Good words from people in the know

I attended the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books on Friday and got lucky.

No, not that kind of lucky.

What made me fortunate was that two sessions on romance writing did not coincide with the session on screenwriting I moderated, so I got to hear several authors say interesting—and encouraging—things, like

• “Alpha” male characters should have some “beta” characteristics to make them seem more real.
• Stories involving billionaires are popular.
• You don’t have to use terms like “sword of flesh”* or “velvety steel shaft” when writing sex scenes.

I don’t want to say too much about Clay’s beta characteristics, other than that he’s got some. Of course, he is a billionaire. And I steer clear of “sword of flesh” and “velvety steel shaft (though I might start using the latter in other situations).

The most encouraging thing I heard, though, was a round of applause when one of the panelists noted there was a man in the room who was writing a romance. Another example of how it’s always better to show, not tell.

Here’s what the panelists had to say on various other topics:

Why read romance?

“I have a friend who reads a lot of romance, and you know why she says she likes them? They’re easy to read, they go fast and they make her feel good.”

—Publisher’s Weekly blogger Barbara Vey

“Pirates of the Caribbean is the number one movie, and everyone’s fine with that. Some people can read a category romance in two to three hours, so it’s a lot like going to a movie for them. What’s wrong with having a book that’s purely entertainment?”

—Author Helen Brenna

Why write romance?

“I’ve always been a very positive person. In romance, you can set your characters up in a tree and throw rocks at them, but as long as they get together in the end, everything’s OK.”

—Author Ilona Fridl

“I’ve had the satisfaction of people saying to me, ‘This isn’t as bad as I thought.’”

—Author Isabel Sharpe

What about sex?

“To me, what makes a romance sexy is sexual tension, not necessarily the sex part. In my books, sex never solves anything. It always makes things worse.”


“In my new book, I named a character after my hairdresser and the character is…kind of a slut. My hairdresser is a Pollyanna, and she’s dying to read the book. I think she wants to live vicariously through the character.”


“In my first book, the male character was based on that Stetson ad with Matthew McConaughy, the one with his shirt open to…yeah.”

—Author Stacey Joy Netzel

I get the sentiment behind that last one. I feel the same way about episodes of Entourage that feature Carla Gugino. Nonetheless, I still think of Lara as more of a Sandra Bullock type.

OK, time to get back to my rewrite while that clapping still echoes in my ears.

* I’ve got to mention author and editor Elizabeth Ridley contributed “sword of flesh” to the discussion. I believe she rolled her eyes as she said it.

4 thoughts on “Good words from people in the know”

  1. It was a wonderful event, wasn't it? Not only did I take away great advice, but I too got the encouragement to keep going. And I met a lot of great people along the way! It was great seeing you there Dave!

  2. Friends I used to work with at a long held day job knew I was a writer, but they did not really know I wrote romance until this year. Suddenly, those who only read biographies and serious literature were reading my work. The teasing I received was softened by their love and friendship; however, they gave me a rough way to go over my sex scenes. One friend said she looked them up in a PDF version and read them to her husband. When I asked "how", she promptly sent me a list of search terms in an email.

    Most of the words I found I did not use in my prose, but had to concede that I had seen all of them in romances. By that point, I was writing book three of the series. As you can imagine, I worked really, really hard (pun intended) on finding alternative verbs and adjectives. I also followed an Amazon discussion for a while where readers commented about the terms they didn't like in sex scenes. You could build a dictionary from the list there, but I did agree with many of them myself. I have my favorite set of terms I tend to use. In my contemporaries, I try to just use anatomical ones when appropriate. I try to make the words fit the characters and the verbs fit the mood of the act.

    Then I write my friend and tell her good luck finding them in the next book. Ha!

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