Eight years ago today, I brought my son home from the hospital. Here’s one of my favorite shots of that day.
Seven years later (one year ago today), I hit the “publish” button on my first novel, Forever a Bridesmaid, and rushed out the door to take my son to swim class. Later that night, just before midnight, I got to see my listing come up. One of the biggest thrills of my life.
In this first year of publishing, I published a total of 10 books (3 full-length novels and 7 novellas). In addition to that, I’ve got one boxed set, three audiobooks, and, just this week, agreed to have Forever a Bridesmaid translated into Spanish.
Thanks to the support of my wonderful readers, I won a contract with my second novel, The Lost Art of Second Chances, and officially became a hybrid author. I am the luckiest author in the world.
In the next year, I’ve got five more Cupid’s Coffeeshop novellas, two novellas in two different anthology boxed sets, the final novel in my Bridesmaid’s trilogy, several more boxed sets, and audiobooks to come. It’s going to be a busy year. Stick around for the ride!
First, at the outset, let me acknowledge the first worldly-ness of this problem. Still, it was stressful and traumatic in ways that I think my parents generation would find mystifying. It highlights our utter dependence on technology now, how central it is to all our lives. Especially my life. Not saying that’s a good or bad thing. But there it is.
Fox and the Pilot gave me my MacBook Pro for my 40th birthday, nearly exactly five years ago. I’d been through a series of PC laptops, that constantly seemed to choke at my photo library and word processing needs. Finally, after many tech support visits, paid in pizza, our friend, Jason, said to me, “Courtney, you really need a Mac.” And since I had rather a big birthday coming up, my MacBook Pro arrived in due course.
And I took to it like a duck to water. This isn’t an uncommon experience, of course, especially for creative types. Jobs knew what he was doing and designed his machines with a breathtaking intuitiveness that PCs simply lack. Plus, it had Scrivener which is simply the best novel writing program ever designed.
So, for the past 5 years, I’ve used my Mac daily for everything. I wore out the keyboard and the hard drive. Both were replaced. I wrote all 8 of my published novels on it and most of the 9th. I wrote nearly 400,000 words of fanfic before I got the courage to write my original work. It’s been a very trusty constant companion.
I knew it was wearing out. My penchant for having 72 tabs open and every app running overwhelmed it a lot. It crashed often. I backed up more often. Still, I thought I could wait for my birthday in August–another big one–45! And that maybe, instead of the portability of the MacBook, I’d go for the iMac and go easy on my aging eyes.
Last night, I meant to update Safari and clicked the button for el Capitan by mistake. And poor old Mac just choked. I spent two hours with some very kind people at the Genius bar today who shook their heads sadly over my wheezing machine. They were able to take it back to factory settings but the video card and hard drive are unstable at best.
So, I got a 27″ iMac with all the bells and whistles. And it’s great (if enormous!) And I know I’ll love Big Mac just as much as I adored Mac I. And I’m astonished and grateful for the wonder that is Apple’s Time Machine. I have all my photos and music. All my documents are in Dropbox so the writing is fine.
Still, a little sad tonight for my first Mac and thought I’d storify my tweets as I waited at the genius bar today, just as a memorial for a little computer that done good.
Surely you’ve heard the snark. The titters over the lurid covers. The pollyanna insistence on a happy ending. Bodice rippers. Lowbrow, genre, not-literary. Porn for women. Harlequin used to be accused of selling books like bars of soap.
Romance novels get a bad rap.
And it’s totally ridiculous. Let me tell you why.
Myth One: Feminists don’t read romance novels.
A feminist is a person who supports social, economic, personal, and political rights for women. Romance novels are written for women, by women. They feature a woman choosing her life partner. The woman chooses to find romantic and (usually) sexual fulfillment on her own terms, whatever unique terms those might be. The woman chooses—that’s not even true of all countries in the world yet and certainly was not historically the case. Of all genres, romance novels feature empowered women blazing their own path to their own happily ever after.
I think what the person who says this is just being pretentious. They want their reading choices to say, “I’m so smart! I only read real literature.” What does that even mean?
Romance novels are a genre, with conventions and tropes that are expected by the readers of the genre, just like mystery, science fiction, horror and all other genres. On the other side of these commercial genres, literary fiction stands in contrast. What is literary fiction? Whatever doesn’t fit into the defined genres. There is a sense that literary fiction is somehow worthier and more noble because it’s usually a slog to read with a sad ending. And historically (though this has changed in recent times) it was written by men.
Oh, and also, just as an aside, romance readers don’t only read romance. Most romance readers are voracious readers who read across a broad spectrum. So, if I want to read my Nora Roberts today and my Margaret Atwood tomorrow and my Shakespeare on Friday, I will, thank you very much, with no one’s approval of my reading choices required.
