Jane Sevier

mysteries and love stories served Southern style

The Writing Life


In 2006, I set out to estab­lish a writer’s work space in Austin pat­terned after the ven­er­a­ble Writ­ers Room and the then-new Para­graph in New York City. We called it Scribe, The Writer’s Stu­dio. We weren’t able to make it fly, but while we were try­ing, I did write three issues of the Scribe newslet­ter, which I’ve excerpted below. I inter­viewed authors and lis­tened hard at con­fer­ences. The idea was to talk about not just writ­ing but the writ­ing life.

In This Issue:

Janet Evanovich and Edgar Week
Read­ing About Writing–Julie Wray Her­man

Inspi­ra­tion + Per­spi­ra­tion
Janet Evanovich and Edgar Week

In April, Scribe’s own Jane Sevier trav­eled all the way to New York City to attend the Mys­tery Writ­ers of Amer­ica Edgar Week Sym­po­sium, held as part of a week of cel­e­bra­tions sur­round­ing the annual Edgar Allen Poe Awards, which honor the best in mys­tery fic­tion, non-fiction, tele­vi­sion, and film pub­lished or pro­duced each year.

A panel fea­tur­ing MWA Pres­i­dent Janet Evanovich, best­selling author of the Stephanie Plum series, and her agent, edi­tor, and pub­li­cist head­lined the day-long sym­po­sium. Evanovich agent Robert Got­tlieb, chair­man of Tri­dent Media Group, advised aspir­ing authors to remem­ber that in com­mer­cial fic­tion, the idea—the story—is the para­mount. “A good story by a so-so writer could end up as a best­seller,” Got­tlieb said. He also said that new writ­ers are often eas­ier to sell because they have no track record, by which we take him to mean no bad track record.

When con­sid­er­ing a man­u­script, Jen­nifer Ender­lin, Evanovich’s edi­tor at St. Martin’s Press, says she looks for char­ac­ters, con­cept, con­flict, and, most of all, voice. “Mechan­ics can be taught, but voice is unique,” Ender­lin said. “Janet thinks about every word on every page. Every sen­tence does a job.” Evanovich chimed in that writ­ers should let their voices devel­op­ment nat­u­rally, rather than try­ing to copy another’s voice.

For pub­li­cist Dori Wein­traub, Janet Evanovich is a full-time job, and that job entails expand­ing her author’s reader base. Accord­ing to Wein­traub, work­ing with the big book­sellers like Barnes & Noble and Bor­ders is the best way to grow an audience.

Evanovich her­self admits she’s a worka­holic. She’s at her desk at 5:30 in the morn­ing, and except for a mid­day exer­cise break, she doesn’t stop until 6 in the evening, when she has din­ner with her hus­band. By 7 p.m., she’s back at it, meet­ing with her daugh­ter Alex, who is web­mas­ter for www.evanovich.com. They refresh the site every month to keep fans com­ing back.

Evanovich also sends out post­cards for each new book, dis­trib­utes a semi-annual newslet­ter to fans on her mail­ing list, and still man­ages to fit in a book tour or two. This year, Evanovich has seven—yep, seven—books com­ing out, includ­ing a non­fic­tion book on writ­ing due in Sep­tem­ber. What keeps her going?

She works so hard because it takes so long to get there,” Got­tlieb said of Evanovich. “You have to keep work­ing to nour­ish your career and grow it. An agent is an encour­ager and care­taker of an author’s career.”

I have the keys to the candy store,” Evanovich said. “It took me 10 years to get pub­lished. I started think­ing about what I can give to my audi­ence, not what they can do for me.”

Read­ing About Writing

Is your plot­ting plod­ding? Texas writer Julie Wray Her­man, author of the Three Dirty Women land­scap­ing mys­tery series, sug­gests pick­ing up Noah Lukeman’s The Plot Thick­ens. Luke­man guides you in cre­at­ing com­pelling char­ac­ters with rich his­to­ries and exploit­ing sus­pense and con­flict to punch up your plot.

In This Issue:

Spot­light on San­dra Brown
So, Ya Wanna Write for Pic­tures
Read­ing About Writing–Jeff Abbott

Spot­light on San­dra Brown

San­dra Brown is all Texan. Born in Waco and reared in Fort Worth, she worked as a model at the Dal­las Apparel Mart and as a TV broad­caster. In 1981 in the spare room of her Arling­ton home, she started writ­ing nov­els on an elec­tric type­writer set on a card table.

