Wednesday, August 06, 2014
Monday, August 04, 2014
I’ve written before about how writers are sadists.
We enjoy hearing that a reader got only an hour or two of sleep because they couldn’t stop reading our book.
We love hearing that we made people cry (especially, truth be told, people who don’t typically cry; that’s a total coup) (and calls for a fist pump/high five/celebratory dance).
I personally also love to hear that I made people laugh. Humor isn’t typically my wheelhouse, although I do try to have lighter moments in my stories, and I love it when humor works. I need help with it, though. An early draft of a humorous scene from Band of Sisters garnered the following comment from critique friend Robison Wells: “This isn’t just not funny; it’s egregiously unfunny.”
In that case, fortunately, the fix was easy. It was a pacing issue, and when Rob pointed out where things were off and how the focus had shifted from where it needed to be, I was able to do a pretty painless revision and make a truly funny scene. (As evidenced by the fact that I’ve had readers tell me they laughed until they cried reading it. Score! Fist pump!)
As I’ve moved along my writing journey, I’ve found myself often touching on romantic themes in my work, something that seems natural, as the majority of books sold in the world are Romances.
Contrary to some people’s belief, Romances aren’t about the kissing and/or bedroom; they’re about the relationship. Proof from my career, although I could cite a bunch of other evidence: I’m part of a very successful anthology series made up entirely of Romance novellas that are all PG-rated.
I think love stories connect with a huge portion of readers because all of us can relate to loving someone else. Consider other genres: few of us will ever be a spy like 007, or live in a dystopian world, or learn magic, or solve a murder mystery, but all of us will experience love of some kind during our lives, whether it’s romantic, platonic, familial, or even for a pet. We all know what it means to love, and love is an emotion that’s hardwired into us; it’s something we naturally seek.
Yet in addition to writing PG-rated love stories, I’ve found myself moving more and more in the direction of a genre that many people have a hard time defining: Women’s Fiction, often abbreviated as WF.
I wrote about this some time ago, about when I finally recognized where my literary home is. It sounds odd now to say that settling happily in WF was hard, but someone who isn’t a writer in Utah probably won’t get that here, among some of the bestselling young adult and middle grade novelists in the country, that NOT choosing to write for kids is tantamount to abandoning your religion. (I call it the YA cult mentality, and I’m only half kidding; children and youth are the one true and living market to a lot of writers here.) But back to Women’s Fiction.
Some people think WF is another name for Romance novels, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. A WF novel may have a romantic element (think Olivia and Athena from The Newport Ladies Book Club series), but at their core, Women’s Fiction stories are about the lives women lead (and trust me, we have more going on than the man in our lives—he’s important, but not the whole picture).
So what is Women’s Fiction?
Often you’ll find WF books about a group of women (think Band of Sisters or The Help—not that I’m putting myself in Kathryn Stockett’s league!).
For that matter, a lot of WF has one or two male characters who are central to plot and who have a point of view shown in the story (such as most Jodi Picoult books, even though she argues the label, and The Time Traveler’s Wife).
The important thing about WF is that the storyline deals with issues and problems that affect women specifically, and which are told through a feminine lens.
My favorite WF novelist of all time is Barbara Kingsolver. When I put down The Poisonwood Bible, my first thought: I’m not worthy. I’ll never be that good. (Not that I won’t keep trying to get better all the time. But wow. She’s in another ballpark altogether.)
Other WF writers I enjoy are Kristin Hannah and Erin Lindsay McCabe (a new discovery!). I could list many more.
Some men have countered that hey, why isn’t there a Men’s Fiction genre?
My answer: because men prefer to read thrillers, spy novels, epic fantasies, horror, and a ton of other stuff, and many of those genres are already marketed specifically toward men.
Plus, men typically aren’t nearly as touchy feely or interested in someone else’s introspection as women tend to be. Women love to think and analyze and feel. And they like to read about other women doing the same thing.
I think many men would get bored with that kind of thing. Sort of a “Nothing’s happening! Blow something up already!”
Yes, I’m making a broad generalization; plenty of men read WF, and plenty of women read supposedly “male” genres. But Women’s Fiction is at least something to hang a label on; it’s a handy way to categorize books by women, about women, and largely for women.
