Holiday Romance…it isn’t just for Christmas anymore

It’s that time of year again, when the days get short and the weather turns colder. I don’t like winters in general. I’d much rather be soaking up the sun on some beach somewhere. There is, however, one thing I do like about wintertime. To me, it means more time to read. There’s nothing better on a frigid winter day than curling up in my armchair with a cup of hot tea, some tea biscuits, and a good book. Although I have a huge pile of books next to my bed, waiting to be read, and another virtual pile on my tablet, I reach for holiday romances first at this time of year. To me, it feels strange to read a Christmas romance in July.

I love Christmas romances, and it appears I’m not alone. A quick check of Goodreads returned a list of nearly eleven hundred popular Christmas romances. When I searched Barnes and Noble, and the number was over six thousand romances available for purchase, while Amazon returned a whopping forty-thousand titles. Which is great for those of us who celebrate Christmas, and love a good Christmas love story.

Curious, I did another search for “Hanukkah Romance”. I’m happy to say, there were quite a few, although these were mostly in e-book format. However, there were nowhere near as many as there were for Christmas…only eighteen hundred titles. This is still enough to provide the average reader with Hanukkah romances to last a lifetime, though, so who am I to complain?

A search on Kwanzaa romances yielded more distressing results. Exactly two books came up in this search. I can’t help but wonder why. I have to believe that African-Americans read romance as much as any other ethnic group. I suppose the discrepancy could be chalked up to the fact that Kwanzaa is a relatively new holiday, only officially celebrated since 1966. Yet if we were using that reasoning, there should be more Hanukkah romances than Christmas ones, since Judaism has been around longer. If you say that Kwanzaa is actually a cultural holiday, rather than a religious one, I’m not sure that matters. Religion is a part of culture, isn’t it? Kwanzaa, at least in the northeast, is part of the conversation now.

Is it that the majority of editors and publishers are white Christians? Well, I don’t know the answer to that for sure, but I do know one thing. Romance publishers aren’t vampires, shape-shifters, Highland warriors or sheikhs, but they’re publishing tons of books about them. So why aren’t there more Hanukkah and Kwanzaa romances out there? I say, if you’re looking for a new angle, these would be good stories to write and pitch.  There, you have your new idea, and I promise I won’t take any credit for it.

I’m getting ready to re-read a favorite Christmas romance, What Happens at Christmas by Victoria Alexander. It’s a Victorian historical, and I particularly like it because it plays to the thespian in me. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

What Happens at Christmas

Do you have a favorite holiday romance? Why do you think there are so many Christmas romances, and so few Kwanzaa ones? I’d love to hear your theories on that, so please, sound off!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Joyous Kwanzaa!

Hugs,

Jaye

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Evening Social

This past weekend, all eight of us got to hang out together at the annual New Jersey Romance Writers Conference. Since our little group was formed three years ago at this event, we decided to commemorate the occasion with a little soiree, which we called The Violet Femmes’ Ditch the Heels Evening Social.

Diana reserved a suite, and all of us took on some part of the preparations, including (lots of) wine, chocolate, snacks, and soft drinks. Joanna set up a Facebook invitation. JB designed a small invitation that we circulated to everyone we came in contact with at the conference. We hung violet party decorations, poured the wine, plated the snacks, and waited for our guests to arrive after the Put Your Heart in a Book and Golden Leaf Awards ceremony.

We really had no idea how many people were going to show up. Some had RSVP’d online, but there was word-of-mouth and onsite information available, too. Did we have enough wine and snacks? What if nobody showed?

We certainly needn’t have worried about the latter. Here are some pictures of our gathering:

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JB caught up with Romantic Suspense Author Mary Burton

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Jaye and Joanna

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Shirley Hailstock makes her point.

