From The Darkness

 

Three years ago I signed a contract with a new publisher for my second book, Desert Jewel, and what would become The Jewel Chronicles series. Rebel Jewel was just released yesterday marking my eleventh publication in four years. So why am I bringing this up now?

That year I was in a bad place. I had suffered from bouts of mild depression throughout my life but nothing prepared me for what that year would bring down on me. It wasn’t one isolated thing and it didn’t have anything to do with a death in the family or an illness. It was just a combination of many things throughout the space of a few years all rolled into what turned out to be the perfect storm that almost took me under.

I won’t go into details about everything that went wrong in my life during those years but they were both family and work related. By then I had been navigating many downs in my personal and professional life, but what happened that year was the proverbial drop that overflowed my very full cup.

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Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas on Pexels.com

Going to work that year was unbearable. I felt smaller than a bug in an extremely toxic environment. The one thing that anchored me to sanity was my writing. I had been offered a contract for my first book and that small triumph made my life bearable and gave me hope that something better lay ahead. Then I received a rejection letter from my publisher for Desert Jewel, a story I had put all of myself into, one I wanted to share with the world because it spoke of my beliefs, it spoke of the strength that lies inside me, it spoke of many things I normally couldn’t voice. I was crushed. Suddenly my only tether to hope had been severed and I was left adrift.

All the hurts, all the doubts, all the fingers pointed at me in the past came crashing down and before I could do anything about it, I was drowning in darkness. I withdrew from all my friends, all activities, barely talked and was always on the verge of tears. I was never suicidal, but I did think about death a lot. I’d be driving home from work and a thought would pop into my head, “What if a car ran the red light, crashed into mine and killed me?” In my depressive state I thought that it would be a blessing, not only for me but my loved ones. My husband would finally be able to move back to his hometown and marry a wife who made him happier, my sons would not have my pervasive enabling to deal with and could finally be independent and happy, my coworkers would be able to work with someone more efficient than me, and I would have some peace at last. Years of listening to people telling me these things had finally convinced me they were right. I was useless and brought nothing to the world. Even the one thing I thought I was good at, my writing, was now a broken dream.

The scariest part was that no one noticed or realized how depressed I was, even though I barely talked, barely left the house, stopped meeting with friends. Instead, those close to me thought I was just being difficult, that because I was unhappy at work, I was mad at the world and just lashing out. They would often get mad at me, tell me to snap out of it which in turn made me even more depressed. I felt guilty for being such a party pooper, for feeling the way I felt and helpless against it.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Amid all the murkiness of depression I sent a submission to a new publisher one of my pub sisters had recommended. I was not holding my breath. After all, if my own publisher didn’t want my book why would others?

My husband and I went on a mini-vacation to the mountains that spring and I was miserable. This early riser couldn’t get herself out of bed in the morning and woke up already crying. That morning I dragged myself out of bed and went to hide in the big bathroom, pretending I was getting dressed. I sat on the edge of the hot tub scrolling through my messages and saw an email from the publisher I had sent my manuscript to. I must have sat there for ten minutes before daring to open it. I was sure it was a rejection but as long as I didn’t actually read the words there was always a thread of hope. And I needed hope desperately.

Eventually I did click on it and read the message. I will never forget what I felt reading the words of the woman who is now my publisher. It was not a rejection, far from it. Not only was she offering me a contract, but her words filled me with a joy I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was not just a “yes, we want your book” letter, it was a “loved your manuscript, it’d be an honor to publish it”.

She doesn’t know this—no one does—but that message brought me from the edge of that terrible place I was in. That day I got dressed, I went out, I laughed and talked to my husband. I also decided to get a therapist and go back to yoga. Shortly after that, I got an interview and was able to move to a different school where people treat me with respect to this day.

I was not “cured”. More recently I saw the darkness rising again but I was ready this time. I called my doctor and asked for help before it got too far. Writing is still saving me one day at a time. It’s where I go when I need a break from reality, where I go when I need to control life the way I can’t do in the real world. It’s where I go to rest.

