Friday, February 26, 2016

Romance is About Feelings

Today's guest for our month-long feature of introducing you to men who write romance novels is Gordon Aalborg. I first met Gordon as an associate at Five Star Cengage/Gale and was intrigued by the fact that he wrote a number of romances.

Hello Gordon, and welcome to The Blood-Red Pencil Blog. Our theme this month is love and romance, and we are happy that you could join us for an interview. First I have to say that I enjoyed your book Wolf in Tiger's Stripes. I found it very well written and you were able to get into the viewpoint of a woman quite well.

My first question to you is the obvious one, why did you choose to write romance novels?
A - I got into Romance writing on a sort of bet, prompted by Alan Boon, then head of Mills & Boon, saying that no man could write category romance to the standard required by Harlequin/M&B.Three of us male journalists—upon hearing this—insisted (during a grog-laden dinner party) that men (if romantic at all) were even more romantic than women, so why shouldn’t a man be able to write romance. About a year later, with time on my hands, I tried one just for fun, enjoyed the process immensely, and was well into the second before the first was (quite deservedly) rejected. By the third, I was treated to a visit from then chief editor Frances Whitehead and the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you approach trying to understand the mind of a woman? There is the universal belief that a man would never be able to understand what goes on in a woman's mind, so how did you overcome that?

A – The universal belief—as stated—is nonsense. Romance is about FEELINGS, EMOTIONS. If I annoy you, your reaction might be to hit me with your handbag … if I annoy your husband, his reaction might be to punch me in the nose. But the feelings of anger, outrage, etc., are identical. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it—not least because it is true. When people say women can’t write male roles or men can’t write female characters, those who say such things are too often writers who’ve tried and failed to make it into the Harlequin marketplace. That said, there are male authors I know whose female characters are better drawn and more believable than their male characters, and vice-versa. You also have to take into account that, for many of us, secondary characters emerge as more interesting and more believable than the main characters, perhaps because the author is differently motivated, or feels under less pressure.

You mentioned that you are working on a memoir about writing romance from a male perspective. Tell us a little about that. What prompted you to write that book? Will we see the book in print soon?

A – You’ll never see it in print because if/when it ever gets finished, it will only be on Kindle, because I’m too busy to mess with the various other platforms and/or the intricacies involved. Indeed, I may never finish it, because I tend to think of people who write their own memoirs as frightfully, shockingly, annoyingly pretentious, and I don’t see myself that way. But the guts of that story is this: I was advised (by my then editor) before attending a Romance Writers of America conference in the early ‘90s – “Keep your head down and your mouth shut and remember you don’t exist.” My muse and pseudonym, Victoria Gordon, has chosen part of that line as the title for the memoirs she keeps insisting I write for her. “She”—not to put too fine a point on it, is frightfully, shockingly, annoyingly pretentious, and a bit of a tart, to boot. Much too bossy and annoying.

Do you think any male author working in any other genre could easily switch over to writing romance? Or do you think that only a few men are able to make that crossover?

A – I think they should try if that’s what they want to write. One should always write what one wants to write. Write to please your soul, not your wallet. I am generally thought of as the first man to make serious inroads into the Harlequin/Mills & Boon stable, but there have been several since. These days the company even admits it, but in my day it was one of the worst-kept secrets in publishing. Many publishers, even now, believe women don’t want some man writing their fantasies, but I think it all comes down to the quality of the work.

Why did you stop writing romances and switch to another genre?

A – I didn’t stop--I’m just doing other things at the moment. I had been doing a lot of mystery editing for a line that just died of corporate food-poisoning, and I’ve found I’m pretty good at telling other people what’s wrong with their work.

Did you experience the same stigma that so many other romance authors experience, that romance authors are on a rung below other authors?

A – Yes, but I think it is mostly in our heads, and the heads of those who’ve failed in their own bids. When I was on my hobby farm in Tasmania I used to wonder sometimes what my farmer/grazier neighbors thought about it all—eventually realized their only concern was whether I kept my fences mended properly and my working gundogs away from their sheep.

In your estimation what is the core ingredient of a romance?

A – EMOTIONS. If your work doesn’t make you cry, or turn you on, or make you angry, or afraid, or driven to nightmares—how do you expect to similarly influence your readers? I’ve met authors who claimed on one hand that they wanted to write romance, and admitted on the other that they didn’t read romance.

I know there are certain standards in the industry depending on what heat level at which a writer approaches a story. Do you consider romance novels love stories or sex stories?

A – Romances should be love stories with the sex content and temperature as determined by the characters and their personalities, etc. Sex stories, per se, are better classified as erotica, IMHO.

Did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine you would someday be writing romances or is this something you just happened upon? Or was it purely a business decision because romance novels comprise so much of the sales market?

A – Back when I started, there were huge amounts of money to be made, and I got my share, but the significant issue was how much fun I was having. I’ve never written purely for money, even when I was a journalist, and I still don’t. I’ve edited for money, and occasionally still do, but more often because I get huge pleasure out of that, too. 

What would your high school buddies say about you being a romance author?

A – I couldn’t possibly imagine. The only one of my high school friends I’m still in touch with is my first ex-wife, and we will not discuss what she thinks of me. My other ex-wives, just by the way, remain friends, if not quite so close anymore. My Tasmanian ex-wife, in point of fact, had read my work before she ever met me, didn’t at first believe I was/could be the romance author I claimed to be, then fell in love with the concept of being romanced by a romance author, but eventually had to face up to the fact that fiction is fiction and writers are writers, and a lot of writers make damned poor spouses.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A – Probably a cowboy. My paternal grandfather rode with the American cowboy artist Charles Russell in Montana at one time, so I come by it honestly. I’ve written a western or two, and I enjoyed doing them.

Now conclude with anything you might want to share with readers.

