February 6, 2013

Publisher Week: Chris Keeslar @BoroughsPubGrp #RLFblog

Boroughs Publishing Group
This is Publisher Week at Romance Lives Forever. Three publishers will be featured, each during one special week. Those publishers are Boroughs Publishing Group, Liquid Silver Books in June, and JMS Books LLC in September.

Today's festivities feature the Boroughs Publishing Group, Where Story Matters. E-publishing has changed the way the world reads. Boroughs Publishing Group is part of that revolution and joins with readership from Abu-Dhabi to Vancouver in demanding memorable stories that you’ll return to over and over.
Day One - Lunchbox Romances
Day Two - The Red Ridge Pack series
Day Three - Celebrating Regencies
Day Four - Our Editor-in-Chief, Chris Keeslar, on Writing
Day Five - Naughty and Loving it - Bad Boy Heroes
Day Six - The New Year's Eve Club series
Day Seven - True Love, Romance and Valentines

We're on day four of our journey with "On Writing" from their Editor-in-Chief, Chris Keeslar.

Chris Keeslar graduated from the creative writing program of New York University and left with an eye on publishing. Initially intending to make a name for himself as an author, he took work as an editorial assistant to support that ambition and soon found himself as handy with a pencil as with a word processor—or maybe handier. Since becoming an editor, he’s won both national and local awards for his work and is widely respected. Chris embraces Boroughs’ philosophy that it takes time to grow and groom authors, as opposed to simply churning out product.
The following is a selection from Chris’ articles in our monthly newsletter. If you’d like to keep up with what’s doing at Boroughs Publishing, visit our website at: www.BoroughsPublishingGroup.com to sign up for our newsletter.


There’s a television show called Slings and Arrows that I find immensely enjoyable. I discovered it earlier this year; it’s a Canadian sitcom or dramedy that began in 2003 and ran for three non-contiguous seasons about a Shakespeare festival based loosely on the one in Stratford, Ontario. The show has a number of strengths, including that it presents people dealing with the artistic process, particularly the process as it relates to acting and directing, but it also has a bit about writing. In the show, at one point a character begins a relationship with a playwright. The playwright lifts a great deal of personal data from her and is finally asked, “What are you saying, that a writer just copies conversations that he has in life and makes actors repeat them?”
The answer is basically yes.
Well, sort of. My career has obviously brought me into contact with numerous writers, as has my life in general; a lot of my friends and friends of my friends are writers. It’s amazing how much biographical material goes into the work of successful authors, how much their lives are on display to people who are paying attention.
And yet, it’s not amazing. Our experiences and feelings are a natural starting point. And I say, don’t fight it. Real experiences are more easily reproducible, more likely to be recognizable than emotional journeys pulled entirely out of thin air—though truly masterful writers can change contexts easily. But the good news is, everyone can use their feelings as a starting point.
Of course, I’m not saying that writing a believable character journey is quite that easy. Good writing is about conflict, and so to be truly able to write something you experienced, you have to be able to understand both sides of whatever conflict you experienced and present it fairly—or at least relatively fairly. No reader likes to be preached at; they want to make conclusions on their own. And you have to be careful about including the personal information of people close to you, so you should be incredibly cognizant of protecting their feelings, or at least be aware of the dangers of exploiting their part in your life.
Another danger: Almost every romance writer I know has been asked the awkward question, “So, are you writing about the sex you’ve had?” Usually it’s posed by someone outside of the industry, though I’m sure one or two veterans have asked (or thought of asking) it themselves. The truth is, probably many writers do write about the sex they’ve had. Or at least they use their experiences to flavor what they’re writing about. Personal experience is always a great place to start—and then you add a healthy dose of imagination. And since you’re going to get asked the question about sex whether or not you’re using your experiences, don’t bother skimping. If it makes you uncomfortable, just deny it later.
So, if you’re looking to write a powerful story, look inside. Look at the relationships you’ve had, the ones that failed and the ones that succeed. Look at the relationships of your friends, and see what’s working and what’s not. (Though you should probably be really good at changing context if you want to keep the friends.) This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people want to steer clear of their own baggage. But the truth is, that baggage is what makes you you, and when you open the closet, that’s when you’re going to find that your skeletons can be allies. We’ve all got them. Why not let them out to find their friends?


Forgive my gaucheness, but I’m going to talk about presents.
Lunchbox Romance
You see, writing a book is like giving one: There are many ways to do it. You can chuck the obligatory dollars in a brown paper envelope five minutes before the exchange, or you can spend time thinking about your audience, their expectations and needs, buying several smaller but more specific offerings and combining them, wrapping them in discrete layers of beautiful but misleading paper, turning them all into the shape and feel of a brand new plaid sweater from Aunt Myra(!) but then adding ball bearings that rattle when shaken; taunting your son, asking him to guess, suggesting he might have the right answer, letting him shake and touch and sniff the package, letting him do all the guesswork before the final revelation of love and generosity. Before the final revelation that you grok him.
Taunting, you say? That’s cruel.
Or is it? Being a reader is about figuring things out. It’s about experience and calculation. It’s the blend of logic (what will happen?) and emotion (why do I care?) and anticipation (when am I going to know for sure?!). Because, like with everything in life, it’s the journey not the destination. The truest way to find joy in fiction is to experience the events yourself; otherwise any story could be just as easily relayed in two paragraphs. If I told you two kids from feuding houses fell in love and ended up committing suicide for each other, would that come anywhere close to the majesty of Romeo and Juliet? No. It’s the waiting, the hoping, the feeling alongside the characters that connects us—and in that story’s particular case, it’s also the elegance of the wrapping paper.
Wasn’t it William Goldman who said something like, “The best endings are both surprising and inevitable.” The best craftsmen know exactly what they’re revealing and when, and every step is toward something sublime. Every book is a holiday in itself, with as many gifts as chapters or themes, each of which can be a beautifully yet impossibly wrapped chance to awe and astound.