Brown began her career writ­ing cat­e­gory romance, moved to roman­tic sus­pense, and finally switched to straight sus­pense. Publisher’s Weekly has said, “No one does steamy sus­pense like Brown.” Her early influ­ences were British espi­onage writer Eve­lyn Anthony, Anglo-American nov­el­ist Tay­lor Cald­well, and play­wright Ten­nessee Williams.

Ten­nessee Williams because of the South­ern influ­ence and the façade of respectabil­ity hid­ing all that deca­dence,” she says. “His per­sonal relationships…I think he did fam­ily rela­tion­ships on the rocks really well. If you watch or read his plays, they really cut to the bone. They’re almost painful to watch.”

Three years after she launched her writ­ing career, Brown leased an office so she could go to work every day. Hav­ing an office made it offi­cial that she was work­ing and not to be dis­turbed. Home was the haven at the end of the work­day, and Brown says she needs that separation.

My favorite day…is being alone at my com­puter with my char­ac­ters for hours of unin­ter­rupted time. I love telling the story. I love being there…. I can come out 10 hours later just euphoric. What I don’t like is the busi­ness and the busy­ness. I love the writing.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to believe that the peren­nial best­seller could feel inse­cure about her work, but Brown says she does, espe­cially when she’s start­ing a new book. She ago­nizes over the plot before she starts. If plot­ting isn’t hard, she believes, it prob­a­bly isn’t good. She thinks about the ini­tial con­flict, the main char­ac­ters, how to tighten the con­flict along the way, and how it will ulti­mately be resolved. Then she writes the first draft.

Don’t wait for the con­fi­dence to do it,” she says. “If I did that, I’d never get out of bed in the morn­ing. You’ve just got to do it.

Every day I go to work, it’s a new world. There’s a lot of fear that all the tal­ent I had the night before, the bad plot fairies came in the night and took it away.”

Brown owes her pub­lisher a book a year. Her dead­line is in March, so she’s already started her next book. She spends sev­eral months doing the first draft, which goes to her edi­tor for dis­cus­sion of its strengths and weak­nesses. The sec­ond draft is where she says she really does her craft­ing. She goes over and over a scene until she’s per­fectly sat­is­fied with it. Then, for the third draft, she looks at pac­ing. The fourth draft is for pol­ish­ing, and then she’s done, but it takes her a year.

For each of her books, Brown has a back­ground story of how the idea first came to her and how she devel­oped it into a plot. There isn\‘t a pat­tern. Some­times the story begins with a char­ac­ter, some­times with an issue or sub­ject that inter­ests her, some­times with a snatch of song lyrics or a snip­pet from the news­pa­per. At other times, she sees a scene or hears dia­logue in her head, and the story begins with that.

Weird things hap­pen that you couldn’t make up,” Brown says. “One time I was watch­ing Phil Dono­hue do a show about trans­plant patients, and I remem­ber dis­tinctly the guests talk­ing about being imbued with the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the donor. I asked myself, ‘What if you hated the donor of your heart?’ The result was Cha­rade.” Brown is known for cre­at­ing strong char­ac­ters and evok­ing rich settings.

I don’t flesh out char­ac­ters ahead of time,” she says. “When I start out, I have an idea of what I want that char­ac­ter to be like, but they intro­duce them­selves to me as we go along. They reveal their char­ac­ter­is­tics to me. They reveal if they jin­gle their keys or whis­tle absent-mindedly.”

Cli­mate and set­ting should also be char­ac­ters in the book, Brown feels. She does onsite research for each of her books, and her hus­band, who has a back­ground in TV pro­duc­tion, does videos of her set­tings. Brown’s books are set pri­mar­ily in the South. “I’m so at home in that envi­ron­ment. I know the peo­ple and the cul­ture and how they think. I know the food. It’s more com­fort­able for me. It makes for less exotic vaca­tions, though.”

What advice does Brown have for other writers?

It’s impor­tant to read and read,” Brown says. “Even a book you’re not enjoy­ing, you should read it to fig­ure out why you don’t like it. Then you’ve got to write. “You can attend con­fer­ences, join writer’s groups, but you can only doing it by putting words on paper. There are no short cuts. You’ve got to spend hours and hours alone in a room. It’s hard work.”

