Why I Write
People who know I came from a successful business career often ask me this question. The easiest way to begin is to answer in the reverse. I do not write to gain fame and riches though I would love to have a New York Times number one best-seller and the royalties and adulation it would bring. I do not write so that I can hobnob with the cool kids or the inside sanctum of the literati. I do not write so I can talk on national TV with Matt Lauer or Oprah… Don’t misunderstand me all those things would be great fun and I have no lack of ego so they would admittedly be gratifying. I have had the good fortune to be successful in my pre-writing life so putting words to paper does not feed the kids or pay the mortgage. I don’t write to earn a living.
So then—you’re asking by now why do you spend thousands of hours brooding over a novel crafting it till you’re satisfied it’s a piece worthy of sending to your readers?
The answer is patently simple… I love telling stories and (hopefully) the enjoyment they bring. I always have. I am a baby-boomer and grew up on folklore of WWII so I wrote my first short story about PT boats when I was twelve. I was enough of a nerd and a mediocre athlete so I toiled over the school paper while others wore the highly coveted school letter on their jackets.
I had the great good fortune to have emotive, enthusiastic English teachers in high school and at the undergraduate collegiate level who pushed and prodded me to the limit, bless them. Life, the military, and my growing family precluded any idea of seriously pursuing writing as anything other than a pastime or part of my job, but I always joked that someday I would write a great American novel knowing it had been done more than once.
I had the good fortune to leave my business early and low and behold though it took many false starts, rejections, and the bolstering loyalty of supportive family, friends, and fellow authors, after several years my long dormant dream became a reality when I got what’s referred to in publishing as “the call!”
And though I write slowly, I’ve averaged about a novel a year over the last five. Three have been published, two have been Amazon best-sellers and my debut novel was a finalist in a prestigious awards competition.
So why do I continue? Well… though I haven’t had that date on the Today show yet I have achieved some recognition, made so many wonderful writing friends I’ve lost track, helped to run a respected writing organization, and even taught creative writing at the junior college level.
And though I am not Mary Higgins Clark or John Grisham I have had my share of rewarding “fan” encounters. I could go on, but I hope you get my point. I began this journey because I loved telling my stories and somewhere along the line it seemed that those who read my work liked them, too.
Part of it is ego. Everyone who crafts a story and asks another to read it feels he/she has something worthy of telling. But much of it is simply the enjoyment of discovering that some readers out there have enjoyed our work enough that it gave them pleasure and perhaps a respite from this fast-paced, chaotic, often frustrating world.
Matt and Oprah… eat your hearts out. NY Times book editors I have not thrown in the towel but for now, I’m happy doing what I do. Perhaps we’ll have a date sometime in the future…
Enjoy this spectacular summer!
Kevin V. Symmons
“Sealed with a Kiss”
If that title has a vague ring of familiarity that’s no accident. It not so coincidentally bears the name of a song from the mists of my youth. And when doing this blog though it may be begging the season by a month (or more) the summer beckons in the distance as old memories flood back and come to mind and my not so hidden roots as a closet romantic beckon!
I have the good fortune to spend many summers on Massachusetts’s luxuriant Cape Cod coast. Each year the CC populace grows by ten-fold as between five and six million visitors cross one of the two aged bridges that span a man-made body of water known as the Cape Cod Canal. But in addition to being a spectacular spot of natural beauty it is also an area filled with beauty, romance, and the thrill of youth.
As a child on the south coast my experiences were physically and emotionally stimulating… things like sun and surf and often massive waves that crashed on the pristine sand. Massive at least to one who was only three feet tall. As I grew into my “formative” years my family and I continued to visit and experience the magic.
