Writing Across the Rainbow

Last weekend I attended the Washington Romance Writers’ retreat and I’ve been itching to write about it but alas, time has been very limited. This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about it.

One of the running themes of the retreat was diversity and feminism in romance novels. If you been following me for a while you know those are two subjects close to my heart, so I was a happy camper 🙂

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During one of the sessions (I believe the one led by the great author Sonali Dev) we participated in a small exercise that brought my journey as a writer more into perspective for me. We were all asked to think back to the first time we had written something that made us realize we loved writing. That took me all the way back to when I was in second grade.

At the time I was living in Angola in Africa and I wrote a poem (I believe I titled it, Lágrimas, Tears) about something that, as a child, I had just realized. Never being one able or interested in expressing my thoughts out loud, I wrote them down.  Lágrimas was a short poem that expressed my young view of the world–that people were simply people no matter what color, what religion, what nationality.

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The memory surprised me–I hadn’t thought about that in a long time–but it sure made my love for everything multicultural make a lot more sense to me. That was possibly the moment when my future as an author was sealed. Not only did I find my love for writing, but I also discovered how interested I was in writing multicultural characters.

Since I was published in 2016 I have written characters from different racial and ethnic groups (see Desert Jewel and Loved You Always), characters with disabilities (Blind Magic and Her Real Man), and characters with different sexual orientation (Lavender Fields). My only hope is that I didn’t misrepresent any group. I write romance (with a touch of mystery and humor) so all I want to do is to create characters that accurately represent the world and its inhabitants. And to make the point that no matter who we are or where we come from, in the end we all have the same basic needs and a wish to be loved.

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Books and Heartgasms

This weekend I learned a new word. One that totally describes what I feel when I read good romance: a heartgasm. It’s a perfect term for that feeling I get when reading about a loving relationship between the pages of a book. A relationship between equals, between two people who respect and love each other despite their differences.

Those of you who follow this blog or my Facebook page know that I have strong feelings about certain things that have became a part of the romance novel scene (some that have been around from the beginning, other things that came later but are just as insidious). In the heels of E L James’ success, a lot of other romance writers and readers were sold on the idea that disrespect can be sexy.  I have quit reading many a romance book because of that idea. Including romances that have been international best sellers and critically acclaimed.

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Outlander is such a book. After hearing my friends and acquaintances praising the series as the most romantic book in years, I bought and began reading it. At first I absolutely loved it. What’s there not to love? A strong woman travels back in time to Bonnie Scotland to find the love of her life in the shape of this amazing, hunky Scot. The best part about Jamie Fraser is that he is strong but sweet, respectful, willing to lay his life down for the woman he loves, and in total awe of her beauty and strength. Even though there is way too much unnecessary sex in the story (my opinion) it didn’t bother me–it was loving and mutually satisfying.

Until a scene about half way through the book when Jamie sort of forces himself on his wife to “show” her who the boss was. I couldn’t read anymore after that. Before that scene there was the whole issue of a beating to put her in “her place”. However historically correct that may have been, the Jamie that I fell in love with in the beginning of the story ceased to exist and was replaced by someone very willing to do the unthinkable to prove to himself and the other men in the clan that he was man enough. Disrespectful and power-driven. I was very disappointed because the book was well written and the premise for the story was just up my alley. After all the first full length novel I ever wrote, way back before the new millenium (yes, I’m that old) was a time-travelling romance set in beautiful Scotland. My hero was from the same era as Jamie’s but he would never, ever disrespect his girl.

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So back to the heartgasm. Throughout the years there have been many novels in different genres who have given me one. There have been YA novels, science fiction books, fantasy, women’s fiction, classics, and of course romance. It so happens it is the feeling I want to give my readers with my heroes and heroines, with their relationships and the way they overcome difficulties and obstacles together. The way they love and support each other while tackling their day to day life with all its troubles. That kind of thing–not the tough sex, the hot billionaire or the sexy biker–never fails to give me multiple satisfying heartgasms. What about you?

Romancing The Taxes

Tax season leaves me with an ambiguous feeling–I’m not sure whether to be happy I’ll be getting some money back this year or depressed because I spent so much more than what I earned even after working overtime for the past three years.

In 2017 I totally neglected to claim my writing expenses. Being a rookie with three books published by then and royalty checks that wouldn’t feed a fish, it never occurred to me that I could indeed claim all the expenses I had incurred in my writing career. In fact, come to think about it, neither did my husband who is normally on top of that kind of thing.  I didn’t claim the laptop I bought so I could write my novels, or the marketing materials, or the workshops and conferences I attended, or the writing craft and references books I collected that first year.