On August 15th, San­dra Brown’s 66th novel, Ric­o­chet, hits book­stores. Publisher’s Weekly has given Ric­o­chet an industry-coveted starred review, and Brown’s fans know it’s prob­a­bly des­tined to be her 55th New York Times best­seller. Yep, she’s already had 54.

So, Ya Wanna Write for Pictures

For as long as there has been a Hol­ly­wood, in the movie busi­ness has drawn writ­ers there. Nov­el­ists, play­wrights, and throngs of oth­ers who think they have a screen­play in them, or at least a lit­tle TV movie. Among the more-famous who answered Tinseltown’s siren song are F. Scott Fitzger­ald and William Faulkner. You may know that Faulkner wrote the screen­plays for “To Have and Have Not” and “The Big Sleep,” but did you know he also worked uncred­ited on movies like “Gunga Din” and “Mil­dred Pierce”?

But if you’re not a William Faulkner or a William Gold­man, and you itch to write for Hol­ly­wood, nov­el­ist (The Last Prophecy) and screen­writer (“Dirty Deeds”) Jon Land has advice for you. Think independent.

Accord­ing to Land, 70,000 books are pub­lished a year, but only 500 films are made. The big stu­dios turn out just more than a third of those. The rest are inde­pen­dent pro­duc­tions. So if you want to break in writ­ing movies, pitch your prod­uct to inde­pen­dent producers.

Don’t even start with the stu­dios,” Land says. “Stu­dios may option 20 films but make only 2. To get to the Holy Trinity—talent, fund­ing, and distribution—independent pro­duc­ers need scripts. They won’t pay you unless they get the Trin­ity, but it’s the best way to break into the business.”

Because most inde­pen­dent pro­duc­ers don’t have the devel­op­ment funds the big stu­dios have, Land rec­om­mends you also think high con­cept and low bud­get. “In movies, it’s about get­ting the movie made,” Land says. “You’re writ­ing a screen­play so you can get a movie made. The longer you can stay in one place, espe­cially an inte­rior space, the lower the budget.”

When Aus­tralian film­mak­ers James Wan and Leigh Whan­nell were toss­ing around ideas for fea­tures they could film in one room to fit their $600,000 bud­get, they came up with the story for the 2004 hit “Saw.” Two men are trapped in a room together, and one of them must kill the other to escape. High con­cept, low budget.

A less-grisly exam­ple of that com­bi­na­tion is “Zathura.” Known for action block­busters like “ Juras­sic Park,” “Mis­sion Impos­si­ble,” and “Spi­der­man,” screen­writer David Koepp no doubt had a lower bud­get in mind when adapt­ing the Chris Van Alls­berg novel for the 2005 children’s movie. About two broth­ers who play an antique space adven­ture game that plunges them into its world, “Zathura” is set in the young heroes’ house, and almost all the action takes place inside it. Remem­ber, inte­ri­ors are less costly to shoot.

Land says inde­pen­dents are more likely to lis­ten to your ideas and to hire you to do rewrites, which are usu­ally done for the bud­get. Just be pre­pared for your favorite line or scene to get cut.

Learn­ing to let go is the secret of screen­writ­ing,” he says. “You’ll have to fig­ure out how to make your screen­play bet­ter. You need to be a good diplo­mat, a good politi­cian. Your job is to write the best script you can with roles that actors want to play. It comes down to a great script and a great new idea or an orig­i­nal twist on an idea.”

And one last bit of guid­ance. Keep at it.

Some of my scripts have been rejected dozens of times,” Land says. “We learn to deal with rejec­tion, or we can’t be in the business.”

Read­ing About Writing

Shelves and shelves of books are devoted to how to write. Books on pac­ing. Books on plot. Books on point of view. You name an aspect of the writ­ing craft, there’s a book about it. But if you want to learn what it means to BE a writer, to think like one, Austin-based nov­el­ist Jeff Abbott (Panic) rec­om­mends Dorothea Brande’s time­less Becom­ing a Writer. To learn more about why Abbott admires Brande’s book, click on the My Space blog link on his web­site.