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Photo by Immortal shots on Pexels.com

I was lucky to have someone say just the right thing at the right time to give me enough hope that I could find my way to the surface, but what if that hadn’t happened? Where would I be?

Be aware of your loved ones’ behavior at all times. Don’t assume they are just being difficult and if you notice a difference, talk to them without judgement, without finger-pointing and listen, listen to them. You may be the one thing that keeps them afloat.

**This article offers several depression hotlines that you can use at any time. Don’t wait, talk to someone today.**

 

Being True To Yourself as a Romance Writer

I just recently read a blog that made me reevaluate my writing or at least the way I look at it. Writing from a place of fear versus from a place of love by Chuck Wendig really hit a nerve with me. Like most writers I thrive on self-doubt and am never sure whether I’m writing the right thing; the thing that readers want, what the readers will devour and beg for more, ultimately the one thing that will sell my books.

I have been tempted to write what seems to sell. As a romance writer I am plenty aware of what romance readers in general are reading, the things that make them tick. But as much as I have wanted to write those books, I couldn’t. They were not me. So cue in another wave of self-loathing; why can’t I be more like others, why am I so weird and different from everybody else? Enter days and days of agonizing over a manuscript; is my publisher going to want it? Will it sell? Will reviewers even be interested in reviewing it?writing

I was recently at a book signing event and decided to attend one of the panels they were offering. As quickly as I went in, I turned around and left, not so much horrified and depressed by what was being discussed but by the fact that if that was what the readers wanted, I would never be able to give it to them. No judgement on the authors of such books but they are not me. I can’t write kinky stuff, just can’t. I love writing about everyday Joes who take great pleasure in making love to their mates in simple ways, men and women who don’t need the aid of tools or pain (or the suggestion of such) to reach an orgasm, couples who won’t allow a third wheel in their sexual life and don’t need to be dominated, women who are not sex goddesses who may in fact even be a little shy about it… in short, people who are so in love with each other that they don’t need anything else to turn them on, keep them on, and reach that apex of pleasure most of us look for.

The reverse of the medal is what it’s usually called clean or sweet romance where sex is either only implied or not mentioned at all. I can’t write these either because I enjoy reading about the characters being intimate and loving, their physical reaction to the love they have for each other. So I like to write spicy scenes. My kind of spice, the kind I keep thinking is not what today’s romance reader want.

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And so the cycle of self-doubt goes on, possibly to never stop. But for now I will stick to what feels right to me at the risk of never selling enough books to keep me fed. I will keep writing from a place of love.

Have you ever been tempted or have in fact written from a place of fear? How did it make you feel?

Twenty Things the Craft of Writing Has Taught Me

 

My pub sister, Amy K Mcclung recently posted this in her Facebook page and, since I agree with pretty much everything she says, I asked her if I could post it here. What do you think? Is there anything else you’d add to the list?

Twenty Things the Craft of Writing Has Taught Me

by Amy K Mcclung

  1. A good editor is worth everything
  2. Don’t read reviews!
  3. If you do read reviews, learn from them…don’t cry
  4. Write what you love, not what’s the big seller at the moment 
  5. Other Authors can be a great support system, 
  6. There are some authors who will only look out for themselves (true in all aspects of life)
  7. Write what you know or do your research heavily on what you don’t. 
  8. Show, don’t tell. 
  9. When I tell people “I write romance” and they respond with a judgmental, “Oh”, remember there are so many people who love the genre, and who love my books 
  10. Blurbs are hard 
  11. Rejection is part of writing sometimes. Take it and move forward. 
  12. I’m not crazy, the voices in my head are characters 😋
  13. Don’t force a story. It will all fall together when the time is right 
  14. Avoid drama – especially on Goodreads 
  15. Be proud of my books, I wrote an entire novel…that’s not something everyone can do. 
  16. If one person reads/loves my book(s) I’m a success.
  17.  I don’t need a Best Seller tag to prove my worth as a writer 
  18.  Blurbs are hard (yep I said it twice)
  19.  People will judge a book by its cover 
  20.  Family will support you even if they don’t read your books. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. 

