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Guest Post at Romantic Theme Party

Happy President’s Day, US readers! I know, I’ve been very, very quiet.  There’s some amazing stuff brewing, and I promise to share as soon as the news can be made public…

In the meantime, I am helping to kick off the Urban Fantasy party at author Marie Treanor’s Romantic Theme Party site — today I put on my romance writer’s hat and look at urban fantasy from a romance perspective.  If you have not yet gotten LADY LAZARUS for your reading pleasure, you are in luck — drop a comment over there and win yourself a free copy!

So come on down — the Urban Fantasy party is here!

Time Travel and Writing Advice

Recently I heard from a very dear friend of mine, one who I stupidly lost touch with, and her voice brought back a time in my life when I desperately wanted to write but just didn’t know the way.

Here is a list of things I wish I could tell that younger woman, the one who Carrie knew.   I put the stuff for her in bold, and the updated information for you right after.  Maybe somehow this will influence my past, but even if not, I hope it helps you for the future:

*you WILL publish fiction. And today, you can self-publish whenever you feel you are ready.  When will you be ready?  A very good question, and the topic for another blog post <g>

*writing a lot is the surest path to success. I think this will always be true, and today I think that even more than in the recent past, the most prolific writers are most likely to succeed.  We’re entering a second golden age of pulp, and the people who can produce for their fans are the ones who will gain market share.  So, write!

*join RWA: Romance Writers of America .  I think that RWA is an amazing resource for writers, and in the 1990s when I was trying to find out about writing it was one of the only ones.  Today, with the explosion of writing industry blogs, you can find out a ton of information.  I would caution you to get the best information, and don’t believe everything you read simply because it is on the internet.  Just find impeccable sources, take what works for you, and forget the rest.

*write what you love to read. That was good advice for me in those days…I loved genre fiction in all of its forms, but wrote dreary literary dreck.  But I would say write what you love to write — the stories that insist on getting written.  The stuff that feels so easy that it is cheating.  As you get more confident in your writing, you can expand from there if you want.

*read a lot.  And stuff that is fun, not stuff you’ve been told is good for you. This is always true :-)

*find other writers who are serious about honing their craft. Just as true today as ever, though there are many more places to find them than there used to be.  Back in the day, I would have recommended a writing conference, a local chapter of RWA (if one existed back then) or putting up a sign at a local bookstore to start a writer’s group.  Today, forums like Absolute Write, Romance Divas and so many others are available online, not to mention online writing chapters of RWA and other organizations.  But finding other writers these days is as easy as checking out Twitter for a couple of minutes — try the #amwriting, #writegoal, #litchat hashtags for starters.

*write short stories for publication.  Find short story markets in Writers Market and keep submitting. Especially in SFF, the short story market is stronger than it was in those days.  Tough to break into, but diverse and wonderful.  I’m still working on this piece of advice :-)

*Become a genre writer — and find out what this terminology means. This was, and is, good advice for me, but it may not be for you.  Don’t get hung up on labels for your work — write it, and when you’re done you will see where it belongs.

*do not get an MFA or any other kind of fancy degree. You will make the most of the fancy degrees you’ve already gotten, but you don’t need any more. Unless you are planning to teach creative writing at a university, this is still good advice.  You do not need an expert to confer the title “writer” upon you — only you can do that.  Check out John Scalzi’s excellent MFA post written in the wake of the latest Frey scandal.

*don’t give up! You are already good enough!  All you need is practice… This was true, is true, and will always be true.  Believe in your passion for writing, and keep doing it.  The more you write, the better you are likely to get.

do you seek the darkness or the light?

Here’s an amazing follow up question to the workshop I taught last Saturday for the Long Island Romance Writers.  Thank you Lisa! —

I add my tremendous thanks, Michele, for your thorough, captivating workshop about building a story world. You provided new insight to generating seed ideas.

My favorite part was your posed challenge to “write what scares you, what keeps you up at night, what pisses you off to no end.” Which brings me to my question. I want to write romantic comedy–that’s my first WIP–but in between, I’ve written darker, supernatural short stories that seem to flow out of me of their own accord. I know you said you fought it, as I am.

I find reality scary enough, I want to escape it in my writing. Have you found that writing about the ‘darkness’ helps you cope with fears?Or does it pull you in further?

I’m trying to decide whether I should take your challenge to write what keeps me awake at night…TIA for any feedback.

Thanks again,
Lisa Brennan
(a currently “safe” writer, hopefully not writing a “safe” book)

A great question, because I believe the answer is going to be different for each person, and thus is not capable of a single, neat answer.

I’m a big fan of letting the writing write itself.  There are the Big Reasons people write stories — to express their vision of the world, to banish their inner demons, to promote a certain world view — and then there is the simple joy of writing.  It is my belief that many writers who last are writing because it’s fun to write, because it is exhilarating to disappear into the story world and return to our own with treasure.

Whatever gets you to the page — your outrage, your fear, your ideals, your naked ambition — is great.  And whatever keeps you writing is great too.  In my own case, fear serves as a marker.  DO NOT WRITE THIS is the neon sign that points me to what I should be writing, because for me the taboo stuff has the greatest charge, the most treasure.

Again in my own case (because every single writer is different) what gets me out again is my belief (a recurring theme in my writing) that no matter how deep and vast the darkness, even a small candle can often defeat it.  Another way of saying this — the fear gets me started writing, the transcending of the fear is what gets me to the other side.

For you, Lisa, I say embrace the darkness and come out the other side.  I’ve read romantic comedies — Jenny Crusie’s books come to mind — where the darkness is right up front, casting weird and beautiful shadows over the comedy.  Or, check out the mordant humor on display at writer/agent/editor Betsy Lerner’s blog — slashing wit.  Love it.  The best comedy doesn’t shy away from darkness but confronts it head on.  Maybe that shadow darkness is the layer your romantic comedy needs.

Or it may be that dark, supernatural stories are yours to tell.  You could write both the funny and the earnest — my favorite stories are a mix of the two.  I’d say, whatever writes easy.  Write these supernatural short stories and send them out — you never know. . .

It’s like I said on Saturday.  I believe that each of us has stories only we can tell.  The job is to write as honest, close to the bone, as we can get.  The hardest part of writing, sometimes, is just getting out of the way and letting the writing out, uncensored.

Thanks again for sending along your note, Lisa — I am so glad you enjoyed the workshop.  I hope this answers your question!

And as for you, dear reader, what do you think?  What do you look for in your reading?  If you write, why do you write?

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