In This Issue:

Spot­light on Mary Jo Put­ney
Romance: B(u)y the Book
What Makes a Great Hero
Read­ing About Writ­ing
The Road to Romance

Spot­light on Mary Jo Putney

Mary Jo PutneyAward-winning romance author Mary Jo Put­ney has always appre­ci­ated the leap of faith. It has led her down more than one inter­est­ing path in her life.

At Syra­cuse Uni­ver­sity, for exam­ple, Eng­lish major Put­ney dated a guy who was in indus­trial design and decided he was hav­ing more fun than she was, so she switched.

I liked under­ly­ing pat­terns and the excite­ment of fig­ur­ing out the right design,” she says. “Design is a lot like novel writ­ing. If it’s well done, it’s invisible.”

After grad­u­a­tion, Put­ney lived in Cal­i­for­nia for sev­eral years before spend­ing two years in Eng­land as the art direc­tor of The New Inter­na­tion­al­ist, which cov­ers social and polit­i­cal issues in devel­op­ing coun­tries and which she refers to as “left-wing.”

They were great, ide­al­is­tic peo­ple, and it was a fas­ci­nat­ing, mind-stretching job.” Put­ney lived in the ancient uni­ver­sity town of Oxford and worked in 10th cen­tury Walling­ford in a 200-year-old house. Each day she drove the wind­ing coun­try roads in a ratty old Mor­ris Minor wagon that had wooden ribs and “creaked like a ship at sea.” In the Mor­ris, she explored as much of Britain, Scot­land, and Wales as she could.

Those years immersed in British his­tory and cul­ture stood Put­ney in good stead when she decided to pur­sue her fan­tasy of writ­ing and tried her hand at Regency romance.

I’ve always liked a good rela­tion­ship story, and I’ve always liked a happy end­ing. The year before I started writ­ing, I dis­cov­ered Regency romances in the library. I loved Geor­gette Heyer. I had lived in Eng­land, and I had a degree in 18th cen­tury British lit­er­a­ture, I had a com­puter, and I thought, let’s see what happens.”

The Regency drew me because it’s the dawn of the mod­ern era but far enough away to still be glamorous.”

Putney’s first book sold quickly. Aban­don­ing her design career as soon as she could afford to, she turned to writ­ing full time and has never looked back.

Since 1987, Put­ney has pub­lished 31 books. She has made all of the national best­seller lists, includ­ing the New York Times, Wall Street Jour­nal, USA Today, and Pub­lish­ers Weekly. Five of her books have been named among the year’s top five romances by The Library Jour­nal. The Spi­ral Path and Stolen Magic were cho­sen as among the Top Ten romances of their years by Book­list, pub­lished by the Amer­i­can Library Association.

A nine-time final­ist for the Romance Writ­ers of Amer­ica RITA, she has won RITAs for Danc­ing on the Wind and The Rake and the Reformer and is on the RWA Honor Roll for best­selling authors. She has been awarded two Roman­tic Times Career Achieve­ment Awards, four New Jer­sey Romance Writ­ers (NJRW) Golden Leaf awards, plus the NJRW career achieve­ment award for his­tor­i­cal romance. Though most of her books have been his­tor­i­cal, she has also pub­lished three con­tem­po­rary romances.

In 2004, Put­ney once again fol­lowed her instincts when she launched her acclaimed Guardian series with A Kiss of Fate, the author’s first foray into fantasy.

My con­cept for the series is to use real his­tory, but with char­ac­ters who are Guardians, mem­bers of ancient fam­i­lies who have great mag­i­cal pow­ers and who are sworn to do their best to pre­serve mankind from its worst impulses,” Put­ney says. “Since Guardians are human them­selves, they make mis­takes, but they do try their best. The ten­sion between duty and love will be a run­ning theme in these sto­ries, and I’m really excited to be writ­ing them.”

Put­ney says she’s a life­long reader of sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy and decided to write roman­tic fan­tasy because she felt she needed a change.

I’ve always loved sci­ence fic­tion and fan­tasy,” she says. “I can quote whole pas­sages from Robert Heinlein’s books. When I came up with a Geor­gian world that blended fan­tasy and romance, it all fell into place. Fan­tasy ele­ments add deli­cious fresh­ness to clas­sic his­tor­i­cal romance settings.”

