Rose Grey muses on muses..

Musing on Muses and Why You May Not Need One

A lot of writers speak respectfully of their Muse. Me, not so much.

I’m not a believer in the concept of the muse when it comes to writing. If I had waited for a muse like Calliope to appear, I would never have written five novels. Plus, on a visceral level, I don’t trust the idea of a muse meddling in my process.

Years ago, I studied music composition with Professor Joseph Packeles. One day when we were discussing the process of composition, he told me, “If the music comes spewing out of you, that’s not healthy. You want to control the flow.”

For the most part, I have found this policy applies to writing stories as well. Because as an author of fiction, I am not a conduit for the words. I am making them up. And it’s darn hard work.

Often, applying seat of pants to seat of chair makes me whine and cuss. And sometimes even when the words come easily, the result makes me wince. Unclear. Vague. Filled with avoidance. But at least those lousy words are mine. Not Calliope’s. Or Erato’s. Or even Euturpe’s.

On the other hand, sometimes the best way to write is not to write at all.

As a teen, I worked as a gardener for a few months. It taught me patience. But more, it taught me to appreciate the value of the waiting. Because the waiting period is when the real action happens – underground, where you can’t see or hear it.

It’s a miracle that only works if you don’t meddle.

The seed needs time to crack its tough shell, to figure out which way the sun is, to convert the elements of the soil which surrounds it into fuel for growth. And it can’t do these things if it keeps getting dug up and inspected.

Gardens are about the deliciousness of waiting. Waiting for risk of frost to pass. For seeds to root. For rain to fall. And always, always waiting for the blossom to open, the fruit to appear and ripen.

One part of writing, almost before the beginning, is like this – a kind of germination of an idea. But the idea only germinates if you let it stay undisturbed in the dark for a bit. And that means waiting. Not waiting for Calliope to show up, but waiting for the idea to be ready to grow into a story.

That kind of waiting is a miracle too.

Rose Grey has written five romance novels and is hard at work on a new series. If you like free stories, subscribe to Rose’s newsletter www.rosegreybooks.com. Your subscription comes with a free sweet contemporary short, lots of fun info about upcoming books and occasional delicious recipes. The Closer You Get, All Of MeWaiting For You, Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Gothic Literature

Gothic Literature: It’s Baaack!

Friday before a bad weather weekend is the perfect time to go to the library. Boy, am I glad I did! Nothing says gothic literature like a gray ominous sky and Sunday was going to be miserable. I happened on Ruth Ware’s thriller, The Death of Mrs. Westaway and slipped it into my bulging book bag figuring I would save it until the storm came and hunker down. Fortunately or unfortunately, I cracked the book open on Friday night and there was nothing left of it to read by Sunday.

I’m not always a fan of thrillers, so if you feel the same way, please bear with me on this.

What I like about Ware’s writing is twofold. First, she writes beautifully. Generously. This is not as common as one might think. But second, and maybe more important to me, her book is balanced on a moral struggle.

As a romance writer, moral struggle is my favorite. I love watching people struggle because it is the way human beings grow and learn. That’s the ultimate triumph of romance novels: not the wedding, the growth.

But the other aspect of The Death of Mrs. Westaway I loved was its underlying tribute to gothic literature. I don’t know if that’s what Ruth Ware had in mind, but I sure did.

Who doesn’t love the tale of a mysterious benefactor bestowing a fortune on a beleaguered orphan? Then there’s the decrepit old mansion, the gnarled housekeeper, the bluff and hearty but secretive relatives and an ever present smell of mildew to go with the mysterious bunch of magpies which haunt the place.

Now I’m going to have to re-read Dickens.

Rose Grey has written four romance novels and is hard at work on a fifth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, subscribe to Rose’s newsletter www.rosegreybooks.com. Every subscription comes with a free short story, lots of fun info about upcoming books and occasional delicious recipes. All Of MeWaiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Holy Mackerel! A Book Review!

In the old days, of small villages and smaller market places, if I made clay pots for a living I would know exactly how my neighbors felt about them. Joe the baker would say, “Great container for my onion rolls. Now I need another for the scones.” Or, less pleasant but equally informative, Jane the blacksmith would tell everyone in yelling distance that the pot she bought from me had shattered upon first use. “Shards, I tell you, shards!”

