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 🙂

minions-363019_1280

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.

diversity-2884313_1920

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.

heart-3147976_1920

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

Old vintage books and cup with heart shape on wooden table

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.

Heart icon. Vector illustration.

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?

A Pinch of Reality

Rainbow Rowell mentioned in an interview that she fell in love with world building as she was writing the fictitious fanfiction pieces in her novel Fangirl. She had always been a reader of fantasy but never thought she’d be able to write it until she began creating those characters and their world. She fell in love with it and decided to write it into Carry On.

I identify with this “revelation” of sorts because something similar happened to me. I used to read lots of fantasy, and fairy tales and Grimm’s stories had been a staple of my childhood, but like Rowell I never thought I’d be able to write it. Until Desert Jewel.

a20e7-desert_jewel_frontcover_small2bborder

Paperback Cover

I had always wondered how fantasy writers were able to create whole worlds complete with their populations, flora, and fauna and keep them believable. I was surprised to find out that it was easier than I thought.

In Desert Jewel I used reality as the main ingredient behind its world and a lot of the creatures in it. The desert itself was inspired by the great Sahara with a tad of Kalahari Desert mixed in. The creatures Jaali had to face during his quest across the desert were also inspired by real creatures. I needed a bizarre looking animal and I found the amazing Armadillo Lizard, which was perfect for giving a shape to my Shetani.

Armadillo Lizard

At one point of the story Jaali has to face an army of bullet ants, tiny and fierce. As unbelievable as they sound, these ants are very real and have the reputation of having the most painful sting in the world.

bullet ants

To create the world of Natale in Afrika I used my own knowledge of several African countries to create Milenda’s luxuriant world–modern and archaic at the same time.

I’m a linguist by training and I love using language in my stories. So I created a language for Desert Jewel. Since I’m not even remotely as talented as Tolkien, I used a real language (or a mixture of real languages) to create a made-up one. If you speak Swahili, chances are you will recognize some or part of the words used in Desert Jewel.

Moral of the story: you can create fantastic worlds that feel real as long as you use just a pinch of reality.

What makes you connect with the worlds in the books you read?

 

The next book in The Jewel Chronicles is coming soon. Find out what happens next.

The Barbie Factor

I read something online about Barbie dolls the other day, which I believe was meant as a joke but made me think, “Hey, that’s exactly how it was for me.”

The post was about how Barbie dolls had been so much more than dress-up toys for this woman writer–the dolls were a tool for her to practice how to take over the world.

In my country we didn’t have Barbie dolls, but we had something very similar. Mine was a Susi (which I still have today) and yes, I dressed her, combed her hair, and admired her perfect made-up eyes and lips. But Susi was so much more than that.

Susi Dolls

Susi dolls

She was my prop to recreate all the stories I had in my mind. I’d plan and put together elaborate stories and play them over and over again, adding details, perfecting it. I remember one particular setting I seemed to favor–not sure why: a baby bathtub which I had filled with every supply my doll and her family would need. The plot was simple; they were escaping some kind of calamity and they were stuck on that ship until they found a safe harbor somewhere.

Even though Susi had a husband, she was always the one in charge. She took care of the whole family and was the one who found solutions to every problem. She might have been tiny–hubby was a full size doll–but she was fierce.

Barbie

Because of that I always roll my eyes at the whole controversy about said doll. I never looked at Susi and thought, “I want to look just like her and be perfect, thin, and helpless.” Instead, I thought, “Girl, let’s go do something awesome and worthy of the kick-ass heroine you are.”

I projected my inner goddess into the lifeless doll and practiced my writer’s imagination and my female super-powers 🙂

Susi

My original Susi with the medieval dress I made for her. (sorry it’s so blurry)

What did you do with your Barbie dolls?

The Character Conundrum

I’m always nervous to write about characters I’ve written about before. When I wrote Blind Magic, I agonized over Marcy. And more recently as I wrote the second in the Jewel Chronicles, I lost quite a few sleeps over my two main characters, Milenda and Jaali.

You’d think it would be easier to write characters you were already familiar with but it isn’t. When you’re a fiction writer you get to think of your characters as if they are real. You get attached to them, you love them and live in fear of not doing your characters credit, letting them down somehow.

