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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Short & Sweet - Welcome Author Jeanine McAdam

If you were not among the fortunate few who recently had the opportunity to hear Jeanine speak to the RWA/NYC Chapter on her success writing short romance fiction, here's your chance. She inspired many us to attempt this most succinct and demanding of forms but even more importantly, she generously agreed to answer some questions for our blog about her writing life, the short fiction genre, and writing "confessions". I hope that you make Jeanine feel welcome, enjoy the interview and please, don't be stingy with your comments! She'll be available from 10 AM to 12 Noon on Thursday, March 12 to engage and respond. And now, without further ado... Lise: To begin at the beginning, Jeanine: When did you begin writing? Jeanine: I am trained as a librarian so I’ve always loved words and books. I worked as a reference librarian for five years. Around that time the Internet and email became widely available, I started teaching technology training courses. Then I started writing instructional manuals. After that I moved on to managing the technology training program at the Brooklyn Public Library. I had a half million dollar budget and 1700 employees to train. During all those steps in my career I was writing articles for newsletters and industry magazines, preparing speeches, reports and budgets. Through my job I grew into a non-fiction writer and I liked it. I became interested in fiction when I left my job. My second son had just been born and my husband’s career was taking off. It was time for me to be home with the kids, however I wanted to continue to write. After a few years of trying to figure out fiction writing I started submitting to the confession magazines. I’ve published twelve so far and have another one in the works. I’ve also written two unpublished books. L: Do you have any formal education or training in creative writing? J: No. I’m self-taught. The process has been a very interesting learning experience. L: Have you pursued any forms of self-education, other than “learn as you go”? Do you continue to educate yourself about your craft in any formal way? Workshops, classes, reading? J: I’ve attended many workshops and read numerous writing manuals. I found the New Jersey RWA Conference extremely helpful and Stephen King’s book On Writing to be a terrific resource. I’ve read it a number of times. When I started writing short stories for the confession magazines I took two online courses which were very useful in helping me understand the market. L: Your recent work is contemporary romance in short fiction form (averaging about 6,000 to 7,000 words, correct?). Is this a recent departure from work on longer, novel-length romance fiction? J: I’ve always written short stories for Dorchester Media’s “true confession” line of magazines. I feel it’s a great way to be working as a writer regularly. At this point in my career, the short story market seems to be right for me. L: Why did you decide to pursue the short story format? J: I wanted to be published. I wanted to build a portfolio of published work. I also wanted to build my skills as a writer. I needed to learn how to put the words down on the page in a month and develop a beginning, middle and end that told a good story in 7,000 words. Plus create engaging, memorable characters. As we all know, books are hard to get published and I saw this market as an opportunity. Dorchester Media publishes four confession magazines every month. They need between 35 to 40 stories a month. I have a product, they have a need. It’s been a match. L: If you are not currently working on longer fiction, do you think that you will be moved to do so in the future? If not, why not? Is there an aspect of writing novel-length romance that turns you off? J: Yes, I’m moved to work on longer fiction. Even as I work on the short stories I’m working on a book too. Stephen King advises the writer not to tell anyone about a book in progress until it is done. He feels if the author talks about the story too much it disrupts the creative process. So mum’s the word for me. For now! L: When your first work appeared in print, how did it feel? Everyone asks about “the call”, and how an acceptance of a work may have changed your life, so I thought I’d forge slightly ahead of that moment. Do you have your first story in a scrapbook, or framed or something? J: I felt great when my first story came out. I sent it to True Love magazine on a Monday via snail mail. They sent me an acceptance email on Thursday. It was wonderful to have the story bought so quickly. It was called “In the Arms of a U.S. Marine.” To have someone validate me as a writer by purchasing my work was very exciting to me. I was able to sell that story as a series. Three consecutive stories appeared in the August, September and October issues of True Love. I haven’t framed “In the Arms of a U.S. Marine” but I do keep copies of all my stories in a pile on my book shelf. L: How do your friends and family feel about your writing? Are they supportive, puzzled, helping you cash the checks? J: At first they were puzzled. I was in the nonprofit world on a fast career track at a young age. They all thought I would continue on that route. So they didn’t know how to take this writing thing especially since it took me about three years to get published. Now that I’m published regularly they are extremely supportive. They don’t completely understand the romance genre but they always encourage me. My husband is super supportive. He’s my own personal patron and he always says, “You’re good.” Except he does get upset with me when I stay up too late at the computer. And