Slowly, I found my feelings transformed from something far less visual into something far more visceral. Shells and surf gave way to a magic that stimulated me in ways I found both new and strangely exciting. Like so many young people who grew up in summer locales I began to see the subtle changes in those I’d spent so many sun-drenched days with.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact day, week, and month when I suddenly came to the realization that one of my best summer pals had grown in ways that animated, excited, and terrified me. It began during the summer of our twelfth year. Maybe in some subtle ways the year before—but when Joey— short for Josephine—appeared that year on the first day of our summer long vacation I felt a lump in my throat and my heart quicken. Clichés yes, but none the less just as true. All I know is that when I saw her that June morning something changed.
I’d had all the stirrings and emotional turmoil inherent in any adolescent experiencing the conflicts and ecstasy that accompanies puberty but it wasn’t till I saw Joey, silhouetted as she stood awaiting me at our front door that the emotion truly took hold.
That summer was a roller coaster for me… and though we never discussed it I’m sure it was for her, too. Suddenly, simple things became complicated. I noticed an electricity when our hands would touch or our eyes would find and linger on each others.
The smell of the tide and fresh-cut grass were exchanged for the subtle fragrance of her sweet fragrance when she was close. Things which a year or two before had seemed commonplace became scripted so as not to touch or get too close to each other while wanting desperately to do so.
Summer friendships begin on the 4th of July and end on Labor Day or at least that had been the way of it for the years prior to our emergence as young men and women. Others populated our sun and surf-drenched summer world but from my first encounter with Joey that summer neither of us paid attention to the others.
On Labor Day weekend the families who populated our little Cape Cod side street traditionally held a farewell cookout. That year while neither of us spoke of it, as if scripted Joey and I drifted away from the others to take a walk on the soft sand, knowing it would be our last for an interminable winter.
Suddenly, I felt her hand in mine and as the moon rose into a clear star filled sky I turned toward her. Her hazel eyes dropped behind thick lashes and I put my arms around her clumsily.
We heard out parents calling but as I turned to head back up the beach she gently pulled me close and kissed me. It was soft, innocent, and clumsy. Someone once suggested that no one ever forgets their first kiss. After a summer of watching her and waiting it was the most tender and sweetest I can ever recall….
Later that year my parents told that Joey’s father had been transferred to Texas. She wrote me a brief note and signed it “Love.” Perhaps it was real, perhaps not…but it was the summer of a lifetime, filled with angst and doubt and wanting to grow and explore so much more. A summer sealed with a kiss
It’s finally happened. You get the “call.” Receiving that long-awaited “call” (usually an email today) from a publisher is the closest an author can come to an out of body experience.
Let’s fast forward… Your first book survives editors, cover artists, and all the attendant hands involved in the publishing process. Your sales may have been better or worse than you hoped for, but if your editor still answers your emails and your publisher sends out your royalty checks there’s a good chance you’ll sell another book.
That’s a great thing—right? Hmmm… When your first book was released everyone you knew bought a copy. Maybe several. You may have pictures of your kids, your spouse, and friends posing with your book. You proudly post them on social media. After all, you are a published author.
You’ve spent lots of time and energy—much more than you expected—promoting that first novel. But not wanting to be a one-hit wonder you’ve been cranking out chapters for book two. With an editor who believes in you and lots of hard work you sign another contract (or maybe you signed a multi-book deal up front.) My first editor told me that once you get into the world of the published opportunities appear. You get invited to sell and sign your book at libraries, bookstores and conferences. That magazine or paper that kept turning you down miraculously decides they found just the place for your article!
All this takes time, lots of it, and you find it difficult to complete that second novel. But somehow, you burn the midnight oil, turn down invitations, and concentrate. Suddenly you’re putting “The End” after the last page. Number two is ready to go! But something has changed. For starters unless it takes you years to write, you’re probably still actively selling the first book. Now the time you dedicated for signings, readings, and social media must be divided. And you soon find a subtle change in the attitudes of many of those close to you. Your kids, significant others, and the friends who supported you and bought multiple copies of book one no longer show you pictures with them holding the new one. It may even become a bit uncomfortable.
And let’s be honest, if you spent years writing, editing, and fine tuning that first book, some of your enthusiasm has waned. Because once you get into writing the second book, my friends, it is no longer a diversion, something to talk about at parties. Writing has become a JOB!