Putney’s lat­est book, The Mar­riage Spell, was released in June 2006 and received 4 ½ stars in Roman­tic Times Book Reviews. Although it is set in the Regency and is not part of her Guardian series, The Mar­riage Spell also weaves magic into the story’s his­tor­i­cal tapestry.

Del Rey Books pub­lished her sec­ond Guardian novel, Stolen Magic, under the name M. J. Put­ney, and the paper­back came out in July 2006. The third book in the series, which is built around the early days of the abo­li­tion move­ment in Britain, is sched­uled for pub­li­ca­tion in the sum­mer of 2007.

I like to have sto­ries that have strong themes so I can get on my soap­box. Our world is so stressed since 9/11. I think that’s one rea­son there are so many mag­i­cal and fan­tasy books now. Jo Bev­er­ley says she thinks the upsurge in vam­pire sto­ries is the appeal of immor­tal­ity in the wake of 9/11.”

With Geor­gette Heyer, Put­ney lists Dorothy Dun­nett, Robert Hein­lein, and Mary Stew­art as influ­ences on her writ­ing. Who does she read now? Lois McMas­ter Bujold and Cather­ine Asaro are two of her favorites.

I was happy to hear that Dick Fran­cis finally has a new book com­ing out this fall. He stopped writ­ing for a while after his wife Mary died in 2000.”

Does Put­ney have a favorite among her own books?

They’re all spe­cial in their own way. I sup­pose I’m espe­cially par­tial to The Rake, One Per­fect Rose, The Spi­ral Path. Every one is unique. It’s a rela­tion­ship. I can’t write them if I don’t love the characters.”

As for her writ­ing day, Mary Jo Put­ney claims to be “a slug” in the mornings.

I read the news­pa­per over break­fast. E-mail gets me to the com­puter. Errands and exer­cise are late morn­ing. Some­times it takes all day to get the cre­ative juices going in the evening. It’s amaz­ing I ever fin­ish anything!”

Just as it has altered so much of how peo­ple con­duct busi­ness around the world, the Inter­net has affected Putney’s work. “The Inter­net is an amaz­ing research tool,” she says. “though I still con­sult a lot of books. The Inter­net makes it too easy to drown your­self in research, and some of it isn’t reli­able. I check ref­er­ences, look at other sites. You develop a smell test. As much as I like bound books, you can’t be sure they’re always right either.”

I read a fas­ci­nat­ing book about the tele­graph called The Vic­to­rian Inter­net [Tom Standage, Berke­ley Trade, 1999]. A lot of tech­no­log­i­cal changes that trans­form the world have to do with communications.”

Does Put­ney ever con­sider giv­ing up writ­ing for the next challenge?

I’ve still got sto­ries to tell. One day I might stop and play with the cats and gar­den and travel. Writ­ing is hard work. Eve­lyn Waugh said easy writ­ing makes hard read­ing, and hard writ­ing makes easy read­ing. You have to work at it. The bet­ter the writ­ing, the harder it is. The absolute pas­sion to write can fade later in a career, but I’ll always have my imagination.”

Mean­while, in addi­tion to the third Guardian novel, read­ers have more Mary Jo Put­ney books to look for­ward to next year. In Jan­u­ary, NAL will pub­lish Dan­ger­ous to Know, a vol­ume that will include Putney’s first Regency, The Dia­bol­i­cal Baron, along with her one West­ern novella, “Mad, Bad, and Dan­ger­ous to Know.” Dragon Lovers, her roman­tic fan­tasy anthol­ogy with fel­low authors Jo Bev­er­ley, Karen Har­baugh, and Bar­bara Samuel is due out in the March. The paper­back of The Mar­riage Spell will prob­a­bly also be out in the summer.

Accord­ing to Put­ney, the romance genre has diver­si­fied enor­mously over the last twenty years and now has books to suit just about all tastes. Her writ­ing has evolved as well.

My writ­ing has become tighter and my crafts­man­ship has improved,” she says. “No sur­prise there since at the begin­ning, I was writ­ing purely on instinct. But the same themes and kinds of char­ac­ters still attract me.

To have a longer career in this busi­ness, you have to be able to adapt to shift­ing cur­rents. It’s like the mastodon. You have to adapt or die. Any­one who has had a long career has had to go through a lot of changes.”

