Nancy: More Thoughts on Diversity

Unless you’ve been living under a rock AND falling behind on your 8LW reading, you’ve heard about Suzanne Brockmann’s stirring acceptance speech for her Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 RWA national conference. On Thursday, our own Kay summarized the speech and Brockmann’s career. This launched a discussion about writing diverse characters and including diverse experiences in romance fiction.

One of our Eight Ladies, Justine, disclosed in the comments her own trepidation about writing diverse characters in a meaningful, inclusive, and non-appropriating way. This sums up a lot the discussions the Eight Ladies have had on this blog and outside of it. And Justine threw in a twist – how do we respectfully and conscientiously diversify our historical romances? As I said in a reply to Justine’s comment, I have no answers or advice, just some thoughts and more questions of my own.

How bad would it be to write an historical world where women, and people of color, and characters with non-straight sexual orientations, and those with neurodiversities, and those with disabilities, are treated equally? Continue reading

Jeanne: The True Heart of the Golden Heart®

dragonfly-3469873_640Elizabeth’s post last week on the future of the Golden Heart® got me to thinking about my own experiences with this RWA tradition.

As you may know, I was a finalist in 2015 for The Demon Always Wins, my debut paranormal which will be released on September 1st on Amazon. It was a thrill to final, and an even bigger thrill in July, when the book went on to win its category. But the greatest win I received from the contest wasn’t delivered until the next February.

In January, 2016, after a routine mammogram, I was diagnosed with invasive ductile breast cancer. I was very fortunate because the mammogram and follow up ultrasound caught it very early–I think my tumor was 4 millimeters–about the size of the tip of your pinky finger. In March I had a lumpectomy and did a course of radiation and I’m happy to report that I’ve seen no recurrence.

But in between that January diagnosis and my March surgery, something pretty amazing happened. One Saturday morning in February, I did a quick check of my email before heading out to go hiking at a nearby nature preserve, as I usually do on Saturdays. To my surprise, in my inbox was a $5 Amazon gift card from on one of the Dragonflies, as my Golden Heart® class had chosen to name themselves. I was a little befuddled, but I had to meet a friend at the preserve, so I decided I’d figure out what was going on when I got home.

When I returned, around 10 a.m., there were two more gift cards in my inbox, also from Dragonflies. All day long, my inbox pinged with new arrivals as my Dragonfly sisters used their wings to carry me aloft. When I reached out to thank them and ask what they were doing, they said they wanted me to feel like I was getting little hugs all day long.

I truly did.

By the end of the day, I had amassed around 40 gift cards in varying amounts, totaling almost $300. In my mind, that money is earmarked for buying, at a minimum, every Dragonfly debut novel, so that I can read it and leave a review and, in some small measure, pay them back for their support during what could have been a lonely and frightening time.

So, RWA® Board if you’re listening, that’s what the Golden Heart® is really about. To my mind, we shouldn’t be looking for ways to dismantle it. We should be looking for ways to spread this kind of sisterhood and camaraderie throughout the organization.

Justine: Making Your “Alpha Male” More Like Nature’s Alpha Males

We all know what sort of man an alpha male is…strong, usually buff, definitely tough, and the one who gives orders, not takes them. He typically gets what he wants when he wants it, and if he’s threatened, he’ll go up against that threat, even if it means getting physical.

The trope of the alpha male is alive and well in many romances these days. But is that what nature intended when she created alpha males? Continue reading

Jeanne: Your Empathy Quotient

Emotions Revealed coverI’ve always figured the trait a writer needs the most in order to craft compelling, believable characters is empathy.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

We’ve all known highly empathetic people in our lives, people who seem to have a knack for reading other people’s faces/body language/tone of voice and knowing what those people are feeling without having to be told.

I’ve never been one of them.  Continue reading

Jilly: Villainous Heroes

Have you ever waited impatiently for a book or series starring a character that you’d previously loathed?

I’ve read a couple of villain-turned hero stories and even blogged about one of them here a few years ago (Grace Burrowes’ 2014 historical The Traitor, starring the baddie from her previous book, The Captive), but I’ve never done the foot-tapping, finger-drumming, calendar-watching book launch thing for a very bad guy before.

It’s Ilona Andrews’ fault. I’ve squeed about their writing here before, once or twice 😉 , but their newest trick leaves me open-mouthed and thinking hard.

According to their blog (link here), the project started in 2015 as an April Fool. They put up a spoof cover and tongue-firmly-in-cheek blurb for a romance starring Hugh d’Ambray, the hard-as-nails enforcer for Roland, the grand antagonist of the bestselling Kate Daniels urban fantasy series. It began as a joke that prompted a deluge of requests that spawned an idea that became a book, and what looks like a whole new series, Iron and Magic.

I’d think it was another April Fool, except they’ve posted footage from the cover shoot, run a title contest, and best of all the blog post I linked to above contains a further link to a long excerpt. It’s really, really good and I can’t wait to read the rest of the book. Judging by the comments (more than 1,400 at the time of writing), I’m not alone.

I’ve read the excerpt a few times now, because I’m fascinated to understand how the authors have managed to establish empathy for such a dark character. It would be easier to understand if the character’s bad deeds were in the past, or somewhat diluted as backstory, or happened to a character we don’t care deeply about, but in Hugh’s case his murdering, torturing and various atrocities have been committed across multiple books, right in front of our eyes, against our heroine Kate Daniels and her community. He should be unforgiveable.

So how have they done it?

Spoilers below, so read the excerpt first if that’s your thing.

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Jilly: Three Things I Learned at McKee’s Story Seminar

I promised to report back on last weekend’s craft marathon, otherwise known as Four Days of McKee—three days of the legendary Story seminar and a further day dedicated to the Love Story.

It was physically grueling. I can’t remember the last time I spent four eleven-hour days in a row sitting in a lecture theater, and it’s been more than thirty years since I had to take notes longhand. I treated myself to a new notebook and pen for the occasion.

It was mentally challenging. I had mixed feelings about Mr KcKee’s teaching style (to say he has strong opinions, robustly expressed, would be to understate the case), but no reservations about the quality of his analysis. Even though much of the material was familiar to me and I only made extended notes where I thought it necessary, I still filled more than sixty pages and went home every night with a head full of new ideas.

I could blog for the next year or more about the things that I learned, but three nuggets top my list of things to chew on, because I think they will be especially useful to me when I get on to writing Alexis’s prequel story. All three were superbly illustrated during the final session of Story—a six-hour scene-by-scene analysis of Casablanca and again during Love Story’s breakdown of The Bridges of Madison County.

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Jilly: A Snippet and a Question

How likeable do you like your main characters? Will you take strong, interesting and flawed, especially if they grow and change during the story, or do you prefer them sympathetic from the start?

And do you think readers set the bar higher for heroines than heroes?

In the recent Duke University romance forum, Ilona Andrews said that in her experience, romance readers are more forgiving of male characters than female ones. A male character can do appalling things but with the careful application of a little tragic backstory, he can still become a hero. A heroine, not so much.

That set me to wondering about one of my favorite contemporary characters, a super-rich bitch called Sasha Montgomery. She’s on ice for now, but not forgotten. She’s not a nice woman, but I love her a lot and I’d always planned to turn her into a heroine one day. Now I’m not so sure that’s a good idea.

Below is a snippet from the life of Unredeemed Sasha. She definitely has a challenging backstory. I’d be very curious to know whether you think she could be turned around.

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