Sunday, June 19, 2016

Steal Like a Romance Writer

But first, a note...

Yeah, I know, it's June, and not only have I not updated in more than a month, but I also haven't released Crushingly Close yet. Well, the bad news is that the book release date has been pushed to July due to extenuating circumstances that I won't get into much detail here, so I would like to apologize in advance to those of you who have been eagerly waiting for its release. Believe me, no one wants to see this book push through any more than I do, but trust me when I say that when it comes out, it will be spectacular.

And that's where the good news comes in: A promotional blitz for Crushingly Close is in the works. Plans are hush-hush, but you will hear a lot more about the book the closer we get to the release date--and there will be a concrete release date, which I will post on the Goodreads page for the book. Stay tuned!

###

You might be wondering about the title of this blog entry, which might have set off a few alarm bells in your head: Oh no, Stella, please don't tell me that you're a plagiarist! Before I go any further, let me assure you that this entry is not about plagiarism, which I abhor as an artist and a graduate student. (I study at the University of the Philippines, where you can be shunned like a leper and never be forgiven for acts of plagiarism. That explains a lot.) My title comes from the book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon, which has taught me a lot about the writing process and the kind of art that I want to create as an author. 

Allow me to explain.

When I first started Crushingly Close, my main love interest was meant to be an alpha male--dominant, masculine, and a bit (okay, more than a bit) of a dirty talker in bed. I was aiming for something steamy with a capital S, and I wanted to channel the heroes of the books that I had been reading during the writing process--and by "books" I mean a lot of Tessa Bailey, which is where most of my romance-writing friends got their start. 

As the story progressed from short story to midlength novella, however, I found that my alpha hero didn't seem to hit the right notes with me. Sure, he was dominant and masculine, and he said all the right things in bed, but something was missing from the way I was writing him--something that would connect with me as a reader. As it turned out, my beta readers found the same problem with him: he was too much of an a-hole to be sexy, and they couldn't understand why my otherwise appealing heroine would be attracted to him. 

So I went back to the drawing board and asked myself: What did everybody else's alpha heroes have that mine didn't?

That's where Austin Kleon comes in. 
"The reason you copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That's what you really want--to internalize their way of looking at the world. If you just mimic the surface of somebody's work without understanding where they are coming from, your work will never be anything more than a knockoff."
Suddenly I realized that I was stealing the wrong things from Tessa Bailey, just as I was also stealing the wrong things from Elle Kennedy and Sarina Bowen and Melanie Harlow and all the other authors whose books I had been reading for inspiration. What I should've been copying was not the words, but the thinking behind the words. And the thinking was that these guys were essentially good at heart. Any writer could write a "bad boy" with a hot bod and a filthy mouth. Not everyone could imbue them with a sense of humanity.

As it goes, the world didn't need me to write another dirty-talking alpha male to stuff the bookshelves on Goodreads. What I needed to write was a well-developed hero who was more than just his masculine self, who had a good heart beating under his muscular chest.

Gradually, I learned that "alpha" didn't have to mean saying all the filthy things in bed while acting like an overprotective caveman over his lady love. A hero can have the swagger and confidence of an alpha male and still speak like a well-bred gentleman. Add a touch of vulnerability, a pinch of soul, a ton of charisma and voila--a hero worthy of a Stella Torres book.

And with a good hero came a good heroine, a worthy partner for all of his admirable qualities. I made an effort to develop them equally to strengthen the endgame and make them complementary in every way. Wouldn't want to go into so much effort to develop the book boyfriend and give him a girl nobody likes, right?

Because, in the end, there was only so much I could do within the parameters of romance. I wasn't going to reinvent the wheel; I knew going in that my leads would "meet cute," fall in love, and have a happy ending, despite the many circumstances and obstacles that I throw at them. I still love Tessa and the other authors--and if you look closely at the final product (which you will!), there are still a few things that I have "stolen" from them which show up from time to time. What I could do, however, was to game the formula so that the end product would be as close to my authentic vision as possible. And it worked, because I did end up writing the book that I wanted to read.

"In the end," Austin Kleon writes, "merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add."

