Standing Proud – Fighting Romance Novel Stigma

I’ve written about book signings before, mostly about how depressing these events can be for a writer who nobody really knows, especially one who writes romance–the most popular and yet, also most snubbed genre in literature.

I spent this weekend in a signing, except this time it was one exclusively for romance writers. What a difference that made. The fact that I’m not well-known didn’t change, but the attitude of the general public was definitely different.

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How refreshing to be addressed and asked questions about your books instead of avoided or ignored. I don’t pretend to write high-brow literature and do not aspire at winning a Pulitzer prize, but I’m a good writer who writes fun and somewhat insightful stories that both entertain and excite the reader’s emotions. Very few people have read my books (a fact painfully evidenced by depressingly low royalties) and I don’t expect a horde of fans to descend upon my table at such events like a crowd of shoppers at a Best Buy on Black Friday. But I love being asked about my stories (the introvert in me won’t volunteer the information), having smart conversations about books (even about other people’s books), and generally just being acknowledged as alive and breathing.

Kudos go out to romance readers. They are amazingly welcoming and easy to talk to. They are also so enthusiastic about meeting authors, they make you feel like celebrities. I’ve been to quite a few events mostly attended by people who–by their own admission–only read “good” literature, or nonfiction, or–my favorite–anything but romance. Generally speaking, those crowds make you feel as if writing romance is some heinous crime for which you must feel terribly ashamed. They also lump all romance novels into one giant bundle of 50 Shades of Grey type stories when in fact the romance genre is widely diverse, both in styles, sub-genres, and quality.

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At one point I was embarrassed to admit I wrote romance, but no longer. I’ve “come out” of that closet and I now proudly stand as a romance writer. If you’ve never attempted at reading a romance, you should give it a try. It is not everybody’s cup of tea, I understand, but with the overwhelming number of authors and books out there, there is a very good chance you may find a new favorite.

 

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

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**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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

A Girl, A Key, And A CD

It’s been a real rough couple of weeks for me. Those who follow my blog may be wondering why I haven’t been regular with my posts. I apologize for the dearth of written material, but I was simply pulled into the dark vortex of a few hellish weeks. Nothing much has changed other than I seem to have found the time and inspiration to write again (translation: I’m totally ignoring the mess and chaos around my house to focus on writing).

Last Thursday, and to crown an emotionally and physically draining week, I experienced a weird and (later) hilarious event involving my car. That day, I had a car-full of things I needed to bring into my school for the evening multicultural event as I drove my way to work. I parked the car in my usual spot and turned off the engine. Except I couldn’t.

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The engine went off, but the electric part of the car wouldn’t turn off, and I couldn’t get the key out of the ignition. I moved the steering wheel thinking that maybe it had locked. Nothing. I turned the car on and circled around the parking lot before parking again. Nothing. I jiggled the key, changed gears several times. Couldn’t take the key off.

Needless to say I ended up hugging the wheel and crying my eyes out. I love my pumpkin (my car) but I may have called it a few ugly names. I called the insurance people who told me they were going to send a tow truck. I also called a friend in the building and asked her to come and help me take the stuff out of the car.

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My school is not in the nicest neighborhood. I didn’t want to leave all that stuff inside an opened car. So me and my friend moved all my crap into her car and then she tried her hand at the key. Nothing. Another coworker came to help, but he couldn’t figure it out either. The consensus was, “This is really weird.”

When the tow truck showed up, the driver also tried his hand at the damn key with the same results. Giving up, he backed out of the parking lot and drove the car into the tow truck. I’m watching from the side and I see the driver’s window suddenly open and a hand stick out of it with the car key.

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“How did you manage to take the key off?” That was the question of the day.

“I moved your CDs.” Strange answer, I thought. But he explained, “The CDs were sticking out just far out enough that they were pressing the button on the gear shift and making the system think the car was not in park.” Whaaa…?

We had a good laugh, he moved my car back to its parking spot, and left. I stood in the parking lot in the freezing temperature feeling stupid but amused at the same time. Who would have thought you could lock a car’s system and make a grownup woman cry with a simple CD?

Emotion in Writing

I can’t believe it’s been two weeks since I attended Donald Maas‘s workshop and I’m just now writing about it. I almost didn’t sign up for it. The workshop was being hosted by the Richmond branch of the Romance Writers of America (VRW) and held in Richmond, Virginia–an almost two hour drive from my house. Driving far from home and to places I’ve never been to stresses me out to panic levels and I normally avoid it like the plague. But I really wanted to go to this one, so I signed up. Luckily one of my local writer friends signed up too and I was able to drive with her. I’m a much better copilot than a pilot in situations like this.

This workshop was everything I expected it to be and so much more. A huge kudos for the Virginia Romance Writers  who set up an amazing event in a great venue and for providing us all with a magical supply of food (especially the donuts which seemed to be forever reproducing themselves in the kitchen) and the awesome speaker.