A – Since we began with Wolf in Tiger's Stripes, I’ll point out one the weird aspects not atypical of the publishing world, especially the romance publishing world. Wolf was originally written for Harlequin/M&B, but was rejected at the first-draft stage for a number of reasons. One reason—the first one mentioned and the only one genuinely relevant (IMHO) was the fact the heroine evinced a preference for bleeding rare steak. Not “blue” rare, but definitely rare. And this was during the set-up for the romance, like early in the first chapter. The M&B editor reminded me that modern women didn’t eat so much red meat at all, and by the way, the managing director’s wife’s cousin’s babysitter’s aunt Matilda was a Vegan. Or some such comparable nonsense. It was sufficiently inane as to make me extremely cranky, and I refused to change the story (it would have meant an entire and complex rewrite), so I dumped M&B and eventually (years later) published the title with Five Star Expressions. Whereupon it made the BOOKLIST Editors’ TOP TEN LIST FOR 2010! Rare steak and all!

Thank you, Gordon. If you would like to see a full list of Gordon's books and find out more about him, visit his website, as well as those of his alter ego.

Gordon Aalborg has been a journalist, broadcaster, editor, and novelist in both Canada and Australia. He spent more than twenty years in Tasmania, and has traveled extensively in the areas where his suspense thrillers The Specialist and Dining with Devils are set. He returned to Canada permanently in 2000. Writing as Victoria Gordon, he is generally credited with being the first long-term male Harlequin/Mills & Boon contemporary romance author.

Gordon is on Amazon as Gordon Aalborg, G.K. Aalborg, and Victoria Gordon.

Interview by Maryann Miller - novelist, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was named the 2015 Best Mystery by the Texas Association of Authors. She has a number of other books published, including the critically-acclaimed Season Series that debuted with Open Season. Information about her books and her editing rates is available on her website. When not writing, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Meet Scott Eagan, a Male Agent in Romance

Welcome Scott Eagan, and thank you for participating in “romance month”. We’ve been talking to and about male romance authors, but you have a little different perspective in that you are a male agent who specializes in romance.

How did you come to the decision to be a romance agent?
When I first opened Greyhaus Literary Agency, I looked at representing a lot of different genres. After looking at the market, I realized there were a lot of benefits of focusing in on just this genre. At that time, there were few agents who were this focused. With this market always shifting, I felt that trying to keep track of trends, editors and lines of just the romance and women’s fiction market was going to be tough enough.

I also believed that focusing my attention this much allowed me a chance to better work with my authors. I was able to really study the genre and know all the angles of it.

On a personal level, I just love this genre. I like the fact that we get the chance to explore human emotions and situations. I love the fact that we can watch a relationship grow. I guess I am also someone who just loves the Happily Ever After.

Do you think you have a different/better perspective in choosing and marketing in this genre?

I think my perspective is the simple fact that I have taken a lot of time studying the genre. Much of this comes from my undergraduate work with literature. I just like to see what makes a story “tick.” I do not think that my being a male in a predominantly female market makes me any better at marketing this. It all comes down to the education and the time I spend with it.

Do you represent any male romance authors?
At this point, I have not signed any male authors.

Do you have any statistics on the percentage of romance novels written by men (and in which sub-genres), and are any of them on the best-seller lists?The only number I have seen comes from Writer’s Digest. It is true that the majority of folks reading romance novels are women. According to the 2009 Romance Writers of America Reader Survey, women make up 90.5 percent of the romance readership, with men holding down the other 9.5 percent.

What do you think is the difference in writing/style/theme etc. between male and female romance writers?

I think this all comes down to understanding a different point of view and being able to communicate it. Essentially, it is simply a matter of gender communications. Because the romance novel is a branch of women’s fiction, the focus of the story is really examining the growing relationship through the female lens. For many males trying to write in this genre, they simply struggle with having that perspective being authentic. I do think this is one of the reasons why so many of the men portrayed in romance novels tend to look like caricatures and don’t seem real enough. This is just a tough genre to write and make it authentic and true.

I think the biggest difference I have seen in the submissions that come across my desk is the focus. Men tend to focus on a lot of the external elements of the building relationship, whereas the women tend to really bring the story internal. They focus more on the feelings, thoughts and emotions. We get to experience those. For men, they talk about those feelings, but the sense of really experiencing the emotions simply isn’t there.

Scott Eagan draws on his extensive background in education, writing and literature to assist the writers at Greyhaus. He has a BA in English/Literature, a MA in Creative Writing and a MA in Literacy.

Scott is also a writer (done mostly as a hobby) and is an active member of the Romance Writers of America.

Outside of his work at the agency, he continues teaching writing on a part-time basis, works as a stay at home dad and continues to be active in community work including assisting the University of Puget Sound Alumni Program.

Scott’s family keeps him amazingly busy. He is a USA Swimming Official so you can frequently find him on the deck of a pool with his oldest son. At the stables with his oldest daughter and their off the track race-horse that she competes with in jumping, or at the dance studio with his youngest.

Interview by Heidi M. Thomas. Heidi is a native Montanan who now lives in North-central Arizona where she blogs, teaches writing, and edits. Her first novel, Cowgirl Dreamsis based on her grandmother, and the sequel, Follow the Dream, won the national WILLA Award. The next book in the series is Dare to Dream, and a non-fiction book Cowgirl Up! A History of Rodeo Women, is also available. Heidi has a degree in journalism and a certificate in fiction writing.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Romance Outside the Genre - An Interview with Andrew Sean Greer

Though I only occasionally read novels in the romance genre, I often enjoy novels that include romance. Andrew Sean Greer is the author of four novels that explore themes of love and time. I briefly met Andrew when he visited the Denver Woman's Press Club to talk about The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, released in paperback last year. He impressed me with the unapologetic way he embraces sentimentality, so I read the novel, which I found luminous on the subject of love. For Greer, sentiment is not saccharine, but a nourishing sweetness. It so happens that Greer is gay, but his novels highlight many types of relationships: from heterosexual to homosexual, from family to friendship. Whatever bonds he explores, Greer admits he’s a sucker for love.

Many thanks to Andrew for graciously giving me the opportunity to interview him for The Blood-Red Pencil's February exploration of men and romance. Here's our conversation: 

Cara: Andrew, although you don’t write in the romance genre, your novels are often characterized as romantic. What role do you think romance can or should play in any good story? 