(Note: WF is often what you’ll find read and discussed at female book clubs. Not always, but often. Another term for many novels found in book clubs is upmarket fiction. WF and Upmarket have some overlap, but they aren’t the same thing.)
In some respects, I think of my first Women’s Fiction title as being Band of Sisters, and pretty much every novel I’ve published since then, except for Toni, has been solidly WF. BofS most certainly was my first novel without any romantic thread of any kind. All of my main characters were already married, albeit separated from their spouses due to deployment.
But when I look back, I can see that even my first published novel, Lost Without You, is largely WF masquerading as a Romance. When LWY first came out in 2002, I hesitated telling people that it was a Romance. Part of that was because, back then, I felt there was more of a stigma to the term than there is now. I didn’t want people thinking I was writing fluffy bodice rippers.
Yet the story really is about two people who wind their way to finally being together, even though the road is bumpy and there doesn’t seem to be a way to make it work. So yeah. That’s sort of a classic definition of Romance. It just so happens to also deal with mental illness, becoming widowed, second marriages, and other issues that feel more like WF.
Move to my second published novel, At the Water’s Edge, and you get more issue-driven elements. That one has domestic abuse, a near-rape, stalking, drunk driving, a car crash, and death. And, oh, yes, a romantic story, too.
Even my most recent Romance, A Portrait for Toni, which I like to think of as a light Romance, is also largely issue-driven (think eating disorders, family dysfunction, and death) even though the story at its heart is probably the most clean-cut Romance I’ve ever written and has a lot of lighter parts. (I still get a happy sigh every time I read the final scene. I love that book . . .)
When you add the fact that I love to explore hard topics (most recently, prescription drug abuse in Ilana’s Wish), and I love writing about relationships, I suppose it’s no surprise that I ended up feeling most at home in the Women’s Fiction world.
Sure, I’ll still write Romances, especially novellas for the Timeless Romance Anthology series. I love doing those; they are so much fun.
But if pressed to pick a favorite genre to write, I have to go with Women’s Fiction. That’s where I get to explore romantic relationships as well as harder, deeper stuff that makes people think and feel (and maybe cry) and maybe even look at the world in a different way.
So I found it delightful recently when I sent some of my WIP to Robison to read for feedback, and his response was, “Please tell me this is a Romance. Because I like these characters, and I want everything to work out for them.”
This is a dude. A masculine, manly man who wanted my story to be a Romance so he’d know in advance that it would end happily ever after.
When I said that sorry, no, it’s Women’s Fiction, he came back with, “Ah, crap. Someone’s going to die or something bad is going to happen. I just want them to be happy.”
He cared about my characters enough to want them to have a happy ending.
I consider that a huge accomplishment: I’ve made a dude care about my WF WIP.
(Oh, and considering that this book is about an ugly war, it’s safe to say that some bad stuff happens . . . Sorry, Rob. I hope the ending will be satisfying to you!)
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Hooray for Word Nerd Wednesday! It’s back this week, and as I debated what topic to cover, I remembered that last week, Utahns celebrated a somewhat Mormon holiday: Pioneer Day.
It’s marks the day when the first Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley back in 1847.
Except that we tend to gloss over the fact that the first pioneers actually arrived two days earlier, and that the 24th is when Brigham Young first showed up. By then, men were already plowing fields and building shelters.
The 24th was the day that Brigham, who was very ill, was driven in a wagon. It was backed up to the valley so he could raise himself up on his elbow. He’d seen the valley in a vision, so when he looked out, he confirmed, “This is the right place. Drive on.”
The real story is a bit contrary to the image we tend to have of him standing there, pounding his walking stick into the ground and declaring (as the park is named), “This is the place.”
(Adding the word right sort of messes with the rhythm of the phrase anyway, right?)
(And the fact that dozens of people were already there, making it their home, sort of showed that they knew they’d arrived in the right place, but still…)
Hey, he was their leader, so he got to pick the date for the holiday.
On Pioneer Day, Salt Lake City puts on a huge parade, but few people get off work (my husband is one of the lucky ones). In honor of the day (I’m not quite a week late; give me a break), I thought I’d list some words and phrases for WNW that tend to be Mormon-isms and, to a lesser extent, Utah-isms.
