When I wrote my debut contemporary romance novel, The Reunion, I had a lot of interesting feedback. Everyone seemed to agree that their favorite part of the story was the quasi romance between Gillian and Jeremy, a man young enough to be her son. Some even joked about it being the cougar part of the story. So, I’ve decided to include a May-December romance in my upcoming contemporary romance novel, Rivalry.
Back when I was in college, I had a friend who often talked about his parents and his upbringing, as twenty-somethings tend to do. By all accounts, it sounded like his parents had a happy marriage. However, his father was considerably older than his mother, and he sometimes mentioned his half brother, who was about twenty years older than his was. I don’t the story of how his parents met, or what happened to his father’s first wife. He never brought it up, and I never asked. I just know he had a good upbringing and a happy home life.
Warning! Spoiler Alert!
So, moving on to Rivalry. Early in the story, lead character Jenna contacts Bill, her former mentor, to help with a project she is working on. However, Bill was more than just a mentor. He’s also a former lover, and while he’s not quite old enough to be her father, there is a considerable difference in their ages. It’s a sweet and poignant love story which is coming out much better than I expected. The storyline lends itself well to all kinds of conflicts. Especially when Jenna’s former boyfriend learns about her new relationships and starts second guessing himself.
I’m often asked how many books I’ve written. Danged if I know. After a while, you kind of lose track. However, of all my contemporary romance novels, The Reunion will always be my favorite.
The Reunion was my first full-fledged novel. Prior to that, I was writing children’s books, (as Gayle Martin), and The Luke and Jenny series did quite well. My very first book was a historic, WWII era ration cookbook titled, Anna’s Kitchen, which was later updated into Rosie’s Riveting Recipes. It’s still one of my biggest sellers. However, after Luke and Jenny, I wanted to write more contemporary stories for adult readers, and romance is my favorite genre.
Unlike my later novels, The Reunion is loosely based on events which have happened in my own life. I wrote it as a, “what if” story. As in, what if I had done this instead of that? Of course, I’ll never really know, but The Reunion gave me a chance to imagine one possibility. Leading man Ian is based on someone very special who I once knew. Gillian is me. Sort of. She’s an idea of what my life might have been, had I made different choices.
Samantha Walsh, Gillian’s best friend, is based on a real-life neighbor I once had. I also met her while I was in college. Her apartment was a few doors down from mine. However, she worked at the parimutuel windows at the dog track instead of a truck stop diner, but some of the stories she told about her job were hilarious. She moved back to Chicago a few months after we met, so I have no idea whatever become of her, but she was certainly unforgettable, to say the least.
Gillian’s ex, Jason Matthews was, I’m sorry to say, based on my own ex-husband. He worked at an Old West Theme park called, Rawhide, which, at the time, was in Scottsdale, Arizona. Like Jason, he kind of swept me off my feet. Unfortunately, also like Jason, he turned out to be an abusive conman. Thankfully, I haven’t heard from him in many years, and so far as I know, he’s alive and well. Although I will admit that writing about Jason’s untimely end was kind of cathartic. Just saying.
I think of my first romance novel as my first child, in a way. Writing it was a life-changing event for me, because doing so was when I realized that writing novels truly is me life’s calling. It’s yet another reason why The Reunion will always be my favorite.
Aquamarine is, in some ways, the contemporary romance novel I wanted to write a few years ago, when I wrote The Scandal. The Scandal is the story of Lauren McAllen, a soap opera star who wants to break into the movies while Calvin Michaelson, the main antagonist, would live up to his nickname, Casting Couch Cal. Such was the story I intended to write.
They say timing is everything. Unfortunately, at the time I was formulating the storyline for The Scandal, the real-life Harvey Weinstein scandal made the headlines. It was simply too close to the story I had in mind, and I strive to create original stories. Therefore, I had to make some changes. Cal would go from sexual manipulator to a man falsely accused of a serious wrongdoing. In the end, it turned out to be a good story. However, it wasn’t the story I originally had in mind.
