Happy New Year!

I hope your pile of books2019 was fantastic and that 2020 will be great as well.

So what have I been up to lately in my writing life? I haven’t been doing much reading, but much has been happening otherwise.

Ayanna is doing well. I’m happy to see that she is out in the world: link.

I just heard from the proofreader who read the draft of the latest work in progress. Suzette was a secondary character in Ayanna’s book, as was her hero, Bobby.

I’m looking forward to getting them ready for publication.

I presented Austin, the hero of my next work in progress about five months ago at a CIMRWA workshop that took place during the RWA conference in New York City. I blogged about what that felt like: link.

I imagined his book would be a novella, but he explained to me quite clearly that he was not going to be one. It was a full fledged novel he wanted. Since I’m his scribe, I have complied. So I have his latest draft which I’m working on.

The hero and heroine of the next book have been giving me snippets of their story. I think they want Austin to play a central role. That was clear to me when they kept showing up in Austin’s story.

So I have work to do.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

What am I reading when I’m not reading romance?

I like books that help people understand themselves, their growth and their development. Psychology and self-help books are the best in that regard.

I suppose my interest came from liking Psychology 101 in college which I then followed up with more advanced classes on personal development across the lifespan.

So where am I seeing books like that today?

A wonderful one I found was Grit by Angela Duckworth: link. She argues we are led to believe that achievement comes through talent. But her claim is that hard work and discipline matters more. Nora Roberts, the romance writer, once described it as “putting the butt in the chair.”

That is exactly what Duckworth is arguing. We need to put in the work in order to achieve. The hours of practice spur the determination in our will to succeed above and beyond whatever talents we might have. That is certainly required of writers, because it’s a profession where they each work alone, slogging away for hours at an end towards an end result, a finished product to be proud of.

As for the other book I like, I thoroughly enjoy the explanations the Meyers Briggs (MBTI) personality assessments make of our individual types. There is a great book that talks about how personality traits can be useful in career satisfaction: link. I bought the book in paperback years ago. I liked it so much I bought it again in e-book format, just so that I can always refer to it on my e-reader whenever I feel like it.

With respect to romance reading, I read Maggie Blackbird, Redeemed: link.

There is good news on the writing front! One manuscript is with the copy editor. Another is with the proofreader.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Research: Developing Characters and Assessing Developments in the Genre

I submitted an earlier version of each of these essays for my chapter’s newsletter:

Research: Authenticating our Characters’ Experiences

My interest in research in the writing process stems from my own personal experience. I admit, I’m biased. I used to be an academic in a field where research was paramount. Everything I wrote had to have a strong basis in research before I could tell the story had on my mind. Without research, the story I was telling would not have been credible. As a result of my experience, research is no big deal for me.

Granted our stories are fantasies, but they are based in the human condition as indicated by their time and place. Because of my interest in contemporary romances, my fantasy world is based in what is happening in the here and now.

So I believe research authenticates our characters’ experiences. My character interviews help me get inside their heads to give me a sense of what they are like: their personalities, their worlds, the people they know and connect with. I can only know about them if I do research that firmly grounds me in the world as it exists for them.

They tell me who they are and I find out what they need. As I learn about them, I learn and grow as well.

For example, in a recent case, I did a lot of work doing intense research on a matter that was challenging for me. It was tough emotionally, but I needed to go there, in order to delve into my character’s feelings. What she might have been experiencing.

So I don’t believe there is such a thing as too much research, unless you think research is a time waster! Any research is useful if it helps make our characters seem like real people with experiences that make them who they are. Even if you think the research can’t be used, the knowledge gained from your work matters if it gives you confidence to write your characters well. What can’t be used can be set aside for future use in a different book.

Happy researching!

Reading Within and Across Subgenres: Another Type of Research?

Although I write contemporary romances with sweet and inspirational edges, I read widely across subgenres. In a similar vein, I’m a member of various on-line RWA chapters where I can connect to other writers and not only within the genres that interest me.

When I was at the RWA, I attended a panel held by a group of writers who are experts in a field that provides context for one of my current heroines. One of the panelists gave out copies of her book. Only two of them interested me. What an amazing gift what was! I devoured them in days. Her books could have easily been research for me on the inner workings of her field of expertise, but I realized I didn’t need as much information as she had, and that was fine. I could enjoy stories about characters similar to my heroine.

I read widely because reading is no longer something I do just for fun. I’m a writer, so I want to know about what is happening in the field, and especially when I read controversial essays, Facebook posts and tweets. I don’t always respond, because the emotional energy required to get involved in those debates would drain me. But I’m aware.

What do I learn then when I read so widely?

I sense the conventions in the subgenres, whether or not I agree with them. I learn what editors and publishers want to see when they sign and promote the authors in their catalogues. I see how indie writers are writing independently of that whole process.

But I also believe I become a better writer when I read. Reading another writer’s book, I assess the effectiveness of the editorial process. Did this indie writer have a developmental editor? What about copy editors and proofreaders? Do publishers seem to do a good job on behalf of their writers?

