I Love Short Shorts

iOCX7EjJdTlDkbSF5Y9mWhIJ_9xkZa0jUU7XoajAWLo  No, I don’t mean the cheeky, ripped cut-offs the young gals wear. I mean short stories in varying lengths between a few hundred words (flash fiction) and 10,000 or so, something to be read in a single sitting. Merriam-Webster defines a short story as “an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.”

O-kay. I’m not sure I wholly agree with that simple definition, because—well, let me go back in time about four years. Orange County Chapter of Romance Writers of America decided to publish an anthology of short stories called Romancing the Pages written by some of its members. I’d never considered writing short and had read very few short stories through the years. But, I answered the call. It sounded easy. Come up with a simple romantic plot; dash off a few thousand words during the down time while working on my novel. Hey, it was a chance to get something published. “The Guy With the Dragon Tattoo” came in at around 2,500 words, took many weeks and many revisions to finish. But I kinda liked writing short, even though it was just as hard (maybe harder on some levels) than working through an entire 60,000-word novel.

But what is the appeal of short stories to the reader? Their appeal, as I mentioned, lies in the fact you can read most of them in one sitting, while getting your hair done, waiting to pick up Junior from soccer practice, that hour at night before turning off the lights. We live in a Snapchat, Twitter, sound bite world. There isn’t the angst associated with picking up a short to read versus an 80,000-word novel. Wow, don’t have time to devote to that tome, so I’ll save it for, um, later.

But why else read short? It’s a chance to try out different genres, authors, styles. Since writing “Dragon Tattoo,” I’ve read dozens and dozens of short stories across many genres and romance sub-genres. A few did focus mainly on creating a mood; many contained an exciting plot and delicious characters. The good stories contained a beginning, middle and end that satisfied like a hearty bowl full of Irish stew. I experienced a full range of emotion appropriate to the genre. I laughed, I cried, I cringed, I sighed.

A side-benefit? Instead of reading the back of my Cheerios box for the millionth time, I can get in a whole story during breakfast to satisfy my reading addiction. Short stories can encourage those who don’t regularly read to get in the habit.

This year, I once again had the opportunity to contribute to not one short story anthology, but two. My critique group, Writing Something Romantic, is working on an anthology called Love for Christmas, which we’re hoping to publish before the holidays. My story, “Charmed by Christmas Magic,” came in at 10,000 words. The other romance anthology, Secrets of Moonlight Cove, will publish in the next few weeks. Each fun story in the anthology takes place in the fictional California coastal town of Moonlight Cove, and references characters from the other stories. “Maggie’s Mystery Man” also runs 10,000 words. Look for announcements of both publication dates here, on Facebook and other social media. I hope you’ll give shorts a try. Bet you can’t read just one!

 

Stories From Under the Bed by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I was recently asked, what do I want readers to come away with after they read my book?

Well, first of all, I’m thrilled readers read my books.

That is the point, isn’t it? To write words, stories, and put them out in a place where people can read them?

I know people who write entire books only to tuck them away in neat little coffins under their beds, never to show them to another living soul. While I greatly admire their ability to actually create and FINISH an entire book, (something I struggled with for a long time), I don’t fully understand this impulse to Never Show Another Soul.  Doesn’t this defeat the purpose of writing something down? Isn’t the written word meant to be read? If not, then why write it?

I mean, I do understand that some people have a very deep fear of being ridiculed for the work they have poured their soul into. Fear can be very powerful.

And I also understand that writing is a learning process for the writer, and there are some books that should probably stay under the bed as far as” prime time” is concerned.

But writing is a learning process, so eventually, these things must see the light of day and actually be read- by someone, at some point. (Showing it to other writers is sometimes a good place to start). That is the only way to know how good, or how bad, they really are. And to create the opportunity to actually become a better writer- to learn what you could have done better, then try it.

I’ve written stories since I was a child. I knew that someday, I’d write a book. I tucked that dream under my bed and it nearly died in its neat little coffin, buried under the weight of daily life ticking away in years. Luckily it revived and reminded me it was there. One thing about this dream, though. It was always to write a book so people would read it.

Maybe it’s more natural for me to take this view of writing because I have a performer gene. I have a bit of musical talent, for both singing and playing an instrument, which I’ve gone to some trouble to cultivate. So the idea of getting up in front of an audience and displaying (exposing) my talent (or lack thereof) is something I’ve always accepted as part of the “artistic talent” deal.

And writing is a lot like music. Music must be played, it must be heard. Writing is meant to be read. It’s part of the definition of the thing itself.

When someone reads the words I write, the words become more than arbitrary ink marks on white paper. A whole world, a whole reality, springs to life in the reader’s mind. Directly from mine.

Stephen King talks about this kind of amazing connection between the writer and the reader that completes the circuit of telling the story. Like a live wire, always waiting to make contact. The reader can experience this shared reality regardless of the distance of space and time between them and the writer. The words are the notes, music waiting to be played.  Written to be heard.

I write so people can read what I wrote. I write for you, the reader.

And the answer to the original question is I hope you, my reader, come away with a combination of what I put into my book when I wrote it and what you bring to the book when you read it. That you find something that rings emotionally true to you in the story. I hope it makes you smile and I hope it makes you want to read another one!

Where do I get my characters?

by Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

I guarantee that if you ask one hundred writers this question, you will get one hundred different answers, all of them equally valid.

Here is mine.

Since writers write what they know, I’d have to say that my characters must come from what I know.  I know myself, and I know other people. So I think partly they come from inside of me, from who I am and what I feel, and partly they come from the experiences I’ve had with a lot of other people. People I’ve met, and people I’ve only seen. I carry around a whole database of memories, feelings, impressions and emotions that I don’t have to even think about. We all do, actually. Like it or not.