Adapt­abil­ity is impor­tant, but be care­ful of chas­ing the lat­est hot trend in romance or what­ever métier you choose, Put­ney cau­tions. It may not be hot any­more by the time you fin­ish your book. Be aware of the mar­ket, but remem­ber that your pas­sion for what you’re writ­ing is para­mount. It’s bet­ter to cre­ate the next trend yourself.

Peo­ple who have an instinct for it, who write what they love, can cre­ate the next wave,” she says. “I’ve been in the front but not a pio­neer. It helps if you have that kind of intu­ition. You can’t con­trol it if you do. You just have to hope it doesn’t go away.

You have to read a lot and find out what you have an affin­ity for. There’s no point in try­ing to write a mys­tery if what you love is romance. You’re bet­ter off doing some­thing that you love, and devel­op­ing your own unique voice.

Find­ing your cre­ativ­ity is impor­tant. We need to have some­thing that’s not just about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of life. You take care of the muse, and the muse will take care of you.”

Romance: B(u)y the Book

Michelle Buonfiglio

Take an fas­ci­na­tion with romance, mix in a back­ground in the for­mal study of lit­er­a­ture, add a dash of zeal for pro­mot­ing authors, mix well, and you’ve got book critic Michelle Buon­figlio. She was smit­ten with the genre at her gro­cery store’s book rack, when she picked up a con­tem­po­rary romance novel that, she says, “rocked my world.”

That first love led to obses­sion and even­tu­ally to Romance: B(u)y the Book, her weekly, nation­ally syn­di­cated lit­er­ary review of romance fic­tion that also fea­tures author inter­views and tid­bits about the writ­ing life.

Part of the rea­son I cre­ated Romance: B(u)y the Book was to help authors—who can be kind of shy—connect with read­ers,” she says. “I’m not work­ing on a novel myself because this project has grown so quickly and is so darn much fun that I’ve put that way, way on that back burner. I just love writ­ing about romance and hook­ing up read­ers and authors.”

Buon­figlio writes four fea­tures a month, alter­nat­ing his­tor­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary within as many sub­cat­e­gories of romance as pos­si­ble. That’s four to choose from the hun­dreds she receives each month. Reviews rate each romance for over­all qual­ity, sen­su­al­ity, and—the favorite here at Scribe—cover cheese. For exam­ple, her Sep­tem­ber 7th review gives Can­dace Hern’s Just One of Those Flings 4 1/2 stars over­all, 4 hearts for sen­su­al­ity, and zero cheese wedges for the book’s ele­gant cover.

Each week, she reads 7 to 10 books, begin­ning to end. How does she decide which books to review from the moun­tains she receives?

I choose a book because it’s imme­di­ately enter­tain­ing and the writ­ing tells the story from the first,” Buon­figlio says. “The writ­ing must stay con­sis­tent through­out. Everything’s there for a rea­son. Nothing—not dia­logue, not sen­su­al­ity, not plot gap—stops the work cold.

Why do I say the writ­ing ‘tells the story’ rather than ‘the writ­ing is good?’ Because some­times the story is so accessible—makes so much sense, is so engag­ing, so roman­tic, so well-plotted, and so on—that the writ­ing doesn’t have to be utterly sophis­ti­cated to make the thing work. I’m going to tell the view­ers about those, too.”

Buon­figlio says she often con­sid­ers a novel that’s been sent by an author she’s met or one who has con­tacted her directly.

They’ve reached out,” she says. “I’ve never fea­tured a novel for that rea­son, but it’s gutsy and has helped bring some really good ones to my attention.

It’s hor­ri­ble when I really like some­one, but their book isn’t right for the col­umn at that time. Mostly, a book doesn’t get fea­tured because I think the author can do bet­ter. I hope that doesn’t sound con­de­scend­ing. I truly under­stand the heart, sac­ri­fice, and every­thing that go into writ­ing and get­ting one’s book published.”

In addi­tion to her col­umn, Buon­figlio also writes a blog, Romance: By the Blog. Check it out Sep­tem­ber 18–22 for what she’s billing as “Back to School Week,” when she’ll have schol­ars from Prince­ton, Ford­ham, and DePaul blog­ging about romance.

What Makes a Great Hero?

Alpha male or beta? Younger or older? Richer or poorer? There’s a long­stand­ing debate in the indus­try on what makes an ideal romance hero. Romance writ­ers wres­tle with cre­at­ing strong heroes that their read­ers can fall in love with, just as their hero­ines do.

