Romantic Life Lessons, Shameless Promotion

Weekend at Williams College

I’m a firm believer that leaving the house is a good thing. Two weeks ago, at Williams College, I sp18033806_1841392116120242_235358556887425489_noke about my employer’s global marketing program at a conference about romance. Following this, I signed my book at Water Street Books, a lovely bookstore that is too friendly to be your typical college bookstore. Where were the shotglasses and school banners? Maybe they were there, but I was too focused on the wall to wall books.

Given my new fearless status when it comes to travel, this whole trip was a labor of love: hopping on a train and getting into a car with like-minded romance-aholics. I had the pleasure of talking with stars of the genre: Eloisa James, Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Sonali Dev who writes Bollywood in a romance novel, Katy Regnery, Radclyffe of Bold Strokes Books, Alison Case who is a professor at Williams (and fellow Oberlin alumna!) to name a few. We had a blast, and not because of the constant Dunkin’ Donuts outside the lecture hall.

And now I’m packing for the RT conference in Atlanta. This is my first time going. Except, of course, I have three emergency edits to do. Is it me or are work and Crazy Life Events falling from the sky all at once? Well, this just means it’s time for chocolate and dessert.

 

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Writing Tips

Welcome to Synopsis Camp!

IMG_2493What is more painful than writing a synopsis? Writing a blog post about writing synopses. Just kidding not really. While on an editor panel, I promised to write this post and I’m glad I did. From the bottom of my heart, I feel that banging out that synopsis is essential–and easy.

Let’s just get it out of the way, that every writer tells me, “I can’t write a synopsis.” And I can’t eat pickled beets unless you give me money, which is what my mother and brother did once. Seriously, you can write a synopsis. If you can write a book, you can write a synopsis. Remember high school, college? It’s a matter of getting into the right head space and practicing. I don’t blame you for complaining. I have to write synopses, too, and I do plenty of whining about it. Then I realize what a skill it is: being able to summarize your work.

One thing to note: Editors need that synopsis. They have to pitch your story to higher ups. We might even require a refresher if we haven’t looked at your book in a few weeks. There are so many books that we read between your submission and that second or third read. A synopsis turns out to be a handy guide to your story. It introduces everyone to the basics.

But how do you write a dry synopsis on a story you are so passionate about? It can be done, I swear. If we can survive the elements, reality television, and the presidential campaign, we can tackle this onerous task.

Because I hate writing synopses myself, I’ve devised a handy way to get through the pain. Maybe it’ll help you, too.

  1. Choose two days where your goal is to write the synopsis. No other writing, no other big projects. Just the synopsis.
  2. Write a logline, a one-sentence summary of your story, two sentences tops. Encapsulating your premise into one neat sentence is a talent and one you can show off when you pitch your story. You will use that logline over and over again.
  3. Prepare yourself psychologically for the longer synopsis. Editors have different requirements, but I like to ask for a five-page synopsis, double spaced. If you can do this, you’re in great shape. Line up your pencils, hydrate, and say, “I can do this.”
  4. Break down your synopsis into three parts. Act I, Act II, and Act III–but don’t label them as such in your synopsis. It’s easier to write a synopsis when you think of it in smaller segments. Never write a chapter by chapter breakdown. These are hard to follow.
  5. Write Act I in the morning. You have that surge of energy, you’ve had your coffee, so get out those first 500 words. You’ll be shocked at how little time this takes.
  6. Take a few hours off. Let Act II percolate in your head. Eat lunch. Have another coffee and then go at it. Get the middle of the story down in lovely prose. No need for gimmicks, just the story as if you were telling someone about it. Think generalities. Think that annoying paper that you’re writing for school. Readable, engaging writing that will inform the editor.
  7. Reward yourself. Watch an episode of your favorite show. Eat a Snickers and/or Cheese Puffs (see picture).
  8. It’s late afternoon, when you’re almost ready to call it a day. Maybe you want to take a nap, but you have one last item on your to do list: Act III. Make it dramatic and exciting! You’re on the home stretch!
  9. You did it. Was that so hard? Maybe, if you think mowing the lawn is hard. It’s just not something you want to do, but you did it because it needed doing. If you didn’t have a Snickers before, you deserve one now.
  10. Forget about your synopsis for the rest of the night. Sweet dreams! They will be sweet because you accomplished this one little yet crucial part of the writing process.
  11. Wakey, wakey! Don’t you hate it when people say that? I do, too, but not so much since I finished a synopsis. After breakfast or whenever the neurons start firing, go over your synopsis, revise it, edit it, then look over it five more times throughout the day. Remind yourself how awesome you are for writing a synopsis, which all of us hate to do.
  12. You are now done–and a new graduate of Synopsis Camp. For good measure and because this is a heinous chore, reward yourself often.