And that, my dear friends, is how I write.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

My Life In Tweets

Right now my Twitter feed is a mess of political posts (it is an election year in the Philippines, after all) but I've managed to sneak in a few peeks into my life in the meantime. Here are some highlights:

Yes, the book is coming. Yes, the title is Crushingly Close. And yes, there is a cover:
Right now I'm still editing, so there are no pre-order links so far. But I'm planning on promoting this thing like a mofo, so watch out.

In the meantime...
You'll find out more about Book 4 in November. And I am planning to join this November, by hook or by crook, because the only alternative is to sit on my hands and wait for the results of my comprehensive exam. And that won't do, I'm afraid.

Then there's this...


Leave this blue neighbourhood
Never knew loving could hurt this good
And it drives me wild
'Cause when you look like that
I've never ever wanted to be so bad
And it drives me wild 

Sounds like falling in love to me.

Finally--not a Tweet, but a sweet Instagram post that encapsulates all of my #AprilFeelsDay feels:

A photo posted by Stella Torres (@stella_meimei) on

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Writing What Matters

I've been beta-reading some manuscripts on my down time between writing and studying, and I've found myself giving the same pieces of advice to these writers regarding their stories. One of the things that I've found myself commenting on a lot involve scenes, and the writing of scenes in particular; from what I've seen in the early drafts that have been given to me, these writers seem to have written scenes that seem to be nice in theory, until they are taken within the context of the greater narrative where they turn out to be disjointed and clunky.

One piece of advice that I seem to have given repeatedly comes from Rachel Aaron's 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love, in which plotting scenes are part of making the writing process more productive and less painful. Basically, Rachel states that her scenes need to do three things in order for them to be included in her novels:

  • Advance the story
  • Reveal new information
  • Pull the reader forward
While I didn't employ this during the writing process for my second book (coming soon!), I found myself thinking about this a lot during the editing process, when the phrase "kill your darlings" applies to most writers. I drew up a list of scenes that I had just written for the book, then I looked at those scenes and thought closely about the purpose that each scene served in the story. My beta readers (and later, my editor) agreed that, while I was good at writing subplots involving work and family, the main point of the story--the romance itself--suffered from a lot of weak spots. In order for me to diagnose these problems, I put the romance first and foremost in my mind, and went about the business of embedding the romance even in the most mundane parts of the story. (Needless to say, a lot of intimate touching made its way into the story.) And as I was doing this, I thought about how I could've saved myself the trouble of doing this if I'd intercepted this earlier while I was writing, or even during the pre-beta editing. So I've decided that I'm going to start writing my romances this way.

Another thing that has helped me move forward with my writing was to write my scenes out of order. This is easy for me to do now that I have Scrivener, but even when I didn't have it I found myself writing my out-of-order scenes on paper with a note reminding me to insert the scene later.  I found myself doing this recently for the manuscript of my third book, when I decided to write some of the most emotional scenes just to get them out of the way before I filled in the rest of the blanks with the narrative. 

The most important piece of advice that I gave for these writers was to go back and examine their priorities in writing their stories. Like I mentioned earlier, this is especially important for romance writers, especially when working with contemporary fiction. We want our romances to be down to earth, but ultimately we want our romances to be romances--and if the romance is the main point of the story, then it stands that the romance should be front and center. This could mean anything from more scenes between the main character and love interest, or making those scenes even more intimate and emotional without being heavy or overt. It took me years of trial and error to come to this point, but once I made it through the hoops I found myself enjoying my writing a little more than usual.

Of course, your mileage may vary when it comes to this advice, but I just wanted to share with you what works for me, and what has resonated with me throughout this writing journey. I hope that this has been helpful for you too.  


Friday, February 12, 2016

BLOG TOUR + REVIEW (Plus Giveaway!): The Hometown Hazard by Dawn Lanuza

Welcome to another book feature brought to you by Bookish Diaries Blog Tours



We here at The Great Big Jump would like to welcome back Dawn Lanuza, who first appeared on our blog with a feature on her debut novel The Boyfriend Backtrack. Now she's back with a brand new book featuring a prodigal daughter, an adorable younger man, and the dark secrets of a seaside town. 