Scribe asked two of Austin’s best­selling romance authors, Julie Ortolon and Julia Lon­don, just what makes a hero great. Here’s what they had to say.

Julie Ortolon

In fic­tion, as in life, we admire peo­ple for their strengths, but we con­nect with them through their weak­nesses. Whether we love them or revile them depends on how they deal with those weak­nesses. In cre­at­ing a great fic­tional hero, you have to give him enough larger-than-life strengths to make the story excit­ing, but you also have to make him vul­ner­a­ble. It’s the vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties that make read­ers root for him. And, of course, for tight sto­ry­telling, your hero needs to face his great­est fear to win the day.

USA Today best­selling author Julie Ortolon is known for writ­ing con­tem­po­rary romances that are both humor­ous and poignant. Catch up with the lat­est from Julie at www.ortolon.com.

Julia LondonI think a great hero encom­passes the best char­ac­ter­is­tics of man. He’s not flaw­less, but his true and good char­ac­ter­is­tics shine through his flaws. He is aggres­sive but kind, pow­er­ful but gen­tle, lust­ful but rev­er­ent, fear­less but cir­cum­spect. He is a guy’s guy but can adapt to any social sit­u­a­tion he’s put in. He gives as good as he gets from life, is gen­er­ous to a fault, and wants, in his heart of hearts, to mate for life with one spe­cial woman and cre­ate a fam­ily in his image that will live on long after he is gone. It never hurts if he is hand­some and sexy but bliss­fully igno­rant of that fact. And above all, a great hero adores women in all their many forms—fat, thin; tall, short; dark, light; sexy, not so much; bewil­dered, kick-ass—you name it, if it is woman, he adores her.Julia Lon­don is the New York Times and USA Today best-selling author of his­tor­i­cal romance fic­tion and con­tem­po­rary roman­tic com­edy. Her next book, The Per­ils of Pur­su­ing a Prince, will be released Spring 2007 from Pocket Books. Visit Julia at www.julialondon.com.

Read­ing About Writing

Austin’s own Julie Ortolon reminds us that keep­ing your inner life healthy is as impor­tant as pol­ish­ing your craft.

There is an end­less num­ber of books to help writ­ers learn the craft of writ­ing. If you want to write and stay sane, how­ever, it’s manda­tory to bal­ance books on craft with books on how to cope with the writ­ing life.

One book I keep on my night stand like a bible is Den­nis Palumbo’s Writ­ing from the Inside Out: Trans­form­ing Your Psy­cho­log­i­cal Blocks to Release the Writer Within. As Gary Shan­dling says in his cover quote, ‘Every writer should have a shrink or this book. The book is cheaper’.”

The Road to Romance

Each year, romance fic­tion accounts for almost 55 per­cent of all pop­u­lar mass mar­ket fic­tion sold and almost 40 per­cent of all fic­tion period and gen­er­ates more than $1 bil­lion (that’s bil­lion with a “b”) in sales each year. If you’re inter­ested in writ­ing romance, take your­self as quickly as pos­si­ble to Romance Writ­ers of Amer­ica, one of the most pro­fes­sional writer’s orga­ni­za­tions on the planet. RWA has 9,500 mem­bers (1,600 pub­lished in book-length romance fic­tion) and 144 chap­ters world­wide, includ­ing a chap­ter right here in Austin.

RWA pro­vides net­work­ing and sup­port to writ­ers at every stage of their careers from absolute begin­ners to mul­ti­ple New York Times best­selling authors. It’s a home­grown orga­ni­za­tion, founded in Hous­ton in 1980 by 37 char­ter members.

In July 2007, RWA’s 27th annual national con­fer­ence will be just up the road in Dal­las. This year’s con­fer­ence in Atlanta offered work­shops on every­thing from how to prop up the sag­ging mid­dle of your man­u­script to how to dis­pose of a corpse to the ins and outs of pub­lish­ing. And each year at the national con­fer­ence, RWA announces the win­ners of its RITA (for pub­lished authors) and Golden Heart (for unpub­lished authors) Awards, the Oscars of the romance indus­try that rec­og­nize the achieve­ments of writ­ers in almost as many cat­e­gories as the Acad­emy Awards.

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