Saturday, December 10, 2016

Birth of a Series

Once upon a time, I didn't plan on writing a series.

Then I wrote a book set in the fictional Southern California mountain town of Tall Pine. A funny thing happened. Secondary characters, who have always been fun for me to write, started tapping me on the shoulder. They hinted – insisted, in fact – that they wanted stories of their own.

As I started to imagine the right romantic matches for these characters, I started seeing characters with a new sense of depth, thinking of the differences that make them unique. Hero B might like the woman Hero A fell for in Book 1, but he definitely needed a different type of woman to fall in love with. As a matter of fact, Hero A and Hero B were such different people, they didn’t even like each other much.

And those two people, over there … what if they were exes?

And so the Evergreen Lane series was born.

Before I finished writing Book 1, Do You Believe in Santa?, the town of Tall Pine was already populating itself with characters I knew I wanted to spend more time with. Not just romantic leads, but the folks who ran the local businesses, argued with my hero at town council meetings, or poured coffee at the little café on Evergreen Lane.

By the time I finished revisions on Book 1, at a point when I’m usually ready for a breather, I was scribbling down scenes for the next book. And the one after that.

Planning these stories has been fun and exciting for me. It’s made me think, more than ever, about the backgrounds and experiences that make us all different. And it’s got me sketching out local landmarks, so I don’t have a character turning a corner the wrong direction and walking right into the pond I put there in Book 1. I’m hoping readers will find a new home in my little town right along with me.

So, if you’ve read Do You Believe in Santa?, come back with me to Evergreen Lane, the main street that runs through the town of Tall Pine. In Book 2, We Need A Little Christmas, you'll see a lot of the characters you met in Book 1, including Scotty Leroux, who just insisted on being my next hero.

And if you don’t start with Book 1, don’t worry. It’s easy to find your way around Tall Pine, and I promise you won’t get lost.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Procrastination ... and reverse procrastination?

Does this happen to anyone else?

I'll set a goal to do XYZ ... but first, just a quick look at the e-mail. And a post to Facebook. And so on. 

BUT -- I'm not finished yet.

If I decide to do NOTHING, to allow myself to put my feet up and procrastinate ... first, I'd better do just a little bit of XYZ. You know, the productive thing I meant to do last time.

I suspect it wouldn't work that way if I tried it on purpose. To tell myself I was going to procrastinate when I really wanted to do the productive XYZ thing.

But maybe I'll try that.


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

'Tis the Season

I always forget this part.

I look forward to the Christmas season all year long. The music, the festive colors, the reminder of what it all means. Sure, it's hectic. And sure, sometimes I get stressed. But what I think of first is the warmth of the season and the sense of celebration.

Then December approaches, and it starts. The rumbling of the retailers. By Thanksgiving week, it's built to a ferocious din as all the stores try to outdo each other. To beat each other to the punch. To be open sooner, to have the sale that YOU CAN'T MISS or you'll be throwing money away. Put down that eggnog!

I'm not into crowds. I usually stay home. But even here, with the blinds drawn, it's hard to escape the persistent feeling that if I'm not shopping RIGHT NOW, it's costing me a fortune.

This year, I'm not only drawing my blinds, I'm thinking of caulking my windows.

I'm neurotic enough without retailers telling me it's do or die and DON'T MISS OUT.

So this year, more than ever, I'm determined to make Christmas what I always promise myself it will be. A time to curl up with that eggnog, listen to the music and, by golly, read some of those Christmas books I've been looking forward to all year.

Yeah, I'll go shopping, too. When I'm good and ready.

Peace on Earth is there for us -- if we allow ourselves to slow down long enough to grasp it.

Don't miss out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015


by Sierra Donovan

As I believe I've mentioned, I'm in the business of helping characters live happily ever after.

But I've got to admit, some of my favorite stories – even my favorite love stories – don't always meet that criteria. Sometimes a tragic or poignant ending is just what's needed.

Below, you'll find some of my favorite stories – some on film, some in books -- that don't end with that traditional happily-ever-after. And although I won't go into great detail, since I'm going to be discussing endings, let me preface the rest of this blog entry with: SPOILER ALERT!!

Casablanca: There's a reason this is considered one of the greatest movies of all time. Take two star-crossed lovers, give them an unresolvable conflict – then manage to have them part and leave the audience feeling good about it. Every scene in this movie is fabulous, but that ending … Here's looking at you, kid.

The Great Gatsby: Oh, I loved this book. At first I didn't think I'd be able to relate to any of the characters, but when I discovered the lengths Gatsby went to for love, I was blown away. He created a complete, artificial persona, yet he was so much more real than the people around him. At the end, he's destroyed by his own idealistic vision of Daisy, but I'm still consoled by Nick's final words to his friend: “You're worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

Roman Holiday: When you start with Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn, it would be hard to go wrong. And the writers don't go wrong. They even have the guts to resist working out an unlikely Hollywood ending that would make it possible for the couple to be together. It's lump-in-the-throat time, but it's so rewarding.

Tucker: He loses the battle, but it's a triumph of the spirit when he invites the jurors out for a ride in those beautiful, non-existent cars.

Gone With the Wind: Readers and moviegoers may disagree on whether Scarlett could ever get Rhett back, but there's no denying this is one of the most unforgettable endings of all time!

How about you? Which tragic/tear-jerker endings stand out in your mind?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Romance, Television-Style

I'm not a weekly-TV-series type of viewer. My husband and I are much more likely to pop in a movie when we settle in on the couch at night. But with the growth of Netflix and the phenomenon of “binge watching” – largely by my two kids who live at home – I've gotten familiar with some recent series.

