Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


Know Your Genre

Photo by Alex Block on Unsplash

I write romance.

I also do a fair amount of critiquing for other writers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people talk about genre-straddling, or that they’re writing something that doesn’t fit into any particular genre. There is a time in every author’s life when they decide they either don’t need to fit into a genre category or have written something that defies genre categorization.

Trust me. Your work fits into a genre, and it can be categorized.

For the longest time, I didn’t know I was a romance writer. I knew I liked writing about relationships. The messier, the better. Newbie that I was, I threw everything at my characters. Romantic relationship? Yes! Dragons? Angels? Skateboards? Why not! Mystery and intrigue? Sure. A healthy dose of literary-style navel gazing? Absolutely. Bring it. I’d mash everything together, pour in all the things I could think of. Thankfully, my starter novels are lost to time. Like all starter novels, they were hot messes of inconsistency. No plot? No problem: I called it literary. No happily ever after? No problem, it was mainstream fiction with a strong romantic element and also spaceships.

Like a lot of beginning writers, I scoffed at the romance arc because I felt it constricted the entire genre. Why go into reading something, living through all that heartbreak and turmoil, if you know it’s all going to be all right in the end? I figured I could upend it with a non-traditional ending and call it a non-romance. (Note to past me: there’s a word for that type of story, and the word isn’t “romance.”) I read plenty of romance, but with the arrogance that comes from not understanding and definitely not appreciating the intricacies of the romance arc. Yes, at its core it’s A meets B. A and B fall in love, and it’s a love like no other. Then something happens, and A and B either break up or are torn apart by some terrible external circumstance. But eventually they overcome the terrible circumstance, learn to trust each other again, and live happily ever after. I thought, “how trivial. How dull. How expected.”

Being the sort of person who likes to buck tradition, I decided not to follow the romance arc at all. Which was fine. But what that really meant was that I wasn’t writing romance. I was writing something different–women’s fiction, or literary fiction, or a coming-of-age story. All of those genres already exist. Why try to warp them into something they’re not?

Now, as I sit toward the end of this year’s NaNoWriMo first draft (another romance! Score!), I can tell you that learning to work within the constraints of the romance arc is the best, most disciplined thing I have done as a writer. Yes, the arc is there because readers expect it. Beyond that, the romance arc is actually quite beautiful and quite complex. When I think of all the romances I’ve read, no two are exactly alike, even though the romance arc is the uniting factor in all these books. I have yet to see two authors independently pen the same book. Learning to work within the arc takes patience, understanding, and no small amount of skill. After all, nobody’s going to buy a book that treats the romance as a flat, boring, done deal. Even though we know the characters will be all right in the end, we read romance to live through the emotion of the arc with the characters. We get to experience them falling in love, losing that love, and working hard to get it back. In the meantime, if the author has done their job, the characters become so real to us that we root for them. We find ourselves yelling at them when they make some boneheaded move, or cheering for them when they get things right. Good romance novels are packed to the gills with emotion, so charged that readers often can’t put them down. We become invested in the characters, their lives, and their well-being.

Not every genre can make that same claim.

Once I’m finished with the mostly-finished books on my writing plate, I’m going to go back to a mystery I started during NaNoWriMo a few years ago. That, too, is an exercise in discipline, although writing a mystery is a challenge far different from the romance writing challenge. Will I be successful? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I’ve learned my lesson about bucking the trend. Will my mystery have romance elements? Probably, because I’m a sucker for the human experience and believe that love is one of the most interesting topics a writer can tackle. Does it need a HEA/HFN (Happily Ever After/Happy For Now) ending? No. But the mystery has to make sense, and it has to be solved. If I didn’t do that, it wouldn’t actually be a mystery.

Know your genre. Read widely in your category. You’ll learn to recognize what makes a book a romance, what makes it chick lit, and what makes it women’s fiction. Yes, sometimes the lines get blurry, but there’s no shortage of information out there on how to find your genre. Probably the best thing you can do is find a group of other writers who happen to be working on the same type of story you are, and compare notes. Read for each other. Listen to their suggestions. Take their suggestions to heart.

After all this, if you find yourself writing a romance that doesn’t end happily, trust me: you’re not writing a romance. Go back and try categorizing it again.


Leave a comment

Happy #NaNoWriMo, Everyone!

It’s November–are you writing this year? I just started, and am hoping to finish the first draft of the last book in a series this month.

I’d like to introduce you to my NaNoWriMon, Sammy. Named after my female main character, one of my most anticipated things during NaNo is watching her evolve as my word count goes up. She began as a little egg, and hatched today.

gl-jackson's NaNoWriMon

Good luck to all!