What a difference a few years can make
Things had changed by the time The Scandal was released. The notorious Mr. Weinstein had been convicted, and the rest of the world had moved on. I had also revisited an earlier contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal. One of the supporting characters, a teenager named Tonya Claiborne, really stood out. She was strong and compelling and certainly worthy of having her own story. This became the inspiration for Aquamarine.
Every story needs a good antagonist. At long last, I had the opportunity to create the bad guy I wanted to create with Cal Michaelson. This time my antagonist is narcissistic, cunning, and manipulative, but on the surface he’s charming, charismatic, and seductive. Hopefully, he will be one of my most memorable villains ever.
I really, truly love what I do. I put a lot of thought into the characters I create, and all those scoundrels make my job so much fun. Especially when they get their comeuppance.
This past fall has been brutal. I lost a very dear friend, and one of my favorite people on the planet.
Bobby was a jazz musician in Tucson, who I first met in 2012. He was part of a band which had a regular Sunday night gig at venue called Monterey Court. Cynthia, my editor, was a tenant at Monterey Court at the time, so I was a regular there myself. Every Sunday night she and I hung out and listened to live jazz. It was a happy time.
As I got to know Bobby, and the other musicians he performed with, I began to realize there was something special about him. He was a good soul, and people like him are rare. I soon found out he enjoyed reading, so I gave him a copy of one of my Luke and Jenny books. (Which I wrote as Gayle Martin.) He loved it, so now we were more than friends. We were mutual fans.
I soon became a regular at his other gigs. I also got to know his family, and we even did a little traveling together. Bobby introduced me to some of his other friends, many of whom became some of my closest friends too.
Bobby may not have been into romance novels, but he was nonetheless very supportive of me as an author. He was always the first person to open my newsletters, and he always read my Facebook posts. In fact, he used to joke about stalking me on Facebook.
Unfortunately, Bobby was a smoker, and from what I understand, nicotine is a very difficult addiction to break. He was diagnosed with cancer after I moved to New Mexico, and he passed away in late August. I went back to Tucson to attend his funeral, and I couldn’t get over how many other people attended as well. He was well loved by many, and he will most certainly be missed by all who knew him.
Writing novels is an interesting profession, to say the least. I’m often asked how I come up with my ideas. Typically, it happens when I’m busy doing something else.
So here I am, busy doing something else
Let’s say I’m busy baking cookies. My mind wanders as I’m mixing the dough. I may be reminiscing about something from my past. Or maybe I’m recalling an interesting story a friend once told me. Whatever it is, my mind is relaxed. Then, all of a sudden, aha! The light comes on and I’m thinking, “Dang, this could be a really good idea for a book.”
Next stop–the back burner
So an idea just came to me out of the blue. Now I have to figure out if it’s a good idea, or a bad idea. I’ll spend days, maybe longer, mulling it around. I’ll play out a few scenes in my head and come up with some ideas for characters. In other words, I’m playing a grown up version of Let’s Pretend. Then, once I have something I think will work, I start putting pen to paper.
Writing the treatment
I wrote detailed treatments for my first few contemporary romance novels, such as The Reunion. It’s a common practice in the writing profession. A treatment is a summary of the story we plan to write. I used mine to describe how I would begin, and end my story and summarize my idea for the middle. Typically, my treatments were about a page and a half long. Once it was finished I set it aside and didn’t look at it again. I knew my beginning and my ending. It was time for me to start working on the story itself.
My adventures with my imaginary friends
Every fiction writer I know experiences this phenomenon. Our characters turn into real people. Or at least they do to us. Each has his or her own unique personality. That is, unless you write science fiction of fantasy. Then your characters may become real aliens or dragons in your head. However, I write contemporary romance. My characters are mostly human with the exception of a few dogs or horses, and the dogs and horses also have distinct personalities.
It’s an interesting symbiotic relationship. Not only are the characters living, breathing people, at least to me, they also come and talk to me. Not verbally. I don’t hear voices in my head. Instead, they define themselves as I get deeper into the story. A good example would be Jeremy Palmer, a supporting character in The Reunion. Jeremy was intended to be a rogue character who would do his dirty deed and disappear from the story. However, he was also a lead character’s son, and as Ian came to life I realized he could never have such an evil offspring. So Jeremy went from rouge villain to a rival who competes with his father to win Gillian’s affections.