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Michele, Tina and guest

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Elizabeth John and Maria have a laugh

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Joanna and Amy DeLuca

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We had a wonderful time visiting with all of our guests, and we could have gone on all night. However, we had put a ten o’clock end time on the invitation, since we wanted to be considerate of the people staying in the rooms adjacent to our suite. As it turned out, that was a smart move. A couple of British Airways pilots (with sexy accents!) were staying next door before flying back out in the morning. Those pilots needed their sleep. We didn’t want them crashing any planes.

Of course we hoped to get something out of hosting the party, although we didn’t want it to be an occasion to plug our own books. Mostly, we wanted to meet other authors, hang out with old friends, and raise the visibility of our blog. Sharing time with other authors, swapping stories and offering up support is what makes the romance community so unique. Screenwriter Michael Hauge has remarked that there is no other writing community that is as generous with our knowledge as romance writers, and we Femmes agree.

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Were you able to attend our party? Give us a shout-out and let us know!

 

Hugs,

Jaye

 

Dealing with the Walking Dead

I’m going to put this out there. I am not a nice person. I can be pretty ruthless. When I no longer have use for someone, I have no problem throwing him out.

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If I don’t like something that happens, I can easily tuck it away so that I forget it ever occurred. And if somebody says something that doesn’t make sense, I readily say “That’s stupid!”

Such is the life of a writer.

Oh, you thought I was talking about real life? Did you forget this is a blog about writing? Silly!

Let me first say, I’m a Capricorn. We Capricorns are known for being loyal to a fault…until you cross us. Still, I’m inordinately proud of the progress I’ve made in being able to disassociate myself from something that is no longer working in my manuscript. It isn’t easy. Writers become attached to their words in ways that are incomprehensible to most people.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to say this. Writing a book is like pregnancy, and can take just as long (or longer!). Sometimes, it can be just as painful. There’s this surge of joy when you come up with a new idea for a story, much like the feeling you get when you first discover you are pregnant. Your mind starts racing, you picture scenes and plotlines, characters and settings, you decorate and embellish the story in your mind’s eye just as you plan out the nursery for your new bundle of joy.

As you go through your book “pregnancy”, your baby gives you growing pains. Suddenly, a scene isn’t working and you have the worst case of indigestion. What do you do?

Your first course of action is to medicate with a handful of M&M’s, which are always at hand for any serious writer. M&M’s make everything better, at least temporarily. Then, you attack the offending scene with gusto, working and reworking it until it makes sense. Unfortunately, sometimes the reworking serves only to suck the life out of the scene completely. If that is the case, you chop it out. Cut off its head. Put it in solitary confinement in a file marked “Save for later” that you hopefully will remember you created when you realize that the scene actually DOES work, just not where you had it. Maybe it belongs in a different story entirely. Maybe it will never get used. Still, it’s there, waiting for that moment when you recognize its value.

Yet for every discomfort, for every pang you get as your “baby” grows, there is a moment of sheer joy, that feeling a mother gets when she holds her child for the first time. It’s that thrill you get when you laugh out loud when you’re writing a scene. The tear you get in your eye when everything seems hopeless for your characters’ happily ever after. The rush you get at the possibilities for your story’s success, because you know, you just KNOW, you got it right.

Here’s the thing. Writing is hard. It’s a solitary job with lots of rejection. Life often gets in the way. Hardly anybody writes their first book and sells a million copies of it. Practice makes perfect…or at least, perfect enough that an editor wants to buy it.

And here’s another truth…if you stop writing, you get rusty. I’m learning that firsthand these days. My writing has hit a dry patch. My baby has stopped growing, and there’s that fear of miscarriage, that the manuscript I’m working on will never reach its full potential. What I find, though, whenever I return to the story, is that it is just sleeping. Sometimes it takes a little while to wake it up, but eventually, it springs back to life.

I never, ever discard anything I write. That isn’t ego talking. It’s common sense, and yes, attachment. Just as I couldn’t discard one of my own children, so I couldn’t discard even a paragraph that isn’t working out the way I want it to. At every conference I’ve ever attended, one of the key speakers has referred to that first offending manuscript, the one that didn’t sell, that nobody wanted, that sits in a drawer at home as a reminder of how far the author has come. Because if you keep writing, you will get better at it. Your first book isn’t going to be as good as your fifth, or even your second.

