Daddy's Christmas Angel

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Writing the Romance Novel, How Things Have Changed

It seems I've been writing books forever. For a long time, I worked alone and tried to learn all I could on my own. In those days, there weren't any writer's groups in my area of the world.

Eventually, I found my long-time mentor, the late Jane Deringer, who taught me a million things about writing. However, Jane was not a romance writer, and somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to write romance.

When Silhouette Books, a very strong romance publisher at the time, sent several of their writers to Richmond, including Nora Roberts, to present talks at the Miller and Rhoads Tea Room, I was truly hooked on romance and the success of these authors. That day, my husband and I passed a pad around the room to gather the names of those interested in starting a romance writers group. And so Richmond Romance Writers, later renamed Virginia Romance Writers, was born.

The year was 1986, the year I also joined Romance Writers of America and attended my first ever RWA convention in Minneapolis MN. Being in a glamorous situation with so many published authors was an amazing experience. My husband and I even got upgraded to a lavish suite with window walls and electronic curtains. The workshops filled me with hope and promise for a rewarding and profitable career as a book author. I hung on every word, and when I returned home, I gobbled up every page of the monthly RWA magazine.

Trouble was, I probably am better suited to writing non-fiction. After all, I was a freelance writer for lots of years, covering public meetings, taking photos, writing feature stories, and more. I was given assignments; I followed the rules and loved seeing big newspaper and magazine stories with my byline on them.

But the fiction-writing bug had bitten me, and I kept on going, working on a novel along with my newspaper work.

"Get an agent," I was told. I did and was surprised to land one of the best on the RWA recommended list. I spoke with her at a conference and was impressed, but when I called I always spoke with her father. Then I discovered she was in lots of trouble and no longer on the acceptable list. My next agent went to jail for a couple of years. Another changed to a children's book publisher soon after I signed with her. The story goes on and on. I never found the right agent and eventually gave up.

Many of the writers I started out with are now successful authors on the New York Times Bestseller list. I applaud them. They had the "write" stuff and the tenacity to stick with it. I didn't. Rejection letters blew me away. I couldn't keep going. I couldn't rewrite my books to follow "the formula".

I kept on writing and have eight published novels, but they aren't romance. I recently found an article published 12 years ago by Pamela Regis in the RWR (Romance Writers Report) that defines a romance novel as "a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines." I'm uncertain if that is the definition of a romance novel today. It might be.

When trying to decide which contest category was the correct one into which to enter my latest book, Evening of the Dragonfly, I decided the best fit was "novel with strong romantic elements". All of my stories are like that. They never have and never could fit a formula. The stories form inside my head and the characters soon take over.

Over the years, they said that artists were not acceptable as heroines of romance novels. I never understood why. Farrah Ferand, the heroine of Evening of the Dragonfly is an artist. They also said, "Write what you know." I did, so maybe I got some of it right.

Have things changed for you in your writing life? How?


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You just weren't going to fit the formula, so you made it work for you anyway.
I'm sure my books don't fit the exact description of space opera. But they've sold, so I don't care.

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Guess I was wrong to start out on that path at all, Alex. It took away from my art career. Wonder if space opera is as formula-oriented as romance? Thanks for visiting.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Mary,

My goodness we are on the same wavelength.... I was reading your post when your comment came it.... amazing.

As for writing it is and always will be suggestive. I never seem to get it right either. My novels seem to be MG and YA, but perhaps the storylines don't measure up to what THEY are looking for. I almost hit pay dirt a few times with my second novel, but agents always pass after reading the full. They start out very excited and then BOOM.. nothing. Agent, in particular, are looking for THE PERFECT hit... they are pickier than ever...I may never get an agent. And believe me I have tried....

I think an artist heroine can be great. Have you read Yolanda Renee's books. Her MC's main squeeze is an artist... and her books are GREAT... She's also a sort of ROMANCE writer...

Well that said.... HAPPY NEW YEAR! Hope 2016 is an amazing year for you!

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I was a member of RWA for a while, but I also realized my work didn't fit the criteria. My books have romantic elements, but they aren't romances. Not every story should fit neatly into a box.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Monti - well you've published and that's great ... finding the right outlet must be difficult from all I read via the blogosphere.

Your artist Ferrand story I imagine would be great as it'd have some artistic concepts in for your heroine .. and no doubt some conflicting concepts from jealous artists in the neighbourhood. Finding the niche is tricky ... but budding artists could be a source of readers ...

But you're going for it .. and congratulations .. and you've got so much talent - take care and a happy New Year - cheers Hilary

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Michael, sometimes I think many agents are looking for the easy sell. If it doesn't fit a niche, then it's not easy. Those who are most creative have trouble fitting the niche. It's a problem if you're not willing to change your standards. So far, I don't know the right answer. Good luck to you!

Diane, I definitely agree with you! Thanks for visiting!

Hilary, thanks for your kind words and support! Working artists might be too busy to read fiction:)!