A Slice of Orange


Pop Culture Courtship

April 11, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

by Sara Black

So what does Pop Culture have to do with romance?

Unlike the heroines of my favorite novels by Austen and Heyer who were not allowed to have jobs, about four years ago I was lucky enough to work at a small post production house. Though I worked with many men, including a Frenchman and an Italian, there was very little romantic about the place. For starters, the Frenchman’s name was Igor.

One day my computer started acting up. The guy at my office who fixed these things emerged from his hiding place in the back room to sit in my chair and fuss with the electronics under my desk. We maintained an awkward silence, until a lull while he restarted lead him to discover an empty plastic sleeve for a comic book which I’d left sitting on my desk.

“What are you reading?” He asked.

Sandman.” I said.

If our courtship had been more traditional we might have moved from comics to finer literature discussions, but us being us, we proceeded to discuss more comic books. I told him about the upcoming San Diego Comic Convention that I was going to attend. Simply put the San Diego convention center becomes a pop culture mecca filled with comic book readers, TV and movie watchers, artists, and geeks of all shapes and sizes. Finally, we discussed anime.

Rather than exchange missives we exchanged anime DVDs. He lent me the cyber thriller Ghost in the Shell and surreal coming-of-age FLCL, and I leant him the action packed Scryed. I even went and saw the low budget but well-made British horror film 28 Days Later, because he said it was good, and–trust me–that’s not a film I would normally see. Our first outing did have a co-worker as a chaperon, but instead of going to a museum, we saw Finding Nemo.

He was invited to my birthday, and my present was not a traditional teddy bear, but a Gloomy Bear, which proved to me we had a deep understanding. There was no waltzing at the party, but plenty of DDRing. I kicked his butt.

Then we stalled. Except for the birthday party and movie with the coworker we were still work friends only. The attraction was there but I was shy and he was acting shy and nothing passionate was going to happen at the office. I got up the courage to suggest that rather than just trading anime we actually hang out and watch something together, like at his place. He mentioned he’d been meaning to get a group of friends together to watch the kung-fu historical Hero.

A group of friends? I wasn’t looking for more chaperons.

I was deflated enough that it took a whole week before I tried again. This time I made it simpler. I asked him what he was doing that evening. That worked. Our first date was at a Shabu Shabu place. Our romance followed our courtship in style, and when we went out we went to Japanese pop culture stores like Giant Robot and when we stayed in we watched Sci-Fi channel shows like SG-1. Lest you think we live totally one dimensional lives I also introduced him to the six hour version of Pride and Prejudice, which he has sat through several times since.

The real end of the courtship phase didn’t come with a declaration of love on bended knee, but I’ve never seen anyone more touched than he when I moved my computer to his place.

So, what does Pop Culture have to do with romance? I’m not sure, but it had a lot to do with mine.

Sara Black has a degree in Cinema/Television from USC. She watches far too much television, eats way too much sushi and is always writing a romance novel. For someone who religiously stays out of the mainstream, she knows an awful lot about Pop Culture. This is the second in a series of posts on the subject.

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When is it good enough?

April 10, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as
Before you read this, I have to confess that I posted this entry previously on my blog. But it was right before Easter and more than likely no one read it. So if it sounds familiar, come back tomorrow!


The other day I was nosing around online and came across a message posted from a writer who asked, “when do you know a story is any good? How do you know if its worth pursuing?”

For me, it’s gut instinct. If the characters come to life and refuse to go away until I finish their story, then I know this is a journey I have to complete. I don’t judge if the story is “good” or “bad.” My agent does that for me. How I feel is that every story and character who has come into my life has done so for a reason.

Right after I turned in In Between Men (waaay back in September 2004), I wrote a drama about two sisters who never knew the other existed until their father was diagnosed with cancer. I loved the characters Dori and Sela, but the story was so so. I talked to my agent about it and she asked me what I was doing writing a heavy-handed drama when I’ve been publishing comedies? Unfortunately, she has an annoying tendency to be right and that story has since become an organ donor.

