Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson


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On Giving and Receiving Feedback

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

When I read manuscripts for people, I always offer feedback. I also always hesitate before doing so, because I never know how it’s going to be accepted (or whether it’ll be accepted).

From me, feedback on writing isn’t a declaration or proclamation. Sometimes, it’s the start of a dialog. This is a really good thing—the feedback I give as a reader is just one person’s response to to the words. It should help the writer understand how their story is being seen, at least by one reader. This is a little fraught with peril, because as writers we know exactly what we’re trying to get across. To hear that it didn’t work, or that it only worked in part, can sting. A lot. But I decided a long time ago that as much as it hurts to find out that I didn’t get my point across, or didn’t do it well, or left a completely different impression from the one I intended, or that someone didn’t understand my character or plot point or whatever, the critique will always make me a better writer.

I’m much more accepting of concrit now than I used to be. I still look on my characters and stories as my babies, and to me they are perfect. But I’ve also learned to look on my writing as a skill, and all skills have room for improvement. I’m not perfect by any means. I don’t write a perfect first draft that leaves readers reeling in wonder and excitement. That comes in the revision phase, if it comes at all, and for that, I need reader feedback.

So when I send out feedback to people (especially those I don’t know well), I always hold my breath a little and hope they’ll take the feedback in the spirit it was intended. Not as criticism but as suggestion, ways I think their work can be improved. It’s all just suggestion! It’s all subjective! What I like, another reader might not. What I can’t stand, another reader might love. We can’t please everyone, but we can at least learn to please ourselves with our writing.

I’ve been sending out lots of feedback lately. I love when I get impassioned responses to it on a point-by-point basis, especially when the author disagrees. Why? Because if the author feels strongly enough to debate my concrit, it means I have them thinking about their approach to the story, character, or scene. That’s the kind of thing that for me as a writer, I think about for days and days until I either decide the feedback-giver was absolutely right or absolutely wrong. More often than not, I realize they were right, and then my brain can start solving the puzzle of how to fix that piece.

Yesterday I got a response from someone who (I’m paraphrasing) said they were thankful because the feedback I gave not only fit with what other people had been telling them, but that it made something click and they figured out how best to revise. That made me so happy. Because so often when I send feedback I have my fingers crossed and hope the author will understand where I’m coming from, and so often I never hear a peep. Did they get it? Do they hate me now? Was I at least a little bit helpful?

Hearing back like that made me smile. So for everyone who’s ever bothered to read my work and send feedback, a giant thank you. And for everyone who’s read my feedback and had even a tiny “aha” moment, another giant thank you for taking my thoughts into consideration. No writer could possibly be where they are without their readers and critique partners.


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Choosing is HARD, y’all.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In 2015 I entered my novel in a little contest called Pitch Wars, hoping to be mentored. I didn’t make it. There’s something absolutely devastating about seeing that list go up, scanning for your name, and not finding it listed. I was hurt, but I got some good feedback, let it settle, and kept on writing.

In 2016, I tried again. This time, my name was on the list of mentees, even though through careful denial and self-preservation instincts, I’d told myself it wouldn’t be there. I was much happier. Little did I know exactly how busy I was about to be.

Pitch Wars went by. I made it to the agent showcase. I got requests. All around me, mentees were excitedly sharing the offers they’d had. I didn’t get one.

A year went by. I still didn’t have an offer. What I did have were some fantastic critique partners, one of whom asked a simple question about one of the secondary characters in my Pitch Wars manuscript. I don’t think she knew at the time that she was going to spawn a dynasty, I mean, a four-book series, but that’s exactly what happened. I wrote the second book, had it edited (yay!), entered it in the Golden Heart contest, and entered it into #KissPitch and the March edition of #PitMad.

I started getting requests.

At the end of March 2018, more than a year and a half after the agent showcase, that Pitch Wars sequel was named a Golden Heart finalist, and I received a number of offers of representation. Also in 2018, I applied to be a Pitch Wars mentor.

I wasn’t accepted.

