Jilly: Sara Whitney’s Tempting Heat

An unexpected upside to becoming a writer is that I find myself reading books written by friends, and friends of friends. I love seeing people I know become debut authors and then go on to build their lists. There’s something thrilling and insider-ish about being part of their adventure.

Here on 8LW we’ve shared the excitement surrounding the publication of Jeanne’s Touched by a Demon books and Nancy’s Harrow’s Finest Five series, and we’ve enjoyed interviews with some of Jeanne’s fellow Golden Heart alumnae. This week was another first for me: the debut of Sara Whitney, one of my Golden Heart classmates.

Tempting Heat is a contemporary second-chance romance novella set in Chicago, with the two main characters stranded in forced proximity during an epic snowstorm. I really like those tropes. Second-chance stories raise the emotional stakes quickly because the characters already have shared baggage for the author to play with, and forced proximity adds extra pressure because the characters literally have nowhere to go—they have to face Whatever Went Wrong first time around.

An unexpected downside to becoming a writer is that I find it hard to lose myself in a book. My inner editor starts offering critique and before I know it I’m assembling a list of things I’d tweak or change or rewrite instead of enjoying the story. So I was ridiculously happy to find myself immersed in Tempting Heat, sharing Finn and Tom’s long-overdue reconciliation-cute.

The story starts when Fiona (Finn) discovers a half-awake, hungover Tom emerging from her flatmate’s bedroom some hours after said flatmate departed to deal with a work emergency involving a weekend-long trip to Las Vegas, and just as a gigantic snowstorm shuts down all transport options. Continue reading

Jilly: Reading Week Lessons Learned

For reasons best left unexplained except to say all’s well that ends well, last week I spent a few days out of action, followed by a few more recuperating on my sofa with a restorative book or ten.

When I’d soothed myself with all my favorite re-reads, I decided to try a highly rated fantasy series. It’s been on my radar for ages but I never bought the books because while I like the premise, the blurb and the reviews, the story is written in first person, present tense, which isn’t my catnip. The POV character (in this case, the heroine) is telling the story, so either she’s using present tense to describe something that happened in the past, which seems affected, or she’s providing a running commentary in the midst of the story action, which suggests she’s not fully engaged in what she’s doing. If the heroine isn’t all-in, why would I be?

No matter. I wasn’t going anywhere, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The writing was good—good enough to get me past the first-person-present-tense obstacle. The characters were engaging, and the world fascinating. The chemistry between the heroine and hero was credible, with plenty of zing. Sadly I stopped after Book One of the trilogy, for two main reasons.

One (the lesser of the two) was that the book didn’t have a self-contained storyline. The characters grew and changed, but the book was a collection of unanswered questions that will no doubt be resolved over the remainder of the trilogy. So there was no moment of thrilling catharsis at the end of the book, just a vague feeling of “to be continued…” .This was a light-bulb moment for me, since the edit report on my first Alexis book (edits still on hold until I finish the prequel story) said I was guilty of this same folly. Aha. Okay. Must cogitate.

The second issue, which really annoyed me, was the author’s persistent use of deus ex machina at critical plot points. (According to Wikipedia: deus ex machina is a plot device where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and seemingly unlikely occurrence, typically so much as to seem contrived). The story may be a fantasy, but that does not give the author the right to wave her magic wand every time the plot gets too difficult for the characters to resolve on their own.

Continue reading

Nancy: The Fine Art of Receiving a Critique

Last week, Jeanne discussed critiquing manuscripts for newbie writers, and yesterday Justine talked about revising (and revising, and revising!) the opening chapters of the first book in her historical romance series. With both of these posts on my mind and no less than three (three!) revisions of my own to complete, from minor tweaks in one story to major revisions in another to something in between on the third, today I’m thinking about the best way to bridge the gap between getting back comments from a trusted critiquer and putting a revision plan into action.

We’ve discussed a lot of the steps I’m going to suggest here at 8LW in the past, and much of the way the Ladies approach critique work is based on the guidance Jenny Crusie* gave us while we studied with her in our McDaniel writing program. But with so many of us knee deep (or eyeballs deep) in the critique and revision process, let’s revisit some of the basics, ICYMI (or ICYNAR – in case you need a refresher). Continue reading

Jeanne: The Dunning-Kruger Effect

dunning-kruger--edited

A few weeks ago at church, the minister talked about something called the “Dunning-Kruger Effect.”

This concept, defined by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger, describes the cognitive bias of inexperience that causes people who know almost nothing about a topic think they are experts because they don’t know enough to realize the extent of their ignorance.

If you’ve ever critiqued a manuscript for a beginning writer, you know exactly what this is. The newbie will bring you her precious creation and hand it over, dewy-eyed with confidence that the next day (because it’s so good you’ll stay up all night reading it), you’ll call to tell her that she is the next J.K. Rowling/Nora Roberts/E.L. James/Gillian Flynn. Continue reading

Jeanne: My First DNF (Did Not Finish)

censorship-3308001_640So I got a note from an old friend and former co-worker the other day, saying they couldn’t finish The Demon Always Wins because it was too scary. Pressed, she admitted that she never actually started it–just the idea of demons freaked her out.

I was sorry she couldn’t enjoy the book, but I didn’t really take it to heart. It didn’t feel like a rejection of my work so much as a rejection of the genre. Since I have no expectation that I’m going to convert anyone who doesn’t like paranormal over to reading it, I wasn’t upset.

What felt a little more personal was the lady at the gym who declined to read it because of the cursing in the first chapter. I pointed out that only the bad guys curse, but she wasn’t swayed. Cursing makes her uncomfortable. Continue reading

Jilly: The Appeal of Foreign Stories

Do you read contemporary stories set in countries other than the USA? What kind of stories are they? What do you especially like about them?

I have a reason for asking.

I’m just back from a most excellent vacation in the States, including an action-packed weekend at the Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin with fellow 8 Lady Kay, followed by a few days in picturesque Door County (click here to read Kay’s description of our excursions to the Northern Sky Theater Company).

Before I met up with Kay, I spent an afternoon in Chicago talking all things writing with a developmental editor. Mostly we focused on Alexis, but we also talked about my English/Scottish contemporary romance, which I decided to dust off in time for the next (and final) RWA Golden Heart contest.

The editor gave me the same feedback I heard from a very respected agent a couple of years ago when I tried to shop this book: the writing is strong, but a contemporary British setting, with all British characters, is hard to sell outside the UK. She said that the story offered a kind of insider perspective on life in London and Scotland, which is not what the mainstream American romance reader is conditioned to expect.

In her view, when US readers pick up a foreign-set story, they expect the setting to be either

  1. exotic;
  2. glamorously urban; or
  3. small, close-knit communities where the culture is a large part of the appeal.

Continue reading

Michille: Google Romance Novels

I googled ‘romance novels’.

Google Romance Novels Top of the page, a scroll bar with Fifty Shades of Grey first (ack – hated it, stalker steals car and doesn’t stop at no – I know others loved it, but not my cuppa). Love Story – hello, she dies. No HEA. Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre were there so at least some classics were represented but there was a lot of crap there which is one of the things that, IMO, give romance novels a bad name. For example, the first article link: 20 of the Best Erotic Romance Novels of All Time, According to Readers. It’s not about the sex, folks. It’s about the relationship, the character arcs, the HEA. Although this is changing, for the most part, romance novels are by, for, and about women. But the new sub-genres that are on the LGBTQ, MFM, MMFM, FMF, etc, focus on parity with the partner. But I did find some good stuff. Continue reading