But I missed those sisters. Five or six months later, I was at a wedding and while eavesdropping on a conversation, found the story for Sela and Dori. Next month, “Till Death Do Us Part” will be inflicted on the reading public in Names I Call My Sister.

I’m not sure if I successfully answered this question. Perhaps some stories are meant to slip by the gatekeepers, or others are just the long way around to the real thing.

So I ask you: how do you know if your story is “good enough”?

Mary Castillo is the author of the upcoming anthology, Names I Call My Sister (Avon A, May 2007) as well as In Between Men and Hot Tamara. She was once named one of the hottest 25 people in the OC by OC Metro Magazine. She keeps the certificate in a prominent place so her husband won’t forget. Her website is www.marycastillo.com.
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It’s Worth It

April 9, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

Constructive Criticism Builds Bridges

By Kitty Bucholtz

At our last RWA meeting, some friends and I were discussing manuscript critiques. A good critique can help your manuscript become all you hoped for, while a bad critique can keep you cowering for months or years, afraid to let anyone see your work again.

When I was a member of the Tempe Christian Writer’s Club in Tempe, Arizona, we had two hard and fast rules for all critiquing. One, you must begin with something you genuinely like or appreciate about the work. Compliment a bit of dialogue, the originality of the setting, an interesting character. Try not to use banalities such as “I didn’t see a single spelling mistake.” The idea is to build up the writer and give him feedback on his strengths.

Two, when pointing out an area that needs work, you must give at least one or two ideas on how it could be improved. For instance, if the character feels flat and uninteresting, suggest ideas for rounding out the character – a nervous tic, a paradoxical personality trait, a stronger motivation. If you disagree with a “fact” – be it historical or otherwise – that you believe the writer got wrong, suggest that she double check it and let it go. This is not the time or place for you to “win” an argument.

Which leads to another great critique group idea. My screenwriting group has a rule that the author must not speak during the critique. Everyone talks as if he/she isn’t even there. The author makes notes on what everyone said, then at the end asks questions for verification purposes only. This is to prevent the age-old “defensiveness” problem. When you, the writer, listen to everyone discuss your work, you are taking an active role in figuring out what the readers “got” and what they didn’t. If they didn’t “get it” from reading your work, your explanations are meaningless – so keep them to yourself. Use your energy to figure out how to rewrite your piece so that the reader “gets it” in the next draft.

Consider using some or all of these rules in your critique group. And if you’ve found other critique group ideas that work, post them in the comments section to share with everyone. If you haven’t found a critique group yet, ask around. Perhaps you know someone who has room for one more, or you could start a new group.

It can be scary, no matter who you are or what stage in your career, to share your work with others and invite feedback. These rules can help keep a positive tone in the group, but remember you are responsible for both how you speak to others and how you choose to hear what others say to you. Choose to be the critique partner known for her encouraging words!

Putting yourself out there – as a writer and as a human being – can be tough. Sometimes it seems like a much better idea to stay home, alone but safe from the stone throwing. But when I think back on the friendships I’ve made and the amazing progress I’ve seen in my work, I say – it’s worth it!

NOTE: For OCC RWA members, please post a note on The Morning Juice if your critique group is open to new members, or if you’re looking for a critique partner or group. Be sure to note your location, proposed meeting times/days/frequency, whether it’s in person or online, and any other important information such as genre or if your group is for plotting only, etc. Remember – your group can arrive early at our monthly meeting and meet in the back! Take advantage!

Kitty Bucholtz writes romantic comedies because, well, she lives one! She wrote her first book in the NBC cafeteria, the second snowed in at a Reno hotel, and the third from a tiny apartment in Sydney. Even though she loves talking about, writing about, and teaching about writing, she’s pretty sure she knows at least three people who aren’t writers.

