Helpless, hopeless, and harried: The fate of heroines in romance

I was scrolling through social media recently and read a post that mentioned how romance tended to routinely put the heroine in embarrassing situations as a matter of plot convention. This couldn’t be true, I tried to convince myself. Then I started looking at my own stories. Yep. I’d used the hapless victim scenario several times to put her in a situation where she’d have to rise above.

The fact that she had to rise above, I told myself, justififed it somehow. But then I started paying attention to the other stories I was reading. In one, the heroine walks out of the bathroom with her dress tucked in her panties. In another, she falls out of a truck and knees the hero right in the crotch. In yet a third, she drops a very expensive item in the lap of the hero’s date.

I loved all the stories. All the heroes were successful women – strong, independent, confident. They found love being themselves, not bending to become another version of othemselves for the hero to notice them. So why did they have to go through the embarrassing moments in the plot?

Our readers are mostly women and as authors we’re writing to our audience. I think, in real life, we’ve all faced situations where we’d rather crawl away and hide in a dark cave than face the people who witness our humiliation. But that’s usually not an option. Therefore it can’t be for our heroines.

So then is it empowering to the reader to see a character face the same kind of moment embarrassant, come out the other side, and still have the hero fall for her? I’d like to think it is. I know I’ve read stories that have touched me on a personal level because the character mirrored a struggle I’ve endured or a worry I’d harbored in secret. I’d like to think people see a little bit of themselves in the characters I create.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t pretend I’m writing great literary fiction. I’ll never win a Nobel or a Pulitzer with my romance stories. But I’ve won plenty of other awards that mean just as much to me because readers just like myself recognized the humanity in my characters and their struggles in my plots. And I’ve had readers tell me I made them laugh or cry.

And that’s all I really need.

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un(Social)able Media

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It’s sad how much I hate social media. It irritates me how much we need it, how the number of followers or likes somehow translates to readers and book sales and confidence as a writer. On the one hand, my introverted self is much more extroverted online. I’m willing to talk to anyone about anything.

And the writers! Writers, writers, everywhere. Talking about writing. Some are positive and charged. Others are down and struggling. While there always seems to be someone there to lift you up, there also seems to be a few quite happy to knock you down.

What is it with that? Has it always been this way? I think it has. Perhaps it was easier to ignore before millions of people followed you around on a 3×6 electronic leash.

How do you cope with the constant bombardment? Are you an unplugger? A passer-on of kitten pictures and baby goats? Or are sarcastic memes your thing? Share your favorite in the comment section!

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Cover Reveal!

Available for Pre-order Oct. 18!

It’s been a hectic few months with the re-release of Book 1 and the pending release of Books 2 and 3 in my Hearts of Louisiana series. As crazy as it makes me, it has been a ton of fun finally introducing everyone to these characters that have been talking to me for many years.

When I first started writing Sex and Insensibility, I had no idea that it would become a series. The initial idea for the story blossomed from a news story I heard where a woman discovered her husband was cheating on her. She went to the motel where he met his mistress and when he came outside to the parking lot she ran him over. THREE TIMES! Oops.

Don’t get me wrong. I *do* *not* advocate violence but it planted the seed of an idea and before I knew it, Lara was standing in her driveway holding her camellia.

You’ve probably heard writers say their characters talk to them. Well, Riley told me she had the hots for Jackson and it wasn’t difficult to find a way to put these two together. You can also find the hints for books 3 and 4 in this story. Is this what they call an Easter Egg? Let me know if you find them! Maybe I’ll make it a scavenger hunt!

Anyway…Second Chance Romance is just that, a story about second chances. We all need them from time to time. Riley watched her ex find his happily-ever-after in Book 1 and now it’s her turn. Here’s a little excerpt from Second Chance Romance, available for pre-order on October 18. Sign up for my newsletter and I’ll send you a notice. There’ll also be a special bonus for those who receive my newsletter.

