Romantic Life Lessons

My Conference Chronicles

iStock_000001521921XSmall(1)I am a terrible traveler, even though I like to be in different places. This April, I had two conferences to attend back-to-back, along with seven manuscripts to edit. Normally, this might make me cry. I chose to laugh about it instead (and eat a Snickers every day). Truth be told, it was great to get out of the city and meet with romance writers.

But I did go through my travel rituals: 1. Have a quiet tantrum right before leaving 2. Buy four magazines 3. Get something “nutritious” like a bagel 4. Think Oh who am I kidding and find a Krispy Kreme donut, too. As usual, I ate nothing on the entire train ride. Didn’t even touch the manuscript I should have been editing. I confess, I played Candy Crush and stared out the window.

The Washington Romance Writers Retreat … was lovely. I was picked up and delivered by super-nice people. I got to meet colleagues and see the usual suspects I’ve enjoyed seeing over fifteen years. Every time I arrive at a conference, I’m starving so I dove into the carbs at the buffet — usually there is pasta and a potato dish, along with bread. I ignored vegetables entirely, but not the desserts (1 brownie, 1 cookie, 1 cheesecakey bar). You’d think I was only focused on the food (I ate the bagel and the compressed donut, too), but I also mingled with writers. I live in a bubble, so it’s a treat to meet the people behind all these stories.

After the editor/agent panel, which was enormous and enormously informative, I returned to my room and sank into my carb coma. The next day, I listened to pitches, participated on a different panel and then witnessed the wildly entertaining “Romance Jeopardy.” When you put romance writers in a room at night, crazy things can happen (I won’t say a word about what I saw). I returned to New York City and promptly ate a salad.

I’d been hearing about the New England Romance Writers Conference for years, so I was excited to go. Before the event, I critiqued fifteen 10-page openings and gathered my business cards, another manuscript, and work-related materials to pass out. With half an hour until my train left, I sought out magazines, the bagel, the who-am-I-kidding Krispy Kreme donut (and salted cashews). I plunged head-first into the Yankee pot roast, chicken and potatoes at the dinner buffet. As I debated the wisdom of a fourth cup of coffee, I got to discuss historical romance and science fiction (I saw Star Wars) and reconnect with writers I hadn’t seen in a while. The next day, I went over my critiques with my appointees, which I hope they found useful. I certainly did. This exercise gave me the opportunity to provide specific feedback on the actual writing, which is 99.9% of the reason why I’ll buy or reject a manuscript.

In a few minutes of downtime, I chatted with an attendee, who, like me, is obsessed by Duran Duran, and we quickly traded DD gossip before running to workshops. Last but not least, all the speakers were excellent–funny, poignant, and motivating.

During the conference after-party, I sipped my Sprite and lurked, at one point listening to two agents say to each other, “I love my job!” “Me too, I love my job!”

So do I.


A-Conferencing I Will Go!

Girl Riding a Commuter Rail Trainby Patience Bloom

This has never happened to me before: I’m going to two conferences back to back. Usually, I’m not a great traveler, but I confess, I am excited to get out of dodge. Amtrak is my new BFF as I trek down to Maryland this weekend for Washington DC Romance Writers’ annual retreat. My iPad is charged, tickets bought, talking points written and I’m already coveting my hotel soaps and shampoos. The following weekend, I go to the New England Romance Writers’ conference where I’ll have appointments, and, I’m sure, meet some fabulous writers.

I can’t wait to see everyone. Speak up if you’re going!

Romantic Suspense, Writing Tips

In Romantic Suspense, Do You Go with Predictable or Twisted–or Both?

iStock_000018846669XSmallMy disclaimer is: I don’t write romantic suspense. I wouldn’t know how. It boggles my mind how writers create a cohesive plot and then give us editors nightmares. With this genre you have to think of character, romantic intrigue and the “boo” factor. Where would I even start? Probably with the villain because I love the evil ones (only on paper).

Because I read so much romantic suspense, I can usually smell the ending within the first few chapters. I just hope the reader doesn’t. This is when I remind myself that suspense lovers read lots of suspense and try to figure out the ending. I’m sure that for writers it’s a constant worry–how to generate suspense while keeping the reader questioning and on the edge of her seat. This is where the villain can help out. In a romance novel, though, you don’t want the villain to outshine the hero and heroine. This can be hard to help because readers love to get into the minds of a twisted bad guy/girl. How did he/she become bad? If you think about it, writers are amateur psychologists, piecing together a person’s internal framework then documenting it. Then the writer has to make the two central characters even more interesting. Add the suspense and you have many sleepless nights for any reader–and, I imagine, for a writer of romantic suspense (you all deserve medals!).

As an editor, I see the following scenarios in romantic suspense:

1. A more predictable plot that most readers will still love. Some of us love our “comfort suspense.” (Bones, The Closer)

2. Several red herrings that throw me off before the obvious villain emerges, pointing a gun. (Agatha Christie sometimes, but I love her!)

3. A deepening focus on the characters. The edgier they are, the less I care that the suspense is uncomplicated. (The Killing, Breaking Bad)

4. A completely twisted story where I have no clue what’s about to happen and the author takes me to scary places (The Following, Hannibal, Breaking Bad). Recently, I was telling an author how twisted she was (she really was/is). I could hear her hesitation when she asked, “Is that a good thing?” It’s  a great thing.

I tend to love #4 the most but realize that readers love all four of these scenarios. They each have a place in suspense. We’ve seen just about everything, but if you add that there are a gazillion voices relaying these juicy tales, you haven’t read the same story twice. Just when I think I can’t be surprised, a writer will find a new way to shock me, to take me where I don’t dare go (but sort of want to). The best writers out there do this–lead you with language and/or story into a new or old place. You might have an idea what will happen, but you don’t see it coming–or maybe you do, but you want to go on this ride anyway.