Andrew: I suppose it depends on the writer. True Grit is a fantastic novel, and there’s no love in it at all! It’s just that for me, as a writer, I can’t seem to get into a story unless it touches on love. It’s just something that interests me—when it misses, when it hits, how it hits, how it fades, how it ends, how it survives. All that. I’m happy to read a western or a sci-fi novel. But I am unlikely to write one unless it also has a love story in it somewhere. We all have our kinks.

Cara: I heard you give a talk at the Denver Woman’s Press Club, in which you rejected the way the word sentimental is used as a pejorative in the literary world. I felt a wonderful challenge in your question, and I paraphrase, “What’s wrong with being sentimental?” According to Merriam Webster, sentimental can mean, among other possibilities: marked or governed by feeling, sensibility or emotional idealism. What do you think a writer can gain by writing from such a place?

Andrew: Well, I can tell you what they risk by not writing from it: missing the mark entirely. The entire purpose of fiction, of art, is connection. An author connecting with a reader. If you try to man up and shy away from emotion—well, I think you are shying away from the purpose. I would call that cowardice. But so often it’s characterized as the reverse. I think so many writers—myself included—rely on clever, clever, clever. Because getting emotion exactly right is incredibly hard. And holds one up to ridicule. It’s much safer to back away. But then—why even write at all?

Cara: In our society, it seems a common notion that men and women have different ideas about what is romantic. Certainly more women than men read and write in the romance genre. However, many excellent authors of both sexes, and all genres, write with passion and intensity about romantic love. Do you believe male and female authors approach the subject of romance differently, or not? If so, in what ways? If not, why do you think the notion persists? 

Andrew: I think this is the kind of notion that is often proved by holding out the extremes: JRR Tolkien and Barbara Cartland or something. But all the writers that I read seem to have the same passion, as you say. Proust’s entire subject was love. For four thousand pages. Lillian Hellman looks upon it with a jaundiced eye. Even Raymond Chandler, who seems as hard-boiled as it gets, reveals the true story at the heart of The Big Sleep in the last line: “I never saw Silver Hair again.” The note of romantic regret and longing. I think it’s spread pretty evenly.

Cara: Following up on that idea, do you believe that homosexual and heterosexual authors approach the subject of romance differently? If so, in what ways do you think they might differ? If not, in what ways do you believe the romantic experience of authors and readers of all sexual orientations might be similar?

Andrew: I think it does seem a lot of gay writers have felt more free to write passionately—often about heterosexual relationships. Oddly, I find women write the best about gay relationships. It seems to go this way, that as a slight outsider one often has a better view. But, again, it just doesn’t bear out very far as an interesting way to look at writers. Knowing Bruce Chatwin was gay doesn’t really add much. Knowing John Irving is straight is equally pointless. I think it’s more interesting to gather writers by their affinities and not by their identities. So much of our emotional lives go into our writing! Anyway, it’s how we think of ourselves. We identify not with political groups but with similar writers. We’re odd that way.

Cara: In your lovely novel, The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, the title character travels through time to alternate realities in which she finds out how her relationships might have played out in other eras. Different romantic possibilities unfold for both Greta and her gay twin brother. But ultimately, I found it to be a story about the simultaneously ephemeral and eternal nature of all love relationships: familial, romantic, adulterous, friendly, even neighborly. Do you believe the most engaging love stories transcend romance? How so?

Andrew: It is essentially romantic to think that we might be in love with the same person in any other world. I admit that is impossible—simply necessary for the novel, in which too many characters would have capsized the boat! So given that I planned to triple each relationship, the question was really how our relationships do depend on so much. We talk about timing. Being in the right place to be with someone. I think the most engaging love stories have a bittersweetness. Not a total triumph, but a loss as well. We all know the story has to go on past the last page—and that passions cool. A shadow of that understanding, if it falls across the page, perhaps can make a sweet moment all the better.

Cara: I’m aware that you're an identical twin who is close with your twin brother. Do you believe that the intimacy of that fraternal relationship informs the way you look at relationships in general? If so, how does that impact the way you write about relationships in your stories?

Andrew: Gosh! He is as much a romantic as I am. We’ve both theorized that we are so used to having someone else with us, and so unused to being alone—we take it for granted that we need a relationship! But of course thousands of twins do not. It’s the sort of back-formed theory one comes up with when the truth is: we’re simply made from the same stuff. Softies, through and through.

Andrew Sean Greer is the author of four novels, including national bestseller The Confessions of Max Tivoli, in which the title character is born in the body of a seventy-year-old who becomes ever younger (no relationship to F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). In The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, the title character always awakens to a life in the same place, with the same loved ones, but in different years: 1918, 1941, and 1985. The author lives in the present, in San Francisco, with his husband and next door to his twin brother.

Interviewer Cara Lopez Lee is the author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Her stories have appeared in such publications as The Los Angeles Times, Denver Post, Connotation PressRivet Journal, and Pangyrus. She’s a book editor and writing coach. She was a faculty member at Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a journalist in Alaska and North Carolina, and a writer for HGTV and Food Network. An avid traveler, she has explored twenty countries and most of the fifty United States. She and her husband live in Ventura, California.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Out of Cite

Photo courtesy of Joshua Tan
Happy February, duckies! Though Valentine’s Day is now past, love is still in the air. Unless you happen to be watching a caucus, which yours truly steadfastly refuses to do on the grounds that there are certain limits to which one should not go.

At any rate …

When one is in love, one tends to lean toward poetic speech, whether it’s the classic lines of Shakespeare or something a bit more original, such as the hastily scrawled note that appeared on my counter.

Roses are red,
Sometimes they’re orange.
I love you a lot,
And I’m sorry this doesn’t rhyme.

While the above lines can (and probably should) be attributed to Anonymous, the conscientious writer will always take pains to cite sources wherever possible. The CMOS offers two rather straightforward methods of documentation: notes and bibliography or author-date. In brief: “The notes and bibliography style is preferred by many in the humanities, including those in literature, history, and the arts. The author-date system has long been used by those in the physical, natural, and social sciences.”

