We sing because we have a song

This week I wrote, “The End.” It’s a rare treat--for me, that is. Some prolific writers (Marie Force comes to mind, and Nora Roberts) can write a full-length novel in 60 days or less. My speed is more like one book a year.

Please indulge me as I savor it. The book: Crimson Secret. Book Four in the Coin Forest series, set during England’s War of the Roses. I even developed a positioning TM tag line for the series: History  made passionate in medieval England.

I love these characters. I lived through their adventures, and they were exotic and breath-taking. I agonized over their life-and-death decisions, and enjoyed their triumphs. I love this story.

Now comes the revision process, during which we reach inside, grab our toes and pull, turning ourselves inside out as each paragraph, page and chapter is reviewed, revised, enhanced, deleted and polished to make it the best story it can be.

After that, my heroic beta readers will read it from cover to cover, and the gem will be polished again.

bird-287109_1920 singing 2.5 in
Because I so love the music, I must join the chorus. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Then, because I’m an independently published author I will work with my book cover designer (my talented daughter, Jalena) to design an eye-catching cover that will provide clear proof of the genre and convince readers to buy it.

To add to that marketing effort, I will solicit reader book reviews, format my novel for Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Kobo and write an intriguing book description. I will send ARCs to procure testimonials. I will blog and tweet and Facebook my way through those pre- and post-release weeks. I will go on blog tours, make community appearances and may produce a video trailer and appear on radio and podcast interviews. I will enter contests, because winning them provides more prestige for the novel.

I used to be a traditionally published author, and I did much of the same work for those novels.

Few people know the work involved for both traditionally published and indie published authors. But we do it, for one book, two books, ten. Thirty. Each novel is a cherished story, one that we hope will bring readers the same joy as it did us.

Why? Why do we do it?

A dear friend of mine, Joya Wonderlight, is a gifted piano teacher with high enthusiasm for children, music, and life.  A plaque on her wall reads, “Use the talents you possess – for the woods would be silent if only the best birds sang.” …many variations exist of this quote, credited to Henry Van Dyke.

An unattributed Chinese proverb says, “A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.”

These concepts are why I write. Writing enriches our lives. Good writing entertains, but it also stimulates the imagination. It validates our human existence, with all its trials and emotions and joys. It enlightens and invites thoughtful reflection. It can improve a reader's afternoon--or change his or her life.

It changes writers' lives, too. To bring a story from beginning to end is a tremendous workout for the mind. We become more aware of universal needs, and the bond we share with all of humanity. And we become better writers, because with each book we write, we become better and better at our craft, and the quality of our message.

Which birds sing the best? That’s a subjective question. Each person’s voice is unique and who among us would want to silence the forest?  Because I so love the music, I must join the chorus.

I love reading my work to my critique partners. We share a unique friendship, and I have come to love them as a special family in my life. We share a passion. I love it when they are pleased with my pages. I love it when I am pleased with their pages. We see and celebrate our progress. These friendships are gifts.

I also love my readers, and reading their reviews of my novels. When a reader writes that they loved my story so much they're going to read it again--when they intuit the theme of my books, love my characters, are eager to read my next release--that I've made the 15th century come alive for them.--it's a heady brew of emotions. Relief. Pleasure. Excitement. Connection. Before I was published, I used to fear reviews. I have discovered that they are another gift.

The other reason I write is because, in addition to the challenge of creating and delivering a story intact from my heart to the page, writing is a form of self-discovery.  I have learned much about my hopes and dreams by creating and following my characters’ desires. And just in case I get so  confident that I think I've conquered the hero's journey with its many satisfying goalposts, life often surprises me.

Which is good. This keeps life interesting, and our pens moving across the page. We sing because we have a song.

Why do you write?

Pigeon-holed or typecast? It can happen to any writer

By Mary Gillgannon

I know how picky readers can be, but I never realized it would affect me until I was analyzing the sales of my indie published books. I have twelve books available, and sales of those titles vary widely, and always have. Some of my books I’m lucky to sell five a month. Others sell several times that. The books that sell well are the same ones each month. Even though I have other titles in the same sub-genre, there is very little carryover to them.

I started to think about what qualities my better-selling books share and realized that they all have alpha heroes and intense conflict between the hero and the heroine. (An alpha hero is an old-fashioned, macho, larger-than-life, domineering male.) When I was first published, I got plenty of criticism from my critique group, reviewers and sometimes readers for my ultra-masculine heroes and conflict-ridden storylines. (As one reader put it, “If I wanted to experience a couple fighting all the time, I could have just stayed with my first husband.”) Because of that, and also because I wanted to explore different types of characters, I started to write books with more external conflict and more complex and subtle heroes.

Those books were never as popular as my earlier ones. Initially, I blamed my declining sales on the fact that historical romances in general were in a slump. But now the sub-genre seem to be doing well, and I can no longer ignore the cold hard figures of my sales reports. There is a definite type of book that appeals to my readers.

