Thursday, August 27, 2015

Story Magic

I just got back from my first trip to Disneyland and it was magical.  The magic came in many forms - the excitement in my son’s smile, quality time with my family, the amazing help and service we received from Disneyland staff members, seeing places and going on rides I’d heard about for decades, my son’s beloved uncle joining us for a day… the list could go on.  

  But for me, the real magic came from the stories.  As a reader and a writer it’s so wonderful to be somewhere where almost everything is based on a story.  The story might be a beloved fairy tale or a novel, like Tom Sawyer, or the plot of a movie or cartoon, like Frozen.  Some stories are purely visual.  My son loved the roller coaster Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  I loved how they created a story around it, with the mining town all around the roller coaster, complete with uncovered dinosaur bones, and the ride speeding through the mining tunnels.

And the characters!  The writer in me gets misty-eyed thinking about how Walt Disney and his colleagues created characters so memorable that people line up to meet them every single day around the world.  And those fictional characters have stood the test of time.  Mickey Mouse was so busy you needed an appointment to meet him!  

 Characters - princesses, superheroes, pirates, and so many other fictional characters matter to us.  Why else would we line up in a park to get their autographs and take photos with them, while knowing, logically, that these characters we’re meeting are simply people in costume?  They aren’t real, but inside our hearts and our imaginations they feel real!

 Being in the park made me think a lot about the power of stories in our lives. The line for the Peter Pan Ride was so long we never did get to go on it.  People sweltered in the sun to wait for Pirates of the Caribbean, Alice in Wonderland, Indiana Jones and Winnie the Pooh.  All stories.  All capturing our imagination and transporting us somewhere else, to experience things we’ll never find in real life.

I left Disney more convinced than ever that stories matter.  Fiction matters.  Stories are such a big part of the magic at Disney.  As a reader and a fan of those stories, I left happy.  As a writer, I left inspired.  I want to weave story magic too!   

And I would love to know... what places or things inspire you as a reader or a writer?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Shared Universes

Ever hear of the shared universe theory? It’s a theory in which fictional stories by particular writers, studios, showrunners or other creative bodies are somehow cobbled together in a such a way that they all exist within the same universe.

Sometimes the creative bodies put clues in their works to loosely link the worlds—Pixar, for instance, always has the “Easter egg” Pizza Planet delivery truck in every one of its films. Fans use this as evidence for the Pixar shared universe theory, though Pixar itself has never purported to support it. 

What I find most fascinating is how imaginative fans are when it comes to linking the stories together. Take, for example, the JossWhedon shared universe theory, in which Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Cabin in the Woods all exist.  The first two are natural links, Angel being a spinoff show from Buffy. But pulling Firefly, a scifi Western that takes place centuries after Earth has suffered catastrophe, into the mix requires a lot more creative thinking.

Maybe most creative of all: the Disney shared universe theory, in which 30 movies coexist in the same universe. Read this awesome and hilarious post to see how carefully fans are watching for those linking details.

Why go through the effort of seeding stories with these hints that could lead to a shared universe theory? Because it rewards diehard fans for paying attention. For the creator, it’s a fun inside joke, a wink and a nod to their fans and colleague. It’s also an unobtrusive way to acknowledge the process of creation, and how we build on what we’ve created before Because if there's anything we writers love, it's self-referencing our work.

I will admit my books all share a universe, though in my case, it’s much easier to fit contemporary romances together than most of the above examples. Many authors set their books in the same small town, or write stories for characters from previous novels. But I like a challenge. If you look closely at my upcoming January 2016 release, Red Carpet Arrangement, you’ll see a nod to my first book, Her Son’s Hero, and my third, In Her Corner, which are both about the world of mixed martial arts. And by my sixth book, which goes back to the small town of Everville from my second book, Back to the Good Fortune Diner, and fourth, Recipe for Reunion, there’ll be tons more little “Easter eggs” hidden throughout with nods to all the characters.

Got any shared universe theories? Do you watch any TV shows or movies and imagine how they’re linked? Ever try to link completely different works together? Comment below! 

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Letters You Write (An Ode to Readers)

Amber Leigh Williams

When I was ten, my grandmother told me how she and her two sisters wrote to movie stars in the '40's and '50's. This was back in the days of true Hollywood glamour, when the idea of “celebrity” was not necessarily taboo. These were the days of the Hepburns. Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart and Jimmy Stewart. There was Vivien Leigh and Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth. Not to mention, Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and John Wayne. Some stars would write back to them, some would not. Nonetheless, it gave the three girls no less a thrill knowing their words and penmanship traveled from a small town in rural Alabama to California and the hands of someone great.

After hearing this story, I got a few of my friends together and had a “fan mail” party. We wrote cards and letters, included school pictures of ourselves and the beaches we lived close by. I wrote to the Backstreet Boys, JTT, and Han Solo (who, I found out, was moonlighting as a handsome, middle-aged actor named Harrison Ford). Much of our mail went unanswered, lost in the shuffle or simply disregarded. However, a few wrote back and thanked us for the kindness and encouragement. I hardly remember who wrote back, but I remember the return message – “thank you.” As if a word from a kid who lived on a very small island in Florida had touched or bolstered them somehow.

