Building Characters – Because We All Love a Character

I recently had an insight into the process of building fictional characters.

I bought a wedge cushion so I could sit more comfortably in my car. To my delight, it came with a multi-page instruction manual.  The instructions came in several different languages. Apparently, many countries are filled with citizens who do not have an organic understanding of seat cushions. Nor do they understand a cushion’s purpose or function. The only thing missing was a video version, for folks who couldn’t decipher the instruction booklet.

I am smiling as I write, but I am also intrigued. It takes a certain kind of person to write a manual which instructs an end user how to sit on a cushion. But even more, it takes a certain kind of person to decide that such a manual is necessary.

I often drink my morning tea from a mug my son gave me. The warning on the front says “Be careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” That makes me smile too, but the warning partially true.

For me, building characters is all about the way the characters interact with the world.

My characters rarely resemble a specific person I know, but that they often remind me of types of behaviors I have seen and of types of thought processes I have heard people express.

And I love, love, love, what these behaviors and ways of thinking can do to help me build depth in my characters, especially my side characters.

So I am grateful for that manual. I suspect I won’t forget how to use a seat cushion anytime soon. But the manual reminds me of the many different characters and character quirks there are in our sea of humanity. A writer of contemporary romance need never run out of ideas so long as instruction manuals for seat cushions are available.

Rose Grey is hard at work on her sixth contemporary romance novel. Visit the rest of the blog at The Closer You Get, All Of Me, Waiting For You, are a contemporary romance trilogy. Hot Pursuit is romantic suspense. Not As Advertised is a standalone contemporary romance. All are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

contemporary romance

Contemporary Romance Novel Meets Dessert

The person who came up with the idea of marrying the juicy slightly tart sweetness of a berry with a crisp chocolate shell was either a genius or someone who loved doing laundry. They are messy to eat and one is likely to drip strawberry juice on one’s shirt with the first bite. So, why make them?

When it comes to formal family dinners, every cook had his or her own specialty to contribute. Mine is usually dessert. There is something liberating about being able to focus on one dish for a shared event. It means you are free to choose something a bit more complicated and more caloric than usual. So, while I would not normally make a full size dessert for home consumption for fear of eating it all, creating a Linzer Torte for sixteen people to enjoy makes sense.

Over the years I have made jelly rolls, tunnel cakes and even meringue mushrooms which looked so much like the real thing folks thought I had forgotten to make dessert. But of all the fancy dishes I’ve had the pleasure of making the one my family asked for again and again was the simplest: Chocolate Dipped Strawberries.

There’s a lesson there for writers and readers, I think.

What makes food inviting is the same thing that makes a good contemporary romance addictive – contrast. Chocolate Dipped Strawberries are simultaneously crisp and soft, sweet and tart, creamy and a bit sharp. That is the measure of a good story too. What make us want to keep reading is the contrast between two characters, the way they conflict and the way their differences enhance their individualism.

Of course, books have a lot less calories than dessert. So if you read Waiting For You while eating a Chocolate Covered Strawberry, it’s like having two desserts for half the calories! Try this recipe and tell me what you think.

Chocolate Dipped Strawberries

About 20 large Strawberries
6 oz Semi-Sweet Chocolate

First, wash the strawberries and pat them dry. This step is important because the chocolate won’t stick as well to wet fruit.
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or wax paper.

Melt the chocolate in a microwave by cooking for one minute at half power. Stir it and put it in for another minute or until completely liquid. Watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn, and be careful taking it out of the microwave too since it will be quite hot.

Dip each strawberry into the chocolate, twisting as you lift it out so that it doesn’t drip. Set it on the parchment paper and repeat with the rest of the strawberries.
When you have dipped them all, let them cool at room temperature until the chocolate is solid again.

At this point you have a choice.

You can refrigerate them or you can eat them. I leave it to your discretion. Just remember that chocolate dipped strawberries taste best when you eat them while reading a contemporary romance novel.

Rose Grey is hard at work on her sixth contemporary romance novel. Visit the rest of the blog at The Closer You Get, All Of Me, Waiting For You, Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.

contemporary romance

Contemporary Romance and Birds

One of the challenges of writing contemporary romance, or any kind of fiction really, is learning to think outside one’s own experience. Joe Character has to have his own priorities, his own plans, his own views of his place in the world. I don’t always agree with my characters’ choices, but if they are going to live in my story, I have to understand them.

