World's Oldest Fledgling

The blog of Stephanie Wardrop, Y A Author

Advice for Vegans on this Most Carnivorous of Holidays . . .

from Georgiana Barrett of Snark and Circumstance.  Note: all opinions below are Georgia’s and do not necessarily represent those of this blog or its proprietors).

After seventeen Thanksgivings – and three of them as a vegan – I have learned a thing or to about how to survive this most meatcentric of holidays. ImageSure, meals are a huge part of most holidays, but Thanksgiving is unique in that its very reason for being rests on having a bird carcass on the dinner table.

My advice can be summed up in four words:

Just be cool about it.

I know it’s not easy to do when your home takes on the aroma of a charnel house. I don’t know why meat eaters can’t understand how gross it is to the non-carnivorous to smell an animal’s flesh roasting. And don’t try explaining to your mom or aunt or whoever the cook is that they would find it utterly revolting if you went out on the street and found some roadkill – a woodchuck, maybe- then stuck it in the oven and cranked the heat up to 450. I can tell you from my own experience that this does not persuade anybody. So, after you’ve gone over the river and through the woods,  even if the smell of grandmother’s house makes you want to barf up everything you’ve ever eaten, keep it to yourself. (Though maybe you could bring a wonderfully scented candle* as a hostess gift and insist on lighting it, but I have to tell you, turkey smell is pretty pervasive so this might not work.) Turkey meat, it seems, makes some people really happy, so I’ve learned to just let them eat and I try to be as inconspicuous as possible as I stick to the sweet potatoes (vegan marshmallows, anyone?) and these little onions my mom makes every year. Not to mention the cranberry sauce, which I think should actually be on the table more than once a year because it is tasty and if you get the canned kind, it has those funky ridges in the middle and retains its can shape in a way that is more fun (and vegan) than jello.

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But they say the best way to people’s hearts is through their stomachs – you can reach their brains this way, too, by providing a delicious vegan alternative to the bird that will show people that veg*n food does not have to look like a plate of tree bark. I make a tofu turkey that even my sister Cassie admits is pretty good, especially smothered in mushroom gravy – though as she has been known to live for weeks on Diet Coke and Funyuns hers may not be the gourmet’s opinion you’re looking for.

GEORGIA BARRETT’S IT’S-TOFU-NOT-A-TURKEY RECIPE:

Make some stuffing (saute onion, celery, and seasonings.  Add bread cubes and some broth, like Un-chicken or vegetable). Spray oil on the bottom of a casserole and put the stuffing in a layer on the bottom. In another bowl, mush up two blocks of tofu

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with some sesame oil, soy sauce, and seasonings (poultry seasoning works nicely).  Spread it onto the top of the stuffing and then “baste” with a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Pop in the oven and baste with more of the mixture every so often (you can use a turkey baster, unless it’s slick with bird juice).  I think I bake it at about 350 for maybe an hour? I adapted the recipe from one in a PETA cookbook, Imageso check that out for more specifics  I swear to you it’s good — and even better as leftovers. Give it a try and you’ll be glad you did.

So will all the turkeys.

 92px-Peter_Wenceslaus_A-Turkey-In-a-Landscape

And for more great recipes, often super easy with no exotic ingredients you need a plane ticket to procure, check out my Pinterest board on Stephanie Wardrop YA Author’s account!

Happy holidays!

*Have you seen these bacon candles?

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What is wrong with people? Even if you loved bacon, wouldn’t these make you hungry all the time you were burning them?

Georgia is a vegan baker and the heroine of a modern YA version of Pride and Prejudice,the e-novella series Snark and Circumstance, available at Amazon, Kobo*, and Barnes and Noble.

     *Kobo links: Snark , Charm, and Pride and Prep School.

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JC Emery on Ride-ing with Bad Boys

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JC Emery is not just a writer of some steamy, kick-ass romances, like

Image in the Men in Badges series,

or

Image, the first in a series about bikers, Bayonet Scars.

She’s also one of the most honest and forthright people I know; she means what she says and she says what she means and makes no apologies. So we got to talking last week about bad boys in romance fiction, how they have always been so popular and why they remain so, and how troubling we, as writers and women and feminists, often find the depiction of truly bad boys, the kind that will assault the heroine to prove his love to her. (Think Rhett Butler telling Scarlet O’Hara he will “crush [her] skull like a walnut.” That’s not hot. That’s sick. If anyone says that to you and considers it foreplay, run.)

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With incidences of domestic/relationship violence on the rise, particularly among young people, it’s worth considering how much romance fiction insists on the potential for violence as a sexy attribute in a mate.  Recently scholars and book fans alike have written with  fear and disgust about Twilight‘s Edward Cullen as a charming sociopath. (See Journal of Communication Inquiry 2011 35: 157 and Debra Merskin’s article “A Boyfriend to Die For: Edward Cullen as Compensated Psychopath in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilightfor a stellar example). And while I agree that there can be a great gulf between what we desire in our fantasies and what we want in our real lives, I still want to tell me daughter when she’s in the throes of her first crush (I’m not counting Niall Horan from One Direction),I don’t care how much the boy sparkles- if you tell me he’s been climbing into your room and watching you sleep for months, I am calling the cops.”

