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!

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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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