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A lesson in perseverance

My second novel, The Ones We Trust, comes out in less than three weeks. Three weeks! I have a million things to do before the launch, and less than three weeks to do them in. You’d think I’d be better prepared, seeing as I wrote the first draft of this book all the way back in 2009.9780778317869_TS_prd_rev

Yes, you read that right. This little baby hasn’t officially been born yet, and already she’s six years old. If she were human, she’d be walking, going to school, and reading at a third-grade level already. She’d have adult teeth! She was also the first novel I ever actually completed.

Here’s a harsh truth about getting published: hardly any writer ever sells their first book. The first one is generally considered a practice novel, the one where you learn as you go and make lots of mistakes along the way, the biggest thinking anyone would ever want to read it besides your mother. You’re supposed to write it, shove it in a box under your bed, and move on to the next one, one where you actually (kinda sorta) know what you’re doing. I was fully prepared to do that, too, except this story wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept whispering to me from under the bed. Fix me, it said. I have a story to tell.

So I rewrote it, and then I rewrote it again and again (and again). I fixed the tone and the voice, matured my main character, Abigail, deepened her backstory to intensify the conflict. I added a subplot and a whole slew of new characters. I killed my darlings and switched genres, multiple times. I lost a lot of sleep and I shed a lot of tears.

In the end, one plotline never changed—the slain soldier’s story. Though we never actually meet him on the page, The Ones We Trust is built around what, exactly, happened to him on the battlefield. His family needs to know in order to move on, and Abigail is determined to help them by uncovering the truth. This plotline was the crux of every single rewrite, a red thread leading the way.

We writers talk a lot about how some stories need to be told. This was one of them. The little story that could. It took me six years and a million wasted words, but when it hits the shelves in three short weeks, all the work will be worth it.

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.

Why writing is so hard, and why I do it anyway

10383661_10204481819261556_458038920627797529_nWith only a few books under my belt, I guess you could say I’m fairly new at this writing gig. There are some things I’ve learned along the way ~ that I’m a morning writer, that I write best in an empty house, that getting up and switching to a new spot will loosen up almost every plot knot ~ but there’s far more I’m still figuring out. What is my process? Am I a pantser or a plotter? Why can’t I write faster? Do I have a muse, and where is she when I need her? Will writing a book ever get any easier?

Most authors will tell you the answer to that last one is a big, fat no. Writing doesn’t get easier, because you never write the same book twice. Plots get more complicated, characters become better developed, motivations and conflicts become more intertwined. These are all good things, because it means you’re pushing yourself, and becoming a better author. But believe me when I say they can also account for a lot of sleepless nights.

And now that I have real readers, people I don’t know but who buy my book anyway, I have a whole host of new worries. That they won’t relate to my characters, that the plot won’t resonate, that they won’t like my second book as much as the first, that they’ll get bored of me and stop buying. Strangers tell me all the time what they love about my books, but also what they hate. It’s hard to write the next one without them–the critics and the fans–sitting on your shoulder.

Sometimes, writing feels like punishment, like a 90,000-word mountain I can’t and don’t want to climb. But when a new story idea wakes me in the middle of the night, when I hear my characters’ voices as clearly as if they’re sitting in the room next to me, when the words flow and the imagery sings and the dialogue crackles off the page, those moments make all the hard times worth it. Getting words on the page is not easy, and it’s not always fun, but I love it anyway.

On letting go

1155x510-amsterdam-6About a month ago, I did something I swore I would never do. With only 15,000 words to go until The End, I walked away from a manuscript. Just…closed the file and let it go. I guess you could say I gave up on it.

It’s not that that story wasn’t good, because it was. But with two published books under my belt, I now know a book is not just about the words on the page. It’s about a solid hook and unique characters and market trends and a pretty cover and all those millions of things big and small that all add up into a publisher’s ability to sell that sucker. And as much as I loved this story when I set out to write it, somewhere in the process it lost a little of its sparkle. Somewhere along the way, I’d lost the thrill in writing it. Even so, I was determined. Finish or bust, because the alternative seemed so much worse. All those words and time wasted.

And yet?

And yet.

Around the same time, a new idea began brewing in my head. The characters were real, and boy were they vocal. They began talking in my head, and they wouldn’t shut up. The stories they tell me are heartbreaking and shocking and so much better than the story I was struggling to finish. Any writer will attest: when characters like that come along–when a story grabs you by the guts and refuses to let you go–you better believe you sit down and write it. I opened up my laptop, and the words started flowing. This new story is killing me a little to write, but then again, those are the best stories.

Maybe I’ll pick up that old story again, and maybe I won’t. But first I’m going to finish this one, because it’s awesome.

ps. What does that picture of Amsterdam have to do with my new story? Absolutely nothing. But it was pretty, and I thought you might like it. 😉

Are you there, Amsterdam? It’s me, Kimberly.

We’ve been Stateside for two weeks now. Our return is only temporary, a late spring break before another two months of school, a vacation in our own home. When we first returned, Atlanta felt…strange. Hot and big and just plain weird. What was that big yellow ball in the sky? Where was all the wind and rain? I kept listening for the clanging of the trams, but all I heard was the constant buzz of leaf blowers. Amsterdam felt a million miles away.

But all vacations must come to an end, and as much as we’ve enjoyed our time at home, there are a few things I can’t wait to get back to in the NL:

1. The weather. Listen, I’m as surprised as you are to see this one on the list, and at number one no less. I’ve talked long and wide on this blog about the crappy Dutch climate, and it’s not like I have anything to complain about these past two weeks in Atlanta, weather-wize. Low 80s and sunny is about as perfect as you can get. But if you’ve ever come to Atlanta in the spring, you know how bad the pollen is. When we got home, everything was covered in about two inches of yellow fluff, and my allergies (which normally get a slow build-up to the season) went on high alert. I’m looking forward to a little relief.

IMG_57262. My bike. I can’t wait to ditch my car and get back in the saddle. Yes, my bike is old and rickety and rusty in more than one spot, but I bought it that way on purpose. Depending on which statistics you believe, somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 bikes are stolen in Amsterdam per year. Who would want my old, piece-of-crap bike? Nobody but me, that’s who, and just in case, I secure it with a mack-daddy of a lock.

3. My yoga studio. I’ve found a good one, with yogis who are serious about their workout, with classes that leave me loose-limbed and sweaty, with American-style service in the form of mats and towels so I don’t have to lug everything myself. And the very best part? My long, looping commute through Amsterdam’s Vondelpark — by bike, of course.

4. The terraces. Spring has finally sprung in Holland, which means everybody wants to be outside. In the parks, on the sidewalks, in one of the million terraces. Amsterdam has a fabulous cafe-culture, and when the sun shines, the terraces are packed with people soaking up the sun. I plan to be one of them.

5. Amsterdam. I want to ride my bike under the Rijksmuseum and wander up and down the cobbled canals and buy more tulips than I can carry home at the Bloemenmarkt. I want to eat french fries with mayonnaise and drink fresh mint tea. I want to walk my dog and wave to my neighbors and the kids who play soccer in my street. Amsterdam has wormed its way into my soul until it’s a part of me, and I can’t wait to feel like an Amsterdammer again.

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