But that cloud does have a silver lining. In most cases the first book taught you things you now take for granted. You know how to navigate through social media, publicists, and blog tours. You’ve been baptized in the cauldron of public speaking. You find yourself more at ease. And something else has happened, something far more enjoyable: while the numbers may be small, unless book number one was a hideous failure, you now have a following. And readers I’ve never met giving me 5-star reviews is far more gratifying than those from my college roommate or next door neighbors!
And while writing doesn’t guarantee a luxury sedan every year it’s a rewarding career. Those of you who sign a second book contract have learned skills and techniques that will serve you well.
I’m working on my fourth novel. And I’ve found that while the second (and third) can be difficult they can be more rewarding. So take heart. Don’t let the task of being a multi-published author frighten you.
If you did experience sophomore slump in college you also found that you overcame it and went on to a brighter and more successful junior and senior years. It’s ephemeral, a phase you experienced as a student and one you may experience as a writer. To quote a far more gifted mind than mine: this too will pass!
“Okay, what’s the story? You’re a guy, and you’re writing… romance?”
It’s a question I hear often. Every convention I attend or speak at I get that suspicious stare followed by the inevitable… “Why?”
So in answer to the first comment, yes, I’m a healthy male and though no longer young, still feel in the prime of life. And I write novels that contain that to use my publisher’s words, strong romantic elements.
I have coined what is probably not a new sub-genre but I’ll pretend it is and call my novels romantic thrillers. Does this let me off? Not entirely since romance is not an afterthought in my work but an integral element… as is the thriller. Hey what’s a good book without an exquisite damsel in distress?
Having been a lifelong devotee of the thriller genre I’d taken note of the fact that thrillers were packed with danger and tension. Seldom did they contain any meaningful relationships. I admit to also reading my share of romance and women’s fiction which were fraught with romantic tension but left the excitement of the thriller behind. I wondered what the result would be if you combined the two in equal amounts.
For years, Mary Higgins Clark, a fellow Cape Cod resident whom I have met and spent some time with was crowned the queen of romantic suspense. I liked and admired her work but the difference in my writing is that my characters are in more danger. Far more! Often, as is the case of my successful paranormal, Rite of Passage, not only is the heroine’s life at risk but so is the fate of the entire world. Yep… all of civilization! Now that trumps who gets the family farm!
I had been a writer for some time and Rite of Passage had begun as your standard YA novel. After my trip to the RWA nationals that year all that changed. When 75% of the sessions were permeated with the fragrance of the occult it was difficult to come back and deliver a trite coming of age story. Having been raised around a conservative Yankee mother who secretly embraced the stars and magic I found the transition easy. So my heroine and hero left the realm of YA and joined the ranks of the paranormal. And as an added incentive to readers I decided to build in tension and conflict that would put the world as we know it in peril. An historical set after World War II I believe it has the passion and emotion that propels every good romance and some serious plot twist that send it (ego aside) toward the realm of an engaging thriller.
Why romance? After several failed attempts at something more mainstream or prosaic I happened upon a wonderful teacher named Jo Ann Ferguson, whose credentials are extensive and impeccable. She opened the world of romance writing, explaining that emotion was the key to success.
I wrote a recent blog describing what I called the four “Es”… critical elements to a good novel: to educate, entertain, escape and draw emotion. I discovered that all were important but combining the final two (escape and emotion) could make for something a page turner.
I’m pleased to say that my re-write of Rite of Passage sold to The Wild Rose Press—my award-winning publisher—and garnered a nomination and position as finalist is this year’s RomCon Reader’s Crown awards.
What’s next… a contemporary romantic thriller, titled Out of the Storm, set on my beloved Cape Cod. It was released on Amazon Kindle Select (E-books) and again combines the elements of escape and emotion as my fragile hero finds himself confronted by the adult persona of a dangerous and secretive young woman he’d met only once as a teenager. The print book will be out in a month.
