Shared Prologues

Stephanie Laurens, historical writer of romances set in the British regency period, has done this in her series, the Bastion Club.

It makes sense, because if a book is part of a series, there is often a theme which unites them.  In the case of the Bastion Club, it was the return to civilian life of a number of young aristocratic men after the Battle of Waterloo that marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  They were civilians now with an interest in settling down and marrying.  But because they had been out of British society for so long while they were fighting overseas, they felt at a loss.  How and where might they meet eligible women?  Their goal was to lend each other support as they went about dating.  That was one series I really enjoyed.  Her recent work, set a generation or so after that period, just can’t compare.

In the case of the series I’m imagining, the shared prologue will center around the wedding which I spoke of earlier.  The main characters in the first novel see their wedding as a means of setting up some of their favorite friends and relatives.  Not all are interested, of course, because they already have their own lives and partners.  But those who are interested, the message is, feel free to go for it!

This prologue would have been alluded to in the first novel, but would only be developed a bit more in the subsequent novels, and from the different partners’ perspectives.  This is where I differ from Ms. Laurens approach.  Her prologue was the same for each of the books.

But developing different perspectives means that as I started to write the second novel (which should have been the fourth), I had to go back and forth regarding certain details.  What made sense the first time around, might not make any sense now, and so there might have been inconsistencies that I had to correct in order to be certain about all the details.

Moreover, some characters are just not conducive to my plans!   Like I said previously, fiction writing for me is like an ongoing episode of the Pirandello project, Six Characters.  My characters have their own lives, needs and interests.  It is just up to me to listen to what they are telling me as I see what they are up to.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.

Connected Books

I can see how it can happen.  As my characters go about their lives, they have connections to other people:  friends and relatives.  This happened when I was preparing the main character’s wedding scene.  It had been on my mind for a few days, and as tends to happen when I’m walking around doing my errands or I’m working out, something occurred to me.

It felt like the main character was calling me out, taking me to task:  “Miz Writer Lady, if you want my boys to show up and be groomsmen at my wedding, it won’t happen ‘just like that.’  I have to talk to them about it beforehand, the same way you had my lady talk to her girls about being her bridesmaids.”

He was right.  I included a scene in where the female lead interacted with her friends.  Why not have one for him?  Suddenly, I needed to fine tune some descriptions of a character or fine tune a scene because there were some other people around who might make things more colorful or interesting.  In addition, I could see these secondary characters in their own scenes and stories.  I got an inkling of their personalities, the things that interest them, what their lives might be like.  Some secondary characters are more forceful at others in making themselves known.  They will likely be the ones to get their book first.

They will tackle their own relationship questions and matters.  The next characters will address ethnicity and not necessarily race.   So as I mentioned, the male lead has several friends who were his groomsmen at his wedding to the female lead.  They will be partnered with a number of her friends and relatives who were bridesmaids.  One is a light skinned Latino man, she will be a darker toned Latino woman.  Another character is an African American man from the South.  His partner will be an Afro-Caribbean woman born in the U.S. but raised overseas.  The bride’s sister is one of the bridesmaids; she is partnered with one of the groomsmen, but she is only 16 and is thus a bit too young right now.  We will have to wait and see regarding her story.

I thought the Latino man’s story was going to be easier to write.  He just seemed to be the biggest extrovert in telling me who he is, what he does for a living, and what he is like when he is on the prowl.  But after that, there was nothing.  Doing my research, I didn’t have a clue of where he wanted to go in the future, what were his hopes and aspirations?  Nothing yet.  But the African American man, he was very nebulous in the beginning.  I had a sense of his personality, extraverted in a large group of pals, but quiet, similar to the main character.  I had a basic idea of where he lived and what he did for a living.  I knew how he was going to meet up with his female counterpart once the wedding was over.  But after that, nothing.  After doing more research, I had a firmer idea.  He is in a different field now, and he has more concrete plans for his future.

