Traveling Light: A Writer’s Life?

I remember years ago having a fun chat with one of my pals about imagining traveling the world, but we could each carry only five things on us, just enough to fit into our pockets and with no luggage.

We came up with these five items: keys to whatever house we were each living in–or at least a storage compartment where we kept our stuff. In addition, we would need a passport, a credit card, a cash card, and a driver’s license. We figured that we could use our passports, credit cards and drivers’ licenses to go wherever we wanted to go and buy whatever we needed when we arrived. Whatever we didn’t want to carry, according to our no-luggage rule, could be sent back home by mail.

One month, two months, three months, who knows how long we would be gone.

I returned to this thought experiment in more recent days, and technology makes all the difference. If I were to imagine this today, I’d need not only those five things, but my technology! I would need a cell phone, some type of small notebook computer and chargers for each. One important new item would be a special travel jacket. Yes, folks I am so nerdy that I have thought about this.

Perhaps one that National Geographic photojournalists use, with enough pockets to carry all their stuff on them: Orvis.

But on a more practical level, I recalled this recently when I was away at a church conference last month. We were all checking out on the last day, there was a service taking place, and I was a participant. It was taking place outdoors, but I couldn’t carry my coat, since I was going to be wearing my vestments. I checked my luggage with the hotel staff, but what about the most important things I didn’t want to misplace? I was thankful for denims with deep pockets for my phone, wallet, keys, pen and note paper. I wore a wool hat, a hooded sweatshirt on top of my clerical shirt, a scarf on top of that, and finally, an LL Bean fleece jacket zipped up over everything. I only needed to be sure my clerical collar was peeking through.

All those years ago, I didn’t imagine what I would be doing as we traveled the world. Was I merely going to be a tourist? I think so. But if I had to talk to my younger self, I might have told her about becoming a travel writer. Or even a romance writer doing research on the ground. Historical novels, perhaps?

Alas, I have always been too practical to imagine the fanciful existence of traveling the world with only the clothes on my back. I’m firmly grounded in writing contemporaries, where my research is limited to the internet, and that is fine with me.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

ultimatejacket0
Isn’t this Orvis travel jacket so cool?

 

Building Character: Writing what you Know, Researching and Having Fun

The editors of my romance writers’ chapter newsletter gave us a writing prompt to consider in drafting essays for the November issue of the newsletter.

How do we build our characters and their fun habits? Inspiration can come easily to me, so I don’t think it’s too complicated.

Our characters’ basic personalities, where do they come from? At the most basic, we can write from what we know, and it’s fairly easy to do. We know ourselves. What are we like? What is our history? Do we want to create an alter ego and put her into our novels?

The people we are closest to, we know them fairly well, their personalities and histories. How can they inspire us in character building? Should we create alter egos for them as well? In addition, I think about other people I have known. What makes them fun or interesting? If I know them and their experience well enough, the writing flows easily.

I find that the more complicated aspects of character building require more research. If I’m not writing about something I’m familiar with, I have to learn more, not only to understand, but to make the character authentic. But of course, it must be something that really interests and motivates me to want to learn more and write from this new knowledge.

So where am I now? In my latest work in progress, I’m drawing upon my training in ministry, things I actually experienced and things I know about because I’m steeped in this world. It’s where I have a good number of connections nowadays. What might a young seminarian be doing in her day to day life that makes her life interesting or complicated? What might her coursework look like? What might be her challenges in dating? The things I have learned over the three years I was in formation and all that I knew even before I began the process, provides the foundation for understanding my heroine’s character and habits.

But it gets even better. This past weekend I attended a conference for clergy and lay people. This is a conference I have been attending for at least nine years. Included among them were people I knew in my ordination cohort and those behind me in the process. I spoke to two of them during the course of the weekend, but I must admit I wasn’t surprised at what I heard. I have known them for about four years. Nonetheless, this is what I tweeted when I returned: folks, this is a romance novel.

The details are too juicy to divulge, but I did reflect for a bit. So yes, my two young friends are finding their way. I wish them well. Their story certainly inspires me to write!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Social Media anniversaries!

I’m looking up from my computer. Suddenly, I just realized that I am in the midst of some social media anniversaries. I’m so thankful I have found them and I’m thankful for all the opportunities for finding community.

My writers’ journey has been an amazing opportunity for growth.

When I began writing in the spring of 2017, I joined Goodreads. It was ideal for me, to participate as a reader as I was writing. I could post occasional notes regarding my blog essays and make note of books I was reading. I check for updates on a regular basis and participate in my groups. Once I have had releases available, I posted those as well.

