Jenna Black's Blog Experiment

Wherein romance author Jenna Black plunges into the terrifying new territory of blogging . . .


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Those Beloved Romance "Rules"

So, I'm struggling along with my first tight deadline, and I'm finding my internal editor more of a pain in the ass than usual. It's driving me crazy, so I figured I'd share my misery.

Book three in the Guardians of the Night series has the darkest hero I've ever written. By a long shot. He was actually a villain (or at the very least an antagonist) in Secrets in the Shadows, but there was something about him that made my critique partner, my editor, and myself fall in love with him. And so, I find myself having to make a hero out of a character who did some very unheroic things in Secrets. I won't go into too much detail--I certainly don't want to reveal any spoilers for book two when book one hasn't even come out yet! Suffice it to say that he's not at all a nice guy, even if he does have some redeeming qualities.

When I first tackled this book, I tried to think of other romances that had less-than-sympathetic heroes. Certainly, it isn't uncommon in paranormal romances for heroes to be painted as dark, tortured souls. And I've certainly seen books where someone who looks like he might be a bona fide bad guy springs up with a book of his own where he turns out to be the hero.

But in the books I've read like this, it usually turns out the guy isn't as bad as everyone thought. A good example is Zarek, in Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dance with the Devil. In previous books, he's painted as a psycho, and all the previous characters talk about him as if he were the bogeyman. But you never actually see him doing anything so bad--he just talks tough. So when he got his own book, he was "easy" to redeem. His reputation as a psycho was largely an illusion, and though he wasn't exactly a nice guy, he was at least a good guy.

So, what do I do with a character who isn't all talk? Gabriel, my reluctant hero, did some very cruel things on the page in Secrets, and there's no getting away from them in his book. If I started the book with him being Mr. Nice Guy, people who'd read the previous book would throw it across the room. So I have to break some romance "rules." I have to let him still be a bad guy in the beginning, and I have to take my time to redeem him. Which also means I have to take my time before the romance part of the story can really get under way because he's just too damaged to let anyone get close to him.

I keep telling myself that if people read Secrets and like him, then they'll have patience with him when he gets his own book. I also tell myself that Tor publishes a fair number of romances that break these tried and true romance rules and they still manage to sell. (For example, the hero in Hunter's Moon, by C. T. Adams and Cathy Clamp is a Mafia hitman werewolf. And the story's told in first person from his POV.) But still, the worry persists.

In some ways, that may not be such a bad thing, despite the negative effect on my stomach lining. Because it means I'm still pushing myself, still taking risks and trying new things. That can only help me grow as a writer.

Now, if I could only get my internal editor to stop shouting "You can't do that in a romance!" in my ear, I might actually get this book finished on time!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Why Write?

I usually put a post from my blog in my monthly newsletter, but as I'd been slowing down on blog entries lately, this month I put in a plea for blog ideas instead. It seems I find it much easier to figure out what to write about when someone asks questions than when I have to come up with something off the top of my head. I got a few good suggestions, but I'm always open to more. If you have a topic you'd like to see me address, please feel free to drop me an email or add a comment.

One of the questions I received from my newsletter members was about what inspired me to write.

As is probably fairly common among various creative types, I came from a somewhat dysfunctional family. I also had a great deal of trouble relating to kids my own age. Some of that was based on my early childhood, which I spent living in Tahiti. (Another long story, perhaps for another blog entry.) I returned to the states when I was seven, but living so long in such a remote, foreign land made me very much "different" from my classmates. Perhaps in the right school, these differences would have been smoothed over. Or perhaps not. In any case, in the school I went to, even the teachers had some difficulty accepting my cultural differences, though of course after a couple of years of peer pressure, I became fully Americanized once more. I even refused to speak French, which I'd been equally fluent in as English, but which marked me as foreign. But the damage was done.

So, how does an alienated child who has few friends and a dysfunctional family life pass the time? Reading, of course. I've read voraciously for as long as I can remember, and it allowed me to escape from the unpleasant realities of my childhood. It also helped me to relate to other people--even if they happened to be fictional people--by putting me in others' points of view, seeing life through other peoples' eyes.

