Sometimes I try to remember how and why exactly we started this group blog. It would have been very savvy for us to have said, one day, “We all write erotic romance with somewhat similar levels of heat and wit and strangeness! Also, we like reading each other. Perhaps we should engage in co-marketing in order to build our brand.”
Except that didn’t happen. Not even a little bit. Also, I think if I’d said the phrase “build our brand” in Cara McKenna’s direction, she would have barfed on me. And Serena really hates barf, references to barf, and books that contain or begin with barf, so she’d have been out, too.**My book-after-next begins with barf. She forgave me, but it took some doing.
In fact, Wonkomance grew out of a loosely curated thread of tweets. I think? It’s all kind of fuzzy. I remember that Cara coined the term, and that the website itself was a random impulse one day, possibly Serena Bell’s — There should be a blog! I’m going to buy the domain name. – and an email list of author friends that I put together off the top of my head.
We had no particular plan. The notion of our being some sort of an influential or admirable group, with some sort of a brand, was (and still is, sort of) laughable.
And yet here we are, more than a year later, posting these posts and talking with all you fine people.
To the extent that we’ve built something here that is coherent with Wonkomance, I think it’s because we were pushing back against a gestalt of online romance blogging, or possibly against a shared experience. We were, in a mild, cheerful sort of way, collectively against the notion that there is a right way. That there is real romance, an ur text, a core story that all other stories must / should / do emulate, or don’t / oughtn’t / fail to emulate. That there are books that people want to read and then those other ones, over there, that are bad and wrong and doomed. Also, shame on you for liking that one with that thing in it that was SO abhorrent. You hoor.
Our manifesto took aim at this whole idea that there is a center, or ought to be, to the romance genre, and if we wanted to be properly successful writers, we needed to learn how to shoot our authorial arrows at it.
Start with the meet. Don’t make your heroine a bitch. Don’t make your hero weak. Don’t let them be ugly or short or fat. Also, please no body hair, puking, or condom disposal. No one can poop. Children shouldn’t be in the book, but if they are, they should be very quiet, and they should nap as though comatose. No cheating, ever. No gross words or gross sex acts or grossness, please, of any kind.
Make sure there’s tension! On every page! In every paragraph! Sentence by sentence, ideally! And also, don’t use exclamation points. But make it bigger! And everyone must have a goal, motivation, and conflict at all times. Think huge! But write what you know. And make it all seem real. Oh, and if you write historical, don’t get anything wrong, ever. The duke’s pantaloons must be historically accurate.
Also, I just remembered, there has to be a dark moment. It has to be awful. The conflict should be impossible to fix. But then you must fix it realistically, with no hail-mary nonsense. End with a grovel! Only don’t forget that everyone hates grovels. There should definitely be a proposal or a wedding, but no clichés. And an epilogue where everything is perfect and everyone is happy, but it shouldn’t be too saccharine.
So, yes. Just do that, fledgling writer. Make your book like that, as though that is something one just does, or would even want to do in one’s spare time. Because let’s face it, it’s not as though anyone’s going to pay you for that first one. Or the second one. Or probably the next four.
Oh, and I almost forgot — be sure to make your book different from everyone else’s books! Not too different, though. Exactly the right amount of different. Then you’ll hit the sweet spot, and an agent will pick you up, and your book will sell, and then . . . actually, you know what? Here’s another blog post. Now You Are a Published Author. Surprise! There are another four hundred things you must do.
I like to think we started this blog because all of that, up there, is a bunch of crap.
Write books. Read books. Love the book you’re writing, if you can manage it. Read things you love.
Those are the actual rules.
Recently, I was at the RT Conference in Kansas City, rooming with Del, Cara, and our beloved Christine d’Abo (who really should be on this blog, and is certainly here in spirit). I met a lot of readers and writers and had a whole big bunch of excellent conversations with people who like to talk about romance novels. It was great. There were so many awesome women (and a few awesome men) there. So much enthusiasm. So many outfits. There was a lot of hugging, and a dose of scandal, and a few tedious parts, and also I had too many gin and tonics that one time.
There were no rules. I think enthusiasm kind of crowds out rules, so there’s no room left for them. You’re too busy saying things like, That part was so fucking great! and Oh my god, Kellllllyyyyyy and But do you read Brenda? YOU MUST READ BRENDA OR I WILL DIE and Holy man, that part with the butt plug! I completely lost it and I haven’t been the same since.
Among a phalanx of enthusiastic romance readers, you’re too busy being alive and in love with the fact that you’re not at home in a quiet office that you haven’t left for days. Much too busy to worry if you’re important enough to be sitting at this particular table, sandwiched between Brenda Novak and Julie James. (Probably not. But whatever! You were invited. Your self-doubt can suck it.)
You’re too preoccupied swapping marital sex horror stories with your friends to consider whether you are, in fact, doing any of this author stuff right.
Writing is a weird job. Like, every single thing about it? Weird. The way you work (alone). The way you get paid (late, and usually not all that well, and also the amount on your check will be a surprise! every time! whee! why are you not saying ‘whee’?).
The way your performance is reviewed by anyone who feels like it, at any time, in whatever mood they’re in, and sometimes in GIF form, is weird. The way your worth is judged by six hundred different metrics, most of which don’t make sense, is weird. The way publishing itself is either transforming or not transforming or perhaps exploding? quickly? or maybe slowly? is weird.
The way you acquire a sense of belonging to a coherent professional group is — ha! Good luck with that! And also, the public is going to mock you for your job. So there’s that.
Other weird jobs: Editing fiction. Marketing fiction. Agenting fiction. Reviewing fiction.
Maybe it makes sense that there is so much urgency to the impulse to find the center and write our way toward it. Maybe we feel like when we get there, we’ll know what we’re doing. Properly know. And we’ll feel safe and understood, and also everyone will like us and all of our books will be universally beloved. We’re human, after all, and most of us are women and thus culturally conditioned to avoid disagreement. Approval feels good. Approval feels like warm oil massaged into our feet by our preferred masseuse in our exact preferred locations.
Ahhh. Approval. We love you.
But that feeling I described up there? The one we’d like to get from writing?
This is not a thing.
It’s terrible, but it’s true. There is no middle. There’s no arrival, no moment when you feel that you properly know, and no writer whose books are universally loved with equal enthusiasm by everyone, everywhere, ever.
On the other hand, there is here. This blog. Conferences like RT, where fourteen people who are loosely connected via Wonkomance can get together for dinner and drink wine and flirt with our lesbian waitress and think to themselves, Damn, this is a pretty great group of people around this table. I would like to put this moment in my pocket and keep it for always. Also, some of this cheese, for later.
There is knowing who you are, what you’re good at, what you love, what you want to do better — and writing in that direction. Writing toward the love instead of toward the middle.
Because, oops, there is no middle.
But it’s good out here, too. And I have to say, the company is fantastic.