Once Starting Over: Rick came out, Facebook was the next social media I thought about in the fall of 2017. It has been the ideal place for finding groups for writers and readers. I have learned so much from the other writers whose posts I follow and who have responded to mine. I remember when I was researching book covers for Going Home: Roger and considering changing Rick’s cover. I was able to post sample stock photos. The feedback was great.

Through a Facebook writers’ group, I discovered Twitter, and it has been the best. I joined on October 13. I post my updates daily, like, and follow other writers. I participate in the writers’ games. It has been especially useful and supportive as I have been in the midst of working on my latest works in progress, book 3 and book 4.

There has been one thing that has been bothering me about Twitter, though, how to post images as aesthetics. Twitter only permits one image at a time. So what was the answer? Today, I’ve been doing my research. I created a simple one for both book covers.

I’m including it here. Both books are available on Amazon, for $.99.Aesthtic Rick and Roger

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Subplots in Romance Novels

A recent romance writers’ group discussion inspired me to think about subplots in romance novels. It wasn’t a conceptualization I thought about much because I have always thought that the primary plot, of hero and heroine on the road to a happily ever after, was what mattered most.

But upon reading and thinking about the discussion points being made, I realized just how much I noticed subplots in the books I read and just how I used subplots in my own writing.

As a reader, I have noticed them the most in romantic suspense novels. The hero and heroine are on a quest of some type, one that is fraught with danger. Their struggle with their foe draws them closer and pushes the action forward. Through their journey and struggle to vanquish their enemy, they forge their happily ever after. This type of trope is common not only in contemporary novels but in some historical ones as well. The tension is built in, as are the growing edges between the hero and heroine. In subsequent books, other heroes and heroines might grapple with the same common enemy. The journey just represents their own take.

I’ve noticed a number of novels in series, in which a writer doesn’t write just one book in which the hero and heroine work towards their happily ever after, but the story takes place over several books. The books can appear subplot driven. Whenever I have read books of that type, I always wondered why the writer chose to draw out the novel over several installments. It just seemed odd and made me feel less satisfied. I reached the end of the novel but that wasn’t really the end. Book one was just one stage in the resolution of the subplot that paved the way towards the final resolution of the romance.

My favorite type of subplot involves the development of secondary characters who will then have their own stories in future novels. Those have always been my favorite types of novels to read, because I have always been curious about the people connected to the hero and heroine in interesting ways.  How were they developing during the course of the main characters’ happily ever after? How will those developments influence what happens in their own book? This is what I was doing in Starting Over Rick. Going Home Roger, and the Wedding Bet: Lauren (finally in the hands of the copy editor!)

Sometimes the secondary characters resolve their subplots in the course of the primary characters’ book and might even find their own parallel happily ever after. Upon reading those types of stories, I was glad to see their resolution, but I wondered why they didn’t have their own stories, especially if the story seemed to detract from the main one. I realize, though, that might be a writing convention, especially if the writer doesn’t have enough time to write a separate book.

Now that I’m interested in inspirational romances, I find that faith and faith-based struggles can be the bases for their own subplots, tensions and conflicts. A fairly common one is the life crisis that pushes questions of faith to the fore. Faith v. non-faith? Or the struggles of being in the ordination process (my current work in progress). The possibilities fascinate me.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Writing About New Adults: When the Romance Novelist is a Perpetual Student

I feel like I have been a perpetual student all my life. With the exception of about three years of working in the “real world” of a government agency, I spent all of my adult life in university settings, as a student, or as an employee. Even my most recent training to become a minster had its own elements of school, retreats taking place one weekend per month over the course of three academic years.

 

So when I began writing romance novels, new adults appealed to me the most. Young adults embarking on their grown up life, there was always something about it. The excitement of being in one’s twenties and in school appealed to me, the whole process of learning in all kinds of ways, with new people to meet each semester.

 

Yet, at the same time, I think there is room to challenge the age groups by which we typically define “new adult.” I sense the convention is that these are young adults who are in their early twenties. Yet, there are plenty of young adults in their mid twenties and even older who are dealing with these major milestones.

 

I modeled the heroes of my first series of novels upon my husband. He is ex-military and got out of the service when he was twenty-six. That is when he began training for his “real world” career. Rick was the first of his friends to leave active duty service for the Coast Guard Reserves. He returned to college when he was in his late twenties. Roger did as well, except that he remained on active duty until he retired years later. Their third friend, Don (The Wedding Bet: Lauren, work in progress) took a path similar to Roger in order to change career tracks within the service.

