Women’s Fiction, etc.

An ongoing discussion for readers/writers of Women’s Fiction

Is this working Jen?

Good morning everyone. I’m so excited to be here (thank you, Char, for thinking of me!)

I wanted to talk today about the difference between Romance and Women’s Fiction.

I’ve been the President of RWA-WF and am a founding member of a new Women’s Fiction group, WFWA, so believe me, I’ve sat in on day-long esoteric discussions of the differences – let’s not go there.

I’m talking about the differences from a publisher’s point of view, and believe me, those are concrete. I wrote my novel as WF. My agent thought it was WF. The editors who read it were evenly split on which genre it fell into. It sold as a romance.  I was glad it fell so close to the line; it would appeal to a larger audience, right? Not so much. Readers of each genre like that genre. They don’t want to walk on the ‘wild side.’

So that meant revisions. Lots of them. Some major. Believe me I’m now crystal clear on how publishers view the two.  The difference is mainly in the focus. In a romance, the focus is on the relationship, and how the two grow to the point where a relationship is possible. In WF, the focus is on the woman’s journey.

I learned that in Romance:

  1. The bad-boy hero can’t be TOO bad. In my debut novel, The Sweet Spot (due out May 28th,) the couple had lost their son in an accident, and it tore them apart – they divorced. To deal with the pain, my heroine developed a Valium habit. The hero’s drug was young and blonde. In my original version, he was still with the blonde when the book opened. I had to change that; my editor told me that if the readers met the bimbo, the hero would be irredeemable, no matter what he did down the line.
  2. I had to soften the heroine as well – she could be damaged and flawed, but she couldn’t be seen as cold, or uncaring.
  3. Because I wrote the book as a WF, most of the scenes involved the heroine, in her POV. I had to add a couple of scenes with the hero’s POV, and even though they weren’t together in the same scene in the first third of the book, I had to add thoughts each had of the other, showing how they were changing.
  4. Sexual tension. It’s not even critical that the H/H have sex (just ask Char!) but there still needs to be escalating sexual tension as the book advances.
  5. I had to be more careful with graphic scenes and wording — and I don’t mean sex.  My hero raised bulls for the bull riding circuit. In one scene, the heroine was helping a cow with a breech birth. My editor had me reduce the level of gore, blood, etc.  I also had to be careful how I covered breeding details like selling semen (can I say that here?)
  6. And, of course, there must be a HEA (happily-ever-after.) That was no problem, because I originally planned for my couple to end up together!

My debut Superromance, Her Road Home, (due out in August) was written as a WF as well. I worried that the subject matter would be too heavy – my heroine was sexually abused as a child, and she had to work out those issues, even as she fell in love with her motorcycle mechanic! Luckily, my editor had no problem with that. But I did have to develop the hero more fully, and give him more scenes and backstory.

So you can see that the differences between Romance and Women’s Fiction are mainly a matter of focus/degree. Have you ever tried to write WF? Or change from one genre to the other? It can be done, but I’d recommend deciding which you want to write to start – it’ll save you lots of revisions!

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Shifting Mud

 I couldn’t have been more than ten, and we were reading short stories in my class at school.  I don’t remember the name of the story, or who wrote it.  All I know is that it affected me so deeply that I’m writing about it now, forty-five years later.

It was about a boy that somehow got trapped in a sewer pipe.   You know the ones you can barely glimpse when you look down a grate in the street.   I was a hostage of that story; the author described it so well that for a short time, I was that terrified kid.  The boy knew he had to keep going forward to find a way out.  He ended up in a pipe just barely larger than he was, unable to back up, a wall of mud in front of him.  He started to panic and scrabble, afraid he was going to smother in that dark place. But by making himself be still and just breathe, he realized that the mud’s weight shifted, and he could move forward.  Inch by inch, through patience and self-control, he got himself out of that pipe. 

Finding my way through a novel is, for me, like that kid’s journey through the pipe.  What seems like such a great adventure at the beginning, morphs into panic and desperation, then triumph when I pull myself out of the end into the sunshine.

Probably a few of you can relate to the analogy.  So why do we do it?  I know why I do. 

I believe that every human seeks connection – to make someone else see exactly how you feel about something.  When it happens, that rare click of understanding, it is such an incredible rush.

Writing is my way of it, but there are many more and, I suspect, what resonates with you may be different than what touches me.  Just a few of mine are:

In music / performance: Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah

In art, there’s

or

 

There are many so ways to reach out.

