Welcome, November!

So we are now in November and the end of the year is drawing close. A second wave of Covid19 infections is on it way, so we really are in a new normal, Covidtide life.

So Halloween came, but there isn’t much trick-or-treating around here anyway. The bigger thing for me has been to remember (Protestant) Reformation Day, October 31. I remember the 500th anniversary was a few years ago in 2017. A lot of books got published commemorating it. Thus, more books to read this time of year. I’ve been reading one of Diarmaid MacCullough’s books: link. He talks about all the reformations of the period.

Then All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day as we remembered all those who have died. There is a song that I always remember during this time, I sing a song of the saints: link.

In honor of Reformation Day, I was thinking my characters in both my works in progress need to reference faith in some way that reaffirms their sense of Protestant identity.

So how has the writing been coming along? As I’ve been making progress with my critique group, I’ve been thinking about how much I’ve revised so far and the “saggy middle” in novel-writing. It’s referred to as a point in the writing process when things slow down because there might be less tension before things pick up again: link.

Gwen Hayes notwithstanding–link, beat sheets can be tough–I’m too much of a pantser as compared to a plotter, but I think I can avoid the problems of the “sagginess” if i think about the manuscript in one third segments. I want to make sure I have strong tensions in each of the three.

I’ll have to miss some writers’ group meetings this month. It’s a major conflict that’s keeping me away, a church conference for my district, and I have to be there. Zoom can only handle one call at a time, and so it goes.

What else is going on? My altar ego, “bookish” me (as per my twitter bio) is reading, of course. Not only the inspirational romances I mentioned last month, but a number of other ones.

Susan Wiggs’ book was great as a women’s fiction novel with strong romantic elements. A woman loses her mother and fiance in the same plane crash just as her grandfather, her last surviving relative, develops dementia. A real tear-jerker. She finds a happily ever after with the contractor determined to help her save the house and bookstore that has been in her family for generations: link.

The applications are in for RWA Academic Grants Committee. I look forward to reading the proposals.

What about the other books? The guys with swords? My husband likes military historical fiction, so we read the two books by Ben Kane. The one with the stained glass window, I’m thinking of reading it for December: link. Advent takes place the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I see it as the real beginning of the Christmas season.

And yet, I’m on the verge of finishing my Reformation book, so what will I read until then? I was thinking that in honor of All Saints Day, I might read A Great Cloud of Witnesses for the entire month: link!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

FALL IN LOVE WITH AUTUMN – RWA NYC BLOG HOP

My local RWA chapter is going a blog hop of authors showcasing scenes from their books that evoke autumn: link.

Here is a scene from Getting Out of the Comfort Zone: Ayanna, available on Amazon. Ayanna and Todd went to a fall arts and crafts festival.

_______________________

Todd was whistling as he walked back to the meeting spot. Ayanna was already there, clutching a plastic bag.

“Hey, what do you have there?”

“Scarves.”

He peered into the bag when she opened it. “Very pretty and colorful.”

“So what about you? What did you get? What’s in the cylinder?”

“Oh nothing. It might be something for my mom.”

Ayanna giggled as she made to snatch it from him. “If it’s nothing, let me see!”

He held it away from her but brought her close for a kiss. “If and when I say so!”

She grumbled. “Okay, I’ll hold you to it.”

He chuckled. “Please do.”

Smiling, he tugged her along then winked as he started up the car to take her back home.

Todd was carrying both his cylinder and Ayanna’s shopping bag when they returned to her apartment. Once they got inside, he put her bag on the counter.

She looked at the cylinder and teased. “I guess it isn’t really for your mom. You brought it inside.”

“It still could be, you know. Why not open it?”

Ayanna studied it for a bit, then took off the cap and began shaking it. Todd watched while she picked up the poster.

“Now what’s this?” Unrolling it, she studied each section as it unfurled. It was a silhouette of an African woman on a red and green background. She was wearing a head wrap and had a baby by her side while she carried a rifle. Putting the poster on the table, Ayanna put her hands to her face and began weeping silently.

