Conventional wisdom dictates that mystery/crime novels offer up a body early on. Think about every episode of every incarnation of Law & Order. There’s the discovery of the victim, then the iconic “DONK DONK” (also called the “clang”) followed by the theme song/opening credits. Then the detectives are on scene and the process of discovering whodunnit begins.
As a reader, I’ve been known to say “If I don’t see a body by page 30, I give up on the book.” I chose a mystery or crime thriller because I want a dead body and a bad guy and a chance to solve a puzzle. Give me a body. The exception to this rule are writers that I know and trust will tell me a great story. Writers like Ruth Rendell, Tana French, Chelsea Cain, Minette Walters, or Susan Hill can pace their books however they want–I want to go where they take me. Hmm, that’s interesting, isn’t it? Let me check something… Okay, yeah, I do have some male mystery/crime writers I read without question: Benjamin Black, Colin Harrison, and Michael Robotham.
As a writer of mystery/crime novels, so far I’ve followed the rules on pacing: In Schooled, the body of Callie Caldwell is found by a security guard on page 2. In Pwned, I left it a little later, having Lexy stumble on the body of co-worker Declan Brown all the way on page 6. In Griefed, I was back at the front of the book; Detective Malick is called out to the suspicious death of Fletcher Grey on Page 2.
Lexy Cooper #4 is going to be a little different. I’m about thirty pages in, and…no body. In fact, the murder hasn’t even happened yet. Why? Because for this story the reader needs a prior knowledge of the victim and his/her history before he/she is killed. It’s essential for the reader to understand the conclusions made by the investigating officer and everyone else in the Lexyverse.
So what the hell is happening in those first thirty pages? It’s Lexy stuff. It’s catching up to where she is since the events in Griefed. And it’s laying the groundwork for the characters and events in the story. It’s…pretty dark. But I’m going to let Lexy go as low as she needs to. Why? Two reasons:
Drop the first body very early to grab your readers’ attention. Unless you have a good reason and have built a character or series strong enough that readers will give you the benefit of the doubt.
My hands and wrists hurt. I don’t give a shit what happens to the couple in Wallbanger. I pretty much hate this book I’m writing, too. Having no real foundation in the romance tropes and traditions I don’t have a real voice. I’m trying to write like this or like that instead of sticking to my own style.
Right now I feel like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.
I thought this would be fun. An interesting way to spend two weeks so that I didn’t mess around with Summer Wind before I can read it with a fresh pair of eyes and figure out how to get it in shape for the hand-off to my editor.
But this is like a punishment! I’m reading books I’m not interested in while books I genuinely want to read sit on my Kindle taunting me. Why am I punishing myself? Do I feel like I haven’t worked hard enough? That I haven’t earned a break? So far in 2014 I did final rounds of rewrites and published Griefed, wrote and published B.Y.O.P., and wrote a first draft of Summer Wind. If you don’t count Griefed as ‘writing’ since I finished the first draft December 30, 2013, I’ve still written over 120,000 words this year.
Day Six may just be an off-day. (And I did get a little over 1,200 words written which would be completely satisfying daily total if I was writing one of my “real books.”) One in which I feel sorry for myself and just really need some time away from the keyboard. But on the other hand I keep going back to the reason why I have never before attempted the romance genre: I just don’t like it. And writing something you wouldn’t want to read seems like a pretty lame thing to do.
So. Do I forge ahead and push myself to finish a first draft in the next 8 business days? Do I take a more leisurely route and admit that two weeks is not enough time? Do I say “fuck it,” shelve the project, and dive into writing Lexy #4, or even just throw up my hands and take a break from writing for another week. Read books I want to read, watch movies, take my kid swimming and otherwise refill the creativity bank?
I’m going to sleep on it. And see how I feel tomorrow.
Day Five research went pretty well. I found something fun to read: Wallbanger by Alice Clayton. The temperature is on the cool side i.e. I’m 40% in and the heroine hasn’t gotten laid even once. But, it’s a fun read and it’s making me laugh. In a “that’s funny” way, not a “I can’t believe how hard this sucks” way. It’s the first book in the “Cocktail” series, which includes Rusty Nailed and the upcoming Mai Tai’d Up. The comedy is on the slapstick side, but when you’re laughing out loud you can’t argue that it’s not funny.
