Sunday, May 4, 2008

Made To Be Broken

Linda, Terry, and Michelle have talked about how they broke the rules and went against convention to write their books.

I broke something else.

I broke some limitations laid on me by no one but myself.

See, I had always wanted to write a romance, but I didn’t think I had the talent.

What I liked about the genre was that it seemed (looking from the outside) like there weren’t any rules. Anything went. You need a hero from another century, or one who turns into a wolf, or is an angel, or dead—or even undead? No problem. Ghosts and gods, mediums and madams, soldiers and sorcerers—a romance writer could mix and match to her heart’s content.

I’ll tell you what else romance writers could do. They could write stories about hope. About people who choose to be kind. About our capacity to change, and grow. About the importance of caring for, and nurturing tender things. About the difference that love makes. About the everyday courage of ordinary people. And they could do it all with humor and more than a dash of style.

Furthermore romance writers could assert all those things to be true, and possible, and not have to defend their thesis or explain themselves. And best of all, they didn’t have to get hung up over whether a woman who was smart and ambitious was womanly or not.

You can see how much I enjoyed the genre, and admired its creators. I adore imaginative flights about witches and fairies and kind-hearted highwaymen, but, for myself, I wanted to write romance because I wanted to write about everyday magic. The world is a marvelous place full of amazing, extraordinary, and impossible things. I think people who read romance intuit that truth and wish for stories that explore and confirm it.

I only had one problem. I had always wished I could write, but I didn’t think I could. Oh sure, professional positions had required a good bit of writing, but that didn’t count. When I attempted to tell a story, what I wrote didn’t sound like other people’s books and when I tried to put my thoughts into more formal language, what I wrote bored me to death—I could only imagine what it would do to a reader!

One day I was on my way to the kitchen to get a cup of tea. I had a book by one of my favorite romance authors in my hand because, literally, I could not put it down. It was about ten AM and I stood just inside the dining room doorway—I remember the moment that clearly—and suddenly, for no particular reason, as Forrest Gump would say, an extraordinary thought kicked me out of my old orbit forever: I could. Write.

I could write a romance, and I could write it in my words and use my way of seeing the world, and it would work. The only rule I had to break was the one I had made for myself. The one that said I couldn’t.

Why did I have to have an epiphany to do what I had wanted to do for years? I don’t know. But lest you think my ability to write burst full-bloom on a dead twig, it didn’t.

You know how in fairy tales the wizard promises to grant a wish, but first the hero must perform an impossible deed? Well, there really are some rules about how to write a romance and I too had to sweat to acquire all the technical competence of character and conflict, plot and pacing that other writers must. And it was hard.

Hardest of all though was accepting my writing process. I’m a pantser—on steroids. Not only do I have no plot when I begin, I don’t start at the beginning and write through to the end—scenes come to me all out of order. Sometimes I have to wrestle characters to the ground to make them tell me their motivation.

Somebody asked me once if Jax, the hero of SEALed With A Kiss, did anything that surprised me. The truth is that everything surprises me. It’s a crazy way to write, and I don’t recommend it, but, man oh man, is it fun!

And because it’s romance, it’s not against the rules for the hero, a tough Navy SEAL, to communicate telepathically with a dog. And have a chat with someone on the Other Side.

One of the secondary characters, also a SEAL, waxes philosophical about the deep patterns of reality expressed in Sacred Geometry, and reads significance into the condensation rings on a table top.

And the heroine remarks that—sometimes—against all the rules—things go right.
Mary Margret


  1. What a wonderful post, Mary Margaret! I loved hearing about your epiphany, that moment when it all came together for you and you gave yourself permission to listen to the little voice inside that said you could. As a fellow pantser, I can appreciate that out of control, roller coaster ride you describe. It's a hell of a lot of fun, but try explaining how it works to someone else. Hell, I can't explain it to myself!! Thanks for sharing your story with us. Looking forward to reading your book!

  2. Yes, every word of the first draft is an act of faith.

    The second draft is proof that impossible things DO happen.

    The final draft demonstrates that, against all odds, things work out.:-)


  3. That's exactly it, Mary Margret! I'd read all those Harlequin Presents and said "i can write this" and my husband said "shut up and do it". I fixed him. :>

    But it's that faith you can do it that keeps you going.


  4. GREAT post, Mary Margaret!

    As I said yesterday, I'm a panster but trying to become more of a plotter. However, I LIVE for those moments when writing the story and the whole thing just takes on a life of its own! I never want to give those up, so if they don't line up with my proposed story outline... OH WELL!

    LOVED SEALed with a Kiss and am looking forward to your next book!


  5. All right, Mary Margret! Hold on to that feeling of epiphany. Those are what I call keeper moments, and they stick with you forever like good luck charms.


  6. Wonderful post! You know, if I were a writer, I'd probably be more like you...a total pantser. But I am content to just be a reader.

    And this book looks and sounds so good that I added to my To Be Purchased SOON list earlier today. :o)

  7. Great post Mary Margaret I am in awe of all the work and thoughts that you authors put into writing books so as us readers can have wonderful stories to read. My mind just dosen't function that way although it does love diving into a new book. I am really enjoying getting to "meet" you all

    Have Fun

  8. Mary Margret, you've been holding out on me! I never knew you had to convince yourself you could write. By the time I met you, you were already writing. And as for it taking a long time to digest all the writing stuff, it didn't seem long at all! You know, for me. *g*

    I'm so excited about your book and Aunty Cindy's too! Looks like you Casablanca gals have loads of great reads coming out. My bank book is groaning in anticipation!

  9. I haven't been ignoring y'all's comments.

    I've been over at my new townhouse, the purchase of which seemed like a good idea at the time, cleaning thirty years of paint off the solid oak stairs.

    It's nice to know I'm not the only one who is nuts enough to write the way I do.:-) Trust me, I'd love to be a plotter. However, when I try, I get absolutley solidly stuck.

    I have had to learn to respect my process, and that's the advice I give other writers. Learn what your writing process is and respect it. Who cares what the right way is? This is the way you do it.

    Oh, and thanks everyone, for the kind words.
    Mary Margret

  10. Great post M&M!
    My husband said something similar to me when I said I wanted to retire from nursing and he said he wanted to retire, too, so I should get busy and WRITE THAT NOVEL!
    Unfortunately, neither of us has been able to retire just yet, but, just like you, we can all dream!

  11. It's so much fun learning about how you all started writing! Hearing how things start out and develop is really interesting.

    My mom tells me all the time that she could write a romance novel and spouts ideas--I'm going to send her the links to these posts and maybe you guys will inspire a new author to start writing!

  12. Do it, Danielle! Maybe one day you'll be promoting her books.

    Mary Margret

  13. I loved your post, Mary Margaret! I'm a pantser also, and it's always a miracle when the book is...a book.
    Your book is on my to buy list the next time I go to town, along with Kendra's. So my question is if you have a hero who can speak telepathically to his dog and he can commune with ghosts, isn't your story a paranormal? If so, you need to join us in Wickedly Romantic too!

  14. I love it that you think I might fit into a high-powered group like the gang at Wickedly Romantic! I think those of you at WR are some of the coolest people on this planet. Or any other planet.

    I'd have to say SEALed is at most a contemporary with paranormal elements. To me psychic stuff is normal and I treat it matter-of-factly. I'll bet a lot people read those sections and don't even blink.
    Mary Margret

  15. Paranormal is paranormal, Mary Margaret! Sorry, but your stuck being one of us even if yours isn't hard core paranormal. :)
    I did the same thing in a historical, she had future visions, but it was done very realistically. :) Will Wed blogging work for you? I'll add you to the loop.