Todd hugged her to him and stroked her hair. “Do you like it?”

She gasped. “Todd, this is amazing.” She broke free from his embrace and picked up the poster. “You understand, Todd. You really understand.”

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Happy October!

So what’s new this month? Well, it began with a bang. I’ve been a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, but I never could connect with my local chapter and attend monthly meetings.

The first thing is that the meeting place was far away. The second is that their meetings took place right before my local Romance Writers of America chapter meetings.

But once again, with the quarantine, things have changed drastically. The blessing is that even though the two meetings took place back to back, from 10-12 and 12-3 on Saturday, I could attend each, because we met by Zoom. It was a simple matter of clicking links and getting into each meeting’s “room,” so to speak.

With this new connection, I’ll have even more people to talk to about writing, and that’s always good.

So how’s the writing going otherwise?

I’m preparing for my next critique group meeting with members from my local RWA chapter on my latest manuscript. When I was learning more and more about the different types of Anglicans last month, I felt inspired to write a non-fiction essay on how I see my Anglicanism growing during this Covidtide. I’ve submitted it for publication. I have ideas for at least one other essay.

As for reading, did I mention that I’ve liked Toni Shiloh’s latest series? It’s about three young African American women and their friendships as they each find their happily ever afters: link. I then discovered she will write for Harlequin’s Love Inspired, but her book won’t come out until February: link. It’s on my wish list! The next installment of Pat Simmons’ Family is Forever series is available: link. I’m the second person on my library’s waiting list. I should get it in a month.

Aren’t these covers so pretty?

Oh, and I’ve been reading for our chapter’s contest, plus I’ll be on the RWA committee assessing grants for academics who want to do research then write scholarly articles and books on romance novels and writers.

Happy Halloween later this month. I tend to wear an orange jacket and earrings with a spooky scarf!

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Twitter, writing, and me

external-content.duckduckgo.comHappy September! Twitter on social media is such a great place for me, insofar as I have made connections for writing community. From the simple 5amwritersclub hashtag where I post updates and learn how others are doing, to the more profound.

Yesterday was the more profound day. It began with me simply checking Twitter for my daily updates. There are a number of people on there that I like to hear from, because they are often talking about interesting things.

One tweet was a post describing a quiz; see the link, what type of Anglican are you?

I was inordinately curious. My people, talking about Anglicanism? So of course, I took the quiz to learn more, and was I ever blown away at how knowledgeable the creator of the quiz was about Anglicans, our liturgical preferences and dispositions. All of his observations were grounded in a firm understanding of the movements within Anglicanism and the key thinkers within each.

Needless, to say, I spent the day reading and researching. I looked through my books on theology and church history. I borrowed Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, to get a stronger sense of how some of the earlier debates played out within Anglicanism.

But how does this affect my writing? Well, my latest heroine is in a new ministry situation. It makes me wonder, what kind of Anglican might she be? Perhaps she will tell me as we continue on our revisions.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

 

 

Hot Summer!

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My romance writer’s chapter is hosting a hot summer this August, of excerpts from our novels: link.

Here is Ayanna’s: link.

_______________________

Todd didn’t even think. He just reached out to hug her. “You feel bad.”

Her voice wobbled. “Yes. But angry too.”

“I’m sure you have had difficult cases before this. But this is different.”

“It is.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

Sitting back, he reached for her hands. “Perhaps you should think about it, perhaps even do a reflection.”

Ayanna looked down at their clasped hands. “I’d be embarrassed to.”

He reached up to touch her face and hair. “It’s hard having to be tough all the time, and you probably hate that you feel vulnerable.”

She didn’t look at him. “Maybe.”

“Beyond that, I can guess. Something about identity, how you feel about where you are in life, your place in the world? You will need to process this anyway.”

“Perhaps.” She nodded. “Yes. But not for the class, though. Too private.”

Todd didn’t know what came over him. He began kissing her.

Ayanna whispered. “Oh . . . what?”