When I get a story idea, one of the first things I do is imagine my main character. I literally get a picture of them in my mind, maybe with just one or two physical characteristics- hair color, height, age.

I have a fuzzy idea of who they are, what kind of person. Are they bubbly and sweet? Reserved and observant? Booksmart or streetsmart? Spoiling for a fight? Not a lot of details, and I don’t plan them out, trying to figure out who they are.

Instead, I start writing them onto the page, putting them into a scene to see how they will react to it, I see their personality develop as I do this- but it is more like recognizing them as they reveal themselves, than making them into something.

I had this one heroine, early in a story development of a historical romance, who wore a hat in a scene. I first described the hat as a plain, brown hat. Very simple. I stopped in my literary tracks. I knew, without needing to examine why, that this heroine wouldn’t be caught dead in an ugly hat. I knew that about her, even though I’d never thought it through in any organized way.

Likely, I may base my character on someone I’ve known or seen. Like movies about dysfunctional families- we recognize all of those characters. We probably have some of those relatives. Heck, we may even be one of them.  We have all met certain “types” of people, that come with a basic sort of set of rules about how they interact with the world around them. These are fun frameworks to start with and explore, maybe even dig deeper into and blow up that careful façade the rest of the world sees.

Here’s where the internal component kicks in.  It’s kind of like Carl Jung’s theory of dream interpretation (sorry, psych major here): every person, every thing in your dream represents something of you. I think that is a little how I create emotional reality of my characters.

When I write my character into a situation, challenge them with difficult situations, new ideas, I stop and imagine how they feel. That’s the part that comes from inside. I have to feel that emotion with them, put that down on the page. Make them human. If I don’t, the reader won’t feel it, and they won’t care about what happens next for that character.  That part comes from me, for sure.

All in all, I try not to overthink it, and let it flow as organically as possible. When I have a story idea, there is already a perfect character for it. I just have to wait for them to show up.

INSPIRATION…where does it come from?

I’m often asked where my ideas and inspirations come from by family members, friends and new acquaintances when they find out I’m a writer. My answer—everywhere: when I travel, just out and about, or reading travel and cooking magazines. I take pictures galore to remember settings and save articles that have piqued my interest.

Here’s an example. My professional background is in the field of real estate. Whenever I’m in a new town or city, I pick up the local real estate magazine showing homes for sale. I flip through the pages, look at the pictures and read the listings. I usually fall in love with at least one or two of the homes. One time I read the intro for a property that went something like this:

Nestled in the stately ponderosas, this 5,000 square foot cedar and redwood home weaves modern comforts with endearing rusticity. A huge stone fireplace graces the living room area, while high ceilings and glassed dining area show off breathtaking views. Five bedroom suites provide warmth and elegance, with most rooms overlooking either the lake or the forest. In addition, the 30 plus acre parcel provides a wealth of outdoor activities. This is one of the finest homes ever to come on the market. Priced to sell quickly. It won’t last long.

I can tell you my imagination went wild. I started to think about a heroine who needs a fresh start. She reads an advertisement (like the one above) on a real estate website and decides then and there to put in an offer to buy the property (sight unseen of course). When she arrives she finds that yes, it is nestled in the stately ponderosas, but the modern comforts are not endearing at all. In fact, they look to be from the 1940’s. And so the story begins.

My niece took a picture when she was in Oregon and sent it to me of train IMG_2593tracks leading into the woods. And I was off on an adventure. Might hero or heroine be returning home after running away years before??

One day I was out walking at Downtown Disney by the Disneyland Hotel and I saw a man talking on his cell phone by the gated swimming pool area. I started to think, was his wife sitting by the pool watching their children and wondering if her husband was again talking to the office or worse, his mistress? Was this the last straw?

I’m working on a new project I was inspired to write when a friend sent me a picture of a lighthouse on a charming little island. This one will have a bit of suspense and I will be blogging about it occasionally as I go through the process.photo(2)

I wish you and yours a glorious 2016! I hope it’s filled with relaxing days reading your favorite author and a few new ones.

Jann Ryan

Romance and Writing What I Know- Jill Jaynes

Jill Jaynes

A wise and wonderful Romance author, Maggie Osbourne, once said that as writers “we write the stories we are compelled to tell.” She said that most writers who look back over the books they have written will find all their stories are built on the same theme, and they often don’t even realize it. These can be themes like- second chance at love; forgiveness and redemption; healing family relationships. The list goes on.

This is because it is human nature to try to work out that kernel of a problem whose solution eludes us, or is so central to our lives it has shaped us into the people we are.

So, lucky me, as writer I have a perfect outlet for working these things out. In writing, we call it passion. I write the story that is in my heart.

Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader,” and this is more essential for Romance authors than authors of almost any other genre.

I know I am only telling a story about fictional people, but you, my Romance reader, are along for the emotional journey. And if I’m going to provide a true, honest emotional journey that you can identify with, see yourself in, then I have to start with me.

I have to bare my soul (maybe more than a little) and share my emotional reality. When I embrace the emotion as I write the scene, feel the feelings with the character and put that bravely onto the page, I know that I can evoke these same feelings in the person reading it. If I side-step the emotion, if I’m not honest about it, you, dear reader, will not buy in. You won’t care about my character and their struggle- after all why should you, since I clearly don’t?

It takes guts to “bleed on the page,” but really, that’s what I’m here for. I love stories filled with emotion and heart, and if it means I need to start with mine, then I will take that other excellent writing advice and write what I know.