Category Archives: Unsolicited Writing Advice!

How did you get along without it?

When a Kiss is not just a Kiss

Vintage-Valentine-Day-AdsThis Valentine’s weekend I’m going to put on my romance writer’s hat and dwell a bit on one of the three most important occurrences in a romance Novel – a) the first meeting between the two lovers, b) their first kiss and c) the first time they make love. Now, being of a perspicacious sort, I’m venturing a guess you’re hoping I’m going to jump all over c but sweetie, you’re wrong, mainly because that’s just too darn easy. Instead I’m going to focus on what is infinitely more monumental – the first kiss.

Yes, monumental. Are you kidding? you say. What can be more earth-shaking to a relationship than the lovers’ consummation? Think about it this way: if consummation is the inaugural flight, then the first kiss is the trial balloon. If it doesn’t fly, if it isn’t convincing enough, then chances are this trip’s going nowhere.  Consider this from one of my earlier (yet unpublished) masterpieces:

“You make me crazy, Jane,” he said softly, brushing his hand against my cheek, “but you’re in my head, and you won’t go away.”

I could feel the tenseness of his body against mine, and that dizziness returned, my legs wavering. He must have felt it, too, as he held me tighter, my hands finding their way to the small of his back. Then I looked into his eyes, the lightning drawing the gold from them, and then to his lips, slightly parted and ready to fall onto mine.

I had never wanted anyone more.

“Jane,” he said, and the sky exploded.

I fell into the all of him, his mouth warm and delicious on mine, my mind as fuzzy as drugged. He wrapped his arms tighter and lifted me from the ground, his lips tracing tiny charges across my collarbone. I reached down and gathered his head against me, kissing the windy sweetness of his hair. Then he whirled around, setting me to the picnic table.

“Well, hallelujah,” he said, smiling at me.

It would have been easy to simply write that he kissed her, she welcomed it, then they moved on to whatever ultimately transpired in the scene. But that would’ve been larcenous to the readers. They’re expecting more. In a romance, just as in a real life relationship, a first kiss is so much more intimate than even the sex. In actuality, it’s the first act of trust between the couple, and either’s reaction will determine the course their relationship will take. Was it mutual? Was it welcomed? Was it reciprocated? Does it lead to more? Does it change the relationship for better or for worse? Consider this from an even earlier tour de force:

She moved closer to him, so close she could see the slight tremble on his face, feel his breath on her cheek, hear nothing but the sound of her flaring pulse. She raised her eyes to his as he took her hand and pulled her into his arms.

“And it scares the hell out of me,” he said as his mouth fell to hers.

Brett’s world went black for a moment, though its spin remarkably advanced. He tasted warm, soft and vaguely of whiskey, and wonderfully, wonderfully like more.

She lost her head for the duration, found it acting of its own accord. She saw its mouth opening wider and wider still, saw it drawing its breath from its share with his. Saw its eyes flutter in an almost-swoon, thinking that a distinct possibility if she hadn’t been so securely in his arms.

Here was the man she once thought a killer, who would have killed to save her son’s life, who could have lost his own for doing it. At once who he was didn’t seem so essential anymore, as long as he was who he was now.

“Brett, Brett…” he whispered, burying his face in her neck. She arched it back as his kisses trailed electric charges against her skin, her eyes opening and closing with the force of her breath coming hard. She raked her fingers into his hair and dragged his mouth back to hers, his kisses desperate and greedy, her heart pounding against his own wildly-beating chest.

He laid his cheek against hers, gathering her so closely she could feel herself melting into the folds of his body. Then upon his cheek she felt a startling moistness as he suddenly drew apart from her.

He held her out, her breath catching at the sight of him staring. No longer did she question the evening light when his sudden pallor was so apparent.

“Forgive me,” he said.

Oh yes, things have definitely changed, but is that good? Is either lover coming away from this encounter exhilarated with the romantic discovery of each other, or has their bussing made things more muddled than ever? (Maybe if I ever get this epic published, I’ll be able to tell you!)

The thing is, a kiss, at least in the world of romance, is never a simple thing. It’s probably more complex than a Newtonian theorem. To do it right, at least in this writer’s opinion, it must be electric, life-altering, physically shattering and ultimately axis-tilting. It should be one of the most descriptive pieces of writing in the book, and neither participant should come out the same as before they entered into it. It may crash them together or force them apart, but it should always leave them longing for more. But most of all, it should open them to a world neither of them ever experienced or expected, and one they couldn’t ever imagine living in without each other again.