It’s not so much that an author wants to be liked. At the root, an author wants to be sure she was clear in her intent and that the reader understood. Because my books are my clay pots. But in the international world of online commerce, it’s a lot harder to hear Joe the baker and Jane the blacksmith.

Which is why I am so delighted with Lauren Szymanski’s book review of Waiting For You on her blog, Romance4theBeach.

Writing is a kind of trust game. The kind where you jump off a cliff and hope the group of hikers at the bottom looks up and figures out what you are doing in time to catch you.  Right. That’s not a trust game. That’s just insane.

But, in a way, this is what a writer does.

On the most basic of levels, all writing is about communication which, of course, is not basic at all. It’s a transfer of complex thoughts and emotions from the inside of the writer’s skull to the inside of the reader’s skull. It’s the essence of magic without having a wand.

Because I don’t know anyone who can read minds.

Yes, Zara the Magnificent can look at my well worn paint stained sneakers and divine that I am a sloppy painter. Or stare into my eyes and hone in on my eyelid twitch when she mentions my overflowing and purposely ignored mending basket. But that’s a totally different thing than understanding what’s going on between my ears. A lot of times even I don’t understand what’s going on between my ears.

Which is why I appreciate the process of writing and revising and revising again. It helps me understand better what I wish to communicate. But when it comes to being sure I managed it, that’s the scary part. The jumping off the cliff part.

So a book review like Lauren’s is enormously helpful. It reassures me that my clay pots are sturdy. Plus, it gives me an excuse to run around the apartment waving my arms and whooping.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. All Of MeWaiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Guess What Waiting For You Did?

Early this year I entered my novel, Waiting For You, in the New England Readers Choice Awards competition. It was a little like sending your child off to college. You know you’ve done the best job preparing the kid you can do. The rest will be up to him.

So I waited until April.

Writing is a solitary occupation for the most part. And writers are often inward focused people. We enjoy watching movies in our heads and that delicious feeling that we are the ones who will find out what happens to our characters first.

So attending a writers’ conference is a fascinating experience. On the one hand, you are surrounded by lots of people who are not exactly shy. Maybe reserved might be a better way to put it. On the other hand, once a conversation starts, it’s fascinating.

Because storytellers. Right?

This year was my third time attending NECRWA, the annual Spring conference of the New England chapter of Romance Writers of America. Each year I am inspired once again by the warmth and generosity of the attendees and presenters. There is a general sense of “we are all in the rowboat together” which makes me proud to be a part of this event.

I like knowing that first time attendees are made to feel welcome and are quickly absorbed into the group. I appreciate the respect and support accorded to more experienced members who have so much to teach and share. And I am touched at how generous those members are with the knowledge they have gleaned from writing, publishing and selling romance novels. So submitting my book for judging by members of the New England chapter of RWA was particularly significant.

I care what these writers think.

I respect their opinions. And I trust them. Which meant when I found out Waiting For You was a finalist in the Readers Choice Competition I was beyond proud.

This weekend, at the conference, I learned Waiting For You won second place in the long contemporary romance category. I am still floating. Because my story gave writers I respect pleasure. And now I know Waiting For You will make a lot of other readers smile too.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Waiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Facebook Party. Eat Chocolate.

It’s definitely chocolate time in my house tonight!

I’m super excited to share my news. A few months ago, I entered my romance novel, Waiting For You in the New England Readers’ Choice contest. Because there are so many entries in the contest, including entries from big publishers, I didn’t expect Waiting For You to get much attention. But I figured it was a way to get my writing in front of more readers.

I certainly didn’t expect the email I received from the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America on Monday.

Waiting For You is a finalist in the long contemporary category and I am over the moon.

One of the challenges of writing is doing so in a bubble. There is a lot of private drafting, redrafting, polishing and critical review before the book ever comes before anyone’s eyes but mine. In that way, it’s a lot like music performance. What you see on stage, or in this case, within a paperback cover is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

But that means, for an author, there is a particular intensity when the first readers come back with comments. Because I can be happy with a story, but if a reader isn’t drawn in and hooked, I haven’t done my job.

When I sang for a living, the best part, the part I waited for and prized the most, was a certain kind of silence. When I heard that, felt it really, I knew my listeners were completely focused. I appreciated that focus for the gift it was.

I feel the same sense of gratitude and awe when I see a reader caught up in my stories.

