanish for “sweet water.” The marketing department thought the title was too long and too many people wouldn’t know what it meant, so they changed it….I liked *my* title, but again, I just moved on.

I had absolutely no idea what to call what finally became SALVATION, TEXAS, but I knew they would come up with something. Imagine my surprise when they decided to call the book the name of the town in the book.

When SWEET RETURN rolled around, my editor was about to leave on her 2nd maternity leave and just wanted to get a title on the book. She asked me for some ideas (shock) and I sent a long list. They decided on one that wasn’t even on my list. I think they took it from a sentence toward the end of the book. I protested slightly because of already having a book out called SWEET WATER and I even whined to my agent. But the editor said, “Look, do you really want to wait a week or two for a title and have my assistant go through another meeting on this?”  ….   I didn’t, so I acquiesced.

With LONE STAR WOMAN, I was hoping for the title to say “Texas” loud and clear. I asked for that and they worked with it. It was the 1st of what was supposed to be a 3-book series, all set in the same small town in the Texas Panhandle. MAN OF THE WEST followed, which seemed logical, although that’s also the title of an old Gary Cooper western movie. But hey, I could be in worse company than Gary Cooper. 🙂

Those 2 books were written as Sadie Callahan, which is another long, boring publishing story. I’ve got the rights back now to “Lone Star Woman.” Suffice to say, this book will be re-issued by me as an ANNA JEFFREY book.

The same applies to “Man of the West,” although I don’t know when, if ever, I will get the copyright back. If and when that happens, I will probably re-write the ending, as a lot of readers have hated the ending. I wasn’t fond of it myself, but I ran out of time and space.

Obviously, the 3rd book, Cable’s story, never got written and I have no idea what the title would be. I might write it yet and self-publish it. Then I’ll have to start the title search all over again.

So that’s how it works with titles. I don’t know if everyone in the publishing house committee gets to vote on it or what. But since an author no longer owns the book once it’s sold to a publisher, it’s purely a courtesy if an editor uses a title an author wants or likes. My sister had a great title idea for a Dixie Cash book, we thought, but it was completely ignored for several books and never did see the light of day.

Is it any wonder that indie authors are enjoying this new-found independence?

Although book content is copyrighted, the titles are not. Nor are the titles to songs. That’s why you see titles repeated. If one sold particularly well, then the publishers have no qualms about using it over and over again, whether it relates to the story or not. It’s all about sales and money, you see.

Now, for the first time, I’m dithering over the title to my new series and it’s going to be solely my decision. I’ve had a dozen ideas float through my head, all of which I’ve rejected up to now. Maybe I need that committee.

So far, I’m settled on  THE LOCKHARTS OF TEXAS – DRAKE  for Book #1. Sort of like Linda Lael Miller has named her McKettrick and Creed series. But by the time I’m ready to publish it, I might come up with something I like better.

It’s one of my typical Anna Jeffrey mainstream angsty romances. Sort of. But I’m trying to make it a little meatier. You recall the TV show, Dallas? It has that flavor. Big, old, rich, Texas dysfunctional family and their trials and tribulations.

If you have any title ideas, folks, by all means, throw them out there. I consider *everything.*  ….. In fact, I believe one of you gave me the name of this blog.  🙂  And I thank you.

13 Comments

Filed under Books and Publishing, Writing

Heroes…and Recipes

Hello, readers.

You’re probably wondering what heroes and recipes have in common. The answer is nothing. But last week, I promised to give a report on Gooey Butter Cake. I made it. And I’m disappointed to say that what I bought at the grocery store was better than what I made. So if I make it again, I’ll tweak it a little.

Gooey Butter Cake

And that brings me to the subject of today’s post, which actually does require a recipe of sorts–Building fictional romance novel heroes. Since all of you know me as a redneck, you won’t be surprised to learn one of my favorite songs is a Willie Nelson tune, “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.”

All of my books aren’t about cowboys, but some of them are. There are those readers who probably don’t like the alpha guys I write about. Although I’ll never understand why not. <wicked grin>

I’ve written and commented here and there about building romance heroes several times before and not much has changed in that regard since I first started writing. I might have learned a few new things, but building that heroic guy is still a daunting challenge. He is, after all, the most important character in a romance novel.

To begin with, the hero must be heroic, or perceived to be heroic by you, fellow readers. Some heroes start out as bad boys or jerks. But they have kind hearts and wounded souls. Flawed heroes saved from themselves by the love of a good woman are the best kind. Even in novels starring kick-ass heroines, I’m sure you agree that the hero must be strong and heroic.

Do you ever wonder where authors begin in the creation of this universally appealing dream man? It’s more clinical than you might imagine. A dozen books have been written on how to write a romance hero. Every other writers’ conference will have a workshop on “hero building.” For authors, there is plenty of how-to information out there.

