It’s my great pleasure to welcome Kris Kennedy and her agent Barbara Poelle to Romance University. As many of you know, RU’s highlighting a different romance sub-genre each month, and February’s all about historical. Today, Kris and Barbara will touch on Medieval-set romances.
Following their interview, Kris has provided a wonderful lecture on what’s the worst thing that could happen in your story. Be sure to check out. Kris and Barbara will check in throughout the day to answer your questions.
Take it away, ladies!
Tracey: How would you define the historical/medieval subgenre?
Kris: Fortunately, yes, this one is an easy one.
Tracey: What is your opinion of the state of this subgenre today?
Barbara: The historical romance? Well it is definitely alive and well. There are indications that it has peaked but then there always seems to follow another swell in demand. As far as medievals in particular, I do hear people struggling to place them, but good writing is good writing. If the content and execution are phenomenal, the book will sell.
Kris: I am guessing too, that some of it a toss of the dice. How many books of a certain, small subgenre does a certain editor or publisher already have? There’s only so much space in publishers’ release schedules, and if they already have some great medievals, it being a smaller market, they might turn it down.
And since this is nothing you have control over, I think if you and your Muse *have* to write a medieval, then you’d better write a medieval. We need more great ones! And then, Barbara can help find the right home for it.
Tracey: Do you think it’s hot right now? Why or Why not?
Barbara: (I kind of answered this above)
Kris: I have no idea how to answer this, in part because it doesn’t really matter. Anything I’d say would be a ‘trend,’ and since there’s no way to know if a trend is a trend, or a new strong subgenre, we writers can’t really follow that either. Our course direction has to be to follow where our writing is strongest.
That being said, if you have it in you to write a unique paranormal, say, as well as a medieval, I’m going to guess you’d have more marketing options with the paranormal.
Tracey: Do you see any trends writers should avoid? Move toward? Any advice for writers wanting to break into this subgenre?
Barbara: Our agency represents Linda Lael Miller who, as far as I am concerned, is the single best historical western romance writer out there, so my bar is set very, very high, but still I always shoot my mouth off saying I am looking for a western historical. The reality of it is, it would need to be spectacular for me to place it as Westerns aren’t as popular as the Regency or even Scottish as of late. If you are looking into breaking in I would stick with Regency England Historicals BUT I would research research research. Those readers are extremely well versed in the times and will nail an author to the wall if there is some question of plot or demeanor or even dress plausibility.
Kris: Whatever she says.
Tracey: Why do you represent this subgenre? What else do you represent? Do you see any cross-over, any similairites?
Barbara: For whatever reason, my super powers extend pretty much only to historical romance. I seem to have a 6th sense for placing them with the right house. I am hideous at contemporary romance; I just don’t have a refined enough palate to have a sense for the good stuff in that one. I can do some paranormal, though. So that leads me to believe it is all about the world building. The attention to craft, technique and detail in both historicals and paranormals is so important and I can thrive within that.
Barbara: Um, me.
Kris: Um, her. And as far as editors, Barbara will know them, and what they want.
Tracey: How do you think this sub-genre has changed in the last five years?
Barbara: I think the envelope is allowed to be pushed a little more each year, some of the love scenes are a little hotter, the heroines are a little feistier. I also think that I have seen the secondary characters become much more fully realized and personally I love that.
Kris: I agree. Strong secondary characters can tweak out corners of the main protagonists in new ways, making the tapestry of the story world much richer. Oh, and I’m very pleased by the move towards hotter stories. I love them hot.
Tracey: What are your predictions for this subgenre in the next one to three years?
Barbara: Wow, well if I had those I would not be answering these questions I would be at the Kate Spade store across the street spending all of the money coming my way in the next one to three years. But here is the thing: if you have the ability to craft a fresh, original take on a concept that works, with an alpha hero and a determined heroine you have a shot and being part of the sub genre. Just make sure to research the era and READ in your genre.