While there are far too many variations to include a full list, you should be able to get the gist from a sample or two. Behold!

Notes and bibliography style: Broadcloth, Herkimer K. The Seamstress’ Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Miniskirts. New York: Panda, 2006.

Author-date style: Wardrobe, Geoffrey C., and Ken Sideburns. 2007. The Wardrobe: An Intimate History. New York: Gnopf.

No matter which system you choose, giving credit where credit is due will go a long way toward inspiring friendly feelings. After all, no one looks good in a lawsuit.

Enjoy the rest of your day, dearies! Share the love, and remember: a well-turned phrase is always in style!

Though the weather outside has been frightful, The Style Maven believes that curling up with a good book and a cup of coffee is delightful. When she has more than two minutes to string together, she plans to update her adventures as The Procraftinator at

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Leigh Greenwood Breaks the Glass Ceiling, in Reverse

If you’ve been following The Blood Red Pencil blog this month, you know that our theme is men and the romance novel. Leigh Greenwood, aka Harold Lowry, is one of the earliest and most successful male romance novelists to break through the glass ceiling, in reverse, and I’m honored he consented to an interview.

Polly: So delighted to have you here, Leigh. I’m going to veer from the usual questions because many of the answers are on your website, but first give us a little history of how you became a romance novelist.

Leigh: I guess I’ve always been a romantic. I like happy endings, and I insist that the bad guys get it in the neck or I won’t read your next book. (Tweet) When I was growing up, I used to read romance comic books (yes, they used to have such things) along with Donald Duck and various cowboys. My introduction to romance (though I didn’t realize it at the time) was Georgette Heyer’s These Old Shades. It’s still one of my favorite books and a perfect example of the dark hero. I searched out every Heyer romance and read them all at least twice. After that, I asked my wife to suggest some books. I don’t know why I got the urge to write my own book. I’d never done anything like that before. In college I took only the required English courses. Nevertheless, I did get the urge and wrote two and a half books before I heard of Romance Writers of America, joined my local chapter in 1985, and attended my first national conference that same year.

Polly: Did you know when you started writing that other men had written under women’s pseudonyms? Did you ever get to meet any of them?

Leigh: I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know anything about anything when I started. I’d never heard of Tom Huff though I’d read Jennifer Wilde. (I didn’t really care for his books. They are a good example of some romance in the early days when books were more about sex and survival than romance. There was a lot of brutality in them.) I later learned of one man who wrote with his wife, but I never met him, either. Tom Huff never came to RWA and died before I attended my first Romantic Times convention. I’ve met a few other men who write romances, but they seemed to disappear after a few years.

Polly: Did your publisher suggest that you choose a female or androgynous name, or was that your idea? When did you let the reading public know you were a man?

Leigh: My first editor told me I had to choose a female pseudonym.
The idea didn’t bother me, but I wanted an androgynous name rather than something like Phyllis or Bambi. I’m six feet three and have a mustache. I’d look ridiculous with a name like that, so I sat down and came up six names I could use. Then I looked for last names to go with them. I don’t know where I got them nor do I remember what they were, but I sent my editor six names. Leigh Greenwood just happened to be the first name on the list. If I’d known there was a well-known country singer named Lee Greenwood, I might not have chosen the name I did.

Starting from my first RWA conference in 1985, I’ve always made it clear I was writing under a pseudonym. If I remember, I wrote an article for Romantic Times when my fourth book came out with my picture and a bit about myself. I never heard anything back from that. It wasn’t until I finally convinced my editor at Dorchester to put my picture on the back of my books that my gender became general knowledge. I got lots of letters expressing surprise and support and not a single one that was negative.

Polly: You’ve been writing for 25 years. You’ve published with Harlequin, the Zebra imprint of Kensington, the Leisure imprint of Dorchester, and now with Sourcebooks Casablanca. When you first started, did you find an agent or did you submit directly to a publisher? If an agent, do you still have one?

Leigh: You forgot Silhouette and the Bouquet imprint of Kensington. I did begin by submitting directly to editors. They didn’t buy my first two books, but several were very helpful in explaining the problems with my synopses. When I wrote my third book, I contacted several agents, but agents are harder to get than editors. One offered to read my book and offer a criticism for $25. If she liked it, she’d accept the book and drop the fee. She liked the book and sold it to Kensington. I subsequently had another editor before finding the agent I’ve been with for more than twenty years.

Polly: Besides Georgette Heyer, what other writers inspired you?

Leigh: I don’t know that any writer has been an inspiration for me. However, there are several writers I’ve admired. Heyer has wonderful heroes and heroines, but she also has delightful and quirky secondary characters. Anyone who reads my books knows I love my secondary characters. The hero and heroine have to fit a certain general pattern, but there are no limits to what you can do with secondary characters. They can be anything from George and Rose’s terrible twins to Dodie in Lily who went on a drunken binge when she realized Zack would never love her.
I particularly love children probably because I taught school for nineteen years. They can be sweet without being maudlin, innocent without deception, or mischievous without being bad. They can see the sides of people adults miss. Still, the main reason for secondary characters is that no one exists in a vacuum. Things others do affect our actions and our choices, even loyalties we wish we didn’t have.

I have to mention Louis L’Amour and Agatha Christie. They helped me realized it was the story that drew the reader. You can write like Shakespeare, but if you don’t tell a good story, the readers won’t come.

Polly: Though not as popular as her Regency romances, Heyer also wrote detective novels. Have you tried your hand at other genres? If so, which ones? Have you written romantic suspense?

Leigh: I read all of Heyer’s detective novels and loved them. However, I don’t seem to have that kind of mind. I have incorporated a bit of mystery in some of my books, Pete being the best example, but Love On the Run (Kensington Bouquet) is my only romantic suspense. It received good reviews, but I never felt the desire to write other books like that.

Polly: You write series, and most of them have western settings. Why westerns for a North Carolina man? Were you influenced by movie westerns and the strong male cowboy figure? Did you find that era romantic?