I can’t stress enough how important it is to go over your work, but the hardest part is often getting the words down. As a writer, though, you’re used to that, right? In conclusion, I’ll let you in on a secret. The synopsis is important, though many of editors don’t love reading them. It is truly a guide. The most important part is your voice, your story. But we still want the synopsis. 🙂

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Romance Pet Peeves: The Shefani Edition

gwen and blakeIn this age of negatives, I need balance, so please forgive–or love–my special combination of romance writing “pet peeves” and my latest obsession: the Gwen Stefani/Blake Shelton relationship. I haven’t been the same since November 4, 2015, when their couplehood was confirmed. No doubt, I see these peeves as a neon light (wink wink), which will brighten up your romance novel:

1. He knew… She realized… He wondered. The first time Blake saw Gwen in her flapping plaid paper-towel dress, he knew he’d have trouble resisting her. This sentence is not hella good (wink). Every now and then it’s okay for your characters to know, realize, or wonder. More often than not, the reader wants to see how Blake has trouble resisting her. Does he turn away and focus more on his bromance with Adam Levine? Does he wish he’d worn something nicer than his jeans and plaid shirt* from yesterday? Is he sweating or having trouble speaking?

Here’s another example: Gwen sat on the plane. She realized that she’d forgotten her Urban Decay makeup kit. Of course, her natural beauty would allow her to face the outside world, but still. She knew she had to keep a better To-Do list. Again, I’d rather experience the stress Gwen endures when she doesn’t find her makeup kit. It’s a bummer when you’re about to land, photographers are just waiting to see you not perfect, and you are used to being ready. I go through this every day…on a much smaller scale. Sure, I can realize I forgot to put on lipstick, but I’d rather show the reader how my pulse increases when I open my purse and don’t find my Kat Von D lipstick. I bolt for the closest Duane Reade and run up and down the aisles, then grab a coral lip gloss, which is good enough (but not Kat Von D).

2. So many qugwen-stefani-zoom-87aae920-0a3a-4769-b671-151aeb9b7975estions are annoying in life–and in romance novels, especially in a character’s point of view. See here:

The limo took Gwen from the private plane to Blake’s million-acre ranch in Oklahoma. It was her first trip. What would she find? Would her waterproof foundation and mascara survive country life? Would Blake approve of her red stiletto boots killing his tomato plants? Oh God, will he ask her to clean up horse poop?

Nothing ruins a visit home faster than family peppering you with questions, and you don’t want to do this to your reader. The reader is supposed to be asking these questions herself and letting the story guide her to the answers. As a writer, why not convey Gwen’s feelings over seeing her love interest for the first time on his turf? This will develop her character for the reader. And as far as I’m concerned, Gwen can wear her red boots anywhere. Probably not on a subway grate.

3. Here a but, there a but, everywhere a but, but.

It’s natural to critique. You give a compliment, and then take it away with a “but.” Watch any talent show and you’ll hear constant use of “but.” You’re an amazing singer, but your Vibrato sucks. Without a “but,” you’re perfect. But here’s my problem. I see this kind of paragraph often, full of “buts”: On The Voice, Blake felt absurd without his cowboy hat and bullwhip, but he couldn’t bring it onto the set. He loved the money and free drinks, but he hated being under those blinding stage lights when fish and ducks and trucks better scurry when he takes Gwen onto his surrey with a fringe on top. But would she want that?  Watch those “buts,” people. It turns a character into a big whiner.