DJNoSecrets (1)

The hardest characters I’ve written so far were all from previous stories–Marcy from Loved You Always and Jaali and Milenda from Desert Jewel. Once I was finished I was happy with the results, but the process was painful.

In June 2018 the second of the Jewel Chronicles will be published. In it my young princess and her beloved Jaali take refuge in the Northern Lands while they wait for a safe time to return to Afrika. I needed Milenda to be the same brave and kindhearted young woman she was in Desert Jewel, but I also needed her to be a little clueless and unsure of herself because of her new setting. I was so afraid I would make her look weak after having made sure she came out strong and courageous in face of adversity in the first book.

jewel-kiss-teaser

I wanted Jaali to regress a little when it came to his inner demons without making him sound like a helpless victim. Jaali had made such strides into killing his demons in the first book, I didn’t want him to lose that now.

And then there was Mjusi, the flying lizard. He was the only character I had a clear picture of where he was going. But even then, I was not sure of how to take him there.

Being a pantser I love that moment when everything comes together in a logical and beautiful way, small elements of the plot or the setting turning into great catalysts of character development. I was very pleased with it when I finished it and I’m hoping my readers will too.

How have you dealt with recurring characters and how have you avoided failing them?

 

Snow Jewel Teaser 1

**Coming June 2018**

Letting Characters Take The Lead

I‘m very pleased to have A.L. Vincent as a guest blogger today. Please, welcome her and, as usual, comments are always welcome 😉

My favorite part of writing isn’t creating stories, it’s creating characters. For me, that’s where the real story begins. Why does the character act the way he or she does? What do they want? Where do they want to go? I spend countless hours simply watching people. This might be at a restaurant, in the line at the grocery store, at the beauty shop, or my favorite place, New Orleans. Now, sitting on a balcony on Bourbon Street will give you all the character inspiration you could need or want. (And sometimes more!)

new-orleans-351592_960_720

All this observing can give ideas, and get stories going, but the hard part starts when the characters get stubborn. They can completely halt a storyline if they aren’t getting what they want. I’ve scrapped scenes and entire chapters and started over again because where I wanted the story to go and where the character wanted to go were two different things. To be honest, I feel the story turns out better than I planned when I do that, but don’t tell them that.

Like most authors, I’m sure, I have a few favorite characters. I’ve enjoyed writing all my main characters, but there are three that really have a little extra space in my heart. Those three are Noah, Carly, and Ivy. Each has a slightly different story of how they were created.

Noah

Noah

Noah is the love interest of Emily Breaux in Tangled up In You. He’s quiet, strong, and what some would call an “old soul”. He’s been through a lot, been broken, but pulled himself together. When I was writing Tangled, I kept trying to coax Noah to tell more of his story. But, he wouldn’t talk. I told you he was quiet. When I was writing the second book in the series, Running on Empty, Noah decides to tell his story to Grace, who is going through her own personal hell. Noah was the first character to really teach me that the character will talk when he or she is ready.

Carly

Carly

Carly is the first character I created. I started her story many years ago while attempting my first National Novel Writing Month project. She is named after one of my favorite General Hospital characters. I scrapped that novel, although parts of it have been used in various other Fleur de Lis books. Carly is a dreamer, she questions the world and the things around her. She’s a tomboy, and she has a naivety about her when it comes to love. She’s also clumsy, funny, and a wee bit reckless. Her character has remained the most constant, although that’s changing in upcoming novels.

Sea Green

Ivy

Ivy would get the award for Most Changed character. Ivy started out as a very minor character in my alter ego’s paranormal series. She went from a twenty-something bartender, to a centuries old vampire. A little meek and mild as the young woman, she became a force to be reckoned with as her character developed. She has a love for one-liners and a story that she hasn’t revealed to me. Yet. I’m sure there’s more to her coming soon.

Characters can be pesky creatures sometimes, but it’s so fun to see them start from little spark of inspiration and grow into full grown ideas. My favorite books are about characters I fell in love with even from way back. Characters such as Jo from Little Women, Lestat in The Vampire Chronicles, and Katniss from The Hunger Games always stood out for me. It was the people I loved as much as the stories themselves.

me.jpg

Author Bio:

A.L. Vincent is a teacher/writer who lives in the heart of Cajun Country. Born in Oklahoma, Vincent became fascinated with South Louisiana after reading Interview With the Vampire. Finally, she became a Cajun transplant in 2001. When not getting lost in a story line, Vincent can be found cooking or enjoying live local music. She has one son, and a furball of a dog aptly named Furby.

