Writing Tips

The Romance Heroine Mystique

Who is this woman in your romance novel?  As you sit down to write your book, you may start out casting yourself as the heroine, because, let’s face it, you’re awesome, you’ve been through a lot, you’re loveable and you should write what you know, right? Maybe you envision Julia Roberts as your heroine and write America’s Sweetheart circa 1991 into the story (this is what I would do). Or maybe she’s a composite of different women you love. Even writing this blog post is hard because the romance heroine is a bit elusive. Sure, she’s strong, feisty, the girl we root for, loveable, able to match wits with the hero, but how do you define her je ne sais quoi?  I wish I knew!

As an editor, I see several kinds of heroines. These are just a few:

1. The Perfect Woman: She recycles, gives to the poor, and her only flaw is that she worries too much about others and not enough about herself. I usually dislike her. In real life, I would rather have Melanie as my friend, but in a novel, Scarlet is more interesting.

2. Ms. I-Don’t-Have-Time-For-a-Relationship-Because-I’m-So-Focused-on-My-Career: She’s all about work because her father wanted a son and she feels compelled to please him. Maybe she works hard so that she can close herself off emotionally and forget about the man who did her wrong. Sure, this woman exists in real life and we can love her. In a romance, though, Miss Career needs to be less cliché and have one highly unproductive trait to balance her work-perfection.

3. The One-Man-Ruined-My-Life Heroine: This conflict doesn’t often ring true, unless the bad breakup is recent. Sure, one bad egg can put a girl in a fetal position for days with hand in a bucket of Milk Duds and Xanax but often it’s a long line of bad relationships that will have a heroine saying “no more.”

4.The Bad Girl: I tend to love this heroine but only if she’s bad on the inside. Forget the leather jacket, tattoos, multiple piercings–too obvious. The effective Bad Girl heroine is the one who enters a party, determined to cause trouble. My most recent favorite Bad Girl is Gossip Girl‘s Blair Waldorf. She is highly manipulative, totally nuts, but quite literate, witty and sensitive. I root for her happiness above all others. (I like Lily, too)

5. The Sad Sack: This heroine can’t catch a break. She got dumped, is orphaned, broke, pregnant, still in love with a jerk ex, just got fired, has Post Traumatic nightmares, is being used by mean sibling, etc…and walks around in a gloomy fog. True love will bring her sunshine, and yet, why bother reading? Life is hard enough.

6. The Mixed Bag: We are all mixed bags, and this is difficult to capture on the page. You want to shoot for this because in the end, your heroine should be three-dimensional, unlike any other, a person you want to spend oodles of time with, and someone memorable.

Your heroine is the one you have to love the most. Readers can hate the hero off and on before falling in love with him. He is usually an easier sell. Your relationship with your heroine needs to be secure from the beginning and carry through your book. Piece of cake, right?

And now, I’m about to watch Mad Men where I can follow some great heroines, such as Joan, the ultimate mixed bag–and, best of all, a redhead!

Romantic Life Lessons

Some of My Favorite Romances on Screen

First I’ll put out the disclaimer that I love drek, as well as the classics, and you can’t help what touches you emotionally. Without shame (maybe a little), I will list some of the movies that hit me hard and showed me the power of love.

Notting Hill: I’m not sure why I love this one because Julia is consistently mean to Hugh and he keeps caving to her. Maybe it was the awkwardness between them or the loveable insane roommate Spike. All I know is that when she says “indefinitely” at the end, my eyes fill with giant Julia tears.

Frankie and Johnny: This flick got panned but I watched it over and over for about two years. I totally identified with the depressing Michelle Pfeiffer role and it seemed so lovely to me that such a sad-sack could find true love. How can you not adore Al Pacino?

Deja Vu  blew me away and I was in dreamland for weeks over this indie. A couple, both with other spouses, fall in love and find themselves constantly reunited through a long string of coincidences. Each time I watch it, I blubber like a baby–though after the 107th viewing, the heroine seems pretty whiny. Proceed with caution…and abandon!

Love Affair was deemed a mistake of a remake of An Affair to Remember.  But I love it! Annette Bening is endlessly gorgeous and fun to watch. She and Warren Beatty have this warm chemistry, so much so that even Katharine Hepburn agreed to be in it.

P.S. I Love You: I’ll confess, I’m not a big Hilary Swank fan, in that I don’t need to watch all her movies. But she is adorable here as a shoe-obsessed widow trying to find her way. Plus, she and Gerard Butler generate brilliant fireworks together. Kathy Bates is responsible for bringing on my torrent of sobbing toward the end–you’ll know where. You’ll see here how the human spirit is endlessly searching and finding connections.

How could I not include a classic? Notorious: Cary Grant is deadly sexy, the all-knowing hero who helps guide a drunken Audrey Hepburn toward a more virtuous path. Great on-screen sparks in the scandalous kiss of its time.

Romantic Life Lessons

A Romance Editor Meets Her Own Prince Charming

Let this story be a reminder that you never know what’s around the corner or when Mr/Ms. Right will appear. Having read romance novels for thirteen years and serial dated/monogamized for twenty-five, I gave up on true love. The weird part was that I didn’t much care. A girl is just fine by herself (I still believe this) and I didn’t relish the idea of more romance, making more small talk and waiting for the vanishing act/the red flag/other shoe to drop. It had happened a million times before. Dating in Manhattan was feeling too much like a greasy buffet.