My fellow Utah and/or Mormon readers (and friends of Utahns and Mormons) are welcome to add more to the comments!
You’ll find this word all over Utah, particularly in names of businesses, and you’ll find it in the history books. Where you won’t find it is in the dictionary. (I checked my favorite, the Oxford English Dictionary, as well as Dictionary.com and Merriam Webster.) The word comes from The Book of Mormon and refers to honeybees. Utah was also original called Deseret, and the term is sometimes found in poems and hymns to refer to the Church as a group. More on that below.
Another word you’ll find all over Utah, which is fitting, as Utah is known as The Beehive State. The Beehive emblem is found on all state highway signs and elsewhere. Early pioneers viewed the honeybee as an industrious, never-lazy worker laboring for the benefit of the hive. In pioneer terms, that meant a person working tirelessly for the community. The Mormon pioneers viewed the honeybee as an example of what they should strive to be like. You start to see why Utah was first named after the honeybee.
But there’s more. Youth programs in the Church are split by gender, and the boys and girls are further split into three groups by age. The youngest group for girls, ages twelve and thirteen, are called (yep) Beehives. I think meaning of the name (and hence the message to strive to work hard for the common good) is a bit lost on today’s generation. But then, the types of goals 21st century girls are expected to reach are totally different from the girls who lived in the late 1800s: they no longer have milk cows or plow fields to earn their medallion.
This term doesn’t even make sense outside the Church. The closest thing you can find in a dictionary is the acronym for Missing in Action, which is not what this means. It’s the name for the fourteen- and fifteen-year-old young women class.
If I understand correctly, the first part of term, used to be in all caps: MIA Maid. This is because it was an acronym. MIA stood for Mutual Improvement Association, what the youth programs were called collectively. When young men and young women had activities and cultural events together, which was at least weekly, they said they were going to MIA or simply to mutual.
Today, some people still refer to the weekday youth activities as mutual, but I’m betting most of today’s youth have no idea why.
Moving up to the oldest group of young women, ages sixteen and seventeen. (At eighteen, or a bit later, typically after high school graduation, young women start attending Relief Society, the women’s organization.)
Of course, the laurel plant was commonly used long ago to create a crown or wreath with which to honor a victor of a competition. (Think the little guy on the Little Caesar’s box.) I think the idea here is for young women to strive to be the best they can be, to earn that laurel wreath. And again, of course, modern girls don’t always know what the term means, and they have very different goals that mark what it means to be an accomplished young woman.
Today, a young woman heading off to college on scholarship may be considered to be accomplished, when that term might have once meant someone who can darn a mean sock.
This one is specific to Utah. Outside the state, Dixie refers to the southern states of the U.S., the ones involved in the U.S. Civil War. And that’s actually where the name came from.
After being driven out of their homes, with family members killed, and otherwise being persecuted, the Mormons in Utah wanted to separate themselves from other groups and be as self-sufficient as possible. When the Civil War broke out, they needed an alternate source of cotton. Brigham Young sent scouts south to see if growing cotton might be viable down there. It was. (The area was also a miserable place to live. Some early settlers quipped that the devil himself would be quite comfortable there.) And thus the hot, sunny area was named Utah’s Dixie. There’s even a Dixie State College in the area.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end with a phrase that has become so common in prayer that it rolls right off the tongue and therefore has become a bit of a joke: the request when saying grace at a meal to bless the food to “nourish and strengthen our bodies.” Some people then add, “and do us the good that we need.”
This prayer is often uttered right before teens at mutual snarf down cookies or donuts.
Therefore, I’ve enjoyed the twist The Cultural Hall podcast (er, show—right, Richie?) has put on it, something you’ll hear at the end of many episodes: “Please bless the sugar out of this crap.”
If this kind of thing interests you, check out THIS WORD NERD WEDNESDAY POST as well as THIS ONE, in which we look more deeply at Mormon words and phrases.
And be sure to check out the WNW post about how Utahns (and, frankly, a lot of people) pronounce mountain, and this other one about another Utah quirk: pronouncing a short E sound (as in well) when the vowel is technically a long A followed by the letter L (as in whale, which often sounds like well in Utah).
