Thursday, August 20, 2009

What's love got to do with it?

Some weeks back, my friend Rosemary Clement-Moore won the 2009 RITA award for best young adult romance novel for her book Highway to Hell. (Congrats again, Rosemary!) This expanded my definition of "romance novel," because the romance in that book takes a back seat to the paranormal mystery and adventure.

Last week I began to wonder aloud if any of my own writing might qualify as romance...whereupon my husband pointed out I'm more of an anti-romance writer! And, as my husband, he wasn't sure how to feel about having such an anti-romantic wife. At first I thought he was wrong, because most of my YA stories do have romantic subplots, but as I thought through them, I quickly realized he was right. The evidence:

YA novel 1: At first I didn't think the protagonist would have a love interest, but somehow she ended up with 3. Guy #1 blows her off and then makes fun of her to their other friends. Guy #2 flirts a bit but sees her as just a friend, and then moves away. At the end of the book, guy #3 is her best bet, but she's never really liked him that much. (They don't get together in the end, but there's a sense she could end up seeing him in a different light.)

YA novel 2: The protagonist kisses his female friend, but they decide it's a mistake. She ends up with their other friend, which makes the protagonist feel like the odd man out. This book isn't finished and there may be a hint of romance for him with someone else by the time I'm done, but so far there's not.

YA novel 3: A guy asks the protagonist to be his girlfriend. After she says no, he kills himself. (! It's not necessarily cause and effect, but that's what happens.) She later falls hard for another guy, and it seems to be mutual...until he takes off and she never hears from him again. Ever. (You think this would have teen girls throwing rocks at my door if it ever gets published?)

YA short story: A girl has a big crush on a guy, but finds out he's a jerk and realizes she's better off without him.

Published short story with teen narrator: The narrator's mom travels a long way to look for love, only to decide she doesn't need to be that desperate.

Am I warped or what? To be fair, I do have an abandoned YA I started for NaNoWriMo a few years ago, in which a girl has to choose between going to get the slushie she's craving and a spontaneous trip to the beach with the guy she's had a crush on for years (when his little brother invites her). She tries to pursue both, and crazy hijinks ensue that almost keep her from all of it, but she'd ultimately have a happy ending.

I seem able to write completely fluffy, and often absurd, light romances with happy endings. (Maybe they feel less threatening in some subconscious way.) A few years back, an anthology published a story I wrote about a young man and woman--not teens, but it's very light for adults--who fall for each other after she comes to complain about his loudly quacking duck. It's silly, but I still love it and it has a happy romantic ending. I also once wrote a sappy, likely unpublishable story about a couple who get engaged at a flea market and have a wacky wedding where everything goes wrong but it doesn't matter.

When a story came to me out of nowhere last week, the one I recited to myself while driving and then typed up later, it was a light romance, probably a first-romance story about young teens. Reading back over what I had typed, I realized it was sooo fluffy, there was almost no conflict! The only conflict was that the girl is initially too scared to call the guy, and then it turns out she's lost his number, but then she finds it. Then everything works out great for them. If I do more with it, I'll probably have to add some zany conflict. But I liked the idea of a story where the people just really like each other and almost everything goes right. The story was mainly a "how we met" story, which I admit to being a sap for (the Dallas and Fort Worth newspapers both have Sunday columns about how engaged or married couples met, and I love those). So there may be hope for me yet in the romance department!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The write kind of weekend

I've been so overwhelmed by our move and the ongoing stress of trying to get our Austin-area house ready to sell that I haven't been blogging or writing much, though I have been reading blogs and writing boards, etc.

This weekend, though, I got refreshed by going to an Awesome Austin Writers' Workshop--my first time back to Austin since moving in June. While I did cry more than once about not living there anymore...the event itself was a treat! 19 of us met at the lovely home of Meredith Davis, founder of the Austin SCBWI chapter, and broke into small groups for intensive critiques throughout the day. My group, The Ramonas, included Chris Barton, Greg Leitich Smith, Lyn Seippel, and Helen Hemphill, and between us we critiqued picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction. We also had time to talk and hang out with the larger group, and we had fun listening to anonymous first pages by nearly everyone attending. We had dinner afterwards at a casual place on the lake, Ski Shores, where a few more folks were able to join us.

In this lunchtime photo taken by Donna Bowman Bratton, I'm in the front left, and going around clockwise from me are: Lyn Seippel, Don Tate, Debbie Gonzales, Andy Sherrod, Brian Yansky, and Carmen Oliver.

These events are always inspiring! I was also glad to get good feedback on the manuscripts I of which has been on and off my back burner for 9 years (!), and one of which is almost ready to send back to my agent (I hope!).

It's lucky I got there safely, considering I had to get up at 4:30 am and drive 3 hours to Austin to get to the workshop--and couldn't sleep at all the night before! Not only were my nerves and my toddler keeping me awake, along with my usual night owl nature, but somehow a story started brewing in my head while I lay in bed. I ended up narrating most of it in my mind, in hopes I'd remember it in the morning. Sure enough, I remembered it well enough to recite the general storyline to myself out loud as I drove. I found myself wishing for a tape recorder, but didn't have one handy! But I added more as I went, and saying it aloud helped me remember it, even after hearing everyone else's stories that day. That night, relaxing with my laptop as I spent the night in Austin, I typed up the story from memory, and now I have 2462 words of something--I'm not sure what! It's a light romantic story, somewhat goofy as per usual with me, but I'm not sure if it's the basis of a short story, part of a novel, or just an exercise to get my writing brain jump-started again! Either way, it was kind of fun to have my muse on overdrive like that.