Kris: Oohh, when you’re at Kate Spade, can you pick me up pair of those red heels, with the black . . . Well, really, any pair will do . . .
It’s hard to keep hearing the same things over and over: write a great story. Give it a relatable hook so we can know where to put it on a shelf, but . . . be Unique and Original!
It’s like trying to read tea leaves. Which is why . . . I don’t think we should do it.
Agents and editors really mean it when they say those things. It really is that indefinable. Good art often is.
Think about it. Think about the stories you love to read. Yes, you could probably explain what you loved about them, but that can’t be sufficient explanation, can it? Because there are other stories out there with those same exact elements, that didn’t grab you. Why? Can you explain it in a way that would allow someone else to say, “Oky-doky! Got it. I’ll start doing that in my manuscripts from here on out.”
Probably not. “Strong heroine” could be a thousand different things. This is just one of those things. You know it when you see it.
I think we writers should forget trends, forget the indefinables.
I think we should read craft books. I think we should read books in the genre we want to write in. Most importantly, I think we should write. Lots. Quantity produces quality. The more you do it, the better you will get. (As long as you’re not banging your head against a wall, ignoring feedback and not evolving.) It’s *exactly* like playing the piano. The more you play, the better you get.
And we should take risks in our writing. Once you have the basic craft elements down, don’t be safe. Push your own personal envelope. (More on one way to do this in my craft-related blog here at RU today, “I Mean Really . . . What’s The Worst That Could Happen?”)
And, if you know that you simply must write, then write. Worry about writing, not selling. I think the overwhelming focus on being published can actually be detrimental to us as craftswomen. I don’t recall it being so strong when I first got involved with RWA, maybe 10 years ago. Think about Story. How do I write a great story?
Focus there, be persistent, be smart about it, and forget about trends. Who knows what might happen?
Thanks so much for having us here!
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Read on for Kris’ fabulous lecture:
A car chase? The murderer walking in? A slip of the tongue? An army marching by and setting up camp beneath the tree where the hero and heroine are hiding and, ahem, engaged in other activities? (THE IRISH WARRIOR, June, ‘10, pg 266 )
Because whatever that ‘worst thing’ is, that’s what we need to do in our fiction.
In the scene you’re writing today, or the one you’re revising, have you really made the characters sweat? Pushed them to their limits (as they are thus far revealed)? Have you taken away the person the hero relies on, the quality the heroine depends on, the outcome they expected, and turned it all on its head?
If not, back to the drawing board.
This is part of what keeps readers reading. And moreover, gets them really engaged and excited about the story. Creates that feeling inside them of “No WAY! What’s going to happen next?” Makes them wave off the husband who comes in to ask about dinner and ignore the ringing phone for just one . . . more . . . minute. Unable to resist, they do what we writers NEED them to do, if we want a career in the publishing world: They Turn The Page.
Voila. A page-turner.
To my mind, this is especially important in genre fiction, because the reader already *knows* how everything’s going to turn out. Hel-LO, it’s a romance. He gets the girl. She gets the boy. They live Happily Ever After, or at least with a real hope of it.
And yet, even in genre fiction, one of the things that keeps people reading is the tension that arises from a story question on each page.
You don’t need to have car chases or vampiric attacks on every page (please feel free to do these things, but they’re not required, unless you have vampires who need to attack and such.) In fact, stories with the most explosions (speaking metaphorically) don’t always sell with the most astonishing results, because there was never any tension in the reader. What *is* required is a certain level of tension within the reader, a feeling of “There’s a story question here and I have to see it answered.”
And one of the most fun, effective ways to do it is make bad stuff happen to your characters.
Whhheeee! It’s like being at an amusement park. No, really.
(And, lest my enthusiasm for Terrible Things Happening To Good People lead you to think I believe it’s the only ingredient to creating reader involvement, I’ll say right now, I know it’s not. For instance, it helps if readers care about your characters. So you have to write compelling protagonists. Just as a for instance. But this blog is about making those compelling protagonists suffer, which is the fun part. And, not coincidentally, it leads to creating characters readers care about, so it’s a very cool feedback loop.)
