Sunday, June 28, 2009

I Read Romance. Why?


This is a blog-hogger challenge from Judah Raine:


Romance fiction has to be the most underrated genre, especially as it has the highest sales constantly. Why? Misunderstandings and misinformation, both accidental and intentional.

If you've followed the book market at all, you'll know that sales are down, that publishers are struggling, that most fiction writers barely make money on their books if they make anything. That's all true. However, like movie theater attendance, romance fiction sales have risen in recent times. Why? People are looking for uplifting escapism.

I have an admission. I haven't read a whole lot of genre romance. I didn't read it much as a teen and I haven't much during my adult years. Why? Perception. I see those steamy covers showing a male's full bare chest or a female's buxom-centered image or a couple locked in a sensual embrace and I figure I'm getting a bunch of steam and descriptive detail I don't want and so walk farther down to a different aisle. I understand why publishers create those covers. They do tend to sell books. Understood. Who can fight against the almighty dollar (or pound or peso or lira, etc)? However, they also lose readers that way. They lose those of us who love actual romance but who don't love minute description of sex scenes. Romance and sex are not the same and do not have to be put in the same bin! Yes, I say that a lot. I'll keep saying it. Why? Because I write romantic fiction and I enjoy reading romantic fiction, but I do not write or read porn (aka erotica). If you do, that's all well and fine. I don't. Many others don't, either, both readers and writers.

Real romance is beautiful. It's elegant. It's psychological. It's physical. It's necessary. And it's everywhere.

The flowers and box of chocolate in the photo above are not fictional. My husband gave them to me for Valentine's Day a few years ago. I see eye-rolling as I type this. Valentine's Day is nothing but commercial. Everyone says so now. I say it's not. I say it depends how you treat it. I say celebrating love is important. It's not corny. It's not childish. It's not selling out. It's real. And it's needed. And we can't be happy without it.

So yes, I do read romance. I've read more romance in the last couple of years since meeting so many romance writers who believe the way I do that romance is romance and sex should be tasteful and optional. There are tons of us out there who believe this whole-heartedly, which by the way is the only correct way to love -- whole-heartedly. And yes, I write romance. I write about the beauty of it, the pain of it, the longing and confusion and elation of it. I write struggles and fear and misconceptions. I write the "why" of it. I write down to the depths of it. In the end, though, the only real answer I ever find truly is love.

Love may not be all we need (with my apologies to the Beatles), but it does need to be involved in everything else we need.

If you don't want to carry books with "those" kinds of covers, get them in Ebook format and carry them on some kind of reader others won't see. Or order them from your local independent bookstore and read those at home. Or pick up one of those book sox kids use for school books. We can't make publishers stop printing them that way, at least not all publishers. Authors often don't have a choice with their covers. But some really good stuff lies within. The saying is true: you can't always judge a book by its cover. Really. Look deeper.

You can find more writers who agree by checking the Classic Romance Revival page linked to the right.

Any other writer or reader interested in taking up the topic and running with it? Sign your name here and leave your link to where you post it:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Write What You Know - but what does that mean??


Illinois sunset over a school play yard -LK HunsakerIn the process of research today, I was trying to find a specific type of establishment in NYC that would work for my story. Now, I've been to NYC briefly and plan to go back, but I don't have the option to run spend several days there just for story research. It would be nice, but let's face reality: when you have kids at home and a job and such and you aren't the owner of Trump Tower with a private jet, there are restrictions on doing such things.

Internet research wasn't working well. I had the look in my head for the place I needed but try putting that in a search engine. It didn't work well. Finally, I went to Yahoo Answers and asked people who would know: NYC residents. I answer lots of questions there about books and writing and sometimes other subjects, so I figured getting a touch of return help would be nice.

The first answer I received started by saying:  "The first rule of writing ... write what you know."

Hm. Yes, that's helpful. Thanks so much. He did also mention a name of a place that might work but I was rather annoyed at the inference that I didn't know what I was doing that I didn't bother to check the place. [Luckily, the second answer was exactly what I was looking for! He'll get 10 points for being not rude and very helpful.]

Write what you know. So he meant I shouldn't put my character in New York City since I don't know it well? Or that I should use only the places in the city I do personally know? I am using one, a small music venue I enjoyed, if it matters. I know the feel of the city enough for the story. I know enough that it needs to be mainly set in Manhattan instead of another borough. My main character is heavily into the music industry. Let's see, if I can only write about the places I've been long enough to write with any real detail about them, the story would have to be set in Illinois, Texas, Massachusetts, Idaho, Georgia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, or Germany. None of those work real well for this character. Actually, none of them work at all. Yes, I set Rehearsal in MA but it worked for them. Or does that mean I can't write about a character in the music industry since I've never lived in any of the three big music industry spots in the US? Not to mention I've never been involved in the music industry itself. That's what research is for!

I'd like to tell this "top contributor" that writing what you know does not mean using only settings you know first hand. How limited would that make the literary world? What about historical fiction? Should no one write about time periods they didn't live in? How sad would it be to lose all those magnificent stories of the past?