Leave a comment

Pitch Wars Romance Writers, Class of 2016

Photo by Designecologist from Pexels

There’s something wonderful about my fellow 2016 Pitch Wars romance writers. I was thinking today what a special group it’s been, and continues to be two years later, and that led me to wanting to talk about it. I know there’s a lot of buzz about how Pitch Wars is special (it is, that’s a separate post) and how a lot of people think it’s their only shot at getting published (it isn’t, that’s a separate post too). But I keep seeing more and more of my PW romance class finding homes for their books, and that makes me so happy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to read many of these authors, some well before their books were slated for publication. Every single one has been a treat, just like every single one has taught me something about the craft of writing romance with heart, with guts, and with style.

I want to celebrate our successes with you. The only fair way to do this is in alphabetical order. A lot of these books are available, and of the ones that aren’t yet…well, keep watching, because they’re things of beauty and you will want to gobble them up.

And there you have it. I hope you enjoy these authors as much as I do!

Leave a comment

One More Golden Heart

No politics, I promise.

2019 will be the last year Romance Writers of America runs the Golden Heart® contest for unpublished authors. Until I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2016, I didn’t even know about the Golden Heart or whether I was eligible. It’s not advertised widely outside RWA circles (or even within RWA circles, honestly). It’s one of those things you either pay attention to or you don’t. One of those things that’s on your radar, or it isn’t.

It should be. In case you’re new here, I am a 2018 Golden Heart finalist.

On the surface, it looks like another bigger chapter contest. I’ve entered a lot of those, with varying results. This past year, when my manuscript Duet became a GH finalist, I was blessed or cursed with the most mixed results from all the other chapter contests I entered. I didn’t final in any of these. In fact, one piece of feedback I got was the worst (and rudest) judging I’ve ever received. Regardless, I still got the call early one morning late in March telling me that I was a Golden Heart finalist.

None of the rest of my contest feedback stuck with me after that. I had entered the Golden Heart on a whim–more or less oh, yeah, it’s GH time, I might as well. Then I promptly forgot about it until the morning finalists were announced and I started seeing social media blow up with excitement for a few of my friends. When I got my call, I assumed it was a telemarketer. But I answered the phone anyway, and all I remember are the words “Your novel Duet is a Golden Heart finalist. Congratulations!”

The rest of the phone call is a total blur.

That first rush of excitement, followed quickly by this can’t be right, surely someone made a mistake and they’re going to let me know they were only kidding, set my heart racing. All I really knew was that I was in the running for an award in the Contemporary Romance category for the Golden Hearts, which is really like the Oscars for unpublished romance writers (the RITA® is RWA’s equivalent for published romance writers). I had no real idea what else it meant, because while I knew other Golden Heart finalists from the previous year, I didn’t really get the low-down on what went along with being named a finalist.

It’s not a secret. That’s why I’m here to spill the beans on it all. So drum roll, please…

What You Get as a Golden Heart® Finalist

  1. You get a phone call from an RWA board member congratulating you. Don’t be like me. Listen carefully when you answer the phone and pay attention to who’s calling you. It could be a NYT bestselling author!
  2. Did you know there’s an RWA chapter for Golden Heart finalists? It’s called The Golden Network, and it’s one of the most positive, uplifting, and wonderful chapters I’ve ever joined. Imagine all the combined wisdom of previous finalists at your fingertips, managed with healthy doses of love, excitement, and unbridled enthusiasm.
  3. If the RWA National hotel is sold out or rooms restricted, as an GH finalist, you’ll get help getting those rooms for the dates you want.
  4. You are immediately part of a sisterhood. The beauty of this can’t be overstated. Face it, writing is a lonely task. We don’t always (or often) have people at the same stage in writing careers to meet, greet, talk to, share experiences with.
  5. If you’re querying, you get to nudge everyone and let them know you’re a GH finalist. (This might have been my first favorite part of the whole deal.)
  6. The Golden Heart award is a big deal. It’s peer-judged, so the novels that final are a fairly decent reflection of what readers want. Agents and publishers like Golden Heart novels, because they’ve been vetted and given approval. Speaking of agents and publishers, there was a reception this year with agents, publishers, editors, and Golden Heart finalists. Network, network, network.
  7. Whether or not you win your category, you get a finalist’s certificate at a special private soiree at RWA National. Bonus: you don’t have to make a speech.
  8. You get to sit up front at the Golden Heart luncheon, and get priority seating for the RITA reception. It might not seem like much, but it is a perk!
  9. You will be congratulated by friends and strangers alike, because you get a special Golden Heart Finalist ribbon for your RWA badge. Oh, and bling. There will be bling.