Idea Girl

Ten Tips For Rookies- Romance Writers of America Conference

I attended my first ever RWA conference in NYC this year. As a rookie I walked around in a bit of a daze for the duration of the event and missed some things I really wish I hadn’t, but that’s the nature of the beast.

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Picture by veerasak Piyawatanakul (Pexels)

The organizers have a first-timers orientation of sorts which was helpful but some very important points were neglected altogether. For all of you who are planning on going to one of these conferences in the future, here are some nuggets of wisdom that may help you get more of an amazing but slightly overwhelming event.

  1. Wear comfortable clothes and comfy shoes even if you look like a bag lady. Sitting for hours and walking from one workshop to another, often in different levels of the hotel can quickly get to you.
  2. Do bring a nice outfit for the awards ceremony or if you plan on attending any of the parties (I didn’t because I’m a terrible introvert who gets too stressed out in social situations involving lots of people).
  3. Bring a rather large empty suitcase or bag. You’ll need it (you’ll see why further down).
  4. Bring snacks that do not require refrigeration if you can. Snacks at these nice hotels will cost you an arm and a leg.
  5. If you’re an introvert like me, see if you can bring a writer friend. I always feel very lonely at events like this because I am a one-on-one socializer who gets totally lost in groups of people I barely know.
  6. Bring a fan and a sweater. Hotel air-conditioning is insane. One moment it feels like Hades, the next you’re in the South Pole.
  7. Don’t skip the Goody Room. There you can grab some free books and a lot of free swag. I use the swag for ideas to create my own swag and it doesn’t take much space in the suitcase.
  8. Don’t miss any of the signings (reason to follow) even if you have to miss a chunk of an awesome workshop. They record the workshops and you can buy them later for a song (if you don’t buy the whole thing that is).
  9. Take breaks. It is as exhausting as it is exhilarating and inspiring.
  10. The most important tip of all. The so called signings are not like the normal ones where the readers buy books and have them signed by the authors. In these signings you get the books for free AND you get them signed by the author. I was like a kid in a candy store. Refer back to #3 and #8. I missed quite a few of these because I didn’t know what they were. I talked to other rookies who did the same. I still came home with over fifty books. YOU DON”T WANT TO MISS THESE.
Book Loot

Picture by Natalina Reis

 

Romancing Romance

After spending the last four days among other romance writers, attending the Romance Writers of America annual conference in New York City, I came to the troubling conclusion I really don’t know much about romance.

That’s a pretty alarming thing for an author who calls herself a romance writer. It’s not like I don’t know the actual genre with all its tropes and intricacies, but I am pretty oblivious when it comes to fellow authors, now and in the past.

I began reading romance as a teenager, but even before that, I was reading books that normally had a romantic component to them. In my early twenties and shortly after I moved to the US, I even subscribed to Harlequin. I remember a handful of great romances, another handful of stories I didn’t care for, but I remember no author’s names at all. This is no reflection on the authors themselves, mind you. I’m really bad with names. I often tell people that because I am a teacher and must memorize dozens of kids names each year, my mind promptly forgets other names to make room for more.

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I have quite a few favorite names in YA lit, names that have become so familiar to me I am sure to one-click them on Amazon, no questions asked. There are a few other authors in other genres I consider favorites, some who no longer write (I’m old) and others who I just slowly came to love over the years. Very few of those are romance writers.

Every time someone asks me to name other authors who write similar books to mine, I can’t name them at all. I was really confused by that, until the day I realized that romance is such a wide and rich genre, an umbrella under which so many different other genres hide, that it is hard to find those few authors whom you may compare yourself to.