Then out of nowhere, when I didn’t care (August 10, 2009), I got a Friend request from a familiar name. The popular boy from high school, a few years ahead of me, that fun, adorable class clown. I realized his appearance in my life had to be a divine gift. This “Friending” began a four-month whirlwind correspondence, though I proceeded with some caution. That “knowing he was The One” feeling one hears about–I finally had it! Suddenly, those romance novels didn’t seem so implausible.

Here is our story told in a few different places:

The Rachael Ray Show

The New York Times wedding section

The New York Times wedding video




Uncategorized, Writing Tips

My Top Three Grammar Pet Peeves:

It’s the substance and not so much one measly typo that will attract an editor’s eye, but bear in mind, that an editor notices both. Having read thousands of submissions, I can spot the writer who really takes her/his work seriously. She’s the one who obeys basic rules of grammar and proofreads her work. I’ve heard at conferences, “Well, the editor will fix all my typos.” Sure, but handing in sloppy work will guarantee a rejection.

Here are the three mistakes I see most often:

1. Lack of comma with direct address: This one really confounds me, especially since it’s a common mistake made by educated people. Thanks for the strudel Dave. You’re welcome Marcy. Arggggh! Make sure you put in those commas so that I don’t think there’s a strudel named Dave. Example: Thanks for the strudel, Dave.

2. You’re or your: With Twitter, Facebook and texting demanding a fast turn-around time, it’s easier to confuse “you’re” and “your.” Remember that “you’re” is the contraction for “you are.” “Your” denotes possession. Example: You’re awesome! Your dog just ate my flowers.

3. Typos: Spell check isn’t enough. You have to read through your entire manuscript and not just look for the red and blue lines. Read carefully. Then, get a friend to read it. After this, you should read it again and then hand in to an editor.

The bottom line: If you’re a writer, become a fan of grammar. It will show you as a professional rather than an amateur.

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

My Top Three Chapter One Romance Writing Pet Peeves:

1. The literal running-into-him introduction to the hero: The heroine—let’s call her Sally–is so adorable but she’s really clumsy. She opens a door and whoosh, she finds herself looking at the hero’s rock-hard chest. He stares down at her, his eyes dancing with amusement over her klutziness. Chemistry ensues. We editors see this “meet cute” all the time and we’re tired of it.

2. Starting a novel with someone driving: If I had a penny for how many manuscripts begin with the hero/heroine in a car, I’d be rich! It seems logical, doesn’t it? You begin with the character’s arrival Somewhere Important. This can work, but it’s a big cliché. Can’t you start with the knock on the door or a more active opening?

3. The first chapter info dump: Sally is brushing her hair in front of the mirror. She’s thinking about the boy who dumped her. Gosh, she’s been through so much. There was her parents’ divorce, the time she broke every bone in her body trying to save a daredevil child, the death of her cat and her grandmother’s fight with leukemia. Sally may have had a hard life but you can sprinkle in her tragedies throughout the manuscript and not just in the first chapter.

If you can avoid these three, you’re on your way to writing an original first chapter. Good luck!

Romantic Suspense, Writing Tips

Adding Suspense to Your Romance Plot

My best advice is to start simple with suspense. The biggest mistake I see is when a writer throws in everything but the kitchen sink to their romantic suspense novel. The heroine discovers she’s pregnant, by the cowboy down the street who has amnesia and can’t remember that he’s the father of another baby on his doorstep left by his ex who just died in a car crash but he never forgot the heroine.

Think of your plot as a growing circle and not a line that keeps getting longer. For suspense, you need to build momentum. It’s much easier to think in a line. This happens, then that. A linear plot is not so compelling for the suspense reader. We expect the excitement to build, growing in layer to that big, unforgettable ending. Instead, you might see something like this: The heroine falls down the stairs. She dusts herself off and then gets mugged. After that, she gets hit by a car. The hero comes along and then they both get kidnapped. Long story long, too much happens. It’s not how much you put in the story, but how you tell it. For a suspenseful romance novel, you don’t need a lot of ado to get to I Do.

Romantic Life Lessons

Are Teens Interested in Reading Romance?

What do young people read these days?  Unless it has to do with Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Vampire Diaries or Twilight, teens seem more immersed in texting, their iPhones, Facebook, TV and reading from technology.  When I was a teen, television marathons often kept me from reading, but there were some classics back in the 70s and 80s that I devoured.  Thank goodness, my father was clueless when I handed him Judy Blume’s Forever and Wifey to buy for me when I was 13.  I read the supremely racy Princess Daisy five minutes later. Evolving into a Romance reader, I turned to those little books at age 14 and spent long hours in my dorm room reading Penny Jordan and ignoring my World Civ homework.

Years later, I now have two nieces by marriage: one is 16, one 18.  Both want to read more adult books, but I wouldn’t dare send sexy Romances. They told me not to. These girls have seen all kinds of violence/sex on TV and love Desperate Housewives, Cougartown and Gossip Girl–interestingly, female focused shows.  The 18-year-old said I could send her “anything” so I found her historical, chick lit and romantic suspense novels that seemed tame.  She wouldn’t have wanted family-oriented romances (she has enough family in her life) and I’m sure her mother would have killed me if I’d sent her anything with sex in it.  Those books, a girl has to get on her own and usually through covert means.  If she’d been Christian, I would have sent her some Inspirational romance novels, which are great for young girls.  I’d love to encourage these girls to read for pleasure (romance!) as much as they can since they’ll become busy enough once they hit college and those terrible 20s when women spend every last second setting up their support systems, professional lives, and dating not necessarily to get married.

In any case, having two nieces gets me a little nostalgic for my teens when I discovered the Romance genre.  How strange to be an adult where I secretly want them to read Romances, but have to be protective, too.