But most readers read privately, and I rarely get to see them experiencing that sort of focus. That’s why finaling in the Readers’ Choice contest is so significant. And why I am pumped to get the book two launched and book three finished.

This process is addictive. Like chocolate.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Waiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Best Day Ever

Best Day Ever Leads the Thriller Pack

I rarely enjoy unreliable narrator stories, but I had no trouble engaging with Kaira Rounda’s thriller, Best Day Ever. Primarily because the book has an exceptionally slow build. So by the time I realized what Rouda was doing, I was already hooked.

Here are some things she did which I thought were exceptional.

No information the narrator gave was unnecessary. As a reader, I like to feel my reading attention and time is important to an author. I understand the purpose of red herrings and ultimately of fooling a reader, but I appreciate an author who doesn’t find it necessary to use them. That buys my loyalty.

First person is hard to write. It seems as though it would be the easiest form. After all, we all think in the first person, right? But an all seeing narrator is incredibly convenient. There is no difficulty describing the main character’s expressions, thoughts, reactions. First person narratives often rely on the, “I looked in the mirror and noticed my eyes were unusually blue that day” cheat.

Rouda manages first person narration in Best Day Ever so adeptly, I found myself stopping to admire her skill.

Her pacing is also remarkable. Unreliable though the narrator may be, when it comes to how he tells his story, he is utterly trustworthy. As a reader, I was certain whatever he had to say next would be relevant, perhaps critical. The tension was unrelenting. Not what you want in real life, but in a book? Yes, please.

Most of all, though, I appreciated Rouda’s solid and consistent portrayal of sociopathy from the inside. I’ve had more experience than I would like interfacing with less violent versions of people like Paul Strom and I can vouch for the accuracy of her depiction. She makes no excuses for his behavior, nor does she imply it is all due to his admittedly miserable childhood. She just observes him from within.

Read Best Day Ever. It’s both chilling and believable.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Waiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Writing

Writing In The Dark Can Be Fun

Every time I feel confident in my knowledge of this new world of writing, I am reminded how little I know. Which ought to be discouraging, I guess. But instead is oddly reassuring.

There is something comforting about knowing there is so much more left to learn, to be secure in one’s own deficiencies of knowledge.

Last year, I struggled to understand how to best express a story’s essence. What goes into a plot arc and how pacing should work. How to build a character who had a life before this story. And in the marrow of things, I was struggling with whether there was any writing worth reading in me.

And I researched what an author’s website should offer. How to build a platform. What goes into designing book covers and where to find a designer. How to find a good editor.

Last year, I was trying to grasp how to begin beginning.

Now I am learning how to continue beginning. And in some ways, I am light years from where I was last January. I’m beginning to understand what I need to do next. At least when it comes to the writing part.

But today, I read a helpful article on How to Choose the Best Keywords when Publishing Fiction on Amazon and I was overwhelmed by the extent of my ignorance once again. I researched this information last year and I thought I understood it then. But I was wrong.

This sense of being lost at sea, is amazing. Exciting.

And I am so grateful for it. And for the new confusions and misunderstandings I struggle with in this becoming-more-familiar writing world. Because I had thought one of the sorrows of growing up was becoming jaded in knowledge.

Adults I knew growing up always seemed so sure. And I worried it wouldn’t be fun to be an adult if that was the way my mind would become. I never trusted certitude.

Which is why feeling stupid again and again is so invigorating. Irritating, too – I can’t lie – but refreshing too.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Waiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

Waiting For You Debuts Today!

Presenting Volume 1 of the Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Waiting For You.

Part of launching a book includes thanking people who helped you write it. As part of that process, I’ve been thinking about the authors I love to learn from and whose teaching help me grow my own writing skills. So this is a book review of this week’s favorite, Stein on Writing by Sol Stein.

I read Stein on Writing, or maybe devoured it would be a more accurate, for the first time three years ago. I picked it off my shelf again recently and found it was exactly as acerbic as I had recalled.

Bracing. Fierce. And important.

Stein’s respect for what hard work can do is reassuring. Because listening to his criticism can be painful. Even though he isn’t looking at your writing, you can’t help thinking, “Ouch. I do that.”

Initially, I had to work at not being overwhelmed at the sheer quantity of things which needed improving in my work. I’ve grown more accustomed to it over time. I cringe less and do more philosophical sighing and make a list of fixes. And I’ve learned to choose one chapter, read it, and then close the book.