Todd could sense Ayanna’s surprise, but it felt so right. He couldn’t believe how passionately she was kissing him. Before he knew it, he had gotten off his chair and was kneeling in front of her and running his hands all over her as she hugged him, grabbed his hair, traced the tattoo on his upper arm and clutched at his uniform.

Todd felt Ayanna shudder after they came up for air. He hugged her and kissed her hair.

“Todd, I don’t know what came over me.” She put her hands into her face and looked away. “Um, should I apologize?”

Todd burst out laughing as he got up. “Maybe I should be the one to do so. I just felt like comforting you.”

“It was a distraction. I must admit I didn’t mind it.”

“That’s what I hoped. As for apologizing, are you for real? You don’t need to apologize for anything, but we do need to talk.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Wrong answer.”

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Barbara James loves writing sweet and inspirational contemporary romances.  Visit her at http://www.barbarajames.net.

My latest read

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It’s been a while since I posted a specific book review instead of just noting that I’ve been reading. But this book, Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams, seemed important enough to get its own book review: link, and blog post.

Queenie is going into free fall. She just broke up with her boyfriend Tom even as she miscarried a pregnancy neither of them knew about.

In order to get over him, she decides to go on a rebound rampage, having sex with whatever guys who want her, in the name of improving her self esteem and in support of what seems to be her feminist sexual empowerment.

But she goes further into free fall as the guys she has sex with see her as nothing more than a sex object that they can pump, dump, and even abuse. But she tells herself she likes the rough sex they offer her, even as she feels terrible because she isn’t getting the emotional intimacy she craves.

Queenie approaches rock bottom after showing up several times at the sexual health clinic because she is worried about STDS–none of her partners practice safe sex. Her health care provider is concerned that she is being abused sexually or even prostituted, but Queenie denies it. Even as she denies it, the health care provider gives her a referral to see a therapist.

Queenie goes further into the pit when her boss puts her on a leave of absence because she is becoming erratic at work and one of the men who had sex with her–a coworker named Ted who came onto her hot and heavy–files a sexual harassment claim as though she had been the one harassing him.

I felt for her as a reader as I could see the downward spiral she was in from the beginning, but I couldn’t help but wonder why she was adapting feminist models of empowerment that did nothing for her as an Afro-Caribbean British woman of Jamaican descent. The discussion group guide didn’t address this. Yet, it’s clear that feminism and black lives matter is a strong component of Queenie’s consciousness.

My heart broke when she said she thought she deserved the treatment she experienced.

For those reasons, the book was a difficult read, and I even wondered whether the author was celebrating Queenie’s lifestyle choices, until I recalled the epigraph dedicated to the “Queenies.” It seems the author was critiquing the realities that shaped Queenie’s experiences, but I thought she could have done more.

Black women have always talked about the significance of sexual domination in feminist theory–there are too many thinkers to recount here–but Queenie, as a 20-something, doesn’t seem versed in them. I suppose that has to do with the reality of where feminist theory has been developing, third wave choice and power feminism. Whatever makes a woman feel empowered is feminist, and without any critique or judgment.

I can’t help but think that if Queenie had other feminist tools, she would have gotten some insights much earlier, to critique the choices she was making and why.

It was only through her therapy sessions that we learn of the abuse she experienced as a child and the abuse of her mother that she observed which led her down this path. Her mother was a single mom; her father was a married man who never told her mother he had a wife. Her mom then found a boyfriend who abused both of them.

Queenie associates black men with abandonment and abuse at the same time the white men (and one Asian man) she has sex with see her as a side piece while they date and marry other women (white and Asian) whom they respect and value more.

Queenie’s healing and redemption came through in the end when she could grow through talk therapy as she continued to rely on the support of her family and best female friends. She removed the toxicity in her life–refusing to date another prejudiced white man; getting Ted fired; and finally removing Tom’s contact from her phone.

I liked learning more about Black British culture, as I thought about the parallels to Black culture in the U.S., and especially as it related to the Afro-Caribbean diaspora and the significance of Brixton, the London neighborhood where Queenie’s Jamaican grandparents had strong ties.

