Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Reflecting the world we live in — Diversity in romance writing

Thoughts by Anthony Ehlers...

At RosaCon16, we wrapped up the weekend with a panel discussion on Diversity in Romance, with panelists Fiona Khan, Elaine Pillay, and myself, Anthony Ehlers. The session, moderated by Rebecca Crowley, was to be a brutally honest analysis of this often overlooked issue in the romance genre.

In the US, for example, we see a growing market and readership, one that reflects a multicultural demographic. Gay marriage and equality has also brought a new focus on same-sex relationships.  In India, we see a massively growing readership, and Fiona gave the popular Shiva Trilogy by Amish Tripathi as just one example.

Here in South Africa, our democracy has brought about an exciting melting pot of race, culture, and is seen by many as a cosmopolitan and international setting by many. We have an opportunity as South Africans, and those that have made South Africa their home, to write our unique and fascinating love stories – whether they’re historical, contemporary, or futuristic.

So where are the stories – and authors – that showcase this diversity?

There are barriers to crossing the diversity divide, from a lack of empowering writers and fostering new talent to not enough platforms for emerging writers. Often cost is a barrier to entry – as emerging or new markets don’t have the same income as established demographics.

However, editors, agents, and publishers are waking up to the need for a more diverse romance genre. It has become a commercial imperative to change the way they look at love stories in a rapidly changing world – otherwise their books won’t keep pace with their readership. Readers want to see themselves reflected in the stories they read – whether it’s a reflection of race, sexuality, culture or even just a setting they know as home.
As writers who are passionate about writing love stories, we must look beyond the entrenched archetypes of the past and find ways to show the world we live in right now – and reflect the diversity we see in our communities, our families, the workplace, and our friends.  Be aware and open to the possibilities of characters and stories that shake up the status quo and rattle our complacency. Write about what excites us, yes, but also what challenges us.

Here are some useful links to other sites on diversity

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

#WriterTip Crafting and Creating Conflict in your Romance Novel

Romance Writers Organisation of SA

Erica Taylor, one of our ROSA members who attended #ROSACon16 and a session by Joss Wood on Conflict, has kindly shared her thoughts on the talk and what she learned.

What struck me most about Joss’ lecture on conflict was how much it made sense. It is probably something that we all do subconsciously without even realizing it, or having a literary definition attached to it, but having it defined made me more aware that it was another tool I had in my storytelling arsenal.  Joss tells us the way to tell a good story is make your characters go through crap—people don’t want smooth sailing and enduring love from the get-go. Readers want to be tortured with the characters, to hang on to the belief that love will conquer all, and to ride the happily-ever-after high into the tediousness of real life.

Using excerpts from one of her own novels, The Honeymoon Arrangement, Joss toured the lecture through the process of setting up conflict and using it as a tool to move the story along. 

Characters should have a “misguided external goal based on an internal goal,” or what the character thinks they want (point A) versus what that actually need (point B. Throughout the story, your characters will work through the conflicts you put in their path, getting them from point A to point B. 

Characters start off as silly little things thinking they know everything in their perfect little worlds and they have everything figured out. Ha! Little did they know the author of their story is about to shake up their world and they will be better for it, and their author will torture them until they come to realize, the author was right all along.

Joss explained there are two types of conflict: External conflict is the stuff happening around your characters. Internal conflict is the stuff happening inside the characters mind, their thoughts and worries and whatnot. And each character is different—whatever he/she wants must be specific to him or her.

“If your hero is a firefighter, your heroine better be an arsonist.” - Joss Wood

Three types of External Conflict:
  • Character vs. character (When opposite personalities attract—and clash)
  • Character vs. nature (When a hero faces an earthquake)
  • Character vs. Society (When a Lord falls in love with a maid)

Ways to up the conflict:
  • Use the characters fears again them.
  • Concoct the worst thing that could happen to them, then torture them with it.
  • Dig deep. Look back to their childhood—an author is part storyteller, part psychiatrist.
  • Find that thing that sends them off the deep end, and use it!

An example from Joss’ novel The Honeymoon Arrangement:
Internal: What are their deepest wounds and what scares them the most?
The heroine has deep rooted issues with her estranged mother.
External: Make that thing happen>>>>Mom calls her on the phone and sends the heroine spiraling into self-destruct mode.