Several years went by. I grew more reserved and internal. Writing was rapidly becoming that thing I wanted to do with my life. When I wasn’t writing or involved in school activities, you could find me sitting on the screen porch pouring over the words of other writers—in books, magazines, newspapers. The letters I sent out into the world changed. I no longer wanted to write to celebrities. Not the ones I saw on television or in the movies, anyway. I wrote to authors. At fourteen, I read A Girl Named Summer by Julie Garwood. The same year I read Nora Roberts’ first book for Silhouette, Irish Thoroughbred. Both made me want to write love stories. In my 10th grade English/Lit class, I read The Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, and Romeo and Juliet. If Dumas, Hugo, or Shakespeare had still been alive at the time, I would have flooded their collective inboxes with fan mail.
My sister and me reading to each other poolside....
When I turned sixteen, my younger sister read The Hatchet and together we drove to see Gary Paulsen speak at our local community center. We read the Harry Potter series and wrote personal letters to J.K. Rowling thanking her for filling our long summer days with stories of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and Privet Drive. We thanked her for the rare companionship and commonality the books provided. (We didn’t agree on much. We didn’t even mutually like that many things. But we loved those books with enough delight and passion to fuel our imaginations for years to come.) My sister thanked Jo for the character of Ron who she hoped to someday marry. I informed her that my Hogwarts letter seemed to be very late and asked which Houses we could expect to be sorted into (hinting very plainly that it didn’t have to be the same one).

This was in the fledging days of Amazon and eBay, Yahoo and Google. There wasn’t a place readers like me could go to write reviews or chat about books other than book clubs in the city I was too young to attend. So snail mail and the occasional email address offered by an author was really my only way of telling these writers how much their work had moved me. Today, it’s much easier to let a writer know how we feel about their work. It’s nice having outlets like Goodreads, Amazon, blogs, and Twitter to rate/review/brag on/debate the latest read. As much as I craved reviews and professional feedback in the beginning of my writing career, it’s the reaction of the readers, those words they write on review sites, and the emails they send that have the most impact.

Last week, I could hardly find a scarce moment to breathe, much less write. One night, my toddler was having a meltdown. My newborn wouldn’t nap for more than a half-hour at a time. Bedtime rolled around and the hub took over, getting everyone situated for the night while I sat down and took a moment. There was a spit-up stain on my shoulder. I had yet to eat dinner and my stomach was growling but first I opened my email…and there was a note from a reader. The praise and encouragement therein could not have come at a better time and despite the trying afternoon and evening, I stayed up and wrote.

Signing Forever Amore for a fan...also my sister, LOL
That’s the thing. Just like every reader, our favorite writers are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers. Some are stay-at-home parents and many leave the house for day jobs. Sometimes they have bad days, whether from writing itself or from everyday stress. Sometimes they need that little extra something to bolster them through those late night writing sessions after the kiddies go to sleep to let them know they’ve reached someone else’s mind or heart.

Once I was lucky enough to be seated next to an established author at a book-signing. I was looking forward to speaking to her about the industry, about what made her so successful, and about writing itself. However, just before they opened the room for readers and their books, a friend of hers came to the table and asked, “How was the signing in [city]?” The author sighed wearily and said, “I had the worst headache. The line was so long and I just wanted it to be over.”

I was shocked. As the signing commenced, I couldn’t bring myself to ask her questions. Nor, for the longest time after the signing, did I have it in me to pick up any of her books to read. Without readers, we as writers wouldn’t be successful. Beyond that, every writer is a devoted reader. They must be. Therefore, they know exactly how powerful a story can be and the potential impact it can have on a reader’s life. Even the most prominent authors take every opportunity they can to express their gratitude to readers. Madeleine L’Engle once said, “The author and the reader ‘know’ each other; they meet on a bridge of words.”

So I’d like to take a moment to say “thank you” to our Superromance readers, to readers everywhere, for the support, the kindness, and for meeting us on that wonderful bridge!

Happy reading!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Question Of The Month: Your Favorite #RWA15 Memory

Janet Lee Nye getting ready for the Black & White Ball
We are a month out of the frenzy of the Romance Writers of America National Conference, and  most of us have recovered from 3-4 days of constant activity, eating and workshopping. Which means we're starting to get a little nostalgic! This month, our question is this: What was your favorite moment or memory from the #RWA15 National Conference in New York City?

Janet Lee Nye: So many moments. First time in New York City. First time to RWA as a contracted author. First time going to the Harlequin dance. And it was a Black and White Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria! Princess stuff! I got to get all prettied up.

Claire McEwen: My favorite part of the conference this year was getting to know my fellow Superromance authors so much better than I ever have before.  I feel honored to write alongside such smart, funny, savvy, talented and caring people.

Angel Smits: My favorite part of RWA this year was all the new opportunities I had to get to know you all better. Dinner and sitting together at the awards ceremony with our Super signs, being in the focus group with Tara, lunch with everyone and the strategy meetings. Normally, I go to conference with a bunch of my chapter mates but since the chapter folded, I've been more on my own. I feel like I've found a new place to belong. It feels good!!

