I recently attended the book launch party for my friend’s first published book. Several other writers also attended, along with many of her friends and relatives. We all were happy to celebrate her first book sale. Indirectly, I think it also served to reaffirm our connections within the romance writing community.
I think I can speak for the others in saying we enjoyed being there very much. Many of the writers attending the book launch, like myself, have not yet been published. But that didn’t matter. We were all happy for our friend. When one of us succeeds, it is almost as though all of us succeed. No group is happier to celebrate when one of our own finally makes it.
I have noticed this tends to be true with all romance writers, not just my small group. Romance writers as a whole tend to be a close-knit group, more so than I have noticed with other types of writing. The genre or career level doesn’t matter. I have seen paranormal romance writers sharing writing tips with inspirational writers, and I have seen multi-published authors celebrate a new writer’s first sale. There are no egos or “I’m too busy/important/jealous” attitudes getting in the way. No matter what one of us needs – a critique of a scene, a pat on the back, a friendly kick in the pants – we can get it from the other writers.
This camaraderie makes me very glad I am a romance writer, because it enables me to surround myself with great, supportive people. My friend with the new book out writes Biblical fiction. Others in our local group write young adult, paranormal, romantic suspense, historical – nearly everything you can think of in the romance arena. Yet we all joyfully spent a weekend afternoon rejoicing with her at her book launch party. We all knew how much time and effort went into that first book sale, and how much she deserved to celebrate it. And that someday, after our continued hard work and perseverance, she would help us celebrate our first sales. Because that’s what romance writers do.
Since I enjoy history so much, I like to look at past events and think about how they affect us today. This week marks an anniversary of one of the biggies – the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, which resulted in William, the Duke of Normandy, becoming William, King of England, in 1066. There were so many things which occurred as a result of this battle, it is difficult to think of them all.
Once William was in power, he took steps to firmly establish his dominance. Castles were the most visible reminder. After he took the land away from Anglo-Saxon owners and gave it to favored Normans, he and the new nobles ensured their control by introducing and building massive stone defensive structures, some of which are still dotted about the British countryside. (And which play a prominent role in the medieval romances I love to read.)
A tutorial provided by the BBC made me think of other less drastic ways the country changed. For example, something as simple as your name was a clear indicator of whether you had Anglo-Saxon or Norman origins. Very quickly, the old names like Godric or Leofric or Edith were replaced with Norman names like William (of course) or Richard or Alice. Some people gave the ingratiating names to their children; other people didn’t wait but changed their own name to something more Norman-sounding.
Anglo-Saxon men had time to think about what new Norman name to choose while they were getting their hair cut. Saxon men typically had much longer hair, including facial hair. Norman men usually had shorter hair and were clean-shaven. So a Saxon man who wanted to blend in wouldn’t just change his name, he would change his look.
But the Saxon man could at least console himself with a glass of wine after he lost his flowing locks. While there was always plenty of mead to drink in pre-William England, wine was not common. The Normans appreciated a good glass of wine, and it didn’t take long for wine to replace mead as the drink of choice. (Something many people today appreciate, I am sure.)
Whether drinking mead or wine, people in England had many more words to use when conversing with friends over a glass. The Normans introduced thousands of words into the English language, resulting in the sometimes confusing but always interesting mix of words available today. (Something I, as a writer, can definitely appreciate.)
This only brushes the surface of changes wrought in England after the Battle of Hastings, but hopefully provides food for thought. (I’ll briefly acknowledge there were also countless brutal and painful occurrences, but those are best left for another day. So many centuries have turned since 1066, it isn’t appropriate to judge what men did back then based on modern sensitivities.) When I think of the many events in the succeeding eras which have flowed from this one battle, I can only try to imagine what all of our lives would be like if the battle had never occurred.
