Tag Archives: jennifer crusie

the advent of self-publishing; the dread

Connie Brockway is an established romance writer. She has been on bestseller lists (though I have the impression she’s not one of the authors who consistently stays there) and she has won the RITA twice, which is the romance equivalent of an Oscar. She has just announced that she is going to self-publish her next few novels as e-books.

I realise that now isn’t actually the advent of self-publishing. Many brave people have gone before, a few of them have made it really big, many of them haven’t. The thing about now is that self-publishing has become such a viable option that big-name writers are considering it. Jenny Crusie mentioned an interest in it recently as well.

It makes sense. Writers already do anywhere between 60 and 95 percent of their own marketing through social networks, blogs, websites etc. (This is particularly true of genre writers, I think, and genre fiction has embraced e-publishing with an enthusiasm yet to be matched by literary fiction.) Writing also has very low start-up costs – aside, of course, from the hours and hours you’re not paying yourself to write. Design programs are accessible and relatively easy to use.

One of Brockway’s most compelling reasons for her decision was that it will allow her to write the books she wants to write, the stories she’s passionate about, not just the stories her publisher feels will do well in the current market.

I think it’s a really exciting time for writers, and the possibility of earning 100% of the profit from your work, rather than 6-15% (ish, I did just pull those numbers out of the air, but they’re about right) is exciting.

So why did Brockway’s announcement fill me with a kind of dread?

The first, easiest explanation is this: I have wanted to be a writer since I was very little. That has always meant a book with my name on it and my words in it. Except now that I’ve grown up enough to be a writer, the book world is progressing beyond me into something else, so that the most viable or even likely option might be e-books.

The next is all there in my vague statement that “many brave people have gone before”; I don’t actually know the names of those people. It’s also in my educated guesstimates of statistics I should know. I have never wanted to go into business for myself. It doesn’t appeal to me. I follow aspects of the publishing market that interest me, I regularly read a couple of industry blogs, but I have no drive to educate myself to the extent I would need to be educated, or to network to the extent I would need to network.

I want to be the writer, and let someone else take care of the rest. Even if it means they make as much from my work as I do. I suspect this is a heels-in reaction to change, and that my thought will revolutionise. It’s that kind of “I know I’ll love the water once I’m in, but the anticipation of the icy shock is killing me right now” fear.

THIS is why I read romance

I love Jennifer Crusie. She is so many of those words that don’t mean much one after the other, like wise, funny, insightful, sympathetic, sexy and incredibly human. Or rather, her writing is. I don’t know the woman personally.

I just read Bet Me, which Crusie says she wrote in ’92, but couldn’t get anyone to publish till ’04. “Editors were universally unenthusiastic about it, which was just inexplicable to me.” To me too. I loved this book, and I see people calling it their favourite Crusie all the time.

I don’t really want to do a review so much as say: This book is an affirmation. And not in a new agey way, where you’re saying something over and over, like “I am a successful writer” and feeling more fearful every time you say it, because someone somewhere is sure to notice how unconvinced you are.

This book is affirming in the kind of way that makes me feel braver about being alive.

Not a feeling I get when I read Peter Temple and I’m stuck in a car with his displaced detective who’s looking at the grey gobs of fat on the cold hamburger he’s about to eat. Truth did grow on me more the more I read, but it never once made me feel this internal glow.

My aversion to reading gritty “realist” fiction has given me hours of introspection. Do I read romance just to escape, is that a bad thing, and is it wrong to look to fiction for this feeling of encouragement and hope? (And is that feeling synonymous with escape? And is that just about the most depressing thing in the world if it is?)

I don’t want to give the impression that Bet Me is all sunshine and rainbows. Funny thing, but when characters and their surroundings are too peachy, a romance novel just leaves me with a hollow, itchy feeling. I think it portrays love in just about the most realistic way possible: the terror when you face actual love, and the courage it takes to believe in it. (You can go here for my impassioned argument that romance novels depict a realistic experience of love. Ah, bless.)

I’ve been brainstorming the second half of my novel, and am completely daunted by the task of making sure my characters’ potential pays off. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot is: Why romance? What am I actually trying to say about love? I’ve come to a general conclusion which is that, for me, love gives life meaning.

The more specific expression of this is starting to come through in my heroine’s emotional evolution. She goes from: life = surviving to: even though life is all about surviving I will live as though it’s not.

melodrama queen

I’ve been reading ahead in my first draft, to see what’s coming for me in my rewrites. And Lord, it isn’t good.

