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.
My latest contemporary romance novel is off to the editor. It’s the first book I’ve written since the pandemic started. The pandemic, particularly the lockdowns, took a terrible toll on creative people.
For most of 2020 I was simply unable to write, so I decided to go back and give my earlier novels a read, hoping it would motivate me. When I got to The Betrayal, I rediscovered a minor character with a lot of potential. Not only was she strong enough to become a lead character, she was also strong enough to motivate me to start writing again.
My story is Covid free. In fact, all my future contemporary romance novels will be Covid free. I did a little research on the topic. People do not want want to see Covid included in movies or television shows, so I highly doubt they want to read about it in novels. Very few novels were ever written about the Spanish Flu, and most were written a generation later, in the nineteen-thirties. They all ended up in the dustbin of history. I recently beta read a fellow author’s manuscript. His next novel is Covid free as well, so I think I may be onto something here.
I did, however, get a little stuck on the title. It was originally going to be called The Diversion. Then, as often happens, once I started writing, and the characters came to life, the story went in a different, and better, direction. The Diversion, however, no longer made sense as a title. The lead characters are both musicians, and each has written a song. One song is called, Aquamarine. The other is The White Rose. While the songs may be fictitious, either title would make a dandy title for the book. If only I could decide which one to use.
So, when in doubt, let the readers decide. I took a poll in my newsletter. It resulted in a tie. Ugh! So, now it’s time to ask the Magic 8 ball, which in Internet land, is a random name picker.
And the winner is… Aquamarine. It will be available in early 2022.
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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.
Everyone who writes fiction understands how our characters seem to come to life as we’re writing. We start out with an idea of who we want them be, but before long, they’re telling us who they really are. It’s what makes novel writing fun. For me, it usually happens with antagonists. Some, like Craig in The Stalker, come out much darker than planned. Others, like Cal in The Scandal, love their bad boy image. Deep down, however, they have good hearts.
Now just so you know, they don’t communicate verbally. There are no voices in my head. I think the best way to describe it would be to say they take control of my fingers as I type. Especially when I’m writing dialog. The conversation just flows out of my keyboard as I watch their personalities come through. It feels almost as if I’m channeling a real person from a different dimension. Of course, that’s not literally happening. I’m tapping into the part of my psyche where imagination lies, and what fascinates me the most is how the characters evolve into people who are entirely different than what my conscience mind had envisioned.
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.
Contrary to popular belief, there are men out there who read romance novels. I also once knew a male romance author. It’s an interesting genre, and the stories can range from squeaky clean sweet romance to jaw dropping erotica.
I’ve had some interesting feedback from some of my male readers. They often tell me they really enjoyed reading the sex scenes. Okay, good to know, (she writes as she blushes.) I write sensual romance, which includes some sex scenes, but unlike erotica, the sex scenes aren’t the main focus of the story. Most of the action takes place outside of the bedroom.
How sex scenes work in sensual romance
Before I started writing contemporary romance, I took the time to research how to write effective love scenes. As with any fiction writing, there is a technique for creating a sensual, believable love scene. I used Anais Nin as a model. Her work is definitely sensual, but by no means overtly graphic.
First, I build the sexual tension between the characters. Arousal begins slowly and oftentimes innocently. Hands accidentally brush. Someone squeezes a hand or touches a forearm during a conversation. Spontaneous horseplay turns into foreplay.
Before making love for the first time, the woman will usually be asked if she’s okay with what’s about to happen. I think it’s important to clearly establish that both characters are consenting adults. However, this may vary, depending on the story. In The Deception, Alex and Carrie have known one another since they were children. They’ve been in love for years, but both kept their feelings hidden. When the moment of truth finally arrives, no words were necessary.
As I get into the scene, certain body parts may be referred to, but are never mentioned by name. I’m writing romance, not a medical textbook. My goal is to describe what the characters are feeling, both physically and emotionally. I use words such as, she felt a sweet sensation, or, he moaned with pleasure. My editor came up with a wonderful way to refer to an orgasm. She called it, reaching his (or her) release. I’ll also use the words such as climax, ecstasy, or the two became one, to describe the euphoria the characters are experiencing.
These scenes are included to enhance the overall storyline, and I use them sparingly. Again, this is sensual romance, not erotica. Most novels will typically have two or three love scenes. The rest of the action takes place outside of the bedroom. The primary focus of the story is the relationship, and how the characters react to the obstacles standing in their way.
People sometimes ask novel writers questions which may seem condescending, although most of them don’t mean it in a negative way. They’ve simply never met an author before. A question I often hear is have I been published yet? The answer is yes, I’m published.
My publishing journey
The publishing industry changed dramatically in the late 20th century. The invention of the personal computer and the World Wide Web gave authors options they’d never had before, and the big publishing houses no longer dominated the industry.
I was a freelance graphic designer when this new technology came along. Most of my projects were designing magazines and catalogs. It was sort of fun, but it was never my passion. I loved creating fine art. I also loved writing, and I was ready for a career change.
In 2006 I wrote the first in a trilogy of historic novelettes for young readers. (Under a different name.) I also got lucky. I happened to meet a small press publisher who was very selective about who she published. Thankfully, she accepted my manuscript, and she soon became more than just a publisher. She was also my mentor. After publishing the third and final book in the Luke and Jenny series I was ready to start writing full length contemporary romance novels for adult readers. At the same time, however, my publisher was changing her business model to specialize in children’s books. We talked it over, and we both agreed that I was ready to start up my own publishing company. So I created Good Oak Press, LLC.