That’s enough silliness for today. Do these pet peeves mean a rejection letter? Not necessarily (maybe they mean the end of my sanity). Today, I let two “but” sentences go by without changing them because they worked side by side. Rules/editor preferences aren’t life.

Happy writing and let us pray that I find another obsession the next time I post. Like, maybe the presidential election? Just kidding.

*That’s all I wear outside of work so no judgment here. Actually, I just wear hideous pajamas.

Romantic Life Lessons, Uncategorized

Editor Is [not] the New Billionaire

iStock_000016891929XSmallMy first few years in New York, working as an assistant editor, I lived on credit cards. It cost a lot to live in Manhattan and, once again, I’d chosen a career that didn’t promise wealth. Maybe I should have been more financially pragmatic and looked for an apartment in Queens or Brooklyn, but I wasn’t. Those years taught me a lot about cutting corners, which I still do to some extent nineteen years later. If you love to edit books, you can do better than survive. Here’s how:

Food:

Breakfast can easily turn into lunch. If you put off breakfast, tada, it’s lunchtime! That’s one meal you don’t have to pay for.

Lunch: If you want to stay healthy and save money, make your own. Most of us give in to the sandwich bar. Reasoning: you’re too busy as a working woman to prepare food. Sadly, this can’t carry through to dinner unless you want to blow all your money. Another way to save money: take out industry people. It’s professional, enjoyable, and it’s a write-off or your company will reimburse you.* Did I just say that out loud?

Continue reading “Editor Is [not] the New Billionaire”

Shameless Promotion

Summer Romance Recap

10400005_10153415799199449_3601979989100117259_nWith this week’s heatwave, I’m pretending the summer is over. What did I do? Here is a summary:

June, hmmmm. Okay, let’s skip to July, my birthday month. My hubby and I went to Washington, DC, where I mostly sat around, ate Reuben sandwiches, and/or visited landmarks while he worked. The city was positively steamy, which I tried to forget as we walked around the Capitol–breathtaking even with the construction. We passed buildings, fantasizing about congresspeople toiling late into the night for the good of America. While alone, I went to H&M in Union Station to buy cool new shorts, then showed them off at the Stamp museum. Do I know how to have fun or what?

We came home to celebrate my 47th birthday. Soon after this came RWA, where I got to meet some amazing authors, including a couple I’ve long admired: Deborah Blake and Karen Booth! The romance didn’t end there since NPR published its top 100 romances. Being mildly OCD (self-diagnosed), I decided that I needed to read (and re-read) the entire list. This week, I’m beginning with Sherry Thomas’s Not Quite a Husband. I’m intrigued to find out what makes the hero not quite a husband. She doesn’t have to do his laundry? In addition to this one, I’m finally reading To Kill a Mockingbird since I’ve pretended all these years to have read it. So far, so good. Jem and Scout are a hoot!

Perhaps the last hurrah of my summer, aside from two upcoming conferences, is that I attended a reunion (similar to the one in my book) where I got to see the wonderful people in my family. I’m very blessed. Now it’s time for me to edit three books by Monday with no rest to watch Bachelor in Paradise*. Please pray for me.

*Why did I remind myself that this exists?

 

Writing Tips

Pet Peeves…A Few Clichés

editingThis post is coming a little later than I’d planned. I got sidetracked by news of Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck’s impending divorce. And a certain red-haired presidential candidate’s fiery comments about immigration. And how Kourtney and Kids are going to cope sans Scott. Oh, and my latest obsession with Vanilla Kreme donuts. I managed to crawl back into blog mode because a few items jumped out at me while reading romance these past few weeks. Here are some clichés I’ve seen so much, I have to call them pet peeves.

The soon-to-be-reunited exes never had problems in the bedroom. Are you kidding me? In a romance, one sort of has to imply that sex was always hot, but it might be refreshing to try realism — that as the relationship disintegrated, the–ugh–lovemaking* slowed down to ten times a week instead of thirty.

The hero is always raking a hand through his hair when frustrated. Does he ever find leaves? In some ways, it’s cool that guys fuss with their hair too, but the raking of hair in romance is like the jaw clench actors use to denote anger. Can’t he just have steam coming out of his ears? Or, in my family, there’s the exasperated sigh, which conveys severe frustration/disgust. When my husband is angry, he gets this wrinkle between his eyebrows (like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally…). This is a rough one, writers.