It’s pretty frustrating. Like the writers I mentioned above, I don’t want to write the same story over and over. And it doesn’t help that lots of successful writers write books with beta heroes who don’t clash dramatically with the heroine. Why does it work for them and not for me? Maybe it’s my voice or writing style. Or that I get so deep into my heroes’ viewpoints that if I make them too nice they come off as wimpy.

At the same time, knowing what appeals to “my” readers is useful. I’m planning extensive rewrites of the last two of my backlist books this summer, and now I have a clear direction. I need to make my heroes more forceful and larger-than-life, and increase the conflict between the hero and heroine.

The irony is that I’m rewriting these books because I wasn’t happy with the way they turned out the first time, mostly due to editorial input. Now, once again, I can’t simply “follow my muse” as I revise them. It would be foolish to ignore what my readers apparently want. But I’m not about to give up on writing different types of stories. Maybe if I keep exploring I’ll find a new formula that will attract new fans. And even if that doesn’t happen, I have to keep growing as a writer or it wouldn’t be any fun. And I’m at the point in my life where fun is more important than selling books.

Writing a reader-friendly historical romance

by Janet Lane

For thou with me while iuel shall I not dread…

???????????????????????????????My first inspiration to write fiction involved a thought that flashed through my mind when entering rather boring sales data into date fields. I inadvertently entered something like 1798 instead of 1998, and a “What if?” idea flashed above my head, just like in the commercials. What if my protagonist entered an ancient date and was somehow transported to that time?

That initial spark grew into a time travel romance, which has yet to see the light of day, but the vision revealed my passion for the past. I told my husband, John, that I was writing a novel. I visited Denver Public Library and hauled home a dozen monster books on England, covering the twelfth through the eighteenth centuries, and dragged them to bed with me for late-night research.

“I thought you were going to write a book,” John said. “You’ve been reading these books for a month.”

And so my research began. I eventually settled in the fifteenth century, in Somerset. To this day it feels to me as if I indeed traveled to the past.

Writing about it, though, was a different story. I studied dialogue in historical fiction novels, learning antiquated sentence structure and vocabulary, and laboriously inserted it into my story. I was bombarded by helpful contest judges with comments like, “Your dialogue is so stilted.” “Your scenes sound formal, unnatural.” And, “Don’t be afraid to use contractions!”

My research was helpful for scene-setting, describing dinners and clothing, but dialogue continued to mystify. Writing in the 1400s, was I limited to the vocabulary of the time? Fearful of being called a research flunkie, I hauled entire chapters to the library (little was available on the Internet then), painstakingly researching the history of each suspect word.

Chaucer was not much help: “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heath.” (During a plotting session, I asked Jasmine Cresswell for help. She amazed me by speaking flawless Middle English. It was exquisitely beautiful, but more suited for academic tomes than historical romances.)

Four historical romance novels later, I’ve reached a comfort level with my dialogue. Here’s what I have found useful for my fifteenth century characters.

  1. I write my first draft dialogue as it naturally leaves my pen or keyboard. I refine it later in revisions.
  2. I take more freedoms with narrative than dialogue. For example, if I find a word that came into use in the sixteenth century, I have no problem with using it in narrative. I hesitate to use such words in dialogue, however, and research further for similar words specific to my century. If I can’t find a suitable substitute, however, I am not a slave to etymology. My genre is historical fiction.
  3. I purge all obvious slang and anachronistic words or expressions that will wrench my reader from the historical world I’ve so carefully created. I purge them from both narrative and dialogue.
  4. I get help. Fresh, more experienced eyes can catch seemingly small errors that may disappoint and upset an avid reader who knows better. For example, fellow RMFW member and accomplished historical writer Denee Cody pointed out that I used a screw-top lid when a scrivener inked his pen to begin recording a legal document. Forewarned, I had the scrivener remove the stopper. (I also avoided referring to a cork.)

Contractions and more familiar sentence structure make the writing more graceful and easy to read--provided it isn’t peppered with anachronistic words or phrases such as my protagonist “rocking” his latest set of armor or having a “meltdown” moment.

Lane_TraitorCover11_14_14And there are appropriate times to inject a feeling for the past, when my characters appropriately say, “Good morrow,” “Nay,” or “Godspeed.”

To evoke the past, I added historical dialogue in my latest release, Traitor’s Moon, but I made it brief and added a succinct background for the reader. Queen Margaret is recruiting young boys to accompany the king to the Battle of Blore Heath (King Henry VI was devout and ill, and even in times of war, Margaret brought young boys to the battles to entertain him by singing hymns.)

Here’s that dialogue.
Enchanted, James clapped his hands and began singing, “Gabriel fram heven-King, sent to the Maide sweete, Broute hir blisful tiding, And fair he gan hir greet...” He sang the carol with a clear and perfect pitch, a song of the angel coming to Mary with news of the conception and salvation of mankind.