Myth Three: Romance novels are trashy.
Why are they trashy? Because they contain sex scenes? But no, that can’t be all of it. Mystery novels, horror novels, science fiction, and even “literary” fiction often contain sex scenes. Romance novels are trashy because they depict women enjoying sex. Quell horror! We can’t have that!
Also, not all romances contain sex and those that do range from soft-focus love scenes to explicit sex. But why does our society frown on women enjoying sex? And why is that acceptable? Shouldn’t good, consensual sex be part of a loving, respectful, romantic relationship? This also ties into the tired “romance novels give women unreasonable expectations” chestnut. So, if a romance novel teaches readers to expect respect, love, and really hot sex and most partners can’t provide that, the problem is not with the romance novel, is it? Myth Four: Romance novels are all the same or formulaic.
Okay. In the sense that all cars are the same, all computers are the same, all hamburgers are the same, it is true that all romance novels are the “same.” According to Romance Writers of America, the defining characteristics of a romance novel are that it feature a central love story and an optimistic ending. It’s usually a couple, though that couple can be heterosexual or homosexual. Some books feature more than two partners. And the optimistic, emotionally satisfying ending usually does mean that the couple commits to a relationship for the foreseeable future—the so-called happily ever after.
Within those confines, there are too many sub-genres of romance to list. The main three are contemporary, historical, and paranormal. Beyond that, there are Young Adult (YA) and New Adult (NA). There are contemporaries set in small towns, in cities, in far flung locales. There are historicals for every time period from antiquity to World War II. Paranormal can encompass elements such as ghosts or magic to fully realized worlds containing every mythical creature ever imagined. There are also romances set on future starships or on alien worlds. And that’s not even to speak of favorite tropes such as arranged marriages, friends to lovers, second chance at love… the permutations are literally endless.
In the last few months alone, I’ve read romances set in New York City, one set in contemporary India, a Georgian take on fairy tales, and one set in ancient Rome.
But they’re all just the same, carbon copies of each other. Just like all mysteries are the same—I mean the killer is caught at the end, right? Or all sitcoms are the same because I mistake Big Bang Theory for The Office every time. **eyeroll**
I’ve been reading romance for over thirty years and I just published my sixth romance novel. I love discovering each couple’s path to happily-ever-after. I’m a proud feminist. I am a well-educated woman, with a graduate degree. Before I became a writer, I enjoyed great success in my chosen legal career. I’m happily married and the mother of a son.
And I’m proud to say not only do I read romances but I write them too.
So, it’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) time again. NaNoWriMo is celebrated during the month of November. The concept is simple. Write 50k in a single month, on a single novel. Write the words? You won!
Over the years, I’ve done Nano on and off. I think I tried seven times and won twice. The Lost Art of Second Chances started out as my 2011 NaNoWriMo novel and I’d still like to revive my 2013 one someday.
I’m not participating this year, for the second year in a row. I’m still recovering from surgery for a start and can only sit at my desk for about two hours before needing to lay down with a heating pad. Also, right now, I’m writing the Cupid’s Coffeeshop series. They are novellas, each about 15k (I think). Also, now that I’ve established a writing habit and writing routine, 50k in a month isn’t really a challenge for me any more. It’s more like an average month.
I do love Nano though. I love the energy, enthusiasm, and optimism inherent in such a crazy, windmill-tilting goal. Developing a writing habit takes time and practice and Nano helped me with that.
For writers still struggling to set a writing habit or newbies who want to see what this writing lark is all about, National Novel Writing Month is a fantastic and fun thing to do. I believe everyone should try it at least once.
I’m just going to sit this year out. But, until then kids, have fun storming the castle!
Previously on the blog, I’ve discussed my recommended resources for writers, mostly focused on books. This week, I thought I’d talk about my favorite writing blogs. The easiest way to follow blogs is to use a RSS reader. I happen to use NewsBlur but there are plenty of great ones out there.
1) The amazing novelist Jenny Crusie writes Argh, Ink! It’s not solely writing focused but, when she does discuss writing, it’s clear, straight-forward, no nonsense advice. And the crochet creations are adorable!
2) Kristen Lamb’s blog, “Warrior Writers” and her online community at My WANA (stands for We Are Not Alone).
3) Romance University is a must for anyone seeking to publish in romance. Always great topics there.
Last week, I discussed my favorite writing craft books. I’m back this week with a second list of recommended reads for writers.