Rejection in all its forms never really gets easier, but I figured it was not meant to be. I kept writing. I wrote the other two books in my series (just a note for those of you thinking of doing the same: I am all for following our passion when it comes to writing. However, wisdom states that we probably shouldn’t go about trying to write sequels when the first book hasn’t sold. Fair warning, that’s probably right, as I sit here with three years’ worth of unsold series, although your mileage may certainly vary).

In 2019, I initially waffled about applying as a Pitch Wars mentor. Like I said, rejection never gets easier. But finally I shook off the self-doubt and imposter syndrome that follows me around like a bad shadow regardless of the weather, took the plunge, and applied again. This time, I was accepted.

Just like before, when I was a mentee, I had no idea how much work was ahead of me and how busy I’d get. I thought, well, I’m a first-time mentor. I’ll be lucky if I get a few submissions.

Holy cow, y’all. I got snowed under with submissions. It was a veritable avalanche of subs. But I’m nothing if not persistent, so I dug out from under and read them all. I explained my process on Twitter, if you’re interested in reading it.

I didn’t talk numbers there, because my mama and papa always taught me talking numbers was rude. But here, I’ll be confessional. I got 250 submissions. Out of those, I requested 23 manuscripts, either full or partial. I read 8 complete manuscripts, did not quite finish 6 other complete manuscripts, and read the partials on 9 more. That was a lot of reading.

Imagine going trick-or-treating. You come home with 250 unique pieces of candy you like, but you only get to keep ONE. There are so many favorites, so you sort them. You agonize over your favorites. You go back and forth–this one! No, THIS one! No, this–until you just can’t think any more. Yet people are waiting for you to choose, and each of those candies has feelings that you will hurt by not picking it.

That’s what it’s like, being a Pitch Wars mentor and having to choose one manuscript/one mentee out of the whole submission field. It’s daunting. It’s damned near impossible.

All in all, I got a blend of everything I asked for–and more. Here’s the breakdown by numbers, purely in alphabetical order:

Contemporary Fiction – 17
Contemporary Romance – 49
Cyberpunk – 1
Fantasy – 9
Fantasy Romance – 6
Gothic – 4
Historical Fiction – 7
Historical Romance – 12
Horror – 1
Literary Fiction – 15
Mystery – 1
New Adult Contemporary – 5
New Adult Fantasy – 4
New Adult Fantasy Romance – 2
Paranormal – 6
Romantic Comedy – 6
Romantic Suspense – 1
Science Fiction – 8
SciFi Romance – 5
Thriller – 1
Urban Fantasy – 9
Women’s Fiction – 81

Those of you who are mathematically inclined can figure out the percentages! Make sweet pie charts! Color code it!

Once again, thank you ALL for submitting your work to me. It’s been an honor having the opportunity to read, agonizing having to choose, and an all-around wonderful experience.


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My Pitch Wars Wish List

I am a Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentor

This is my first year as a Pitch Wars mentor, although I’m not new to mentoring. I’m so happy to be here. Pleased to meet you, and you, and you.

Peter Quill (Star-Lord) and Ronan from Guardians of the Galaxy circling one another

If you’re not familiar with Pitch Wars, it’s a writing mentoring program. Agented/published authors or industry interns spend three months working with one author to get their manuscript in the best shape they can, ahead of an agent showcase. All the information you need can be found right here

About Me | Genres I’m Accepting | Please Don’t Send | My Ideal Mentee | My Mentoring Style