So imagine my excitement at finding fellow romance authors who write and think along the same lines as I do. I can’t tell you the relief I felt at finding successful authors who don’t stick to one subgenre, authors who are complete pantsers like me, authors for whom writing books is therapy and the one thing that keeps them sane. I’m looking forward to reaching out to these writers in hopes of not feeling so alone in what and how I write.

Have you ever felt alone in what you do or how you think and then one day you discover someone(s) who share your views or your kind of work? How did that make you feel?

Austen—A Romance Trope Creator?

Austen—A Romance Trope Creator?

Jane Austen

The other day I was looking for one of my favorite TV adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma (the one where Mr. Knightley is played by Johnny Lee Miller) on Netflix (don’t bother; it’s not available there) and it got me thinking about how Austen basically created some of the most popular romance tropes to this day. Nothing new, I know, but I had never thought about it that way before.

Of course, not everyone is a fan or has read Austen’s books but I love them. She was ahead of her time, writing strong, willful women who fought for (and won) what they wanted and loved. It’s no wonder her popularity has survived for so long.

But less thought of when discussing Austen and her books is the fact that she was the “inventor” of at least three of the most popular tropes in romance literature today. The romance style is largely reviled by the “serious” readers today as crap or smut, but Austen is here to remind us that romance can be, and often is, a weapon against society’s prejudices and preconceived ideas about women (among other things). Not to mention the fact that romance can be well written and worth of as much praise and attention as any other genre of literature.

romance book

Pride and Prejudice, arguably the most famous of her works, is an enemies to lovers romance. Elizabeth Bennet begins as hating and being disliked by the handsome but brooding and often obnoxious Darcy. We all know how that ended.

In Persuasion (possibly my personal favorite) Anne Elliot unwisely shuns Captain Wentworth despite her love for him, but eventually gets her second chance with him. A second chance romance.

Emma is clearly a friends to lovers romance. Emma has a best friend in Mr. Knightley and despite her attempts at matching every single woman in town with the perfect bachelor, totally misses the fact that the one she loves has always been right in front of her.

Mansfield Park is both an example of forbidden romance and love triangle with poor young woman Fanny who is loved by one man but in love with her cousin who is promised in marriage to another woman. In fact, this is also a friends to lovers romance since Fanny was best friends with her cousin with whom she grew up.

Nowadays these tropes are still being written with varying degrees of success. I am personally partial to the friends-to-lovers and second chances tropes and have written a couple books along those lines. Which kind of proves that a good love story never goes out of style if Jane Austen’s vast popularity even today is anything to go by.

Do you read romance? Do you have a favorite trope? I’d love to hear from you.

Love potion

When You Laugh…

Whoever came up with the old adage laughter is the best medicine was on to something in my opinion because when you laugh darkness loses some of its power. I love to laugh and, much like Chandler in the TV series Friends, I’ve used it as a shield against many things throughout my life.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my long history of using humor as a protection of sorts is a time when I was about eight or nine years old. I was in fourth grade at the time and living in a tiny African island in the Atlantic called Ilha do Sal (Salt Island). As the name clearly suggests, the island was known for its salt mines and, unfortunately for the inhabitants at the time, for very little else; there were hardly any trees or other vegetation, nothing really grew on the island, it rained maybe once a year if we were lucky, and the only food resources came from the ocean. Not a bad thing for me since I discovered that I, the pickiest eater in the western world, absolutely adored lobster, a food product that abounded in the island.

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My dad worked for the national airline and, sort of like in the military, we moved around a lot. This time we were to spend a little over a year on this island where everyday luxuries were not quite a thing yet. For the first few months we lived in a tiny house without running water and no electricity but rich in giant flying roaches. Yes, that was quite an adventure.

My sense of humor came to my rescue when I became the target of hate in my school. There were two other white girls who hated me because I was not the daughter of a high-ranking officer in the army like they were, and I was hated by the other girls because–well, I was white. The simple act of going to school had become unbearable. I was bullied all the way to the building, during class by the most horrible teacher known to mankind, at recess, and then again on my way back home. All I wanted was to either be invisible or be seen for who I really was; just a girl who hated no one.