1) If you’re ever planning to attempt National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo). In November each year, hundreds of thousands of writers attempt to write 50,000 words in one month. Don’t go for it without the definitive guidebook from the founder of the annual writing exercise. No Plot! No Problem!by Chris Baty.
2) Novelist Claire Cook (most famous for Must Love Dogs) recently came out with Never Too Late. There’s also a free companion workbook at her site. Great reinvention stories in here. If you ask me, the story of the table read and Christopher Plummer was worth the cost of the book. Love this one.
3) Another novelist, Barbara Samuels wrote The Care and Feeding of the Girls in the Basement which is another collection of inspiring essays about the writing life. Stephen King coined the term the boys in the basement for the weird, subconscious mind of a writer. The romance novel version of this is the Girls in the Basement. It’s why I figured out the missing second half of the second act just as I sat down to watch the Minion movie. Successful writers learn to hone those strange flashes of inspiration and Samuels does a good job discussing it.
5) And her husband, Dean Wesley Smith, also has some great writing books out there. They both have fabulous blogs also. I think if I had to pick my favorite, I’d pick Killing the Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing, but much like Rusch, you can’t go wrong with any of his titles.
6) Larry Brooks is another author in this same category. Anything he’s written. All of it’s great. And his website is wonderful (Storyfix). I think Story Engineeringis my favorite but I also laugh at Warm Hugs for Writers a lot. If I need just the right pick me up, I’ll grab that.
7) Though it may seem odd, one excellent way to learn to structure novels is to learn from screenwriting. There are multiple books out there on that very subject. One of the best and easiest to understand is by author Alexandra Sokoloff’s Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. She also wrote Writing Love, which may be helpful if you’re trying to write a romance.
8) Okay, so maybe it’s not technically a book (yet-I’d love for him to write one). Storywonk’s Alastair Stephens The Journeyman Writer, a thrice weekly podcast of 5-7 minutes on various writing topics, Alastair does a brilliant job of dispensing practical advice to the working writer. I seriously have breakfast with this podcast three times a week. Love it. (Full disclosure–Alastair is also my copy-editor).
9) Jack Bickham’s Scene and Structure. This book contains the famous explanation of a scene and a sequel scene showcasing the character’s reaction and making a plan. I’ve read this one over and over and still find new insight. Definitely a keeper.
Last week, I talked about my path to becoming a writer. This week, I thought I’d share some of my favorite craft resources. I am a craft book addict. I read writing blogs, listen to podcasts, and read writing books constantly. I’m always seeking to learn and improve my craft in any way I can.
Once, when I was having a particularly discouraging writing day, I looked around my home office at the craft books lining the walls and realized that I’d never actually be able to quit writing. It’s just too ingrained in me now.
So, without further ado, here are my top ten writing book recommendations.
These first three books are pretty standard creativity recommendations. I’ve read all three multiple times. I can’t recommend them highly enough and often turn to them over and over again.
Wise, witty, and wry take on the writing life. Great to read when you’re stuck on your WIP or get a savage critique. I love it so much I own the audiobook too.
2)On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.
Part autobiography and part direct, straight shooting advice about living a writer’s life, King does an amazing job in On Writing. His metaphor for writing as digging for fossils is how I still think about drafting today. And the clearest explanation of a writer’s mind I ever read is the one he gives about driving along and bouncing between radio stations. I re-read this every few years and mine new gems out of it all the time.
Cameron lays out a 12 week course for recovering creatives. She insists on two tools, Morning Pages, and Artist’s Dates. In later books, she adds a twenty minute solo walk. I’ve never been able to fit Artist’s Dates (a one weekly creative excursion) into my life but I have done morning pages before. Except I never wrote them in the morning 🙂 Some people find Cameron a bit airy-fairy but I can’t deny that the tools work. I think every writer should try a twelve week stint of morning pages, at least once.
The rest of my recommendations tend toward pragmatic writing advice. Even in school, I was never great at theoretical teachings and I think this list reflects that. These are in no particular order.
Actually, any of his writing books are fabulous. I’ve read them all but Plot and Structure is the one I’ve read over and over again. I’m still working through his analyze six books exercise.
5) Much like James Scott Bell, you can’t go wrong reading anything by Chuck Wendig. His blog, Terrible Minds, is one of my all-time favorites. I’ve read all his writing books and they are all great. The Kick Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, & Earn Your Audience is probably his best. Warning: Chuck isn’t your guy if you’re easily offended by profanity. But he’s hilarious and fun and smart. So there’s that.
6) If you’re like me and struggle with putting emotions into your writing without saying “She was mad!” the Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is the book for you. It lives on my desk. I use it nearly daily. Fabulous resource!