By the third time in one scene that my heroine blushed, I wanted to rip her out of the draft with my bare hands. My hero too, poncing around saying “Oh woe is me, just because I am beautiful and a duke, I am still a man who bleeds as other men do”.

The number of secondary characters + secondary character plot twists boggles the mind. And makes for sustained melodrama, as everything comes to a head all at once, over chapters and chapters and chapters.

Now, I don’t think it’s at all useful to slam old-me and what old-me wrote, because that’s all a natural part of learning how to actually write – i.e. really not being able to write. It’s kinda great, actually, to see how far a lot of hard work can bring you.

It’s also great being in a headspace that really understands the concept of “kill your darlings”. I’m not just looking at pretty passages here, I’m looking at whole characters and plot points and thinking “if I took you out, would it matter?”

So much of this highly productive headspace has come from listening to Popcorn Dialogues, which is like a masterclass in writing. Jenny Crusie and Lucy March watch a movie a week, then podcast their thoughts and their critical breakdown of it. So far it’s been romantic comedies, but they’re just about to move into Hitmen In Love.

I owe them this great critical phrase:

two links that made my day good

tonight special k and I cooked dinner for friends and their kids. Have just finished the washing up. It’s nice to have vivid little faces in our flat.

Me: “What happens in the cool bit of The Incredibles?”

Kid: Struggles for words, for which his tiny hands and many explosive noises substitute.

So here’s one great link. Yum! Pumpkin ravioli with sage butter. The other is for a podcast I found this morning, The Popcorn Dialogues.

Two women talk about romantic movies, and one of them is the amazing Jenny Crusie. The podcast I listened to is about When Harry Met Sally – which inspired a morning of watching that wonderful, hilarious film – and it has some great discussion about how character gives comedy.


I’ve been struggling for months with the structure of my novel, and the main problem is back story. It’s the kind of romance where the hero and heroine were once very much in love then something happened, and now their marriage has been hell for a year or so. Then the story happens.

The only problem is, as soon as I tried to weave the earlier part of their story into the current one I just started writing the whole thing chronologically, from when they meet. Am just running with it at the mo, and figure that I’ll hit about 200,000 words then re-structure the whole thing – and that most of what I’m writing now will someday be a website extra.

Then yesterday I read the first chapter of Jennifer Crusie’s upcoming release, and was gobsmacked by how effortlessly she creates a whole history between her two characters that was over and done with ten years ago. All they’re really doing in this scene is having a pretty banal conversation, but she has managed to evoke a world of unfinished business and electric chemistry.

So, some thoughts on how she managed it:

1. She’s Jennifer Crusie.

2. Most of her character descriptions relate back to the previous relationship the two had, e.g. Andie jerked her head up and a lock of her hair fell out of her chignon. She stuffed it back into the clip on the back of her head as North’s neat, efficient secretary smiled at her, surrounded by the propriety of his Victorian architecture. If that secretary had a chignon, nothing would escape from it. North was probably crazy about her.

Crusie’s being very efficient here; we get to see the character, but we’re also getting a lot of information about what their relationship used to be like. It also tells us that Andie is still ever-so-slightly obsessed with North.

3. They’re still in love. This might seem kind of obvious, but even though the characters aren’t admitting their love to themselves, the way they observe each other is defined by their feelings. So we, as readers, see them in that heightened love kind of way, and it creates a real longing between them.

e.g. he looked up at her over his glasses, and the years fell away, and she was right back where she’d begun, staring into those blue-gray eyes, her heart pounding.

The other thing this does really well is ask the reader to imagine the scene where they began – what did Andie feel back then, staring into his eyes with her heart pounding, without any of the anger and bitterness of intervening years? Being asked to imagine it ourselves allows a lot of room to build their previous relationship without much input at all from Crusie.

4. Antagonism is the inverse of love. I can’t say why this is true, but when two characters who long to be together are kind of mean to each other it makes for a good read. I guess if they weren’t, you just wouldn’t think they cared. It kind of gives an inverse idea of what they used to feel.

5. Andie and North don’t see each other clearly – they’re listening for what they “know” to be true of each other. These points of view are very telling, as far as figuring out what happened between them.


The place is isolated, but the children seemed fine with their aunt, so we agreed it was best that they’d stay there with her in order to disrupt their lives as little as possible.”

And to disrupt yours as little as possible, Andie thought.

North waited, as if he expected her to say it out loud. When she didn’t, he went on.

Also, after we’ve heard Andie think about how North was a workaholic and didn’t even seem to remember she existed, we go into North’s head and reading between the lines we get that he didn’t think he was exciting/interesting/good enough to hold onto Andie, and that he was just making her miserable. Again, we get this by the way he sees her, how he “knows” she is.