Hello, My Name Is…

  • Gwynne, or G.L. professionally. I’m a co-founder of All The Kissing (ATK), a community by and for romance writers. I help moderate the ATK Facebook group and am mostly to blame for the #FridayKiss twitter prompt party.
  • I was a Pitch Wars mentee in 2016, and a 2018 Golden Heart® finalist, both in contemporary romance.
  • I write primarily contemporary romance, women’s fiction, and mainstream fiction. Regardless of genre, all my characters are bound by love. I prefer writing complex, imperfect people who manage to find peace with themselves despite their shortcomings and obstacles. I’m definitely a character-oriented writer. But don’t let that fool you. I can work a mean plot and hit the necessary beats.
  • I live off the coast of Seattle and there really are brazen local sea otters that hang around our yard (you can see videos of them on my Instagram feed). I lived in the Bay Area for four years before moving here, and in Oregon for a long time before that. I run on US west coast time.
  • I’m an energy worker and was a licensed massage therapist for a dozen years. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
  • I love astrology (Scorpio, Gemini ascendant, Pisces moon), tarot (Queen of Swords), Enneagram (2w3), Meyers-Briggs (ENFP), Hogwarts sorting (Gryffindor), numerology (6), piña coladas (blended), and getting caught in the rain (Seattle).
  • I’m represented by Michelle Richter of Fuse Literary, and am currently on submission.
  • I could tell you stories about getting caught on a river in a torrential downpour in Belize or being offered a handful of cash for my baby’s NY Knicks sweatshirt in China or waking up in the middle of the night in the Bahamas staring at the barrel of a machine gun. Life is a carnival. But enough about me. Let’s talk Pitch Wars!

What I’m Looking For

It should go without saying right up front that I’m LGBTQ+, #ownvoices, and diversity-friendly, but I’m saying it anyway. Love is love is love.

I am only accepting manuscripts in the Adult category.

Also…

If you have a ghost in your story and it fits one of my requested genres, send it to me!

A ghost passing in front of a plantation (from Scooby Doo)

Here are the genres I’m accepting, spooky or not:

ROMANCE

I love romance. I love the craft of it, the skill of taking that arc and making it new and special. I love the characters who fall in love and fight for their happiness. Romance must be the central crux of the story, and it needs to follow the romance arc. If you’re questioning whether that breakup at the end doesn’t count because the book is 99% romance and that’s enough, you’re wrong. The book must end on a satisfyingly optimistic note—with the love interests together either happily ever after or happily for now—or it’s not romance.

  • I am not a fan of alpha males, although I love reading about alpha females. Bring me your betas, your gammas, your cinnamon roll heroes.
  • I’m not the right mentor for sports romance, inspirational romance, or erotica.
  • For heat level I’ll take anything from sweet to steamy.

These are the only romance sub-genres I’m looking for:

  • Contemporary Romance. Any trope (friends-to-lovers, enemies-to-lovers, and found family are favorites), as long as it has a central romance and ends happily. Beautiful, thoughtful writing and an engaging voice are a must for me with contemporary. PSA: I also love a good rom-com!
  • Scifi Romance. I prefer soft scifi, where the focus is on the romance more than on the science. However, I need enough scifi elements to make your world stand out and be noticeably different from ours, even in near-future novels. Think Vivien Jackson’s Wanted and Wired series. And yes, superhero romance counts here!
  • Fantasy Romance. Fantastical worlds are wonderful, but the world-building needs to be seamless and believable for me. If you’ve got a magic system where things happen “just because,” I’m not your best mentoring choice. Likewise, if you have to set the scene with a thousand years’ worth of history and name all the names, I’m not your best mentoring choice. I’m looking for stories where the romance is the focus, and the fantasy elements are more delicious gravy than main course.
  • Historical Romance. I don’t just mean Regency, although if you can get my panties in a twist over a duke, earl, or duchess, I’ll take it. I love historical romances that take place in all eras and countries (like Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace). But I’m definitely not the right mentor for Viking or Highlander romances. Ach, sorry, lads and lasses. 😦
  • Western Romance. Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys 🎶 unless you’re going to send me their stories. I’m a sucker for cowboys who are loners, who have something to prove, or better still, something to hide. If your western setting doubles as a character on its own, I will love you forever.
  • New Adult. I am accepting New Adult, especially if there’s more plot than sex, but I might ask you to consider aging your characters up to adult.

Cowboy cracking a flaming whip

WOMEN’S FICTION

I’m looking for powerful, intimate stories that follow the main character’s emotional growth through the course of the novel. With women’s fiction, attention to characterization is something I need to see amped way up. I love strong women, I love quirky women, and I also love reading about a female main character who is broken but at least begins to heal as the story progresses. A central romance is not required (though it will make me happy). Emotion is key for me in women’s fic—I want to be able to crawl into your character’s heart and understand why it beats the way it does. I want to feel your main character’s pain, her joy, and her tears (Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune). I prefer deep single POV and more optimistic endings in women’s fiction.