7) Anything by Holly Lisle but especially her Create a Character Clinic. It contains my all-time favorite exercise, the Shadow Room. You can also find that exercise by subscribing to her fabulous website. When I first read the exercise, I was skeptical and then I tried it. Now, it’s the first character exercise I do, every time.
9) Let’s round out the top ten with two writing business books. Any writer needs to master social media in order to thrive but it’s especially critical for self-published writers. Kristen Lamb runs the My WANA sites. Her Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World gives step-by-step advice for setting up your social media presence. If you’re planning on publishing, you need this book. Probably yesterday.
10) For a very thoughtful, direct take on the state of self-publishing today, read The Indie Author’s Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn. (NOTE: Be sure to get the second edition as the first edition is outdated in this ever-changing new publishing landscape). She’s got a sequel coming out soon, called For Love or Money. I’ll be snapping that up too. Great actionable advice in here.
And that’s it for the first top ten. I’ll be back next week with ten MORE recommended writing books.
Today’s post is the first in a series about how to become a writer. Following the old medical school adage of learn, do, teach, I thought I’d set down my experience, just as my first novel is coming out next month.
“Fox says you’re a writer.” My son’s camp counselor waylaid me at summer camp drop-off this morning. “What kind of writing do you do?”
As I struggled to put his two hundred pounds of gear away in his cubby (seriously—these kids pack for summer day camp like a trek to the Himalayas! Mommy gets to play the role of sherpa and pack mule.), I said, “I’m a novelist.”
The first time I’d ever said it aloud to anyone not a family member or life-long friend. She stared at me. I shuffled my feet, eager to get home to my keyboard and my newest hero and heroine, and not very comfortable in my new identity. As I spend most of my time hanging around with writers and imaginary characters, I tend to forget that most people have never met a novelist. Many people long to be one, intending to write their book on some far-off someday, but fewer still ever put words on a page.
She didn’t say, “No, you can’t be, you ridiculous poser.” Or “I read a lot and have never heard of you.” Or “Who says?”
Instead, she said, “I’ve always wanted to write. I had so many wonderful experiences in my homeland…” She went on some length about her life story, as I stood, trapped against the cubbies, ending with, “How did you learn to write?”
Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I thought I’d spent the next few weeks on the blog trying to answer it.
The first step to becoming a writer is to be a reader. I don’t actually remember a time before I could read. Though both my parents read me bedtime stories, my mother is the reader and passed her love of reading to her children. Growing up, she gave me and my younger sister a book rich environment, including weekly library trips and books as presents for every major occasion. She also modeled the behavior by being a reader herself. All my aunts and cousins were readers, just something we all did, as we swapped books amongst us. By far, my favorite activity as a child, and still today, is to read. One of my favorite parts of parenthood is getting to read favorite childhood books aloud to Fox.
From being an avid reader, it’s usually a short jump to scribbling one’s own ideas down. I was no different. Fox’s Kindergarten program placed a great emphasis on being both an author and an illustrator, as did my elementary school. I wrote stories on and off until middle school or even later. Thankfully, these early tries were lost in a basement flood some years ago as they were as abysmal as one might expect such junior scribblings to be.
In high school, I funneled my writing talents into the school newspaper and other assignments. Creative or fiction writing mostly ended up pushed off to the side until I was out of law school, aside from a short story here and there. In between taking the bar exam and waiting three long months for my results, my best friend and I collaborated on a novel together. And that’s when the writing bug bit me hard.
I joined Romance Writers of America and my local chapter, Washington Romance Writers, in 1998. Back then, traditional publishing was the only viable path to publishing. For several years, I attempted the contest and query letter route with minimal success. The whole industry also seemed a fool’s game to me. I didn’t want to invest all my time into writing a novel that might never sell. Acting on some unfortunate advice, I sent queries before my novel was finished and then couldn’t send it back to the requesting editor in a timely manner. Discouraged, I pretty much stopped seeking to write for publication and turned to other hobbies to get my creative outlet.
For the next decade, I wrote on and off, taking a lot of time out for major events like planning my wedding to the Pilot, buying my first home, and enduring infertility treatments. I did publish a non-fiction book but couldn’t seem to crack fiction. I’d start many stories, never outlining, and get about 50 to 75 pages in before giving up. I also had a day job I enjoyed, which, in retrospect, I think made me fairly complacent about my pie-in-the-sky writing dream.
By the time my son arrived in 2008, I’d mostly given up the idea of writing fiction. I still wrote now and then but had no sustained practice. And then the e-reader revolution arrived. E-readers existed before then, of course, but they remained a niche until then. By 2010, e-publishing really took off.