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I’ve been to many workshops. Some were writing-related and others not. Some were excellent, others left me regretting the money and time invested. This one was inspirational. I came out of the full-day event revitalized, inspired, and motivated to write more and better. I also left vindicated somehow.  I’m an emotional writer. I have a tendency to neglect certain details (which in my mind seem superfluous) and focus on feelings. I thought that maybe I was writing romance the wrong way, but after this workshop I feel I’ve been doing the right thing. But I need to get better at it.

During the session I wrote a couple of the best scenes in my current project, not to mention I came up with the missing pieces of my plot. Pretty wonderful, don’t you agree?

Mr. Maas was a pleasure to listen and talk to. Nothing like being able to immediately apply what you’re learning to give you a sense of accomplishment. He took us on a journey through his last writing book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction, and had us apply it directly to our current projects. It was truly magical.

I don’t normally recommend writing books, no matter how great they are, because we all write differently and what I’ve found is that one “technique” may be amazing for some and absolutely not work for others. However, this one is different. This one works with what you already have and helps you–through some pretty simple exercises–to make it better, to make it resonate in readers’ s minds and hearts. So I am totally recommending it. Further more I am suggesting that you buy it and read it as you edit your work. You’ll be amazed with the results.

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My only regret after such a great workshop is not having anything to send to Mr. Maas’ agency after he so kindly extended an invitation to all of the attendees to query him. Maybe one day, Mr.Maas, maybe one day…

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.

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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.

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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.

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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)!!!

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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.

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Random Thoughts

The complete title for this post is actually Random Thoughts of a Romance Writer at a Book Festival and I collected them during my latest stint at a local Indie Book Festival. Not my first rodeo but same outcome, lol. The only thing that has changed is my attitude. I no longer feel depressed after an event, deciding to laugh about it instead.

Note to self: bring a fan next time. This is fall in the South. Holy crap, it’s hot!

Did I bring enough books? Did I bring too many books? OMG, am I going to sell ANY books?

My banner is crooked. I am not going to look at it. I am not going to look at it.

My table display looks too cheesy. My table display doesn’t look cheesy enough.

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The porta-potties smell like crap. Can’t wait to see how they smell after a couple hours in the sun.

This dragon pen I’m writing with is so freaking cool. OMG, I’m such a geek!

Forgot the sunscreen. Where in heaven’s name if fall weather?

Coffee! Yes, yes, yes. God is good, there is a coffee stand.

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No, it was not this big! Just a table with thermos.

Please, stop by my table, please, please…shit! Walked right on by.

One hour in, zero interaction… Do I smell bad?

Will I get to use my new Square? I want to play with it.

Look at it from the bright side: I’m getting a lot of vitamin d today.

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No, it’snot me!

OMG, I’m so hot. And not in a good way.

Yes, someone has actually signed up for my newsletter. Score!

Great informal romance panel. Made me feel better.

Awesome meeting other authors. Lots of romance writers. Represent!

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Yes, they were all there!

What a cute little guy. I wonder if he would like one of my books when he grows up? Oh,no, he’s trying to eat my book.

I sold two books. I sold two books.

I was told my display looks very professional. Proud little moment.

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Yes, it’s me.

Why are my book earrings always a lot more popular than my books?

I have no moisture left in my body. I think I may be slowly mummifying.

Aahhh…air conditioning. Another rodeo done!

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Also not me.

Hooray For The Characters

I recently had to write the acknowledgment page for my latest book and I realized that I have never thanked my characters. “What?” you may say. “Have you totally lost your mind?” Possibly, but in this case I mean it. I owe my characters a serious token of my undying gratitude.

Characters are more than made up people in a story, figments of an author’s fertile and often feverish imagination. Once created and developed into the pages of a book, they become real–real to the author who made them up and real to the readers who love them. Most of my friends growing up were fictional characters in books.

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Likewise, the characters I created in my romances are very real to me. I feel toward them with the same intensity that I feel toward flesh and bone people. Some I love, some I hate, and some may even leave me a little indifferent.

Marcy, the witch, from Blind Magic has carved a very special place in my heart. I’ve written about her before, about how she started as just a funny side kick on Loved You Always and developed such a big personality I had to write her story. Well, it is written. Blind Magic, which will be released in November, tells Marcy’s story.

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Marcy is at first glance very different from me, but if you dig deeper you’ll find that there is a lot of Natalina in the quirky witch. Like her, I was always the oddball growing up, even within my own family. I never wore the same type of clothes my school mates were wearing, admired artists who everybody thought were weird, and was always the one people came to with their problems. I was a good listener, a problem solver, and yes, I even liked polka dots just like Marcy. Believe it or not I even had strawberry blond hair when I was younger–and not from a bottle.

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Me aged eighteen.

Her man in the book, the dashing Oliver Dawson, reflects–without going into details so I don’t give up any spoilers–a deep, irrational fear of mine. One I still often have nightmares about. Writing it into the swoon-worthy and oh-so-brave detective helped me face and fight that fear.

I may just begin adding my characters to the list of people I often thank for their support because they so deserve it. They fill my world with friendly faces, something to look for, and they are the best therapists a girl could ever wish for.

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What do you think? Do you ever feel strangely attached to a fictional character and find yourself thinking of her/him as if a real person?