ANACONDA — I can see it now: fame, fortune and my name a permanent fixture on every best-sellers list from New York to Los Angeles.
What’s that? Oprah Winfrey wants an interview Thursday? I’ll get back to her.
Ah, the beautiful life of a romance novelist. OK, I’m romanticizing here, but I can’t help it. I’m just a natural at this.
My second career started Sept. 29 at the first Montana Romance Writers conference, where I joined 25 registered guests at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort to learn what makes a successful romance book.
The group formed earlier this year as a state chapter of the national Romance Writers of America, providing networking opportunities and workshops for new and experienced writers alike.
Local president Rionna Morgan, of Missoula, said their biggest goal is to give local romance writers the tools they need to reach their goals.
“We have people who just decided today that they want to be a romance writer,” Morgan said.
That would describe me.
Heck, I’ve never even read a romance book. So what do I need to know? I mean other than having Fabio model for my cover?
Turns out, there are many sub-genres in romance: contemporary, historical, erotica and paranormal, to name a few. Morgan, author of “The Wanting Heart,” is herself a master of romantic suspense.
But no matter what, a romance story must have a happy ending — it’s just like Romeo and Juliet, Morgan tells me, except the main characters don’t die in the end.
“There has to be a hero and heroine who travel through your world. In the end, the two create a life together,” Morgan said. “That’s the rule.”
Check. With that in mind, how do I get started?
Enter keynote speaker B.J. Daniels. Daniels, of Malta, has sold more than 70 books and 40 short stories, so she definitely knows the craft. Plus, as a former newspaper reporter, she is familiar with the transition I would face from journalism to fiction. (Insert “lamestream media” joke here.)
I sat in on Daniels’ workshop, “Six sure-fire ways to start your book.” A good beginning does a number of things, she said, from setting tone and establishing style that quickly hooks the reader.
There are six ways to get started: setting, conflict, dialogue, character, narration and prologue. We focus first on setting, which Daniels emphasized is the most important element.
“Look around you, and try to come up with something unique about that setting,” she said. “Think about what you’ll need. If you can’t find it, just make it up.”
Every one of us is challenged to start our own short story with a few lines of setting. I hadn’t written a word of fiction since college, but decided to go what I know best.
“I hate the newsroom late at night,” I wrote. “During the day, sunlight shines through the windows and adds brightness to the nonstop chatter of reporters’ voices on the phone. But now, it is dark and quiet except for the droning fan of my computer and occasional crackle of activity on the police scanner.”
I’m definitely on to something.
The story continues
Next is conflict. There is no story without conflict, Daniels said.
My tale of newsroom passion needed something spicy to jump off the pages; something like a stranger in the night.
“Suddenly, I heard a banging at the back loading bay door,” the story continues. “Startled, I wonder who could possibly need the newsroom at near midnight. I walked back and opened the door to find a stunning, beautiful stranger, her blonde hair illuminated by the moonlight.”
Oh yeah, this is getting good.
We moved along to dialogue. As a reporter, I should ace this part. After all, so much of my job is nothing but listening to and copying dialogue.
“‘Can I help you with something?’ I asked this mystery woman. ‘Can I use a phone?’ she answered, with impatience and agitation in her voice. ‘Um, I suppose. No cellphone?’ I ask again. ‘Had one. But that (expletive) took it with him,’ she said.”
I’m obviously taking advantage of Daniels’ advice and making up whatever I need. Why is this woman at the newsroom instead of, say, the police station or a friend’s house? Because it’s so much juicier this way!
My introduction had taken shape. This love would be a forbidden love. Add some color to the characters, and this book is a bona fide hit.
What, you think I’m going to give it all away here for free? Come on, I have a little more business sense than that. (Translation: I got stuck with terrible writer’s block. Don’t tell my publisher.)
Big Sky mystique
The hour-long workshop gave me everything I would need to know about structuring scenes in my romance novel.
I sat next to Dr. Debra Holland, a California psychotherapist and author behind the USA Today best-selling Montana Sky Series and God’s Dream Trilogy. She began setting her books in Montana after dating a young cowboy, she said.
“Having my books set in Montana is one of the things that have made them so popular,” Holland said. “There’s a certain mystique about the beauty here, the Big Sky and cowboys.”
Morgan agreed, saying the western frontier has a romantic notion all its own. But the Montana Romance Writers are not bound by the scenery of the Treasure State.
Getting straight to point: if, hypothetically speaking, I were to quit my job and become a full-time romance novelist, what does it take? The professionals offered their advice.
“Don’t be afraid,” Morgan said. “A lot of people worry if they’re doing it right. The answer is yes, you are doing it right. Just put it all down on paper.”
Imagination is another critical attribute, Daniels said. Men and women may not always act the way we want them to in real life, but they always do in the books.
“The fun part is getting people to do whatever you want them to do,” she said.
Thing is, I so much enjoy the unpredictability of journalism. And, oftentimes, the truth is stranger than fiction. So my second career will wait, for now.
But years down the road, I know I still have a novel to write.
Reporter George Plaven may be reached at 496-5597, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter.com/@George_Plaven.