I have a huge graveyard of unused writing, waiting to be resurrected when its usefulness is clear. It will be the Zombie Apocalypse of (Jaye Marie) Rome.

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How do you deal with wayward words?

 

Jaye

 

 

 

(Photo)journaling as inspiration

When I was around thirteen years old, like many teenagers, I went through a period of journal writing. I wasn’t very good at it. I never knew quite what to write, and it went very quickly from something I thought of as fun, to something I considered a chore. If I didn’t write in my journal at least every other night, I considered I was failing at journaling.

I guess I felt like I didn’t have much to say. I wasn’t a typical angst-ridden teen. I had a great life, and I knew it. My biggest complaint was having to do housework on the weekends. I didn’t really like boys at that point, thanks to having two relentless older brothers who teased me mercilessly. Why would I voluntarily add another boy into the mix?

Drawing came much easier to me than writing words. I spent hours in my room, listening to my stereo, sprawled out on the floor with sketchbooks and pencils.

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Mostly I used pictures in books or on album covers as my inspiration. I drew Dennis DeYoung, Linda Ronstadt, George Michael, Frank Sinatra. I copied an album cover onto the back of my brother’s denim jacket, and painted it (New Riders of the Purple Sage). I drew my feet, my hands, my dog, a self-portrait.

Drawing is a great hobby for a writer. It forces you to really observe. I soon went from drawing in my room, to getting outside and drawing from nature. It’s amazing what you see when you lie on your stomach in the grass. There’s a whole new world down there. Once I turned seventeen and got my driver’s license, I headed down to the beach, sketching everything from lighthouses, to fishermen baiting hooks, to windsurfers preparing to hop on their boards. The Jersey Shore has its own culture, and it has always fascinated me.

It was about that time that I became friends with a guy I worked with. Tony Gonzalez was (and still is) a photographer (see http://tonygonzalezartist.com), and I soon added photography to my list of journaling tools. Tony and I would head down to Long Branch and shoot under the boardwalks, using black and white film.

 

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I love the nuances in grey scale. It makes the subject’s details obvious to the eye, adding light and shade, highlight and depth, texture and mood. Take, for example, this photo of an ant on a daisy.

 

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The color photo’s story is cheerful, a happy little ant tooling along on a daisy stem, the yellow of the daisy’s center like a ray of sunshine. The black and white photo, however, tells a different story. The wilted flower now looks harshly dead, and the ant appears more sinister. It’s as if he sucked the life out of the flower, and is marching on to attack his next victim.

Whoever said “A picture is worth a thousand words” was a wise person, indeed. Not only do my photos remind me of details upon which I can draw in my writing, they are also the jumping-off points for stories. Take this photo of the Duomo in Milan.

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If you don’t know the Duomo, it is the second largest Catholic cathedral in the world, and it took nearly four hundred years to complete. That last fact, alone, is fodder for a writer. Imagine the lives of the cathedral builders, artisans, craftspeople! In fact, Ken Follett did, in his amazing novel, The Pillars of the Earth.

I love to take photos of people, as well as places. Aren’t you just dying to know the story behind this violin player on the streets of Rome? Or to make one up for him?002

 

Is he really a poor man looking to make a few euros to get him through the day? Or is he laughing behind that big smile, rolling in dough and just enjoying his retirement, playing a part? Is he married? How many children does he have? Grandchildren? What is his house like? Since my stories always start from the human element, often my photos give me ideas for stories I want to write in the future.

Whenever I travel, my camera goes with me, along with a little notebook to record details about certain photos, or tactile experiences. What was the air like on that day when the mist hung over the water? Did my skin taste salty after walking in the fog at the shore? Did I twist my ankle walking down that winding cobblestone road in Orvieto? How cool was it to use only a golf cart for transportation in Costa Rica?