Second Chance Romance

Hearts of Louisiana (Book 2)

He’d replayed their brief encounter at the bank enough to burn into his brain. The smooth silk of her hair, a color so dark it reminded him of space and how it would wrap around you, weightless and free, if you let yourself fall into it. Eyes the color of the Kentucky bluegrass on a horse farm he’d worked years ago. He wanted to look again, see if the silver flecks were reality or fantasy. The angled face that still looked soft and touchable. Skin the color of sunset he’d once watch sizzle over the ocean in Fiji while on spring break: gold, honey, amber. Eyes that watched beneath a veil of intelligence and wariness. And those lips…

            No, she definitely didn’t fit the type of woman he usually wanted. But man, did he want her.

            The gravel crunched beneath his boots as he stepped off the sidewalk and into the construction yard, shaking loose a train of thought better derailed than traveled. Although with her short stay in their sleepy little town, only long enough to get the construction on the store completed, she would be perfect. No commitments expected and no hurt feelings when he didn’t offer ever-lasting love or some other such nonsense. Besides, he didn’t plan to stay in Belle Terre either. He wouldn’t leave until after the election, however. Not until the town had someone to replace him. And not until Riley’s future was secured.

His eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he weaved through the piles of lumber and equipment with ease, shaking his head at the burned-out remnants of the bulldozer. The meager light from the trailer’s door and windows beckoned and he took the stairs in two quick steps. He raised his hand to knock but stopped to read a sign someone had posted on the door.

Dear Santa,

All we want for Christmas is a fire-proof bulldozer.

Sincerely,

LCB Construction Crew

He grinned and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” a female voice inside said, and his smile widened, instant recognition zipping through his body like lightning.

He quashed the smile before he opened the door, not wanting to look like a fool or an eager pervert. Just checking on things, he reminded himself. Just doing his job.

“Hey,” he said, ducking beneath the door frame before pulling it closed behind him.

She sat hunched over a desk piled high with neat stacks of paper and file folders, a paper cup of coffee, and the crumbs from what he guessed to be pecan pie from the local diner. Riley blinked her eyes a few times, as if to redirect her focus, before settling back in the chair and tucking a pencil behind her left ear. “Hey back.”

He stepped farther into the trailer, spying a novel laying open on the desk. Love’s Lasting Promise. He recognized it from a display in the window of the local bookstore. Riley swiped it into a desk drawer and slammed the drawer shut.

Jackson tried to contain the grin, knowing he failed.

“Saw the light and wanted to make sure everything was ok.” He glanced around the interior of the Spartan office space, noting it was furnished for work and not much else, although a nice leather sofa filled the back wall. “No more excitement or protesters or book burnings.”

He referenced the recent trouble before Thanksgiving, where a group of women protesting a display of erotic romance novels written by the author of the book now hidden in Riley’s desk drawer had accidentally set the bulldozer on fire rather than the intended novels.

Riley swiveled the chair, turning her entire body to face him and bringing her legs out from under the desk. She propped a foot on an open drawer. “No flaming bulldozers. I’ve posted signs at the entrance that burning torches are not allowed on site.”

“I’m sure the insurance company is relieved.”

Riley grinned, and it tugged at something low and primitive in him to make her smile like that. “Not even a single protestor worried about a spotted titmouse.”

It was his turn to grin. The environmental group had been the most persistent of the protestors, on site until last week when they were told the titmouse was not an actual mouse but a bird and shown that what they presumed to be the supposedly endangered titmouse was actually a family of escaped hamsters.

“It worked out for the town in the end. We’re getting this great new outdoor mall versus the megastore originally planned thanks to LCB’s owner.”

Also the construction owner and his girlfriend-type person were currently living happily ever after, Jackson added mentally. Not that he wanted that. He’d worked hard to avoid it since his wedding day ended with no wife.

She leaned back in the creaky leather chair, pulling the pencil from behind her ear and tossing it on the desk. “And no one has put me in handcuffs in…” Riley glanced at her wrist though she wore no wristwatch. “Almost five full days.”

“Good,” he said and nodded, stopping when he realized he was nodding like a dashboard bobble head. “Like I said, I saw the light,” and he pointed to the light in question. When did he become such a dork? he wondered and scrubbed a hand through his hair to hopefully corral the ping-ponging thoughts. “But if everything’s ok I’ll just …” And he pointed to the door. Then out popped, “I was headed over to the diner for some dinner. I see you’re familiar with their pie.” He pointed to the crumbs dotting the plate on her desk. “Today’s pecan. One of the best in town.”