Yet, just the other day, I saw a picture of Hannah Bronfman, daughter of the Bronfman family elite, owners of Seagram’s.  Then I saw a picture of her fiancé and looked at a few interviews they had.  I was fascinated.  They became the model for one of the couples I have in mind, the younger sister of the female lead in the first novel.  So now that is what is on my mind, I’m jotting down notes and saving pinterest images.  Now that the first book is in the editing process, I can begin to write her story.

I carry my e-reader with me all the time and I have scrap paper in my bag.  I jot down ideas all the time or work them through as I exercise in the morning, into a notes file I keep on the e-reader or onto the scrap paper I carry.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.

What does “clean romance” mean to me?

This was an interesting question discussed on the clean romance subgroup I am a part of on Goodreads, especially since I describe my writing as fitting within the “inspirational and clean genres.”  But even that can be troublesome.  Does the very term presume sex is “dirty?”

Two editors questioned me on this recently after looking at a few pages of my manuscript.  One wondered whether it could even be described as “sweet.”  I have read romances with graphic sex scenes, but I choose not to write them.

Yet, I got caught in a bit of the politics of clean romance reading and writing.

So I have decided to join a number of boards whose members seem to share interests similar to mine.  I applied to join one of them, and one of the moderators presumed that because I was interested in clean romance and I specifically explained that I wanted to write in the genre, I had some type of agenda that would be critical of and harmful to the participants.

I suppose that is the history in these message boards when it comes to readers of clean romance.  But the irony is that in my description of what I was hoping to do in my writing, I was making a statement in support of liberalism!  Even more surprising is that this woman was a member of a sister church within my tradition.  But I wonder whether she remembered her church history.  She eventually permitted me to join, but I realize now that there is a lot of work to be done in explaining and expressing the nuances of clean romance.  That is my goal.

My faith tradition is within Mainline Protestantism, and we tend to be less judgmental about sexuality matters compared to Evangelicals.  For example, in 1930, Anglicans at the bishops’ conference at Lambeth Palace in London stated that matters relating to birth control were to be determined by individuals in the privacy of their own relationships.  The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t decide upon that matter until the 1960s.

Here is the way I see it.  If I read books that are prurient, ie., erotic, or just books that include sex scenes, but they don’t cause me to act inappropriately, ie., to fantasize about or seek sex from a man not my husband, there is nothing wrong.  It is about understanding the difference between fantasy and reality.

As for writing, I prefer to listen to my characters as they think about their lives and the people in them.  I love to have them interact in a way that indicates their emotions.  They talk about their feelings, they can be playful, affectionate and passionate.  It is quite clear they are sexual, but it is about sensuality rather than sexuality.  There are a few scenes in the book I enjoyed writing, where they listened to music and danced.  They might kiss, cuddle, hug, touch, or even start to undress, but we can guess at what happens when they “get down to it.” I just don’t need to write about it, and no one needs to read it!

The female lead in my novel is very sensual, and the male lead noticed it from the start.  She dresses very well, in clothes that are not revealing, and in colors with jewelry that coordinate nicely and which draw attention to her complexion.  She wears flattering makeup, perfume, and nail polish.  She loves to cook, and she certainly enjoys dancing with him!  She is athletic, enjoying exercising for the thrill it gives her to push and strengthen her body.

As for being sexual, I’ll describe it as though it were a scene from the book.

Second Epilogue:

My writing process has felt like a scene from the Pirandello Project, Six Characters in Search of an Author.  The characters show up and tell me who they are, and what their story is to be like.  But this time around, I felt like I was an author in search of my characters.


I met up with them at a local coffee shop.  It had been a while.  When I last saw them a number of months ago, I attended the baptism of their first child,  a baby girl.  The Episcopal priest who married them presided at the service, and the female lead’s mother, an ordained minister, assisted.

Their baby girl just had her first birthday a few days before our meet up.

