Risk in Writing: A Case Study

Let me tell you about the single riskiest book I’ve ever read…

1. The gently-bred, down-on-her-luck-heroine decides, quite matter-of-factly, that she is going to become a prostitute in order to support herself. There is very little angst about this decision. No theatrics. No OH GOD ANYTHING BUT SEX FOR MONEH.

2. The hero visits his usual prostitute in his usual brothel, but she’s unavailable. Instead, there’s a new girl. Here’s a dilemma, because our guy does not like change. On the other hand, one girl is as good as another. Okay, he’ll see her.

3. The heroine is definitely not a virgin when they get together. The sex is not particularly magical. He does not decide, in a jealous pique, that no other man may touch her. No, he leaves and makes an appointment for next Thursday.

4. The heroine is cool with the hero because he doesn’t really make difficult or unsavory demands. The hero is cool with the heroine because she lies very still while he does his business.

5. The hero is dull. I mean this in pretty much every aspect. His appearance, his personality, his intelligence. This is not a feint or something that can be changed. He is not especially noble nor does he have any special redeeming qualities that make up for this. Words cannot express how much I loved and hated this aspect of the plot.

6. The heroine is pretty, educated, smart, talented at the piano, basically above him in every way, except that she’s completely subjugated to him.


In fact, the author agrees. Mary Balogh said, “A Precious Jewel is that book of mine that insisted upon being written even though I knew it was quite impossible to write.”

I have always felt that there is magic in Balogh’s writing. In other books, The Secret Pearl, Dark Angel, she makes difficult plot points work simply, cleanly, with a sparsity of drama, but none so huge as in this one. And it does work. A Precious Jewel was published in 1993 by Signet and was named a Desert Island Keeper by All About Romance.

Not only that, but she WROTE THIS BOOK IN TWO WEEKS.

Today is the first day National Novel Writing Month. I’m participating. But whether you are or you aren’t, I hope you won’t let a little thing like a tight schedule keep you from taking risks. In fact, maybe speed can keep you from overthinking and second-guessing. But most of all, write the book you love. Do it well and someone will want to read it.

Happy Writing!

“The only advice I would ever give a writer is to write.” – Mary Balogh

About Amber Lin

Amber Lin writes sexy romance about messed up people, because everyone deserves a happy ending. Find her books or sign up for the newsletter at her website authoramberlin.com.
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6 Responses to Risk in Writing: A Case Study

  1. AnimeJune says:

    Hurrah for NaNoWriMo!

    And I felt pretty much the same about A Precious Jewel – I loved the originality of an Ordinary Hero, but was sometimes frustrated by what an ASS he was and how Priss could put up with him.

    And I love, love, love Mary Balogh for how simply and easily she can create an intimate scene. A Secret Pearl is one of my favourite romances of all time.

    • Amber Lin says:

      He was such an ass sometimes. But also… vulnerable, and maybe that’s why it worked? I don’t know!

      A Secret Pearl was the first book I read by her and it blew me away. I think it has stuck with me the most. I mean, their first scene together is like holy shit.

  2. Serena Bell says:

    Haven’t that one, but needless to say, will now. And WOW, two weeks? I’m feeling like a slacker …

    It makes me really happy to hear about books where the author has chosen to do something “impossible” (and succeeded), because then I feel like someday I might “be allowed” to do that, too.

  3. Amber Lin says:

    I think my own personal view of what is “allowed” is expanding. Yeah, because there’s digital pubs and self-publishing, but ALSO in the traditionally published arena. Like I read Golden Mountain by Elizabeth Lowell and was shocked as hell that stuff made it into print. Not just “for the romance genre” but at all. At the same time, my impression of how much technical skill is required to pull that shit off is rising at an alarming rate! LOL. Note to self: step the fuck up.

    Apparently I’m in a cussing mood.

  4. Karla Doyle says:

    Two weeks? Two weeks? Just…wow.
    I’m not doing NaNo, but I’m cheering for everybody who’s giving it a go!

    Great post, Amber :)

  5. Rhyll Biest says:

    Wow, sounds like i’m gonna have to check Balogh out. Great post, thanks.