The other thing I researched was anatomy. Specifically that V-shaped muscle below the abs. If you don’t already know, it is the iliac furrow, also known as the Belt of Adonis or just the V. Here it is in its natural habitat:
Finally, I did some writing. A lot of writing. 4,528 words or the equivalent of about 18 pages. And one of the things I’m finding as I read romance and attempt to write it, is that because there is no plot other than bringing the characters together and pulling them apart, you’ve got to sort of rathole on stuff that, for example, in my mystery/crime novels I would either skip or handle very briefly. Emotional stuff, for instance. Lexy Cooper may be full of emotion about a dead colleague or an errant boyfriend, but her distress only takes up a couple sentences. Maybe a paragraph at a time. In romance, the main characters ponder and worry, daydream and swoon for pages at a time. Depending on the book, the feelings junk can take up a lot more real estate than the sex stuff.
On Day Five I also attempted to write from the Stripper’s point of view for the first time. I hadn’t done it before because I guess it hadn’t sunk in that I was supposed to. It felt weird to jump into Cade’s head somewhere around Chapter Four and I’m not sure it helps the book. However, if I find myself light on words, that would be a good way to plump up the book; to go back and add a glimpse into his thoughts.
Finally, writing and typing this much has made my wrists begin to rebel. I’m not sure they will allow me to keep up this pace.
So this post is actually combining two days. A research (non-writing) day and a work day. I’m lumping them both into “Day Four.”
For my research I started reading Little Black Book by Tabatha Vargo and Melissa Andrea. I got to about 35% when I figured I’d read enough. For three reasons: 1) there are quite a few typos. Sloppy editing. 2) The female main character, Jessica, doesn’t seem to have a solid personality. Maybe it gels later on, but I won’t ever know because 3) I’ve read this before.
Not this book, but one just like it: Rush, by Maya Banks. It is an example of what I’ll call the “Own and Bone” subgenre of romance/erotica. What the hell is Own and Bone? Here’s the premise: Dude wants this chick. So he pays her to be at his command. Makes her sign a contract. She has to do what he says without question, most of which includes submitting to being tied up and ravished. Having been through this story already, I suspect that Jessica has a buttplug in her future. So I opted out.
I posted something about Little Black Book this morning on Facebook and one of my friends asked “Are you writing romance or erotica?” I asked “Where is the line?” and a lively debate ensued. Briefly, this friend said that you can tell the difference by the cover. She provided a picture to illustrate the difference, and I think she’s got a point. If you see a dark book cover with a close-up of body parts (or a pair of handcuffs) it’s probably erotica. If the cover has a light background and a couple gazing into one another’s eyes, it’s probably romance.
But. The book I read the other day, Where I Belong, was definitely romance but had very hot sex…albeit sans buttplugs (though there was a brief handcuffs episode).
So maybe the line between Romance and Erotica isn’t a line at all. Maybe it’s a buttplug.
Here’s what I got done on Day 4:
Day three was great for research. Not great for productivity. BECAUSE I guess I forgot that I can’t write on weekends. Not because I’m lazy (which I am) but because I can’t write with people around me. As in I am an unfathomable bitch if you interrupt me while I’m writing. So in order to survive, I must adjust the Novel Experiment from Can I Write a Romance Novel in Two Weeks, to Can I Write a Romance Novel in Fourteen Days. Business days, that is.
On Day 3 I got a lot of reading done. Part of it while my husband and younger daughter participated in a Color Run at a local park. People are running, dancing, wearing tutus, and pelting one another with packets of cornstarch colored blue, orange and pink. And there I am brushing pink dust from my kindle screen and muttering. #BookwormProblems.
I began to read but could not finish a book called Fierce by Clarissa Wild. The premise was nerd girl meets bad boy. Unfortunately, it was terrible. Everything about it sucked. Here’s my Goodreads review of Fierce:
“An absolute abomination. This had to be written by a pre-teen or it’s a poor translation of a tween book originally written in a language not English. In what language/culture does one “follow a class” instead of take or attend? I think most 12 year olds are too sophisticated for this.”
Mean? I guess. Maybe Karma set me straight because yesterday I got a scathing 1-star review of my short story I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa, calling it a “poor Janet Evanovich copy.”
But the good news is that I found a romance novel that I actually liked! Where I Belong by J Daniels. The premise is a girl returns to her hometown for the summer and discovers that the hot stranger she’d picked up the night before is the guy who teased and tortured her when they were kids. So she hates him, but you know, wants to bone him 24/7. It follows all the romance rules including the HEA, but I cared about the characters and the sex scenes were exactly the right temperature of hot for me (ie no buttplugs or riding crops), and I even laughed out loud more than once. It was a good book. For real. At one point I was reading on the couch and I murmured “Oh my godddddd,” and my husband wanted to know what was going on. So I told him, “Oh, well, the guy with the nine inch dick was just revealed to be a cop.” File that under things not to say to your husband.