So, it’s a new year, a blank slate, a fresh chance to excel. January is about beginnings, and beginnings are where (consciously or not, you pantsers) we plan, where we take stock of our strengths and weaknesses to determine the best method to reach our goals. As a writer your job is to entertain, and to entertain you need to keep readers on their toes. Yes, you need to surprise them. Over and over. But that should be the fun part of writing: processing all the different aspects of your story then finding your particular strengths and playing to them.
Every novel has numerous opportunities to inspire wonder and awe: fantastic but believable settings, unique and/or sympathetic characters, groundbreaking concepts, lyrical narrative, witty dialogue. But the most obvious way to keep your readers on their toes is through plot devices. Every time you have a conflict, ask yourself if you’re taking the easy way out. How many stories have you read where you can’t possibly see the hero and heroine escape…and then things get really dicey? Not enough. Many authors (even veterans!) take the first opportunity to resolve tension. My advice? Resist. Keep your readers on the edges of their seats. They’ll thank you for it later.
I hasten to add that evoking a “Huh?” reaction from a reader does not qualify as surprise. At least not a positive surprise. The easiest example: Too often I see chapters end at strange points, where an author thinks, “Well, they’ll have to keep reading if I just don’t tell them what happens.” The cliffhanger is greatly overrated. Every story has a series of beats, and these are what chapter breaks should mark. A well-crafted tale maintains tension through the end of a beat.
Chris Keeslar
Along that line, a reader should never be confused or feel denied critical information. They can and should be intentionally misinformed, perhaps, keeping within the rules of your universe, but never confused. Don’t withhold information that is crucial to later payoffs; layer it in early. If a hero’s sister died falling off a horse and there will be a dangerous horse race for the heroine at the climax of your story, tell us at the beginning. The less information we have to process at any moment of emotional turmoil, the more we can live in that moment. Tell us early, tell us often. But if at all possible, tell us indirectly.
The cleverest writer is a burglar: By the time you know which emotion she’s looking to steal, she’s already got it.

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  1. Wonderful comments from a great Editor in Chief. I have to confess that in my books there are a heck of a lot of home truths and experiences of my own. I agree. I think these truths come across in the story as being real and more believable. Of course, there are some fabrications in there as well, but I'll let the reader decide what's real and what's not. I can't give away all my secrets. Oh and the sex scenes I write ? Sorry Chris, I can't say they're based on my experience. I'd love to (boy would I love to!) but mostly they're just my fantasies eking out of my head...sigh. As for presents and burglars- couldn't agree more.

    Erich Fromm, German born American social Philosopher and Psychoanalyst said-
    "Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before. Let your soul take you where you long to be...Close your eyes let your spirit start to soar, and you'll live as you've never lived before.”

    I think this is something all writers aspire to when writing a story for someone to read. We want to inspire and take the reader to a place they haven't been before.

    1. Because I write about the far future on worlds far across the galaxy, I can say that my books are definitely pure imagination. However, I believe some things never change, including the human ability to love despite the odds. Sometimes, because of the odds. Excellent words by Chris, and by you, Susan.

    2. I think the reason books and reading has been, is, and will be successful is because despite the times and how the world has changed, the human experience will always be the same. Love and romance being one of the biggest factors :)

  2. Nice articles, Chris. The part about gifts really spoke to me. I’m the one who always tries to wrap the package so you can’t tell what it is (also helps that I save boxes, so even once you get the wrapping paper off, you can’t trust the box its self). I hope that my historicals are a sort of gift to the reader, to let them have a glimpse into the past, to see who we are and where we come from. Chris’ articles are always insightful, which is why he’s such a good editor.

    1. Terry, that's a good way to look at writing.

  3. Chris, Your article was so on point. I can see why you are one of the very best in your field. Lots to think about here. Your much more knowledgable than the teacher in my grad class. Wish you could trade places with him.

    1. A mentor is like that, isn't he? We find his abilities useful in more than just one field.

  4. Thanks again, Kayelle, for hosting Borough's Publishing Group this week. Such great company to keep.

    Chris - I loved your analogy of the gift - yes, that's exactly how I feel when I'm pouring words onto the canvas of my WIP. I love the way this group helps to send that package out - story really does matter.

    Oh, and did I mention I LOVE the covers?

    So often we're told as writers not to dump in backstory. Learning the fine art of layering in what's going to happen makes better writers, and better stories. Great post.


    1. You're welcome, Paula. It's an honor. I learn something new every day.

  5. A lot of great insight here for readers and writers! Thanks, Kayelle and Chris! I especially like the reminder that it's a blending of logic + emotion + anticipation that makes a memorable story. I think I'll make a sign for my desk.

  6. What's better than reading a good book? Writing one. What's better than writing a good book? Having a great editor, someone who helps promote it, and wonderful and faithful readers. Big applause for Chris, Kayelle and everyone who visits this site.

    Diana Saenger DEADLINE: ROMANCE -The New Year's Eve Club series


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