CONTEMPORARY FICTION

For contemporary I like everything from light yet compelling (The Descendants) to issues-driven to dark. But I don’t want to dwell on gruesome details about murder or sexual violence or satanic rituals, and I don’t want psychological thrillers masquerading as contemporary fiction. In this genre I’m a fan of multiple POVs (A Brief History of Seven Killings), stories that hop back and forth in time (The Time Traveler’s Wife), and old mysteries that have new light shed on them in later times (The Historian). Bottom line: intrigue me with your plot and premise, then give me a character I can root for with a voice that wows me. Did I mention I love ghosts?

URBAN FANTASY

My preferred flavor of urban fantasy is a story where the fantasy element is so much a part of everyday life that we simply accept it and get lost in the storytelling. There are reasons Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks and Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere are two of my most re-read books. I like urban fantasy from light to gritty (Mishell Baker’s Borderline). Make me believe all these worlds exist side by side with ours. Bonus points if your urban fantasy contains some light-hearted elements, or at least well-thought-out characters of all stripes.

RETELLINGS

Oh, I love a good retelling! I don’t just mean “I named him Cinderfella and gave him evil stepbrothers,” though. My favorite retellings are the ones that retain the basic elements of the original story, but twist them on their sides so that the story takes on a life of its own (Cinder or Warm Bodies). Even if we can’t tell what work it’s based on until the end, I find these stories remarkably lovely and will gobble them up (no zombie pun intended).

R and Julie (Warm Bodies) holding hands

LITERARY

I’m on the lookout for character-driven literary fiction with an imaginative plot and a fascinating, unusual narrative voice. Single POV, multiple POV, any era, doesn’t matter as long as the characters are compelling. Make it heartfelt, make it beautiful, make it so I can’t put it down. Give me a happy ending or a sad ending. Make me care so much about your characters that it hurts. Make me care so much about your characters that I can’t stop thinking about them for weeks. Months. Years. Favorites include Patrick Suskind’s Perfume and almost anything by Louise Erdrich.

SCIENCE FICTION

Please note right up front: for hard sci-fi, I am not your best mentor choice. My preference in science fiction is for soft sci-fi stories with romantic subplots, even if the romance isn’t the central theme of the story. Bring me your near-future, your superhero worlds, your outlying other colonies. Or okay, bring me a character like Mark Watney and convince me he could survive, or even a total nihilist like Spike Spiegel and show me what drives him (we all know it’s love). Again: soft on the hard science, big on the human emotion side.

Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop) shooing kids away from his ship

Please Don’t Send Me:

  • Stories where the central action revolves around abuse, rape, incest, torture, or other nonconsensual or violent acts
  • Stories that are racist, anti-Semitic, anti-LGBTQ+, anti-anybody
  • Thinly-veiled diatribes about politics
  • Biblical retellings
  • Stories about angels or demons

If I’ve worked with you on your Pitch Wars manuscript before and you haven’t drastically revised it since, I respectfully request that you submit to a different mentor.

If your genre isn’t specifically listed here, I’m not the right mentor for it. If you’re still not sure, ask me. You’ve got four mentor picks—choose wisely.

My Ideal Mentee

  • is willing to put in the hard work Pitch Wars demands to make their manuscript better
  • can take feedback, absorb it, not get hurt receiving it, and work with it in their own way
  • has a healthy desire to learn
  • has a healthy sense of humor
  • has a healthy sense of self
  • will not get sick of being cheered on

Bottom line, I’m not looking to work with someone who thinks they have to do everything I say just because it’s Pitch Wars and I’m their mentor. It’s a partnership, a give and take. At my core, I’m just another writer who happens to love your story.

Sam from iCarly on reading a book: "These things are great! It's like TV in your head!"