I attended the wedding of a good friend’s daughter last night, and I couldn’t help thinking a wedding perfectly encapsulates why so many of us enjoy reading romances. Whether historical or contemporary, romance stories show two realistic people we are predisposed to like struggling to accomplish very important goals, and give us the opportunity to celebrate with them when they grow and change and finally achieve their happily-ever-after. The planning period for a wedding is equally fraught with goals to achieve, motivation for all of them, and of course plenty of conflict.
We start with two perfectly sympathetic characters – the bride and groom, otherwise known as our hero and heroine. Most of us are automatically inclined to like a young couple in love, so right away we readers care about what happens to them. The moment this couple decides to wed is amazingly similar to when our hero and heroine meet for the first time, because planning a wedding instantly catapults our young couple into a whole new world.
Which brings us to their GMC. Anyone who has ever planned a wedding can come up with a long list of Goals to accomplish. There’s the need to find a venue, pick a date, determine the wedding size, find the perfect dress, the cake… the list never seems to end. For the bride and groom, each of these goals is integral to reaching the ultimate goal – their perfect wedding day.
And each of these mini-goals comes with its own built in Conflict. Will it be a destination wedding or somewhere local? If our hero and heroine don’t live in the same hometown, then whose family will be offended when they learn the wedding isn’t to be held in their hometown? Ruffled feathers will need to be smoothed. Settling on the size of the wedding and the number of people to invite is like tiptoeing across a field covered in land mines. No matter how small the couple might want to keep the wedding, there are invariably people the parents think “must” be invited. How many of us have seen a wedding mushroom to twice the size originally planned? These are just a couple of the major hurdles our couple must cross. There’s plenty of conflict to go around, right?
Through all of this, the bride and groom, like any good hero and heroine, must keep their Motivation in mind. They want to spend the rest of their lives together, but that will never happen if they can’t get through the wedding planning first. So they learn when to grit their teeth or compromise, and what is too important to let someone else choose. In other words, they learn life lessons and grow as people and move along that character arc we like to see in well-written stories. And like any good hero and heroine, they eventually reach their happily-ever-after when their wedding day dawns.
So here’s to weddings. Here’s to stories about believable characters who deal with challenges, but have the courage and optimism to do so, and ultimately reach their reward.
And here’s to my good friend’s daughter and her new husband.
May they enjoy their happily-ever-after for the rest of their lives.
I spent some time today looking at comments I received on stories I entered in romance contests earlier this year. Two things struck me as I read, lessons I’ll share with you here.
The first lesson is that it will probably always be a little nerve-wracking to open a file and start reading some stranger’s opinions about one of my babies. Even though I was very happy with how I did in the contests (I finaled in all five contests I entered, which made me pretty giddy at the time), I still held my breath.
However awkward it might feel, though, it is an important step to take. The judges who read my stories had some insightful comments for me. Two of the stories I entered were still drafts, and I knew they weren’t quite right, but hadn’t sorted out yet where they went wrong. These judges pointed out things which never occurred to me. I guess the stories are always so clear in my head, yet I still don’t always get it all down on the page for readers to see it just as clearly. People who haven’t sweated and bled the story with us can give us an objective opinion on what it needs. Let’s just say, I had a couple of “ah-ha!” moments this morning.
This leads me to my second observation as I read the contest results. God bless contest judges! Whether judging historical, contemporary, paranormal, or any other category – they all deserve gold stars. I have judged writing contests in the past, and I know how much time it takes to provide good comments. There is a delicate balance between providing enough useful (but not hurtful) information to help the entrant improve their story – and bludgeoning them with too much of our own opinions. Sharing suggestions in a way which is constructive without sounding overbearing (or without rewriting the story) takes time and tact.
So I am very, very grateful to the unnamed people who took the time to judge my stories and to provide me with their expertise. Thank you for taking the additional time to not only write helpful comments on the scoresheets, but to also point out examples within the entry. For me, the time you spent was well worth it. I am using your critiques to improve my stories – which hopefully will be apparent in future contest results.
I write historical romances, and I invite you to share the journey to published author with me.