All Excerpts © Gwen Jones 2015 – All Rights Reserved.

Advertisements

Why Strong Women Need Alpha Males

Alpha you bet!

One of the basic tenets of romance concerns the hero and heroine overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles to fall in love. It doesn’t matter if he is a detective, a duke or a ditchdigger—or if she’s a countess or a country bumpkin or a feminist attorney. Their problems can be of class differences or underlying neuroses or even as simple as she hates men who wear Panama hats. Whatever the bone of contention, it has to forceful enough to cause night sweats and rashes, yet still won’t stop them from crossing mighty rivers or hacking through buffalo grass to get to each other. And nine times out of ten, it’ll be the hero doing the hacking because as sexist as that sounds, most romance readers still like their men physically stronger than they are.

All right…don’t get your knickers in a twist. There are reasons for that, and if you’ll just calm down a second I’ll tell you what they are. First off, romance heroines are strong women. That’s right–tough, inside and out. They’re also smart enough to spot a sniveler a hundred yards off. So of course – and here’s the logic – a strong and smart woman is not going to be looking for a man weaker than her. It just wouldn’t make sense, because if he was, she’d barely give him the time of day. She’d be looking for her equal at least, but more often than not, she’d be looking for someone to knock her off her feet. He can’t be anything less than an Alpha Male, someone powerful, smoldering, unrepentant. And looks alone aren’t enough, because our savvy heroine can get anyone she wants with a crook of her little finger. Her man, in any form he takes, has to be everything she’s looking for plus. Plus equaling that inimitable quality only she can define, and recognizable the moment she meets him.  Because when she collides with someone who can actually best her, it’s such mind-blower she’s instantly intrigued, whether for good or for bad, for love or for hate. And from there, the chase begins.

I can hear you saying, but that’s not realistic. Most men have foibles, shortcomings, are far from perfect. But this isn’t the real world, my dears–this is fantasy. Yet in so many ways, it isn’t. Fact or fiction, real life or not, don’t we all realize something in our object of affection that no one else can? Aren’t we privy to insider info maintained for our eyes only? Of course we are. Because only when we’re in love do we open up our hearts, to share the things no one else can see, to an enraptured audience of one. Who would want it any other way?

Why we love those bad, bad boys

marlon7We’ve all read about them. Those incorrigible, gorgeous rakes who don’t give a damn about stealing your company, raiding your trust fund, double-crossing the best friend or breaking your heart. He’s the one with the best lines even though they slice to the quick, telegraphed from a mouth crooking sardonic and eyes that flash and burn. He’s always the snappiest dresser with the shiniest shoes and the most expensive jewelry, more often bought with your line of credit. If he gets in a fight he wins without mussing a hair, and that slight nick high on his cheekbone only makes him more dashing. His voice is smooth as silk and it rumbles through you like an electric charge, as he’s talking you out of your clothes and everything in your wallet. He’s on everyone’s A List, is invited to all the best parties, frequents the finest restaurants and clubs, and is only seen with the most beautiful woman. He has the tightest abs and the broadest shoulders, is tall and lean and impossibly gorgeous. He’s the consummate lover but he’ll never fall in love, yet he’s what every woman wants and what every man wants to be. In film he’s Gordon Gekko the ruthless arbitrageur of Wall Street, in romance, he’s the pitiless rake, Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, in Lisa Kleypas’ wonderful novel, The Devil In Winter. And for all their cunningly manipulative ways, we are unabashedly drawn to them like magnets to metal filings. We worship them, adore them, envy them, lust after them. Only to be cut down and debased and betrayed over and over again. So why in the world are we continually drawn to this bad, bad boys?

Because oh…how we love to see them fall!

And when they do, it’s usually spectacular, a crash and burn of epic proportions. But then we get to witness the most marvelous thing– their redemption–and what a fascinating thing that is, watching these fascinating creatures evolve, scrabbling their way back to the top–and to us. It’s a precipitous climb, full of switchbacks and reversals, but when they finally learn their lesson, we get to wallow in their devotion, their bad, bad ways making them oh-so-good exactly where we need them.

