Author Archives: AndreaJWenger

Art and Human Failing

abstract paintingAs an artist, you must stand back and judge what you’ve done…It’s only when your judgment damns the work you’ve done that it’s likely to be any good.  ~Leonardo da Vinci

Most artists start out as art lovers. The beauty they see in the work of others inspires them to try their own. Their first attempts are likely to fall short of their vision. This is normal. To master any art form—painting, music, literature—requires education, skill, and practice.

It can be discouraging, this apprenticeship of the artist. The image in the mind is so perfect, so beautiful, yet we can’t bring it to life. This is where many artists stop. They abandon their dream, because they think of art as self-expression, not hard work. They want to bleed their creation into life, and watch it turn to gold.

This alchemy does not exist.

Artists are craftspeople first. It’s only when they’ve mastered the craft that they can hope to create art.

Dilettantes think their creations are marvelous, because they lack discernment—true artists have good judgment, and with work, they can improve. Apprentices who recognize their limitations have the potential to become masters.

Perfectionism has no place in a classroom. When you’re learning, you’re supposed to make mistakes. It’s okay if your work isn’t good enough. It’s just an experiment, to see what works and what doesn’t.

But no matter how skilled the artist becomes, their work will never feel good enough, never feel complete. That’s the nature of art. Mathematics has the luxury of certainty, while art is always subjective. Another brushstroke there, another comma here, might make it better, or maybe worse. It will never be perfect.

But isn’t art ultimately about human failing? How we manage to make a go of things against the odds in an imperfect world?

Great art isn’t perfect. It’s real. It captures what it means to be human.

To achieve that is as much as any artist can hope for.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you get frustrated when your work doesn’t come out as well as you’d hoped? How do you respond?

How Many Books Should an Author Write in a Year?

Stacks of BooksIn the past few weeks, there’s been a bit of a stir in social media about how many books an author should publish in a year. An author on Bowker suggested that four books was a good number if you wanted to earn a decent living writing fiction. Another on Huffington Post balked at that idea, fearing that quality would suffer. (The art! she lamented. What will happen to the art!)

This satirical article from Bad Advice for Writers should perhaps have the last word. It’s frankly silly for authors to debate the ideal number of books to write in a year, because it depends entirely on the author: their goals, their writing process, the time they have to write.

Prolific authors existed long before indie publishing revolutionized the industry. Often they wrote under different pen names to hide the fact that they were writing so much. Also, traditional publishing is slow, so even if you write four books a year, your publishing house may not be able to keep up with you. That’s a consideration indie authors don’t have to worry about.

I know bestselling authors who release a novel every month. That’s right, twelve books a year. And their fans love them.

Readers read for a variety of reasons. It’s not always about the art. They want to be entertained. They deserve a well-crafted, well-edited story that delivers the reading experience that they’re looking for and that they’ve come to expect from a particular author. As long as the author is able to deliver that consistently, it doesn’t matter how many books a year they publish. What matters is keeping their audience happy.

As a reader, I look forward to new books from my favorite authors. Some are writing so fast that I can’t keep up with them. But at no point have I ever thought, I wish she’d slow down and think more about the art! Instead, I think, I need to make more time to read!

How about you? When you see authors producing four or more books a year, do you worry that they’re not paying enough attention to quality? Or are you just excited that they’ve got another book out?

Image Copyright: bonumopus / 123RF Stock Photo

You Can’t Have It All If You Try to Do It All

Prague astronomical clockPriorities. We’ve all got them. That constant tension between what we must do and what we want to do.

On this celestial sphere we live on, we’re bound to just 24 hours in a day. This is a hard limit I’ve been fighting since college, without success.

Once again, I’ve taken on too much. Activities that seemed manageable have spiraled out of control, leaving me without enough time to write.

I need to write.

It can be difficult to admit that something you enjoy—something that’s satisfying and makes you feel like you’re contributing—is getting in the way of a higher priority goal.

When that happens, it’s time to step back and reassess.

If we want to reach our dreams, sometimes we have to do less instead of more. Less of things that distract us. Less of things that sap our energy.

Pushing ourselves by working more hours isn’t an effective solution. We need down time. Good exercise and good sleep make us more productive.

Writers cannot live by caffeine alone.

So here I am, re-evaluating my priorities and shedding activities that I wish I had time for but don’t.

And by doing that, with any luck, I’m getting a few steps closer to my dreams.

Do you try to do too much? How do you find balance? 

(Photo Copyright: olgacov / 123RF Stock Photo)

What’s the Difference Between Romance and Women’s Fiction?

Sometimes authors of romance and women’s fiction face a conundrum. They’ve written a novel, or they’ve got an idea for one, and they’re not sure which of the two genres it fits into.

