Category Archives: Writing

Comments about the writing process.

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

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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

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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

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The Art of Procrastination…And “WHY?”

I wonder if anyone has taken procrastination to the art I have.

And I don’t understand it. Because writing is something I love to do.

This is how I feel right now.

Sometimes it takes me all day long to drive myself into the mode and mood, though I’m always eager to get started on it. I pace around my house saying things like, “I’ve got to get going on my book” or “I’m running out of time”, even as I continue thumbing through a magazine or watching something on TV or baking a loaf of banana bread. If I have time, I even take a nap.

I often  try to figure out why I’m like this. Why I don’t spring out of bed and get things done. The fact that I sometimes do spring out of bed and get things done makes figuring it out even harder.

My conclusion is this. For me, writing is a daunting task. The right words to tell a story don’t always immediately manifest themselves to be blithely plucked from the ether. I have sometimes spent an entire afternoon looking for just the right word or phrase to reveal what I want revealed.

Even when you know in your head what you want to say, that perfect three-letter word that will clarify WHY John Doe pushed his grandma in her wheelchair down the basement stairs, then walked outside and set the house on fire, stole her truck, drove to town and robbed the only bank. You just know the one three-letter word that explain all of that is out there if you can just put your finger on it.

And that brings me to the three-letter word “WHY.” An evil monster if there ever was one. He torments relentlessly, evades capture, darts in and out of thought, consumes mental energy. Wrestling the bastard is like trying to cure a toothache.

So why do it? Why torture myself even chasing this “WHY?”

Because without the “WHY” there is no story, especially in character-driven stories. Without the why, what you have is a report, not a plot, not a story. And that’s what causes the procrastination. You don’t quite have the “WHY” settled in your mind and thus, haven’t figured out how to put it on paper in a succinct way so that perfect strangers reading your words will know what you’ve said and that you meant to say it.

Even after you find that word and settle on why John Doe embarked on a life of crime, you have to decide HOW (another three-letter word) to tell the “WHY” so that readers will either sympathize or empathize with John. After all, just like in real life, no story character can be all bad. Should it be done in narrative? In dialogue? Or action?

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

The “WHY” is giving me fits right now and keeping me from moving forward. I’m starting to think I’m on the wrong track. Maybe I need to find a new “WHY.” Thus, I procrastinate.

So what’s the answer? I can tell you from experience that spending three months without writing a word while searching for the “WHY” in your mind is not the answer. What I’m going to try next is to just whip myself to put my butt in that chair in front of the computer and put words on paper…or on the monitor screen. And maybe stream of consciousness writing will bring me the elusive”WHY”

Here’s hoping….

Anna J

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What’s in a cover?…

New cover, old book.…I have to share my new cover with you because the unrequited artist in me loves it. The awesome Kim Killion designed it. I used to think my former print publisher had the best cover designers around, but IMHO, the cover they originally designed for this book isn’t as good as the one Kim did. It is such a luxury to be able to have some influence on the final product! Kim did her best to make it look the way I wanted it to.

“The Love of a Stranger” was originally released in 2004. If you want to see the original cover, just follow the link to Amazon.

I got the copyright  back from the print publisher. I’ve been diligently working on formatting it for Kindle, Nook and other digital readers. I’m almost finished. Hopefully, I’ll be uploading it within the next two weeks. I’ll keep you posted.

Here’s what my little pea brain sees when I look at this. The masculine hands scream “alpha hero.” The woman’s hair says gorgeous blonde. The pose itself suggests a sexy relationship. And the isolated house on a bluff spells intrigue. What do you think?

Some of you might have already read this book, but if you haven’t, does this new cover make you want to? Let me know. To me, your opinion is important.

Cover design is the front line of marketing a book. In New York publishing, a lot goes into it. Books are, more often than not, impulse buys. The goal of an alluring cover is to make a customer/reader strolling down the aisle think, “Oh, wow, I have to read that book,” and thus, buy it.

But things have changed in book marketing. Nowadays,  e-books hold a larger share of the market. E-book covers have to be even more attractive and more sensational. Smaller picture, different shopper.

