Just Slightly… A Guest Post by Noelle Adams

Noelle Adams PhotoI interviewed Noelle Adams (in her Claire Kent persona) in one of my first-ever Wonkomance posts. At the time, I’d never read any of her books, but I read Escorted for the purposes of the interview and couldn’t put it down.

Since then, I have devoured and adored many more of Noelle/Claire’s books. I love her voice, which is lovely and unpretentious and stark; the way her books submerge me emotionally; and the fact that she writes sex the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.

I remembered that Noelle had mentioned to me that she never tried to write in any particular way, that any wonkinessshe exhibited was unintentional, and I was curious to hear more about whether she’d ever tried to be less wonky and what that experience was like for her. Here is her guest post in reply:

The first romance I submitted to a publisher was a Regency. I was sixteen years old.

I’d been reading Regency romances for a couple of years, since my mother was a fan. She’d devour them and pass on to me the ones she thought wouldn’t sully my mind. When she wasn’t around, I’d dig through the big laundry basket she collected them in and find the sexier ones to read too.

I’d been writing novels since I was twelve, but I decided I was born to write a Regency romance. This was before the internet was available for copious research on publishers and submission requirements, but I knew, even back then, that I would have to follow the formula that publishers wanted. So that’s what I wrote. Feisty, virginal heroine. Dashing, slightly jaded hero. A tangle of conflict intensified by the social restrictions. Some sort of minor adventure plot to move things along. I worked all of it in. I spent a couple of summer months completing it, and then I went to the library to consult the literary market guides to find appropriate publishers to submit to.

I was sure I’d followed the formula perfectly. I was sure it would be published.

I never heard anything back—not even a form rejection letter. I reread the book recently, and it’s really not as bad as I imagined. Clearly, it was written by a sixteen-year-old, and no one but me should ever read it. But what I noticed was, even as a teenager, I couldn’t get the formula right. I had all the items on the checklist ticked off, but they didn’t come together the way they were supposed to. For instance, I had a minor misunderstanding in the first chapter, and instead of letting it grow and fester and intensify the main conflict, I made the couple have a conversation in the second chapter that completely resolved it. I know why I did it that way. It just felt like something two real people would do. But it made me realize that, from the beginning, I was writing books that were just slightly off.

My long history of failed attempts to get published only confirms this reality. My books are always just slightly off.

The first book I shopped that was actually good enough to be published was when I was twenty-one. I got an agent and had an editor really want the book, but it never got picked up because it was so unmarketable. I learned my lesson. Write for the market. So I wrote a book with the market in mind.

And another book. And another. In each one, I carefully followed what was popular and used the formulas publishers seemed to expect. I didn’t want to write a ground-breaking work of literature. I just wanted to get published. But, no matter how hard I tried to follow the rules, I couldn’t seem to do it.

I could get an agent. I could also get editors who really loved my writing and sometimes wanted to take on my books. But every attempt ended the same way. The book was “not the right fit for us.”

Just slightly off.

Eventually, I gave up and wrote books I wanted to write, assuming they’d never be published. So I ended up with a large number of completed, unpublished romances—some close to formula, some totally wonky.

I wrote Seducing the Enemy, trying desperately to follow a formula, as my last ditch effort toSeducing the Enemy cover get published. But that book was rejected numerous times before it was finally picked up, and even then it took several complete overhauls and eighteen months before it was in a state to be published.

That was when I decided to self-publish. I’d thought about the possibility and dismissed it several times in the past because I never really wanted to do my own thing. I was always trying to be a fit. But it seemed clear that the only way I was ever going to find an audience for my slightly-off books was to publish them myself.

At first, I tried to follow the romance rules, since I wanted my books to sell. But, by the third one (One Night with her Bodyguard), I just gave it up. That story features a heroine with intense social anxiety and a hero with all kinds of insecurities, and it has a weird, rambling plot structure. But it sold better and had better reviews than the previous two. Maybe that was just because I was slowly finding an audience, but it encouraged me.

Then I put Escorted—a book I thought could never be a fit for any market or niche—on the free promotion days on Amazon, and people started to read it and like it. Even with the bald hero, the non-passionate sex scenes at the beginning, and the odd absence of secondary characters and world-building.