What was most interesting about what Joss’ lecture, was how natural it seemed. Even in our everyday lives things pop-up that question our internal resolve. Challenges arise, things happen and the external conflicts we deal with each day have shaped who we are and dictate our internal conflicts. Readers read romance as a means of escape, searching for a trace of hope that no matter what happens in our lives, there is someone who will love us for who we are. As writers, we achieve the same escapism when we create this insurmountable problems for our characters and find a way to achieve their happily-ever-afters. 

We need to believe in the power of love just as much as the reader. We need to believe that no matter what life throws at us, everything will be okay. Writing conflict into your story not only moves the narrative along in a tangible, believable way, it adds a sense of realism to the story. Readers will relate to a flawed character, one who harbors secrets and refrains from letting their crazy hang out for the world to see, and when there is someone who can overlook their flaws, we want to hang on to that person even tighter. We root for someone to overcome the mundane conflicts in their life, because we all need to believe we can do it too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Tipping Point: Creating Sensual Tension in Scenes

Fellow ROSA member Anthony Ehlers shared some useful tips for creating sensual tension in scenes at ROSACon 2016. Here's what he had to say.

"In my workshop on writing scenes at ROSACon 2016, I spoke about the need to build sensual and emotional tension in each scene. This is probably the real reason readers come to romance novels – whether they’re erotic or sweet, modern or historical. That’s why it’s so important to keep the reader in mind when you’re writing a scene."

Top Tips for Creating Sensual Tension
  • ·        Don’t bog the scene down in plot – give just enough to keep the story going.
  • ·   Focus on the developing relationship between the characters – play on their fears, vulnerabilities, etc.
  • ·        Use as many of the senses as possible – touch, taste, smell, sound, sight.
  • ·       Sometimes you don’t need a lot of dialogue – wordless tension and a sense of mystery can work well.
  • ·      And most of all, slow down: don’t hurry the scene and you’ll keep the tension drawn out.

 A lesson from the pro's

image credit: abebooks.co.uk
Anthony says, "One my favourite Mills & Boon titles, the classic 70s Leopard in the Snow by Anne Mather, makes imaginative use of the timeless Beauty & the Beast theme. Helen, our heroine, is trapped by a snow storm at the country retreat of Dominic, a racing car driver the world believes has died in a crash. And because she knows his identity, he forbids her to leave!

In one of the most memorable scenes, Helen sneaks down into the basement of the house where a naked Dominic lies prone in a sauna room. He is expecting his manservant, Bolt, to administer his afternoon massage to his damaged body – instead Helen creeps in and starts to touch him. The tension here is off the charts. Will he discover it’s not Bolt? How will react to Helen seeing his vulnerable body? 
image credit: goodreads.com

In Jane Porter’s awesome Modern/Presents title, Christos’s Promise, Alysia has been secluded in a convent and is rescued by wealthy Greek magnate, Christos. Theirs will not be a marriage of convenience, he declares, and while he will never force her into intimacy, they will share a bed.

On their honeymoon yacht, Alysia lies awake while her new husband slips into bed beside her. As he falls asleep, he cradles her and becomes aroused. The tension between the natural state of sleep of Christos and the hyper-awareness of his bride make this one of the most breath-stealing scenes in romance fiction – even 15 years after reading it!"

What are some of the amazingly sensual tension scenes you’ve read or written?

image credit: bookslive.com
Anthony Ehlers is a writer, scriptwriter and creative writing teacher. In 2014, his scripts were shortlisted for the Jameson First Shot competition, as well as the European Independent Film Festival. In 2010, his story “Limerence” was a runner-up in the annual Woman & Home short story competition. He is one of only two authors to appear in the first two Short.Sharp.Stories collections. His story Breaking the Rules was published in the Adults Only collection in 2014.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Joy of Comfort Eating by Suzanne Jefferies scoops Imbali Award at ROSACon 2016

Suzanne Jefferies wins Romance Writers of South Africa's Imbali Award 2016
Suzanne Jefferies with her Imbali Award for her book The Joy of Comfort Eating

Anthony Ehlers chatted to Suzanne shortly after she won ROSA's Imbali Writing Competition. Her entry The Joy of Comfort Eating swooped the trophy at a gala dinner held in Johannesburg 17 September 2016. Joanne Mcgregor with her book Scarred was the runner up.

Congratulations on your win! Your novel, The Joy of Comfort Eating, scooped the first-ever Imabli Award at ROSACon 2016.  Describe the experience in five words.

SJ: “High-fives all round. Yeah.”

At your book launch last week, you mentioned that Joy was part of a trilogy? Can you tell us a bit about that?