And for even more word nerdiness, be sure to subscribe to the GUMshoes podcast on iTunes. I co-host with Luisa Perkins, where we delve into what we call GUM issues: ones involving GRAMMAR, USAGE, and MECHANICS.
Live today: An episode all about how Seinfeld has influenced the vernacular! This episode is SO MUCH FUN, people!
Saturday, July 19, 2014
ETA: The giveaway is closed as of Friday, August 1.
Winners will be announced Monday, August 4!
Thanks to everyone who participated!
Beginning July 22 (Tuesday) and running through the end of the month, I'm part of the Christmas in July blog hop sponsored by the hugely popular I Am a Reader blog!
I got to meet Kathy, who is behind the blog, at a recent writing conference. Kind of a fun fan girl moment for me. Here we are:
The blog hop is filled with a ton of great prizes: CHRISTMAS-THEMED BOOKS!
Here at The Lyon's Tale, I'll be giving away THREE copies of the upcoming Timeless Romance Anthologies Christmas collection, which will be called Silver Bells! Here's the gorgeous cover:
As always with the Timeless Romance Anthologies, I'll have a novella in the collection, as will Heather B. Moore and Sarah M. Eden. This collection's guest contributors are Lucinda Brant, Lu Ann Brobst Staheli, and Becca Wilhite. That's SIX clean romance novellas, all with historical settings.
The Timeless Romance Anthologies have become Amazon bestsellers, and our fans love how they can finish a whole story in one session, or, if they have time, they can read all six at once.
I'm excited about this collection; it's going to be awesome! And the winners will get to read it about a week before it's available to the public!
To enter for a chance to win a copy of the SILVER BELLS collection:
Simply leave a comment on this post where you include these TWO things:
-A family Christmas tradition (from your childhood or one you have today).
-Your first name and e-mail address so I can contact you if you're selected as the winner.
Other Important Information:
NO entries will be accepted until Tuesday, July 22, and all hop entries must be received by 11:59 PM, MDT, on July 31, 2014. So
DON'T leave your comment until Tuesday, July 22 or after July 31, or it won't count!
Winners will receive an electronic copy of the anthology, in Kindle (MOBI) or EPUB format, or, if desired, as a PDF file.
After I've e-mailed the winners, if I haven't heard back from them with their choice of file type within 24 hours, their prize is void, and another winner may be chosen in their place.
Winners' first names will be posted here on or before Monday, August 3, 2014, and the book files will be sent to the winners in early OCTOBER, prior to the official release on October 20, 2014.
Be sure to hop around the other blogs for chances to win other Christmas-themed books!
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
During the event, A Portrait for Toni will be on sale for only 99 cents, so get it cheap while you can!
My second-edition grammar guide is also on sale.
Click the image above this post to visit the sale.
While you're there, be sure to sign up for the Bookmarked Bargains e-mail newsletter. You'll get monthly announcements about new releases from some of your favorite writers. AND, by signing up, you become eligible to win the Reader Party Pack.
***Reader’s Party Pack: $160 value.***Designed for readers. Organize your electronic library full of fantastic adventures in a chic messenger bag. Are you always on the go? Sneak a peek at the cliffhanger from your latest book while exercising or cooking dinner when you use a handy e-book stand. Stay up reading in bed with a fuzzy blanket (choose your own color), a stackable pillow, a mug of hot chocolate, a big bag of M&Ms, and a reading light. Everything a reader needs to enjoy a good book!
Remember, for a chance to win, sign up for the newsletter. Easy. (You won't be spammed.)
(I can't lie. Wish I could win the Reader Party Pack!)
Monday, April 21, 2014
This interview is different from others I've posted here. I hope you'll stick around and read the whole thing; it's that valuable.
A few years ago, I had the fortune of crossing paths with Jenny Hess and being able to read a draft of the manuscript that would become a published memoir about her young son's sudden death and the journey of grief that followed.
Every year, I read a lot of books and manuscripts, but few stay with me the way Jenny's book has. Years later, I still think of her, her son Russell, and their story, with regularity.