Leigh: There has always been a kind of magic about the cowboy and the West. I listened to the Lone Ranger on the radio and watched all the westerns on TV in the 50’s. The image of the hero in the white hat and the villain in black was perfect for a child’s unquestioning mind. But having history as a minor in college, my initial interest was historicals. My first three books (I never finished the third) were historicals. At my first RWA conference, I was told that editors were no longer buying books about the Civil War – the book I never finished was set during the Civil War – so I went home and wrote a western which sold. I later sold those first two books, but I fell into a pattern of alternating westerns and historicals.

It wasn’t until I got the idea for The Seven Brides that I settled with westerns and started writing series. (Having read every western Louis L’Amour ever wrote at least twice probably had something to do with it.) The Seven Brides have been my most popular books so it was only logical to look for another idea for a series. After watching John Wayne’s The Cowboys, I got the idea for writing a series about orphans. For the Night Riders, the unifying element was hunting down a traitor. My Cactus Creek series was about brothers separated during childhood finding each other again.

I had never planned to write series, but I found that I really liked being able to bring back characters from earlier books. The element that ties all these series together is family which fitted perfectly into a series. You can bring back characters from earlier books showing how they grow and continue to love, see the growth of a character from childhood to adulthood, and see how family manages to hold together people who are very different. You can even write a spinoff for a minor character (Salty in Rose became No One But You.) I wrote seven contemporary romances, but apparently I don’t have the insight it takes to connect with the modern feminine mystique.

Polly: Do you read any current female romance writers? Which ones are your favorites, and why? What genre do you read when you’re not reading romance? Do you have any favorite authors of other genres?

Leigh: I have several favorite authors. Up until now I’ve refrained from naming them, but I’ve retired and no longer go to conventions so I feel more like a reader than a writer. Like everyone else, I read Nora Roberts and J.D. Robb. I also read Karen Rose, Tami Hoag, Iris Johannson, Catherine Coulter, Jane Ann Krentz, and too many others to name. You will notice a distinct lack of traditional romance though all the writers used to write romance. Maybe it’s that I’ve read too many romances and spent too many years writing them, but I seldom read straight romance.
I mostly read suspense of any kind, but I don’t like it too gritty or grizzly. I guess that’s the romantic in me coming out. James Patterson and David Baldacci are two of my favorites.

Polly: Do you feel your older contemporary romances hold up in today’s more open culture? Do you write your sex scenes behind closed doors? How has your style changed over the years?

Leigh: After more than twenty years, The Seven Brides is still my most popular series. The books are still selling well in e-book form so I guess the answer is yes. I have never written sex behind closed doors, but I quickly got past the part of going into detail. For me, sex is just a part of the process of falling in love. Therefore, the emotional element is the most important. The sharing of this last bastion of intimacy, of privacy, is a step in their emotional commitment to each other, a step they can take only when they have developed complete trust and a feeling that this is the most important person in their life. Everyone knows the mechanics so I don’t need to draw a picture.

Polly: How do you feel romances have changed from the time you started writing to the present? Do you think these changes are positive or negative? Did you ever consider writing erotica?

Leigh: I have never considered erotica. I know it’s extremely popular, but much of the time I find it vulgar and tasteless. There, I’ve said it so go ahead and hate me.

Romance has changed dramatically from the time I started writing until now. You only have to ready Woodiwiss, Rogers, and Small to see rape, abuse, and incarceration in harems. I once asked a successful writer why these early books had been so popular. She said that they showed that a woman who had been reduced to her lowest could finally bring the most powerful man to his knees begging for her forgiveness and her love. Maybe it took that extreme to launch the genre, but we moved away from that as more and more women became interested in writing romance. Along with spotlighting social issues of every kind, books began to center around the problems of ordinary people. We still wrote about love and sex but within a framework of reality. I suppose the fact that the stories were relevant to everyday life is why contemporaries finally pushed historicals to the edge of the market.

Polly: How did you work around promotions? Did you go to conferences? If you won awards, how did you collect the prize?

Leigh: When I started, everyone had to promote because publishers didn’t. I used to send out bookmarks through Romantic Times. For a while I even sent advance copies I made myself to reviewers and owners of independent bookstores. I held booksignings, went to conferences, gave workshops, and collected all but one of my awards in person. I was also active in Romance Writers of America at the national level. About halfway through my career I stopped promoting. I figured if people didn't know about me by then they never would.

Polly: Did you find it difficult to write from a female POV (point of view)? I personally feel I write men better than women. Do you feel you write women better than men?

Leigh: I’ve never felt that I did one better than the other though I’m sure you’ll find readers who think differently. I believe one of the reasons no one picked up ON my gender for so long is because I wrote both POVs equally well. I have a mother, a sister, numerous cousins, a daughter, two daughters-in-law, and an ex-wife. If I hadn’t learned something about women after that, I would have had to be terribly dense.

Polly: I see your backlist is published for electronic readers. Has the e-reader gained you new fans?

Leigh: I really can’t say. The books are selling, but I have no way of knowing if they are new fans or my regular readers moving over to e-books.

Polly: What’s next for Leigh Greenwood? Will you ever consider writing a book as Harold Lowry?

Leigh: After fifty-three titles and more than thirty years, I retired during the summer of 2015. I’m seventy-four and want to spend more time with my garden and my grandchildren. I also want to travel, become more active in my community, and go to concerts and programs I never had time for when I was writing.

Polly: Enjoy your retirement, Leigh, and thanks for the pleasure you've given readers over the years.

Leigh Greenwood has been steaming up the pages of historical romances for more than thirty years and fifty-three books. He is the author of the award-winning series The Seven Brides, The Cowboys, and the recently completed Night Riders.

Check out Leigh's books on Amazon here.