One reason for this confusion is that a single novel can meet the definitions for both. As defined by the Romance Writers of America (RWA), romance fiction includes

  • A central love story
  • An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending

Novels that meet this definition might be romance, or they might be women’s fiction. Both are relationship-driven, which sets them apart from other genres. But there are critical differences between the two.

Romance

Romance novels feature a hero and heroine*, each with their own plot and character arc, which are interwoven to form the main arc of the story.

Romance is unique in fiction because it has two protagonists, who each serve as the other’s antagonist. It can also have a villain, but the villain is not the antagonist. If the romance is the central storyline, then it’s the love interest, not the villain, who forces the protagonist to change.

Women’s Fiction

Women’s fiction is relationship-driven but focuses on the journey of the female protagonist. The central relationship can be romantic, but it doesn’t have to be—nor does the genre require a happy ending as romance does. Women’s fiction often explores the protagonist’s family ties, friendships, and career.

Often, women’s fiction includes multiple relationships as subplots. For instance, a novel with a central romantic storyline might feature a mother-daughter struggle as a secondary plot, or a novel focusing on the relationship between sisters might have a romance subplot.

Women’s fiction, unlike romance, generally has a single protagonist. In romantic women’s fiction (that is, it meets RWA’s definition of romance), the love interest is the antagonist, even if the story also includes a villain. But the love interest is not on par with the female protagonist, who is clearly the main character.

Beach Colors by Shelley Noble is my favorite example of a women’s fiction novel that reads like a romance, but the strong subplots push the hero into a more secondary position. He’s got a strong character arc, but it’s subordinate to the heroine’s.

There are also romance novels that feature strong subplots and family relationships, giving them the feel of women’s fiction. Two of my favorite examples are Virginia Kantra’s Dare Island series and Melissa Cutler’s Catcher Creek series.

Industry professionals don’t all agree on the exact definition of women’s fiction, so if you’d like to read more, here are the links to a few articles on this subject:

How do you define women’s fiction? Do you agree with how I distinguish between women’s fiction and romance? Leave a comment! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

* The central couple in a romance novel can also be a same-sex couple or a menage grouping. In a menage, one pair may predominate, or all three characters (or more) may play equal roles. Note that this definition is not intended to exclude any LGBTQIA or MOGAI relationships not specifically mentioned.

The Ego Struggle: The Core of the Romance Storyline

man offering flowersPeople who don’t read romance might think it’s all about falling in love and living happily ever after.

It’s not.

That’s how the book ends. But to earn that ending, the characters have to endure a struggle. Specifically, an ego struggle. A journey that takes them from being two independent individuals to an integrated couple.

Let’s use Fifty Shades of Grey as an example, since so many people have read it. In fact, one of the reasons for its popularity may be the strong, stark ego conflict between the hero and heroine. Christian wants a submissive partner who will relinquish all decision-making authority, allowing him to control even what she eats and when she exercises. Ana, on the other hand, is like “Dude, the sex is hot and all, and some of the sensation play is fun, but you are totally not the boss of me!” (Okay, that sounds nothing like Ana, but you get my point.)

These two people, who are incredibly attracted to one another and seem to share a spiritual connection, want completely different things. And so the negotiations begin. Each of them has to decide what they’re willing to give up for the sake of the relationship, versus what they need to keep because it’s essential to their happiness.

Sometimes these negotiations are overt, as they often are in Fifty Shades, and sometimes they’re more subtle, as in a book like Pride and Prejudice. The decisions are made incrementally and often unconsciously, as the romantic couple grows closer—until  the end of the novel, when they finally shed their illusions and choose each other over things they thought mattered more.

Through this struggle, their sense of identity changes. Their ego is dismantled and rebuilt. It’s a painful process, and one the characters inevitably resist. But it’s only through the experience of the lovers stripping away the non-essential parts of themselves, and coming together as a couple with shared goals and values, that the reader can trust in their union. They’ve been tested, and they’ve proven themselves worthy.

In that sense, romance fiction isn’t so different from any other quest story. What makes romance unique is that the ultimate goal of the lovers is (usually) to form a family—whether that family includes just them, eventual children, or an extended family clan. That’s a noble goal—one with important social significance.

In the book you’re currently reading, what ego struggles do the main characters undergo? What important things do they have to give up in order to succeed in their quest?

HANDLING CYNTHIA, the latest novella under my pen name Andrea Dalling, includes a strong ego conflict between heroine Cynthia and her old high school crush, Trent. When she pursues him at their five-year-reunion, she finds him willing—but on his terms. How far is she willing to go for love? 

Photo Copyright: bugphai / 123RF Stock Photo

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