Sometimes it's when I'm out for a run and I remember the time Jenny was out running early one morning shortly after Russell's death. (I won't tell you what happened, but trust me; you won't forget it either.) When I hear an ambulance siren, I think of the trip Russell took to the ER and what happened there.
But I also think of Jenny's story when I see someone in pain. Someone grieving. I remember it when I face my own struggles. And when I discover someone else who has gone through a sudden loss and the subsequent grief. I like to think that learning of Jenny and her journey through pain and loss has taught me how to be more compassionate with others (and with myself). It's a story of pain, but it's also one of hope, joy, and, eventually, healing.
It's a book everyone should read, whether or not you've experienced something similar. This mortality thing is rough; chances are, you still may undergo a sudden loss. Chances are even better that you know someone who already has or who will soon go through a traumatic time and who must grapple with the grief that follows.
Here's our interview about her remarkable book.
AL: How would you describe your book: memoir? How-to? Other? And why?
JH: I would definitely describe my book as a memoir and not a how-to. Grief is an intensely personal experience to a deeply individual loss. People are given a disservice and tend to bristle when told how to grieve. In His Hands is simply my experience with the grief of losing my son Russell, and I hope it gives a grieving reader the validation that these strong, profound, overwhelming emotions are normal and that they are not alone in their pain.
AL: What prompted you to write about your experiences surrounding your son’s death?
JH: I was having so many conflicting emotions—the deep, dark, ugly wretchedness of missing Russell along with the holy, sacred and beautiful new insights into the Atonement of Jesus Christ. I felt these needed to be chronicled before they were lost in the fog I was engulfed in. But really, I began writing because through an
honest misunderstanding I’d inadvertently led my two-year-old son to believe Jesus kidnapped his older brother. I think I’ve resolved the issue, but I kept thinking then, that, if as a teenager, Joey wondered why deep down he didn’t like Jesus, I would have it there for him in print—that it was my fault.
AL: What was the writing process like? How long did it take? Did you always plan to publish it?
JH: I was writing Russell’s biography when I knew I needed to write this book. In His Hands is a book that tells how the loss affected me and my family, previous life experiences I felt prepared me for the loss, and the heavy and holy experiences of grief I experienced later.
Some days I wrote feverishly, the words just pouring out. Other days I wrote timidly, tip-toeing through painful memories. Some days I couldn’t write—not for a lack of material, but because it was just too much to handle.
I was really just writing for me and for my immediate family. Especially for Joey, so he’d hopefully have a vibrant and faith-filled relationship with our Savior. It seemed to take forever to write, but I think it was mostly done within six months of starting it. I hadn’t intended to get it published, but some close friends
encouraged me to try.
AL: What makes your book on the topic of grief different?
JH: This book is different than any other grief memoir I’ve read. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough in the LDS/Christian market, although I’ve noticed more being published lately. While they maintain a belief in God that’s uplifting and inspiring, most seem to be written years after the loss, and the grief experience has lacked
the rawness of new grief. This diminished the significant emotions that were overwhelming me and left me feeling alone and misunderstood.
In contrast, secular memoirs I’ve read tend to open up and share the vivid and intense pain of grief. This validated my bleeding emotions and helped me feel like I’m not crazy. But a common theme to these books is the question, “How could a kind, loving God allow this to happen?” and it breaks my heart and sometimes my spirit to read how their faith is not only questioned, but seemingly crushed and broken beyond repair.
I know how a kind, loving God could allow this to happen, but I still felt so despondent that I could barely function. In His Hands is a realistic, faith-promoting look into the abyss of grief with a loving Heavenly Father at my side.
AL: Who do you think would benefit from reading the book?
JH: Surprisingly, I’ve received feedback from people of all backgrounds telling me they’ve benefited from reading this book. We’ve all experienced loss to some degree, whether they be through death of a loved one, debilitating health issues, abuse, divorce, or even the loss of not having the life you imagined you’d be living by now. While those losses differ, many of the emotions are the same.
People who haven’t experienced much loss have expressed they learned from reading about the inner turmoil of my grief and as a result, gained a better understanding and compassion for friends and family who had.
AL: What is the greatest/most important lesson you’ve learned as a result of Russell’s death?