Links:        Facebook            Twitter              Instagram

 

 

Romance On A Mission

If you read a few of my romances you may have noticed a common thread running through all of them, no matter if the story is set in the imaginary world of the angels or a very real town in Maine. My characters are diverse. They come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, some have disabilities, others are emotionally scarred in one form or another. But they all have one thing in common—they all want to be loved and are willing to move heaven and earth to protect those they care for.

I’ve heard it before as I’m sure you did too—the old adage (not so old as it turns out) that claims you can’t write a diverse character unless you are one yourself. I’ve heard the maxim from certain readers and from literary agents, from members of the LGBT community, from African Americans, Hispanics, people with disabilities or mental illnesses. Pretty much from every minority group everywhere. Because let’s face it—there is no way to fully understand what someone feels or goes through unless you’ve been through it yourself. But wait! Actually, even people who went through similar things felt about it differently because there is only one YOU.

love-2055960_1920

I don’t subscribe to this philosophy, though. Most writers have a well-developed sense of empathy and as such, and to use myself as an example, I may never fully comprehend how a gay man feels when faced with prejudice but I can come close. Nothing annoyed me more throughout life as being excluded from things because I didn’t quite belong. I was too or not enough of everything. People will bring up just about anything to exclude people they somehow don’t think belong with them.

I believe that no matter where we come from, what our ethnicity is, our religion, our state of mental or physical health we all have one thing in common—as my characters, we all really want to be loved and be happy. So, I write romance with a mission. Sounds silly but after a lifetime of being told I COULDN’T for so many reasons, I wanted to write about characters who in spite of all obstacles, in the end COULD and DID.

stones-451329_1920

 

What do you think? To which school of thought do you subscribe and why? In the next few weeks I will be posting some blogs about characters and character development. I know I’ve done it before but I want to go deeper. I’d love to hear from you too, and I’m opening up for guest blogs focusing on characters (their creation, inspiration, favorite ones, most hated ones, etc). Just email me and we’ll go from there.

 

 

Oh, Oliver!-A Character Talk

Yesterday, Blind Magic was released into the world of readers. I’m seriously pumped about it since Marcy, the main character, is one of my favorite characters ever. She was a favorite sidekick in Loved You Always and it still is now that she has her own romance.

BMLollipop

I’ve written a couple blogs about this quirky witch and her winsome personality, but I’ve kept pretty much quiet about her male counterpart and love interest. There is a reason for that. I don’t know how to talk about Oliver without revealing some things about him that I would prefer to keep a secret, so I can surprise my readers.

But I decided to risk it and write this blog about wonderful, swoon-worthy Oliver. After you meet him you will totally understand why Marcy, an independent, free-thinking woman, falls in love hard for this guy.

BMLikeMagic

Oliver is one of the cops who was shot in Loved You Always while on protection detail for Marcy’s friends, Emily Rose and Jem. Oliver seeks Marcy’s help with a vexing problem at her witchcraft store and the relationship hits the ground running.

Oliver was both a hard and easy character to write. He’s complex and charming, broken and brave, sexy and vulnerable…. I was terrified of writing him, of not doing him justice, of writing him in a way I would totally betray who he is. I think I may have done a good job since I’ve had great comments from readers so far. I’d love to hear from you if and when you read it.

BMICalledYou

His life has been far from easy and the ghosts of his past are still out to get him as he develops his relationship with Marcy. The little witch–like he likes to call her–is the light in his rather dark life and he is the missing piece in Marcy’s. He’s the classic type–organized, well-dressed, and reserved. She’s a free-spirit–open, quirky, and unconventional. On the outside they couldn’t be more different, but inside they are two peas-in-a-pod. Made for each other, true halves of one whole.

I love Oliver and I’m so excited to share him with all my readers. I can only hope they love him as much as I do.