Writing what you know is much deeper than that. It's writing the truths you've learned, the things you've seen, the thoughts you've had, and feelings you've felt. It's putting yourself IN your work and adding all those luscious true-to-life things that make books "real" instead of simply described. It doesn't mean write about your life as a memoir, which is okay also, but limiting. It means to take those things and turn them into fiction that echoes real life, that shares yourself and your experiences.

I write what I know. I have always studied people and families and relationships to watch what makes them work or not work. I make note of societal issues that stand out in my mind because maybe I have some valuable thoughts or ideas to share about them. I think things through. I know things. I see things happen and the effects of those happenings. I write about them. It's fiction, of course. I use them differently than they were in real life but the same -- the same concepts, the same issues, the same relationships. Or different relationships based on how things might have worked "if" only....

THAT is writing what you know. Is my story invalidated because I don't know which NYC restaurant has the look and location I need for a certain scene? I don't think so. The story is about love, loss, despair, hanging on, and letting go -- all things I do know first hand. If I was doing a documentary about NYC, then I would see his point. Otherwise, it's way off base. So is anyone else who tells a writer not to do a story in a place she's never been. That would throw out all sci fi and fantasy also, wouldn't it?

Write what you know INSIDE. Write what you FEEL. Write what matters to you, what you care about. Use details from your everyday life such as the moist breeze blowing against your cheek while standing on a beach, or the pounding, clacking noise of a nearby train station, or the way you feel when someone takes your hand and says it's going to be all right. Use that. Use your own reality. And put it anywhere in the world your character needs to be. The rest can be researched.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bunnies and Brides and Books, Oh My!

Bunny and Fairy House-LK Hunsaker

Today is my first in roughly three weeks that I've been able to simply stay home and go about my normal day, whatever that is.

My "little" sister got married a couple of weekends ago and we made the trek to Illinois to be there and be part of it. Why do bunnies and pink go together so well? Never mind that thought. I was thinking of the bright sunset pink dress I wore as one of the matrons of honor -- a beautiful shade, pretty dress, but I don't tend to wear pink unless it's a dusty rose. Anyway, I had a lot of fun watching all the rabbits in Mom's yard enjoying her flower garden complete with fairy house. It's adorable. I can see why they enjoy it, never mind that their main purpose of enjoying it has to be the seed scattered by the birds from the feeder above. I was glad to capture this little guy peeking up over the wall. He looks like Peter Rabbit eyeing Mr. McGregor's garden, doesn't he?

I ended up giving the toast from the bride's party and there was so much I would like to have said but being that the moment I start speaking in public, my brain shuts down and I can barely get a few words out, I managed only a couple of sentences. I think I'll do what I do best and write down a better toast to send along to them with some of the best photos I took of the wedding, including the Rehearsal dinner, the pre-wedding women's getting ready shots, and the reception. Yes, she was the fairy tale June Bride, all in whiteWedding Cake-photo by LK Hunsaker and glowing, and their expressions while looking at each other made it easy to see why some of us write romance. It's beautiful to see a couple deal with so much separately and then together and finally look so joyful about bonding their lives in front of God and witnesses. I can't understand why some look down at romantic movies and romantic books when really, that's what we all want -- that love and bonding that is truly the center of our worlds. We can choose to try to deny that, but we all know inside it's exactly what we want, the thing that fills out our lives. Some of us choose instead to embrace it wholeheartedly. I have to believe we're the happier group.

Romance writers: don't ever apologize for writing romance. It's the best selling genre for a reason. Be proud of that. Readers: please remember there IS a difference between romance and erotica and we're not all both, and before readers of other genres look down your noses at us, maybe remember how important fairy tale romance was to us as children and how important love and bonding is to all of us as adults. We believe in that. 

For those who enjoy sweet, short romantic stories, I have one featured at LASR this week:


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Setting: The Watery Breath of a Story

Forth Bridges, Edinburgh-LK Hunsaker


"Water is the driving force of all nature."
Leonardo da Vinci


As water is the underlying basis for everything that lives, so setting is to every story that breathes.


Everything has to happen somewhere.


How do authors choose where their stories will happen? ~shrug~ I can't speak for others, as we all have our different reasons for sticking our characters wherever we stick them. Generally, it's love: the love of history or love of a certain place we visited or love of the unknown. With me, it tends to be a mix of all three.


By now, I've lived in six states and two countries and have traveled* a lot in between. [side note below] I've also taken an incredible cultural psychology class that further emphasized how we are affected by where we live. In the words of Anais Nin, "We don't see things as they are, we see things as we are." Setting is not only a place; it's character. It's part of who our characters are and novelists who ignore that are missing a huge chance to fill in the depths of the story.


Aphrodite, the ancient Greek goddess of love, was born of the sea.