JH: My testimony of Jesus Christ has deepened and strengthened through the death of my son. My love for Heavenly Father and my appreciation for His plan have grown in immeasurable ways. I’ve always known They love me, but now I’m starting to see how much.
I’ve learned through the kind acts of others how important it is to “mourn with those who mourn,” and how I may feel lonely at times, but I’m never really alone.
AL: What would be your advice to someone facing a big trial, whether it deals with the death of a loved one or something else?
JH: In His Hands was written during my worst grief. I’m still grieving the loss of Russell, but I’m not experiencing the profound grief that you’ll read about in the book. I’m in a much better place now. Please remember that while time itself doesn’t heal, it takes away the sharpness of the pain. It’s easier to see answers to “Why?” and lessons learned after—sometimes years after—the experience.
Trying to understand these lessons before they’re apparent is frustrating and breeds doubt. Just hold on through this. It will get better.
We recently marked the six-year anniversary of Russell’s death. For the first few years, I was just surviving. Don’t overdo things in the beginning of a difficult trial—it’s harder to survive that way. Sometimes you just have to slow down and feel. It’s painful. Healing from a traumatic wound usually is.
Around year three, I was back in a regular routine. I was able to function in a seemingly normal way. To the naked eye I was a “regular” person, although I still felt broken. I still broke from time to time, but I found my inner strength was able to usually get me through challenging situations.
Around year five, I realized I still wasn’t happy. I could experience happy moments, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t always depressed, either, which was good. So I gave up trying to be happy. I just tried to enjoy and appreciate. I figured I wouldn’t reach the level of “happy” until I was with Russell again. Letting go of the unattainable goal of happiness allowed me to enjoy moments even more.
One average day, about 5 1/2 years after Russell died, I realized that I was feeling more than happy moments. I was feeling happy. Just in my everyday life. I was even happy to be alive. It just sort of snuck up on me.
And while I fall back down into the hole occasionally (especially during the time of year of his death), I’m still happy. And I know I’ll eventually make my way back out.
Grief is a long process, and it’s different for everyone. Please don’t lose hope if you can’t make your way through as fast as you’d like. Just hold on. There are good days and better times ahead.
* * *
Jenny Hess was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She is an avid quilter and loves the outdoors. After serving a mission in Denmark, Jenny graduated from California State University Long Beach, where she met her husband, Kirk. They have five kids—four living on earth and one living in Heaven. As a family, they love spending time together surfing, camping, hiking, biking, exploring, rock climbing, and canyoneering. Jenny's story can be found on Mormon.org, and a video vignette detailing how the scriptures helped heal her is currently being shown at the Los Angeles Temple Visitor's Center in California. Jenny is the Grief Group Facilitator for her stake and spends time helping grievers on their path. Visit her at jennyhess.wordpress.com.
Buy the book HERE.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
First things first:
Through March 29 (Saturday), BREATHTAKING, a 7 title e-book boxed set of romantic suspense novels is on sale for only 99 cents. I haven't read the books, but I know three of the authors and wish them the best.
Get it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iTunes, and Smashwords.
A Must-See Video for Creative Types
Creativity is a funny/strange/aggravating/wonderful thing. It's complex and hard to understand (if understanding it is even possible).
A few years ago I found Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk. If you don't know her by name, you surely know her by at least the title of her most famous book, Eat, Pray, Love, which was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts.
I haven't read her work or seen the movie, so my opinion about her TED talk have no bearing on those things. And my opinion on the talk is pretty emphatic: If you are a creative type, you need to watch it.
I'm not the only who thinks so. Since it was filmed in 2009, the video has been viewed almost 10 million times (8.1 million times on the TED site, and another 1.7 times on YouTube).
I can't remember how I first stumbled on it, but it stuck with me. Every six month or so, I find myself drawn to watch it again, to listen to what she says about creativity, specifically the the creative genius and work as a creative person.
Every time I watch it, something different jumps out at me. And I'll admit that the first five times I watched it, there were entire sections I didn't remember hearing before. Maybe I hear what my creative mind needs to at any given time.
So here it is. Watch it. It's just under 20 minutes, and it's worth every second.
Oh, and here's the Breathtaking Box Set link at Amazon again, just to make things easy.