My Mentoring Style

I believe in mentoring as a partnership rather than me telling you what you must do (unless that relates to schedules, where I might pull rank). I’m a former professional copyeditor, technical editor, and proofreader, so we’ll polish your words to a shine. We’ll pay attention to story flow and arc, and in hitting the beats at the right time. Most of all, we’ll pay attention to voice, characters, and characterization. By the time we’re through, your characters will be so distinct and realistic they’ll be ready to jump off the page.

Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes flying blissfully through the air

If you’re my mentee, you’ll get an edit letter up front, with a thorough read of your manuscript at least twice during the course of Pitch Wars. I’m happy to read anything you need along the way as well. I can think up a dozen story scenarios at any moment off the top of my head if brainstorming together is something you’d like.

I won’t rewrite your book. I won’t put words in your characters’ mouths. But I will give you the tools you need to revise your book your own way and in your own words, so that your story and characters and settings sparkle in the sunlight. (See what I did there, Twilight fans?)

I believe in constructive criticism and outright I LOVE THIS SO MUCH squeeing. Remember, if I pick your story, it’s because I already love it, see untapped potential in it, and want to help you make it the best it can be. I will never give you the full-on Simon Cowell treatment (unless it’s a standing ovation). There will probably be homework. I will help you pull your plot together, find the right starting place, see to it that the pacing is good, that you don’t let your story sag in the middle. I’m also fluent in queries, pitches, and synopses.

Simon Cowell applauding & giving two thumbs up

I work best using email, DMs, and other written communication. I’m not phone-phobic so if you’re into phone or video chats that’s cool and I’ll do it, but most of my communication will be via email or DMs. I’m really good about responding ASAP and happy to hear from you by text message as well.

Also, I’m pretty nice and chill. Easy-going, and low drama. That doesn’t mean I won’t be all excited about your work, running around with my hair on fire. I will. I’ll just do it quietly.

Dexter (Dexter's Lab) running around DeeDee with his hair in flames

So what are you waiting for? Let’s work together.

If you have any questions about what I’m looking for or whether your story is appropriate to submit to me, please ask. I’m always happy to answer. You can hit me up on Twitter at @gwynnejackson and at my AMA on the Pitch Wars forum.

Pitch Wars 2019 Adult Mentors’ Wish Lists

  1. Paris Wynters
  2. Kathleen Barber (Accepts NA)
  3. Ian Barnes
  4. Mary Ann Marlowe (Accepts NA)
  5. Elizabeth Little
  6. Hayley Stone and Erin A. Tidwell
  7. Gwynne Jackson (Accepts NA)
  8. Maxym M. Martineau (Accepts NA)
  9. Katie Golding (Accepts NA)
  10. Ava Reid and Rachel Morris (Accepts NA)
  11. Carolyne Topdjian
  12. Natalka Burian
  13. Tim Akers
  14. Alex Segura
  15. Michelle Hauck and Carrie Callaghan (Accepts NA)
  16. Laura Brown (Accepts NA)
  17. Mia P. Manansala and Kellye Garrett (Accepts NA)
  18. Kerbie Addis and Ren Hutchings (Accepts NA)
  19. Susan Bishop Crispell (Accepts NA)
  20. Kelly Siskind and Heather Van Fleet (Accepts NA)
  21. Janet Walden-West and Anne Raven (Accepts NA)
  22. Kate Lansing (Accepts NA)
  23. Kristen Lepionka and Ernie Chiara
  24. Alexa Martin and Suzanne Park (Accepts NA)
  25. Gia de Cadenet (Accepts NA)
  26. Rob Hart
  27. Layne Fargo and Halley Sutton
  28. Michael Chorost (Accepts NA)
  29. Sarah Remy (Accepts NA)
  30. Nicole Glover (Accepts NA)
  31. Farah Heron (Accepts NA)
  32. Samantha Rajaram
  33. Keena Roberts (Accepts NA)
  34. Rebecca Enzor (Accepts NA)
  35. Matthew Quinn Martin (Accepts NA)
  36. Denny S. Bryce (Accepts NA)
  37. Meryl Wilsner and Rosie Danan (Accepts NA)
  38. P.J. Vernon and Kelly J. Ford (Accepts NA)
  39. Gladys Quinn (Accepts NA)
  40. Diana A. Hicks (Accepts NA)
  41. Damyanti Biswas
  42. Stephen Morgan (Accepts NA)


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I love writing a synopsis, said no one ever.