If my pictures are good enough, every little detail of my experiences, including tactile ones, can be recorded with a click of a button, to use at a later date when I’m back in the confines of my office, working on my next story. They help flesh out the people, places and things. For me, characters and settings rich in details are what make a story worth reading.

Do you journal, with words or pictures? What do you get out of it? Dish with me.  🙂

Hugs,

Jaye

 

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. How Does Your Love Grow?

Sexual attraction, lust, love at first sight, friendship, instant hate, marriage of convenience, yearning for an ideal, ambition.

These are just some of the jumping-off points of writing romance.  One of the first aspects of planning a romance novel, for me, is deciding how the love between the hero and the heroine develops.  How do they feel about each other when they first meet? What makes them feel differently as the story develops?  In the end, what makes them feel like they can’t live without the other? In romance, the conflict drives the plot, but the central story development has to be the growth of the love between the hero and heroine. How we as authors create the relationship between our hero and heroine sets the tone for our entire story. It can help immensely when creating our story arc.

I could go on for days about different aspects of love. Here are just a few.

 

Love/Hate

The most extreme arc occurs when the characters seemingly hate each other in the beginning of the novel, only to end up loving each other.  The old saying goes that “love is akin to hate”, and a recent study by researchers at University College London shows that the same neural reactors in the sub-cortex of the brain are responsible for both feelings.  What seems to differentiate them is the way the reasoning part of our brain, the cerebral cortex, reacts. Love is an unreasonable emotion; part of our reasoning becomes deactivated when we experience love, causing us to act irrationally. When we experience hate however, we actually act more rationally.

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Writing is Personal

Have you ever read a book and wondered how much of it is actually an account of the author’s own life?

I had a discussion with my eighth grader tonight about To Kill A Mockingbird, and she talked about how certain aspects of Harper Lee’s novel came directly from the author’s life. Scout is believed to be based on Harper Lee herself, and Dill is based on her neighbor, the one and only Truman Capote.

Naturally, as writers, we put a lot of our personal experience or viewpoints into our work. How can we not? There is no way we can separate ourselves so completely, mentally and emotionally, from what we create. Any writing instructor, agent, or editor will tell you…write what you know.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking, however, that we are writing our own lives, unless, of course, we tell you it is so.

There are people who believe this to be the case. More than once, I’ve seen that “wink, wink, nudge,nudge” look in someone’s eye when I say I write romance. I’m telling you right now…it’s called fiction for a reason, people! And I have a really healthy imagination.

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(photo in the public domain)

Certainly, I am present in my writing. My viewpoints, the important themes in my life, my values, all have their place in what I write. I think I would find it hard to write something that was completely antithetical to my way of living. Could Hemingway have written For Whom the Bell Tolls without drawing on his experiences as a reporter during the Spanish Civil War? Would Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer have felt so authentic if the author didn’t draw from his childhood to write the book? The task of a writer is figuring out how, and when (or even if) to present that bit of themselves through the eyes of the characters in the novel.

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On Milestones

Milestone: A significant event or point in development

A few weeks ago, I celebrated a milestone birthday. I met this particular milestone with less than my usual enthusiasm, and it got me thinking.

I’ve had many milestones in my life, from relationships, to career opportunities, to giving birth, and even getting published. How have those events changed me and influenced the person I’ve become? How have they made me feel about myself, and how have they changed the way others view me?

Then, of course, being a writer, I imposed those questions upon the poor, unsuspecting characters in my books. Suckers!

Milestones tend to be thought of as positive, life-changing events that give a person the impetus to be bigger, better, stronger, richer (both monetarily, and in their souls). I love when an action or reaction to a milestone is different than what you would expect it to be.

Heroine #1 earns her college degree after years of putting herself through school, and now has the world at her fingertips! The possibilities are endless! The only way to go is up! Her optimism knows no bounds! She lives in a world of exclamation points!

