Tuesday, June 16

Labor Pains - By Janie DeVos



     

                                                               



     The topic this month at WordWranglers is romance, and, in this difficult time, I can’t think of a better subject to write about.  We all need to be whisked away once in a while, and, at the moment, Elon Musk’s new rocket is starting to look pretty appealing, especially if someone like Max Harjo is on board.  I’m sure many of you just said, “Max who?”, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Early romance novels that made me fall in love with the genre (pun most certainly intended), included anything by Kathleen Woodiwiss.  If I remember correctly, it was that little gem of a book of hers, THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, that got me hooked.

I can’t remember how old I was when I read it, but I guess I was a young teenager, and when I tell you that I was swept away, I mean I was swept away as if I’d stepped out into the rapids of the Colorado River after a week of heavy rains.  I felt a sense of loss when the last page was read, and the beloved characters of Heather Simmons, and sea captain Brandon Birmingham sailed off into the sunset.  Without a doubt, there were many of us who stared up at the ceiling at night revisiting those much-anticipated love scenes and substituting ourselves for that strong and beautiful heroine.   Ahhhhh, who didn’t want to be Heather with her…well, perfect everything, and unconquerable spirit?

When I started writing adult fiction some years ago, I didn’t set out to be a romance writer, and I still don’t view myself as such today.  My intention was to write period novels that took place during tumultuous times, and with main characters that were realistically flawed and easy to identify with.  Instead of my main characters having perfect noses, bodies and hair, my characters had scars—both internally and externally—and dealt with shortcomings that sometimes made them not so very likable, at least at the beginning.

Such was the case with my character Eve Stewart, in the first book of my Florida trilogy, A CORNER IN GLORY LAND.  Eve struggled with her own prejudices and arrogance, and when I put her down on paper, I didn’t like her very much, which was a problem for me.  I want to love the main characters I’m writing about, or reading about, so I wrestled with the idea of rewriting her or making her a secondary character and killing her off early on.  However, I thought that it might be interesting to see how things played out; to see if she might reemerge as someone I liked by capably yet humbly handling the difficult situations she found herself in, and, most importantly, if she could grow up enough to recognize and change those flaws in herself.  And that’s where good ol’ Max Harjo came in.

From the beginning, I loved the hero in that book.  Part Scottish and Creek Indian, Max had brooding good looks and was gently sympathetic and forgiving, but also powerfully intolerant of anything or anyone who was deceptive and self-serving.  Of course, he had his own scars and weaknesses, but, somehow, they were easier to accept and forgive.  And when it came to pairing Eve with Max, I figured it would either be a relationship of great balance or a match that could only end in one gigantic implosion.   For a while, it seemed as if it would be the latter, which is usually the case with all romance novels.  But, the challenge for me was evolving Eve’s character enough so that readers were happy to see Max fall for her, instead of exasperatedly throwing the book against the wall before beginning a sixth read of THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER.

Interestingly, Eve grew, and it seemed to happen without much help from me.  I was once asked by an editor if I plan my stories out from the beginning to the end, and I replied that I didn’t.  As a matter of fact,” I told her, “I haven’t the faintest idea of how things will play out”.  Oddly enough, the characters seem to take over the story while I type away as fast as I can.  Scenes and dialog run through my mind like a movie, and if I don’t write them down quickly enough, I can lose them to the next scene unfolding.  I feel as if I’m taking dictation, and that, friends, is what I consider those golden moments of channeling, when a story is fed to me from a place far greater than any I’ve ever known.  It was exactly what John Lennon said he lived for, and it’s what every writer or artist experiences whenever they have that “Ah ha” moment, when everything finally comes together as if it had been planned that way all along.

Perhaps that’s what a good story is really about; letting the characters create the story for themselves.  All I know is that when I try to force a scene or push my characters to do something that doesn’t flow easily as I’m writing it down, it doesn’t work nearly as well.  Giving them the control works for me.  And by allowing them to grow closer in a natural progression as they learn about each other, and begin to understand each other, gives birth to characters I come to love, and, hopefully, my readers do, too. 

The greatest compliment I receive from my readers is when they tell me that the characters stayed with them long after they finished the novel.  I know exactly what they mean.  It’s hard for me to say good-bye to them, too.  After all, I’ve been there from their conception and all the way through the labor pains of bringing them into this world.  None of it is easy, but it sure is worth it when they’re finally born.

8 comments:

  1. I loved THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER, too, although SHANNA was my first Woodiwiss read. I'm with you on the "taking dictation" point. I just wish it happened more often! Great post, Janie.

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    1. Thanks, Liz. I don't think I read SHANNA. Hmmmm, might be fun...

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  2. Taking "dictation" doesn't happen to me as often as I'd like, but when it does, man, it's great!

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    1. Isn't it, Jana! Those times are too and far between.

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  3. For those of us who have never physically given birth, the labor pains we experience through the creative process involve deep breathing, pushing, and finally stepping aside and allowing natural contractions to bring forth the miracle of the baby. Love this post, Janie! Your writing flows so naturally, at least the finished project. xoxo, K

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  4. Katherine, if you ever tire of being a fabulous painter, you need to write. You're obviously gifted in many ways.

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  5. I always enjoyed reading your blog. thank you :)

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    1. And hearing from people like you, Shareene, is why I write them! Thanks for connecting with me.

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