What If…

As a writer and reader, I’m a big fan of imagination. That’s why when Amazon sent me an email about the new book, Imagine, by Jonah Lehrer, I couldn’t wait to exercise my prime membership to bring it home to me. (And in the weird way my brain works, I don’t like to read research/non-fiction books on my Kindle…want them on paper.)

Highly recommend! From the first pages where he discusses the invention of the Swiffer and then to how Bob Dylan writes songs, there’s something for everyone here. But as a writer of genre fiction, when he spoke about poets and poetry, I found a line that really spoke to me and my experience. In discussing how form (say haiku or sonnet) frustrates poets, he goes on to explain why this frustration is actually beneficial.

“You break out of the box by stepping into shackles.”

When a creator has to work within a structural framework (think the beats of a romance novel or the even tighter frame of a category romance novel), in order to stay “within the lines” the writer has to think beyond the obvious in order to make it fresh and original. We all know how a romance is going to end, so it’s the journey we’re reading for…or the witnessing of the process of building that structure.

But this quote about breaking out by stepping into shackles reminds me of why I always had a particular creative thrill when writing a book for a continuity series dreamed up by the editors of Harlequin/Silhouette (for example, the Montana Mavericks series). Writers are given a “bible” that describes the hero and heroine in the story, their place in the overarching plot of the series, and a few beats that should show up in the story that other writers can play off of in their books. It’s a challenge to take that and make it into a story that works in a way that feels the writer’s own. Yep, you have to step into the shackles all right, but the delight in the creation is more keen because of it.

I’ve been reading a lot lately (a short lull before digging into revisions) and I did start thinking about why I worry about the characters in the romances I’m reading. Clearly I know there’s going to be a happy-ever-after. But my heart and mind don’t know the emotional rollercoaster the characters will have to endure before they get there. That’s what I’m worrying about. A good writer, working within the shackles of romance novel expectations, will build a story that tickles my imagination and keeps me turning pages.

What are you reading right now? Besides Imagine, I just read the first of a new series by Virginia Kantra and have started the latest Ghostwalker book by Christine Feehan.

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12 Responses to What If…

  1. michelehauf says:

    Just read that book, too. Love it. It confirmed, for me, that I’m okay, and when I hop in the car and drive to get ideas for my stories, that it’s not just me but it is really something that works for my imagination.
    I’m also reading Pink Boots and A Machete, the story of one woman’s journey from NFL cheerleader to National Geographic Explorer. Good stuff!

  2. loisgreiman says:

    I’m reading a mss written by someone I met at a little writers workshop. Reminds me how really talented people are not necessarily snapped up by major publishers.

  3. You know how authors run their books on Amazon, etc for $0.00 for a limited time hoping some reader will get it, love it, and buy the backlist? Yep. That’s me. Picked up Julie Ann Long’s book, I Kissed An Earl, which made me go buy How the Marquess was Won. Am loving her prose. So talented. I am jealous of her ability to tell a story!

    • christieridgway says:

      Oh, the backlist I’ve been buying! I have to find a way to organize books on my Kindle because I’m losing control of what’s on there.

  4. Cindy Gerard says:

    I remember those continuities, Christie. I had a love hate relationship with those bibles. LOL Some of them were pretty challenging and I have so much respect for authors who graciously handle the difficult tasks of writing a story around someone else’s idea.
    I’m currently reading Anne LaMott’s Bird By Bird – my go to book when I’m struggling to meet a difficult deadline :o) It’s my nighttime reading material :o)

    • christieridgway says:

      Those continuities could present quite a challenge at times, but it was quite an exercise of the imagination!

      Good luck on your deadline. Me, too. Am rushing toward one as well as doing revisions. Argh!

  5. kadiyaarwen says:

    Wow! I’m not an author, but the comment about form really hit home for me. John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV is still my favorite poem of all time and he both works with and plays with the rules of sonnets. This and The Windhover (one of my other favorite poems) are such shining examples of great poetry within the confines of poetic structure, so eloquent because of the limitations of the structure.

    Just brought back those beautiful memories. Thanks!

    • christieridgway says:

      That really struck me too. I read a lot of poetry in college (English major) and I could suddenly see why following form forces a writer into thinking in new ways.

  6. debradixon says:

    Christie– I broke down and started “collections” on my Kindle. I don’t want to keep everything on there. That’s what the archive at Amazon is for BUT there are books I want to have available if I want/need them. Like the reissues from Bantam. Unread fiction. Unread nonfiction, etc. Certain favorite authors have their own collections. The BB authors are in a Collection.

    I’m glad you enjoyed IMAGINE. I’ve been thinking about buying it and and wanted someone I know to read it first.

  7. virginiakantra says:

    Thanks for this post. Reading along, nodding, muttering, Yes. One of my favorite stories was for the Family Secrets continuity series, four super siblings who were brainy, brilliant, gifted with mind power, and one, my hero, who was…well, he was strong. Being forced to write a hero who was always mindful of the fact that he was not the sharpest tool in the family shed turned into a delight. Hm…Must think about that.
    So pleased you read Carolina Home!

  8. Leanne says:

    Christie so true! I just finished writing a continuity. It’s such a relief to have someone else plot my book!lolol 🙂

  9. Kathleen O says:

    I am reading Daisy’s Back in Town by Rachel Gibson on my kindle and in print I am reading Letter’s from a Stranger by Barbara Taylor Bradford.. I am finding the latter a little hard to get into because I really love her books.. But I think I just need to concentrate on it a little.more. there has been a lot going on with me and I need quiet to just loose myself in the books..

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