Stages of Character Love

I am shamelessly fickle. My relationships with my main characters go through several stages. The first is infatuation, when this fabulous new person presents him- or herself in my mind, and I’m thinking about all the neat things that he or she could do and be. It’s a rush of excitement and, well, not exactly lust, since we are speaking of fictional entities here — but desire and hope. As in I want to write about these characters and I hope I can sustain their development through an entire book.

The second part of the Infatuation Stage is when I pull out my character worksheet to write down concrete details.  This is one of my favorite parts of writing! Does he have blue eyes to die for or big brown bedroom eyes? Is she tall and lanky or short and curvy? I tend to develop my hero and heroine at the same time, but that’s just me. As long as the writer gets to know the characters intimately, how she does it doesn’t matter.  There are a lot of questions to answer: Who is his best friend or closest confidant? Does she get along with her family? And what do they want more than anything else in the entire universe? Why can’t they get that thing/situation/person? What choices are they willing to make to get their Heart’s Desire?

Of course, this process can lead to dimmed enthusiasm about the characters as I go off into tangents about how their traits are going to affect the choices the characters make.  Must he have his large smelly dog with him all the time? What if she’s allergic? Did they even have allergies in the Victorian era? How did they treat them? And her hobby is needlework? Really? That’s not nearly as exciting as say, sword-fighting. But where would a well-bred female learn to fence? For that matter, where would a not-s0-well bred female learn to fence?

In case you haven’t noticed, I am the kind of person who makes mountains out of molehills.  Fortunately, in the fictional world, there are these nifty things called ‘erasers’. Give me a few minutes and I can come up with a better hobby for her (probably not needlework or sword-fighting), and she won’t be allergic to his dog, either. (Although she may not particularly enjoy the dog’s trail of hair and mud.)

Suppose I get out of the Infatuation Stage and I’m still willing to make a commitment to these characters? Then I have to sit down and really think about what they’re going to do over the course of the manuscript. This is the long haul. I’m going spend hours at a time, for months, with this couple. I will lay awake nights because a scene isn’t quite right, or because their story needs more conflict, or I’ve lost sight of their goals. But I’m in the Commitment Stage, by golly! I will stick it out through multiple drafts!

Sadly, this leads to the Break-Up Stage. By the time I finish writing a book, I am fed up with both the hero and heroine. All I’ve done for weeks is deal with their problems.  (Okay, I invented their problems, but that’s beside the point!) I feel suffocated because their needs are taking up so much of my time and energy. I secretly want to see other characters. For a writer this is the dangerous time of rushed endings. I’ve learned the hard way that the characters must be allowed to finish their own stories out.

At last, at last, the final sentence is written and I can put this couple out of my thoughts for awhile. I can move on, to the next couple that has caught my mind’s eye. And the cycle begins again…

Nom, Nom, Nom: Some of the 2011 RITA Finalists

This isn’t breaking news, but I’m especially excited about this year’s RITA nominations. This award recognizes outstanding romance books and novellas from the previous year, and the awards are given out at the annual Romance Writers of America convention.

This year, I actually know two of the finalists! Cheryl St. John is nominated in the Romantic Novella category for ‘Mountain Rose’, from the anthology  To be a Mother. And Mary Connealy’s Doctor in Petticoats is nominated for Inspirational Romance.

Second, some of my favorite books of last year are in the running. Below are the categories I’ll be watching most closely. Check out this link to the Romance Writers of America website for the complete list of 2011 finalists. Which books would you like to win?

2011 RITA Finalists for Historical Romance

  • Countess of Scandal by Laurel McKee (Forever; Alex Logan, editor)
  • The Forbidden Rose by Joanne Bourne (Berkley Trade; Wendy McCurdy, editor)
  • His at Night by Sherry Thomas (Bantam Books; Caitlin Alexander, editor)
  • A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James (Avon Books; Carrie Feron, editor)
  • Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase (Avon; May Chen, editor)
  • A Little Bit Wild by Victoria Dahl (Zebra Books; John Scognamiglio, editor)
  • One Wicked Sin by Nicola Cornick (HQN Books; Kimberley Young, editor)
  • Open Country by Kaki Warner (Berkley Trade; Wendy McCurdy, editor)

2011 Finalists for Inspirational Romance

  • A Convenient Wife by Anna Schmidt (Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical; Tina James, editor)
  • Doctor in Petticoats by Mary Connealy (Barbour Publishing; Rebecca Germany, editor)
  • Finding Her Way Home by Linda Goodnight (Steeple Hill Love Inspired; Allison Lyons, editor)
  • In Harm’s Way by Irene Hannon (Revell; Jennifer Leep, editor)
  • Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist (Bethany House Publishers; David Long and Julie Klassen, editors)
  • Shades of Morning by Marlo M. Schalesky (WaterBrook Multnomah; Shannon Marchese, editor)
  • The Wedding Garden by Linda Goodnight (Steeple Hill Love Inspired; Allison Lyons, editor)
  • Whisper on the Wind by Maureen Lang (Tyndale House Publishers; Stephanie Broene, editor)
  • Within My Heart by Tamera Alexander (Bethany House Publishers; Karen Schurrer and Charlene Patterson, editors)