I’m sure I’ve left out about half the perks. I will tell you that suddenly your experience at RWA National will make you feel a little like a celebrity, which is really fun. So since 2019 is the final year for the Golden Heart® contest, I personally think you should enter. There’s so much to love about this award. I’m sad that the RWA board decided the Golden Heart no longer served its members the way they wanted, but with your help (and entry), we can make 2019 the most fabulous year yet for this esteemed award. After that, we can look forward to whatever replacement contest the board puts into place.

One more thing–past Golden Heart finalists are the most selfless group of writers, I swear! In addition to holding our hands this past year through the process, a number of previous finalists are offering critiques on your Golden Heart submission.

For more information, click here. The giveaway opens October 1.


Why I Write Romance

Romance writers get a bad rap. We’re like the suspected drug dealers of the writing world–people talk about what we do in hushed voices. Pull us aside to ask if we really write romance. Ask when we’re going to give that up and do something serious, something of merit.

Other people, often those writing different genres, look at romance and romance sales, and see dollar signs. If I only wrote romance, I could share a piece of that pie, they say. Romance is so formulaic. That means it’s easy, they say. Romance is just fluff! Anyone can write that, they say.

Keep telling yourselves that. Writing good romance is hard, y’all.

I read a lot of books all across the genre spectrum. I love the variety, but I tell you that the one thing that keeps me interested is when there’s a strong emotional component to a story, whether it’s romance, mystery, young adult, fantasy…you get the picture. Emotions are key to me as a reader. Someone may have written the best plot in the world, but if I don’t care about the characters and their hearts, I won’t really give a good goddamn about that best plot in the world. Why did I spend a summer years ago devouring every Hercule Poirot mystery? Not because of the mysteries themselves (although I was and am a huge fan of Agatha Christie’s writing), but because of the nuances in Poirot’s character. Surely someone so tightly restrained was boiling over on the inside with emotion. Poirot was so controlled that he rarely if ever let anyone get a glimpse into his inner workings–and yet Dame Agatha managed to convey to the readers that he had a lot more going on inside that egg-shaped head of his than simple little grey cells.

For me, every Poirot mystery is a romance between the detective and murder (if you’ve read Curtain I dare you to disagree, and if you haven’t, go read it). I realized early on as a fledgling writer that all my stories had an element of love in them, whether they be YA, westerns, literary, mystery. As a writer, feeling that intensity of emotion and trying to convey it to readers is what made and makes writing a challenge I keep craving.

As a reader, I know when I feel what’s on the page. We talk about show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell. I used to not really know what that meant, but as I keep writing, keep reading, and get more experience in this craft, I realize that simple directive really means “make me feel what the characters are feeling.”

That’s why I write romance. There’s nothing I’d rather explore more than the depth of passion that is love. I don’t just mean exploring the physical choreography–that’s its own challenge. I mean the emotional depth of passion. The one that makes readers cry and laugh along. The one that makes the typical romance arc so satisfying: we get it all. The blush of new love, the uncertainty of relationships, the rush of passion, the heartbreak of separation, and the relief when the characters prove their worthiness to each other and ride off into the sunset of a Happily Ever After.

And if I can put a little more love and happiness out there into the world, well…I’m all for that.

Leave a comment

The night was hazy. Too hazy.

Here in the Pacific northwest, the skies have been filled with smoke from the fires raging up and down the west coast. The worst of it where I live near Seattle has been coming down from British Columbia. Many of the people I know have been affected by the pollutants in the air. If you’re wondering what it looks like…

(You should be able to see the Seattle skyline, clear as day across the water.)

That aside, I have a little bit of news! I’m officially a part of the Pitch Wars blog team. Will you see a ton of posts by me? No, I’m primarily working behind the scenes to make sure everything looks right before the posts go live. I’m working with this fabulous group: Brenda Drake, Lisa Leoni, and Jaime Dill.

This is in addition to the work I’m doing with All The Kissing. Hey, the busier we are, the more productive we get, right?

As far as writing goes, I’ve sent off edits and am taking a tiny breather to read a bit before delving into finishing not one but two books. Where is my clone? Of course I can only physically work on one at a time, but I love them both and have been like a ping pong ball, going back and forth. Spoiler: one of them is not a romance! But it is a novel I love and am passionately eager to finish. So we’ll see what happens, and which one gets done first.

If you haven’t yet joined us on Twitter for #FridayKiss, please do! These Twitter hashtag games displaying lines from a work in progress serve more purposes than just showing off in front of thousands of your best friends. When I work with the weekly theme, I’ve found it helps me notice trends and over-use in my own writing, first and foremost. If I use the theme word the same way more than twice, I’ll go back and do some editing. Then, when I read the feed, I can see what the most common uses are for the theme word. It’s both fascinating and insightful. Maybe I’m looking at it from the perspective of someone who did technical editing for a lot of years, but I know it’s made me keenly aware of the way I use words and terms in my fiction. Of course, your mileage may vary, and no analysis is required.