he wants everyone to know that he feels I edit myself too much. L: Do you work at a job other than your writing? If so, how do you juggle the demands of both? J: I’m a stay-at-home Mom raising two kids. My husband works extremely long hours so I do everything to run the house. However, I treat writing as my full time job. I always block out time everyday to write. That snow day last Monday messed up my writing schedule because the kids were suddenly home and looking for stuff to do. L: What is your favorite reading material these days? J: I love the Twilight series and can’t wait for the movie to come out on DVD – March 21!!!. Also I’m reading the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris. She’s a mystery writer, she writes in the first person and she’s got a great voice. Those books were made into the HBO show True Blood. L: If you could be any author – contemporary or historical – who would it be? Why? J: Stephanie Meyer or Diana Gabaldon. Such deep, emotional POV. These books are written in first person and those authors are good at making the reader feel the complexity of the heroine’s experience. Also Suzanne Brockman. Her books are great. Plus I love the way she presents herself professionally. She’s at every conference willing to share information and is incredibly approachable. L: What is the most difficult part of the writing craft for you; the part that takes the most work, takes blood, sweat and tears J: Working through a scene that is not coming together. Usually the problem is I haven’t spent enough time thinking about how each of the characters are feeling. If I’m unsure about their emotions or their reaction to an event I struggle with a scene. L: What’s the easiest aspect of writing fiction? J: With the confession stories, I have no problem coming up with ideas. As I said, I try to write a confession every month. I feel like there’s always a story in my own life or an aspect of something I encounter in someone else’s life that I can make into a 7,000 word story. L: I want to borrow a concept from James Lipton’s Inside the Actor’s Studio (who borrowed it from Bernard Pivot) for his guest questionnaire and ask you some questions for short answers: a. What is your favorite word? J: Yes – it such a positive word. Unlimited possibilities. When I hear yes. I smile! Sometimes I even laugh…… b. What is your favorite genre of fiction? J: Romance… And more romance. I like happy endings. c. What is your least favorite genre of fiction? J: That’s tough. I have a very good friend who writes horror. My apologies to John but I’ll have to say horror. It scares me. I can’t sleep at night. But I suppose that’s the idea. Maybe I’ll come to a time in my life when I don’t have to be rested the next day. Then I’ll read it. BTW – I know I keep quoting Stephen King’s book about writing so I feel a little bad saying I can’t read horror, hopefully my plugging his book all over the place helps balance things out. d. Who is your favorite romance author? J: There are so many that I love. Suzanne Brockman, Diana Gabaldon…. My critique partners Jen, Kwana and Megan. e. Who is your favorite non-romance author? J: Charlaine Harris – ask me that same question next year and I may have a different answer. f. Who is your favorite literary character, not created by you? J: Starting with the men I would say Jamie Fraser. He’s a man’s man. I read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series years ago and I still think about Jamie. Also – I love Lt. Sam Starrett in Suzanne Brockmann’s Gone too Far. He’s a real American original and I adore him for that. Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum is an extremely entertaining heroine. As far as classic characters, I respect Margaret Hale in North and South. She’s tough and she figured out how to make her life meaningful within the confines of the society she lived in. g. What has one of your characters done that surprised you? J: In the February 2009 issue of True Romance I wrote a story called “Love in Small Bytes”. My hero was a computer geek. He surprised me because his intellectualism and open honesty was super sexy. Even the way he pushed his glasses up on his nose turned me on. I hope it did the same to the reader. h. What satisfaction do you get out of writing romance? J: I enjoy writing about how people relate to each other. The back and forth in conversation between two characters fascinates me, then how that interaction builds into love. Plus all the physical stuff is really fun to write. Even the hero pushing a piece of hair from the heroine’s eye, I love that!! i. Have you ever had someone put you down for writing romance? How did you handle it? J: Not so much put me down. But I’ve definitely felt looked down upon. I’ll tell people at a cocktail party or some social event and get a little, “ha, ha, ha,” plus a quick change of the subject. I give them a big smile and say, “this is what I do.” I always add, “I like the happy ending.” L: Jeanine, what is the publisher that you most want to write for? J: I would say Harlequin. They respect romance, they publish romance and they completely understand the needs and interests of their reader. In closing I wanted to say thank you to Lise for such great questions. I feel honored to be here on the RWA-NYC blog. I just reread Lis’s February 24th 2009 entry about editing. I must sign off now and get cracking. All the best to my fellow RWA-NYC friends/colleagues and good luck with your writing. May you get lots of pages written today! (Jeanine will be presenting another round table, along with author Patt Mihailoff, on the art of the romance short story at Liberty States Fiction Writers' June meeting. For Liberty States information, check out their link at right.)