2011 Finalists for Historical Regency Romance

  • His Christmas Pleasure by Cathy Maxwell (Avon Books; Lucia Macro, editor)
  • The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig (Dutton; Erika Imranyi, editor)
  • Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean (Avon Books; Carrie Feron, editor)
  • Provocative in Pearls by Madeline Hunter (Jove; Wendy McCurdy, editor)
  • To Surrender to a Rogue by Cara Elliott (Forever; Frances Jalet-Miller, editor)
  • Twice Tempted by a Rogue by Tessa Dare (Ballantine Books; Kate Collins, editor)
  • When Harry Met Molly by Kieran Kramer (St. Martin’s Press; Jennifer Enderlin, editor)
  • The Wicked Wyckerly by Patricia Rice (NAL/Signet; Ellen Edwards, editor)

2011 Finalists for Romance Novella

  • “Blame It on the Blizzard” by Jennifer Greene in Baby, It’s Cold Outside  (Harlequin; Marsha Zinberg, editor)
  • “A Dundee Christmas” by Brenda Novak in That Christmas Feeling (Harlequin Superromance; Paula Eykelhof, editor)
  • “Friendly Fire” by Jill Shalvis in Born on the 4th of July (Harlequin Blaze; Brenda Chin, editor)
  • “Love Me to Death” by Maggie Shayne in Heart of Darkness (HQN Books; Leslie Wainger, editor)
  • “Mistletoe Magic” by Sandra Hyatt in Under the Millionaire’s Mistletoe (Silhouette Desire; Krista Stroever, editor)
  • “Mountain Rose” by Cheryl St. John in To Be a Mother (Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical; Patience Smith, editor)
  • “Shifting Sea” by Virginia Kantra in Burning Up (Berkley Sensation; Cindy Hwang, editor)
  • “The Wrong Brother” by Maureen Child in Under the Millionaire’s Mistletoe (Silhouette Desire; Krista Stroever, editor)

The Ironies of Publication

As my previous post mentioned, I spent last weekend with over 80 other writers at Mahoney State Park in Nebraska. Speakers Mary Colgan of Chronicle Books, agent Terry Burns, and best-selling author Alex Kava all gave excellent presentations — I took pages of notes to mull over. And my first-ever workshop on critiques, Dishing it out & Taking It, seemed to go over well. As a bonus, I met my fellow Authors by Moonlight blogger, Sherry James, face to face after working with her online for like, four years.

The best thing I learned came from both Mary and Alex. Both of them still have to carve out time for editing and writing, respectively. I’m not sure which is more ironic: That editors have to make time to edit and a best-selling author has to make time to write, or that this is the best thing one can learn.

When you’re an aspiring writer, the focus is on writing a polished manuscript that gets you an agent and a sale. When you’re published, you still have to produce polished manuscripts, but your writing is now a product in the publishing business. Editors need to envision a manuscript’s market — its pool of potential readers — before they acquire it. They are not motivated by any more greed than the rest of us. They have bills to pay too. A product that doesn’t sell isn’t going to do the publisher or the author any good.

I had been feeling guilty because I’ve been trying to keep up with sales of Her Scottish Groom and wondering if my WIP’s concept is simply fresh and unique or if it’s gone too far from its basic trope and won’t sell to anyone. This weekend demonstrated that there is more to a successful book than a well-written story. Learning more about the workings of a successful publishing house from Mary, and about the demands the market can place on a writer from Alex, I feel empowered, not discouraged. It is a challenge to balance the needs of the marketplace against the needs of the writer-as-craftsman/artist, but people are doing it. So can I. So can you.

The Joy of Risk

I avoid danger. The rush of adrenaline that spurs on race car drivers, test pilots and emergency room nurses leaves me wanting to lay down until the shaking stops. You will not find me parachuting out of a plane or driving at excessive speed unless it is literally a matter of life or death.

Yet I have learned to value risk. We all have fears that should be faced. Not because facing a fear eliminates it. I’ve dealt with bugs, tornadoes, high places, and public criticism more than once in my life, and they still make me flinch. But I have learned that my fears of those things should not rule my life. Phobias owe nothing to reason, but we can still control our reactions to them. Facing a fear teaches us that in nearly every case, we can manage it. The key is to recognize the fear, acknowledge it, and prepare for it as best you can. Once I realized this, I found it possible to handle more situations that intimidated me.

I actually took pleasure in the prospect of a challenge. My skin got thicker. Believe me, stress is still a huge part of my life. But like fear, it is manageable. This weekend, for example, the Nebraska Writers Guild has invited me to conduct a short workshop. This is totally new territory, and it makes me want to breathe into a paper bag at moments. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I can’t answer all the questions? What if everybody there is smarter than me?

Still, it’s a chance to grow my speaking skills. I could learn something about writing. I could meet some really cool people. It’s worth the risk.