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My dad loved a Portuguese comedian called Raul Solnado and had all his records (yes, records. I’m ancient.) which he listened to every time he had a chance. I had grown up listening to those comedy skits and had them pretty well memorized. So one day at recess–not quite sure how or why–I began retelling all the jokes I had learned from listening to this comedian. Suddenly I had them. All the girls who had hated me because of the color of my skin were now my captive audience.

Things haven’t changed much for me when it comes to using humor to protect myself and those I love. Life turned hairy some years ago and if it wasn’t for my talent to find humor in pretty much everything, I’m sure I would have lost my mind a long time ago.

My love for the funny is well reflected in almost all my books, where I balance the sad and the serious with a touch of comedy. I’m sure not everyone thinks that is an actual good thing, but I do hope never to lose the power to see the kernel of the absurd in even the direst of situations.

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A New Year Begins…

With the approaching of a new year, we all begin making resolutions or at least dreaming about what might be.

Blank Notebook

“Tomorrow, is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.”

― Brad Paisley

I love this quote not only because it pulls at my writer’s sensibilities, but also because it’s true. Obviously we are not always in control, and lots of what will happen may not be of our own doing. However, we can at least strive at doing the best we can.

Every year I have all these dreams of what I will accomplish or at least try. Like with most people, those things normally end up at least partially undone. As I get older though, I developed this sense of hurry, of urgency that was not there when I was younger. I’ve always been patient, willing to wait, never rushing. But for the past three or four years, I’ve had this need for speed. It’s almost as if, as my life draws near to the end, I realize I still have so much to do and possibly not enough time to do it. When you’re young, time just drags and old age is a very distant and abstract idea. When you get to my age, the end is suddenly very concrete. Most of the adults of your childhood are either dead or dying, your heroes, your idols, everything is dwindling down and you know that you’ll go sometime next.

Relaxed

I had always wanted to be a published writer. I had a knack for writing and did it constantly since very early on. My dream finally came true four years ago. Nine books later, I still find it hard to believe it actually happened. My next “dream” is to actually be mildly successful at it. It’s a very slow process and I get antsy. I don’t have a life in front of me to wait patiently for the world to discover my stories, I need it now. Talk about self-induced anxieties, lol.

Those of you who are in the last quarter or so of your life, getting ready to become silver foxes, do you feel this way too? This anxiety to accomplish a thousand things all at the same time and frustration of not having enough time for it? Or energy? It has gotten so bad for me, I avoid things I used to love (and still do) and that helped me relax so that I have time to finish that story, or work on that ad, or interact with my audience. It’s exhausting.

So for this new year I still want to accomplish all of that, but I also want to learn to relax, to allow myself those moments of blissful peace when there is nothing to do, no place to go.

What are your plans for the new year?

Sparkler

Offended & Bewildered

It’s not the first time I write a blog about the many frustrations of being a romance writer and not be taking seriously. This is one of them.

I recently attended a writing event as a panelist where I was once again reminded of what people (including or especially other writers) think a romance is. They conveniently forget that the great ones of literature such as Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, and even–gulp–the Great Bard were all romance writers.

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Yes, the genre has gone through some significant changes throughout the years (some good, some bad) and I’ll be the first one to admit that there are a lot of really bad romance novels out there. This, however, can be said about any other genre today. There are excellent high fantasy books just as there are some absolutely awful. Same can be said of mystery, science fiction, and everything in between. Even high-brow literature has its winners and losers. I can think of at least one Pulitzer Prize prize winner who wrote a book that made zero sense whatsoever.

So to bundle up every romance book and label it “porn” is not only offensive but totally incorrect.