Romance writing is all about the resolution of conflict between two protagonists so love can bloom, and there’s nothing like a rake whose odds are so out of favor, it almost seems impossible he’ll ever end up redeemed. But it also  makes the most compelling reading. Give me a good old bad boy any day, as they’re the most challenging and certainly the most fun. Because as everyone knows, that’s all we girls really wanna have anyway.

Writing isn’t all glam and cocktails, you know…

romancing-the-stone-special-edition-20061016035744678-000Have you ever seen the movies Misery or Romancing the Stone? Both feature writers banging out the final paragraph of their books before they triumphantly type THE END, culminating with either an elaborate ritual or an all-encompassing snif of enormous satisfaction. Now although it’s true that most writers look more like Kathleen Turner sporting a red nose and a dirty bathrobe than James Caan with his Dom Perignon, it’s also true that if there’s a writer out there who is really and truly done when she types THE END, then I’ve yet to meet her. The fact is it’s the rare person who emits perfection the first time.  My best writing usually comes through in the rewrite, which I’m sure is true with most: it’s all in the editing.

But there are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to the nip/tuck of the edit (perhaps more, but I’ll just focus on two, or we could be here all day.) The first is the “just write it!”, the second is to edit on the fly. Both have their merits, and neither method is wrong.

The average novel is anywhere from 75,000 to 125,000 words, or 300-500 double-spaced pages, most falling somewhere in between. For a work of this length, I’ve known “just write it!” writers to pump out 200,000 to 300,000 words before they finally take a breath and fan the smoke off their laptops. Many take their inspiration from such methods as Book In a Week or NaNoWriMo which instructs participants to just get it out–no editing, no going back over what’s been written. The point is to get the words down and create a first draft, and worry about the revising later. The main thrust is to get the ideas out. I believe this method works well for people who plot their story out beforehand, who work from outlines, or, to take the opposite tack, who write best in stream-of-consciousness. Like a virulent case of verbal vomit, “just write it!” writers throw it all against the wall, deciding to see what’ll stick after it dries.

I prefer to fix on the fly and edit whiile I write. Unlike my plotting, I’m deliberate in my revising. Usually I go back to edit before starting another writing session, whether that session is a couple of hours worth or from the day before. Most of the time I do both, and always if I set it aside for a while, as I’ve done now by revisiting the novel I put aside last year. The advantages to this is it keeps the story fresh in your head, lets you and fix plot or continuity problems, and you’re certainly writing more concisely and compactly, as you’re choosing your words more carefully, not just pumping out the first thing that flies into your head. Of course, there’s always the chance, with constant revisiting, that you’ll drain the life out of your prose. The last thing you want to do is beat it into an over-processed, mechanical bore. But this method does help if you tend to lose track of your story, working even better if you’re actively writing every day and on a deadline.

Neither method is right for everyone, and you may work best under a combination of the two. The important thing is you’re writing, and if it takes a bit of the nip and tuck, or more than a few Joycean interior monologues to get you going, then damn the Spell Check–full speed ahead!

 

Tenacity, thy name is Writer

Gwen signingAh yes, there I am in New York at BEA back in June, signing copies of Wanted: Wife at the RWA booth. I’m happy to say that I “sold” every copy HarperCollins provided for me. Okay, I’m lying. They were free, and three-quarters of the people asked for them not to be personalized. Kind of reminded me when I was at a BEA authors’ breakfast the year before, and I asked the same thing of Chris Matthews of “Hardball” on MSNBC. He laughed out loud in that inimitable Chris Matthews way and said, “Ha! Better to sell it on eBay!” No, I thought, feeling slightly chagrined. He was so mobbed, I was trying to save him some time. Even so, I was under no illusion my many “fans” were thinking eBay about me. Seems most of them were librarians or booksellers, and WW would soooo fit nicely into that raffle basket…

Not that I cared. Truly, I didn’t. At this stage of my career, I’m just happy you asked. Writers are funny that way. We can be a cloistered folk, especially when we’re deep into a project, but if you want to get a writer’s attention, just ask her what she’s working on. If the work’s going smoothly, she’ll jabber on about it. If it’s going badly, she’ll give you a scowl that’ll melt glass.