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It almost happened again this year. My husband, like many people, does not consider my writing a real job. The fact that I spend every waking hour when I’m not at my teaching job glued to a laptop, writing, editing, marketing, researching, networking, learning, etc did not seem to be a good enough hint this was more than just a hobby. The trips we took to conferences, book fairs, book signings, workshops also didn’t register as similar to all the work trips he does for his job. Like him, most people consider writing just something you do for fun. Without realizing it, I must have bought into this mentality because even the loss of my social life in favor of time with my writing didn’t register as “hell, this is a second  full-time job!”

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I cannot thank Neece McCoy, author herself and tax-expert extraordinaire with The Write Services (well, she knows a lot more than me) enough, for reminding me that this is indeed a job and that the huge amount of money I’ve invested in my writing business should be claimed come tax time.

Now that I’ve actually sat down and picked through receipts and bank statements to file my taxes, two things have surfaced. 1) I’m going to get some money back for the first time in years, and 2) Shit! There is such a chasm between my expenses and my income that it’s painfully obvious I have yet to experience being a mildly(ish) successful author.

 

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So, I’m divided between jumping for joy and crying my eyes out. I’ll keep working and hoping that one day I will be able to claim I’ve actually made a profit from the inordinate number of hours I’ve spent working on a craft that most still consider a hobby–while trying not to get too upset when readers complain that my book costs too much (less than a frapuccino at Starbucks).

A Writer’s Nightmare

As most of you know, I’m a traditionally published author (small, awesome publishing house). Being the weirdo that I normally am, I wrote a sci-fi/dystopian romance in 2016 told in three POVs and holding two separate romances–one F/M and another M/M, never once stopping to wonder how difficult it would be to market such a book (do you market it to the F/M romance readers, or the M/M?). The first sign that I was in trouble was when friends or beta readers began complaining about different things–too much romance (the sci-fi readers), too much sci-fi (the romance readers), main characters are too sexual, main characters are not sexual enough, it’s too intense, it’s not intense enough… I had one reader that actually tried to change the whole thing including the way I write and erase my voice. Holy shit!

After I submitted it to my publisher, I was told what I already suspected–that I either changed the manuscript radically, which meant breaking it into two separate romances, or they couldn’t publish it because of the potential marketing nightmare. At that point I had to totally agree with them. I had poured my heart and soul into this manuscript (which at times was emotionally very difficult to write) and I wasn’t willing to change it at that time. I was not being arrogant, just overwhelmed with it all. For me that story was one and I couldn’t imagine breaking it into two. It would be like leaving a part of myself behind.

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The manuscript had already gone through one round of professional edits, but after I had unsuccessfully tried to modified it to better fit the marketing woes, I knew it was back to a mess. So I hired my usual editor for another round of edits with the growing idea (which terrified me) of self-publishing it in the future. Unfortunately, my editor  broke the trust I had in him by doing an extremely superficial edit and taking off with my money. I may be trusting but I also know when I’ve been had.

I had a couple more people read it for content feedback and I was again disappointed that no one was willing to read my manuscript to the end. Beta readers were giving up after a couple chapters. It didn’t bode well. I almost gave up on the idea of publishing it. But in the end I couldn’t give up on my characters and the world I created. I felt I owed it to them to stay the course.

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I contacted a book cover designer I have admired for a few years and asked them to design my cover. I was delighted with the results. That cover is amazing (cover reveal to come in the near-ish future).

I changed a few things according to suggestions and critiques from others, tightened up the writing (I have a tendency to be wordy), and hired another editor to do a final round. After the edits were done, I went over it again twice, tightening it even more, paranoid as I am now that my writing truly sucks. I went over it once more after a friend of mine had formatted it for publication (and amazing friend that she is, she was willing to do it again after subsequent changes).

My book now has an ISBN and I have to choose a publication date in the next couple days. I’m already paralyzed by all I will have to do. Because I have a couple more books releasing this year, there is a very short window to publish this one so it doesn’t conflict with the others. Which means I have to do it within the next month or so.

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My nightmare is not over yet because after suffering so many setbacks and getting bad feedback for two years, I’m terrified of how the public is going to respond to it. I have now invested more money into this book than possibly all my other six together and, being my first self-pub, I’m sailing in uncharted waters from where I expect a monster to jump out at any moment.

Do you think I did the right thing sticking by my story or was I a total dunce and should have just scrapped it?