Jilly: What’s on Your Id List?

What things in fiction, big or small, really do it for you? Tropes, characters, premises or details that you enjoy so much you’d auto-buy a book or stick with a really bad movie because of them?

A couple of weeks ago I listened to Writing For Your Id, a workshop presented at this year’s RWA National conference by Dr. Jennifer Barnes, a psychologist, cognitive scientist, and YA romance author. I’m super-grateful to 8 Lady Jeanne for recommending it.

The first part of the presentation, which would have been worth the price of admission, was that certain universal pleasures have become hard-wired into our brains, and encountering those treats when we read gives us a deep-seated hit of happy. Stories or scenes depicting sex, touch, beauty, wealth, power, competition and danger push our pleasure buttons. Different genres are associated with different pleasures, and the workshop offered suggestions about different ways to create pleasure-centric stories and to work with and against the typical pleasure buttons.

Lots of food for thought there, but what really resonated with me was the second part of the presentation: that you make your stories distinctive and memorable by adding in to them stuff that you, the writer, personally really, really like.

The idea is to develop a list of all the things that do it for you and use those things to bring excitement to your writing.

Work out which pleasures recur. Which ones you’re strong on and vice versa. And if you’re not looking forward to writing, get yourself in the mood by adding in something from your Id List.

Dr. Barnes said she has a list of more than a thousand items. I just made a start on mine, but here are a few things I came up with.

Sensible, smart, plain heroines who get the hot guy
Especially the overlooked bluestocking sister with a drop-dead gorgeous sibling.
I’d put Lizzy Bennet top of this list—Jane is beautiful, but Lizzy’s smart and interesting. Or quiet, competent Mary Challoner from Heyer’s Devil’s Cub.

Heroines who shoot the hero
That would be Mary Challoner again. And Jessica from Lord of Scoundrels. And Sophy from The Grand Sophy (well, she shoots a friend to prevent the hero from challenging him to a duel, but I think it counts). Continue reading

Michaeline: A Question of Conformity

Old French print of a person dressed perfectly as female Mmme Beaumont on half of the body, and male Chevalier D'Eon on the other half. It's the juxtaposition that doesn't conform.

“So, you want me to conform? All right! I’ll conform! I’ll conform in a way you’ve never seen before! I’ll be the best damn conformer you’ve ever seen.” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Kay’s post this week has me thinking about The Right Thing To Do. She’s written a three-volume story about (amongst other things) the heroine resisting marriage, resisting marriage, and then finally succumbing to what is still a social ideal in our culture: the state of matrimony. In other words, conformity.

But from what Kay’s told us, her heroine is not going to conform in a completely socially approved way: wedding in Vegas with costumes and glitter. For Kay, the point isn’t the wedding. She’d like to skip writing about it and let the reader imagine the wedding.

But her beta readers are pressing her to conform. I, myself, talked about how a wedding is a very traditional ending to a series – a big set piece of glitz and love that rewards the reader with a big piece of wedding cake for putting up with all the trials and tribulations. So, Kay’s in a bit of a bind; in her gut, she wants the clean ending – a light smear of frosting. But many of us are pushing for flowers of marzipan and silver dragees. And Kay, at one point, said very simply and with great eloquence, “Crap.”

I say eloquence because that says it all, doesn’t it? When I write, I don’t like writing to conform, either. Not when I blog, not when I tell a story, not even when I comment on forums.

Now, don’t get me wrong. If my writing happens to conform, and makes people feel good and fuzzy (or outraged and ready for action, depending), I feel great. I mostly conform to spelling, grammar and punctuation conventions (with certain thought-out exceptions, like a big FU to the Oxford comma, and a certain love of dialect including L33T when I think the situation merits it). And I’m no great innovator – I mostly conform to story-telling techniques that I’ve read and loved. Like it or not, I’m a conformist, and for the most part, I like it.

However, this conformity does not tend to take place on a conscious level. It’s dependent on what I’ve already read, already learned and already experienced. It “feels right” or “feels wrong” already.

What drives me crazy as a writer is writing to conform on a conscious level. I wish I could come up with some good examples, but they look crazy when I put them on the page. “You need to write stronger heroes; nobody likes a weak-ass hero.” Of course I do/don’t. It depends on the hero and the story. Maybe I need to write stronger, maybe I don’t. Maybe people like a weak-ass hero, maybe they don’t.

“I should be writing something more marketable.” What’s the market? Writers have been trying to answer that question ever since I picked up a Writer’s Digest magazine in 1983, and I’m sure the question has been around for as long as the word “market” has been used in that way. It’s a question worth thinking about, but I don’t think there’s a good answer out there. A great story at the right time will create its own market, and these are often stories (such as Harry Potter) who have been rejected multiple times before they find their time and place.

And so on and so forth. I chase my tail instead of writing a new story.

