Nancy: Who said that?

In the past couple of months, I have been out in the writing wilds, reviewing multiple manuscripts. I return to you now with disturbing news: someone has absconded with all the dialogue tags.

Or so I thought, when three of the last four manuscripts I reviewed had long passages of dialogue with no attributions. None of those innocuous “he said” “she said” phrases. No bodies in motion in the same paragraph to show who must have said it. Not even the slightly more annoying scene blocking some of us (ahem, are those three fingers pointing back at me?) tend to use, at least in early drafts, for variation. This lack of tags occurred in scenes with two people talking. And three characters. And even five! Yes, I read a scene with five people in a conversation, with no way to discern, from the words on the page, who was saying what.

I got a sinking feeling.

When a trend appears across manuscripts of writers who do not know each other (and therefore probably haven’t come up with a new technique themselves), I smell “advice” emanating from “professionals”. When I asked one of the writers about the lack of tags, she confirmed my fear. She had cut most of the dialogue tags from her manuscript after her writing group (that’s a whole other blog post, isn’t it?) told her she should stop using them. WHAT?!!! I wondered out loud where they had learned this…ok, I’m struggling not to use profanity, so imagine some nicer word for BS. According to my writer, they got the advice from agents. More precisely, from agents ranting on Twitter.

That loud thwack heard ’round the world was my head hitting my desk. Continue reading

Nancy: What Gets You Out of Bed in the Morning?

Years ago, when I was in my previous life and profession and was using a white board for something other than character arcs and plot progressions, I kept a question on my board at work. It was, “What keeps you up at night?” This is a question used in sales in marketing to remind sellers to think about what the customer wants/needs/stresses about, NOT about the widget or service we want to sell.

Then about five years ago, I read an article that argued (rather convincingly) that we should stop asking what keeps our customers up at night, and start asking, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Do you see the shift from negative to positive? I brought that to the teams I managed with the goal of writing our business proposals with a different spin. We still needed to write about knowing the customer’s pain and how to solve it. But I started pestering my teams (and the business development execs who interacted with the customers) to learn about customer’s bigger-picture visions. I wanted to expand our message to say, “We support solutions, but also aspirations.”

By now you’re wondering, WTH does this have to do with fiction writing? I’m so glad you asked! Continue reading

Nancy: Creativity Is Hard Work

Me, every writing day. Often, I am pushing the same damn boulder I’ve been pushing for weeks or months.

Last week, I had a conversation with a very creative person in a field other than writing. (Yes, it turns out there are creatives in the world who are not writers! I, too, was surprised.) We were discussing “living the dream.” Which is, apparently, what I, as a full-time writer, am doing. My creative friend, still working the day job, is not. And he had thoughts about that.

Actually, he has dreams of his own, which are wonderful things! He also has some misconceptions about what my day-to-day life of dream-living entails.

For those of you who have not met me IRL, I should explain that I have no poker face. Ergo, I could not hide my shock, dismay, and perhaps even amusement at his idea of my life. And while I have my own dreams of spending my writing days frolicking with unicorns and sliding down rainbows while the Best Story Ever Written magically appears on my computer screen, I’ve only had two, maybe three days tops, when unicorns have appeared. And those might or might not have involved whisky. That is to say, this dream gig is hard. Continue reading

Nancy: On Book Clubs, Best-Selling Fiction, and Career Advice You Might Need to Ignore

Over the past 10 or so years, I’ve tried to get on the book club train three different times. Each time, I left the group after only one meeting. That choice wasn’t because I took issue with the people (they are readers, and therefore inherently lovely😊), their passion for the books, or even the wine. It was because I, as a writer, read so differently than non-writers that I was looking for things in a book discussion that the other members wouldn’t find interesting. Ergo, I had nothing to bring to the book club party (other than the wine, which is important! but not really the point).

The real problem I and many other writers have in joining book clubs is that we’re not looking for book discussions at all. We’re looking for book dissections. Writing craft deep-dives. Story geek deconstructions.

That’s why I’m so glad I agreed to join an online book club with one of my writing tribes. We are all long-time writers, with multiple years and manuscripts-worth of experience. Most of us either are or are in training to become book coaches who work with other writers on a regular and ongoing basis. That training has given us a common language and shared tools we use to evaluate writing. Last week, we had a one-hour online video chat to discuss our first group book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Our discussion was wonky and geeky and made my little writer heart sing with joy.

Interestingly, though, when I found myself thinking about the book and our discussion in the days that followed, it was usually in the context of current writing career advice and “truths”, how Delia Owens ignored (intentionally or otherwise) much of it, and how none of it is applicable if it isn’t relevant to you and your process. Continue reading

Nancy: A Romance by Any Other Name…

This could TOTALLY be Percy and Finola if he were a strawberry-blond instead of a brunette.

Here on the blog, we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of book covers and branding in getting our books into the hands of the right readers, the ones who will love our particular genres and stories. It probably goes without saying, but in case it doesn’t, I’ll say it now: book titles are an important part of the overall package that positions books.

With that caveat, you can probably see where this post is going. Turns out, the title I selected for my next book, a title I’ve loved and attached to and had at the forefront of my brain while I wrote the book, might not work for my romance sub-genre. It all started when I was working on cover concepts with my new cover designer (this is designer number three, for those of you following along at home). After several discussions of the book with her, I woke up one morning to find an email in my inbox that changed the way I now see my beloved title.

As she had been setting up a design and working on fitting the title into it, it struck her that Three Husbands and a Lover sounded like a reverse harem erotica title. If you haven’t heard of the RH subgenre, it’s one woman with multiple male lovers, and tends to be erotica. Um, no. Not my genre, and not what I intended communicate with that name. If I thought it was just her opinion, well-versed as she is in the romance field, I could ignore it. But now that she’s put that thought in my brain, all I can picture when I see that title is my heroine surrounded by her four lovers. Continue reading

Nancy: Looking for a Summer Romance?

You usually see posts from me on Mondays, but today I’m stopping by the blog to invite you to a summer party! And even better than a normal party, this one includes romance authors and books and chances for prizes.

Coffee Time Romance has been an online gathering place for romance readers and writers for years. Each Saturday, they invite multiple authors to take over their Facebook fan page to talk about their recent romance books, answer fan questions, and give away prizes.

Today (June 22nd) from 9-10 PM eastern time, I’ll be on the Coffee Time Romance page discussing One Kiss from Ruin. This is the second book (but first full-length novel!) in the Harrow’s Finest Five series, aka Daniel’s and Emme’s love story. Check out my final post of the night to find out how to win a free copy of the book. (The contest remains open through Sunday, in case you have IRL plans for the evening).

I hope to see you there!

Nancy: Revisiting Story Brain

This week, I’m sorry to say, I’m a bit overwhelmed and a bit under the weather. While I don’t have the energy or mental focus to write a new blog post, I thought I’d share this one that I wrote two years ago, in which I discuss how stories mold our minds and attitudes, and can ultimately change the world.

How Story Shapes Our Brains

How long did the last fiction book you finished stick with you? What about the romance or mystery or classic you read over and over again as a teen? How about the books your parents read to you before you were old enough to read on your own? Turns out, the fiction we read might just be making us more engaged, empathetic humans according to researchers studying the brain through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We’ve known this for a while now.

In a New York Times article published more than five years ago, Annie Murphy Paul reported: “The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading about an experience and encountering it in real life; in each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated…Indeed, in one respect novels go beyond simulating reality to give readers an experience unavailable off the page: the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings.” Wow, heady stuff, you authors out there. Continue reading