Polly Iyer is the author of seven novels: standalones Hooked, InSight, Murder Déjà Vu, Threads, and three books in the Diana Racine Psychic Suspense series, Mind Games, Goddess of the Moon, and Backlash. A Massachusetts native, she makes her home in the beautiful Piedmont region of South Carolina. You can visit her website for more on Polly and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Men Writing Romance

Jason Evans joins us today at the Blood-Red Pencil:

First off I want to thank Jason (Henry) for giving me this opportunity. I write historical fiction primarily. I do have to say, though, that tackling a romantic subplot was one of the best things I did. Learning how to write romance made me a better writer. How I organize and write a scene, how I approach a plot, and how I create a character arc, have forever changed because of what I learned about romance. So let me explain what I learned working on a romantic subplot for my upcoming historical fiction, The Gallowglass. (pronounced “Gallowglaw”)

1.    Romance does not mean erotica.

(Tweet:) I had never read romance before so in my first attempt I actually wrote erotica: two beautiful people with out of control libidos humping like rabbits. The way I described sex was clinical and boring. This wasn’t romance, it was a bad play-by-play by a sports announcer.

Romance isn’t strictly about hopping into bed. In fact, there are genres of romance where there is no discussion of sex at all, like inspirational romance. Once the two characters have overcome their obstacles and committed themselves, the sex is off screen and implied. Which leads to my next point.

2.    Romance is about two people getting to know about each other.

Leigh Michaels says in her book On Writing Romance that:

A romance novel is a story of a man and a woman who, while  solving a problem that threatens to keep them apart, discover that the  love that they feel for each other is the sort that comes along only once  in a lifetime; this discovery leads to a permanent commitment and a  happy ending.

Like real life, most people don’t just fall into bed with each other and decide to stay that way. They have to get to know one another. Learn to trust and respect each other. Respect is key, for the characters and the readers. Modern readers want to see a relationship built on respect and affection.

The hero can’t be too sensitive, or else he’s just a ninny. He can’t be too gruff, or he can come across as a bully or a monster. The heroine has the same problem. Too passive and demure, and the reader will think her a Pollyanna. Too aggressive and sexually adventurous, and the reader will think “What does she need a man for?” It is a delicate balance. Finding that balance between strength and tenderness is one of the keys to a great story. 

3.    The plot is separate from the romance, and tension drives both.

It took me a while to get this through my head. The plot is the problem the hero and heroine must solve. The romance is what blossoms while they are solving the plot. What makes both plot and romance fun is the tension that occurs. OK. So how do you add tension? You force two people who would rather gnaw their arms off together, and watch the fireworks! 

Here’s an example:

My book takes place during the Irish revolt against Tudor authority in 1597. My hero is an English military captain taking his company, along with 10,000 other men, into Northern Ireland to fight the rebellion. His name is Captain Philip Williams. My heroine is Fionualla, a respectable middle class Irish woman who must get to the north to tend to her sick husband. Because of the war, she has no choice but to accompany an English soldier in the army. Women who did this were called camp followers and didn’t have the best reputation.

He doesn’t want to take her but agrees to when she barters some badly needed supplies for his soldiers, for a ride north. She doesn’t want to go with him, but she desperately wants to get back to her husband. All the roads are closed and the only way north is with the army. Philip thinks she is a liability. Fionualla doesn’t trust the English captain because he’s a soldier and she’s seen how soldiers treat women. See what I did there? I’ve created mistrust and tension between the two characters. As the novel evolves, each will gain a grudging respect, then an abiding affection, for each other. This will evolve into love.

4.    Once you’ve established romantic feelings – and sexual tensions – don’t throw it away!

Now, in the genres of chick lit and erotica, there can be a lot of sex. Some of it can be graphic. But your reader wants these two crazy kids to get together. Don’t give in to their demands until the very end of the novel. Let the plot get resolved – or at least on its way to being resolved – then give the reader what they want. Tease it out a little. OK, a lot.

Oh, and once youre describing the actual sex, stay away from clinical, biological terms. Here’s why. A very good woman I know explained that women hear the clinical terms for body parts all the time from their gynecologist. It’s boring and bland. So euphemism can be more exciting. However be careful. Once you’ve written things like “purple tomahawk of love,” there is a line you’ve crossed.

While writing my romantic subplot I had to really get into why these two characters were going to get together. What did it say about their morality and ethics? What did they really want? In the process, I got to know my characters better and this affected the main plot. It made me a much better writer and my story a better book. 

If you want to tackle romance writing, I would start with Leigh Michaels On Writing Romance.

Happy Writing!

Jason Evans always wanted to be a writer, he just didn't know it. He grew up in Pasadena, California, in the 1980s, living vicariously through movies and television. He earned two Bachelors from the UC Santa Barbara and a Masters from UC Denver. He is an educator, a writer, and a Bon Vivant. Jason currently resides in Denver, CO with the fetching Mrs. Evans, his three dogs, and his cat. You can read Jason's blog by visiting his website or connecting with him on on Facebook or at Twitter.

Follow Jason's Facebook Author Page for more updates

Friday, February 12, 2016

Can You Spot a MRR (Man Reading Romance)?

Image by 白士 李 via Flickr
When a man reaches for a book, its genre is not usually romance. This is a fact. However, some men do. Brave men. Confident men. Men who have moved beyond being a MR to being a MRR: a Man Reading Romance. (Tweet)

An MRR is difficult to spot in the wild as they have developed excellent camouflage skills. Further study is needed. Some might say (correctly) that the following are yoga positions. But I suggest they are also positions formed by the illusive MRR.

 Downward Facing Dog - While walking the dog, the man has his head down reading a romance on a mobile device.

 Warrior Pose - The most confident MRR pose. He will fight for his right to read his romance.

 Boat Pose - A pose often adopted by a new MRR. He will be found alone on a boat in the middle of a lake. There may be fishing gear for further camouflage.

 Half Lord of the Fishes Pose - A pose for the bolder MRR. He has now progressed to reading the romance on a riverbank, but the fishing rod remains present.

 Sitting Half Spinal Twist - Man twisting to check if he has been spotted reading a romance.

 Eagle Pose - A white-haired MMR high in a tree, reading a romance. This is a rare sighting as most white-haired MMRs do not climb high into trees. A ladder may be a sign that one is in the vicinity. 

Half Moon Pose - This MRR is also a plumber. Enough said.

 Lord of the Dance Pose - Spotted mostly in Ireland, this MRR reads his romance while constantly tapping his feet.

 Reclining Hero Pose - A pose for the more confident MRR. Normally found on beaches or poolside.