SUMMARY

Jules Coronado has been away from her hometown for almost a decade but when an intruder breaks in to her childhood home, she finds herself coming back. Changes evidently took place in her small town, including her childhood best friend’s younger brother, Kip – now tall, slightly scruffed, all grown up and caught climbing into their garden wall.

Kip Villamor has a mission and despite Jules’ doubts, they team up: going on fieldtrips, tackling unsuspecting men, and trespassing offices to dig up dirt. But Jules has secrets of her own, one that might be exposed – unless she keeps her walls up. But climbing walls are Kip’s forte, remember?


Will her secrets keep her on his side, or will it force her to disappear again?



Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Available on Buqo!


REVIEW

Those of us who have read The Boyfriend Backtrack may remember aspiring lawyer Jules, who served as the sensible friend and voice of reason to the neurotic Regina. Now, in The Hometown Hazard, she gets her own book, with her own chance at a happily ever after. That's not to say that her journey is anywhere near easy; this time, Dawn Lanuza takes Jules through a risky path full of dark secrets, miles away from the lighthearted existentialism of the previous book. 

It all starts with an invasion of privacy: Jules gets a phone call from her mother telling her about somebody breaking into her childhood bedroom--nothing important has been stolen, but the disturbance is so great that Jules is compelled to go home to San Juan and see what the matter is all about. She plans on staying for a short time, but then she sees her neighbor Kip scaling the wall between their houses, and immediately deduces that Kip has something to do with the break-in. After a series of close encounters, Jules encounters Kip's hidden agenda: a paper trail following a series of mysterious payments made through her father's organization. Kip convinces Jules that they are on the same side as they try to follow the missing money, and it doesn't take long before an undeniable bond forms between them. But Jules didn't promise to stay too long in town, and the questions still remain: Where is the money? What does it have to do with Jules and Kip's parents? And what happened to Jules that was so bad that she didn't come back to their hometown for a whole decade? 

As I mentioned earlier, The Hometown Hazard is a dark book--it's almost Gothic in the twists and turns that the plot takes as Jules uncovers the secrets behind the missing money. But a darker tone doesn't necessarily make for a depressing story; on the contrary, the author makes sure that there are moments of levity sprinkled between the suspense. There's the scene where Jules and Kip pretend to be a frisky couple to justify breaking into a doctor's office at a hospital, which gets built up into a comedy of errors. And there are the romantic moments courtesy of Kip, who at one point takes Jules to the seaside: 
"I haven't been here in so long," I said, my eyes squinting at the glistening water. 
"Figured you should stop by before you leave again," he answered. "Might take you another decade to come back." 
Kip may be two years younger than Jules, but compared to the parade of boyfriend wannabes in Backtrack he is stable and confident, even as he convinces Jules to push aside her reservations and live a more spontaneous life. You could tell from every page that Kip has always admired Jules--even from afar--and it is his devotion to her that draws her out of her shell, in spite of the secrets that could tear them apart once they come to light. It's no wonder that Jules keeps on putting off her departure from their town; the more time she spends with him, the more she realizes about herself and the decisions that she has to make in her life.

It's a testament to the author's skill that the romantic and suspenseful elements are balanced by equally compelling subplots. Jules' friendship with Regina and Leslie (from Backtrack) is wonderfully portrayed here as a counterbalance to the intrigue that surrounds her return. Then there's the relationship that Jules has with her own family, who by no means have been affected by her ten-year disappearing act to live in the city and pursue a law degree. These relationships are so integral to Jules' development as a character that I wish there had been more of these moments to balance out the dark tones of the main plot and build up the mystery behind Jules' departure. In fact, I found the revelation of what had happened to Jules before she left town to be too abrupt, and the ramifications would have had a greater impact if there had been more room for Jules to think about why she left.

I won't spoil the rest of the story for you, but I will say that if you're familiar with the plot for Backtrack, you'll be able to put the timeline of events for Hazard in perspective. The author ends the story with a "happy for now" ending, but it's an ending that makes you optimistic about Jules and Kip's chances of making it as a couple. A great sequel from an author to watch.

