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



​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.


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.



Secondary Characters: Going Deeper into Connected Books

Almost a year ago, I wrote an essay about how connected books have arisen for me as a writer: link. Has it been that long? This has been on my mind because I have been tweeting about secondary characters recently. This essay develops my ideas further.

Main characters don’t exist in a vacuum, they have lives and friends they interact with. These secondary characters inspire me to consider writing their stories. Thus, I envisioned four books in the sweet and sensuous series, staring off with a Coast Guardsman going to college, starting over, and getting married: Rick and Annelise.

The other heroes and heroines are relatives and friends of the couple who were all members of the wedding party, like Roger and Denise.

Here, I want to consider the role of secondary characters in helping develop the main characters’ story, and their role in providing a bridge to their own stories. Because connected books have a collection of key characters, they are in an out of each other’s lives. They have a history, and it’s beautiful. These foundations provide a basis for rich and deep interactions.

How else to demonstrate what the hero or heroine is like than to show them in contexts where they interact with the people they are closest to? How else to show their growth and development, and especially as they grow from one book to the next? Who else is going to give the main characters support as they journey into their happily ever after?

I’m a pantser writer, not a plotter. So it’s impossible for me to imagine down to the tiniest detail, all the aspects of a story’s plot from beginning to end, including the subsequent stories in a series. If I took that path, I would never write, as I would get caught up in minute details that need not get hashed out so early.

If I took that path, I would have probably written all four novels then published them after years and years of work. But that isn’t me, if I work hard, I want to see the immediate results of my work!

So in Rick’s book, the secondary characters were there, I knew who they were, and I had a sense of their personalities. But they were not as well developed, and that was fine with me. It would have been too much, I think, to work at developing them to the point that they might have overshadowed the main characters. Beyond that, they weren’t talking to me, so I didn’t know much about them!

As I was finishing Rick and Annelise’s book, Roger and Denise were the ones I was hearing from. Now it was time for Rick and Annelise to become secondary characters. But they were fairly well developed. I just needed to have them around, and it happened naturally. Denise was Annelise’s younger sister, and Rick was Rogers’ good friend. Both couples were bound to meet up in different ways, visiting each other, and spending the holidays with their families.

My current work in progress, the third book, takes place right after Rick and Annelise’s wedding. Lauren was partnered with Don, but Rick and Annelise were already on their honeymoon and unavailable for conversation and support. So who else might offer that support? The secondary characters who will star in their own novels in the future.

So Roger is a key secondary character here. The fun part is that his book takes place a year or two after the wedding, so he is pretty well developed, but I’m showing him in a different way. In addition, it gives the reader a sense of what he was doing in the meantime, and especially since I alluded to it in his book. Lauren and Don had gotten married, Roger knew about it, but Denise didn’t.

What is interesting is that I get to address earlier interactions that Roger was fully a part of in his book, but from a different perspective, Don’s. I even had them say some of the same things in the current novel, giving a hint at what was going to happen in Roger’s book! In any interaction, each person will have a different perspective, remembering and emphasizing different things. So I know what Roger thought. What did Don think? What did he notice or remember?

Kim is a key secondary character as well. Through her interactions with Lauren, I’m getting  a better sense of who she is, and what her story should look like. That is important, because I will need to have a blurb about her book to put in at the end of Lauren’s book. As a matter of fact, I just had a breakthrough moment this morning, when things came together regarding her.

One crucial point is that it’s so important to know the stories, inside and out. How did I describe Don in book one? What was Kim like then? Lauren? Will my development of them in their own books and as secondary characters match that? I recently caught myself in what could have been major mistakes, some discrepancies since book one. On a developmental editing level, what I had in mind for Kim’s story in her own book didn’t match how she was presenting herself in Lauren’s book.

It’s one thing to catch mistakes, but if I’m making changes, I better have a darn good reason and explanation why.

The writers’ life: detail oriented and creative. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

Third Party Retailers: Piracy and Counterfeiting on Amazon

I’ve gone down the rabbit hole this morning, reading with curiosity reports about piracy and counterfeiting by third party retailers on Amazon.

It all began when I googled “Amazon third party sellers and piracy.”

Apparently this is a major problem, involving Amazon’s sale of all types of products, and not just books. This happens, even though Amazon has an anti-counterfeiting policy.

But since I am a writer, this is what I’ll focus upon.

Book piracy can arise in numerous ways, as indicated by a recent lawsuit brought against publishers of college textbooks.

It was clear to the buyers that the third party vendors were selling counterfeits. Pages were missing, and the copying was poor. In all likelihood, someone took a copy of the book, photocopied it, and then offered it for sale.

How else might piracy happen?

An indie writer makes a book available for e-book or print purchase. Upon looking at the report for sales and royalty payments for the print books, there is a discrepancy:  more print books are available for sale than were officially sold by the authorized print book dealer. Or, some retailer claims it has e-books available for sale through some unknown outlet.

Where are these other books coming from? I would imagine they were pirated e copies that were being resold in electronic or print form. It’s possible they might not even be copies of the books themselves, but something else altogether, and definitely not what the customers ordered.

We should all be checking our books regularly to see where they are being sold, and how. Readers should only purchase from authorized sellers. Both publishers and authors should explain quite clearly who the authorized sellers are.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.

A reflection: reading my assigned books for the Romance Writers Association-RITA Contest

This was my first time participating in the RWA-RITA contest.  I was surprised by this, but participants submit their books and are required to judge other contestants’ books. That wasn’t what I expected. I imagined a panel of judges would judge all submissions.

But because the RWA has elements of a peer-to-peer program of writers learning from each other and mentoring each other, it makes sense.

I looked forward to reading my assigned books, and it was great, getting exposed to new authors and new genres. I was inspired to look for other books written by the authors I liked the most, and especially if I had been thinking about writing in their genre.

However, readers can indicate up to two categories (I believe) of books they would not be able to read, for personal readings, no need to explain. I indicated one category, but in retrospect I should have submitted two, since I had too many books in a category that I tend not to read, with a few exceptions.

Submissions can be sent in by mainstream authors (those who work with traditional publishers) or those who are independent (self-published).

Ever since I began my latest writing career as an independent writer, I have sensed an unstated tension between the two groups.

Regarding stereotypes about independent authors, are they hacks who undermine the publishing industry? Are they mere amateurs not to be taken seriously? Are they failures who couldn’t make it in the mainstream?

Review any random mainstream publishers for their submissions’ web pages. Do editors lock out certain types of authors based upon their stereotypes about genres and the market? Because editors’ views set the tone for what will be considered, it is important to find the right editor/publisher/agent.

When I read books by indie authors that didn’t seem well edited or proofread, I was troubled that they were fulfilling the stereotypes about a lack of professionalism. Everyone had an editor, but was it a developmental editor or a copy editor? Were proofreaders consulted?

Publishers pay all those costs up front, and traditional authors are only paid afterwards. That might be complicated if the author had been paid an advance. Authors might not see any royalties until the advance is covered through sales.

But independent authors pay all their expenses themselves, and so I can understand a desire to minimize costs. Professionals can be expensive, and no writer can ever be sure of sales and whether expenses will be recouped.  But the investment is worth it, I would argue.

Our words matter and our writing is our legacy. Make it a good one.

Copyright Barbara James. All rights reserved.