The next most important element of marketing a book is the blurb on the back cover. When and if that potential reader is captured by the cover design and stops and picks up the book, turns it over and reads the back, the blurb has to be intriguing, too.  In e-books, since there’s no back cover, the blurb becomes the book description on the listing page. If you’ve checked out the book descriptions on “Sweet Water” and “Salvation, Texas,” you’ll see that the descriptions are now longer and more detailed.

I’ll be revising this book’s description before I upload it. In a print book, space is limited, but online, there’s a little more room.

Aside from the way the book looks, in the course of formatting it, I’ve run across some funny things. I hadn’t read it since I originally wrote it in 2002 and 2003. Back then, every person in the whole wide world didn’t have a cell phone. But I gave one to these story characters, trying to make them look hip and sophisticated and a little ahead of the curve. How hip could they have looked if they’d had iPads?

At the time this story was penned, communication by email was limited, so the story people had to use a fax machine. Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist, so social media weren’t a part of the story. Not too many blogs existed either. How time flies. And how things change in 7 or 8 years.

I had to decide if I wanted to update the book to take in all of the changes in our society or just leave it as I wrote it. I finally decided to leave it alone. I’ve made a few revisions to tighten here and there, have corrected some flaws that existed and have changed some dialogue to something I thought might be more effective. Otherwise, the book remains as I wrote it.

More to come…

Anna

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Starting a New One…

I’ve been thinking about Book #2 of the Texas Royalty series for about two months now, sort of trying to get into the heads of the characters. So this week, I sat down and started to put a few words on paper.

In many ways, creating people  is a fun part of writing a book. Since my books are character-driven stories, I give the story people a lot of thought. My heroes are all alpha men who have to be heroic, even if they sometimes aren’t that likeable at first blush. Luke McRae in THE LOVE OF A COWBOY, for instance. My heroines have to have the strength of character to be worthy of the heroic hero, which is sometimes more challenging than creating the hero.

I usually start by building the hero’s family tree. I try to take it back two or three generations. In that span of time, a lot can happen to alter and re-make the lives of family members. My books are contemporaries, so I have to address in my mind the different historical and political events that influenced my hero’s ancestors as well as current events. Because indirectly, those things would influence how he was raised and the environment in which he lives in the present.

For example, hero Bob might have a grandfather who could have been at Pearl Harbor, or might have been a soldier in WWII. Or he might have been a casualty of WWII. If so, this occurrence might have left Bob’s grandfather’s widow less well off and she became a penny-pincher. Thus, it might influence how she raised Bob’s  mother or father, which would then influence Bob in some small way.

Or Bob might have a father who’s an embittered Viet Nam vet addicted to drugs and alcohol, which would bring yet another set of challenges  into Bob’s life and influence his attitude. …..  Or someone in his family might have a lingering or fatal disease, which would bring something different to his life.  Or maybe one of his relatives won the lottery!  There are also natural disasters to consider. You get the idea.

Unfortunately, I’m not one of those storytellers who can just pluck an idea out of the air and build a story. All of my stories are rooted in characterization. From there, the synergy, where one ingredient evolves from another, GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) and plot all come together  organically. My story people are grounded in realism. I feel it makes them more interesting and gives them more depth. It also supports the premise from which I write. I wish I could write fantasy, which is so popular now, but it just doesn’t come to me.

So there you have it. My book skeleton. And hopefully, by the time I’m finished with all of this fussing, I’ll have the makeup of the story people fixed in my head and can move forward. Hopefully, those pesky characters won’t jump up and surprise me on page 300 and cause me to have to re-write the whole book.

If you’re still reading this, I know most of your are probably groaning and rolling your eyes by now, and thinking I’m crazy. In fact, as I write about this, I’m starting to think I’m crazy. But this process isn’t as convoluted and confusing as you might think and it doesn’t require as much detail as it seems to when describing it.

I should add that I don’t consider myself an expert and am not trying to tell anyone else this is the way to approach beginning a book, but after sixteen books, I’ve sort of accidentally developed an almost system that works most of the time.

Wow. And that sentence falls into the same category as a “definite maybe.” LOL

Anna

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