Eventually, I escaped from the School from Hell and started to lead a more "normal" life. But my love of reading had become an indelible part of me. As I got older and more sophisticated, I tried my hand at creative writing myself, and found I enjoyed it. (Interestingly enough, my first creative writing teacher in high school was named Mr. Shakespeare. I kid you not.)

I wrote off and on for many years, short stories for the most part, but once I was in college I even tackled the enormous task of writing a novel. For a long time, I thought of it as just a hobby as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. As I flitted from idea to idea, from job to job, still not sure of my place in life, it suddenly occurred to me the one constant that had been with me ever since childhood--writing. I'd actually written my first book--illustrated and written in crayon, with a construction paper cover--when I was in fifth grade. It was my autobiography, and covered my years in Tahiti. I still have it somewhere, yellowed and crumbling, and adorable (if I do say so myself).

As you probably know if you've been reading my blog, it took me a long, long time to get from the decision that I wanted to be a writer to the moment when I actually sold a book to a commercial press. But it's all been worth it. Even if my books never become best sellers or have much commercial success, there's still a good chance that they will provide someone somewhere with a few hours of escape from life's more grueling aspects. And they will also provide someone with the chance to walk around in someone else's shoes, to see the world through another's perspective. It's as close as we can come to understanding other people, who will otherwise remain complete enigmas to us no matter how well we know them.

So, when I'm feeling philosophical, and when I feel like psychoanalyzing myself, these are the reasons I come up with for why I write. If I haven't had my caffeine yet, though, I'd probably have a simpler answer: I write because I love it.

Pick whichever answer you like best. I suspect they're both equally valid.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My First Tight Deadline

So, book three of my Guardians of the Night series is due in August. And I just started working on it last week. (No, I'm not procrastinating--I haven't even seen the contract for this deal yet, but obviously I can't afford to wait until I do to start writing.)

Although I'm a fast writer, and very, very deadline-oriented, I did experience some small moments of panic over this one. Not because I didn't think I could do it, but more because there was something overwhelming about having a deadline for a book when I didn't even have the faintest outline of the plot in my head yet. (The panic rose just a little higher when, after a conversation with my editor, it turned out book three would be about a different character than I had planned!)

Luckily, my natural deadlinephilia took over, and the panic receded in the face of logic and planning. I set out a schedule for myself, starting on June 1st. I discovered that by writing a measley five pages a day (seven days a week, but that's normal for me), I could get a first draft done by mid August. That would leave me a couple of weeks to edit and polish before sending it to my editor at the very end of the month.

When I broke it down to a schedule like that, suddenly, it didn't seem like such a big deal. I can write five pages a day easily, even on days when I need Superglue to keep my butt in the chair. But for me, it's not good enough to make a deadline. I have to beat it. So, although by my schedule, I only needed to have 20 pages done by the end of last week, I had 47. And I'm still pushing to get further ahead. Being ahead of schedule is never a bad thing! This will give me some peace of mind come July, when I know I'll be spending a full week at the RWA national conference. And, of course, the faster I get the draft done, the more time I'll have for revising.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Another Great Cover!

I got quite a surprise this evening! When I got home from my evening constitutional (in other words, walking the dogs), I had an email from my editor with the cover art for Secrets in the Shadows, the sequel to Watchers in the Night. After the seemingly snail-like pace of getting that first book into the schedule, etc., things are now moving at a breakneck pace for the sequel! It's another fabulous cover, in my opinion. Very striking. (I'm assuming the cover quote will be changed, since it's referring to Watchers. LOL)

Secrets is scheduled to come out in May, 2007. And I've started work on the third book of the series, which I'm tentatively titling Shadows on the Soul. It's due to my editor in August, so I've got to get cracking on it. (Which makes me happy--a little deadline pressure is a great motivator for me.)

Yes, I've been kind of a slacker about the blog lately. Aside from being really busy (I do still work a day job on top of the writing), I'm also running out of brilliant pearls of wisdom to share. (Some might say I ran out of them long ago!) Perhaps it's because I'm funneling all my creative energies into my books. Yes, that must be it.

I will try to be more diligent about posting, but I don't see my time getting freed up in the next few months, so I suspect my posts will be a tad spotty. If anyone has a particular question or subject they think would be good for me to discuss on my blog, please feel free to send it along. Getting an interesting question might spur me into writing this non-fiction stuff more easily.



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