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2013 NJRW Conference Wrap-up Continues: An Interview with Keynote Speaker, Diana Cosby

As you know, the Femmes were present in force at the 2013 New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book Conference. During the weekend, I got to spend a significant amount of time talking to the “Big Four” speakers, who all impressed me for different reasons. Historical romance author Diana Cosby was a personal favorite. Here, I hope to share with you just why I am in awe of this generous, talented writer.

Hugs,

Jaye

Diana Cosby with male model

Diana and her cover model

 A retired Navy Chief, AGC(AW), Diana Cosby is an international bestselling author of Scottish medieval romantic suspense.  Her award-winning MacGruder Brother books are available in five languages, with the 6th book in the series released in December 2013.  Diana has spoken at the Library of Congress, Lady Jane’s Salon, in NYC, and appeared in Woman’s Day, on USA Today’s romance blog, “Happily Ever After,” MSN.com, and in Texoma Living Magazine.

After her career in the Navy, Diana dove into her passion – writing romance novels. With 34 moves behind her, she was anxious to create characters who reflected the amazing cultures and people she’s met throughout the world.   In August 2012, Diana released her story in the anthology, “Born To Bite,” with Hannah Howell and Erica Ridley.  Diana looks forward to the years of writing ahead and meeting the amazing people who will share this journey. Visit Diana at her webpage, http://www.dianacosby.com.  

JMR: Diana, thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed for the Violet Femmes blog. 

DC: My sincere thanks for the interview.

JMR: I was so happy to get to know you better at the New Jersey Romance Writers Conference in October.

DC: I enjoyed talking with you again.  Always fun.  I also had the pleasure to speak with several members of the Violet Femmes, what an amazing  group of women!

JMR: Thank you! You delivered an awesome keynote address, full of little gems. I loved the story of how you celebrated with your mail lady when you received “The Call”. What from your speech did you hope the attendees took away with them?

 DC: Thank you so much.  It was an honor to give the keynote address at the New Jersey Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book Conference.  My mail lady – Nancy – has been an amazing friend throughout.  From the start when she began delivering my rejections, we’d talk about my goals, which are huge, but she always believed in my dreams.  My goal for the keynote speech was to inspire others to believe in themselves and dare to go after their dreams.  Too often our doubts about our abilities keep us from trying something new.

JMR:  You’ve lived all over the world. What was your favorite place to live? (You don’t have to say New Jersey!) Why?

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Alpha or Beta…How Do You Like Your Hero?

Years ago, when I first started reading romance, every hero was an alpha male, and nearly every heroine was a helpless ingénue. He was usually in his thirties. She was between the ages of 18 and 22. He was rich, successful, and being with him would solve all of her financial worries. She was an innocent, often orphaned or raised by a grandparent, and, if not poor, she worked for a living as a nurse, secretary or teacher. Her one dream in life was to marry a rich man and never have to worry about money again.

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You’d think that was in the 1950’s, but it was actually in the 1970’s. The era of The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, when everything seemed just a little simplistic.
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Dream a Little Dream

Jaye here, posting from vacation in California. Yes, I am THAT committed. Or crazy. Or maybe I should be committed because I’m crazy? Anywho.

I’m in gold rush country, where scads of pioneers flocked in the 1800’s in hopes of fulfilling their dreams of riches. Mostly men came out here, intent on hitting the mother lode, a huge “harvest” of gold that would secure their family fortune. They were pretty crazy, too.

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California Dreamin’.

It brings to mind something I’ve been pondering for a few weeks now.

Recently, the Femmes got together to celebrate scads of  good news. I made a comment about how 2013 has been a great year for our little group. Five of the seven of us have either had our first books published, or received contracts for them. Joanna won a major writing contest. Our discussion turned to our tagline (“Seven romance writers blogging toward the dream of Happily Ever After”). I commented how we needed to change that, since now we are achieving our dream. Joanna (funny, funny woman) was like, “No way! My dream is to be on the bestseller list with Nora!”

“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Goethe
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