17 comments:

  1. Good morning, Jeanine - thanks for giving up 2 hours (I know you could be writing!). I actually have a question that I was thinking about re: confessions. Of those I've read, the tone is generally very earnest - sincere. Do confessions ever have different tones? Humorous or slightly self-deprecating? Or is it the nature of this beast that they be earnest....Lise

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  2. Jeanine, I had no idea Dorchester did this. My cp and I were discussing last night about the challenges of writing for something like Harlequin's Undone and I find it more difficult to produce a short story over 100k. Any advice on pacing?

    Renee

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  3. Lise - Yes, confessions can have a different tone than earnest. Humorous and self-deprecating is fine too. The key is centering the story around a problem the heroine/hero is trying to solve. I remember reading one from the male point of view a few years back. The hero was trying to propose to his girl. But bad luck kept getting in the way. It was very cute and light because his problem was humorous. Every time he tried to ask her, something like the dog jumping in her lap would happen. Finally luck was on his side and he proposed, she accepted. Having said all that, earnest and sincere is the tone of most of the stories so it’s a safe tone to set in this market. Thanks for the question. Jeanine

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  4. That's great to know about the "tone", Jeanine, because I have started my first confession - at your and Patt Mihailoff's urging - and while, like you, I have no dearth of story ideas from my own life - I have discovered in this first attempt that the subject and my own propensity, is resulting in a tone of rather wry humor. Great to know I can "be myself" and tell the story in that vein. Thanks!

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  5. Renee - Pacing is tough. I wrote an article for Keynotes (February 2009) about how I pace my confession stories. Basically I break the 7,000 word story down into four parts. The first meeting 2,000 words, establish the attraction 2,000 words, dark moment 2,000 (the dark moment means someone or something is trying to prevent their relationship from growing), resolution or admission of love 1,000. Since the story needs to be short and tight I don’t include much description. It is character and dialogue driven. I hope this helps. Thank you for the question. Jeanine

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  6. Lise - I do believe that the editors at Dorchester are looking for fresh voices. I think it's worth it to try a different tone from the traditional "earnest" one.
    Jeanine

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  7. Great hearing all about your transition from non-fiction to romance writing, Jeanine! Years ago I toyed with writing for confession magazines, but I really wanted to write historical fiction, so set my sites on writing that. But it took years of hard work and I'm still waiting to finally see my contracted historical romances in print.

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  8. Susan - Congratulations, you are contracted. Does it look as though you'll have something in print soon? Which era do you write about? Thanks for sharing your story. Jeanine

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  9. Thanks, Jeanine! I have two full-length Civil War set novels coming out this year with The Wild Rose Press in July and September, as well as a short story in a Civil War anthology set to come out in July also.

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  10. Jeanine, your earlier comment about confessions being "dialogue-driven" is another great aspect of this form of romance fiction. It provides a great opportunity to perfect the writing of dialogue - which has to really be tight and move the story along, a lot like dramatic literature (plays). Dialogue cannot be just chatting - it is a vital part of telling the story and great dialogue can make a story. And writing dialogue for two characters also provides the chance to delve into creating distinct and authentic individual character "voices". To my mind another absolute must in writing great stories, of any length!

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  11. I love Civil War romances. I’ll look for your novels and short story when they come out.

    Getting back to the confession market, the stories are usually contemporary. I don't think I've ever seen a historical. Probably because they are written in the first person and the tone I try to capture is the heroine telling her story to her best friend over a cup of tea.

    Jeanine

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  12. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise, Jeanine! And I'll be waiting for your next Confessions release. Be sure to shout out when you have issue dates!

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  13. Jeanine,
    Thanks for giving your time to discuss this path for romance writers to get their "feet wet" in the publishing world. And glad to hear you're enjoying it so much.

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  14. Lise - I completely agree with you about tight dialogue to move a story along. I believe writing the short stories has helped improve my dialogue, tag lines and creating distinct character voices. Currently I'm working on a book and I'm finding the dialogue easier to write than in the past. I believe it's because I've practiced so much with the confession stories. Jeanine

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  15. Jeanine,

    Thank you for stopping by and sharing your writing secrets with us. When I first started writing, I began with writing poems and short stories. I switched to longer pieces when I found that my short stories were exceeding 25,000 words.

    And you're right. Stephen Kings book On Writing is one of the finest books out there.

    I hope we didn't take up much of your time and I look forward to seeing your presentation with Patt in June.

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  16. Great interview Lise and Jeanine! Jeanine thanks so much for sharing with us and thanks from me for being such a wonderful critique partner and sounding board.

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  17. Jeanine, the reigning Queen of Confessions.
    Soft spoken and knowledgeable and gives a kick-butt interview. I am very happy and proud of your accomplishments. I can't wait to present with her in June at Liberty States Writers.

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