Right now, I think the only way forward is to write a lot, show a lot of people, and internalize a lot of great story in order to develop good taste and a reasonable sense of conformity. I’m not sure what Kay will decide to do, but I do know this: she’ll have a trilogy. It will be fun and full of humor and insight. And it’ll conform to Kay’s own good tastes. So what if her good taste happens to include Elvis impersonators? So does mine, and so do a whole niche of readers.

I have to trust that I’ll find my own niche full of readers who like the slightly odd things that I do. A small corner that conforms to a non-conformist standard. Being true to your taste is The Right Thing To Do.

Nancy: It’s My Birthday Too, Yeah

A fun thing is happening today for the first time in the five years we’ve been doing the 8LW blog: my birthday is falling on my blog posting day! And just to double the fun, this is also the birthday of another of the Eight Ladies (hint: her first name is Michaeline!). She’s celebrating a super-special birthday year, but I’ll let her tell you about that if she’s so inclined. Let’s just say that number is so last year for me.

To kick off my celebration, I thought I’d share a few of my current favorite multi-media things with you. I’ve been enjoying a long birthday weekend that has included indulging in all of these, some possibly more than once. Spoiler alert: some of them involve story.

Netflix and Awww: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Have you heard about this teen rom-com on Netflix originals? It’s based on a YA book by Jenny Han. I don’t read much YA, so I hadn’t read this book or its two sequels before watching the movie – something that’s almost unheard of for me. But I’d heard good things about the movie and really wanted to settle in with some popcorn on Saturday night and watch a light-hearted romance. This movie gave me all the feels. And I loved the way it toed the line of some of the age-old tropes, but then didn’t go there. That kept it fresh, witty, and really respectful of teenage girls. When’s the last time you saw all that in a movie? Continue reading

Justine: Seeking Out Rejection to Overcome It

Are you sitting on your finished MS, dying-but-hating to send it out to the A-list of agents and editors you met at a recent conference? Perhaps you’ve signed up for a mentor program, but you’re anxious about putting your 60,000 word baby in the hands of someone else. Or, you found a great new critique partner, but you keep putting off sharing your chapters because “it’s just not quite right yet.”

You’ve got a rejection problem…or really, the fear of it.

Cue Jia Jiang, an entrepreneur and educator who formed an early association to rejection anxiety when he was six years old. Watch in this humorous TED talk as he explains how exposing himself to rejection for 100 days actually lessened the anxiety he felt about being rejected, and actually opened up opportunities he otherwise wouldn’t have had. It’s a lesson we can all learn from (although I don’t think I’ll be asking for “burger refills” at the local burger joint).

What is your worst rejection moment? Your best? What lessons can you share with writers who are afraid to put their work out there?

Jilly: Vicarious Thrills

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be aware that our Jeanne’s debut novel, The Demon Always Wins, is now available for preorder on Amazon and will be released for sale on 1 September. Squee!

Some of the 8 Ladies have been published before, so it’s not technically our first book, but it’s the one Jeanne was working on when we all first met (virtually) in class at McDaniel College. When she said it was a re-telling of the story of Job as a paranormal romantic comedy I remember thinking, “that’s interesting, and different.”

Because we spent a whole year in class talking about our stories and critiquing each other’s scenes, I think we all feel a certain sense of ownership of this book. We got to know Jeanne’s dark, snarky, funny voice. We saw her delete a fantastic opening scene only to replace it with one even better. We watched her polish her manuscript until it became a Golden Heart winner, and then take it up another level with the help of rigorous professional editing. 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.

Michaeline: You Can Rent a Man in Japan

A handsome samurai leaning on his sword in a Japanese ukiyoe wood cut print

Help wanted? Have sword; will travel! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

まじ!You can rent a Japanese middle-aged man in Japan for about 1000 yen (approx. $9 as of this writing) an hour. Now, if that isn’t a seed idea for a romantic story, I don’t know what is.

Tofugu talks about their experiences in renting two older gentlemen here, and Kaeru Parcels gets down to the nitty gritty of how to rent a guy in Japan.

There are ground rules. No sex stuff. You often pay for transportation and any expenses (food, drink, entry fees to museums, etc.) for your gentleman. No touching. And no trying to sell your gentleman anything. If you violate the rules three times, you go on a blacklist.

What do people do with their older gentlemen? Well, one lady didn’t have friends who enjoyed spicy foods, so she rented a guy to go to restaurants with her. Some people just wanted someone to talk to. And others did the sit-com thing, where they hired an old guy to play a role. For example, one guy was a sarcastic guest at a party.

In another case, one woman hired an old guy to play her ex- to make her current boyfriend jealous and propose. It’s a little hard to parse the Tofugu article, but the way I read it, she and the old guy found a spark, and are now happy together. (But it could be read as a happy ending for the girl and her boyfriend after a confession – either way, good story material.)

Rent-a-guy is a pretty common trope in romance fiction, and I think it’s a fun one. It can be very transactional, where Our Heroine rents an actor to play the boyfriend, or Our Hero needs to rent an actress. Or, it can be a matter of Continue reading