Sitting on a couch in the back, I waited.  They came promptly.  Once they arrived, each of them gave me a hug.  I then sat across from them.

We talked about how our lives had been since then, my writing, her parents and grandparents, her sister, as well as the friends and relatives who were bridesmaids at the wedding.  His family was fine as well, his parents, brothers, their families, and the friends who were groomsmen.

The good news was that her younger sister, who married one of the groomsmen two years prior, right before her senior year of college, was expecting her first child.  I asked “will this be an arms’ race?”  She looked sheepish as he laughed out loud, “I would not be surprised.  Some sisters can be competitive.  If anything, the grandparents would be saying ‘bring it on!’  They like the idea of the cousins being close in age.”

Stirring her chai latte and taking a sip, she grinned, “my parents have kidnapped my baby!”  He chuckled, “we are getting a break.  The grandparents are in town for her birthday.  They took her to the Children’s Museum.”

In all the time I had known them, I never asked them about their sex lives.  I know my  readers were very curious, so I figured it was time to get nosy (and nervy).  I waited until it was time for us to leave.

“So, what are you like in bed?”

She raised her eyebrows and smiled.   As he drew her in for a close hug, she stroked his hand and kissed his cheek.  Glancing at me, he replied, “that’s private,” while she added, “we don’t talk about that.”  As they began gathering up their things to leave, she said, “thanks for inviting us to have coffee with you.  It was good to see you again!”

I watched them in admiration as they held hands and walked away.  I looked forward to catching up again in the future.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.

Why write?

I suppose I’m surprised myself at this question.  Why am I writing a romance novel after years of only being a reader?

I suppose the inspiration came to me recently, during Lent.  I started Lent determined to be very high-minded.  I was going to read only books on theology.  But what I found fascinating were the theological musings of clergywomen, namely the essays in a collection “There is a Woman in the Pulpit.”

Reading an essay by Amber Belldene, an Episcopal clergywoman, I was enthralled.  She has a series of romances in which the heroines are clergywomen in our faith tradition who deal with the types of questions that many grapple with:  how to negotiate dating relationships at the same time they follow their call to ordained ministry?

So my high mindedness didn’t get too far, as a result.  Or maybe it did?   I found myself writing a romance novel.  I remember drafting an outline on my computer and then going to the library where I’m a volunteer.  No one had any questions, so I just sat with paper, and the words just came.

It is as though this story has been in the back of my mind waiting to come out.  Suddenly, it seemed as though I was writing to keep up with the lives of my characters, and they were having all kinds of adventures.  Inspiration came from all over, something I remembered hearing, seeing, or reading.  It could have been something I saw recently on television, something I overheard, or a blog essay I remember reading or writing sometime ago.

This is a story about a former active duty serviceman who has gone back to college as a member of the Reserves.  This is a major life transition, being older and in a different place, being married minded, when the young adults around him are not of the same mindset.  Enter the heroine.  She is young but quite mature.  A conservative-leaning Episcopalian with a mother who is in the ordination process, she is different from her peers, in that she is actually in college for her Mrs. Degree.  I have enjoyed learning about them, their lives, and their friends.

I suppose it isn’t surprising, in that I am a writer, but I just never saw myself as a writer of fiction.  I was an academic author for a good many years, and I have done freelance writing within my field.  In addition, I used to write essays for my blog.

But I did have an interesting mishap in the midst.  During Holy Week, I finished one of my chapters, it might have been Thursday, then I was getting fancy at trying to save it.  I made some type of mistake and I wound up losing 2 or 3 chapters and part of another one, a week’s worth of work.  My face fell.  I had to start anew. But I was determined not to see it as a tragedy, but as a learning experience.  I was done in about 3 days, writing the old chapters and including some new ones.  It felt like my own death and resurrection experience, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Funny enough, I think the new chapters actually came out better.  I then printed up my first draft around Easter Monday and then began proofreading and editing.

Copyright Barbara James.  All rights reserved.