Sunday, July 8, 2012

Turn Up the Heart by Grace Burrowes

We’re due for another 100+ degree day here in Western Maryland, complete with bugs, humidity, and a strong possibility of thunderstorms, and yet, I will tell you, heat for an author is not just a good thing, it’s the factor that makes or breaks a novel, and more is better.

By heat, I do not necessarily mean erotic content. Sherry Thomas’ recently released “Ravishing The Heiress” has exactly one hot scene in the book, 222 pages into a 300 page read, and that scene is between a man and woman who’ve been married for eight years and are on the verge of a civil separation. This book has gotten raves from PW, Romantic Times, and the Library Journal, and well it should.

Why? Because the author makes an impossible pressure cooker out of the tried and true love triangle, with twists, and loops and bends that would break wrought iron—but it doesn’t break these characters, it refines and strengthens them.

A diamond is a lump of coal subjected to impossible extremes of heat and pressure. So too, does applying “heat” to our characters, propel them from their damaged selves at the beginning of a book to a much stronger, healed version of themselves at the end of the book, capable of loving and being loved.
The link between heat and character transformation is old. When Dante wanted to show the utter absence of hope, a static and most terrible hell, he didn’t use heat. For the innermost circle of hell, he used the image of a sinner frozen up to the neck in ice—and that’s a powerful image. In current usage, we refer to trial by fire, the hot seat, or taking the heat, regarding situations that challenge what we’re made of.

My first job out of college was as a proposal coordinator for a government contractor. Proposals are how such companies win new business and survive in the marketplace. The deadlines are utterly inflexible, and sometimes we had one week to generate a 300-page document that in theory wasn’t supposed to sport a single typo. I learned what I was made of.
In my next job, I worked more than full time, and went to law school five nights a week.Then came single parenting…

In life, heat descends upon us. During a spell of hot weather, we know to stay in the shade, stay hydrated, and avoid overexertion. During a hot spell in our lives, we similarly learn how to cope and grow under duress, and we learn how creative and resilient we can be—even as we long for the shade and a cool breeze. So too in a good book, an author will turn up the heat on the characters, and then turn it up some more.

In my life, romance novels have always been the shade and the cool breeze, the place I could go to forget the deadlines and impossible co-workers, or the legal cases that ended in disaster.

How do you cope with either the hot spells in life, or the hot spells we’re enduring this summer? To one commenter below, I’ll send a signed copy of “Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal,” which come to think of it, deals with a lady on a hot seat, so to speak.



  1. Great post, Grace!! You're so right about dealing with the heat.

    Stress at work has been really bad for the last two years. We've had spells where it lets up, but if I hadn't found the joy of writing, I don't know what I would have done.

    Definitely reading as escapism has always been a favorite of mine since I was a teen, although I had a long dry spell while being a single parent! Now I wouldn't give it up for anything! :)

  2. Terry, when I was a single mom (well, I still am, sorta), I can recall times when the ONLY thing I had to look forward to was a new Loretta Chase, Laura Kinsale or Mary Balogh. Oddly enough, now when I'm writing is when I have less time to read.

  3. Well said... and in true eloquent Grace style...BRAVO!!
    My WIP is still a lump of coal and it's time to apply some of that heat to it and hope that it produces a diamond.

  4. Carolyn, why can't we just leave our manuscripts out on the back porch in this weather, like a pitcher of sun tea, and come out two hours later to find a perfect brew has happened while we had a nap? Just doesn't seem fair...

  5. It's been a while since I have been in a hot area. Right now Montana's not so bad. When I lived in the south it was horrible. I mainly stayed in doors with the ac on. Then we moved to the central coast of Cali, which doesn't get hot. Mainly I stay in doors and I don't mind that. I tend to enjoy reading more.

  6. Melody, I have family in Bozeman. They say Montana has two seasons, Winter and Relatives. Relatives lasts about two months, mid-June to mid-August, and then its back to Winter. This doesn't sound so bad to me--like you, I'd get a lot of reading done.

  7. Grace and Melody, when I lived in Montana the two types of weather were "winter" and "road construction!" That's true here in Wyoming, too.
    As for heat, we're going through a lovely spell of cool, rainy days, which is rare here. I'm enjoying it while I can!

  8. I love your comparisons. It seems like I've always had some hot spots and I found relief as soon as I learned how to read. It has always been the one constant in my life. And for that I thank all you authors!

  9. Joanne, my brother also told me that the roads in Montana take more lives than any one health condition (like heart disease)--the weather is unpredictable and often extreme, the terrain is mountainous, and the distances considerable.

    Makes me want to visit in broad daylight on clear days in the valley.

  10. Wow! Such a great blog, Grace. Right now I am definitely feeling very hot. So much going on. I don't feel like I usually deal with all the stress very well. But finding some ME time, even if it's just a cup of coffee in the quiet morning hours, helps.

  11. For both hot spells in life and in weather, I lay low, try to keep cool and hope for temperatures to cool down. I live in Florida, and compared to the rest of the country, while it has been hot, it hasn't been unbearable. Never the less, I stay in the air conditioning as much as possible, and if I need to, I can take a dip in the pool to cool off.

  12. Shana, I recall my sister, a working mom, telling me she got up an hour earlier than anybody else just so she could have that hour TO HERSELF. She'd rather be awake in solitude than get much needed sleep.

    There's not a mom out there who doesn't get that.

    Catslady, books are my consolation, my happy place, my guilty pleasure--reading them AND writing them.

    Barbara, I will consider myself to have made it when I have a lap pool in my house. I hear there are such people, and some of them even write romance novels.

  13. Interesting post. I like to drink iced tea.


  14. I endure hot spells during the summer by hanging out in places where the AC is blasting like the movie theaters and department stores.

    janie1215 AT excite DOT com

  15. Well, to deal with the horrible heat here in the South, I try to stay inside under the a/c!!!

    mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

  16. Fortunately, I can stay under the A/C on most really hot days. If that's not possible, I usually take a cool shower and don't dry off before I get dressed...evaporative cooling is a wonderful thing! Then of course, it's always a lovely excuse to sit somewhere shady and read (-:

  17. --> They say Montana has two seasons, Winter and Relatives.

    In Minnesota, it's Winter and Road Construction. ;-)

    Reading is my escape and my salvation.

  18. Definitely with a cold drink (my fav is the passion fruit shaken iced tea that Starbucks makes), a great story, and stay inside with the a/c:)

  19. Love the analogies, Grace. Lovely post!