My hero, Eric, still grieving over the tragic loss of his childhood sweetheart and their unborn child, must decide if Ashley Jean, who appears on his doorstep during a fierce Nor’easter is the answer to a dream or a nightmare from which he cannot escape.
A southern girl, Ashley is not only lovely and brilliant but mysterious… Lizabeth Salander meet a 20th Century Scarlett O’Hara. I’ll leave you to discover the rest.
In closing, do I love writing romance as a man? Damn Straight… but I love it more when combined with kind of excitement you expect from Jack Reacher or Jason Bourne!
Good writing till next time!
Find Kevin at www.ksymmons.com
On Twitter @Kevinsymmons
And on Amazon, Goodreads and outlets where print and e-books are sold
The title comes from a workshop I took years ago with a woman I call my mentor, a wonderful instructor named Jo Ann Ferguson. Jo Ann is one of the most kind and supportive fellow writers I have ever had the privilege of knowing.
Perhaps the most critical thing(s) I gleaned from her information laden classes was a discussion of why and what we write as romance writers. Hence my discussion of the four “Es.”
Perhaps the simplest and most obvious of these is our desire, perhaps our need to Entertain. For without this simple trait even the most brilliant intellectual treatise would fall short. Whether a 600 page historical or a 25K word novella, first and foremost our duty is to take out readers to a place of enjoyment!
Next, I believe our task is to Educate those who pick up our work. And never misinterpret me, by educate I do not mean a dry, dusty list of facts. My debut novel while (hopefully) entertaining involved more than two years of consultation and study about witchcraft, America in the period after WWII and juicy tidbits that I hoped would entice and help my readers to understand the dynamics of the post war burgeoning cold war environment.
Aaah… and now e come to my two favorites. A recent USA Today poll stated that the vast majority of readers… certainly romance readers read to Escape! Yes, that’s correct, to escape. To find new worlds, horizons, heroes, heroines and villains that they could only conjure up in their imaginations. And no, escape does not necessarily imply a Fabio style hero or voluptuous Kate Upton heroine. It can be a simple as travelling to somewhere with someone that is outside our current reality!
But now, for romance readers and writers comes the biggest “E” of all. The one we all long for…. Emotion. Jo Ann taught me this many years ago and it’s one I can readily identify with it. Even if several of the other “E”s are absent what keeps us reading… coming back for more and keeps romance writing as the top seller in fiction by leaps and bounds is emotion.
And that emotion need not be between simply between a man and a woman… though that’s a pleasant equation. Much as Rhett and Scarlett or Bella and Edward can bring our blood to a boil, lest we forget Richard Llewellyn’s heart wrenching How Green was my Valley?
So I leave you budding romantics with this thought. Impart sincere, genuine, open emotion to your stories and characters, be they passionate lovers or fathers and sons and you will thrill and entertain your audiences!
Till next month!
Kevin V. Symmons
Author of Rite of Passage
RonCom 2013 Finalist and
Out of the Storm for the
Award-winning Wild Rose Press
Didn’t some sage in the 16th Century say, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”… perhaps, but would it be as enticing, as interesting?
How would we view romantic fiction’s most popular and notorious heroine were her name Maude instead of Scarlett O’Hara. And what if her long-suffering suitor was named Joe instead of Rhett Butler would he have garnered the same swashbuckling bravado in our imaginations. And this works not only for the bold, the driven, and the beautiful. Let’s try and imagine a dark-hearted, morose old man named Fred instead of Ebenezer Scrooge… not quite the same. And what about Alexandria Eyre? Somehow we find it hard to imagine Charlotte Bronte’s stubborn, small, plain heroine with such an illustrious name.
No, without a doubt, character names have a vital place in both historical and contemporary literature. How often do I here the ladies swoon when the name “Ranger” is mentioned in association with heroine Stephanie Plum. Somehow if Ms. Ivanovich had named him Bob the macho element would definitely be lacking.