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Anyone who knows me well will tell you I abhor porn. To me, porn objectifies people of every gender (but especially women) and trivializes sex. Don’t get me wrong. There is sex in my romances, heat level depending on the plot and the characters. These are love stories and where there is love eventually, and in most cases, there will be a communion of bodies as much as of hearts. But a loving sex scene should not be confused with porn. If you think my love scenes are porn, then you must have led a very sheltered life.

When someone at this writing event insinuated (quite loudly in a  room full of people) that I wrote porn and therefore what I wrote would not make its way to the group online page or anthology, I was extremely offended. It’s been boiling just under the surface since then and I’ve considered posting something to the effect, because I feel that by not defending my writing is admitting that I do indeed write porn. Which I don’t.

This reminds me of when the Harry Potter books were first released. There was such a fuss made by certain religious groups about the evil nature of such stories. They called for boycotts of the books and other extreme reactions to a wonderful fictional world that depicted good against evil. I was shocked to find out that many of the people running their mouths about the books had never read as much as the first chapter. How can you judge something if you’ve never read, or at least sample parts of it?

This person who accused me of writing porn has never read any of my books, so how does she know what my writing is like? Why didn’t she refrain from making assumptions before sampling one of my books? All she did was show how ignorant she is about the genre. One silver lining though: I am now determined to show up to a book open mic event and show everybody that my books are well written and have depth. I want to prove to all who have sneered at my books that romance is not the sex fest they think it is. Not my type of romance and not a lot of romance I read and love. Let’s not judge a whole group of authors and their books by a few.

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What do you think? Are you a reader that believes romance to be a low-form of literature or are you willing to set your assumptions aside and give romance a chance? Or any other genre for that matter.

For those who still think romance is the black sheep of the literary family and a mere venue for pornographic voyeurism, here are some readings that may make you change your mind:

Inventing Human Rights: A History by Lynn Hunt

Where Are Romance Novels Headed (Chicago Tribune)

Is Mystery Dead?

My wonderful publisher just opened a new imprint for mysteries and thrillers. That got me thinking. I’ve always loved mystery, even as a child, and quite a few of my favorite TV shows fall–or fell–in that category. I always add an element of mystery or suspense in my romances too. So why am I not reading more of it? Or watching it?

Bones, NCIS, The Closer, Rizzoli and Isles… I watched and loved them all. But more recently I noticed I’m not getting into those shows anymore. Some are off the air but others, including some new ones, have either made it out of my list of preferences or never made it there. For someone who used to devour Agatha Christie’s books, Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfell’s series, even lots of the extremely sexist gumshoe series of the 70s I sure am not paying much attention to the genre.

Detective

In recent years I have read very few mysteries, at least those who fall entirely in that category. I’ve read many books that included mystery in the plot but that’s it. Some of those I read were The Gone Girl (hated it–a story for another time), a couple of Dan Brown’s books (loved it), one or two cozies (fun) and not much more.

A lot of the shows I used to watch faithfully (Criminal Minds, CSI, etc) became more and more gory as if their popularity depended on how gross and despicable the crime scene was. The mystery itself looked like was taking a back seat. I lost interest. I like the puzzle-side of mystery, the putting all the pieces together to solve a conundrum. Some shows quit doing that and began focusing more on the shoot-outs, the car chases, the bizarre ways killers were choosing to murder people. Not that interesting.

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I’m not against a bit of gore if it’s necessary to show the horror of the situation (I’ve written it myself: there’s a torture scene in Lavender Fields for example), but do we really need to see a body shred to pieces by a wood chipper or another literally smashed to smithereens and glued to the tires of a car? Don’t think so.

I’m just sorry that real mysteries seem to be a thing of the past or maybe I’m just reading the wrong ones. On the other hand I have read some excellent books that incorporated good mysteries within the plot such as Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours.

What do you think? Do you know of good mysteries that do not rely on gore, shoot outs, or any other shock-factors? What about cozies? Have you read any good ones lately? I have a couple written by a writer friend on my TBR. I was fortunate enough to read a couple chapters and loved it, so I have high hopes. What do you suggest?

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