Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Join the Party!

**Welcome to the Spring Fling Giveaway Hop**


Wayne and Nancy grow up on opposite sides of the country, each certain they must have love better than what others will settle for. Something stronger, something richer, something worth searching for. During the turbulent nineteen-sixties, they meet while he is attending blue-collar Drexel, and she is at neighboring, Ivy League Penn. Although irresistibly drawn to each other, they must overcome obstacles posed by the class and social differences separating them, as well as opposition from both families, and later, a twist of fate that will be the cruelest test of all. Can they reach the emotional heights they seek? Can they overcome time's downward pulling inertia? Coinage of Commitment is dedicated to all who ever paused and wondered about the altitude love might soar to.

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Friday, April 19, 2013

A Surprise Benefit From Contest Judging

Actually, the title of this post is an understatement. I was more than surprised. So let me explain. In 2007, Saga Books print published my first novel, Coinage of Commitment. The book sold well, considering that Saga is a small independent, and I had to self-power all the promo. When it finaled in the National Indie Excellence 2008 Book Awards, I naively assumed the distinction would help me get my second title, Pocket Piece Cameo, published by a major. It didn’t, and the book was eventually published by Saga in November of 2008. My experience with Cameo was disheartening and, since I was blocked on plotting a third novel, I decided to quit fiction writing.

But I hated the thought of letting all those writing skills atrophy. Looking around at volunteer opportunities, I thought maybe contest judging might be a way to preserve my skills, at least partially. Plus I’d be learning a new skill; plus I’d be giving back to the writing community I’d been a part of since 2005.

I took a course given by the Iowa RWA, and gave judging a try. It turned out to be a good fit. The RWA chapter contests were always eager for trained judges—especially those who were authors—and I enjoyed the work. Well, this is one of those endeavors where responding well earns you requests for more work. By the end of 2011, I had judged more than twenty contests that year. I did a tally, and figured I had spent something in the range of 800-1000 hours judging that year. In case you’re wondering, that’s nearly equivalent to a twenty hour a week job.

I planned to continue judging at a high pace, but then something profound happened in the spring of 2012. I came to the surprise realization that my writing skills were actually higher than they were in 2008. Unexpected, to be sure, and hard to believe, at first, but the verification was in the level of judging I was doing and documenting. Well, this revelation collided head-on with a special quality inherent to Coinage of Commitment. Because from a writer's standpoint, Coinage is a perfect storm of a story, with so many of the character and plot elements harmonizing to form a kind of narrative synergy. One that's rare. Now, perhaps there are writers gifted enough to consistently produce such stories by their own creative flux, but I am not one of them. I’ve written three novels—not all that many—but enough to teach me that Coinage's magic is one of the profoundest gifts I've ever stumbled upon--although I will take credit for the surprise ending. So when I turned around and realized my writing had reached a new...maturity, I knew almost immediately I would rewrite Coinage. Cameo too, but it was never the driver. If I'd been given the wherewithal to take a book that was already a perfect storm of a story, one that finaled in a national contest, and rewrite it into something substantially better, then the effort was mandatory.

But of course the effort turned out to be more than I bargained for. It took seven months of full-time work to rewrite both books to the limit of my new skills. The digital editions were professionally formatted, and they went up on Amazon in January of this year.

 The bottom line message is that if you’re looking to improve your writing, contest judging may be worth considering.

Friday, April 12, 2013

In What Way Does Your Writing Define You?

I got this question from a fellow author and blogger, and it made me think. Yes, authors do tend to define who they are and what they think and believe in their writing. How can they avoid it? Well, I guess they could avoid it if they tried. Reporters of yesteryear tried hard to write so that their views were invisible. But today, unless you're writing formula fiction, you are probably defining yourself in your writing, at least to a certain extent.

My approach to writing romance fiction starts with a proposition. Or I guess it’s really a question. Wouldn’t it be a nicer world if people could remain enthusiastic about the romantic commitment they’ve chosen to fill the rest of their lives? No, I’m not talking about those breathtaking days of courtship. Everyone is in heaven at that brief stage. And I’m not referring to the months after marriage or move-in that define the “honeymoon” period. Rather I’m talking about after that, after parenting and career pressures pulverize so many married romances into a mush that’s humdrum at best, uptight or failing at worst. What if you had characters who look around at the average for relationships in our culture and decide they want something better? They want something better for the courtship period, yes, something stronger, something higher than what others will settle for. Plus they want it to go on being better; they want it to stay vibrant for decades after marriage, instead of just months. Well, even in fiction, mere wishing won’t do it. Our characters are going to have to do something different than the rest of us, otherwise they’ll end up with the same humdrum outcome. They’re going to have to plan for what they want. In order to make love better and longer lasting, they’re going to have to understand its nature: what can make it better, what will make it fall short?

But analyzing and understanding love’s potential is only the starting challenge for our characters. For if they’re smart enough, they’ll realize that the stratospheric love they yearn for is not going to be feasible with just anyone. No, it’s only going to be possible with someone who shares the same dream, who’s willing to plan and sacrifice and work for it just as hard. How do you find such a soul mate? How do you verify that it’s really them? This process of searching and refining is the point where the plot possibilities get really interesting. Now if you add to the plot mix a love triangle of epic drama, one featuring rival paths to the stratospheric love we are seeking, and if you bring that triangle through a surprise ending of shattering impact, one both unique and cathartic, then we should have the potential for a very special story indeed. And unlocking that exact story potential is what I’ve tried to achieve in the second edition of my novel, Coinage of Commitment.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Gratitude: the Romantic Sentiment that Gets No Respect

This post originally appeared on Books, Books, the Magical Fruit on 3/26.

My books feature characters who want more from love that what they see all around them. Something stronger, something higher, something worth pursuing. Part of that pursuit is usually an effort to understand love. We can’t make it soar higher or make it last longer unless we figure out how it works and what can harm it. This usually means the characters need to take a thinking as well as an emotional journey to attain the emotional altitude they seek. And this opens up all sorts of plot opportunities to explore. But regardless of the type of romance being composed, writing love stories requires the author to analyze the different types of emotions that blend together to define a relationship. Every relationship is unique, so the blend of emotions is just as unique.

I’ve always been fascinated that certain motivations in that possible blend of romantic feelings get discounted because they’re thought inferior or contaminating. Marrying for money probably tops the list and, from a qualitative standpoint, is probably one that most readers would agree on. But gratitude is another attribute often named as invalidating the integrity of a relationship. “She only married him out of gratitude,” is heard from the TV soap opera as a signal that the romance is facing certain doom in future episodes.

But does gratitude really deserve such a bad rap? We may want to take another look, because gratitude can be viewed as verification from the past that a lover can be counted on in the future. Yes, I think gratitude creates faith in its object for a victorious future. And gratitude is often the very basis for our best romantic memories.

In fact, I think it’s fair to turn the question completely around. Can any successful relationship that’s mature function without it? Can you show me a successful relationship where the lovers are not grateful to each other, and in manifold ways? If your lover takes care of many little things that matter to you, isn’t that something to be grateful for? And isn’t that gratitude bound to feed the relationship in a way that will make it richer and deeper? I see mainly good things coming out of a relationship that’s laced with gratitude. And the more, the better. Show me a relationship that’s healthy and vibrant, and I’ll show you lovers who have grateful memories.