SJ “The Joy trilogy focuses on three contemporary Jo’burg heroines – each one sassy and fabulous, but totally useless when it comes to love. The next in the series focuses on Charlie’s sister Madge.”

We love that your heroine, Charlie Everson, is so sassy and so real. How important is it to have a character readers can relate to, especially from a South African point of view?

SJ: “Readers want to be able to identify with the heroine. We all want some version of happy-ever-after, and we want to feel that if she could climb Everest/land that multinational deal/bring that billionaire playboy to his knees, then so could we. For South Africans, I love reading something that’s set somewhere I can actually visit without having to dust off my passport.”

Your novel explores the trope of ‘shared pasts’ in that Brian ‘Bad Ass’ Tendai was Charlie’s teen crush and first love. Did you have any embarrassing celeb teen crushes you can admit to?

SJ: “Timothy Dalton. Age thirteen, we had to watch the BBC version of Jane Eyre, and he was Rochester in all of his vain, proud glory. That voice, those eyes, that dimple in his chin. Drool. Drool. I’d have watched Penny Dreadful a whole lot sooner if someone had mentioned he was in it.”

Charlie works in media, PR, and communications – much like you. What other characteristics does she share with you?

SJ: “Indecent love of cake. That stuff is legalised crack!”

What gets you through a writing day? Any set rituals?

SJ: “Switching on the laptop is usually a good start. Good cup of tea. Radio on in the background.”

In closing, what do you think the Imbali Award means for the broader SA romance writing community?

SJ: “A wonderful opportunity to be acknowledged and recognised for your writing by the community. I hope it encourages more people to enter, and more importantly, more people to write romance.”

Suzanne's book The Joy of Comfort Eating is published by Fire Quill Publishing (currently open for submissions at the time of this post) and is available on Amazon here  ($3.99 for the kindle edition).

If you are a romance writer looking for a sense of community, why not become a member of ROSA? Click here 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Africa's first RWA Rita® Nominee

Congratulations to ROSA Chairperson Romy Sommer for becoming the first ever South African (and first ever romance writer resident in Africa) to be nominated for the RWA's prestigious Rita® award. 

Romy, author of four contemporary romance novels published by HarperCollins as well as four self-published historical novellas, has been nominated for a 2016 RWA Rita® Award in the Mid-Length Contemporary Category for her latest novel, Not a Fairy Tale.

Run by Romance Writers of America® (RWA) for over thirty years, this contest is the highest award of distinction in romance fiction internationally, the 'Oscars' of romance writing. Past winners include bestselling authors Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Barbara Freethy.

Up to 2,000 novels are entered annually into 12 categories. This year’s winners will be announced at a black-tie awards ceremony on July 16 at the RWA’s Annual Conference in San Diego, California. 

Not a Fairy Tale is a Hollywood romance, featuring a brawny stuntman hero and the career-driven actress who hires him to train her for the role of a lifetime. Building on Romy’s experience in the film industry, this light-hearted novel has been described as “enchanting sizzling, adult fairy tale.”

For more information on Romy Sommer and her books, visit her website at www.romysommer.com.

Monday, April 25, 2016

3 weeks left to enter ROSA's first Imbali Award contest

We at ROSA are delighted to announce the launch of the Imbali Award, an award that recognises and rewards excellence in romance writing. Imbali is the Zulu word for flower, reflecting ROSA's floral acronym and logo, as well its African origins.

A first in Africa, the award is open to all African romance authors who have published a romance novel between July 2014 and December 2015.

In this first year of the contest, the Award will be limited to fifteen entries only, and entries close on Friday 13 May.

The entries will be judged by a panel of book bloggers and reviewers, including Lu-Marie Fraser of the Sugar and Snark book blog, blogger and editor Lia Marus, Laurynne Gouws of romance book blog Book Review Bay, and blogger & reviewer Nandita Baard.

The winner will be announced at the gala dinner of ROSA's third annual Romance Writing conference to be held in Johannesburg on 24th September 2016.

Details of the contest as well as entry forms can be found on the ROSA website www.romancewriters.co.za.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Gina Rossi reports back on London Book Fair 2016

After the Fair: Gina Rossi reflects on her first visit to the London Book Fair, 2016

At the Quantum 16 Conference, the launch pad of the London Book Fair held the day before the opening, Baroness Gail Rebuck, D.B.E., and Chair of Penguin Random House UK, reminds those present that it is still stories and the people who write them that underpins absolutely everything in the publishing industry. With this in mind, I step into the vast main hall at Kensington Olympia, on Tuesday 12th April 2016, ready for my first book fair ever, and pause to marvel.