So I figured I might as well publish what I want, since I couldn’t get the formulas right anyway, and maybe there were people who wanted to read what I write. So I threw all the odd stuff out there—detailed, realistic pregnancy sex, the dying seventeen-year-old’s bucket-list marriage, the sweet hero who is so in love he has a problem with coming prematurely, the m/f romance that starts in the context of a threesome. Some of it worked with readers, and some of it didn’t. But one thing is clear.

There is no correlation between the popularity of my books and their level of weirdness.

A Negotiated MarriageI don’t really think I take a lot of risks in my books—not really. A Negotiated Marriage has sold the most of all my books, and it’s a billionaire marriage-of-convenience story. Nothing risky about that. It is slightly off, though. The conflict is very understated, and the powerful, CEO hero gets nervous before business meetings so he takes his shoes off to prepare.

Maybe the riskiest thing I’ve done is the Willow Park books, romances about genuinely devout Christians that are intended for the mainstream audience and include sex and language. I guess there’s something wonky about that. It’s certainly almost never done. But the books themselves are really quiet, so it seems to me that they’re just slightly off, like everything else I write.

I did an interview with Wonkomance a couple of years ago, after Escorted took off, and Serena asked me why I wrote wonky books. My answer then is what it is now. I never wanted to write wonky romance.

From the time I was sixteen, I was trying to follow all the rules and write in the established, marketable formulas. I just couldn’t do it.

A lot has changed since then, but my books are still just slightly off.

Noelle handwrote her first romance novel in a spiral-bound notebook when she was twelve, and she hasn’t stopped writing since. She has lived in eight different states and currently resides in Virginia, where she reads any book she can get her hands on and offers tribute to a very spoiled cocker spaniel.

She loves travel, art, history, and ice cream. After spending far too many years of her life in graduate school, she has decided to reorient her priorities and focus on writing contemporary romances.

You can find her at:

 

 

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Wonkomance, LIVE!

Win_Lose_WONK copyNext week the Romantic Times Booklovers’ Convention is going down in Dallas, and Wonkomance is going to be there! On Wednesday at 2:30, A.J., Amber, Cara, Shari and Shelley are going to be hosting a fun event for readers called Win, Lose or WONK, and we’d love for you to join us! The room will be divided into two teams. Us Wonksters pick a pair of index cards at random—one quirk, one occupation, inspired by some of our own books—and draw, Pictionary-style, the resulting mash-up romance protagonist (i.e., “nudist billionaire” or “narcoleptic pilot”). Whichever audience member shouts out the correct answer first wins a signed book, plus a point for their team, and the team with the most points at the end of the hour wins the game! Fun, right? Plus there’s going to be free candy and shit. We can’t wait to see you there!

Even if you’re not coming to RT, we still want you to participate. We’re soliciting suggestions for quirks and occupations from your favorite wonktastical books, ones that’ll be fun to draw and make for wacky character combinations. For quirks, think adjectives—unusual personality traits or habits. For occupations, think nouns—actual jobs or things like “zombie.” Just toss them in the comments, and be sure to mention which book they’re from. For example, “Beekeeper, from Ruthie Knox’s Truly.” Have at it, kids!

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What I Carry ~ A Guest Post by Tamsen Parker

Hello everyone! Please welcome the return of our friend Tamsen Parker for another thoughtful guest post.

A few weeks ago I read Heidi Cullinan’s CARRY THE OCEAN. If you haven’t heard about this book, it’s a m/m New Adult romance that features one hero who has autism and one who has severe depression and anxiety. If you know anything about my reading habits, you know kink and mental illness make my one-click finger twitch. No kink here, but the blurb and the awesome cover totally sold me.

carry the ocean bigger

As I was reading, I found myself alternately thrilled and devastated. Not just because that’s what well-written romance does—makes us feel things deeply—but because representation is powerful.

In Jeremey, the hero with depression and anxiety, I saw myself:

“Though this is pretty much me in a nutshell. I worry about all the rules, and then panic because there’s no definitive answer to anything.” (Loc 413)

“”It makes it difficult for me to be with people, but if I’m not with people, I feel more lonely.’” (Loc 505)

“Why was everyone acting like I was sick? Like I had a heart condition, not a stupid habit of being upset in public and easily overwhelmed by life? ‘I’m fine,’ I told her again. And again.” (Loc 845)

I’m upset because you’re upset. […] This is my best and my best isn’t good enough for you. […] I don’t know how to fix this, and I’m afraid there’s no fix” (Loc 920)

For much of my life, I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety. But because of the way they manifest for me, no one realized it. It wasn’t until after I graduated college that I started seeing a therapist. I didn’t try medication until I was in graduate school.