Riley patted her stomach and groaned. “I’m only slightly more partial to the Mississippi Mud on —”

“Tuesday,” they finished in unison, the silence that followed neither awkward nor heavy as they each contemplated the other in the meager light trying to find purchase in the shadows of the trailer. Her blue-black hair sat high on the crown of her head corralled its usual ponytail, a few strands curling rebelliously over her ears. His gaze lasered in on her face, which was framed by impossibly long lashes that probably made women groan in envy if the commercials he’d seen on TV were any indication.

Only he doubted she was wearing a speck of makeup. The flawless skin, like honey filtered through amber, didn’t need any. It was her mouth he was having trouble ignoring. Again. He’d noticed her lips in the bank. Tried to ignore them then as well. Failed just as miserably.

“Would you like to join me?”

Where the hell did that come from? He shoved his fists into the pockets of his work jacket and stood very still. Not that he didn’t know where it came from. He’d been thinking of the woman for four-and-a-half days. Wondering. The smile on her face lessened, but other than that, she mimicked his statue-like stillness.

“I thought we could talk about the bank. I did some reading. I know a little about investment firms. And … I … could give you a few things to check on.” At her continued silence, he added regretfully, “It’s not like a date or anything. You can pay your own way.”

The smile returned with force—or maybe she was laughing at him—and he wanted to sneak away and hide in the blackened ruins of the bulldozer outside. Definitely not a shining moment in his life. But he wasn’t ready to say goodnight to this woman. They’d eventually say goodbye. He was always the one saying goodbye, leaving before there was time to form a connection. He preferred it that way. No commitments. No disappointments. But lately it left an ache he refused to name.

Riley pushed to her feet, gathering up the papers and adding them to the stacks around the desk. “Sounds good. I’m starved.”

They narrowly avoided each other while she finished putting her things together. As she switched on the outside lights, they did a quick two-step, dancing around each other again as she moved to turn off the lamp on her desk. He tried to hang back, tried not to stare at her ass as she moved around the suddenly claustrophobic space of the trailer. She came around the corner of the desk at the same time he went for the door, and they collided. Instant recognition colored her face and sizzled in his veins like water on the July pavement.

Instead of pulling back, Riley’s arms reached around his waist and held on while his own arms wrapped around her shoulders to balance them both. Enough outside light filtered in from between the window blinds that he could see the amused smile tilt one corner of her mouth. That mouth. Pink. Full. Lush. Kissable. The last word played over and over in his head. She didn’t look away or try and be coy. No lip-licking or false shyness. He bent toward her at the same time Riley raised up to meet him.

I hope you enjoy Riley and Jackson’s story as much as I enoyed writing it. If you get the chance, stop by and say hello on my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts or drop me an email to let me know how I’m doing.

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Turning off the inner editor

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I am a terrible editor, which could be really sad since I currently make part of my living as an editor. What I mean, however, is that my inner editor cannot SHUT UP when I’m trying to write. It’s a little like having a hard rock band playing in the background when you’re trying to compose an easy listening song.

Because of this quality (something I’ve always considered a flaw) I write very slowly. Every word is carefully selected, considered, debated, and massaged before and after it goes on the page. It’s a challenge to get through a 50K word novel when each word is written 2-3 times.

Lately, however, my inner editor is quieter. I wish I could tell you the secret if this is a challenge you experience but I can’t. The only thing I can imagine is that my inner editor is tired. I spend so much time trying to find the right words for other people that it’s either easier for me to find the for myself or I realize that no word will ever be perfect and I can’t fix what doesn’t exist yet.

Continuity is another challenge I find when writing as slowly as I do. A decision I make for my character or story in chapter one could be forgotten or obsolete by chapters five or fifteen. I’ve started marking important milestones or decisions, even character descriptions, with highlights or comments in the margins, rather than go back and try to align all these decisions every time I make one.