 

Do we expect our heroes and heroines to be young adults of the same age? I remember seeing a Facebook group for readers of new adult books. One rule was that both the hero and heroine were supposed to be new adults, and so a book with a hero or heroine older than twenty-five could not qualify. That seemed odd to me. As long as one main character was in the traditional age range, the book should fit, especially if the novel traced the path of the character’s development into adulthood.

 

Without question, Annelise (Starting Over: Rick) and Denise (Going Home: Roger) fit the new adult category. They were young women navigating very serious relationships on the road to their happily ever after. By the time they graduated college in their early twenties, they were already wearing their wedding rings.

Copyright Barbara James. I submitted an earlier version of this essay for publication in the newsletter published by my local Romance Writers of America chapter.

 

#FOMO and the Romance Novel?

What implications might FOMO (the fear of missing out) or its closely related cousin YOLO (you only live once)  have for the romance novel?

This question came to mind not that long ago when I saw an alumni bulletin from a school where I have a very loose connection.

So some years ago, before I began the process towards ordination, I did a distance learning program offered by one of the Episcopal seminaries. As a result, I am on their mailing list. Go figure. I have never been on the campus, but I suppose I’m an alumna, because I pursued a certificate program with them.

Anyway, this recent bulletin had a story that was just lovely from a sweet romance standpoint.

The woman in the story matriculated in the early 1970s. She was a freshman when she met a senior who asked her out. She didn’t want to go out with him, but his response stopped her in her tracks: “You know, you might be missing out.”

Missing out for her meant missing out on a chance to go on a date with a young man she came to enjoy getting to know. She wasn’t willing to take that chance, and the rest was history.

She dropped out of school to get married because he was about to go to law school and long distance would not have worked. She then worked for a number of years before she quit to become a stay-at-home mother. She only returned to school years later, once her children were themselves done with their college educations and out of the house.  The alumni magazine commemorated her recent graduations: college and graduate school.

I loved this story because she was willing to take a chance on building something lovely and substantive, a decades long marriage with children and grandchildren.  Her husband and family were there to support her every step of the way.

I must admit that I had a quibble, though. I didn’t like that she dropped out of school. It seems that she should have been able to transfer to a college nearby her fiance and finish at the same time he was in law school.

The heroines of Starting Over: Rick,  Going Home: Roger, and the Wedding Bet: Lauren (work in progress) were faced with similar dilemmas. They were dating men who were older and more established. So the question for them was whether they were willing to make a sacrifice and dedicate themselves to building a valuable long term relationship at what would be seen as a very young age today.

Each did so, and quite gladly, but they didn’t drop out of school. They could be in college and date. They could be in college and be married.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

 

Sweet and #inspy romances?

Episcopal Church Women!

I have reached a milestone insofar as I am officially ordained, an Episcopal clergywoman. With that, I have found that I have an interest in writing romances with a stronger inspirational edge.

That stronger edge began with my latest work in progress, the Wedding Bet: Lauren. Her book is third in the sweet and sensuous series, but it takes place in between Rick’s and Roger’s. I just turned in my latest draft to my editor.

Long before I became an Episcopalian, I was a liberal leaning Roman Catholic young woman raised in a conservative Catholic family. Women’s ordination pushed me towards Anglicanism and Mainline Protestantism.

I have company among a lot of former Roman Catholics drawn to our Catholic-style liturgy matched with our Protestant governance and theology. Nonetheless, I remember my conservative roots; I have relatives who are still in that camp. And so I wrote Lauren’s book with them in mind.

I was imagining before starting her book that I would continue the sweet and sensuous series with Kim’s book, but I find that I just don’t have the bandwith to do her book well. Instead, I’m inspired by some of the young women I met during the past three years I was in the ordination process.

My newer work in progress is based upon a young woman I met this year, a military officer who wants to become an Episcopal priest and serve as a military chaplain. Two young women in my formation group have inspired me to think about some new heroines: Natasha and Helena.

Will I return to the sweet and sensuous series? Perhaps, if I find that there is something that draws me back to Rick and Annelise’s world with their large circle of relatives, friends, and connections.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

On writing in community: Twitter

I have mentioned before that I found a great writing community in Goodreads, readers of romance novels who wanted to write as well. I have found an even more interesting and compelling sense of community, but on Twitter.

I have found that twitter hashtags are a great means of building community as a writer. The hosts I have found are ingenious at coming up with writing prompts that spur my creative energies.

