Dojo Wisdom for Writers Book Club – Lesson #2

Welcome to the Dojo Wisdom for Writers Book Club! Every Wednesday, we meet to discuss one of the lessons in Dojo Wisdom for Writers. We’ll go in order, so it’s easy enough to follow along. Read the lesson, then read the blog post, then comment in the comments! Do feel free to comment on each other’s comments. I’ll answer questions as quickly as I can.

Lesson #2. Trust Your Teacher

Last week, I talked about finding your teacher—but not giving up your own authority over your own work. This week, the lesson is on trusting your teacher—being willing to try something that a teacher suggests.

One of my favorite stories is how I got started writing romance. Some years ago, I was working on a mystery (it had never occurred to me to try my hand at writing romance). My agent said the secondary plot of a love interest in the story wasn’t working. A colleague who was that moment’s teacher, said, “Why not write a romance? That’ll teach you what romance looks like.”

My response was something along the lines of, “Write an entirely different book in order to get this one right? That sounds like the kind of thing only an insane person would do. I’m game.”

So 50,000 words later, I had figured out what romance looks like. I revised the mystery. The mystery didn’t sell (later I rewrote it as the romantic suspense Date with the Devil). But the romance I wrote ended up being my first published romance, Love by Design. And then I wrote about three gazillion romances after that, so it was a risk worth taking.

Have you ever done anything that required you to make a leap of faith based on what a teacher suggested? How did it turn out? Share in the comments.

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Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available!
Catch a Falling Star (by Jessica Starre) and The Matchmaker Meets Her Match (by Jenny Jacobs), two of my favorite novels.

And don’t forget classes for writers—and more on writing at BeYourOwnBookDoctor.com

 

On what I learned from writing a romance

I wrote my first romance novel on a dare. I’d been a nonfiction book author and magazine writer for a number of years, and I was working on a mystery of the hard-boiled private eye type. A colleague suggested that the reason the relationship between my protagonist and her love interest wasn’t working was that, ahem, I didn’t know the first thing about romance.

I set out to prove her wrong. Regrettably, this required first admitting that she was right. Well, not entirely right, but right so far as she could see. That is, I have always firmly squelched my romantic tendencies in favor of being competent and practical. I’m well-versed in kicking men in the balls (I should mention that a bunch of my nonfiction books are martial arts how-tos). I have mastered a never-fail method of gluing my skin back together when the calluses start peeling off. I am tough! For me to show my softer side is contrary to what I’ve spent most of my life trying to do.

But what the hell. It was a dare, and I’m not one to back down. It’s not like I haven’t written plenty of things that I didn’t know anything about when I first started writing about them. How your business structure affects your tax liability. How to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. That kind of thing.

But how to show two people falling in love? Without falling on the floor laughing my ass off? That was the thing: to do it right, I had to take it seriously. I had to skip the easy joke and go for the deeper emotion.

Let me say right off that this sucked. It’s not that I’m incapable of feeling emotion or expressing it; I write about my daughter all the time in a way that can be described as either poignant or sentimental, depending on how you feel about my writing (“mawkish,” a dear friend suggests). It’s just that I have a hard time doing the same when talking about love relationships that culminate under the covers.

Let’s face it: in dealing with sex, romance, and love, I have the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old boy. Which, you know, would be fine. If I were twelve years old. And a boy.

So I started writing this romance with the guidance of a friend who is a published romance author. “What does attraction feel like?” Karen would demand.

“Uh,” I would say, and then she would say, “Go stand somewhere until you see someone attractive. Now tell me how it feels.” Then, because I get easily confused on these matters: “Not what it looks like. How it feels.”

So I would go to the coffee shop and wait for an attractive man to come in, which sometimes took a while, and in the meantime I’d get propositioned by a couple of street persons, but I digress. Eventually, I would see some college age hottie come in and then I would think, “I’m old enough to be his mother,” or worse, “I’m friends with his mother,” and Karen would delicately suggest that this was not the type of reaction she was trying to get me to write about.

Then one day as I was having a conversation with another coffee shop habitué, I realized how much I enjoyed spending time with him, how I looked forward to seeing him come in. How when he said my name, I always felt like the day was going to be a little better than before.

Ohmigod. That was attraction. You can be attracted to people after you’ve known them for a while! Eureka! So I told Karen about it and she said, “Okay, put it in the book. The whole purpose of this exercise is to write a book, isn’t it?”

Oh, right. So I put it in the book. “Now,” Karen said, “There has to be conflict. And not some stupid contrived thing where if the hero and heroine had an actual conversation it would be cleared up in twelve seconds. But an error of thinking.”

It had never occurred to me that the conflicts that arise between men and women could be described as “errors of thinking” but the more I dug into it, the more true it became, in life and in literature. When I based my relationship with my ex-husband on the relationship my parents had, that was an error in thinking. When my hero assumed the heroine was going to be like his first wife, that was his error in thinking.

But my biggest error in thinking? That the only way I could be considered competent and practical was if I squelched the part of me that likes to wear pink, and listen to Ravel, and hang prints of Klimt on my walls. And write romances.

By the time I’d finished writing chapter four, I’d gone out and bought gold sandals (gold! and I wear them in the day time!). I painted my toenails red, vampire red, and bought a toe ring with bright blue bead! And I wear it all the time! I can because I’m a girl! I made my very own stuffed Build-a-Bear last Christmas with my daughter, who thought I was nuts but I note that she was making a bear, too. Mine is named Diamond, after the stuffed panda I had when I was five. And she lives on my bed! On top of the pink and orange comforter! And the four pillows! That have lace on them!

And that book I wrote on a dare? Published by Avalon in 2008, under the pen name Jenny Jacobs, called Love by Design. Since then I’ve published any number of romances.

If I write enough of these books, I’m hoping to be as smart as an eighteen-year-old by the time I retire.

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Dojo Wisdom for Writers, second edition, now available!
Catch a Falling Star (by Jessica Starre) and The Matchmaker Meets Her Match (by Jenny Jacobs), two of my favorite novels.

And don’t forget classes for writers—and more on writing at BeYourOwnBookDoctor.com

Love by Design by Jenny Jacobs

Love by Design by Jenny Jacobs

 

Tess Ferguson has a weakness: taking in strays. She’s a seamstress with big dreams, but she’s also a single mother with more practical matters on her mind. When Tess’s sister (and boss) Greta, an interior designer, is laid up after knee surgery, Tess must be her go-between with Michael Manning, the sweet, sexy owner of a carpentry business. Though Tess is attracted to Michael’s calm, quiet strength, she’s convinced he’s just one more stray destined to cause her trouble.

Michael is drawn to Tess, whom he finds warm, open, and likable. But her curiosity and persistence in asking questions he doesn’t want to answer threaten his hard-won peace. By burying himself in his work, he can forget about the shacking death of his wife and unborn son–and the unhappy secret she left him with.

Though Michael and Tess try to ignore their growing attraction for one another, sparks begin to fly as the two tackle a joint project that has the potential to make more than just their careers.