Thursday, October 27, 2011

Satisfying the Adrenalin Junkie Within

I prefer romaction stories – a little romance set in a story with a whole lot of action. My first novel, The Pirate’s Bastard, was set in colonial times. A young orphaned boy escapes taunts of neighborhood gangs in Barbados by coming to the New World as a servant to a friendly minister who guides his spiritual growth and nurtures his professional interests. Our hero matures into a fine shipwright, working his way up in the world as he tries to forget about his notorious pirate father’s misdeeds. He falls in love with a young miss, and all seems destined for triumph until his dead father’s first mate comes into his life with a threat of blackmail if our hero doesn’t sail back to Barbados for hidden pirate treasure. I admit I was heavily under the influence of Inglis Fletcher, an incredible writer from the 1950s who wrote a wonderful series of a dozen 400-page books set in colonial times. She wasn’t well liked by her small-town neighbors because she wrote about their ancestors, but the books are collectors treasure now a-days. I didn’t consider them romance novels either because I had a pre-conceived notion of what a romance novel was: Harlequin formulaic pulp that followed a prescribed path filled with attraction, obsession, tragedy, and triumph, in that order. 

So with Inglis Fletcher’s characters firmly in mind, I sat down to write My First Novel. I didn’t set out to write a Romance Novel, but a swashbuckling tale of a young man’s attempt at overcoming his errant father’s legacy. Readers insist the book is a romance, not only between the hero and his lady love, but also between his parents whom he never really knew. He’s had to uncover, layer by layer, who they really were just as lovers discover secrets of each other. In the end, who is to say what a romance really is—or isn’t? 

I wrote from a man’s point of view, and also had a lot of fun writing dialog with a pirate’s voice for my favorite bad-boy character of all time, Ignatious Pell, the first mate to pirate Stede Bonnet. I chose a real-life setting in both time and place, visited the ruins of several historic sites and state archives for my research, and wove my fiction with facts for a tidy story. The bulk of the manuscript was written well before the age of the Internet (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), and took me six years to research and write. It wasn’t high literary style, but a story that I needed to write. The finished manuscript was a mere 56,000 words, and it took me four years to land a publishing contract. There was no six-figure advance, only royalties—and believe me, I was ecstatic to see the first royalty check be it ever so small! 

In my most recent novel, Leaving Lukens, the heroine learns that love isn’t always what it’s supposed to be, nor are people who they claim they are, either. Set in 1942 in a small coastal North Carolina town, the story includes facets of World War II and its impact on coastal regions, businesses, and inhabitants. Again, I’ve researched fact and mixed it with a strong dose of fiction, creating characters to fit the time and place, pacing my dialog to tease the reader to continue turning pages, and building up a stormy near-finale that questions everything that came before. It is historically accurate in every way possible, except that it’s fiction.  My male editor claims he “melted” at many of the passages and dialog conveyed by the male protagonist, so I guess you could say this story is steamy. Since I wasn’t under the influence of another novelist, this is very different than my first attempt at fiction (and a lot better, I admit). It too is a strong potion of romance and action, which I seem to need in my fiction addiction. I confess: I’m an adrenalin junkie. 

How do you know if you’re an adrenalin junkie? You’ll notice that the stories you gravitate toward are based in adventure of some sort. You look forward to diving in early and staying up way too late to finish because you’re caught up in the adventure. Look at the incredible success of Diana Gabaldon’s romantic adventure Outlander series. These sorts of books offer a few hours of escape from mundane lives (even if these lives are filled to capacity with activities). Routines and hectic schedules do not an adventure make. So I encourage you to think about romaction as a possible solution to hum-drumness. 

Exercise: I submit that all romance books are romaction stories. Let’s see if you agree. 

On a piece of paper (or in your computer), make a list of three columns. In column one, write the titles of ten to twenty books you’ve read recently and really enjoyed. This list is going to be important in later chapters, so keep it close by. In column two, categorize the kind of adventure it is—note, this isn’t the genre (cozy murder mystery, historical, young adult, or international intrigue), but an assignment of the adventure in the story, such as “World War I spy meets nurse on the battlefield”. This instantly tells you the adventure’s time period and setting (WWI battlefield). In the last column, identify a romance each story contains (in my example, spy and nurse), and give each romance a score of one to ten where one is “not terribly important to story line” and ten is “this is the story line”. Go ahead. I’ll wait. 

Now review your list. I bet there’s a variety of adventures and different types of romance on your list. Do you see any common traits? Time periods? Settings? Types of romances? What we’re doing here is identifying the kind of romance story that gets your motor started. This exercise should help point the way to what kind of story you are most familiar with, at least from a reader’s point of view. 

Now I’ll ask again: are you an adrenalin junkie? Your list should point you to your answer. 

Leaving Lukens is coming soon to and e-book format. Get it fresh off the press through or ask for it through an independent bookstore near you.

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