So what I learned from Where I Belong (which, I liked SO much I immediately downloaded her other book and, I’m almost embarrassed to tell you, fanned her Facebook page) is that the romance genre does not have to have corny dialog or stereotypical characters. They can be as contemporary as last week and the dialog can be how real people talk.
One thing I have noticed in my quest is that part of the book is often from the dude’s point of view. I don’t remember that from the bodice-rippers of eighth grade, so I don’t know if it’s a faulty memory or if it’s a new thing. I wasn’t planning to have any of my book be from the Stripper’s POV, but…should I?
Euphemisms for Body Parts in Romance Novels. – From BookRiot.
I decided “Hiatus Experiment” doesn’t really make sense, ergo “Novel Experiment.”
Day Two research involved the book Rush by Maya Banks. In contrast to the Rafe MacKade book, the sex was not lukewarm. Nope, not at all. It was hot. Here’s my Goodreads Review for Rush. “Pretty well-written. The author believes that manly men say “damn well” a lot. The sex is definitely hot. I don’t find butt plugs even remotely romantic. Ending (HEA) was massive cheese. Rush is the first book in a trilogy, but I’m going to move on and try to get a broad spectrum of romance titles.
Still haven’t watched any romantic movies. Unless Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood counts? Didn’t think so.
As for the day’s actual work, I looked at that 4,285 number (of words I’d need to write in order to hit 60k at the end of the two weeks) and despaired. There’s no way. I think I wrote 4k words in a day once when I was on a roll with my first Lexy Cooper book. And recently I wrote 11,000 words in a week. But 4200+ in a day? Never.
Problems I encountered on Day Two:
RIP Patrick Swayze and Chris Farley
Can I write a cheesy romance novel in two weeks? Here’s what happened on Day One:
In order to write a romance novel, some research is in order.
So I read a Nora Roberts book: The Return of Rafe MacKade. Nora Roberts, if you don’t know, is a zillion-selling romance author. She’s written over 200 romance books, and also writes a futuristic detective romance series under the name J.D. Robb. She’s got FIVE books coming out in 2014. So this book was great for being brief and driving home the romance formula: Boy meets Girl. Boy is great-looking, successful and used to getting whatever he wants. Girl is also great-looking (but not conceited), intelligent and headstrong. There are conflicts that keep them apart, the main one being the Girl’s internal war between wanting to be an Independent Woman and wanting to be Swept Off Her Feet caveman-style. Each gives in a little, hormones win. They live Happily Ever After. (I discovered that this is known as an HEA among fans). This particular book? Here’s my Goodreads review. “Lukewarm sex. Too many feelings.” As someone pointed out, “Isn’t it a romance book?” Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I thought I should probably watch “The Notebook,” which I’ve never seen, but apparently makes romance fans swoon. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Maybe tonight.
Of course with just two weeks to bust out a first draft, I can’t just “do research” (a classic writer stall tactic), I actually have to Get Shit Done. So here’s what I got on paper (so to speak) on Day 1:
Not bad for the first day, but I’m going to have to step up my game in a big way. I also need to ingest more romance. I’d appreciate suggestions for movies and (short) books that typify the romance genre. I’m not interested in sub-genres (paranormal, time-travel, historical, etc), just boy meets girl meets trouble and then HEA. Thanks!
Yesterday I finished the first draft of Summer Wind. This is the book that was giving me fits just a month ago when at the half-way point I hated the book so much I wanted to burn it. I figured out the problem, fixed it, and the words just started to flow. The muse was sitting on my lap, cracking a whip, urging “faster, faster!” That bossy bitch brought in the book a month ahead of schedule. So I actually have time to follow my own advice and put it away for two weeks before starting the revision process.
So, I’ve decided to take those two weeks to work on a semi-silly project I’ve had on a back burner for quite some time: A romance novel. Yes, yes, I know you’re sneering. And yeah, I’ve said some catty shit about the genre as well, but in a world of declining readership, romance readers are HUNGRAAAY. How hungry? Let me hit you with some stats:
What’s my book about? Well, the premise is that a corporate VP good-girl with a perfect-on-paper life meets a hot young stripper. She can’t be with a stripper, right? Because she went to college and she has a 401(k), but DAMN THOSE ABS.
You see where I’m going with this. Romance is nothing if not formulaic. So, formula and premise in hand, I will attempt to write a first draft of this book in just two weeks.
Now, if I can just find that muse…. oh, there it is