Making things bad for our characters can be difficult for us writers. Without even knowing it, we take it easy on them. They planned to make it home from work that night, and, lo and behold, they make it home from work that night.
Bo-o-o-ring. I mean, maybe *sometimes* they can make it home from work. Like, say, on Tuesdays.
But if you want a page turner, you may want to turn up the heat, throw them some curve balls, do the unexpected, take away whatever they thought they needed, then push them in the river when they don’t know how to swim. And oh my goodness, did you say a flash flood is coming??
Whatever expectations you set up at the start of the scene or chapter, try blowing them out of the water, and see what happens. Whatever goals you had for them, ensure they do not achieve them, and in the most uncomfortable ways imaginable.
A simple test for your current scene:
~ Yes, but . . .
Or, my favorite,
~ No, and furthermore . . .
Oh, yes! Yes, yes, yes! Now, that’s some Story fun.
If your characters are achieving their goals as planned in each scene, you can very likely ramp up the tension and get your readers engaged more deeply by trying this approach.
Again, I’m not talking the literary equivalent of “24”. Your story can be a very ‘quiet’ one, with two people simply trying to avoid falling in love. But within that framework, there need to be story questions that keep the reader engaged.
What’s the last thing your heroine successfully accomplished, or that went as planned? Her alarm clock going off on time? Her winning the case? The carriage arriving on time for the ball? Did she talk to a friend and does she feel better now? Stop that.
Make her fail. Put a bigger obstacle in her way, one that has to stop her dead in her track, make her readjust course, into a brick wall. Or better yet, the hero!
And who about him? What’s he got going on?
Did the boat arrive at the dock as expected? Is the castle gate open? Did he plan to wear clothes to work today? And were they all hanging there in his closet as expected? Darn. Was his side-kick a reliable and trustworthy side-kick, with no personal agendas or ulterior motives, not thwarting the hero in any way, even for the best of reasons?
Did they person they went to for help give them help? Did they get the information they needed? Did the army about to camp beneath the tree they’re hiding in move on and camp somewhere else? (In draft versions #1-43 of THE IRISH WARRIOR, they did. Then, to my surprise, they decided to camp beneath the tree, and holy moley . . . .)
Give it a try with the scene you’re working on today. Or, if you hit a boring, ho-hum patch in your manuscript, go back about 2 chapters, and make something that went well, go poorly. Make something that went as planned, go awry. Make the army camp beneath the tree. Mix it up.
Push them in the river and don’t teach them how to swim. That’s why we’re reading. We want to watch them learn.
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RU Readers, what do you think? Are medievals hot? Will you give Kris’ technique of making something good go bad?
In February, we’ll also highlight we’ll highlight Regency/Edwardian and Victorian periods. Check our lecture schedule for the dates.
Be sure to stop back on Monday to chat with 2009 RWA Bookseller of the Year Rosemary Potter. She’ll tell us what draws her to a book and how authors can make their books stand out.
Kris Kennedy writes sexy, adventure-filled medieval romances for Kensington and Pocket Books. Her debut book, THE CONQUEROR, came out May ‘09. Her second, THE IRISH WARRIOR, was the winner of RWA’s 2008 Golden Heart ® Award for Best Historical Romance, and releases June ‘10. Kris loves hearing from readers–stop by her website http://www.kriskennedy.net/, sign up for her newsletter, and say Hi!
Barbara Poelle began her publishing career as a freelance copywriter and editor before joining the Irene Goodman Agency in 2007, but feels as if she truly prepared for the industry during her brief stint as a stand-up comic in Los Angeles. She has found success placing thrillers, literary suspense, historical romances, humorous/platform driven non-fiction, and upmarket fiction and is actively seeking her next great client in those genres, but is passionate about anything with a unique voice. Barbara has a very hands on approach with the craft and editorial details of the books she represents, and loves working with her clients to take their writing to the next level.
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