For instance, I’m currently working on book 3 in my Hearts of Louisiana series, Love and Miss Fortune. There’s a case of mistaken identity early in the book that can play into my plot regardless of whether I reveal the mistake early or let it play out longer. I started the book going in one direction but now I’m thinking about switching it up. Rather than make a decision and go back and re-edit everything, I marked the change and am trying to keep writing. So far, so good. I’m averaging 750 words an hour at the moment.

Another tool I’ve found to help keep me focused and shut down that inner editor is FocusMate. It’s a one-to-one sprint, if you’re familiar with that concept. Two people meet and the object is to set a goal and use the accountability of the forum to meet your goal by the end of the session. I love it! There’s a free limited plan so try it out if you need help keeping your fingers on the keyboard.

Whatever has changed in my brain, I’m appreciative to the muses and deities of creativity and I’m going to ride this snowball on down the hill to the words THE END!

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Home office challenges

I’ve been one of the lucky ones since Covid upended the world. I was able to transition to work-at-home with my job(s). I’ve also had some luck building my business over the last six months. I signed a partnership agreement with a freelance client and now officially check “self-employed” on my tax forms.

As I’m sure others have discovered it can be hard to stay focused at home. The distractions of other family members, laundry, dirty dishes, the dog that needs walking, soccer practice, making dinner…there are a dozen things every day drawing our attention away from “work.” With the restrictions we’ve all faced in terms of social distancing there’s little to no escape or separation between the home office and home.

One of the ways I keep my brain engaged in my purpose is to have separate computers for work (technical writing, internet surfing, reading the news, social media) and writing. When I moved in to my current apartment – a 450 sq ft studio – that became difficult to maintain. Working full time on a laptop, sometimes 12 or 14 hours a day, is not easy for me. The small screen. The smaller keyboard.

There’s also not much space to spread out in 450 sq ft. so it’s good I live alone.

I have adjusted. I bought an ergo wireless keyboard and mouse for the laptop. I have dual monitors for my work computer. When the weather is conducive I’ll work out on the patio and now that we’re phasing back into pre-Covid life I’m looking forward to returning to the library or hanging out at the coffee shop.

On the plus side, I recently bought a house and it has an office! I’m really looking forward to having a dedicated work space. My daughter will be moving in with me while she’s in vet school and it will be nice to share space again.

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Patience: Thy Name is Not Mine

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In most parts of my life I’m pretty patient. I don’t have unrealistic expectations of others; I’m fairly realistic when it comes what the world owes me (nothing). My expectations of myself, however, tip in the other direction.

I’m a slower writer and this, I’ve diagnosed, is because I’m a perfectionist on choosing the right word. All the right words. This makes it a fairly cumbersome task to complete a book.

I’ve attended workshops in many, many occasions where authors have said not to focus on the words in the first draft. Just put words on the paper and worry about finding the right words during th editing phase. My brain doesn’t tend to want to cooperate with that logic, however.

After struggling to find words – any words, right, wrong, imperfect – my brain starts to shut down. The analytical part takes over and the creative side starts negotiating. Let’s write 1000 words. Then it’s 500 words. Then 100.

I’m trying new tactics to overcome the analysis paralysis. I set a timer to write for 10 minutes then up the time every couple of days but it’s easy to break the cycle.

There’s a new fad going around called Focus Mate. I have give props to Courtney Milan for turning me on to it. You partner with another user and basically hold each other accountable by being on camera. You don’t interact outside of the initial “howdy” with a brief explanation of what you want to accomplish, then the final “see ya later” and did you meet your goal. But just having another presence is the most remarkable tool I’ve found for keeping me in front of the computer.

Guilt is a great motivator (without actual guilt).

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Textured words

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Sight. Sound. Smell. Taste. Touch. The five senses. We’re supposed to touch each one in our scenes as writers to stir our readers and connect them to the world we are building. Most of us do a good job bringing one or two into a scene. How do you go about capturing all five?

Here’s a little trick I learned a few years ago when writing a scene. I jot down the setting for my scene then list anything and everything I can think of that I would encounter in that situation. Let’s say I’m at the airport baggage claim carousel. Close your eyes and visualize. Some things are obvious – other passengers, luggage on the carousel going round and round, the silver luggage carts being pushed by a harried porter. But that’s all visual.

