A few weeks ago [a few years ago now] I came across a box of books I had put aside last spring  when I moved because I wasn’t sure if I should discard them or not. Most of them were old paperbacks. I knew I needed to go through them, and in my new, anti-procrastination frame of mind, I decided I should complete the task without delay. Most of them I trashed—tattered first copies of books, books students gave me that I “had” to read, Dover Thrift editions of classics that I own in better editions. But one book I kept to take a closer look at: How to Write a Romance and Get It Published (1983) by Kathryn Falk, founder of Romantic Times. The cover pitch promises “Intimate Advice from the World’s Top Romance Writers.” I checked the table of contents.
Twenty-eight years is a long time. This book was not only pre-Internet; it was pre-Nora. Frankly, many of the names I didn’t recognize, and some I did recognize didn’t make me want to sit down and start reading. But then I saw “Jayne Castle,” and on page 115 was a young Jayne Ann Krentz, whom I would never have recognized, advising me on how to begin my book. Her cardinal rule” “Write 'em the way you like to read 'em.” Hmm, sounded like pretty good advice to me.
I returned to the table of contents. This time I saw “Maggie Osborne.” Maggie Osborne! Writing on character! This woman has created some of the most memorable characters I have ever encountered. I quickly turned to 87. She’s wearing a hat and an expression that says she knows something I don’t. Well, of course, I know she does. I started reading. And the first things she tells me to do to know my characters are things I have done, maybe because I read Maggie Osborne books. Then she tells me to do something I never thought of: clip pictures that resemble my characters and draw in any scars, beards, moles, etc. that my characters have, so that my heroine’s lone dimple won’t start out on her right cheek and leap to her left on page 107. I should do that. In my first book I was always forgetting which of my hero’s hands he could not use, a real problem with the love scenes.
Maggie also gives me advice on dialogue. Effective dialogue should do three of the following things: (1) Aid characterization through content and presentation. (2) Develop the story line. (3) Show characters’ state of mind and temperament. (4) Provide new information to the reader. (5) Interrupt lengthy narrative and pick up the pace of your story. Ouch! Clearly Maggie knows the problem I have with lengthy narrative.
I have to go give my dialogue the three point check. Oh, about the book! It’s staying on my desk. Roberta Gellis and Marion Chesney have a thing or two to teach me as well. And who knows? I may check out some of the writers I don’t know. I may even read the Barbara Cartland interview. If I can keep writing as long as she did, I may have time to be published.
But Nora was published in 1983. They could have added her in a postscript or something. Didn’t they know who she was going to be?
What about you? Have you ever rediscovered advice you had forgotten? Whom do you trust as a dispenser of advice, writing advice or some other kind?