Once the story is complete
Once my story was complete I’d go back and reread my treatment. I was always surprised at how much the final story differed from the original treatment. It was like night and day, and it always came out better than originally planned.
Nowadays I do things a little differently. I may write down my beginning and ending, with a sentence or two describing what may or may not happen in the middle. In others words, I’m doing less preplanning and more flying by the seat of my pants writing. (Many authors do the latter.) Even so, I’ll still have scenes in mind that never come to fruition. They may have played out nicely in my head, but they just didn’t work on paper. Other times a character never appears because another character came out better than expected and took over the role. It happens all the time. My writing process is fluid. If something different works better than expected I’ll go with it.
I really love my job. I get to go on adventures with my imaginary friends, and once my story is published, you get to come along too.
The other day I read an article about the classic John Steinbeck novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Along with a synopsis of the story, it went on to describe the various symbolic meanings throughout about the book. Some authors like to use fiction as a metaphor, and there were certainly political undertones in Steinbeck’s work. However, not all fiction writers do this. What I find amusing, however, is when people think there is a hidden meaning in a story when, in fact, there isn’t.
Sometimes blue simply means blue
I recall a meme on social media poking fun at how people assume authors always include hidden meanings in their work. It talked about an author mentioning blue curtains because blue symbolized blah, blah, blah. The punchline, however, was that the author simply liked blue. There was no hidden meaning.
I don’t include a lot of symbolism in my work. My genre, contemporary romance, is pretty straightforward. Boy meets girl. They fall in love, but they have obstacles to overcome before they can get to happily ever after. However, there are no political undertones or hidden messages in my stories. My sole purpose is to entertain the reader. That said, it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy a little fun from time to time.
Okay, maybe just a little, but not too often
In The Deception, Scott is a married man who presents himself as a single man to unsuspecting single women. Early in the story he takes Carrie out for a drive, so I made his car a Chevy. No hidden meaning there. Chevrolet is a popular make of car. But then, just for laughs, I described it as being bright red, to represent Scott’s infidelity. Yes, it was a veiled reference to The Scarlet Letter, and yes, it was a little corny. Sometimes I can’t resist having a little fun.
On a more serious note, those who know me in real life know I’m a very spiritual person. I also happen to know people who’ve had what they believe to be angelic encounters. My father was one of them. So, in two of my novels, a character has what some might interpret as an angelic encounter. The reason I’m emphasizing the word might is because not everyone believes in a higher power. Therefore, I wrote those scenes in such a way that readers could also interpret them as a character interacting with a compassionate stranger. I’ve left it to the readers to decide for themselves. The above mentioned is all the symbolism I’ve used so far. I guess I’m more of a what you see is what you get kind of storyteller.
We’re all unique individuals. No two people see the same thing the exact same way. It’s all subject to our own life’s experiences. However, before jumping to conclusions about hidden meanings in a story, particularly if it’s something negative, remember what I said before. Maybe the author brought up the blue curtains simply because it’s the author’s favorite color.
They say there are certain things you should never ask an author or creative writer. One of them is, “Can I be a character in your book?”
For a time, however, this was a running joke between me and one of my friends. First, he dropped me an oh so subtle hint in my birthday card. Then, whenever we’d run into one another, he’d tease me and say, “Hey, can I be a character in your book?” I’d tease him back and reply, “Sure. How do you want to die?”
Oh, if you only knew
Here’s the real butt of of the joke. Some of my friends actually are in my contemporary romance novels, as they are inspiration for some of my characters. Ian, in The Reunion, is loosely based on an old college boyfriend. Lauren in The Scandal was inspired by a family member, and the idea for Craig in The Stalker came from someone harassing a friend on Facebook.
That said, my characters are all unique individuals. Each has their own distinct personality, including their own quirks. My protagonists aren’t perfect. They make their fair share of mistakes. Some of my antagonists are downright chilling. Others are good people who’ve made bad choices. But regardless of whether the character is inspired by a real person, or someone I created from scratch, all are believable, three-dimensional people who readers can connect to.