Why I choose to remain an independent author
With traditional publishing the author sells the rights to his or her work to the publisher. This means the author no longer owns their work. It now belongs to the publisher, and the publishing company can do whatever it pleases. Oftentimes this means the work is edited to the point where the author no longer recognizes it. Their name may still be attached to it, but it’s a far cry from what the author actually wrote. The other problem with traditional publishing is that it relies heavily on a premade formula. This limits the author’s creativity and forces him or her to work inside a small box.
A lot of thought goes into my contemporary romance novels. Each and every character has their own unique personality. Every bit of action and dialog is written for a reason. I also put a lot of thought into choosing my locations. If my story is set in Denver I don’t want someone changing it to Boston. If my character is a blonde named Erika I don’t want someone changing her into a brunette named Sarah. Each author has his or her own unique voice, and I don’t want anyone taking away my voice.
I take my work seriously. Not only is my name on the book, my publishing company’s name and logo is on it as well. I work with an amazing editor who understands me and doesn’t change my voice. A professional illustrator creates my cover art, and my graphic design skills sure come in handy. I know how to typeset and design a book. People often tell me my books look like they came from a big, New York publisher. This is the biggest and best compliment any reader can ever give me.
Somehow between moving to a new state and living though the horrible Covid lockdowns, (which I call Covid Hell), I’ve managed to start working on my next contemporary romance novel. Interestingly enough, it’s called, The Diversion, and it managed to divert another planned contemporary romance novel, The Rival.
Staying focused during Covid has been a real challenge. I spent the first half of 2020 going back and doing minor revisions on my earlier contemporary romance novels. They say you’re not supposed to do this, but oh well. It helped me through a difficult time, and the changes I made were all minor. I simply removed filler words and rephrased parts of the narratives. I also enjoyed rereading my earlier work. It was like visiting old friends I’d not seen in a long time.
One of my earlier contemporary romance novels, The Betrayal, included a minor character with major potential. Her name is Tonya Claiborne. She’s the younger sister of Annette Claiborne, one of the antagonists. Tonya was a seventeen-year-old high school senior, but she had such a strong personality that she deserved her own book, so now she is getting one. In The Diversion, Tonya is a twenty-one year old aspiring musician whose life is about to take an unexpected turn. So far I’m loving this book. It has an interesting cast of characters, and we’ll learn some interesting things about Tonya’s past that we didn’t know in The Betrayal.
Can a man and a woman just be platonic friends? It’s a discussion I’ve had with people over the years. Some say yes. Others say no.
My only siblings were two older brothers, so I grew up around boys. As an adult I’ve had many wonderful non-romantic friendships with men, some of which lasted for years. Even today I have male friends who are single and heterosexual, just like me, but we’ve never taken the friendship to the next level. I simply don’t feel the romantic attraction, even though I genuinely like them as people and enjoy their company. Of course I have had some friendships which, over time, grew to something more, but they were the rare exception.
I’m including a male/female platonic relationship in my next contemporary romance novel, The Diversion. Those of you who are familiar with my other contemporary romance novels may have noticed that my female leads all have a close female friend and confidant. However, I like a little variety, so this time around my female lead’s close friend and confidant will be a heterosexaul man. She thinks of him as the brother she never had, and he thinks of her as his other sister. No, they won’t be taking their relationship to the next level, although I may do this scenario in a future contemporary romance novel. For the moment, however, I’m still trying to decide which man she’ll end up with, but it definitely won’t be her platonic male friend.
Writing contemporary romance novels is incredibly fun. I get to create interesting characters, put them in all kinds of precarious situations, and write action-packed scenes. I suppose it’s the adult version of playing make believe. And while those action-packed scenes are fun to write, there’s another kind of scene I also love writing. It’s the quiet, intimate moments when the character is in a time of personal reflection. It’s when I go inside the character’s head and make the emotional connection which, in turn, creates the magic moment when the character becomes more than just words on paper. He or she essentially becomes a living, breathing human being who seems so real that we can almost reach out and touch them.
The following example is from my contemporary romance novel, The Reunion. Ian believes he’s just lost Gillian, the love of his life, to his son, Jeremy. Ian takes a long walk to try to sort things out, and reflect on what has happened.
a sample read from The Reunion
Ian spent the next few hours walking, but he was in such a state of shock he became completely unaware of his surroundings. At sundown he was sitting on a bench at an empty playground in a small neighborhood park. Gazing at the playground equipment in the twilight, he saw ghostly images of Jeremy as a small child, laughing and playing. How could such an innocent little boy have grown into the man who betrayed him? Darkness was soon upon him, but he had no desire to leave. His mind was filled with images of Gillian and Jeremy, laughing and smiling, while they enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Las Vegas strip. Then he saw the two of them together in their bed. Jeremy was making love to her. Would she respond to Jeremy’s touch the way she’d responded to his?
“Oh, stop torturing yourself, Ian,” he said aloud. “It’s over and done with and you allowed it to happen. Now you can’t undo it.”
He couldn’t bring himself to leave. His mind was filled with the memory of a long-ago night in his college apartment. Gillian was on the leather sofa, wearing his old yellow bathrobe, and he was making love to her for the first time. It was the moment he knew he had found his one true love, and twice he had foolishly pushed her away. Tonight, she was somewhere faraway, in her marriage bed, with Jeremy for her bridegroom. She had entered a place from where he could never get her back.
The breeze stirred and he heard the leaves rustling on the ground. The cool October night air seeped through his jacket. It was time for him to return home, to his own empty bed. Finally, he stood and walked out to the street. Nothing looked familiar. Walking to the nearest corner, he didn’t recognize the names of either street. He looked at his watch. It was after ten o’clock. No doubt Larry would be frantic. Reaching for his phone, he called Larry, who answered on the first ring.