Final Grade: B 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Dawn Lanuza started writing stories when she was just a kid (they weren’t good or even finished). She works for the music industry by day and writes meet cutes and snappy comebacks by night. The Boyfriend Backtrack is her first book. She currently lives with her family and an adopted dog.

Links: Amazon | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook 


GIVEAWAY

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

BLOG TOUR + Excerpt (Plus Giveaway!): Don't Forget the Parsley, by Marie Claire Lim Moore

New year, new entries! This month, we're teaming up with Bookish Diaries Book Tours for special features on the latest books from Filipino authors.



We here at The Great Big Jump would like to welcome back author Marie Claire Lim Moore, who was featured not too long ago for Don't Forget The Soap. (That book got an A review from me--go grab it, if you haven't already!) Now she's back with another round of heart-warming stories about the international experience in Don't Forget the Parsley.



Don't Forget The Parsley will have a book launch on February 15 at Fully Booked in Bonifacio Global City! Get your copies signed and meet the author in person!


SUMMARY

Marie Claire Lim Moore builds on her first memoir, Don’t Forget the Soap, offering more entertaining stories about her family in this follow up. Like her first book, Don’t Forget the Parsley is a collection of anecdotes from different points in Claire’s life: stories from her second-generation immigrant childhood in Vancouver and New York City mix with recent expat experiences in Singapore and Hong Kong where she balances multiple roles as wife and mother, corporate executive and author. Her positively Filipino parents continue to have a big influence on her whether it comes to managing family and career, meeting heads of state and world leaders or simply making new friends.

From stray observations (everything is funnier at church) and midnight anxieties (if Jessica Simpson gets to go to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, why shouldn’t I?) to life mantras (don’t let perfection hold you back) and litmus tests (would you serve drinks at my mother’s art show?), Claire’s warm and honest storytelling will resonate with readers and leave them smiling.

Links: Amazon | Goodreads 



EXCERPT

“Do what you love” (DWYL) has become the unofficial work mantra for our time. It has been considered the opposite of the monotonous corporate job. Between Steve Jobs, Oprah, and every speaker who delivers a commencement speech, doing what you love is the only way to live. 

Most people who DWYL have an integrated life. They don’t consider work to be work because they love what they do. What they do professionally is what they care about personally. Most people who DWYL also tend to have a little extra money. They’re not necessarily multi-millionaires but their lifestyle may be partly subsidized by a trust fund, their spouse may earn enough so they can pursue their passion, or they may know that one day they’ll inherit a $3 million dollar apartment that their parents bought for a fraction of that amount decades ago. 

There was a wonderfully provoking piece about DWYL written by Miya Tokumitsu for Slate. In the article, she submits the “Do what you love” mantra that elites embrace actually devalues work and hurts workers. In doing so, she underlines the idea that DWYL is for the privileged few with wealth, social status, education, and political clout. Tokumitsu writes, “DWYL is a secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment.” 

While DWYL is a lovely idea, it’s just not something most people have the luxury to do. But alas, instead of finding a job you love, you can learn to find meaning and success in the job you have. I want to share a few attitudinal tips that have helped me find my balance and DWYL in spite of (and sometimes even because of) my corporate job. 

Live a Life of Purpose 
One of the first things that struck me about Alex was that he was the first person I knew (aside from my very practical parents) who didn’t buy into DWYL. “No, you don’t need to do what you love; you just need to have a purpose,” I remember him arguing over caipirinhas at Posto Seis, one of our favorite restaurants in Sao Paulo. 

Alex grew up in a small town in upstate New York. To paint the picture of just how tiny of a town, he often tells the story about how his zip code changed after their postman retired. He and his three siblings could run around acres of land, they recognized every car that passed them by, and they were on a first name basis with everyone at the grocery store. While it was a wonderful place to grow up, he was always looking forward to moving to the city when he got older. He aspired to one day work on Wall Street, build a successful career, and have a big family. No one he knew from back home took this path so he never had one to follow. 

When he visited the West Point Military Academy, however, he saw how much it had to offer by way of exposure and access. He made it a personal goal to get accepted to the prestigious academy and he achieved it. Anyone who knows my husband well knows that he would be an unlikely fit at West Point. He never liked being told what to do, he would often challenge authority, and he was not exactly clean cut. But my husband can do anything when he knows it’s for a greater purpose. 