For example, one hostess developed the concept of a “writers mile,” pushing us all to write or edit 5820 words in a specific span of time. This was useful to me because I had some personal deadlines to meet, and being on target was important.

It is a story, how I have come to develop this concept of personal deadlines. For years, I have had a sense of how much time I need to write a manuscript. But I tended to write and then worry later about finding other people to read and comment.

Now, with this type of freelance writing, I have tended to look for professional developmental editors, copy editors, and proofreaders. But these folks are in high demand. If I want to work with them, I have to put myself on a deadline and make sure I have a sense of their availability. Otherwise, I might have to wait weeks or months for them to slot me in. If they can’t fit me in, I have to look for other people.

What that means is that I have to think way ahead, but not for writing 50,000 words in a month like NaNoWriMo. Instead, I have something more manageable in mind, 4-5 months to write those same 50,000 words. My usual goal is to write for a few hours per day.

That is where the hashtag games come in, especially where the word counts keep me accountable, as it did for the #writersmile. I beat the word count goal, but it helped me remember that I was on the clock, and not only for writing, but for editing as well.

By the time I was editing the first draft, it was around the third week of April, and things were getting busy before the end of the month. I finished, though, two days after my best deadline, but before the last day of the month.

So what am I up to now? I drafted two essays for my chapter newsletter, one on strong heroines, the others on my musings on the writing craft. The latter discusses my latest work in progress, the Wedding Bet: Lauren, a sweet romance with strong elements of the inspirational.

This was a new challenge. I pushed myself to write about the heroine’s romantic journey as well as the journey in faith she experienced with Don, her partner. They had both been secondary characters in Starting Over: Rick, serving as members of the wedding party.

I look forward to updating you on my progress.

Copyright Barbara James, all rights reserved.

Guest blog post: the writing process and my work in progress

https://briannasbookreview.weebly.com/guest-posts.html

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​I would urge those who are struggling to write that they should do the best they could to squeeze in some writing time during the course of a week. Every word and sentence means progress! Some people get up early, others stay up late. Still others save their weekends for their writing time. Writing has to become something the writer just does, without question, because it’s second nature, and because writing can be exciting. My time to write is early in the morning before I start the day. Other times, I work in a few moments if something interesting occurs to me. Or I might make note of it and work later.

Whenever I am writing, I often find myself creating notes files for future works in progress. The inspiration for these come from things that occur to me when I’m writing the current work in progress. Perhaps a character inspires me, or something I have seen or heard made me think about how it might be useful for a character. As for deciding upon which one to work on first among any future projects, it really comes down to what works at the time, whether I have any ideas. Sometimes, I might need to think, research, and learn more about a character before I can begin writing.

So my current work in progress happened within a year after Starting Over: Rick, but I didn’t feel the inspiration for this book. It is about Lauren, one of Annelise’s friends and a bridesmaid at her wedding to Rick. I took down notes and I found images, but I wasn’t feeling it. However, I was inspired to write Denise and Roger’s story, Going Home: Roger, because I had a greater sense of what her character might be like, since she was Annelise’s sister and was thus a stronger secondary character.

What I like most about Rick’s book is that it was the first, and that it will be the foundation for future books. I like seeing how the characters develop over time from their introduction in the first book and through their own books.The fun part about writing the current sequel is that it gives me a chance to come back to Roger. His book began one year after Annelise and Rick’s wedding. What was he doing in the meantime? In this sequel, he is a stronger secondary character, because he is supporting the main characters on their road to their happily ever after. I give hints about him and introduce conversations which took place in greater depth in his own book. The foreshadowing makes it all the more interesting.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

authorbarbarajames@gmail.com

Writing with Partners, Epilogues.

Was it just a few months ago in November, in the midst of Nano-Wri-Mo, that I was doing my own personal version of it?

A group writing project, to write our novel, and I had a certain number of weeks to write a certain number of chapters. I wrote, submitted, and then spent the rest of the fall into the winter reading the others’ chapters and offering encouragement.

So now we are at the end of all the contributors’ chapters, and we are to write our epilogues.

I drafted my epilogue back then, and it was interesting to look back at what I had in mind. I imagined an epilogue taking place five years later, but the group needed a shorter time span, so I edited it to take place two years after my portion of the book began.

Although I couldn’t use it, there is nothing wrong with saving it for future reference.

I think it is so important for writers to have a writing group of some sort. This group worked well enough for me, giving me a venue for practicing my writing.

I enjoyed the group so much, I acknowledged them in Going Home: Roger!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

authorbarbarajames@gmail.com