A woman in front of a laptop anxiously biting on a pencil

These days, I usually I write craft posts over at the All The Kissing blog but I know a lot of people who are nervous (politely put) if not outright panicking about writing a synopsis. I’m going to try to help get those of you all flustered about synopses to a point where you can breathe, say aha!, and get that synopsis to reflect your story the way you want.

At its heart a synopsis is nothing more than a marketing tool, but there are a few things we need to remember about them.

1. Don’t be stingy with plot details.

Why? The synopsis is a short description of your book, not a short description of your hook.

A common mistake I see in first-time synopsis writers is that they don’t want to include the big reveals. You have to include the spoilers. The whole point of the synopsis is to give the reader an idea of the important things that happen in a story. So instead of saying “And if Mardina doesn’t tell Alaric about her big secret, their future will be in jeopardy,” we need to know what you’re referencing. “If Mardina doesn’t tell Alaric she’s got a two-year-old child with death-by-staring powers, he’ll never forgive her once he uncovers the truth. But if she does tell him, that knowledge will tie them both to the planet, demolishing Alaric’s dream of exploring the nebula.” (I kind of like where this is going. Plot bunny for the taking, anyone?)

2. Take a tip from the world of screenwriting.

Why? The intricacies of the story belong in the book narrative, not the synopsis. Often, your synopsis will be used by an industry professional to help gauge their interest, or to ensure that you’re representing the genre correctly, before they read your pages.

In drama shows, many episodes have two discrete yet complementary plots. The main one is referred to as the “A” plot, and the minor one is the “B” plot. While the “B” plot is often fascinating, it isn’t the sole or main focus of the episode. Make sure that your synopsis focuses on the “A” (main) plot of your story. As tempting as it is to weave all the intertwining sub-plots into the synopsis, we need to chop mercilessly. The gist of the story needs to be there, but without all the detail.

3. Use names sparingly.

Why? Ease of reading. Ease of remembering. Ease of understanding who’s where when, and which characters are most important.

Pick a handful of your most important characters—two or three, no more—to refer to by name. All the rest can be referred to by description (“the roommate” or “her father” or “the Imperial Juggernaut”). When you’re including characters in your synopsis, ask yourself if they’re part of the “A” storyline or the “B” storyline. If the answer is “B,” it’s best to leave them out.

Tip: current synopsis style favors capitalizing the first instance of the named characters (“GIOVANNI is first mate on the USS Sinksalot”) and then use regular capitalization rules for the rest of those instances.

4. A simple recipe: pitch, query, synopsis, novel.

Why? Some books present well in queries. Others present better in synopsis form or in pitch form. If you have all these pieces at hand, you’ll always be able to share something that showcases your book beautifully.

Each book needs at least four pieces:

  • the novel itself, which is your brilliant labor of love
  • the synopsis, which is a short distillation of the novel
  • the query letter, which is a short distillation of the synopsis, and
  • the pitch, which is a short distillation of the query letter.

Some authors write the novel first and then the supporting pieces. Others start with the pitch or query letter or synopsis. Discussing how to write a synopsis before the novel is beyond the scope of this blog post, but I’ll give you a little hint: you do have some kind of outline, don’t you?

Once you start looking at all the marketing pieces this way, they start to seem a little less daunting. At least they do to me.

5. My favorite synopsis-writing resource

I wouldn’t be able to say much of anything about writing a synopsis without crediting my favorite resource at Pub(lishing) Crawl: How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis. It’s become my go-to for each synopsis I’ve written. I highly recommend this tool, with examples from Star Wars: A New Hope. I find it so flexible, I’ve been able to adapt it to fit all of my books regardless of genre. With a little imagination you’ll be able to see how to adapt it to fit books told from more than one point of view, and still keep your synopsis focused and succinct.

Good luck!


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It’s That Time Again – RWA National Conference

Photo by Aaron Sebastian on Unsplash

There are so many reasons to go to the professional conferences for whatever occupation you hold. As a writer of romance and women’s fiction, that means the RWA national conference is the place to be and to go.