I started once again pursuing fiction writing in 2011 but still struggled with finishing my work and learning the basics of craft. I didn’t have anything that I felt was publishable and, with a young child and a hectic, stressful job, I didn’t have much time to devote to it either.
And then, in October 2013, the federal government furloughed. Suddenly, I had three weeks where I got to experience what my life could actually be like as a full-time writer. Fox was in school, the Pilot was at work, and I wrote like a crazy woman. I wrote 54,000 words in 17 days, all of it fanfiction which I put up on a popular fanfic site. And once the comments and praise started pouring in, I was hooked.
Several fellow fanfic writers and I formed a sort of merry band of writers. In less than a year, I wrote over 300,000 words. Once again, I wanted to create my own stories, characters, and worlds. I finally, finally, finally managed to start a daily writing practice by following the amazing Chuck Wendig’s advice to write 350 words a day. (Be warned of some swear words at the link). I am not exaggerating when I say that that blog post changed my life.
That fall, Fox was due to enter Kindergarten and The Pilot and I wanted one of us to work from home during the “meet-the-bus” years. So, in August of 2014, I quit my job to be a work-at-home mom. And this August, my first book is coming out, just in time for my 44th birthday. I’m thrilled to bits to realize my dream of being a published novelist.
I finally finished watching Friends. Overall, I really loved it and enjoyed spending time in Central Perk with the six of them. I’m sure I’ll rewatch the episodes for years to come.
1) How much did the writers hate Ross? (Or what did David Schwimmer do to the show runner?)
Ross is my least favorite character and I think David Schwimmer comes across as whiney and shrill. Having said that, he also got the worst material and, yet, he continually gave it his all. I still loathe Ross but I admire David Schwimmer for his dedication to the role. It mostly wasn’t his fault that I wanted him to get hit by a bus every single episode.
2) Shipping wars alert
From a show perspective, I get why Ross and Rachel ended up together. I understand why she got off the plane. Having said that, I actually think Rachel would have been happier with Joey in the long run. They had much more in common. I hated the way they ended that relationship. It didn’t work for me at all.
I wasn’t surprised when Rachel got off the plane. I expected it. But, when I analyze it, I think that a stronger ending would have been for Ross and Rachel NOT to get together. Monica and Chandler were the happy family. We didn’t need Rachel and Ross to get together and it’s a weaker story, I think, for it. It was what the audience wanted but not what the actual story needed.
As a writer, I think I’d pick the story. But maybe not. Maybe audience expectations are just too strong in a case like that.
3) Change of Writers.
Season Eight showed a marked change to the humor in the show. It seemed meaner and more cutting-edge. I think this coincided with the departure of the show runners and a new production team. But watching it straight through, it was jarring. And the first half of season 10 was just deplorable. So awful!
Watching the shows mostly back to back over a compressed period taught me a great deal about character arcs and writing. (Or at least that’s my excuse for binge-watching 🙂
I’m thinking either Parks and Rec or the Office next… Any suggestions?
Happy Summer! Fox is out of school for the summer. Hard to believe he’s not a kindergartener anymore. I borrowed this meme about summer from my friend Mary’s blog,Passionate Perseverance. She started the blog to document her life with her severely disabled daughter, also named Courtney. Her story is amazing (have Kleenex ready if you read it!) and she’s always an inspiration to me.
Here are my Answer Me This answers for Summertime…
#1 – Any big plans for the summer?
Mostly, I’m going to be spending summer with my favorite guy, Fox. He is going to camp on and off all summer. In between, we’re going to do crafts, go to the pool, and participate in the local library’s summer reading challenge. To that end, if anyone has any suggestions for keeping an almost 7 year old amused, let me know in the comments. I need all the help I can get.
I’m also in the final stages of two books, Forever a Bridesmaid, and The Lost Art of Second Chances while starting to draft Once a Bridesmaid. I need a time turner.
And we’re planning to go to the Outer Banks in July and Myrtle Beach in August. Should be a fun, full summer.
#2 – What is the strangest thing you believed as a child?
I went to 13 years of Catholic school. I totally bought into the Jesus and the saints are watching your every move deal. #3 – What is you favorite amusement park ride?
Any roller coaster. Anytime, baby! My favorite coaster ever is the Alpengeist in Busch Gardens in Williamsburg.
No, not since I was three and fell asleep in my stroller at Disney World.
#6 – What is your favorite smell?
All the lavender. LOVE that one. But I’m a lotions and potions kinda girl so I love lots of different ones. My all time favorite lotion is satsuma from the Body Shop. So bright and clean and happy. And I also love their new green tea line.
That’s it for this week. Tag, you’re it! Your turn to answer the questions….