So, did I ever put my friend in one of my books?
Well, sort of. There is a supporting character in my upcoming contemporary romance novel, The Diversion, who is somewhat similar to my real-life friend. Both are professional musicians, and both are serious about making careers in the music business.
I’m going back to Hollywood for my next contemporary romance novel. This time my lead character is a musician whose dream is to become a recording star.
The Harvey Weinstein story broke while I was in the early planning stages for my last contemporary romance novel, The Scandal, which also takes place in Hollywood. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the real-life scandal really threw a wrench into my plans. My original intention was for my lead antagonist, studio head Calvin Michaelson, to be a sexual manipulator, but with the Weinstein scandal came the #Me Too movement. I keep politics out of my novels, and the last thing I wanted was for my book to become politicized. So, after many, many revisions and rewrites, Cal ended up becoming a redeemable character, and I had to place many of his negative traits into another antagonist, tabloid journalist Randy Hall.
This time around things are different. Weinstein is now serving twenty-three years in the pen, as well he should be, and the #MeToo movement seems to have run its course. Now I can finally create the villain I wanted to create in The Scandal. His name is George Monroe. He’s a high-level executive with a record company, and he’s going to be like the devil incarnate. Charming, compassionate and caring on the outside, but underneath the mask is a manipulative control freak who micromanages the lives of those around him for his own narcissistic pleasure. The working title is, The Diversion, although it may be subject to change. What I can tell you for certain is this is going to be fun write.
Will I included Covid 19 in any of my future contemporary romance novels? No. I absolutely will not.
This isn’t to say pandemics can’t be good subject matter for a novel. For some genres, such as science fiction, mystery, or thrillers, an epidemic can make for an interesting story with plenty of conflict and drama. (I read The Stand, and loved it.) However, I write contemporary romance. My characters are hugging, kissing and making love, which would be rather awkward in the age of social distancing. Erotica writers on the other hand might have fun writing, shall we say, interesting, scenes about masks or Zoom sessions, but I write sensual romance, which means most of the action in my stories takes place outside of the bedroom
I’ve spent much of my time during the lockdown going over my earlier books, and as a result, you’ll be seeing a spin off novel from my contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal. One of the minor characters in The Betrayal was a teenager named Tonya Claiborne who appears in the latter part of the story. She’s a strong character who has the potential for a leading role. I wrote The Betrayal in 2015, so you’ll meet an adult Tonya in the new book, which will most likely be titled The Diversion. The young Tonya was self confident but likeable, so we’ll see what happens when life throws her curveball and she goes off course. I had planned on The Rival being my next book, but I’m bumping it back until after The Diversion. So, it looks like I’m going to be busy for awhile.
In the meantime, in case you haven’t read The Betrayal, I’ve posted a free preview below.
People sometimes ask me why I write contemporary romance as opposed to other genres, such as mystery or science fiction. To which I say, why not?
I write sensual contemporary romance because we all have hopes and dreams and a desire to be happy. That happiness, however, may elude us because of the poor choices we sometimes make. Most of us have experienced at least one romance that went sour, so it’s a genre many readers can relate to. Perhaps this may explain why romance is so popular.
Along with conflict driven storylines, I create characters who are realistic and believable. My protagonists, such as Carrie in The Deception aren’t heroes. They make bad decisions and they have to deal with the consequences of those bad decisions. Sometimes an antagonist, such as Scott, also in The Deception, will learn from his or her mistake and try to do better. Most, however, remain defiant, such as Scott’s wife, Maggie. Either way, they too have to live with the consequences of their actions, and a few even pay the ultimate price for their sins.
The one thing you won’t find in my stories is gushy, gooey schmaltz. For those who like that kind of melodrama, it’s out there, but that kind of storytelling isn’t my style. My inspiration comes from my own life experiences, and the stories others have told me. Readers tell me they feel the connection, and they like how believable my stories are. This is the highest compliment a reader can give an author.
This is why I write romance. It’s the one genre where I can dig deeper into the relationships we have with others and try to better understand the human experience.