6. They have some telling dialogue with each other, and also North with his brother, but it doesn’t feel contrived. I think the reason is that Crusie has begun the book at the point where they see each other for the first time in ten years, which creates a context for conversations about their marriage.

She also doesn’t go into a whole lot of exposition and just gives details that feel relevant to the characters. (She doesn’t have the brother say, for example: “Who’s Andie again?” giving North a lead in, or: “Oh, Andie, your ex-wife who blah blah blah.” In fact, the very familiar way the characters talk about her, without needing to fill in any gaps, gives a very strong impression of who she was in their family back then.

Which leads on to

7. Crusie gives very specific details. Our writing teacher is always asking for much more specific details (“When you remember high school you don’t just remember this general amorphous thing called ‘high school’, you remember specific details.”) and this is a great example of why.

When Andie remembers leaving, she remembers ten years ago when she’d bumped her suitcase on the door frame on her way out of town— and when North and his brother are talking about her, the brother remembers a very specific time that he met her, which gives us a world of information about her character and how stupidly besotted North was.

So I think the main lesson here is: Only write what the characters are still fixated on themselves. If the past is still very much alive for them in the present – in the what they think, the way they talk, the way they understand/misunderstand each other – then that will convey their whole history in a way that is still alive for the reader.

Day 4: Rock Bottom Has a Bidet

I feel rather like a character from a Jennifer Crusie novel: “Things are bad, she struggles, things get worse, she struggles, things get so bad they seem insurmountable, she struggles.”

Harajuku, on a Sunday, in the relentless sun = not the funnest thing, despite the big clown made of balloons.

Today pushed lots of buttons. Old ones about traveling and being a tourist and not being “exciting” enough to walk down that alleyway and find that bar that serves single origin sake on a full moon. If you know the password.

There were no passwords today, but special k and I had words. Rather a lot of them. We’re both more timid than not, and when neither of us steps up to the plate we get the amorphous holiday we’ve been having so far. So the words weren’t all particularly fun to hear, but we got that sorted out, anyway.

We did end up going down some tiny old alleyways and looking at some pretty odd bars, but it was in Kita-senju late on a Sunday night. Which is pretty hard to describe. The only places left open are the gambling dens and brothels. There was one little shanty filled with piles of books and magazines and one old lady drinking on her own. Another had businessmen singing something into a microphone, which looked like it was going to hit the bar any second.

A man put on his bike breaks too hard and his cat scrambled out of the front basket in disgust.

Oh yes, and I tried a bidet, which was a rude, illicit sort of an experience. They have a special button just for women. Enough said.

If my trip is really following the Crusie formula, I should soon be reaching the Point of No Return, after which everything begins working towards a happy ending, even if it’s not at first apparent.

Day 3

Day 2

Day 1

Agnes and the Hitman

isn’t that an awesome title? And the book lives up to it, believe you me.

There’s a great explanation by authors Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer about how they started working together and what their partnership has been like.

I’m normally a bit leery of collaborative novels, because it seems like an odd, uncohesive way to write. But in this instance it produces sparks the size of fireworks.

Mayer provides the muscle and action (and death by alligator), in a style that reminds me of Christopher Brookmyre – though perhaps a little less philosophical.

Crusie provides the saucepan-wielding, butter-obsessed heroine with a thing or two to learn about anger management from the hitman-hero.

Throw in the mob, a couple of flamingos and some dark secrets from the past and you get a frickin awesome novel.

Now excuse me whilst I go out and buy every single book they’ve ever written.


I’ve found a couple of essays online that have really inspired me about writing and perseverance when sometimes those things seem ridiculously hard.

The one I love most is Erica Ridley‘s Pep Talk to Aspiring Authors. She has the most delicious no-nonsense response to writing in the face of the statistics. I kind of wish I could live in some unobtrusive part of her person so that she would rub off on me.

Her website, by the way, is awesome and well worth a visit, and she has loads of useful essays about writing.

Another one I loved was Cathy Maxwell‘s essay Be Fearless (in the Writing Advice tab). “Here’s the heart of it,” she says. “Don’t be afraid of writing or life.”

I just finished reading my first ever Jennifer Crusie novel, and before I rush out to buy everything she’s ever written I’ve been looking through her website which is absolutely rife with useful stuff. I enjoyed the essay A Writer Without a Publisher Is Like a Fish Without a Bicycle: Writer’s Liberation and You, but that was one among the many.

The main message these writers send is: Be bold. Be yourself. Write what you love.

As in life, as in love, so let it also be with your writing.