An Author’s Betrayal

It’s no secret I’ve always been a bookworm. I used to gulp down books like water. My library–even as a child–has always been large. Many of my books are now electronic but the library, virtual or not, just keeps growing. Authors have always been my friends. They’ve given me such joy, I often think of them as family even though nine times of ten I have never met them. I could never understand how some people treat writers as celebrities and keep tabs on all the dirt they manage to dig up on them. I prefer to think of them as ethereal beings, not quite fictional but not quite real either. I don’t want to know the dirt and the skeletons they keep in their closets–because let’s face it, they are humans like everyone else. I want to focus on their writing and the characters and worlds they create. So you can imagine how I feel when a writer betrays their own writing, their own creation.

street-art-2779341_1920

I used to read a lot of fantasy and years ago I picked up a book in the store which would become one of my favorite fantasy series ever. I fell in love with the characters, the world she built, the story than unfolded. Maybe because the two main characters were gay, the author developed a specialized following. LGBT characters were not common at the time. These wonderfully three-dimensional characters develop a romantic relationship which was both sweet and realistic with ups and downs, doubts and moments of insane happiness. All while partnering in some seriously dangerous adventures. I fell in love with the characters, the way the author told their story, and the intricate world she created.

A few years later, maybe pressured by her publisher or the fans, she wrote and published an anthology of short stories about the characters. According to her, the fans had requested more details about the characters’ relationships, a sort of behind the scenes glimpse at their romantic lives. It seemed intriguing to this romantic fool, so I bought the book. To date, this was the only book I have ever thrown away. I was utterly disgusted by it. It was hard to believe these sordid, crude stories had been written by the same hand who had written such lovely prose before. Filthy language, terribly graphic sex scenes, well-loved heroic characters that were now being portrayed as bottom-of-the-barrel creatures concerned only with bodily pleasures. She effectively destroyed the beautiful images I had created in my mind of these wonderful, rich, multi-layered characters. I was mad! I felt betrayed. I felt the author had somehow betrayed her own characters.

cookie-2333024_1920

When the last book in the series came out shortly after, I bought it but I couldn’t read it. I couldn’t erase the images her short stories had placed in my head and couldn’t face the characters I had once loved so fiercely. The book is still on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

We all have different levels of tolerance for different things. I stopped reading The Outlander series midway through the first book because of something Jamie did to his wife. I just couldn’t “face” him after that so I never finished the book and have no intentions of reading the rest of the series. What’s your threshold of tolerance? Have you ever been betrayed by a favorite author or favorite character? What would–in your opinion–make you stop reading a series you loved?

Happy Birthday, Desert Jewel

This time last year I was celebrating the release of my second book, Desert Jewel. This book is very important to me for different reasons.

One of the reasons is that I absolutely poured my heart out building the world of Desert Jewel and its characters. In a way, Desert Jewel is my humble homage to Africa and its people. I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years in different places in Africa and I wanted to somehow honor the magic of a world where the modern mixes with the ancient and science mingles with myths and superstition. Princess Milenda and her ex-slave, Jaali will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently finished writing the second in the series and will be starting the third and last one very soon.

banner

The other reason–and likely the most important–is that the publishing of this book in particular saved me from a very dark place. I have struggled with bouts of mild depression off and on all my life, but last year I went through one of the worst ever. I had to literally drag myself out of bed every morning and couldn’t take pleasure in anything at all. In fact, the morning I received the email from my publisher offering me a contract for this book, I had done just that–dragged myself out of bed, already in tears for no apparent reason and sat down to look through my emails just for something to do. I was on vacation in the mountains with my husband, but my mood was so low I hadn’t been able to enjoy any of it.

That email changed my life that morning. I’ve never told this to anyone, not even my family, but the kind words in that message just brought joy back to my life, the life I was beginning to believe to be worthless. Which goes to show you never know when a kind word may make all the difference in someone’s life.

So today I celebrate the one year anniversary of Desert Jewel’s release and a professional relationship that has enriched my life and given me great joy (and a LOT of work, lol). So let’s hear it for Hot Tree Publishing (hoot and holler)!!!

DJNoSecrets (1)

I’m running a celebratory giveaway in my Facebook page. Go check it out for a chance to win an autographed copy of the book.

P.S.- Depression isolates. When you’re depressed you feel all alone, which in turn prevent those suffering from depression from seeking help. Keep an eye on those you love for signs of depression–withdrawing, frequent tears, lack of energy, indecision…my family thought I was just being difficult, couldn’t read the signs, an all too-common reaction. Don’t just assume they are being a pain. Dig deeper.

eye-2274884_1280 (1)