Some thoughts about critique groups: writers (and other professionals), need reasoned, focused feedback in order to progress. Writing Groups are designed to provide that. They are not coffee klaches, group therapy sessions, or political forums. Participants must understand and accept their responsibilities in order to claim the benefits. Bottom line: if your WG hasn’t made you a more proficient writer, it’s time to reassess your options.
What purpose is served by writing conferences and other professional gatherings? Admittedly,some knowledge is imparted, talent showcased, and the usual bromides dispensed. As a veteran of too many business and literary confabs, I’ve given this considerable thought. My conclusion is simple: Reinforcement and motivation are the most compelling reasons for and biggest benefit derived from these sessions. If I return from a meeting motivated to write or otherwise excel in my profession, then my time and money was well spent.
How much does use of social media impact on book sales? I’ve heard many experts extol use of Twitter, FB, etc, but as a
slightly jaundiced manager, I say—where’s the hard data?
(Notice I refrained from using that dreadful cliche “Show me the money”)
Where do I find inspiration for mysteries? Check out the NYTimes, Wash. Post; Boston Globe or WSJ for daily insights into human depravity. Then think, ‘What if?’ Works every time.
It hurts to abandon beloved characters who’ve become both friend and fantasy, especially when you MURDER them. Welcome to the world of an inveterate, slightly jaded mystery writer who can make the tough calls. ‘Kill your darlings”–how about slaughtering them!
How do writers strike a balance between self-confidence and delusion? After constant rejections, a wise person must consider that the book of his heart might be irreparably flawed. (or is a masterpiece far ahead of its time). Either way, prudence dictates a course correction. Write a stand-alone, something entirely different. I did and it worked!
Hurrah!! Yesterday I put the finishing touches on “MANTRAP”, the sequel to “SWANN DIVE”. (pub. date 2014). It’s so exhilarating when everything comes together just right. Monday I’ll start an outline for my next book as yet untitled. Today I’ll luxuriate in this small triumph.
MOMMY PORN — Trashy sex or smart marketing?
A Romance Writer’s take on Fifty Shades of Grey
I confess. When a fledgling novelist captures the front page of the New York Times, I get curious. I’d never heard of Fifty Shades of Grey, even though I regularly follow the best seller lists. Moreover, the term “Mommy Porn” inspired me to immediately speed dial Amazon, and order the e-books. After all, what kind of erotic writing captivates an audience of well-educated, comfortably fixed female readers and creates a major sensation? Most modern versions of erotica that I’ve read are unimaginative and sadly boring. Biology texts have never enticed me to do more than yawn.
I paged through the work, telling myself it was research. After all, as an author I have to keep abreast (pardon the ghastly pun) of any book that nets a seven figure deal plus movie buzz for its creator. Approach Fifty Shades of Grey as you would a case study, I told myself. Analyze everything dispassionately. As if.
I’d allocated 30 minutes to skimming the first few chapters, convinced that they’d confirm my most dire suspicions. Instead, two hours of my precious writing time later I joined the ranks of (mostly) female readers who were entranced by Anastasia Steele and her libidinous lover and billionaire hunk, Christian Grey.
Writing in the intimacy of first person narrative, the clever author introduced me to a protagonist I both liked and identified with. Anastasia is smart, self-deprecating and somewhat naïve. She succumbs to the charms of the devastating Christian as easily as most of us would. Sure he has kinks. Lots of them. But the author also portrays him as brainy, sentimental and curiously vulnerable. How many women could resist that heady cocktail?
“Grey” succeeds in two other key areas—plot and pacing. I zipped through the pages anxious to learn the fate of this intriguing couple as they followed the rituals of pain, pleasure and mutual affection.
About the sex—it was frank, anatomically challenging but not repugnant. I must admit that the sado-masochistic bits were interesting and sometimes puzzling. Uninitiated readers (like me) probably learned a few things, although I marveled at Ana’s limitless capacity for orgasmic bliss!
Since Ana is our narrator and spirit guide, we experience things through her eyes without the snickers and snobbish asides that an omniscient voice often provides. Somehow it seems right, even though reviewers have denounced Fifty Shades of Grey as everything from sexist drivel to anti-feminist tripe. Get a grip, people!
Most of the women I’ve spoken with say this: 50 S of G appeals because of the love story not the mechanics of sado-masochism. It’s fantasy of course, a latter day Cinderella story, (sans Disney), where true love ultimately triumphs. Silly—maybe; unlikely—probably. Romances typically are.