Now JC’s hero in Ride is a little rough around the edges, a bad boy by many definitions of the term, but he’s not dangerous to the woman he loves.  Check him out:

“IT’S NOT FUNNY,” she whines through a scowl, but the smile on her face is bright.

“Oh yes it is,” I say, with a grin. “What kind of mafia princess doesn’t learn how to shoot a gun?”

“The passive kind,” she grumbles, looking at my .38 she’s holding with both hands. I force myself to keep grinning, avoiding the impending anxiety that’s creeping up. When I first handed the gun over to her, I was nervous as fuck. I mean, I’d never given a chick I was fucking my piece before. But Cub doesn’t know how to shoot, and with everything going on, she has to learn. I don’t give a fuck how difficult she’s being about it. Hell, even if Junior wasn’t on his way here, I’d still teach her how to shoot. Yesterday, I gave up being pissed that her fucktard of a father didn’t teach her sooner.

It’s been days since I’ve spent more than ten minutes without Cub by my side. I’m getting way too comfortable falling asleep with her curled into my side, and waking up with her half on top of me. The longer it takes for something fucked to happen, the more on edge I get. Despite spending pretty much every minute with Cub and her pussy, which I swear is made out of unicorns or some shit, I can feel the tension in my bones. She walks around acting like she doesn’t really care what’s going on or the sacrifices the club is making to keep her tight little ass safe. I’m trying not to let her piss me off, but damn it, she’s working my last nerve. It doesn’t help that I haven’t had a drink or any bud since before Church the other day.

“You’re doing it again,” she says, handing the gun back to me. Her smiles falls, giving way to a grimace. I click the safety lock and shove it in the back of my waist.

“Doing what?” I ask, trying to keep the strain out of my voice.

“That thing with your neck. You keep tensing your jaw, and it makes the veins in your neck pop out. It’s creepy.”

“I’m on edge,” I say and blow out a deep breath.

 He’s no saint, that’s clear (though he does go to church). He’s tough, profane, and capable of violence, but that’s never going to be turned on the heroine, Cub. Despite her current inability to handle a .38, she’s an equal partner in this relationship, and that’s one of the aspects of JC’s offbeat romances that make them so delightful.

I’ll give her the final word on bad boys and what’s “too” bad to bear:

I don’t necessarily think there’s a definitive line in the sand to be drawn over what behaviors are acceptable in fiction and which ones are not. As a loud-mouth feminist and unapologetic biker fan, I find myself torn. I know all too well the way it works with lifestyle bikers (as opposed to weekend riders). And this is in no way a criticism of the lifestyle of all bikers, because as a group, they are as varied as any culture is. Some motorcycle clubs are about community service, some are about freedom, but there is a subculture within the greater biker community called outlaw bikers. The outlaw biker culture is vastly different from what we know most people to be. It is often de-humanizing to women, with few women being respected enough to be treated as a person. Women are often passed around, dismissed, and even beaten-up on. So I find myself both intrigued and disgusted by this world. How can a feminist like these kinds of guys?

Most women I know are drawn to alpha males, and while men in fiction may get away with murder (and then some), their real life counterparts have to toe a much finer line. The guys in my Men with Badges series are all inherently good. They may make the wrong choices along the way, but it’s with the best of intentions. Here’s how I think I make the bad boys work in relation to that. It’s like the flip side of the coin. The men in the Bayonet Scars series (Ride, No. 1, due out 10/28) are not who western society traditionally considers to be good guys. They drink, do drugs, have a ton of sex, curse… they can be mean and violent, and they don’t apologize for it. But like you’ve seen in a lot of romance novels where their behaviors are forgiven or justified, I try very hard not to do that.
I don’t write weak women. They don’t forgive poor behavior necessarily, they just sometimes either don’t care or they may choose not to make an issue of it. Other female characters may raise hell over something. It depends on who’s in what situation. None of my women feel helpless without a man around (I wouldn’t even know how to write that), and none of them ever feel like they’ll die without the company of their true love. (Forgive the gagging sounds). They are as complex and messed up as the men they fall in love with. I think that’s the only way a romance like this can work. Good girls who fall in love with bad boys always get hurt, because bad boys don’t magically become good guys over night. The women in the Bayonet Scars series actively choose to stay. And none of them are without faults and poor behaviors of their own. They see the men they love with clear eyes (eventually) and they make the choice to love this disturbed man. I don’t feel sorry for them for choosing to stay if he’s a bastard. Being raped and held captive? Yes, I feel for the woman who ensures that. The woman who knows going in of her free will that she’s hooking up with a horn dog? Not so much. Eyes wide open, ladies. He is who he is; don’t expect him to change into something he’s not. Deal with it or move on. In that regard, I think having strong-willed proactive women on the page who make their own rules and give the men an option to hop on board or leave them alone, is important to giving readers a couple they can root for. My ladies are always the ones who set the rules of the relationship. She might fight like hell for terms and conditions she’s comfortable with, but she will walk if her guy doesn’t measure up. It’s just about giving the man traits she can live with, and giving her expectations he can abide by. And that will differ from couple to couple.
Some of the men in the series come to us already trying to make a change in their life, others come to us fighting hard to stop change. I’m not a huge fan of story lines where a woman comes along and suddenly this awful man turns over a new leaf for her. Waking up next to her in bed and he realizes he’s been a total scumbag his entire life? I don’t think so. I think, for the most part, people are fairly stagnant at their core. A rapist is a rapist. If he’s going to violently force himself on a woman, I don’t see him one day realizing what he’s done is awful and unforgivable. It’s the same reason I can’t believe Michael Vick now realizes that dog fighting is wrong. Prison doesn’t change who you are at the core. It either makes you toe the line so you don’t return, or it tears you down, making you meaner and more volatile.
Knowing the dirty details of the world my characters live in, I have to straddle the line between romance and realism. And maybe I have a disturbed way of looking at romance, but I think there is something very romantic about the deeply flawed individual trying to be better, whether they ever succeed or not. Giving a character someone they feel is worth trying for is key. But in order to understand what trying and being good look like in the biker world, we have to understand the parameters which we’re working within.
One thing that makes writing an outlaw biker romance difficult is that romances typically make the love story between the characters the most important aspect of both character’s worlds. Not only is that implausible in the outlaw biker culture, it disregards the core belief system of these clubs. These clubs, outlaw or not, only truly function when they treat one another as individuals and their club as the most important thing in their everyday life. Whoever you family is, whatever your job is, wherever you’re from, all becomes history and the club becomes your first priority. Outlaw or not, there’s great honor in standing beside someone and knowing you’d take a bullet for him/her and he/she’d take one for you. Not many cultures promote or allow for this kind of loyalty, whereas in outlaw biker culture, it’s mandatory. An outlaw biker protecting his brother (fellow patched club member) over a woman he just met IS being loyal in his world. Ideally, he could save them both. But making the choice to protect his club– whether that be an individual member or the entire unit– shouldn’t be seen as being anything less than loyal.
What makes romance work within the bounds of club life is that, unlike other criminal organizations, bikers are prone to inviting the women in their lives (Old Ladies) into a certain amount of club business. The women who are well-regarded within these organizations receive unparalleled respect and protection from patched members. A woman who achieves this status level within a club is considered family. If somebody picks a fight with a member’s Old Lady, he’s picking a fight with the entire club. It doesn’t matter if you like the guy’s wife/girlfriend or not. It also doesn’t matter if she was wrong. What matters is that you protect your own. Always.
Because of her station within the club, she may be treated very well or very poorly. Just like patched members, women in this lifestyle have to play by a certain set of rules. If she understands her place within the organization and is supportive of the club, she has a much better chance of having a positive experience. However, a woman who goes against the club is subject to similar penalties as that of a member. An in-house betrayal is a serious problem and is dealt with in-house. If her heartthrob bad boy uses her as a punching bag, it’s up to the club to rectify that, if they’re the kind of club that even would rectify an issue like that. And this is where the fiction comes in– I’m not going to glorify a man who beats his woman. I’m not going to glorify a rapist. I’m not going to try to convince anyone that the messed up stuff my characters do is excusable. I’m not in the business of justifying behaviors, I’m just telling a story.
I try to find the balance between what’s realistic and the story I want to tell by conceding certain things. Following the same thoughts as above, if a man cheats on every woman he’s ever been with, then surely he’s going to cheat on our heroine. I’m sorry if romance readers don’t like that, but I don’t see a way around it. So instead of writing a guy who’s cheated, I’m more inclined to write a guy who may be a murderer, a drug dealer, a pimp, but he’s always been faithful when he’s in a relationship. Or, if I must, I may hint at extracurricular activities, but never put it on the page. The part of romance that has always appealed to me is the lowest of the lows. How do these characters relate to one another, how do they interact, even when the absolute worst possible things are going on around them? If my bad-ass alpha male outlaw biker is in a screaming match with his girl, he may say the worst things imaginable to her, but he’s might not storm out and cheat on her. Or if he cheats on her, he may not yell at her. I don’t know that we can say that’s being “good” to her or not, but it’s the concession I make.
[Warning: possible Breaking Bad spoiler]
Being good to people means different things in different situations. In some worlds and situations it means saying please and thank you. In others, it means killing your stalker. And in some worlds, it means showing someone you love them by setting them free. I think what we saw during the Breaking Bad series finale was the ultimate act of redemption. For those who haven’t seen Breaking Bad, you might want to stop now. Though, I’ll try to avoid giving too much away. Walter White is a fifty year-old high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal, in-operable lung cancer. Already stretched to his financial limit by his disabled teenage son, and pregnant stay-at-home wife, Walt reaches his breaking point. At his lowest low, he makes choices which change who he is and the rest of his life with such magnitude that nobody in his path is unaffected by the consequences of his actions.
But what happens in the final episode brings us full circle to who he was in the first episode. Walt’s character doesn’t necessarily change throughout the series, but rather expands. We see him do all of these horrific things over the course of five seasons, and then at the very end, we see him try to right those wrongs. But again, keeping in mind the world he lives in, righting his wrongs is not done with an apology and a handshake. Walt doesn’t have the luxury of adhering to the social laws of mainstream society. But he does manage, in the most realistic way possible, to redeem himself. A man who I had given up on a few episodes prior, had me sniffling and cheering him on in the final moments. To me, that says that almost any character is redeemable.
Just like in outlaw biker circles, there are different rules that must be followed, not only out of respect for those around you, but to simply stay alive. It’s important that readers/viewers not expect an outlaw who lives beyond the bounds of what we consider decency to adhere to the mainstream systems of laws and beliefs. There are some behaviors which I think are universally unforgivable such as any kind of sexual assault. Murder, depending on the world and situation may even be acceptable. But the one characteristic I require of all my male leads is that they be loyal. Where their loyalty lies may be troubling for some. But I strive to always write characters and scenarios that feel genuine, regardless of how sometimes awful we may consider them to be.
You’ve met two of her characters briefly now.  Go check them out.  Ride just received its 99th review on Amazon, so you’ll want come climb on and go for a spin.  Find it on Amazon,Smashwords, and Goodreads.
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Meet the Characters from Hush Puppy!

ImageLisa Cresswell’s Hush Puppy is out now and I want you to meet her main characters. But first, here’s an excerpt from this touching contemporary YA romance:

The weeds had deep roots. They kept breaking off in my hands as I yanked on them, cursing under my breath. Sweat dripped off my nose, making wet spots on the red soil. The beans were in flower and it seemed like every insect in town was humming around them. I was so busy trying to avoid the bees with my hoe, I didn’t notice the shaggy-haired boy walk up behind me.

“Kind of hot for yard work, ain’t it?”

I snapped up and spun around too fast, the blood rushing out of my head. I steadied myself on the hoe as stars blurred my vision. As my sight cleared, I saw Jamie’s face, a halo of glittering lights around him.

“Hey, Hush Puppy!” he said. “Those were good.”

“I’m Corrine.” Still blinking, I wiped my sweaty forehead with the back of my dirty glove.

“I’m Jamie.” For a minute, he just stood there holding a red spiral notebook in one hand. Not knowing what else to do, I tried to make conversation.

“Going to summer school?”

“What?” He seemed confused.

“You look like you just got off the bus,” I said, pointing to his notebook.

“Oh, this?” He glanced at his notebook. “I just write stuff sometimes.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“I…the kind of stuff my old man don’t like, I guess.” Jamie smiled like he thought that was funny. I threw the hoe down in the wilted weeds.

“I need a drink. Want some tea?” I offered.

“Sure,” he said, following me to the house.

I got the tea from the fridge and found two glasses while Jamie sat at the table, setting his notebook on the red and white vinyl tablecloth in front of him. The kitchen was stuffy so I cranked on the window air conditioner until it blew frosty gusts at us. Jamie watched quietly while I cracked a tray of ice cubes and tossed a few in each glass before pouring the tea. We both took a long drink.

“You’re not like most boys around here.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I can’t think of one who would actually admit to writing something that wasn’t for school.”

Jamie smirked and chugged some more tea.

“So what’s in it?” I asked.

“In what?”

“Your notebook. What do you write?”

“Um…” Jamie’s thumb fingered the corner of the pages. “Stories, essays mostly.” His eyes traveled over the plastic tablecloth between us, not daring to look up.

“Can I see?” I reached for the notebook, but Jamie quickly slid it away from me.

“Naw. You wouldn’t like it.”

“How do you know?” The questions sounded ruder than I meant and I tried to make up for it. “I like a lot of stuff.”

“It’s just that it’s not that good.” He pulled it off the table onto his lap where I couldn’t see it. I felt myself frowning.

“Fine. Be like that.”

The crunching sound of a car on gravel grabbed my attention. Memaw wasn’t due home for hours. I jumped up to check out the tiny kitchen window, but there was no one there. When I turned around, Jamie was gone, his empty glass on the table. I walked into the living room and saw him down the short hallway, standing in my room.

“What are you doing?” I asked, hoping I hadn’t left my underwear on the floor that morning. It was dark in my room because we kept the windows covered during the day to keep it cool. I walked up behind Jamie, who was gazing up at the world map on my bedroom wall. I caught our reflection in my mirror and realized just how different we were next to each other. My dark skin, the color of rich, black coffee, made his skin look that much lighter. My kinky hair, poking out of the braids that were coming undone, made his hair seem that much straighter. But Jamie didn’t notice any of that.

“Cool map,” said Jamie. “What are the pins for?” He fingered the blue push pin I had stuck in the map at Munich.

“Places I want to see one day.”

“You sure got a lot of traveling to do.”

“That’s the plan. Red is for must-see, blue is for nice to see.”

“There’s a lot of red. These your books?” Jamie asked, looking over my shelf.

“Yeah.”

Jamie paused a minute and then sighed. “I should probably go. My dad would freak if he knew I was here.” He turned to walk down the hall toward the front door. I should have been relieved to get him out of my room, but some part of me was disappointed to see him go. I followed him outside and across the yard toward the driveway. He glanced back at me once or twice, as if he thought I was going home with him.

“I gotta finish weeding,” I explained.

“Oh.”

“Thanks for stopping by,” I said. It was something Memaw would have said.

“Yeah, thanks for the tea.” He kicked a grubby sneaker toe into the fresh garden dirt I’d just cleared of weeds. The notebook dangled from his fingertips. He stared at me like he had something more to say, but he never got the chance. Harley’s truck, held together with duct tape and wire, rattled down the road, stopped suddenly and backed up. Harley drove his truck into our driveway and hung his head out the window.

“What the hell are you doing over here?” he shouted at Jamie, who didn’t answer. Instead, Jamie looked at me and offered me the notebook he had been so reluctant to share before.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Harley kept ranting.

“I think you dropped this,” Jamie said to me, somehow ignoring Harley.

“What?” I couldn’t understand what was happening.

“Damn it, Jamie! Get in the truck!”

“Isn’t it yours?” Jamie’s eyes pleaded with me to play along. “Take it.” I finally did what he said and he joined Harley in the truck.

“When I call you, I expect you to answer, boy!” I heard Harley shouting as they drove away. I didn’t understand how or why, but suddenly the mysterious red notebook was mine.

So now you really want to meet these characters, right? It’s my pleasure to introduce them.

First, thanks for talking to me, guys. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Could you tell me a little about how you first met?

Corrine: Jamie’s dad brought him over to the diner where I was working ‘cause he had to fix the sink and he wouldn’t buy Jamie lunch. I felt kinda sorry for him, so I snuck him some hush puppies.

Jamie: They were good too! (laughs)  That’s why I call her Hush Puppy.

What did you initially think of each other? Love at first sight?Or not on your life? 🙂

Corrine: I think my exact thoughts were “Oh Lord, not another redneck!” But he grew on me.

Jamie: Hahaha! You’re so mean! I thought you were the prettiest thing I’ve ever seen.

Corrine: Oh shush. 😉

Can you tell me a little bit about where you come from?

Corrine: You’ve heard the expression “Armpit of North America”? That would be it.

Jamie: Oh, Carolville ain’t that bad.  It’s just extremely small and backwards.  But you have to admit the lake is nice.

Jamie, if you had to describe Corinne in three words, what would they be?

Oh gosh, that’s hard. I guess I’d have to say: smart, sexy, and…smart.

Corinne, same question.

You’re just as smart as me. Three words? How about: romantic, talented, and smart?

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever had to face, either together or apart, and how did you get through it?

If either of you could have any dream come true, no matter how fantastic, what would it be? Dream big!

Jamie: I know what Corrine would do! (laughs)

Corrine: I’d visit every single place on my map. I have this map of the world and there’s pins in every place I want to go. What’s your dream, Jamie?

Jamie: To go with you. 
Awwwww. I’m rooting for these two, and I know you will, too. Check out Hush Puppy  at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
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Hush Puppy is the story of Corrine Lamb, a seventeen year old, black girl, and Jamie Armstrong, a poor white boy, living in a backwater North Carolina town.  Intelligent Corrine, abandoned by her mother, and artsy Jamie, forced to play football by a redneck father, both dream of leaving their podunk town and never looking back. 

Their shared love of literature and a dream of a better life brings them together and a romance blossoms between them in a secret place of their own in the steamy North Carolina woods.  When Jamie is involved in the accidental death of a white girl, he’s terrified of his abusive father.  Corrine takes the blame to protect Jaime, with dire consequences for herself and her dreams of the future.  Her life in danger, Corrine’s left wondering if Jamie ever cared about her at all.

Short Bio

Lisa T. Cresswell is a professional archaeologist who works in Idaho and dabbles frequently in young adult literature. Originally for North Carolina, her stories are often inspired by memories of growing up there. You can see more of her work atwww.lisatcresswell.com


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Writing Romance Guest Post on Indie Ignites

below is a copy of my guest post over at Indie Ignites’ blog.  This is one blog you should follow: lots of great writers, giveaways, and info for indie and small press peeps.

Don’t Want Your Bad, Bad Romance: Five Writing Don’ts with Apologies to Lady Gaga

Writers read a lot. And we read differently from when we were “civilian” readers, even when we’re reading for pleasure. No, we don’t sit there with red pens and mark every typo or infelicitous word choice (though as a writing instructor at a New England college, I often have to fight the urge to do that. It’s an occupational hazard, even though I don’t enjoy doing that with my students’ papers, and don’t know any instructor who does. And for the record, I don’t use a red pen.)
I wouldn’t say we’re necessarily harder on the books we read either, though maybe now and then we read something that seems less than polished to us and remember our bazillion rejection letters and think “THIS got published? Someone chose THIS over my magnum opus?” Maybe the difference is that when I was a “reader”, if I didn’t like a book – if, for whatever reason, it wasn’t working for me – I’d move on to the next one. Now, as a writer, I try to figure out why I don’t like it. I keep going and do a post mortem as I’m reading, trying to discover what went wrong.
Call it the CSI Approach to Disappointing Novels.
 
Because there’s a lot to learn, I’ve discovered, from what you don’t like, to learn what doesn’t work for you as a writer by examining what doesn’t work for you as a reader. I’ll slip into teacher mode for a second again and ask you: How much did you learn from the good essays you wrote in school that earned you an A or a check-plus or a vague “Very good!”? I have to admit I tended to learn more from the ones that didn’t get such high marks because I didn’t always know why the essays that did earn those marks deserved them. And when I couldn’t tell what worked, I was always afraid that I had succeeded by accident and that the next thing I handed in would make the teacher/reader cringe in horror and reassess my worth as a writer and a human being.
I had issues.
And still do, I’m sure, but this post is about learning to write a better romance novel from reading ones that don’t quite work. I’m going to give you a list of what I’ve learned that doesn’t work and, in some cases, provide tips to avoid these pitfalls. In other cases, I will beg you to send in some suggestions on how you avoid them, so I can, too (and share them with you, my lovely readers, without whom I am not a writer, after all).
So, here goes
MY TOP FIVE NOT-QUITE-EPIC ROMANCE FAILS
 
(But first, I’m going to sneak one in here without a number because everyone has heard of it. But it bears mentioning.) No INSTALOVE, a misstep so heinous it has its own name. Readers do not want to be told that somehow, magically, your two characters have fallen in love somewhere between the pages they’ve turned while waiting to see it happen. Because that’s the point of a romance novel: We know these two are going to get together but we don’t know how and we want to see it happenThe pleasure is in the happening, not in having had it happen. )
On to the list.
1.     If your characters fall in love with each other in part because of their witty repartee, then there had better be some witty repartee on those pages. This is hard to do. Witty dialogue is the Holy Grail for me, I’ll admit it, and you never know if what amuses you is going to amuse anyone else. It takes time and lots of revisions to get it right. (But the advantage to writing over speaking is you get lots and lots of tries to make the stinging comeback or hilarious offhand remark that most of us drive home IRL wishing we had made). Please don’t end every line of dialogue with “she giggled” to show me that your heroine finds the hero amusing. Make me giggle. Which is hard. Believe me, I know. All through Snark I knew I was walking a fine line between making Georgia and Michael clever, teasing combatants and a pair of angry malcontents, and I am not sure I succeeded in all scenes.
2.     Misunderstandings between would-be lovers are the lynch pin of most romance plots, but they have to be motivated and believable. If your heroine simply sees the man she’s growing to love talking to another woman and instantly assumes, based solely on this incident, that he is either wildly in love with this woman, sleeping with her, or both, I am going to think that your heroine has some trust issues, and not interesting ones. But give her a reason to be suspicious and I will be right in her corner. A man talking to a woman is not a smoking gun. Now, if he’s talking to her and laughing and she’s sitting in his lap, you’ve aroused my suspicions too, especially if there is a history between these two. (Though I don’t know if I would recommend using this particular scenario. I wrote this into the sequel to Snark that I am working on and it took me quite awhile to invent a plausible reason for the girl in question to be in the boy’s lap in public.) Your misunderstanding  has to be believable or it announces itself for what it is: A plot device. An obstacle to keep the two apart for a few more pages. And we should never be able to identify a plot device too easily.
3.     Weave in hints of a character’s troubled or tragic past throughout the story. Backstory is hard. I think everyone struggles with this, so if you have any suggestions to make this easier, please leave a comment, or better yet, email and share it just with me and together we will rule the publishing world.  This is where, again, revision comes in, finding the right moment to mention, plausibly, a little something about the past. All I know is that it is jarring and unpleasant to be a hundred pages into a book and hear one character say to another, “But oh! After all you have been through!” and I have no idea what they mean. Obviously you don’t want to dump it all right out there on the first page. I heard Vince Gilligan, the show runner for Breaking Bad, speak the other day about how plot points (especially endings) have to seem both surprising and inevitable. He’s right. And if we all figure out how to do that then we can retire to the south of France with Vince Gilligan.
4.     Backstory is hard. So is providing physical descriptions of your first-person narrator. Personally, I am perfectly okay without knowing exactly what your character looks like. I am going to invent her in my own head anyway, and when I see an actor in a movie who does not resemble either the author’s or my conception of a character, I’m okay with that, too. Shalene Woodley, for example, does not look like Tris in Divergent to me, but I have no doubt she will be awesome in the role. (The “whitening” of all mixed-race characters in other films is, however, problematic for me, but I won’t get into that here). Suffice to say I do not enjoy reading passages like “I brushed my long brown hair and gazed in the mirror at my rounded, exuberantly lashed wide blue eyes.” I have never found myself brushing my hair and looking in a mirror and thinking, “Oh, I am brushing my chin-length brown bob.” Such descriptions are as jarring to me as a misplaced bit of backstory and pull me out of the narrative that I want to remain wrapped up in like a blanket on a cold night. Please don’t do that to me.
5.     Help me come up with new, relatable, scintillating words for passionate physical contact. Please. How do you describe really great kisses without using words like “electric”, “heat”, “mind-blowing”, “earth-shaking”, fill in your own cliché? I am really bad at this, a deficiency that may keep me squarely in the “sweet” romance category because I think any attempt I make to describe full-blown lovemaking will either sound as absurd as 1980s romance descriptions of  penises as “pulsing pillars” and “throbbing manhoods”,  or as freakishly clinical as an old medical text.  How do you avoid purple prose or the Kinsey Report? Revision, revision, inspiration, revision?
And there you have my top five fails.  How do you remedy them? What are your own readerly-writerly romance pet peeves?
Stephanie Wardrop is the author of the Snark and Circumstance series of enovellas from Swoon Romance, based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and available on Amazon.com and BN.com. She’s also a proud member of Indie Ignites!
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Rachel Schieffelbein on Secondary Characters

Secondary CharactersToday I get to host a Swoon sister on our YA Summer of Love Blog Tour.  It’s Rachel Schieffelbein author of Secondary Characters!  I love inspiration stories and hearing how authors come up with their ideas, so I’ll let Rachel tell you about how this YA romance was born.
                                                   .Unknown-3
Thanks for having me today, Stephanie!
I’m going to talk a little about how I got the inspiration for Secondary Characters, my novella with Swoon Romance.
Our local theater, which I’m on the board for, was doing a Broadway review show.
Two girls sang a song I’d never heard before, from a show I’d never heard of.
The song was” Secondary Characters”. It’s about two girls who find themselves on stage without the leads and decide to take advantage of the moment.
When I went home I started thinking about secondary characters.
The best friend, the goofy sidekick.
I wondered what it would be like to feel like a secondary character in your own life.
That’s where I got the idea for Mabel.
Her best friend is the ‘it’ girl in high school,
and Mabel is fine with being the funny best friend.
Or at least she thinks she is, until she realizes she wants more.
Secondary Characters song Click here to see it!
I think a lot of people can relate to feeling like a secondary character.
Many of us have felt that way at some point or another,
especially as teens, when we’re still trying to figure out exactly where our place is in the world.
I hope people sympathize with Mabel
as she struggles to find her place in the spotlight.
You can find Secondary Characters on GoodreadsB&N, and Amazon.
And you can find me on my blog. 🙂
Thanks so much, again, Stephanie!
Buy Secondary Characters here on Amazon.  You’ll be glad you did.
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Leigh Talbert Moore’s dragonfly Giveaway!

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RELEASES JUNE 6th!

Three bad things I learned this year:

-People you trust lie, even parents. 

-That hot guy, the one who’s totally into you, he might not be the one. 

-Things are not always how they appear.


Three good things I learned this year:

-Best friends are always there for you, even when they’re far away. 

-That other hot guy, the one who remembers your birthday, he just might be the one. 

-Oh, and things are not always how they appear.


Anna Sanders expected an anonymous (and uneventful) senior year until she crossed paths with rich-and-sexy Jack Kyser and his twin sister Lucy.

Pulling Anna into their extravagant lifestyle on the Gulf Coast, Lucy pushed Anna outside her comfort zone, and Jack showed her feelings she’d never experienced… Until he mysteriously withdrew.

Anna turned to her internship at the city paper and to her old attraction for Julian, a handsome local artist and rising star, for distraction. But both led to her discovery of a decades-old secret closely guarded by the twins’ distant, single father.

A secret that could permanently change all their lives.

Be watching for Undertow, Book 2 in the Dragonfly series, coming July 18!

Falling in Love Changes Everything…

“C’mon,” Julian said, helping me stand. “Let’s blow off this party and catch a movie or go to Scoops. This isn’t our scene.”


I shook my head. “I just really want to go home.” The tears were trying to start again. “Can I just go home now?”


“Sure,” he said, holding my cheek. I took a limping step, and he stopped. “Does it hurt to walk?” 


My leg was throbbing. I nodded, looking down, and before I realized what was happening, he was lifting me in his arms. 


“Julian, wait,” I held his shoulders. “I’m too heavy!” 


“It’s okay,” he said, walking on. I sighed and leaned my head against his shoulder. I didn’t feel like fighting. Gentle pressure against my temple, and he’d kissed me. “You’ll get over this,” I heard him say under his breath.

It’s available on iTunes, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble, PLUS

you can enter to WIN a Kindle Touch loaded with all FOUR of Leigh’s books AND an exclusive eARC of Undertow; A signed, print set of Dragonfly and Undertow, or ebook sets of both! 

RAFFLECOPTER LINK UNDER CONSTRUCTION!  COME BACK SOON!

<a href=”http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/1238d24/&#8221; id=”rc-1238d24″ rel=”nofollow”>a Rafflecopter giveaway</a>

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In the mean time, check out Leigh on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Amazon

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Guest post: Kelly Hashway on writing a serialized e-novella

As we anticipate the SUMMER OF LOVE BLOG TOUR, I’ve asked my Swoon sister Kelly Hashway to compare notes with me on turning a novel into a serialized e-novella series.  You can find my take here at Kelly’s blog and Kelly weighs in below.  Look for her series

Image  at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Take it away, Kelly!

1 Book + 1 Publishing Contract = 3 Novellas

            About a year ago, I decided to branch out from my branded genre, which was paranormal. Why? Well, I noticed that all my paranormal books had a big romantic element to them, and it made me wonder if there was a romance writer lurking inside me. So, Game. Set. Match. Heartbreak was born.

I set the story up on the basis of a love triangle. Personally, I love the conflict love triangles involve, and I’ve been in a few love triangles myself, so I knew I could convey the emotions. I wrote the book and submitted it to my agent. She loved it but thought it wouldn’t sell since I was a paranormal writer. Enter Swoon Romance. They accepted my novel on the condition that I could break it up into two novellas. I agreed.

I started trying to find a natural break in the story, and I did—but it wasn’t in the middle. It was only a third of the way through. So, lucky for me, the head of Swoon Romance said that instead of compromising the story, we’d make it into three novellas. Yay!

Now I could see where the novellas would start and end, but the task became making each novella stand on its own. I had to really work on character development to portray each character fully in a short amount of space. It was tough, but luckily, I have a great editor, and with the help of her insightful comments, I was able to convey a lot with only a few words.

So, Game. Set. Match. Heartbreak became a series with the titles: Love All, Advantage: Heartbreak, and Perfect Match. How do I feel about the transformation? Great. I love novellas, and I’m excited for people to read about Meg, Ash, and Noah.

Thanks, Kelly! See you on tour!

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Norse God cheat sheet and a Giveaway!

Image Last week I reviewed ST Bende’s fab new YA fantasy Elsker, and this week she’s paying us a visit with a quick guide to the Norse gods.  Plus SHE’S GIVING STUFF AWAY!!! Soooo, take it away, ST!

I’m so excited to be here Stephanie!  I’m a huge fan of your Jane Austen adaptation, Snark and Circumstance — retellings with a twist are all kinds of fabulous.

My New Adult Norse Mythology, ELSKER, puts a new spin on some old myths.  In ELSKER, Asgardian Assassin/Norse God of Winter Ull decides to take a vacation.  He drops into the world of small-town girl Kristia Tostenson, and gives her the shock of her life when he tells her who he really is.  Her orderly existence is about to get seriously complicated.

Since both the real mythological Norse world, and my imaginary hybrid of it can be pretty complicated too, here’s my cheat sheet to Norse mythology… with an ELSKER twist

Odin and Thor: Odin is the Father of All Things — the Big Kahuna of Norse Gods.  Thor is his son, the God of Thunder, and he of Mjölnir-the-giant-hammer.

ELSKER’s Twist: Thor is stubborn and off-putting and pretty backwards at times.  And sadly, he’s older and not nearly as good-looking as that cutie pie, Chris Hemsworth.

Ull: Thor’s stepson is the Norse God of Winter.  Judging by the number of Scandinavian sites bearing his name, he was a big deal in early Norse cultures.  But there isn’t much written about him in the Eddic poems.

ELSKER’s Twist:  Ull is 6’5”, blonde, blue eyed, and ridiculously muscular.  In other words, he’s drop dead gorgeous.  Picture a 23-year-old Alexander Skarsgård with disheveled hair and a fondness of cashmere sweaters, and you’ve got my guy.  I also took some liberties in creating ‘jobs’ for my gods.  In ELSKER, the Warriors of Asgard make up Odin’s army, with the top assassins forming the Elite Team — a Navy Seal type unit.  Ull served both as Asgardian Assassin and Elite Team captain, though now being God of Winter is his full time gig.  Sadly, he buys into the party line that the gods’ fates are laid out at birth, and he feels powerless to change his future.

The Norns: In the mythology, three Fates predict the destiny of the gods and protect the World Tree, Yggdrasil.

ELSKER’s Twist: The Three Fates are busy ladies, so they have a team of subordinates who pick up the slack.  Elsker is a feisty, sassy, matchmaking Norn who goes rogue.

Sif: Thor’s wife and Ull’s mother, the Goddess of Beauty has hair made of gold.

ELSKER’s Twist: I made Sif a fierce Warrior of Asgard and gave her a propensity for knitting.

Olaug: There is no Olaug in Norse Mythology.  I made her up.

ELSKER’s Twist: Ull’s sort-of grandma cooks his favorite roasts and makes the Norsk waffles that rock his world.  And since I’m not greedy, I share Olaug’s waffle recipe at the end of ELSKER.  Get ready to buy some bigger pants.

Inga and Gunnar: I made them up too.

ELSKER’s Twist: Since Ull needed to bring some friends on his Midgard vacation, I gave him Odin’s Fight Choreographer/Domestic Goddess extraordinaire (Inga) and a fellow member of the Elite Team (Gunnar).  They’re absolutely awesome in every possible way.

Oh, and ELSKER?  It’s not just the name of my rogue Norn, it’s Norwegian for “Love”.  Because this is just a little story about love — the love of a god for the mortal he feels helpless to protect; the love of Gunnar and Inga for the best friend they’d do anything for; and the love of yours truly for Norse mythology and Norsk waffles.  Seriously, e-mail me after you try out the recipe.  I can’t wait to hear what you think!

Now tell me in the comments, who’s your favorite mythological figure?  Norse, Greek, or otherwise!

THE ELSKER SAGA is available from Entranced Publishing.

TUR, the prequel, can be downloaded for free HERE.

ELSKER, Book 1, is available from Entranced, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Find ST Bende on Twitter (@stbende), Goodreads, or her website.

And be sure to stop by http://stbende.blogspot.com/p/elsker-tour.html between April 11th and May 20th to enter to win fabulous prizes in the ELSKER Release Month of Giveaways!

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