I've found that situation comedies have changed a lot since the days of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” when the situations and characters changed very slowly over the course of seasons, if they changed at all. Now there's a lot more story progress over the course of even a single season. It's a great opportunity for character and relationship development.
Surprise! Romance figures into this, because a lot of central plots have to do with romantic relationships. Will this couple end up together … or not?

SPOILER ALERT for Netflix viewers: shield your eyes if you haven't seen all of “The Office” or the first six seasons of “Parks and Recreation.”

These two series get it right (in my humble opinion). There's a lot of anticipation and expectation built on key relationships. Then the writers go on to affirm what they've made us believe in our bones: Jim and Pam belong together. Ben and Leslie belong together. The characters are written consistently and believably, even through moments of doubt. And ultimately, and the writers deliver on our expectations.

Now, let's talk for a minute about “How I Met Your Mother,” and where I think this one gets it wrong.

I haven't seen how this series ends. But I do know last year's season finale had viewers screaming. Even without having seen it, I'm pretty sure I can tell you why.

If ever a series was built on expectation, it's this one. It's in the very title. We're teased from Day One that we're building toward the revelation of Ted finding his true love.

Writers, you set your audience up for disappointment.

You promised a payoff, but we keep being told Mom is NOT any of the characters we're watching now. She's going to be someone we haven't invested in. What are the odds that the viewers are NOT going to be disappointed in the outcome?

An even worse sin (in my humble opinion): time and again, the series set us up to anticipate a relationship between one couple or another. Usually the buildup is very well done. The characters spend months out of a season yearning for each other, longing for each other, just missing each other. And then, when the two people do get together, it's usually – PFFFT! – over within a couple of episodes. After that, the much-anticipated couple goes back to interacting pretty much the same way they did before all that longing ever started. What is this, partial amnesia?

No, it's inconsistency. I think the series tried to break ground by flying in the face of viewers' expectations. I think what it did, instead, was tease the viewers, then contradict what it had told us about the characters. I can't address the finale, but from season to season, the series repeatedly went back on its promises.

Romance fiction is often criticized for being predictable. Yes, the couple gets together, as promised. Just as, in a murder mystery, the killer is discovered. As promised.

In real life, we're not promised happy resolutions. In fact, we're not promised resolutions at all. This is where fiction is different. We go in expecting that the story will reach a satisfying resolution. Depending on the genre, that ending may or may not be happy, but it needs to satisfy. It needs to be consistent with the author has told us. It needs to keep its promise.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Love: The Prime Motivator

Oh, I don’t care much for romance.”

Those are words that romance writers – and readers – often hear. The funny thing is, it’s hard to find a good story without it.

Last night my husband and I watched a classic ghost story, “The Uninvited.” A man and his sister move into a haunted house. Sort of an unusual domestic arrangement. Why are they brother and sister? So the brother is able to become romantically involved with Stella, the young woman who’s the target of the spirits in the house.

Why is that? Because storytellers recognize that most of us are driven by the need for romantic love. A story may not be billed as a “romance,” but you’ll find romance at the heart of most stories.

Think of the classics, and you’ll find that the desire for romantic love is usually a prime motivator for the characters, even if that pursuit is misguided. In “The Great Gatsby,” the title character builds a new life for, and is finally destroyed by, the pursuit of love. In “Casablanca,” the story hinges on the lost love between Rick and Ilsa. “Gone with the Wind” without the passion of Scarlett and Rhett? I don’t think so.

What about action films? Let’s talk “Spiderman.” In the 2002 film, Peter Parker tells us in the opening narration: “Let me assure you, this, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl.” How about film noir? The leading man in “Double Indemnity” may be motivated by lust rather than love … but he’s built it up into something pretty important by the time he’s willing to kill a guy for it. In horror, the mummy is after his lost mate, and all the Frankenstein monster really wants is a bride. Comedy? Even in something as light, silly and just-for-fun as the “Anchorman” films, Ron Burgundy’s gotta get the girl (or get her back).

Love – the need for it or the lack of it – makes everything more important. It raises the stakes. It’s something we all want. Storytellers, readers and moviegoers are instinctively drawn to it, whether they realize it or not.

Most romance readers and writers simply recognize that need more consciously, so we go after it more directly. Someone may be getting killed, something may be getting stolen, a career may be at stake … but whatever our characters think they’re after, we can be darned sure there’s a happily-ever-after at the end of it.

And that’s a story worth telling.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Weird Al, We Salute You!

Champions of good spelling, grammar and punctuation have a new hero: Weird Al Yankovic.

At the risk of making Weird Al cringe: Who’da thunk it?

The biggest media attention-getter from Weird Al’s newest album, “Mandatory Fun,” has been “Tacky” (his parody of Pharell Williams' “Happy”). But meanwhile, my fellow writer friends on Facebook are geeking out over “Word Crimes” (set to the tune of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”). I’ve seen it re-posted about a dozen times in the past two days.

You can watch it here.

It’s wonderful. The guy who’s made us laugh for 30-plus years now has English language fans hooting as he shares our agonies over the misspellings and horrible punctuation that populate the Internet. Al shows his smarts about less versus fewer, whom versus who and the Oxford comma (although he'll let you slide on that one). He even tries to educate the masses about the correct use of the word it’s.

It may be a hopeless cause, and I know a ton of people hearing the song are saying, “HUH?”

But for the grammar geeks out there, it’s 3 minutes and 45 seconds of “Amen!”

Thanks, Al.