Today, Alex is the regional treasurer of Citi’s broker dealer business in Asia. He’s great at his job but I don’t know if he would classify it as doing what he loves. At least for him, equally important as loving your job is loving the impact your job has on others. This can mean the internal clients who benefit from the work his team is doing or it can refer to the family he is able to help support. 

My parents have a similar point of view. As new immigrants, they weren’t necessarily doing what they loved but they were doing great work and living a meaningful life. Their jobs supported our family, allowing us to spend time together and providing us with opportunities to give back to the community. 

Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do. My kids have to perform for guests, my husband has to go to church, and I have to wake up in the wee hours. A little sacrifice makes you a better person. Chances are you’ll never love 100 percent of your job. Even when I speak to people who are DWYL they still confess there’s a portion of what they do that they don’t enjoy in the least. Tracie Pang, who runs Singapore’s Pangdemonium Theater, doesn’t like fundraising. I haven’t met her but I’m sure Kristen Stewart hates doing interviews. I don’t love the evening calls associated with my job. Even if you can get to the point where you love 60 percent of what you do and find purpose in the other 40 percent, then you’re golden.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marie Claire Lim Moore is a Filipina-Canadian-American working mother and author of Don't Forget the Soap. After spending the early part of her childhood in Vancouver, Claire moved to New York City and attended the United Nations International School. She went on to study at Yale, climb the corporate ladder at Citi and travel around the world. She met her husband, Alex, while working in Sao Paulo, Brazil and they married in Manila, Philippines shortly before moving to Singapore. Now Mom to Carlos, Isabel, and Sofia, Claire also manages the Global Client business for Citi in Asia.

Claire is regularly ranked among leaders in the Asian-American professional community and her experiences have been written about in The New York Times, USA Today, Smart Parenting, Good Housekeeping and People Asia. She enjoys juggling her thriving career and growing family, fundraising for Filipino community events and promoting work-family balance for women through her talks as well as her writing. Previous speaking engagements have been hosted by Standard Chartered Bank, The Financial Women's Association of Singapore, and MasterCard Asia.

In 2014, Claire received the 100 Most Influential Filipina Women in the World Award™ (Global FWN100™) that recognizes Filipina women who are influencing the face of leadership in the global workplace, having reached status for outstanding work in their respective fields, and who are recognized for their leadership, achievement and contributions to society, female mentorship and legacy. Claire is also featured in women's empowerment expert Claudia Chan's Remarkable Women Series along with female role models Arianna Huffington, Tory Burch and Zainab Salbi.


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GIVEAWAY

Time for a fun giveaway! Click on the Rafflecopter link below for a chance to win an Amazon gift certificate. Go! 

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Year In Review: Dreams Do Come True

Two years ago, when I finished Save the Cake, I said that my dream for my writing career was to see my books on the shelf at the airport bookstore, because I felt like I had a captive audience of potential readers who might want to read my brand of romance as an alternative to all the Tom Clancys and John Grishams that usually get sold at the airport. I was half-joking about this, of course, but I never forgot about that dream of people buying my book at the airport.

Then 2015 happened, and...there you go.

I never thought in a million years that I would get a contract with a major publisher. I never thought that I would someday see my book on the shelves at major bookstores. I never thought that people would buy my book and live tweet quotes as they read.

And, with the release of the Anvil edition of the Luna East anthology, I never thought that it would happen to me more than once.

Two books in one year. That's not a coincidence; it's a blessing.

So I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been supportive of me throughout this journey: family, friends, writing buddies, and readers from all walks of life who have enjoyed my books since their release. I would never have gone this far without all of you.

As for 2016? Well, I can honestly confirm right now that there will be another book coming out, which is being edited as we speak and is scheduled to come out on the first half of the year. I'm pretty excited about this one because I had a lot of fun writing it and I feel like I've come out of this experience as a better writer than before. All I can share with you is that it's a workplace romance with new characters, and there are a lot of sweet moments that are guaranteed to make you swoon with joy. If you liked Save the Cake, I'm sure that you will love this new book too.

Here's hoping for a bright New Year ahead for all of us!