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

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. Continue reading

Nancy: The Power of Women’s Stories

A few weeks ago, I had one of those strange juxtapositions that sometimes happens in life. While many in the US and across the world were riveted to the broadcast of US Senate testimony, I was immersed in a deep-dive workshop with writing mentor Jennie Nash. While I was submersed in discussions about the value of women’s narratives, pundits were debating whether one woman’s narrative should have any impact on a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court. And while my friends and I were celebrating the many opportunities for women to publish their stories in this day and age, one woman was painstakingly recounting her own personal story in the public square. A story that was ultimately whitewashed and dismissed by an all-male panel of senators.

For many of us, it was one hell of an emotional week. Continue reading

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