Start to fill in the other senses. The other passengers – would someone have a crying baby? Or would there be shouts of joy at someone’s reunion? The dull honking of the carousel horn to tell you it’s coming around. The clack of the suitcases as they bang against the metal barriers. The loudspeaker announcing the arrival of the downtown bus. What about luggage? Squeaky wheels. (Sounds)

Or maybe someone runs over your toe or bangs your shin with their oversized suitcase. Or maybe it’s winter and a blast of cold air rushes in on the coattails of each passenger as they hurry outside and you rub the goosebumps as they pebble over your skin. (Touch)

Is there a whiff of cigarette smoke from the automatic doors as the whoosh open and close? The exhaust from the cars as they idle outside to pick up passengers. (Smell)

Do you take the last swig of the flat soda you’ve been carrying around since your delayed connection in Boise. Perhaps you finally toss the piece of gum you chewed in the hopes it would relieve the pressure in your ears during the bumpy landing. (Taste)

I’ll sometimes write my scene first then edit in the details. I find it’s easier to use these little tidbits as I edit. I almost always end up with more than I can use but at least I have a plethora of options to choose from. And whatever is left goes in the “SAVED” folder for another story, another time.

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Coming soon!

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I’m excited about two new short stories I have coming out in the next year. Two of my writers’ groups are putting together anthologies and I have a story in each.

Neither story has gone the direction I intended, which is both exciting and frustrating. I’m a plotter and I spend a ton of time putting together character charts and plot plans. When my characters get rebellious and decide to go off on their own, I look at all my charts and plans and point and say to them, “But I planned something different!” They laugh.

Anyway, rebellious characters aside, here’s what you can look forward to from me in the next year.

Dance of the Butterflies is the story of Maddie Dearborn, a teen struggling with the curve balls life keeps throwing. Her boyfriend is being an ass, her mom has mysteriously disappeared, and the strange new boy in her school has just revealed a secret that will change her life forever. One of them is crazy. And Maddie isn’t sure which one of them it is.

Two if by Sea – Kaley Locke is in the crosshairs of the dangerous man that arrived – unannounced, unwanted, unwelcome – on her island home. He says he’s there to re-acquire the technology she invented and promptly hid from the government. Kaley would rather die than hand it over. He says the government is ok with that.

Keep a look out for release dates soon!

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Retreating from the World

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I belong to several writers’ groups; it’s one of the benefits of moving around the country as much as I do. Many of these groups host a writers’ retreat each year, a weekend where we gather and hide from the world with the intent writing. We have permission to ignore everyone and hunker down with our stories. We also have a steady source of critique partners or brainstorming partners.

There’s something special about being in a secluded environment with other people who share the crazy voices inside our heads. People who understand what it’s like to wonder how to dispose of bodies or what sex position two people can use while canoodling in a canoe without causing permanent spine damage.

I think being in such a space gives my brain permission to relax enough to be creative full time. When I’m at home, there’s laundry and housework and so many distractions that feel more important than writing. Even though I know my writing is a serious pursuit, it’s still something I have to pursue while working other jobs and sometimes feel like I push it to the side when I’m at home. I make money from my writing. It’s a budding career, not a hobby. When I’m at the retreat, writing is my full-time pursuit.

Even if I can’t attend a retreat with one of my writers’ groups, I’ll try and create a retreat on my own. Hopefully, it’s not because the world is in the middle of a pandemic as we are right now. It’s time to refocus my attention on my writing and remind myself why I love doing what I do.

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Not the writer’s haven I dreamed

I used to think all that would have to happen for me to write like crazy was for the world to fall away, leaving me alone to focus on my stories and characters. Well, you know what they say: be careful what you wish for.

I am fortunate. I have my job. My family is safe and healthy. I’m walking about ten miles a week so I’m getting outside. I have started avoiding social media because frankly, it’s just too much and the stress…the stress is all-consuming.

It’s always something, isn’t it?

Like all things, this too shall pass. That’s what I’m going to focus on. I’m going to get back to the basics. Writing here will translate, hopefully, to writing where it counts.

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