This year, the conference has a special meaning for me. It’s in my home town (that’s right, I’m a Manhattan girl by birth). As if that’s not enough, I’ll get to spend time with family and friends. Make new friends, meet new people, and stay in the heart of Times Square. When I was growing up, Times Square was not a place I frequented. But it’s changed so much, and I’m looking forward to seeing it as a new! improved! tourist attraction!

Beyond tourism, I can’t wait to soak up knowledge, experience, and atmosphere. Being around 2000 romance writers is so empowering in so many ways that it’s hard to describe. But we are all there because we love writing and love the genre. Romance writing has gotten a bad rap lately for a lot of reasons. At its core, it is by women and for women, and if you don’t think being around that much positive energy for a week is an uplifting experience, then I’m guessing you haven’t attended the RWA national conference. Just being there—just soaking up the happiness and glee and good vibes—is one of the highlights of my writing life. Heaven knows I spend enough time face to face with my laptop screen. Being face to face with writing friends is a slice of bliss.

So this conference always recharges my batteries. It can be such a beautiful time for Romancelandia. I hope if you’re there, we get a chance to meet!


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Making the Leap from Fanfiction to Original Fiction

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash

I’m a sucker for backstory. I love it more than is probably healthy. I’m the one who’s always asking “what happened before? Where did that character trait come from? Who made this person into who they are? Why why why why?”

For someone like me, fanfiction was the perfect venue. I could take these mostly full-formed characters I loved and fill in the blank places. The world I chose to start with was Harry Potter, but I didn’t want to write about Ron or Harry or Hermione. I wanted to know why Lucius Malfoy hated Muggles so much, and what Sirius Black’s birthday was, and how Sybill Trelawney became so forgetful. Once I found The Sugar Quill and saw that other people were also interested in exploring the nooks and crannies, I was hooked. I started writing (terrible) fanfiction, filled with the worst, most melodramatic trope overuse. Luckily all of that is lost to the annals of time.

Slowly, though, I got better at it. I finally wrote a story I liked enough to submit to the Quill, one I was proud of even though deep down inside I knew it probably sucked. But the powers that be there liked it! They liked it enough to shelve it with their favorites, and thus was born my first authorial acceptance letter. I kept writing, kept exploring the pieces not only in the Harry Potter fandom but in many others, and a funny thing happened.

I became a better writer for all that inane poking around in the backstories of other peoples’ characters.

For the record, I’d always dabbled in writing original fiction too. I just didn’t think it was very good at all. I’d switch back and forth between fanfiction and original fiction and slowly, slowly, the light dawned. With original fiction, no one could claim my MC was acting out of character. No one could tell me that I’d gotten the background details wrong. No one could say I hadn’t read the right chapter or watched the right episode. No one argued with me over whether what happened was wrong or right.

After being constrained by canon for so long, writing my own worlds and characters was a breath of fresh air. I became very good at writing characters and knowing them and giving them backstory. Always backstory, because I’m still a sucker for it. And little by little I learned that I’m the one who needs to know the backstory, but it doesn’t have to be a part of the story. It’s enough that I know it.

Making the leap from fanfic to original fiction was a little bittersweet. I didn’t sit down and say no more fanfiction, not now, not ever! But once I’d tasted the freedom that came with writing my own worlds, I was hooked. I still had to figure out big-picture things like how to plot and how to use story beats, and in many ways I’m still and will always be figuring that out. Somewhere along the line, my focus for original fiction outshone my focus for fanfic. Fanfic became harder and harder for me to write, where original fiction flowed like a river. Eventually I stopped writing fanfiction altogether–and now I doubt I’d even know how to do it any more.

I was able to fill the need for it in a unique way, though. It didn’t take me too long to realize that writing sequels for my original stories was exactly like writing fanfiction for my own canon. What can I say? Where there’s a will, there’s a way?

Even though I don’t write fanfiction any more (my last one was written over three years ago), it will always have a special place in my heart. It taught me so much about the craft and skill of writing, of imagination, and of infusing writing with emotion. So if you’ve got a background in fandom and write or wrote fanfiction, wear that nerd banner proudly! It serves us well.