I’m kinda at the in between stage right now, just starting a new project, and just pushing one out in the real world on Tuesday, November 18th. That would be The Laws of Seduction, the third book in my “French Kiss” series, and a bit different from what I’ve written before. It’s somewhat darker, but it was written at a very dark point in my life. I started it the day before my mother died suddenly, and worked through and finished it while I was still in mourning. In fact, this picture was taken just six days after her death and three days before her funeral, and to tell you the truth, as excited as I was to do a signing at BEA, I was pretty much in a daze. But I soldiered on. I think Mom would have wanted me to.

I’m somewhat better now, though I still miss her, of course. But out of all that sadness came something I’m pretty proud of. The writing, the plain work of it, got me through a very tough time by giving me something other than my grief to think about, and through it all, reaffirmed my conviction to the craft of writing. I knew then that if I could write through those dark days, I would never have an excuse again to not write when the times were so much better. Because as a writer, I was doing what writers do–write. I sincerely hope, with this next book, you’ll agree.

Living the Romantic life

IMG_2372 I discovered something about the nature of a long-term relationship last week when my husband and I decided to go away overnight. It was an impromptu trip, as we had come into a little extra cash and we hadn’t been away as a couple in four years. So I rushed to make hotel reservations as well as booking a spot on the Cape May-Lewes Ferry (that’s Cape May receding from aboard the Cape Henlopen). We were to take the ferry over in the morning, then spend the afternoon and night in the charming coastal town of Lewes, Delaware. Which is exactly what we did.

No sense giving you our travelogue–which was, briefly, the Delaware Bay crossing, a stay at a lovely downtown hotel, the Hotel Rodney, a visit to the state park, dinner on the canal at sunset, etc–but that’s not the point I’m wanting to make. The point is how a couple can change when they’re out of their milieu, how that change is a barometer of the true state of their relationship, as well as a portend of what they can expect when they come home and return to their reality. Let me explain.

I read somewhere over the summer, not sure where, that in order to keep a long-term relationship fresh a couple needs to experience new things together. It’s not enough to do them separately, as they need to bind over a shared event. We found this on the ferry and in visiting Lewes. Away from home and doing something together in a new environment, we were able to step outside our everyday lives and become almost different people. When we walked into our hotel room, drank beer at our canal-side table, ate ice cream on the sidewalk as we watched passers-by, we found a joy in our commonality of stepping outside the ordinary. Free of the static of everyday life, we were able to just live in the moment, getting into the thrill of the open sea, yellow beets and pistachios on our salads, mints atop our turned-down sheets. And about those sheets…

Yes, it was better. He was better–I was better. There’s something thrilling about a mussed-up bed in the afternoon (especially when you return from dinner and find it made up with those mints atop it). Being silenced with a kiss. Trotting downstairs to a hotel alcove past midnight for a can a Coke and Chex Mix–you’re starving, after all–wearing just a cardigan and the jeans you snatched from the floor. Finally falling asleep who-knows-when. Strange. We’ve been married well over twenty years, but the man I spent the night with surprised the hell out of me. His reactions to the newness all around us made him as fresh to me as if I just met him, giving me a new, exciting perspective on him. In those thirty-six-odd hours we spent together, I fell in love all over again.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, my goodness, remember what I write? How can I impart those first rushes of romance if I can’t feel it from the inside? How convincing would I be then? It’s a wonderful feeling, living the romantic life. Recharge often.

Guest Post in Chuck Sambuchino’s WRITERS DIGEST column!

large_logoOver the weekend my wit ‘n wisdom was featured in Chuck Sambuchino’s fabulous Writers Digest column. It’s called “The Writer’s Journey: How Much (can) Someone Possibly Stand?” What I’m talking about is how much a writer has to go through to get where they want to be, the hours, the sacrifices, the research, etc. Here’s a snippet:

So there’s this, there’s all of this, and yet as hard as you work, shuffling schedules to make room for those two blissful hours alone, polishing that manuscript until it screeches surrender, querying in bunches and crossing your fingers, there it comes again, that blasted, callous bit of communication that so effortlessly denies you entrance. So you steal more hours, polish some more and once again type that header: QUERY: Historical Thriller 80k–and it’s almost as if you’re stuck in a copier churning out denied, denied, DENIED.

DENIED. Yeah, we all know what that’s like. Rejection, requery, resubmit. So why do we do it? What pushes us on. You don’t the answer to that, right? If you don’t, then, ask yourself, why not?