Supported Headstand - An MRR who reads with his romance on a table (hiding the cover) with his head supported by his hands. From a distance he appears to be studying. Younger MRRs may adopt this pose.

 Go forth and observe. MRRs are everywhere, but are easily startled. Good luck.

Elspeth Futcher is an author and playwright. Thirteen of her murder mystery games and two audience-interactive plays are published by Her A Fatal Fairy Tale, Deadly Ever After and Curiouser and Curiouser are among the top-selling mystery games on the Internet.  Elspeth's newest game, The Great British Bump Off is now available from her UK publisher, Red Herring Games, as is her Once Upon a Murder. Elspeth's 'writing sheep' are a continuing feature in the European writers' magazine Elias and also appear on this blog from time to time. Connect with her on Twitter at @elspethwrites or on Facebook at Elspeth Futcher, Author.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Romancing the Cover

A Flame Run Wild,#PinoDaeni,#romance,#cover,#writingtips,#fiction,#romancewriters
Pino Daeni
I have been a long-time fan of Pino Daeni (November 8, 1939 – May 25, 2010). Thanks to my darling husband, I am also the proud owner of several of his paintings. I would stare at his work every time we entered an art store. I loved his portraiture, but what I really wanted was to be able to paint like that. Alas, portrait painting is one of those dreams that got away, but I get to admire his technique on a daily basis.

Long ago in the publishing world, artists were commissioned to create original paintings. Pino’s impressionist romantic style graced over 3,000 book covers, movie posters, and magazine illustrations.


Pino began illustrating books for Italian publishers. When he moved to New York, his work caught the attention of Dell, Zebra, Bantam, Simon & Schuster, Penguin USA, Dell, and Harlequin. His romance novel covers graced works by Danielle Steel, Sylvie Summerfield, and Amanda Ashley and featured the famous model Fabio.


Alas, Pino left the book illustration business to focus on his own work and the beautiful paintings of past decades have been replaced by photography of muscled men and seductive sirens. 

The art of the cover has further been diluted by the use of stock photos, sometimes the same photo and models on multiple covers.

Here is a list of sites you can visit to build your own sizzling cover.

1. Romance Novel Covers

2. Novel Expression

3. Glass Giant

4. Creativ Indie Covers

5. The Book Cover Designer

6. Self Pub Book Covers

You can even mock-up your own hot romance at Romance Novel Yourself.

Tweet: As much as the process has changed, nothing sells a romance novel better than a cover featuring a passionate embrace by “beautiful people.”

As to whether featuring only "beautiful people" sends a healthy message, is an argument for another day.

You can further explore the romance genre with the following posts:

Sex Versus Romance

The Rules of Romance

Bad Romance

Diana Hurwitz
 is the author of Story Building Blocks: The Four Layers of Conflict, Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict, Story Building Blocks III: The Revision Layers, and the YA adventure series Mythikas Island. Her weekly blog, Game On: Crafting Believable Conflict explores how characters behave and misbehave. Visit for more information and free writing tools. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Relationships and the African American Male Author

In 2000, Entertainment Weekly made note of the growing trend of African American male authors who write “sexy, sensitive novels.”

Back then, over 15 years ago if you can believe that, some of the hottest African American male authors in the market were the late great E. Lynn Harris, Eric Jerome Dickey, Colin Channer, Omar Tyree, and Marcus Major. These men, most of them at the time being in their 30s, wrote stories with strong female characters; these stories focused on the tangled web of relationships and love.

These men were our male equivalents to Terry McMillan, who had women all over the country Waiting to Exhale -- with her book and eventually, the movie.

I will admit, I LIVED for Eric Jerome Dickey and every book he released almost two decades ago. Sister, Sister; Friends and Lovers; Cheaters; and Milk in My Coffee were my first forays into his writing, and I loved how much I could relate to the women portrayed within the pages and the struggles they lived through. I often wondered, How does he manage to get into the female psyche so well? But, he did, and so did the others.

Today at BRP, we ask the question, WHERE ARE THEY NOW, and we take a brief look at the goings on of Dickey, Channer, and Tyree. Are they still, as author Nelson George stated in 2000, “the literary equivalent of the great R&B love songs”?

Eric Jerome Dickey [Site; Amazon]
Eric Jerome Dickey’s career is still as bright as it was in 2000—if not brighter. The author of over 30 novels, Dickey has found himself on several bestselling lists, such as The New York Times, USA Today, and ESSENCE; has been nominated for and won awards for his works; has appeared in anthologies, such as New American Library’s Got To Be Real: Four Original Love Stories; and has traveled coast to coast and overseas in promotion of his works.

Dickey, like so many of these men, is multi-faceted and -talented as his work goes beyond novels and short stories to include his six-issue miniseries of comic books for Marvel Enterprises featuring Storm from X-Men. Dickey has also, in a way, found his career coming full circle, too. As stated in his bio, in early 1998, Dickey revised a screenplay he had written earlier titled Cappuccino and had it directed and produced by Craig Ross, Jr. The movie “made its local debut during the Pan African Film Festival at the Magic Johnson Theater in Los Angeles.” Movies return to his career as his novel Naughty or Nice has been optioned by Lionsgate Films.

Dickey's latest, The Black Birds, will be released April 19, 2016, but it's available for pre-order now from several outlets, to include Amazon! They call themselves the Blackbirds. Kwanzaa Brown, Indigo Abdulrahaman, Destiny Jones, and Erica Stockwell are four best friends who are closer than sisters, and will go to the ends of the earth for one another. Yet even their deep bond can't heal all wounds from their individual pasts, as the collegiate and post-collegiate women struggle with their own demons, drama, and desires.

As the women try to overcome-- or give into-- their impulses, they find not only themselves tested, but the one thing they always considered unbreakable: their friendship.

Colin Channer [Site; Amazon]
In 2000, when asked about writing for the ladies, Channer stated, “Women make love with words, and my language is very grounded in the rhythms of poetry and wordplay and metaphor.”