And before you know it, people will be writing fanfiction for your characters.


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Sticking the Ending

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

JK Rowling taught me a valuable lesson: in an ongoing series, don’t get too attached to any one character. The author might kill them off. The jolt I got after reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was palpable. I felt it in my gut. In my heart. Right then and there, I resolved to never fall in love with a fictional character again.

Of course, that didn’t really stick. But it did teach me that in anyone else’s fictional world, the ending is out of my control. I remember watching the finales of a few memorable TV series: Lost, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Sons of Anarchy. These days I watch even less television than I did in the past. Part of that is because I have less trust in the writers to give me an ending that satisfies. Part of that is because there’s too much to choose from. Another part of that is my excuses: I should be writing my own stuff. I should be doing this or that. I should get away from a screen, any kind of screen, and interact with other humans face to face.

The latest show I watched in its entirety was HBO’s Game of Thrones. I know a lot of people who are extremely disappointed in the ending. Without getting into specifics about the show, the writers, and the expense involved in such a production, I will say that by last Sunday night, I finally felt I’d truly learned that lesson from back in my Harry Potter days. I had let go of any personal investment in the ending, and sat back and watched simply as a spectator to the story. Without caring overmuch about the fate of any of the characters, I watched. Looked for nuances. Saw various storylines neatly tied up while others were left dangling or largely unresolved.

I thought back to the other shows I mentioned above. I might be in the minority but I did love the ending to three of those shows (Lost, you lose, your last two seasons were so poorly executed). The final scene of Breaking Bad was a reference to Lost as well as a genuinely complete wrap-up for that series; The Sopranos had an ending that left a great many people highly unsatisfied, although I thought it was brilliant. We still have discussions about that in my home every now and then, and it’s been years since that aired. Sons of Anarchy was a Hamlet retelling, so its ending was inevitable. And while I am curious about whether or not George R.R. Martin is ever going to finish the series that spawned Game of Thrones and I would like to see his take on the end to his sprawling saga, I’m actually sort of relieved that the TV series is over.

Even though it didn’t stick the ending, the ending was someone’s version of fanservice at its most encompassing (and so was Endgame, if we want to bring movies into the discussion). There’s really nothing wrong with fanservice, but fans are a special breed with very distinct notions of what their story’s end should and should not be.

I watch all of this with rapt attention. Most of my friends who hated the ending to Game of Thrones are avid readers of the books. Then there were others who never read any of the novels and didn’t really see what all the fuss was about. It was just TV, right?

For me, as a writer, having a good ending is something of a moral imperative. I would hate to lead my readers along for hundreds of pages only to have an ending where the characters weren’t true to themselves, or the story didn’t wrap convincingly or successfully. I nearly always go into writing a book with the visuals for the final scene set in my mind, or at least the emotional requirements of that scene firmly established. I would hate to write the kind of book where someone said “oh, now I have to write fanfiction to fix that!”

To bring the lesson JK Rowling taught me home to roost, though… the fifth book in the Harry Potter series might have devasted me because of my attachment to her fictional people, but everyone still acted in character. I might not have liked what happened, but it all made sense with the progression of the story. In Breaking Bad I might not have liked who Walter White became, but it made sense. In Sons of Anarchy I might not have appreciated Jax Teller’s desperation, but it made sense given all the other occurrences. And in The Sopranos, I learned that what I wanted to have happened didn’t need to have happened. In fact, I don’t know what happened, and that was okay. The ending made sense given the rest of the story.

I won’t talk about Lost. That was disappointing, especially from a characterization perspective.

But without all of these examples, including the Game of Thrones adaptation, I would have less material to draw on when coming to terms with how I want to end my own series. I want the characters to remain in character. I want the arcs to be complete. I want the resolution to incorporate what came before, without introducing something new or having some Deus Ex Machina nonsense. Mostly, I want the ending to satisfy. I don’t ever want any of my readers to finish only because they feel they have to pick it apart, or to be thinking “wow, what a waste of time.”