I had a lot of fun writing my two latest contemporary romance novels, The Scandal and Aquamarine. Both stories took place in Hollywood, so creating characters who work in the entertainment industry was a real treat. Interestingly enough, I had only planned to write one Hollywood novel, but sometimes life imitates art.
I was in the early planning stages for The Scandal when the real-life Harvey Weinstein scandal made the headlines. The news stories were too similar to what I had in mind for the storyline, so I had to come up with a whole new game plan. Later on, I used the original Scandal story idea for Aquamarine. Now I’m going back to writing stories about more every day people.
My next story involves a romantic triangle. It’s a classic soap opera trope which always creates nice conflicts. The underlying theme would be best described as, “though shalt not bear false witness.” We’ve all had a lying, two-faced, backstabbing so-called friend at least once in our lives, and this person will be the instigator for much of the conflict.
Jenna, the lead character, is an interior designer whose most recent romance had ended amicably. Or so she thought. However, when her former boyfriend finds out there’s a new man in her life, he’ll do whatever he can to sabotage her new relationship. No, he doesn’t want her back. He’s doing it just because he can. The title for this new contemporary romance novel is Rivalry. Look for it in late 2024.
We authors are told to write what me know, and so far nearly every lead character I’ve created is an artist of some kind. Gillian was a painter. Carrie was a photographer. Most recently, Tonya was a musician. Or they’re like Cassie and Stephanie, and they work with artists. Many of my leading men characters have creative jobs too, such as architects, writers or musicians.
I certainly know art. Some of my earliest memories are of drawing on my bedroom walls. Unfortunately, my mother wasn’t too keen on that, so she got me some coloring books and crayons. As I got older, my favorite toys were paint-by-number kits and a spirograph. Later on, I took up embroidery and sewing. By the time I started high school I was making my own clothes. Then, when I went to college, I got a degree in fine art.
Along with writing, fine art photography is my other passion. A fine art photographer approaches photography the way a painter looks at a canvas. The goal is to create an interesting composition of lights and shadows. I do photography as Gayle Martin. If you’d like to take a look you can see my work at gaylemartinfineartphotography.com.
So, with my background, I suppose it would make sense for my lead characters to have art-related occupations, or otherwise be freelancers of some kind, as I’ve spent most of my working life being self-employed. Fortunately, my editor has plenty of experience in the corporate world. She’s been a real asset in helping me with characters who work so-called, “regular” jobs. I also know retired nurses who’ve been extremely helpful with creating supporting characters who work in the medical field. However, I simply don’t have the background to have a nurse, or a corporate executive, as a lead character.
Thankfully, in my genre, contemporary romance, I really don’t need to get too technical about my character’s occupations. The focus of the story is on the romance. I just need to know enough about their occupations to accurately describe what they do, which for me would be an art related occupation.
Mickey Lee Janson, also known as Mike Jablonski, was originally intended to be minor character in my contemporary romance novel, Aquamarine. However, like Jeremy Palmer, from The Reunion and The Journey, Mickey, or Mike, as he prefers to be called, had other ideas. Characters sometimes have minds of their own, and there are times when their ideas are actually better than the author’s. This was one of those times.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Mike was an amateur musician who was managing his father’s bar and grill during the day, and singing and playing his guitar at night. He had no intention of becoming famous until his friends suggested he audition for a television talent competition. Mike went to the audition, but only to get his friends off his back. Much to his surprise, he was accepted. From there he made it to the finals, being voted off on the second to last show. However, it was enough. A talent scout from Alicorn Records offered him a recording contract, and Mike Jablonski became Mickey Lee Janson.
Mike meets glamour model Tonya Claiborne when Tonya is hired to appear with him on an album cover. However, something unexpected will happen during that shoot, and it will change Mike’s and Tonya’s lives forever.
Mike’s original role in the story was intended to be brief. He would try, and fail, to free Tonya from a toxic relationship. She would eventually end up with a minor character from an earlier contemporary romance novel, The Betrayal. However, as the story progressed, I really liked the way Mike was turning out. He had it in him to be much more than he was. My editor agreed. She also nixed the idea of bringing back the character from The Betrayal. Thus Mike became one of the lead characters.
Mike is a purely fictitious character. He isn’t based on anyone I know, nor is he based on any famous real-life musician, living or dead. His origination rests solely with me, the author.
Aquamarine is available on Amazon, and coming soon to Barnes&Noble.com, and other online booksellers.
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.
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.