When I write the ‘perfect’ line – when I actually manage to capture what is in my mind and get it on the page, it’s worth it.  That’s what I write for, not the search for the illusive sale that distracts me from time to time.

The Future of Publishing

I came across an interesting article on the Writer’s Digest website yesterday about the future of publishing.   Here’s the link:

http://www.idealog.com/blog/the-big-guys-dont-see-the-fundamental-problem

I found it interesting on several levels.  It made me think about the lesson we got in sixth grade about the railroads ignoring the upstart automobile as a threat.  We shook our heads, and wondered how they could have been so shortsighted.  The answer seemed so obvious from my classroom seat.

This article made me see that publishing is in exactly this position right now.  Facinating to recognize this paradigm shift in the middle, instead of armchair quarterbacking it at the end.   You can hardly blame the poor publishers for being caught flat-footed. They’ve been used to being the gatekeepers for what they thought the audience wanted (the equivalent in politics of trying to lead by poll) that they can’t envision anything else.

On to what the shift means, in real terms.  I absolutely agree with the “control of the eyeballs: part.  The information/data available on the internet has exploded so fast in the past years.  As anyone who’s tried to get attention to a blog or website knows, the problem is getting to be garnering attention in a vastly overcrowded marketplace. I feel and see information burnout in consumers who are bombarded at every turn.

Maybe the way forward for Publishers would be to become (like Harlequin has, in my opinion) the “Oprah Bookclub” for niche markets.   Consumers would go to their trusted source for what they were looking for. Like a franchise; you can walk into anywhere in the world, and know what you’re getting by the logo.   I think this would be a value-added service that the consumer would be willing to pay for.

But to a publisher, this must be absolutely paralyzing.  Give up their infrastructure, hard assets and distribution chain for a guess at what is next?  Sure, they’re seeing thier returns diminish rapidly, but to give that up for a guess?  You can hardly blame them for clinging to their rapidly sinking ship…the ocean is huge, dark and cold.  Besides, corporate infrastructure is not geared for change; it’s geared for doing the same thing, over and over, and making money by improving efficiencies.

But will the publishers make the shift?  I don’t think so.  I think they’ll ignore the upstarts, just as the railroads did, and be left behind.  And I think I understand more why now.

Inspiration for Writers

I’m a quotation junkie.  I think it has something to do with loving the language…and probably a little jelousy of those who manage to get it just right.  Ran accross these the other day:

How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much
that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar. — Trina Paulus—

“The brick walls are there for a reason,” he said. “The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!  –Randy Pausch–

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going. –Jim Ryun–

When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly. –Edward Teller–

Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; its when you had everything to do, and you’ve done it. –Margaret Thatcher–

Ok, I’m going to take my own advice, get out of the cheerleader skirt, and write something!

The Best Excuse

Ok, I’ve been remiss, I admit it.  I haven’t blogged in forever.  But I have the best excuse – I’ve been writing!  I’ve got all kinds of exciting news on the writing front.

First – Have you heard about the new Women’s Fiction RWA (Romance Writers of America) Chapter?  It’s an online chapter, and it’s amazing.  Check it out at: http://www.rwa-wf.com/

Second – I’ve finished my second novel, and it’s out to agents.  I’ve gotten three requests for full manuscripts so far!  I have high hopes for this one – it’s less dark than my first, and it deals with a subject that not many people know much about (but I hope would be intrigued by) the PBR – that’s Pro Bull Riding to those who don’t know.  No, it’s not a cowboy story.  More on this front soon, I hope.

It’s been an amazing year. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Stop by – I promise to be more prolific!

Balance and Butt Time

Have you ever tried to take up a new sport?  Master a new skill?  Do you remember how frustrated you got?   I’ll use learning to cast a fly rod, just as an example.  I took lessons when I started, and at first, I just focused on trying to keep the line in the air…rod moves from ten to two position (think of a clock) and timing is critical to keeping more and more line feeding out and in the air (hopefully without hitting yourself in the back of the head with a fly!).  All that seemed hard enough, but then I had to actually aim at something in the water and be able to hit it, without slapping the water and scaring the fish!  Seemed impossible in the beginning.