Myself, I start with a fundamentally *good* guy, one who helps old ladies (like me) across the street and is kind to animals. I give him strong principles that are at the core of who he is and the personal courage to stand by them. He’s comfortable in his own skin. (And how many times have you seen *that* written in a romance novel?) At the beginning of the story, he’s confident and happy with the status quo, only to become miserable after he meets the heroine. Can we say melodrama?

Need I say that work on this characterization causes me hours of study?

The Ultimate Romance Novel and Its Hero

As you know, all of my guys are alphas, but that is not to say that a beta male can’t be  heroic. Alpha or beta, insensitive or sensitive, is not important. What matters is that the writing is clear and concise enough for you readers to spot the qualities that make that man likeable. And ultimately loveable.

In my book, SWEET RETURN, Dalton Parker is a good example. Having a “bad boy” in mind, I started out by making him good-looking (If you’ve read my books, you know that all of my heroes are good-looking). He’s physically-able and smart. He’s a sophisticated world traveler and successful in his chosen career, but he’s a cynical lone wolf who has disdain for polite society. He’s a blue-ribbon womanizer, loves sex and is a great lover, but doesn’t like women. He is one arrogant dude.

After I gave him all of those stunning characteristics, I knew I had to make him redeemable. So beneath his crusty exterior, I gave him a soft heart and made him an instinctive “protector” of those weaker than he. I gave him a wounded soul from having grown up with an abusive step-father and a mother who loved him, but didn’t have the courage to defend him.

Whew! And after doing all of that, I was exhausted. People-building is tough work.

But giving birth to a satisfactory hero is not the end of it as far as I’m concerned. The heroine has to be worthy of this larger-than-life guy, which brings on even more hours of study. Believe it or not, I find that even harder. I’m an avid reader of everything, but a heroine who’s stronger than the hero will cause a book to be a wall-banger for me every time, even if I like the writing.

Sometimes capturing the hero and heroine is like grabbing for quicksilver. Sometimes I get the guy right, but not the girl. And vice-versa. Sometimes the whole thing works without my knowing why, as in THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, and other times I fall short. Funny, but in hindsight, I always know why it *didn’t* work, but I have a harder time figuring it out when it did.

What I came up with in SWEET RETURN must have worked. With the exception of Luke McRae in THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, Dalton Parker is the edgiest character I’ve built. Yet I’ve received more comment from readers about how much they like him than any character since Luke. (The Cowboy book was published ten years ago, but readers still tell me they’re looking for a Luke McRae.)

But to get back to Willie Nelson. Indeed, someof my heroes have been cowboys. But not the kind Willie sings about in that song. Romance heroes are not modern-day drifters whose best days are gone. What they are is every woman’s dream man, thus the fantasy.

So pour a fresh cup of coffee, pull up a chair and just among us girls, tell me what you like about *your* favorite romance novel hero.

Anna J

2 Comments

Filed under Writing

Every Girl Needs a Fantasy…

…And it would be hard to find a better one than (drum roll)…HUGH JACKMAN!

HUGH JACKMAN

I thought”Australia” was not the greatest movie I ever saw (although it could have been), but being fascinated by Australia, I liked it.  …  And I could watch it once a week just to see Hugh Jackman as Drover.

I work at my real job until 10:00 p.m, so I don’t get home until between 10:30 and 11:00 o’clock. My own dear hero always waits up for me and if football isn’t on, he’s usually watching Jay Leno when I arrive.

One night this past week, I got home just in time to catch the hunky Hugh  on Leno’s show.  What a cool guy! Tall, good-looking charming, funny, talented and many other things that appeal to me. Compared to many Hollywood types, he comes across as being down-to-earth and easygoing. I couldn’t be a fan if I thought he was otherwise.

WOLVERINE

The first movie I can recall seeing him in was the romantic comedy, “Someone Like You,” with Ashley Judd. I didn’t know his name at that time, but he caught my eye immediately and I’ve been a fan ever since. I liked that movie enough to go out and hunt down the book it was adapted from. That movie is one instance where I think the movie turned out better than the book. I don’t mean to imply that the book, which is a chick-lit story, is bad; I just liked the movie better.

On Leno’s show, Hugh talked about his new movie, “Real Steele” and his one-man Broadway show. He performed a short skit of the railroad song from “Music Man,” at which he was very good. Need I say I would love to see this show.

In my imagination, Hugh Jackman a character right out of a romance novel. In fact he IS the character I sort of loosely based the hero’s appearance on in my upcoming February release from Entangled Publishing. I have to have an image in my mind when I write about the hero, so my book hero, Drake Lockhart, in “TEXAS TYCOON,” looks like Hugh Jackman. Hugh’s a little older than Drake, but that’s okay.

