Sunday, March 29, 2009

More on Romance Writing

By Ilmars Briznieks

I have been told repeatedly by agents and editors that romance writers should use only England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales as background in their novels. Supposedly, readers of these novels don't enjoy any other country depicted. Presumably, only interesting lovers come from these countries. What a narrow assumption. What about Italy, Spain, France, or any of the South American countries? Haven't they been known for generations to have had, and continue to have, some of the most dramatic love affairs?

It is beyond me why readers of romance novels have such preferences. Is it ignorance or just plain naivete?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sex on the Beach or Why I Love Romance Novels

By Vikki Perry

Bodice Rippers. Trashy Novels. Sentimental Formulaic Drivel. Bestsellers. If romance novels do anything among readers and writers, it is to provoke emotion. As a reader and writer of romance, I have heard it many times, “You read that!” “You’ll grow out of them eventually,” or “I feel sorry for you that you enjoy those books.” The disparaging tone from other readers and writers can be disconcerting. So, let me take this opportunity to explain why I love them.

The happy ending. The truth is, for me, the happy ending is like a drug. It’s addictive and it feeds my optimism and my hope. The world sucks. The economy is in the toilet. People are dying everywhere. I want escape into a world where I know that it will all come out marvelous in the end. I know it isn’t real, but a romance novel allows me to escape for a couple of hours.

Variety. No other genre of fiction has such a large group of subgenres. I can find paranormal romances, historical romances, futuristic romances, contemporary romances, Christian romances and romantic suspense. There are a endless choices.

Well-crafted stories that have complete plot and character arcs. OK, I read like a writer because I am a writer. I love a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. I also love a story where the character changes from the beginning of the story to the end of the story. In romances, they typically change for the better.

I started reading teen romances at eight years old and since then I’ve probably read thousands of romances. I’ve read everything from the classics by Kathleen Woodwiss, Georgette Heyer, and Barbara Cartland to the modern bestsellers by Sandra Brown, Linda Howard, Suzanne Brockmann, JR Ward, and Gena Showalter.

As a writer, I want to write like them. I want my prose to evoke emotions in my readers and make them long for more. Reading all of these authors in my preferred genre has been like a master class in romance writing. I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. The best piece of writing advice that I’ve ever gotten is that you write what you read. So that is what I’m doing. I’m not ashamed of my romance novel writing or my romance novel reading. Here’s hoping that one day my bodice ripper is a bestseller

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Writing Hell

By Laura P. Valtorta

My mentor, a Jewish attorney, older than 90, five feet tall, with a hummingbird physique is planning to visit her family in a Big City next month. Her children are doctors. She resists moving to the Big City because here she is an attorney. There, she would be “somebody’s mother.”

She has a bum knee. It’s nothing life threatening but the idea that she might not return home to Columbia floats around, because of her age. She hates staying home all the time. I offered to take her to the Pancake House for lunch next week, and that was an exciting idea I told her I would drive and park close to the front door. For a woman who prides herself on her career as a solo practitioner, and her graduation from law school in 1940 as the only woman in her class, not being able to get around is a nasty impediment. She walked 22 blocks a day until last year. The knee.

I’m supposed to be a writer. What if I never wrote about her philosophy (become a professional, work for yourself, never hate anyone, learn the law, stay away from Worker’s Compensation), her flirtatious treatment of men, her way of addressing waitresses, “I want HOT coffee,” or her knack for lending support to all my efforts, with a touch of sarcasm? Would I go to hell? Jews don’t believe in the afterlife. Neither do I. But there must be retribution for the inability to celebrate a life that has meant something to me. What if the punishment were mediocrity?

I first saw Jerry (not her name) in 1993. She was out walking the 22 blocks, and I saw her from my office across the street. I left that office and worked for a big attorney for a while. He weighed over 250 pounds. Then I tired of the yelling and returned to Attorney Row, introduced myself to Judith and rented the office upstairs. She had Republicans in the building, a secretary and two salesmen, but because they were nice and talkative, she tolerated them and rolled her eyes when they turned away. We went to events together. The Capitol City Club. Women Lawyers’ meetings. Movies about the Holocaust. Talks by Jewish writers. Nickelodeon. She was never afraid of the R-rated. We liked Monsoon Wedding, Road to Perdition, Spellbound, the one about the bee. She made me sit through The Pianist when the musician was hiding from the Nazis. We both complained about French sadomasochism and Nicholson as a retired insurance salesman. She taught me you could demand the price of the ticket if you disliked the movie.

We talked and talked about our families. Her husbands, her children, her grandchildren. My husband and children. She went to college at 16. She played on the basketball team. Both parents wanted her to get as much education as possible. They wanted her to “become something.”

She did. What about me? If I can’t make her live through my fiction, I will freeze in the dark waters of the River Styx. I will burn in eighth circle of hell. I will rot forever in the suburbs of Columbia.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Cautionary Tale

By Deborah W. Yoho

“Someone must have seen this happen,” I said out loud, staring at the tiny pellets of automobile glass scattered everywhere. As I opened the car door, more glass fell out of the window frame onto the front seat. That’s when I realized I had been robbed as well as vandalized; my laptop and briefcase were gone.

In broad daylight, in this neighborhood? I ran back into the Cracker Barrel and found the manager. No, no one had reported anything, she said. In sympathy, she dropped everything and waited with me by my violated Saturn SUV until the police arrived.

“We haven’t had a smash-and-grab for six months,” she told the officer.

“How often does this happen?” I shouted at her.

“A lot. But not lately.”

Is that supposed to make me feel better? I know, I know. I shouldn’t have left anything in the car, even though it was locked. “But I was only in there a half hour! And the car is within sight of the front door! At high noon! And look at all the people coming in and out!”

I spent the rest of the day getting the shattered window fixed. Eventually the laptop was replaced. But a week went by before I noticed my most serious loss. The first four chapters of my manuscript, carefully polished after hours of help from my writers’ group were, of course, backed up onto a flash drive.
But the flash drive was in the briefcase.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Too Modern Poetry

By Bonnie Stanard

Years ago the play “Art” debated whether a white canvas with a horizontal black line is a work of art. For two hours the cast of two actors defined and redefined modern art, which doesn’t sound like much of a plot, but it was intriguing. It’s about time some playwright took on today’s poetry and its ambiguities.

Before we go any further, I confess that I don’t read much modern poetry. The rumor is that there are more writers of poetry than readers. If I’m typical, there’s merit to this rumor. Furthermore, I freely admit that one of my favorite poems is “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll.

It’s not that I don’t applaud the efforts of writers to reach beyond traditional parameters to create new avenues of expression, but I would argue that form alone is meaningless, i.e. the message is as important as the messenger. Regardless of how creative and evocative the language and/or presentation, a poem is disappointing if it doesn’t convey meaning on some level.

I am reminded in particular of John Ashbery’s poetry. A critic once wrote as a compliment that Ashbery effectively demonstrates that language is inadequate as a tool of communication. What? Maybe I did get the point after all!

I’ve always thought that one reason poetry has a small audience is that it is not a “spectator art,” such as novels, paintings, plays, etc. Rather it requires participation. As a general rule, the reader benefits depending on what he discovers or contributes to what is implied. If readers are required to learn advanced methods of interpretation, I predict poetry will have an even smaller audience.

There are obviously contemporary poets who are writing verses that can be understood by the average reader. To find these writers you would logically look to critical reviews, but don’t. Too many of them are laudatory explanations. I like William Logan’s reviews. They reassure me that my opinions aren’t necessarily a sign of mental insufficiency.