In a corner of my vegetable garden, there grows a small thicket of thyme. It’s a brushy spice-scented thing, spilling over its container’s walls. I think it had dreams of taking over the entire garden eventually, so I had to trim it back this spring.

Yesterday a robin landed near the thyme and found a long sprig left over from the trimming. He inspected it carefully from all sides. Then he flew off clutching it in his beak with its long ends trailing behind in the wind.

It could be random, of course. Birds find all sorts of items suitable for nest building. They seem to be much more open minded than human builders. I wouldn’t expect my town’s building code to allow human houses made of cotton balls, dental floss and yarn along with mud, twigs and dead leaves. Especially if that house was built in a tree. But Avian Building Inspectors are more open-minded, and my yard has no shortage of standard nest building materials.

It’s a Rose Grey Lumberyard for birds.

This robin had options. He could have tugged lint from the dryer vent. There are long strands available from the weeds which need trimming near the foundation of the house. He even could have grabbed a beak full of stuff from the compost pile.

But I think the robin chose this thyme sprig for its scent.  My own kitchen often smells like spices and herbs and I love it, but it hadn’t occurred to me that a bird might want the same. How very human-scentric of me.

I like to imagine him flying home, proud of his find. He and his mate might have woven it into the curve of their new nest, so that when they snuggled against it at night the scent would rub off on their wings. And maybe later, when there were nestlings, that thyme would become the smell of home.

I’ve never built a nest, but I appreciate the ingenuity required to piece together a home out of flotsam. I can sympathize with the drive to create a safe haven for nestlings. And when I catch a whiff of thyme from my garden, it reminds me that a home is where we build it, whether in our hearts or in a tree.

Like reading contemporary romance?

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I write sweet contemporary romance novels, including The Durrell Brothers Trilogy, Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised. Waiting For You, the first book of the Durrell Brothers Trilogy, was 2nd place winner in the 2018 New England Reader’s Choice Contest. I love telling stories about unexpected love and creating characters who are doing everything in their power to avoid it.

contemporary romantic comedy

Contemporary Romantic Comedy and Tomatoes

Writing contemporary romantic comedy is a lot like gardening. I’ve been planning my vegetable garden, making diagrams and lists, all of which make the process sound much more impressive than it really is. My plans generally involve buying some tomato, eggplant and cucumber plants, sticking them in the ground and trying to remember to water them. Also, I sprinkle a variety of seeds and then cannot remember which ones I sprinkled where. This is an issue because if I don’t know what I planted, I don’t know what kind of seedlings to look for and I end up mistaking the seedlings for weeds and pulling them.

My harvest can be either surprisingly abundant or pitiful. Two years ago, we couldn’t eat the tomatoes fast enough and I had to make a big batch of tomato sauce. But last year, I had few unhappy tomatoes and a generous crop of well fed beetles. Still, every Spring, the period of planning for planting is the epitome of hope for me, no matter how unreasoning.

I think many romance authors feel this way about their writing as well.

No matter how much planning a writer does, the process of writing is often a surprise. Sometimes characters grow in an unexpected direction. Current events can intrude and influence the direction if the plot just as a rainstorm or a heat spell can impact garden plants. Editing a novel, like weeding, is an exercise in figuring out what should stay and what should be removed.

This is why I love writing contemporary romantic comedy.

Sure an HEA (a happily ever after) is a given, but how one arrives at the ending, the twists and turns along the way – that’s the fun part for me. Like a seed, a romance novel is all about hope and this year hope has been an especially precious commodity.

So, as we turn the corner into Spring, I am sending all of you wishes for exciting plans, good surprises and opportunities for new growth. And if you haven’t planted anything recently, give it a try. Worst case, you get a crop of beetles. But what if you get an abundance of tomatoes?

While you are waiting for your seeds to germinate, pick up a contemporary romantic comedy for yourself or for a friend. Waiting For You is waiting for you. If you prefer an ebook, you can find it HERE.

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 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 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 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 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 Waiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.


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 Waiting For YouHot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.