That’s my personal history on the struggle with historical dialogue. Have you had a similar struggle in your genre? If so, how did you solve it?


Lane_Coin Forest 1 2 3 copyJanet Lane is an Amazon Bestselling Author. The latest book in her Coin Forest series, Traitor’s Moon, released recently on Amazon as a Kindle. Her awards include Best Novel of 2006 Award--Preditors and Editors; Best Seller List--Rocky Mountain News, and Best Romance Novel—RMFW Colorado Gold contest. Her social media sites include her website, Facebook, and Twitter.

An Awkward Confession

By Mary Gillgannon

I’ve been writing historical romance for over twenty years. In the beginning, the genre was also my favorite reading material. I read the best-selling romance authors to find out what magic they worked to rise to the top. I read the “up-and-comings” to see what they offered and get a feel for the direction the market was headed. And I read pretty much anything in my preferred sub-genre, medieval and Viking romances. I once heard that before writing a book in a particular genre, you should read a hundred books of that type. Over the first few years of my writing career, I probably did that.

But gradually I got away from reading historical romance. I discovered historical mysteries, which helped me immerse myself in the world and time period I was writing in and often gave me new ideas for stories that were more unique than the ideas I got from romances. I dabbled in literary fiction, which had been my preferred reading in college and immediately afterwards. Chick lit came along and I ate it up. Fantasy started getting popular and I added it to my reading “oeuvre”. Then, a few years ago, I stumbled onto a contemporary mystery I really liked and started reading them too.

I’m currently writing my fifteenth historical romance, and yet I have to guiltily admit that, except for books written by friends, I haven’t read a historical romance from start to finish in years. I have good intentions. I purchase e-books that sound interesting and download free copies to help other authors get exposure. I order historical romances for the library where I work and sometimes even check them out. But some other book (or books) always seems to be calling me, and I never get far into the romances before I move on.

It doesn’t help that I acquire fiction as part of my job at a public library and read dozens of reviews every month, covering fiction in all sorts of genres. I usually skim the non-fiction reviews, too, adding to my choices. When I check in the new books (to confirm the cataloging is correct, etc.) I set aside the order slips of those I’m interested in. I now have a pile about fifty order slips on my desk. I’d like to read these books, but it seems like there’s always something new and irresistible and I seldom end up going to “the pile”. I guess I’m sort of ADHD when it comes to reading for pleasure.

Lately I’m obsessed with gritty contemporary mysteries set in the British Isles. I could never write stories like these. I don’t have a good feel for contemporary dialogue and as an American, I certainly couldn’t pull off the slang or the authentic local details that make these books so intriguing to me. For the most part, I avoid portraying much violence in my own stories (they are romances, after all), while these mysteries are full of dark and disturbing scenes. They also don’t have “happily ever after” endings. Indeed, sometimes the endings are downright grim.

I suspect that my preference for reading books that are nothing like what I write is a little weird. When I read interviews with writers and they discuss their reading habits, they may mention stories that are a bit different than what they write, but not usually the complete opposite. I’ve tried to analyze why my tastes are this way. Maybe it’s because when I’m writing, I’m living in that world on a much more intense level than when I’m reading. When I’m writing as a character, I really am that character, and I don’t want them to endure too much violence, pain or suffering because I don’t want to experience it myself on that intense level.

It’s one thing to be exposed to darkness and evil vicariously. Another to feel like you’re actually living it. In the books I read, I identify and care about a lot of the characters, but I don’t become them the way I do my characters. I can read a gritty mystery and go on an exciting, vicarious ride. But I don’t envision my real self in that world.

I’ve heard other authors complain that writing fiction takes away from enjoying reading it. You become too critical of technical details, too aware of pacing flaws and places where the characterization is weak, etc. You stop reading as a reader and start reading like an editor. For the most part, I’m pretty forgiving and tolerant of these things. If I find the story compelling, I can ignore a lot of issues that might bug some of my writer friends.

At least when I’m reading non-romances. When I read a romance, it’s much harder for me to turn off the editor in my head. And even if I have no problems with the writing itself, it’s hard for me not to think about how I would write the story. That puts a distance between me and the story and makes it hard for me to really immerse myself in the book. More specifically, other authors’ fantasies are not my fantasies, and that is ultimately a very important component of the romance reading experience.

Despite all these things, I plan to keep trying to read more romance. After I get through the two mysteries and the historical novel I’m waiting to come in at the library, and that book I just ordered that sounds so interesting and well… you know the rest.

What about you other writers out there? Is there a big discrepancy between your reading and writing interests?


Mary GillgannonMary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the dark ages, medieval and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at public library, where she she has the enviable task of purchasing adult fiction. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing she enjoys gardening, traveling and reading, of course! For more about Mary, visit her website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook.