Saturday, May 19, 2012

Answering Questions about Writing

More answers today to your questions about writing in general.  Enjoy!

From Gilli Allan: I'd like to ask a more general question about you. I read in an earlier piece that you wrote in the 60s & 70s and then taught for 25 years, before resuming the writing. It's those 25 years I'm interested in. Were you frustrated during those years? Was your head full of stories trying to get out, or were you able to switch focus (and back again) easily?
There’s a dual answer to this, Gilli. The first is that for a lot of the time I was too busy to be frustrated. I was a head of faculty at a High School, had two teenage daughters, ran a Girl Guide unit, and directed 2 shows a year with the Junior Section of our local Musical Theatre Group. However, that didn’t completely stop me from writing. In the 90’s, I did try another novel (which was rejected – my hero wasn’t sufficiently ‘alpha’ for the climate at that time) but had a few short stories published in the ‘True Romance’ type of magazines. I also wrote articles for the Girl Guiding magazine (activity ideas for leaders to use with their units) and had my own ‘page’ in the magazine for about 5 years.

When I took early retirement from teaching in 1997, however, I didn’t immediately return to writing because I wasn’t sure that the kind of romances I wanted to write were the kind that publishers wanted. It wasn’t until 2006 that I started to write again, beginning with fan-fiction, until I realised (to my surprise) that my muse seemed to have returned. I also discovered that Mills and Boon/Harlequin were not the only publishers of romance!

From Debra St. John: Your writing career has spanned decades. Aside from the obvious (electronic publishing, small presses, etc.) what do you feel has changed most about the romance genre in that time? (content more than product)
How does your new release fit into these 'new' parameters?
This is your third release in just a couple of years. Did your process change from the first of these recent releases to this one?

I can answer these all with one word, Debra. Sex!

In the 60’s and early 70’s, M&B/Harlequin and other smaller romance publishers didn’t just keep the bedroom door closed. As far as they were concerned, there wasn’t even a bedroom! That all changed in the mid 70’s; also there was a new emphasis at that time on the rich, arrogant, domineering alpha-hero, plus what has been called the ‘rape her until she loves you’ syndrome. Fortunately that has now broadened so that today ‘romance’ can cover everything from sweet to erotic. In addition, today’s heroes don’t have to be so macho or heroines so submissive.

I hope my new release reflects the ‘middle-ground’ with a hero and heroine who have both carved out their own successful careers and who come together as equals. Sexual attraction simmers between them but I do try to make my ‘sex scenes’ sensual rather than overtly ‘erotic’.

Lastly, yes, my process has changed, mainly in the sense that I am more aware of the need for my hero and heroine to ‘grow’ in the course of the story, as they find out more about themselves and each other, as well as trying to deal with their own flaws and failings.

From Brenda Moguez: When you're working on a new book, do you outline ahead of time, or write as you go along?
It varies, Brenda. I never plot in detail, but sometimes I have what a call a ‘fluid outline’ in my mind. Other times I have a start and a few vague ideas about what might happen, and I just let them roll. That can backfire on me, when it doesn’t come together as I write, and I have to go back and sort it out. Quite often, I let my characters show me the way as I get to know them better. Sometimes I have to haul them back, but they do seem to lead me on to things I hadn’t thought about originally which are often better than my original ideas.

Glynis Smy: Where do you get your inspiration from?
Good question, Glynis – where does any writer get inspiration from? My first novel ‘His Leading Lady’ arose from my love of musical theatre. ‘Fragrance of Violets’ came from my love of the English Lake District and one of the villages there. ‘Changing the Future’ grew from a story I originally wrote about 30 years ago which, in turn, was partly based on a story I wrote in my teens. And my next book’ Her Only Option’ (to be released next November) was inspired by a Nile cruise I did 18 months ago. Inspiration can come from so many different sources.

From Jennifer Wilck: Why do you write contemporary romance versus other types of romance, and would you consider expanding into other areas?
I’ve written contemporary romance since I was in my teens, and my early published romances were all contemp. romances. It’s my ‘natural’ form of writing, I guess! I’ve no interest at all in paranormal, fantasy or that kind of romance. I’m sometimes asked why I don’t write historical romances since I’m an historian by profession but, maybe because it was my profession, I appreciate all too well amount of research I would have to do to write an accurate historical novel (and not just a modern story in fancy dress!).

Who do you create first, your hero or heroine, and why?
The heroine comes first. I wrote my early novels at the time when they had to be written completely from the heroine’s point of view. So she comes first together with her emotional state at the basic ‘starting’ scenario where she meets the hero (or he reappears in her life). Then I have to think about ‘him’ and where he is emotionally at that point when they meet.

From Ana Morgan: You are a natural dialogue writer. What's your secret?
Thanks, Ana – and I think the  only ‘secret’ is that I hear the voices in my head! My characters talk and I write down what they say! I’ve also discovered (fairly recently actually) that reading my work out loud can highlight areas where the characters might sound stilted or unnatural.

From Jo Heroux: You already know that I love your writing. You already know that I am a personal fan, as well. So my obvious question is the book is finished, well, you think it is. How do you begin to 'shop' your work? Is an agent necessary? Is there a way to get a publisher to WANT your book?
And then, do you write to the publishers requests or do you write and then find a publisher that publishes your style and subject?
Thanks for your kind words, Jo, I really appreciate your support. I’ll answer your last question first: I write the stories I want to write! Then I search for a publisher who I think (hope!) might be interested in them. Back in the 60’s, when I first started writing, there weren’t a lot a romance publishers; today there are dozens, if not hundreds. Many of these accept unagented submissions. I joined romance authors’ loops and found out from these about various publishers. I looked at the submission guidelines, studied the different genres they published (and the heat levels), and downloaded and read some of their books, in order to get the feel of what they wanted and then compared them with my own stories. I also asked some author friends I made via these loops about their experiences with different publishers.
I think the only way to get a publisher to ‘want’ your book is to present the submissions editor with a ‘blurb’ and ‘synopsis’ which interests them and then with a well-written book that meets their requirements.

From Daphne Romero: Hi Paula, I would like to know how you got started, once you completed your first story... to have a book published... how did you know who to contact... how'd you get your foot in the door, in the world of published books... ??

Daphne, I was incredibly lucky with the first novel I wrote back in the 60’s. I knew of only 3 romance publishers at the time, so sent my ms. off to one of them, fully expecting it to come back by return of post with a rejection, but it was accepted. When I started writing fiction again 4 years ago, and submitting my stories, I did have the advantage of being able to list my 4 early books on my resume. But, as I’ve said to Jo in my answer above, now it’s a case of researching publishers and also reading the kind of books they publish to see if yours is anything like their usual kind of book.

From Jenn Duffy-Pearson: Which part of the writing process do you find most difficult? Which do you find the easiest?

The first draft is by far the hardest. As Gilli once said, it’s like carving granite with a teaspoon! Once I’ve finished that, it starts to get easier. First, detailed revision, adding layers to characters and scenes, and sometimes ruthless deleting (ouch! But it has to be done). Then the ‘technical’ editing – searching for clichés, ‘ly’ words, overused words – all the things we’re advised to avoid. My final edit is polishing i.e. reading aloud which helps me to spot words and phrases which don’t sound right I won’t say this is the easiest part, but it’s the part I enjoy the most.

Advice for some of us still putting our first work together? Read the genre you want to write, simply to get a feel for it. Then join a writers’ group or find a couple of critique partners (preferably those who write the same genre as you). Not friends or relatives but someone who will give you an unbiased opinion and help you to see where your work can be improved. It may take some time to find critique partner(s) you can work with and trust, but, believe me, once you’ve found them, they’re worth their weight in gold!
And finally, persevere! Don’t be put off by any rejections. Pick yourself up, and work hard at improving your writing and your stories. If you want to do it enough, you’ll keep at it!


  1. More great questions and answers!

    It was interesting to read more about you, Paula. I enjoyed reading what inspires you.

  2. I love reading historicals, but the research required has always been too daunting for me to try it myself. And I usuallly come up with my heroes first. Great answers.

  3. I think of a theme, then invent the characters and setting to embody that theme.

  4. Thanks, Glynis!

    Jen - it takes me all my time to research for contemporary novels, so heaven knows how long it would take me do do historical research!

    Ana - interesting that you think in terms of plot/theme-led stories, whereas I would say mine are character-led. The 'theme' in mine eventually comes from what the characters say and do.

  5. You've had such a busy life it makes me feel tired! And a little ashamed of my own indolence. I am in awe.

    Gilli x

  6. Looking back now, I must admit I wonder how I did fit it all in, Gilli!