Channel’s language is still grounded, and many critics have not only praised him for his use of language, but also have compared him to the likes, especially in his novella, The Girl with Golden Shoes, of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mark Twain, and Bob Marley. Critics have said that Channer writes characters (like his heroine in The Girl With the Golden Shoes) as “too real, too genuine”; that Channer “is clearly in the business of helping to make great literature”; and that Channer is a “gifted storyteller.”

For his debut novel, Waiting in Vain, the Washington Post Book World stated that the love story in the book is interesting, but Channer transcends that to develop “strength of characterization and the clear redefinition of the Caribbean novel — in which the discourses of post-colonialism have been usurped by the creative assurance of reggae’s aesthetic — a quintessentially modern aesthetic that has finally found the kind of dialogue between popular music and art that we have not seen in a long time.”

And that aesthetic has not left him throughout the novels and short stories published and the myriad of literary ventures he has taken part of since 2000.

Channer's 2009 short story collection, Passing Through, spans the early 1900s up to modern times; its stories trace the intersecting lives of travelers, expatriates, and local folks in ways that shock, illuminate, and reveal. From the American photographer who finds her world disturbed by new forms of love and lust, to a charismatic priest confronted by the earthly perks of fame and stardom, the diverse mix of characters are united by the universal search for love and understanding—a challenge on an island simmering with issues of politics, power, and race.

Omar Tyree [Site; Amazon]
To know Flyy Girl is to know the NYT best-selling author, journalist, lecturer, poet, screenwriter (and so much more!) Omar Tyree. This was THE book for so many readers, to include me. In regards to contemporary urban novels, it is a classic, and many cite it as a novel that spawned the urban/street lit genre. Tyree was and still is a literary force to be reckon with. In his early 20s, he self-published and marketed his first three books, selling over 25,000 copies under his publishing company MARS Production, and a few short years after that, Simon & Schuster came calling, offering him a two-book deal for with six-figure advance.

Since then, he has publishes nearly 30 novels, written stories for several anthologies, won dozens of literacy awards, and has spoken on subjects, such as art, business, community, culture, education, and entertainment. Tyree’s Flyy Girl trilogy has been optioned for a feature film production by Code Black and Lionsgate Films. Actress Sanaa Lathan is attached to the project.

Tyree's The Flyy Girl trilogy (Flyy Girl, For the Love of Money, and Boss Lady) follows a young African-American woman coming of age during the 1980s. Obsessed with the material world, Tracy Ellison falls into a cycle of gratuitous sex and heartbreak.


We could debate if these three talented men actually wrote/write "romance" in the traditional sense, but we would--by reading their earlier works and some of their current projects--probably agree that their novels featured strong African American women who moved through their lives while dealing with careers, men, relationships, love, marriage, betrayal, and sometimes, even, happily ever after. And that might not be a traditional romance novel, but it's definitely a novel that is geared toward a female audience and provides that audience with a lot of the feelings they receive from having read a traditional romance.

It's not easy to write a good relationship story. It's not always easy to write a strong female character--and that's for a female writer. It could have been so easy for these male authors and others to fall into the trap of writing stereotypical female characters, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of their readers, but they succeeded in creating, at least for the reader, living, breathing, real women who love hard.

Have you read romance novels or relationship novels that feature African American women and are written by men of color? (Tweet) If so, who? Which books would you recommend? If not, check out these three authors and Google to learn about others!

Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, editor, and educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. She has published both creatively and academically and interviews women writers on her popular blog ChickLitGurrl: high on LATTES & WRITING. You can learn more about Shon's writings at her author website.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Nicholas Sparks – A Writer to Remember

I first met Nicholas Sparks through the pages of A Walk to Remember. The poignancy that permeated the story seemed so real that it hardly felt like fiction. Then I learned it wasn’t fiction in the truest sense. His protagonist, 17-year-old Jamie Sullivan, was inspired by his sister, who died of cancer at age 33. By his own admission, Jamie’s story paralleled his sibling’s in many ways—her personality, her faith, her experiences, her longing to get married, the wonderful gift of love her husband gave her despite her terminal illness. The story didn’t exactly follow the typical romance guidelines because the happily-ever-after ending didn’t appear to happen, although Sparks insists the conclusion doesn’t say Jamie died. Even though he believed from the beginning that the cancer would take her, he couldn’t in the end state outright that she had lost her fight with the disease. (I still wonder whether part of the reason he couldn’t carry through with the finality of her death might have been because his sister was still living when he was finishing the book, and he couldn’t end the story based on her life that way while even the tiniest thread of hope of her recovery existed.) Whatever the reason, he left Walk open-ended. Nonetheless, many readers (including me) believed Jamie’s death was the only logical outcome.

Nights in Rodanthe, another of Sparks’ novels, also attracted me to his characters. Unlike most of his fiction books, it wasn’t inspired by actual people or events. Its only tie to reality is that the main characters are named after his in-laws. The story involves two middle-aged people (I was middle-aged when I read it)—both reeling from catastrophes in their own lives—who are drawn to an inn and each other in the town of Rodanthe, North Carolina. Adrienne, whose husband left her for a younger woman, is minding the establishment on the Outer Banks for the weekend to help out a friend; Paul is seeking refuge from the shambles of his life. When a storm traps the two strangers together for five days, unexpected feelings surge and love blooms. After they part to return to their own realities, they stay in touch via letters and phone calls until communications from Paul suddenly cease. You guessed it: he died.

These are just two examples that show Sparks’ penchant for writing tragic love stories. (See Message in a Bottle among others.) True, a lot of people never find what they are looking for in a mate; or, when they do, it may not work out for any number of reasons. That’s life. However, when I read a book, I want an escape, a reason to hope that one day I may be carried away by a knight in shining armor. Realistically, that’s not very likely. Idealistically, why not? (Yes, I have been accused of being an incurable romantic.)

What do you look for in a romance? Do you want the characters to do the happily-ever-after thing? Should hope spring eternal and obstacles be overcome so that they embark on a life of true love? Or should the harshness of reality on occasion separate them forever?

Linda Lane and her editing team mentor and encourage writers at all phases of the writing process. To learn more about what they do, please visit them at