Convinced yet. Great!
We authors resort to a wide variety of devices, formulas, and even tricks to try to give their characters names their reading audience will remember. I’ve never subscribed to one of the many services that offer names for sale. I have friends who do. Others search the news media. Some resort to the obituaries searching for names. My best writing friend seeks names that are not only distinctive but give an exotic flavor to her characters. I admit I’m more a grass roots type. I give my characters names that I (and my beta readers) find appropriate not through formula or science but by the touch and feel method.
My debut novel featured a heroine named Courtney (Definition: of the court) who was the embodiment of a one-thousand year old Wiccan Goddess. Her heroine was named Robert… a strong masculine name. I intentionally abbreviated his proper name by having his intimates call him Robbie, an indication of his naïveté and relative immaturity, at least when compared with his beautiful but ancient heroine. The other strongest character was Simon, an all powerful male witch who embodied both the mystery and strength contained in his name.
My latest novel features Eric, a strong monosyllabic name (definition: one strong who rules) suited for my strong, Special Forces veteran hero and Ashley-Jean (definition: one who sees, which we discover she is), a brilliant, technology savant; a frightened young woman seeking refuge from the evil that pursues her. As a young, southern woman the name seemed to fit perfectly and my test readers agreed.
Which brings up another point: the name must not only lend a visual to the character’s image in the readers mind but must symbolize their place in the story.
In a few hundred words it’s difficult to give a thorough explanation of how and why we authors chose certain methods and different strategies to breathe life into our characters not only with their thoughts and deeds but by what we call them.
I welcome input from readers and fellow authors alike why and how you choose to name your characters. Until next time…
Being an author can be rewarding. We create scenarios that we nurture, vivid ideas that spring from our imaginations. The expression “life imitates art” comes to mind. I can bear witness to that. Because suddenly and without warning, last week’s devastating Marathon Tragedy brought reality into conjunction with what my editor had just contracted as my latest novel.
I write commercial fiction in various genres and my latest, Out of the Storm, is a contemporary romantic thriller. I had the idea that terrorists could frighten us by invading and destroying family-oriented events. While I had other things in mind, the Boston Marathon and the attendant crowds was made to order. In past years, family members had stood within feet of where the bombers plied their horrific handiwork. My neighbor, an event planner and the man who supervised the Marathon finish line for 17 years, had been there a few minutes before the explosion. By fate or God’s grace he had moved. Some friends and neighbors were involved. Fortunately, none of those close to us was injured.
My hypothesis in my novel’s scenario was that totally unexpected and heinous acts like the one we witnessed might terrify and place us in a collective state of shock. Freeze our people into panic. I was WRONG! Dead wrong and I stand both ready and proud to admit it. I should have known better.
Rather than leave us weeping and hiding behind our collective doorways our people rallied and distinguished themselves without exception—as they have so often in our history. My minister summed it up beautifully last Sunday in an impromptu sermon titled “First Responders” which featured pictures of runners and other civilians putting themselves in harms way to aid the injured and maimed. None knew if another device might be detonating momentarily but despite that they went to aid of those in need. Needless to say police, fire, and emergency personnel distinguished themselves heroically. Tragic though the week of April 15, 2013, was it showed that Boston and America had the backbone to take a deadly blow and still come to the aid of their fellow citizens.
The actions of my fellow Bostonians so inspired me I modified the manuscript my editor had sent me for revision. If I underestimated my fellow citizens, I apologize. This was truly a reality check for many of us—a renewal of our faith in our fellow man and our ability to stand strong against evil. And though bittersweet, it was also up lifting. When those of us in the “Hub” watched Neil Diamond arrive at historic Fenway Park and sing the traditional Red Sox anthem “Sweet Caroline” tears ran down our cheeks. We had faced the devil and showed him we had the wherewithal to spit in his face and come back strong—Boston Strong!
Author of Rite of Passage
And Out of the Storm from
The Award-winning Wild Rose Press.