 

Being a neophyte in writing feels a bit like that; how do I remember all the things I need to at the same time?  Everything feels awkward, and just…. not comfortable.  I’ll learn a new skill – say plotting.  I end up focusing on that so much that my characters become flat and uninteresting!  What’s really frustrating is that, at first, I don’t realize what’s happened – just that I suddenly have lost interest in the story, and can’t make myself sit down and write.  I spent a month flogging myself, accusing myself of being lazy and questioning my ability to become a professional writer.  A month wasted.

 

 Well, maybe not wasted totally, because I now understand what was wrong, and maybe next time I’ll recognize it more quickly.  This road to being a good writer is a long and convoluted one, much more so than I realized when I began.

 

 It’s like giving birth – if you truly knew what you were getting yourself into, would you do it?  I think it depends on when you’re asked…when they put the baby in your arms for the first time?  Of course!  In the middle of labor?   Maybe not so much….

Maslowe and Hershey Kisses

Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m riding my bicycle.  I had an epiphany during a gorgeous Southern California ride yesterday.  One of those moments when several pieces fall into place for a major “Aha” moment – I love it when that happens!

 

For anyone who is not familiar with Maslowe, here’s the Reader’s Digest version:

 

In the 1930’s Abraham Maslowe put forward his “Hierarchy of Needs” concept to explain behavior.  His theory was that you strive to move toward the top of the list that follows:

 

                        Self-actualization

                        Esteem needs

                        Belonging needs

                        Safety needs

                        Physiological needs

 

This is summed up in one of my favorite songs, “Constant Craving” by K.D.Lang., but I digress.  You can’t move up the ladder until the lower need is met, as anyone who’s been on the lowest rung can attest to (been there myself at one dark period of my life.)

 

My husband and I were talking the other day on a completely different subject.  We were watching one of those obnoxious “Weight Loss Breakthrough” ads on TV, and he didn’t understand why people were so lazy; why they couldn’t lose weight and keep it off (he has more drive than most – he lost 50 lbs 5 years ago.)

 

Last piece to the puzzle; I’m a Weight Watchers member, and the talk this week was about creating goals to achieve weight loss.  Okay, stay with me here, because my theory works for anything you want to achieve, not just weight loss.

 

We’ve all heard the goal-setting advice; break a large goal into steps, and achieve those, and you’ll finally get to your ultimate goal/need.  Great.  On paper.  But if you’re like me, when you choose a large goal like losing 40 lbs, learning to knit, writing a book, whatever…you have pictured in your head what the ultimate goal will do for you.  You’re standing on stage, holding up the Oscar to the applause and adulation of the crowd.

 

Okay, I set smaller goals, but ultimately my eyes are on the applause, and my acceptance speech, and the smaller goals aren’t enough to get me excited.  Yeah, I’m making progress, but smaller goals also point out the amount of road I have left to get to my ultimate desire. 

 

I think this is why we fail.  After awhile, you just burn out.  The effort just doesn’t seem worth it, and we move on to the next thing we want.  But there are two problems with that.  First, the goal you’ve abandoned is the one you want most, or it wouldn’t have been your first effort, right?  Secondly, in spite of excuses you make to others, deep down, you know you’ve failed, and it hurts.  You feel guilty, which lowers your self-esteem and makes the next goal harder to achieve, because you don’t really trust yourself to do it.  After all, you let yourself down before, right?

 

One of my goals is to get stronger on the bike.  We’re going on a bicycle vacation in Utah this summer, and it involves mountains.  Okay, so I’m riding, trying to figure out how to get consistent with my training – I get lazy when I get home from work, and find other things to do that don’t involve sweat and pain. 

Suddenly, I’m distracted by a mockingbird’s song.  I notice that the temperature is perfect.  I look up, and the rolling hills have changed since the last time I rode this route; tawny grass stretches away forever.  I’m so absorbed by the joy of being alive and being out in nature that I don’t even realize I’ve toiled up a major hill – it didn’t hurt at all!

 

That’s the Hershey Kiss part.  Is it the high I’ll get on the podium?  No, not even close.  It’s just a moment’s sweetness on the tongue.  Okay, I’m mixing metaphors, but you get the gist – it’s about focus.  You need to really take the time to revel in the small goals.  Wallow in them.  They are the rest spots on the stairs to the podium.  If you don’t, you’re going to burn out and quit.

 

Besides, just ask an older actor with an Oscar on their mantel; they’ll tell you the evening was great, but what mattered to them was the journey.  Like Lennon said, “Life is what happens while we make other plans”.

 

The Hershey Kisses are the joy of life!  Savor them; I wish you many.