The second benefit is really the one I was flippant about above. If you’re writing and want to be published, you need to get used to sharing your words. Is it scary? Absolutely. Does it get easier with time? Absolutely. But look at this as a proving ground for yourself. If you don’t put yourself out there now, will you be able to do it later? Will you gather the courage to submit to contests? Will you be brave enough to query agents, editors, or publishers if you’re too shy about your writing? So come along and practice with us. You can find the prompt posted every Thursday evening at 7pm Pacific time at @yourfridaykiss. And to make it a little bit more entertaining, there are quotes. About each prompt. Each week. And no spoiler here: I have a lot of fun finding those.


RWA 2018

I want to bend your ear for a minute or two about RWA, the National Conference, and the RWA writing awards.

Each finalist for the Golden Heart® and the RITA® awards got a certificate of appreciation from the RWA board. This happened the night before the ceremonies where the winners were announced (spoiler alert: I didn’t win my category, at least not as far as RWA was concerned). The certificate event was a really nice way for everyone to feel special, appreciated, and worthwhile.

The day did not start out that way. At the Annual General Meeting, the board announced that they were doing away with the Golden Heart award for unpublished writers. Due to prior obligations I wasn’t at the meeting, but people who attended said that more than a few people spoke out against the board’s decision. I’ve written in other places about the Golden Heart, what it means, and why it shouldn’t be discontinued. Most of my reasons have to do with RWA’s commitment to unpublished authors. They reasoned that with so many people seeking alternate routes beyond traditional, the Golden Heart no longer applies. However, it’s an award for unpublished authors. That means they haven’t decided to go either hybrid or self-published or traditional. Unpublished. I believe that RWA owes as much support to unpublished authors as they do to the published ones. So if they’re going to use different paths to publication as a reason for cutting out the Golden Heart, they need to take a long look at the RITA awards too. Most of the RITA winners this year were self-published.

So let’s don’t be hypocritical. You can’t fault an unpublished author for thinking about self-publishing when the top dog awards are going to self-published authors, can you?

That aside, there have been a lot of rumblings this year about RWA not being inclusive enough of writers who are not your standard CIS white writers. I mean, a lot of rumbling, and rightly so. Not a single African-American author won a RITA, although the video interviews interspersed between awards featured primarily women of color. The Golden Heart did marginally better in this category.

This has been a year for RWA being called out.

It’s a good time to show you the badge I wore at this year’s national convention.

If you look beyond the name and the bling at the ribbons I put on in rainbow-hued order, you can probably make out the words on the light blue one. In case you can’t, it reads LBGTQ+ ROMANCE. As I listened to lifetime achievement award winner Suzanne Brockmann’s RITA speech, my heart swelled about six sizes. You see, my Golden Heart novel, Duet, features an openly bisexual male main character. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined it stood a snowball’s chance in hell of making it into the Golden Heart finals. Once I found out it had, I kept expecting to get a phone call or email saying sorry, we made a mistake. That never happened, despite a general reaction of “oh, how interesting” from a great many people when I told them about Duet’s male lead.

My novel made the finals, but I knew its chances of winning were even slimmer. Winning in my category would have been lovely. It wasn’t my top priority, however, and I’ll tell you why:

A few months ago, I got a call from a dear friend. She was delighted to tell me that she had a new girlfriend. Of course, I was so happy for her, congratulated her. Then she told me that it was Duet’s bisexual male main character—someone openly out, someone who owns what he is and what he does, someone perfectly confident in his own skin and with his own sexuality—that enabled her to realize she was bisexual, and that it was okay.

Representation matters. That’s not just an idle phrase.

As writers, we aim to touch the lives and hearts of our readers. As romance writers, we aim to show them there is always the possibility of a happily ever after. In this case, I was lucky enough to hear that the life of someone I love dearly was positively influenced by my book and characters.

After that, who needs a necklace? I’m already a winner.


RWA National is exhausting, exhilarating, mind-numbingly busy. It can be fantastic; it can be a crushing experience. Now that you all know I wasn’t remotely crushed at not winning in my category, I’ll tell you that I came away from this conference more determined than ever to keep writing my own stories my own way. To never underplay or hide the queer characters who are part of the population of my books, and have been for as long as I’ve been writing.

I met a lot of people this year. I made a lot of new writing friends. I have so many ideas for things I can do personally to pay it forward to new writers, established writers, and to readers. Watch this space.