With respect to the faith background of Queenie’s family, they are Roman Catholic, but it’s only a strong component among the members of the earlier generations. Even that made me wonder, though. How might she have been helped through her family’s faith tradition? Could Roman Catholicism have offered a critique of her feminist perspectives? So even though Queenie isn’t an inspirational romance, it’s a valuable read as an example of modern chick lit within women’s fiction.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Happy August!

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Either you see August as the middle of summer or the end of it, with school starting soon, even though most people see the real end of summer as taking place in September with Labor Day.

So what is striking about this August? I’ve never seen an August so fraught with anxiety as schools talk about how to begin this new academic year. At least that is what the media tells us.

When I talk to the people I know who have school-aged and college-aged children, they seem eager to return to normal.

But what will that normal look like? That is where there are differences between the anxious and the “go with the flow” folks. People with the time and energy to find out what is going on can seem lackadaisical when they seem to be doing nothing. They are just waiting to hear what the school authorities will do and they will follow. I’m definitely with the anxious folks with no eagerness at all to return to normal.

So what’s up with me nowadays? Well, it occurred to me that it’s been almost a year since I began workshopping Austin’s book to get feedback. After my last critique session a few months ago, I used his manuscript in a self-editing class, and I think I’ve done enough with him for now. I’d rather get more feedback regarding the next work in progress, because it’s newer. I just finished the first draft earlier this year. So I recently made the edits based upon the latest feedback and prepared for the next round of critique sessions.

So it’s time for Austin and Natasha to take a trip to the editor. I’m helping them pack. Smile.

Some new characters are starting to talk to me. I think I need to start thinking about character interviews and even book proposals.

My local RWA chapter will meet online through the rest of the year. I’m liking this, because it’s just so much more convenient, plus there are people we hardly see. With the Zoom conference calls, they are finally able to make our meetings.

Otherwise? I’ve been reading. Check me out on Goodreads: link.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

RWA-NYC Blog Tour

Check out the books written by our chapter members: link.blog-tour-july-badge

Here is an excerpt from Reaching the End Zone: Suzette, in honor of the RWA-NYC blog tour this week.

Her book is available on Amazon: link.

The setting: Suzette and Bobby had just gotten married earlier in the day.

___________________________________________________________Suzette compressed 3

Bobby sat on the couch and watched where Suzette was sitting on the bed in their room at the 1300 Beacon Inn. They were staying for the night with a flight out of Logan in the morning.

She kicked off her shoes and stretched out her feet. “Bobby, I think I’m drunk!”

Now this is going to get very interesting and real soon. He walked over to her. “Is that so?”

“Yesh, booze, I think.” She nodded emphatically. “Food, too. Toasts, lots of toasts. Dancin. Shreamin.”

“Oh yes, that song by Usher. You were screaming when I took you onto the dance floor.”

She stretched and moved her head back and forth.

He sat next to her, put his arms around her, and looked into her face. “Testing to make sure how you feel?”

“I think so. Tipsy?” She was practically leering at him.

Bobby grinned. He had never seen Suzette like this before. What an adventure being married was going to be! “So, what do you want to do about it?”

“I dunno.” She got up and waddled over to the mirror. Twirling, she studied herself. “My hair. Looks very, very pretty.”

“It does.”

“Want to mess it up?”

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Happy Fourth of July Weekend!

Eve49659618n though social distancing restrictions are being lifted in my community, we are still living in a pandemic, so I’m content to be a homebody in the midst of the celebrations.

So what have I been up to? I began this book as a Morning Prayer reading project during Eastertide. I just finished this morning, the 5th Sunday after Pentecost.

The individual chapters are the book’s greatest strengths. Each writer discusses their unique struggles of a call to ministry that can involve engagement with the greater world outside of the walls of the church.

The editors Timothy Keller and John Inazu’s conclusion points to three means of engagement, each of which leads to challenges: defensive against; purity from; relevant to.

This discussion pushes me to think about how I see myself as a writer, to engage with the world on my own terms, drawing upon my own perspectives: inspirational romance.

Copyright Barbara James, all rights reserved.