I read all three volumes and didn’t want their story to end. Like many readers I asked myself this question: Would you have succumbed to this gorgeous young billionaire with peculiar tastes but a capacity for love? My answer — a resounding YES.
And that, dear readers, is the secret to writing a best seller. Create attractive, endearing characters, hook the audience with a unique plot element, and play to the secret fantasies we all nurture. Be gone, cynics. Love will set you free.
BIG BOYS DON’T CRY—BUT MAYBE THEY SHOULD
Many women admire strong, silent guys who would rather chew nails than express emotion. Chalk it up to our Puritan heritage, or the vestiges of the Wild West. The cult of the Alpha Male dictates that strong arms and minds are perfectly acceptable but strong feelings should be under wraps at all times. I’m discounting an alarming trend among male politicians to blubber like babies over almost anything. When adults, both male and female, are in charge of our destinies a little self-control goes a long way. (That means YOU, Mr. Speaker).
The tension between virile and sensitive heroes is the ying and yang of sexy. Most readers want balance — a guy who can hold his own in a fight but is no Neanderthal; a man with a sizzling intellect who enjoys brainy babes. Naturally great hair and sculptured abs are always a plus as are sizable holdings or a royal title.
A man who’s comfortable with feelings is sexy through and through. He’s self-confident, in touch with the world and loaded with testosterone. Smart too, because sensitivity is the secret to scoring with the opposite sex. Not weeping random buckets but gestures, generosity, tenderness and kindness toward other living beings. Men who hug their child or pat a puppy are winners. Similarly, kissing a lady’s fingers, stroking her hair, or dancing to Coltrane, fuel an intense emotional connection between lovers.
Writers have always known this. The banter between Rhett and Scarlett, backed up by that incredible staircase scene made feminine hearts flutter then and now. But Alpha Captain Butler also greatly loved and grieved for his daughter Bonnie Blue, adored Melanie and admired Mammy and he wasn’t afraid to show it.
The appeal of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga rests with the romantic relationship between Bella and the other worldly Edward. His physical abilities could easily vanquish her but he wins her heart with a rocking combination of strength and tenderness sans sex. Abstinence never looked so good.
In my novels, I exploit the push/pull of virile men who pursue their dreams with intellect, physical prowess and humor. That’s an intoxicating mix guaranteed to captivate most women of substance.
So gather ‘round all you heroes and listen: big boys don’t (necessarily) cry, but through words, deeds and gestures they must show feeling. Unleashing emotion takes work and attitude adjustment. Change never felt so good. It’s just such sweet surrender.
HAWKING MY WARES — THE DOWNSIDE OF PUBLICATION
I’m no salesperson: shameless self-promotion makes my skin crawl. It’s a necessary component of success, however, in the brave new world of publication. Pity the reticent or abashed author standing quietly waiting for her light to shine. Hope she’s got a flashlight at the ready because wallflowers are box office poison to their editors. The name of the game is sales. It’s a numbers game, nothing malicious, simply business. Successful salespeople regard every individual as a potential target of opportunity. I cringe at the thought. No wonder solicitation is a crime! Like a lady of the evening, I paint a confident smile on my face and mingle with the unsuspecting throngs, proud of my product, shamed by my tactics.
How would my literary heroes have handled it? Jane Austen might have gathered the local gentry for tea, crumpets and conversation. Edgar Allen Poe would have challenged his critics with a ‘publish and be damned’ attitude. Arthur Conan Doyle had the Great Detective available to convince skeptics to purchase his works through the relentless use of logic; James Patterson has piles of money to fund lavish media campaigns. And Jessica Fletcher, that creature of television and now bookshelves — she had it made. Glamorous locations, fawning publishers and the assurance that another body would conveniently pop up once a week. I loved the old gal, but honestly, would you invite her into your home? Meanwhile I sit alone at a bookstore table with a tepid grin and flashy poster for company.
Internet methods are more to my liking. Blogging, tweeting, and facebooking seem more anonymous and less intrusive than corralling the errant bystander or looking pathetic. I’m awed by authors with real talent for shameless self-promotion. Some of them literally tackle passers-by and make their pitch. Others flash a confident grin that inveigles consumers to take a chance and open their purse.
One thing I’ve gained from the process is compassion. So, if you catch a whiff of desperation when you pass a booksigning, stop and say something. We’ve probably never met before.