I have to say that every hero in every book I’ve written (except the Dixie Cash books) is some version of Hugh. The picture to the right is Hugh all right, but it’s also Dalton Parker in “SWEET RETURN.”

HUGH JACKMAN, also Dalton Parker

I guess the way he looks and behaves just appears both “alpha” and “heroic” to me. As any of you who have read my books knows, my heroes are always alphas. I also like Clive Owen and David Craig as “alpha heroes.”

An editor told me once that all romance novels are fantasies, no matter if they’re contemporaries, historicals, paranaormals, etc., which is why they’re so popular. We all have to latch on to a little escapism to keep us sane, especially these days. So I guess if we’re fantasizing, we can certainly fantasize about Hugh Jackman. In the name of therapy, of course.

And it just dawned on me as I write this, where are the American men? Why are all of the alpha “heroic” types from outside the country? There hasn’t been a good American alpha hero in the movies since Tom Selleck got old. If you can think of one, let me know.

 

 

 

Photo of Hugh Jackman from Creative Commons via Wikipedia

Related articles

9 Comments

Filed under Books and Movies, Writing

Revisiting Hemingway

The latest non-fiction book I’ve read is “Write like Hemingway” by R. Andrew Wilson, PhD. I had a hard time getting into it because I found it  dull at first and it wasn’t telling me anything new. However, I stuck with it (which I usually don’t do these days) and found the last half much more interesting than the first. I found quite a few precious little kernels to cling to in my own writing.

Hamingway Stamp

Years ago, I read many books both about and by Ernest Hemingway. His real life was as interesting as his fiction. He was indeed a storybook character. He was a restless adventurer and according to his various biographers, a consummate liar, which, I suppose, is a good thing for a fiction writer.

Reading about him again caused me to think of the fact that his stories were the very first adult stories I read in my life. When I was a little kid in West Texas, we had no TV, had radio reception only occasionally and telephone service hit or miss. But plenty of books were around and Ernest Hemingway’s and John Steinbeck’s books were among them.

Over time, I’ve forgotten many of the books I read years ago, so after I finished “Write like Hemingway, I set off on a new mission. I dug out an old book of Hemingway’s stories and started re-reading. I began with “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” which only reminded me of how I, and most other authors who are writing these days, fall short. I had forgotten what a distinctive writer he was.

If you haven’t read “Kilimanjaro,” you’ve missed a sterling example of “less is more,” for which Ernest Hemingway is famous. In fact, his “iceberg theory” of storytelling is what revolutionized fiction into what we know today. He expanded Mark Twain’s writing advice from “Write what you know” to “Write what you know, but not all that you know.”

“Kilimanjaro” is a short story, which is what Hemingway wrote mostly. He authored a few novels, but his  common venue was magazines, thus he produced short stories or what they used to call “serials” for longer stories that lasted over several issues. Perhaps that circumstance helped him paint vivid pictures in the simplest and fewest words.

Simplicity and not many words is what pacing in a novel is all about. Pacing is what he mastered. And pacing is the bane of my existence as an author.

He also mastered the use of the most profoundly descriptive nouns, used few adjectives and almost no adverbs. William Faulkner once said of Hemingway’s writing that he didn’t know any words that had more than four letters (and he didn’t mean swear words).

Hemingway’s ability to say volumes with few words is a technique few other authors have been able to emulate. I’ve tried to think of modern writers who can do characterization, description of settings and narrative as succinctly as Ernest Hemingway did. I read a lot, but I can think of no one, certainly not me. So I have a new perspective on my own writing.

This is why I try to read books about the craft of writing constantly, so that I will either learn new things or recall old things I’ve forgotten. Good books on the craft usually inspire me. I can now apply what I’ve re-learned from my revisit to Hemingway to my own work-in-progress. Maybe it will be better. And better is always better. By the time I finish reading this book of Hemingway’s short stories, my writing might be fantastic. <smile>  Not that I would ever compare myself to Ernest Hemingway, mind you.

Meanwhile, I’ve started to think about the movies that were adapted from his stories.

“The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner; “For Whom the Bell Tolls” with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman; possibly his greatest, “The Sun Also Rises” with Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power; “A Farewell to Arms,” first with Helen Hayes and Gary Cooper, then later with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones; “The Killers” with Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.

Those are all great old movies with great stars and I’ve seen all of them, I think, but now I’d like to see them again. Have you seen these movies? And if so, do you remember if you perceived Ernest Hemingway’s genius?

In today’s chaotic publishing market, I wonder if he could even get published. Some teeny-bopper editor might think his work is too “gritty” or “outside the market,” or “not a good fit for their line-up.” Or, God forbid, there are no vampires or werewolves.

Anna

8 Comments

Filed under Writing