Do I speak for all writers when I say we rarely have an opportunity to feel special? We spend stacks of time doubting our ability. It’s our job to worry, to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Yet here I am, surrounded by – literally – millions of books, trillions of words, each and every one written by a successful author. How inspiring is that? Right now, I feel special.

Onward, and this is what it must be like for a bee inside a hive. Everyone’s working, or walking with purpose. A few, like me, are standing alone, gawking. All around, rising to the lofty iron girders of the exhibition hall, the steady hum of thousands of earnest voices pitching, presenting, selling and promoting. Ridiculous as it sounds, there are books everywhere – on tables, shelves, racks and counters. Everywhere.

Jeffrey Archer
First things first. Within the massive hive, I make a beeline for Author HQ, except I don’t. It’s not that easy. Even with the handy floorplan I get lost, and wander, happily distracted by the surroundings. There’s no logic to the layout that I can see; it’s not like children’s book publishers are together in one area, with cookery books somewhere else. What a feast for the eyes! Here’s a publisher of colouring-in books, including the fabulous ones created by Millie Marotta, and there’s a place you can take a hologram selfie with the Bard himself, while over at FCM Media there’s a book being written ‘live’, contributions welcome. As for the English Pen Salon, you could sit there all day listening to short talks by Jeffrey Archer, Marian Keyes, Jeanette Winterson, Tracy Chevalier, Julian Fellowes… I could go on.

Author HQ
A quirk of fate (read ‘eavesdropping in the loo’) leads me to Author HQ, where I meet best-selling author and writing colleague, Louise Rose-Innes. There she is, smiling, calm, and elegant – the personification of a tall glass of cool water in the hot hurly-burly of the crowd. I’ve known Louise online for several years but this is the first time we’ve met, and it’s an absolute highlight. Immediately, I feel like I’m connecting with a good friend.

Louise Rose-Innes and Gina Rossi

We talk about everything: the fair, ROSA (www.romancewriters.co.za – we’re both members), Louise’s brand new release A Passion So Wild, London, South Africa, Romance Writers of America (www.rwa.org), family, children, education, success and failure, The Wild Rose Press (www.wildrosepublishing.com), editing, publishers and publishing, book covers, writing, writing and writing. We finally said goodbye after a visit to the Kindle Direct Publishing stand where we popped in to a warm welcome by Darren who answered questions and gave advice freely.
“Never forget,” he said, “that there are only two people in this business of publishing: the writer and the reader.”

That said, day over, heads full of advice, ideas and inspiration, Louise and I parted company, and went home to write. Will I go to the London Book Fair next year? Absolutely yes!
Who’s coming with me?

A random summing up, and notes to self for 2017:
  1. Author HQ had a range of writing and publishing gems to offer (the newbie writer in particular), by way of lectures and panel discussions. It’s a great place to start.
  2. Each day, Twitter was positively red-hot with latest publishing news, invitations, screenings, readings, book launches, signings, and plenty more. Keep an eye on that and adapt your visit accordingly (if you’ve got a bit of time right now, take a break and enjoy all the highlights here: http://twitter.com/LondonBookFair - go back to 11th April, at least).
  3. It was warm in there. The sun came out, beating through the massive glass barrel roof, turning the venue into a hothouse (it was built in 1886 as an agricultural hall). Wear thin layers, and keep taking them off. 
  4. I didn’t get sore feet, I realised the day after. I got sore everything! My step-counting app registered 14052 steps on day one. Be prepared.
  5. Seating was sometimes limited. Louise and I discussed taking along a golf stick next time, or a folding stool! There were no huge queues at the loos as some would lead you to believe, at least not when I went. Likewise, no unreasonable queues for food / drinks.
  6. Don’t listen to those who say you can’t pitch to an agent or publisher at the LBF. You can, to some, but you need to approach them well in advance. So: 
    1. - Select the agents / publishers you wish to approach.
      - Send a polite email asking whether they'll be exhibiting and whether or not they'll be taking pitches.
      - If they are, make appointments and be super punctual come the day.
      - Take along exactly what they request.

    Finally: Smile. Connect and communicate. Feed off the energy and enthusiasm of the event. Take in as much as you can. Be inspired. Go home and write. Feel special.

    More information on Gina Rossi and Louise Rose Innes can be found at http://ginaginarossi.wix.com/gina-rossi-website and http://louiseroseinnes.co.uk/

    Panel discussion at Author HQ