I don’t have the type of depression that means I can’t get out of bed in the morning or makes me suicidal. I don’t have the kind of anxiety that results in panic attacks. My symptoms bleed into my shyness and introversion and even my kinks, things I believe it’s really important not to pathologize. Which makes it difficult to tell what’s okay and what’s not okay. And because the edges are so blurry, for the most part, anxiety and depression are low level unpleasant hums that make life more difficult for me but that I manage.

Until I don’t.

This has been a hard year. A really exciting one in a lot of ways, but not without difficulty. And the past month has been brutal. Mr. Parker and I have both been travelling a lot, our beloved dog passed away, we’ve been dealing with unanticipated car and home repairs, throw in some illness for good measure, and some interpersonal conflict (which, as you can imagine, I’m super with) and the stress has been through the roof. And stress exacerbates what are annoying but livable symptoms.

If you’ve received an email from me, I can pretty much guarantee I’ve read it at least half a dozen times before I pressed send. More if I don’t know you very well or if it was of particular import. And I’m still terrified I said something wrong.

I usually do well when interacting with people one-on-one, and my old job required that I regularly talk in front of large groups of people. I was good at that and I enjoyed it. Small groups are where I flounder. I get paralyzed. Because I can’t read all the cues, I can’t tailor my humor or my opinions to everyone. I don’t have the protection of being an authority, and I’m certain I’ll say something wrong or stupid. These thoughts frequently result in me saying nothing at all.

Changes in plan or routine are difficult for me. Sometimes not just difficult but completely overwhelming. Having a spouse who travels frequently and a child, period, mean that consistency is a fantasy of mine.

I’m self-aware enough to realize that sometimes my feelings are my anxiety and/or depression messing with me, but that doesn’t mean I can always sort them. Sometimes I have to check with other people—Would this make you angry? Is it rational to cry about this?—because my own feelings can’t be trusted.

I worry that I am difficult to love. Or like for that matter. Even if you’ve been nothing but kind to me, I fear that will stop. Which is why I’m often cagey with my affections. Especially with the people who mean the most to me.

I frequently want to ask for help but I don’t because it’s not that bad. And people have better things to do. Or I don’t rate that level of time or effort. When I finally told my husband that I’m afraid because I think my depression and anxiety are getting worse and he offered to help, I felt like I had failed.  I’m an intelligent, educated, capable woman. Why the hell can I not handle the very basic act of existing? But as Jeremey says, “sometimes being alive is v hard” (Loc 1236).

The point of me writing this is not for people to feel bad for me. I am blessed in so many ways and my illness is manageable. I also have the resources to call in the cavalry should I need it, and—possibly more importantly—be able to admit that I need it.

The point is not that I’m unique. I’m far from the only writer afflicted. I’m not exceptional. My story is no more interesting or valuable than anyone else’s. But every time I see someone talking about their depression, anxiety, or other mental health issue publicly, I think to myself Thank You. Thank you for saying something. Thank you for not being ashamed or secretive. Thank you for helping me feel like I’m not alone. And thank you to Heidi for giving these two heroes a happy ending without magically “fixing” things that can’t be fixed.

The point is that I want to return the favor. To say to all of you who suffer out loud or in silence that you’re not the only one.  You’re not alone. Because seeing yourself is important. Even though I use a pen name, I feel like the romance community is the place where I am the truest version of myself. So here I am—having read this post twenty times and still scared I’ve made a mistake, agonizing over revealing something that up until now I’ve kept very private—saying me, too. Because it’s important. Because sometimes knowing you’re not alone makes it less hard to be alive.

About Tamsen

Tamsen Parker is a stay-at-home mom by day, erotic romance writer by naptime. She lives with her family outside of Boston, where she tweets too much, sleeps too little and is always in the middle of a book. Aside from good food, sweet Rieslings and gin cocktails, she has a fondness for monograms and subway maps. She should really start drinking coffee. You can find out more about her and her books at tamsenparker.com.

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