He fell for her like a moth to a flame. I’d like to be the flame in this metaphor because being the moth would suck. This phrase, I’m sure, just flows naturally from the fingers. For years, I let  it go, but I’ve been striking it out of manuscripts. What about: He fell for her like Marc Antony fell on his sword after hearing the Cleopatra was dead (I don’t think this is true, but you get the idea). Or He fell for her as one does during a case of vertigo when the barometric pressure changes. (This is why I don’t write romance)

One thing I’ll say–as much as I make fun of clichés, I do sometimes find them comforting. The familiar can be very soothing. At the end of the day*, it’s always good to be aware of clichés and investigate alternatives.

*This word is another pet peeve. Who says this unless perhaps in an editorial meeting, instead of rougher language.

**Another pet peeve. Cannot believe I’m using this so-ten-years-ago phrase!

Uncategorized, Writing Tips

Five Tips for Fine-Tuning Your Romantic Voice

17SCANDAL-superJumboAdmit it, you were expecting my Barry White impersonation. No such luck! Instead, after reading a whole pile of submissions, I’ve put together pointers for you as you write that proposal/manuscript/and even that Powerpoint presentation. I swear, I follow these tips when I have to talk to a group. Be thankful that I’m not singing. Others aren’t so fortunate.

Here we go:

1. Create intimacy with your reader. I love it when a writer’s voice invites me into the story, like I’m about to get some juicy insight into a character’s plight. This is the reason why I watch reality TV, as if I’m learning about a secret world–though I don’t always like what I see! Scandal is very good at showing us the scandalous behind-the-scene world of politicians. The more a writer does this–creates a connection, reveals–the more I want to read her book. I want that intimacy with your story. Show me what the characters are hiding.

2. Start in the right place. This is a tip I repeat over and over. Part of what stops me from reading is that the set-up can seem so ordinary. Boy meets girl. They hate each other on sight. Or, girl is intrigued by boy as they are assigned together. Boy goes to destination, meets girl, conflict ensues. Some of these set-ups are necessary, but to lessen the editor yawns, there must be excitement and tension. Take a chance and start your romance in a riskier place. Those too-easy set-ups are sometimes not the most effective.

3. Take time to flesh out a moment. I may be contradicting myself here. As you create the above mentioned excitement, be sure to expand upon those mundane moments. They can please an editor’s senses. I am a big fan of routine, descriptions of a person’s process (code for: food preparation; colorful portraits of nature, which are lacking in NYC; interesting wardrobe choices), and how one lives in everyday life. Show us how the heroine decorates her cupcakes (mmmm, cake!), how a cowboy/girl takes care of a horse, how a spy may agonize over what to pack. These tiny details reveal character. If you loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, you must have enjoyed passages about their daily chores. They are the reason I cleaned my room, joyfully did laundry, and enhanced my work ethic. I could have read those chapters on baking, sweeping, and walking to school forever. Don’t deprive the editor of those details! Also, don’t go overboard.

4. End chapters with a bang. One of the reasons why everyone read Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code–aside from scintillating content–was because every chapter ended with a bang. You don’t need to give your reader whiplash, but the opening three chapters–and many chapters afterwards–should end with a crucial moment/question that leads the reader to the next page. I like the whole “this is the last thing I wanted” or “do you dare to take on this horrendous yet provocative assignment” type of situation. Also ask, what does your character want to avoid–then, make it unavoidable.

5. Stay focused on the purpose of your story (romance). As I read submissions, I can usually tell when even the writer gets tired of her story and just wants to get it done. It’s important to  find ways to revive your story, invest in it, keep those central themes in mind, believe in your characters. When I devour thrillers, which is often (hello, Harlan Coben), I love how the writers have at least four subplots going to augment the “Oh no” factor. Always remember the reason why you have to write this story.

There, I’ve solved everyone’s problems. Now it’s time to get back to it. I realize many of you are sad that I didn’t sing. I’ll make up for this here.