Tara Taylor Quinn: My favorite RWA memory – so me, I can’t narrow it down to one.  My highlights were: a particular conversation with Dianne Moggy.  The VIP party and Margaret Marbury and Lorianna – all three moments that gave me strength and that I will never forget.  Piya.  ‘Veneer’ with Paula Eykelhof (you have to have seen the Frasier episode where they are watching the Antique Road show only we had a different word.)  And a conversation with Claire McEwan (please help me with spelling if I got it wrong, I’m doing this on the fly) that really touched my heart.

Joanne Rock: My favorite RWA memory...seeing the Superromance editors show off their dance moves! I'm wondering how to get hired on in Toronto because our editorial group sure knows how to have fun. My second favorite memory was from the Harlequin party and cheering on the authors who had reached milestones like their 25th book. It's so fun to celebrate career landmarks together and to look around that room and see how many wonderful friendships I've made thanks to writing for Harlequin. I feel very fortunate to make this journey with such supportive, creative, and warm-hearted friends.

Liz Talley: I had a lot of wonderful moments but my favorite moments were spending time with the other Superromance authors. It's so strange that I've been with Supers for 5 years but I've never really known a lot of the authors well.  For some reason (or perhaps my fault) I perceived some distance. But over the last couple of years I've felt nice cohesion and a since of teamwork. I loved spending time with y'all.

Lenora Worth: I had a lot of favorite moments. But one was when Victoria Curran stopped to say hello at the literacy signing and when I told her I love Superromance, she hugged me and took my picture. I was touched because I truly love writing for Super. My other favorite memory--walking into the Starlight Ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria and just taking it all in. The first time I did this years ago, I had the same kind of feeling. It never goes away, that feeling of being inside a wonderful dream. The room wasn't full yet and I just stood in the middle of the dance floor and smiled. No matter the ups and downs in this business, we are family. I'll always cherish the friendships I've made on that dance floor!

Nan Dixon: My favorite moment for RWA 2015 was actually two moments, both at the Literacy Signing. Two women found me because they had read and loved SOUTHERN COMFORTS.  [They weren't related to me and weren't my writer friends.]  One had me sign a T-shirt she'd had made.  They both brought tears to my eyes.  Thank you Terry and Ursula for stopping by and making my week!

Being a Girl

Angel Smits

            In my day job, I work in a large manufacturing plant.  I took the job nine years ago when I was pondering a career change from social work and hadn’t yet sold my first book.  Somehow, I ended up staying.  It’s not a bad place to work and I’m up in the front office, not working the machines making parts.  I mainly shuffle paper. 
            It’s a male-driven environment, with probably eighty percent of the population men.  Between uniforms, and the safety requirements that such environments inspire the government to make, there’ve been some things that over time, I’ve given up. 
            I didn’t realize until recently, though, just how much that giving up had become a sacrifice.
            Nearly every year, I attend the Harlequin party at the Romance Writer’s Conference.  I’ve gone four times now, and every time it’s more magical.  This year it was held at the famous New York Waldorf Astoria.  This time it called for something special. 
            While it’s a formal ball, this is the first time I’ve worn a dress.  It’s the first time the idea even crossed my mind.  I’ve worn some very fancy, very beautiful pant suits, flowing, bright colors, comfortable expensive slacks.  Flats that are quickly replaced by Harlequin embossed socks. 
            This year, I saw the dress a few weeks before I was to head to New York and fell in love.  I knew I only had the one place to wear it, and hesitated at the expense.  I used to wear dresses to work all the time, I had several in my closet at home that I hardly ever wore.  Frivolous, right?  But—
            I bought it.  And wore it to the Harlequin Party.  I loved it.

(Here I am on the right, with two of my favorite Super authors, Pamela Hearon
 and Cathryn Parry at this year's Harlequin Party)  

            When I got back home from New York, and returned to work, I was surprised to find that some policies had changed.  It had been something they’d been discussing—and now it was a done deal.  No more uniforms.   Regular clothes in the front office…and get this…steel-toe safety shoes only on the manufacturing floor.  Not while sitting at my desk. 
            It’s hard to explain the thrill. 
            Party dresses?  Normal people clothes on a daily basis?  Dare I hope…cute shoes with…gasp…heels? 
            Okay, we’re not there yet but I’m hopeful it’s coming. 
            Standing in front of my closet, that was suddenly half empty since I didn’t have the uniforms filling it, looking at my few clothes, I realized something. 
            I like being a girl.  I always have. 
            I wear my hair long.  Guess I’m something of a rebel as I’ve gotten older.  Recently, I had my first pedicure.  And manicures have become time to sit, relax and do nothing.  Not like you can do much of anything with your fingers buried in a bowl of water.  To regroup.  To breathe after some incredibly hectic days. 
            Girl things. 
            Like romance novels? 
            Yes, like romance novels.  Where women can be and do whatever they want.  (Or what we writers want to give them.)  Where they can be pretty, and appreciate a good looking man.  Or lounge around in yoga pants and eat chocolate, chocolate chip ice cream (something I also like to do.)  No man necessary—but a nice option.

            Yep, I like being a girl.               
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