It’s dense teaching. I think it’s better to consider Stein on Writing as if it were several seminars and take one at a time.

He argues for and demonstrates how to build characters which breathe, charm and irritate. Characters can’t be stereotypes, archetypes, mannequins with lines to say. No reader will care about what happens to a vague image and if there is one thing we authors want it is for our readers to care deeply about what will happen next.

I think the goal in writing is to create a sense of inevitability. Events in the story shouldn’t all be inevitable obviously – surprises are important. But a character’s reaction to those events must be inevitable given his personal history, personality and character.

As readers we acknowledge life is full of unexpected turns, both good and bad. But we also know we can rely on humans to behave with a kind of internal logic, no matter how weird. And exploring the quirks of any individual’s internal logic is what draws us to stories. Particularly romances.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Waiting For You, Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

 

 

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: My Not So Perfect Life

I think a lot of us struggle with impossible standards we set for ourselves. Well at least I do. Which explains this book review of My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella.

I’m a fan of books which address this issue. Like Katie Brenner, who is trying to make a success of herself in the heart of London, many of us believe the way people accomplish great things is through sheer refusal to acknowledge the possibility of failure. After all, if Columbus had decided the ocean voyage was too formidable to even attempt  – well, you get my drift.

“Failure is not an option” is certainly the message inherent in any motivational book I have ever read. And I have rolled my eyes through quite a few of those.

Because that old Yiddish saying, Mann tracht und Gott lacht, Man plans and God laughs, is so true.

When Katie is fired by her loathsome but brilliant boss, her entire world view is shattered. I loved the way Kinsella treated this period in her protagonist’s life, walking her through a bereavement process as surely as if Katie had lost a loved one.

I’m extra conscious of plot structure these days so I also appreciate how much time and space Kinsella gave Katie to rebuild her life at her parents’ farm in Somerset. As a result, the reader feels more confident in Katie’s ability to cope when her old life comes calling.

Sometimes, in romances, the lovers are too obviously created for each other. Understandable, since the author wants their relationship to be inevitable.

Writing characters this way ties them together at the ankle doomed to an endless three legged race.

Neither lover can successfully stand alone. They have to embrace in order to move forward.

But I didn’t get that feeling here.

Kinsella has managed to create such a strong believable main character, by the end of the book the obligatory happy ending is less significant than the growing Katie has done.

And Katie’s happy ending is all the more pleasing for having been her own choice.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.

Book Review: The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life

Even a romance without explicit sex scenes, can still be written for a grownup audience. Which explains today’s book review of Sharon Pywell’s fabulous venture into the genre, The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life.

Unlike many romance authors, Pywell read her first romance novel as an adult. Which may be why this novel is written with enough complexity to cross over into literary novel territory. I’m grateful for that, because I’ve read a lot of simplistic romances recently and they were starting to make me nervous.

I don’t want to write like that. I want to write like Sharon Pywell.

The Romance Reader’s Guide to Life is multilayered. There’s an entire romance novella embedded in the story. There are fantastical elements to it also.

For instance, there’s the family dog who, in the afterlife, wears dress whites, walks around in the types of shoes he used to chew and serves as a sort of spirit guide.

This sounds truly weird, but it works.

But the distinctive quality to the book is how philosophical it is in its approach to romance and to the beliefs about romance, especially in its exploration of the shifting balances of control between the two parties of a romantic relationship.

It’s not that Pywell turns the traditional romance upside down. Romance heroines nowadays are usually capable, spunky, even gritty. It’s that she is so contemplative about the nature of romance both through her heroine Neave’s  love for the genre and through how that love impacts Neave’s adult life and decisions.

Neave and Lilly’s relationship with each other as sisters who build a Mary Kay-like cosmetic business together is central to the storyline. It was fun reading tidbits about the history of the industry, especially how it was influenced by the movie industry. But really this is a story about growing up. About owning one’s adult self.

It has something to do also with the struggle to match belief to reality. Not just the quandary of whether or not one is seeing ghosts, although that can be mighty awkward, but the question of whether one should let go of dreams in the interest of being “sensible”.

I’d say no.

But then, I’m a romantic. It appears Pywell is one too.

Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online. Waiting For You is coming soon.