In my first-to-publish novel, Finishing Touches, Jenna is a small town Midwest girl raised nearly on the banks of the Illinois River. The river and trees surrounding it play a large part of her story, the trees being symbolic of her inner strength and deep roots and the river of her unbound soul that flows along where life takes her. There's also the little bridge mentioned that she crosses over, pausing to look down into the shallow creek. A bridge is a metaphor for crossing a boundary, for change, or for pulling the two different parts of her life together. In Illinois River-LK Hunsakeraddition to the structural "place" of the story, being from the Midwest helps make Jenna who she is. As each country has its unique qualities that help define its people, so do different sections of countries. As a small town girl raised in the Midwest myself, I fully understand Jenna and have a special love for the people who tend to be very earthy and natural, and rather conservative in actions and speech. Although the story is not autobiographical, other than the searching issue, the setting is. My first novel has the most involved setting; it's the most interwoven with the main character.


When I first started writing the Rehearsal series in notes and scattered scenes and character development, I was still in that small Illinois town, but my thoughts were always wandering elsewhere. I wanted to go out and see new things, explore new places. I couldn't do it often at that time, but my characters did. As a result, they are more worldly than Jenna, all transplanted from the beginning of the story which makes the setting less woven into their characters. Two are from Pennsylvania, three from New Hampshire, one from the UK. The story is set in Massachusetts, roughly thirty miles from Boston. However, it takes them out of their adopted town often, into other places, a metaphor for my own wanderlust.

Each of us "belongs" in a certain place. It may not be where we were raised. There may be some other place that calls out to us and helps us feel more settled once we're there. For me, that place was temporarily the Northeast and permanently the Mid-Atlantic. We lived in Massachusetts for some time and I adored the area, was sad to have to leave. At the same time, when we passed through Pennsylvania to go back to visit family in Illinois, it called to me, as it had during family vacations when I was young. And so, my two main characters from Rehearsal, Evan and Susie, had to be from Pennsylvania. I set them in the eastern part of the state so it Greenville, PA -LK Hunsaker would work better with the story, but put Evan's alma mater on the western edge. When putting him there, I never in the world expected to end up living so close to it.


My New Hampshire characters are supporting cast. I wanted them transplanted instead of being Massachusetts locals in order to give them that extra edge. Their personalities aren't MA personalities. It wouldn't have worked. I have yet to visit New Hampshire, so if anyone from the state wants to comment on whether they fit, I'd love to hear it! Of course, you'd have to read the book to find out. ;-)


"It is a curious sensation: the sort of pain that goes mercifully beyond our powers of feeling. When your heart is broken, your boats are burned: nothing matters any more. It is the end of happiness and the beginning of peace."
George Bernard Shaw


My next-to-come book, Off The Moon (fall 2009), has two main settings: New York City and Bennington, Vermont. The main character is heavily in the music industry and so it worked well to have him in the midst of one of the music centers of the nation. His family is in Vermont, which worked in different ways: it's a short enough drive from NYC so he's able to run back and forth easily, it's another place I've yet to visit (love of the unknown), and it has a wonderful lake setting that's important to the story since he adores boats and owns a pontoon he uses to escape his busy city life. With any luck, I'll be visiting the area before putting the final touches on the book. However, he grew up a military brat, so for him, place is very fluid and the lack of deep roots shows through his personality and his actions.


If you haven't figured it out yet, water plays a big role in all of my stories. I'm drawn to lakes, rivers, oceans, and even small trickling streams. I love to swim. I love to watch and photograph waterfalls. I love to be on boats of any kind. I think it's unlikely I'll write a book without this feature, as it's too embedded into who I am.


"My books are like water; those of the great geniuses are wine.
(Fortunately) everybody drinks water."

Mark Twain


I'm currently in process of adding photos of some of the settings in my books to albums on my website. So far, I have the Finishing Touches album done and most of those photos were taken by family members. More setting albums will come soon.


***  This entry is part of Classic Romance Revival's Blog Carnival. Go to CRR to find more authors writing on the subject of setting! ***

“The Truth is you are a part and parcel of the great being. You are one of the cells of the Great Being, you can call it. And once a drop falls into a ocean, it becomes an ocean. And once you become the ocean, you see the whole world in a different way, and understand the whole world as a beautiful place of enjoyment.”

Carl Gustav Jung

Eagles Nest at Shenango Lake, PA -LK Hunsaker

[side note: For those who have read the Rehearsal books, yes, I spell traveled as "travelled" in the series intentionally. There are two reasons for this: back when I was in grade school studying spelling lessons, many of the consonants were still doubled as they tend to be in British English, including travelled. I well remember when that started to change and balked at the idea. I don't always do change well. And I like the way the world looks better with two "L"s instead of one. As this series started to come to life way back during my school days in the 70s, I left it "travelled" as it was still spelled then. Also, much of the series is set in the 70s and so it's appropriate to use the spelling of the time. There's also the third main character who is from the UK and so would also spell it in that manner. Other than in the series, I sigh and conform and drop the extra letter.]