Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's Like SYTYCD

Every three months for a little over a year now, I have a new kind of writing challenge. And by that I don't mean the same challenge every time, but something new, a challenge like I've never had before.

You know how, after a big exercise day, you'll wake up the next morning sore in places you didn't know you had muscles?

It's sort of like that, but in a totally awesome, cool way. Only I'm exercising writing muscles I didn't know I had. In some cases, it's felt like I didn't even have the muscle at all, and I'm developing it as I go.

It began, if memory serves, back in the spring of 2012, when Heather came up with the brilliant idea (she comes up with great ideas quite often) and invited me and Sarah to join her.

The idea: Write and publish clean romance novellas in anthologies. For each anthology, invite three other proven romance writers we know and respect. Everyone involved helps promote the anthologies, which then, in theory helps fans of any given writer involved to get new readers.

Plus, how fun is that?!

So far we've published four collections under the Timeless Romance Anthologies brand, each with a theme going along with the seasons: Winter Historical, Spring Vacation, Summer Wedding, and Autumn Suspense. One thing that continues to impress me is how differently each writer involved interprets the theme. Every novella is so different from the others, and that's part of what makes the collections so fresh and fun.

One big thing we've heard from readers is how glad they are that the novellas are clean. That means there's no content in them beyond a PG rating. More specifically, as for the steamy factor, you'll find nothing steamier than kissing.

Heather and I attended the first Romance Novel Convention this summer and came across a writer who thanked us for writing clean romance. She herself wrote erotica, yet she didn't want her teenage daughter reading the kinds of books she wrote. Not yet, at least, not until her daughter hit adulthood and could make an informed choice.

I don't think any of the writers who've been involved with the anthologies would ever suggest that they're only for young readers—not by a long shot. But it's nice to hear that kind of feedback and know that there's a need for what we write even beyond our intended audience of grown women. (For the record, I've used my sixteen-year-old daughter as a beta reader, and she's read some of the collections. They're that clean.)

Yet embarking on this journey felt intimidating, to put it mildly. Years ago, I read every short story by L. M. Montgomery (of Anne of Green Gables fame), which were being republished in collections (grouped by the editors into themes—a fun coincidence). I remember thinking that I'd never, ever be able to write something so short, that my story ideas needed a novel-sized chunk to tell. 

Keep in mind that LMM's "short" stories aren't that short; they're really more like the length of novellas we're using for our anthologies, which run 13,000-15,000 words, roughly 45-50 pages double-spaced in Word.

Something like twenty-five years after reading those stories, I'm faced with the prospect of writing not one, but many stories in the space of about 13,000 words, after a decade of writing novels at least 90,000 words long. My longest novel, At the Journey's End ran close to 115,000 words. So, yeah. I needed a big paradigm shift to make this work.

The first thing I had to do is boil down how exactly I'd write a novella. Fortunately, I've been writing long enough that I know roughly how long my typical scenes end up being: in the neighborhood of 1500-2,000 words. I figured that gave me roughly six scenes to work with to introduce the characters, setting, and conflict, build to a climax, and resolve the plot, especially with the romantic thread. I also knew that I didn't have room for much of a subplot (something that became an additional challenge with the Suspense collection, which required a subplot to work).

I created a very basic outline—a skeleton, really—of the plot for the Winter collection. I remember writing much of that story, which is set in a very snowy, very cold canyon, while on a family trip after spending a day in Island Park, Idaho, in the middle of a very hot summer.

We're currently in the middle of production for our fifth anthology, which will feature historical stories set in Europe, and we have our brand-new cover to reveal.

Here it is:

Two thoughts:

(1) Isn't it gorgeous?

(2) Did you notice whose name is written first? (AAAACK!)

I'm trying to stave off a panic attack at the thought of my story leading the collection. That's what readers sampling the anthology will read when they decide whether to buy it. (Eeep!) Part of my nerves may be because this novella has been my hardest one to write so far (which is saying something), although I'm not sure why. I do have a theory, though.

Remember the whole exercise/muscle analogy? I don't think it's too far off. Memory fails me when I try to recall who first came up with this next oh-so-fitting analogy: for the three of us involved in every single one of the Timeless Romance Anthology collections, the exercise is not unlike So You Think You Can Dance, where dancers are thrown different styles and genres each week and are expected to excel in them.

The ballroom dancer has to suddenly do disco. The ballet dancer is assigned hip hop. The tapper must perform contemporary.

Do it, and do it well, or be voted off.

In our case, of course, the stakes aren't as high as winning a cash prize and the title on a reality show. But I still consider each challenge something special, and I strive to do my best with every novella.

We have a devoted fan base, which grows with each new collection. I want to give every reader a smile and maybe a happy sigh at the end of each story. I give each one everything I've got.

That's not to say my knees won't be knocking as this next collection goes live on November 4; they totally will be.

I'm just glad we don't call our collections So You Think You Can Write...

(Find the Kindle versions here! Or get them on the Nook or the first two collections in other formats from Smashwords.)


Sarah M Eden said...

My memory matches yours. It was last year, the kids weren't out of school yet, we emailed back and forth a few times, totally dug the idea, and the three of us met at your house to plan the coming awesomeness. Hard to believe its been almost 18 months. It's been a stretch for the ol' writing muscles for sure, but a great experience!

Susan Anderson said...

What a fun project...and apparently, a successful one!

I wish more romance writers would leave the racy stuff behind.

Good luck with this new one!


Luisa Perkins said...

It goes live on my birthday! Happy Birthday to me!!!!!


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