I don’t always leave reviews on Amazon, so I’m more likely to make note of the books I’ve read on Goodreads.

Reading also gives me a chance to explore my own writing. I was never part of the fan fiction movement, but I have heard of it since becoming a romance writer. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist trying to write in the subgenre after finishing a novel I read recently. I really enjoyed it, but similar to other reviewers, I thought the book was too short. Drawing upon my eye for critique based upon the work I’ve done with my developmental editors, I noticed a big gap where the author could have done a better job at developing a scene. I decided to try a rebuild of it. Now this wasn’t something I wrote for public consumption. It was about wanting to try a different style of writing.

As I continue revising and doing line edits of my latest manuscript, I’m thinking more and more of my research–the critiques I’ve developed from assessing the books I have been reading.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

#RWA19 reflections: my characters confront me at the RWA conference


I was taking a break sitting in the eighth floor lobby of the Marriott Marquis and reflecting upon what I learned during the course of the workshops I attended, when I heard a voice.

“Ms. James?”

I looked up. A young man was standing nearby my chair. He looked vaguely familiar but didn’t have a name tag.

He put down his Starbucks mug and extended his hand. “Hi, it’s Austin.”

I studied him and noticed that he looked as I imagined, but I was creeped out to see him. What was he doing there?

As though he read my mind, he answered. “Well, you created me, but when you began to talk about me, you brought me to life.”

I was dumbfounded. “I brought you to life?”

“Yes, you did! All those chats with the ladies who had suggestions on how to make me better, that’s how it happened.”

“You were at the workshop when we discussed your first chapter?”

“I was.” He took a sip of his coffee. “They were right you know. Your ideas about my story being shorter than the other ones? Not a good idea.”


“I have a lot of things to say, people to meet, things to do. So my story needs to be longer.”

I looked around. “Is Natasha here?”

“No, she said that since this is my story, she didn’t have to show up. Maybe she wants to be surprised.” He grinned. “She will come around eventually.”

Since he talked about the other books, I asked whether he knew the main characters.

“Of course I know them. They are here, just like me, and they want to talk to you.”

Suddenly, his phone pinged. He took it out of his pocket and checked for a text.

“They’re on their way.” He held up his hand. “But not Helena and Leon. They said it’s too soon.” He brought some chairs closer to where we were sitting.

Ayanna and Todd were the first to appear. They looked well put together, since I worked with them after they had their session with the developmental editor. Bobby and Suzette looked less certain and secure, since I read the editor’s report but didn’t have a chance to meet with them.

I felt overwhelmed as I reached for my notebook. I was in for some heavy duty note taking.

“Okay guys, I’m listening.”

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.


How has your summer been?

I just realized that it has been two months since I last posted! Where on earth has the time gone? Who knows.

Well things have been well, with some vacation time in the midst of this summer. The heat has been bad a few days, but otherwise the summer has been a good one.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading, since it’s always good to keep up with what’s happening in the field. I’ve been reading books on Overdrive, but I’ve noticed that my libraries are requiring a Kindle account in order to download books. If there’s no Kindle, the books can only be read as a web page.

I wish I knew what that’s about.

Ordination season was last month. I was on board for that, looking for more inspiration for my current work in progress! So that was fun. This work in progress is the third in the series. The second one was in developmental editing, so I have to get back to it eventually, and the first will be in copy editing soon. Talk about a balancing act and juggling!

Otherwise, the Romance Writers Association annual conference will take place soon, and the authors who are attending are feverishly preparing, as per all I’m seeing in my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

The big question, how much can I get done before the conference takes place?

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Editing as I Write: A Good Foundation for Revising?

I’ve noticed something with this latest work in progress. It seems I spent a lot more time editing than usual, insofar as I was editing as I wrote.

I wrote scenes then agonized over them as I looked for problems in diction, punctuation, point of view, and paragraph markers, including quotes for characters’ voices. I wrote chapters then looked for inconsistencies and plot holes. I spent a lot of time reviewing my first three chapters, since those are the ones that tend to draw readers in. I also got some feedback from a chapter member who was glad to take a look at my first twenty to thirty pages.

It seems that all this foundational work has made my revisions easier, but without sacrificing my writing time.

I made note when I began writing, a few days after I had my outline ready to go. I was proceeding at a reasonable clip until I needed to take a break because I was dealing with some real world matters that took me away from my writer’s life and my imaginary friends. Even then, the delays didn’t set me back. I finished the first draft at a time similar enough to when I finished the previous works in progress. My typical goal is to have the first draft done within four to six months.

Another important point is that I haven’t yet gone forward with publishing the first of the two latest works in progress. That has been helpful towards the revision process for this current manuscript. The two books are connected, so I have to make sure that I get all the details correct and avoid inconsistencies along with plot holes from one book to the next.

It will be interesting to see what my developmental editor has to say.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.