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April 6, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as
To Blog or Not to Blog
by Gina Black

I posted my first entry to my first blog on December 31, 2003. Since then I’ve posted hundreds more, created five other blogs, joined many communities, and spent hours and hours pointing and clicking my way through the blogosphere, leaving comments and making friends. It’s no wonder that one of the questions I get asked over and over again is: should I start a blog?

The answer is . . . it depends. That’s because the answer really lies in another question: why do you want to blog?

There are many good, valid reasons to blog. But the most important one is because you want to. Blogging is a big commitment. Creating a regular online presence takes a lot of time and energy. It cuts into writing time. It can help or hinder your career–although just how much isn’t really measurable. So for it to be worthwhile it has to feed you personally in some way or other.

The best blogs are interesting, updated on a regular basis, and interactive. They have pictures and lots of white space so they are easy to read. They might be funny, contain inside information, essays on the craft, or cute stories. Most importantly, they draw you back to them.

Problem blogs contain rants that go out-of-bounds or contain TMI about something that shouldn’t be broadcast into cyberspace. An example of this might be chronicling one’s journey to pubbed author by including verbatim responses from agents who have rejected your work. So, in addition to all your writing pals reading this, prospective agents can too. Not a good idea.

Does blogging sell books? I don’t think anyone knows. It can help consolidate a fan base. It can spread buzz about an author, but, if used purely for marketing, blogs get boring.

Blogs are a great way to create a community and become a part of the friendly blogosphere. They are a great way for pubbed authors to stay in touch with their fans on a regular (or semi-regular) basis. But it’s important to remember that not everyone who reads your blog is friendly, nice, and trustworthy. A blog requires a careful mix of candor and caution. You don’t want to divulge personal information that would let people find you or your family. For that reason many bloggers will use nicknames when blogging about family members and are careful about posting photos. Not everyone wants to be a public figure.

Want to blog but don’t want the responsibility of providing constant content? Consider group blogging–like this!

Obviously, this is just the tip of the blogberg. Got questions I didn’t answer? Put them in the comments, and I’ll answer them there.

Somehow Gina manages to work some writing time in around her blogging. In addition to posting here, she blogs on The Gina Channel, Romancing the Skein, and Title Wave.

And yes, her computer screen really has burned itself into her glasses.

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Things That Make Me Go Mmmruh…

April 5, 2007 by in category Archives tagged as

Why Romance?

by Geralyn Ruane

Did you notice? Here on this E-zine for and by romance writers and readers, NONE of the things I mentioned in my last column, the things that make me go mmmruh, had anything to do with love, sex, smooching or marriage. So, if I live for these moments of mmmruh, why the heck and am I so spellbound and compelled by romance?

True, romance rips a pretty visceral mmmruh from me. A billboard on Ventura Boulevard: “Malia, will you marry me? Love, Roberto.” I drove right past it! A radio dedication from a man in Los Angeles, aching to rekindle a romance, to his former lover in Orange County. As I sped along the 101 listening to Nickelback’s soulful singing (I’ve loved you all along . . .), I realized that maybe the former lover in Orange County was, at that very moment, picking up the phone to call the man in Los Angeles! I was possibly listening to the most romantic moment in someone’s whole life!

But if I can be just as moved by a whiff of Chanel No. 5 because it reminds me of my mom, why do I feather my nest with books by Nora Roberts and Susan Elizabeth Phillips? And why do I own three different movie versions of Pride and Prejudice?

It’s simple, really. What is romance, but the perfect vehicle for delivering these moments of mmmruh? A love story is driven by such emotional intensity that it naturally provides fertile ground the poignant, enlightening aspects of life. And the more mmmruh woven throughout a romance, the more mmmruh seeping beyond the heroine/hero plot line, the more unforgettable the story.

Geralyn Ruane’s favorite Hardy Boy is whichever one Parker Stevenson played, and these days she writes romance, chick lit and women’s fiction. Last year her short story “Jane Austen Meets the New York Giants” was published in the New York Times Bestselling anthology The Right Words at the Right Time Volume 2.

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