Wednesday, February 6, 2013


My guest is romance author, Susan Sey. The road to writing an engaging book has a lot of bumps, roadblocks, frustrations, and false paths. There are many necessary ingredients that must be blended just right to tell a good story. Certain components of a book are easier to develop than others, depending upon the author, and Susan discusses what is the hard part for her. 

What’s the hardest part of writing a book?  Ask one hundred authors and you’ll get one hundred different answers.  Possibly more.  (There are so many hard parts and some of us are indecisive.)  But if you’re asking me?  It’s the heroine.  Heroines just kill me.

Now according to conventional wisdom, readers want two things from their romance novels.  First, they want to fall in love with the hero.  Which is great news for me because my heroes are cooperative that way.  They jump out of my imagination and land on the page ready to run directly at the thing they want (us), conquer it (swoon!) and carry it home like Rhett carrying his Scarlett kicking and screaming (but not really) up the staircase.
*happy sigh*

So I've got that going for me.  But the other thing readers want from their romance novel experience?  A likable heroine.  A heroine who is so utterly engaging that readers not only root for her, but want to be her.  At least while reading the story.  That’s not our name on the page, but we like the character so much that, in our hearts, we are experiencing the story on her behalf, as if we are her.  And being that intensely involved in the story?  That’s what makes us close the book after THE END with a big, satisfied sigh. 
Creating a heroine who can do this, however?  That’s a problem for me.   I am, by nature, a cautious person.  It takes me a good long while--and considerable courage--to offer my friendship to somebody.  That whole instant likability thing?  Not a strong suit of mine.
It’s not that I’m writing myself as the heroine in every book.  (God forbid.)  But I, like most writers, am an introverted control freak who desperately craves connection.  As a result, every story I write is--at its heart--a journey from isolation to connectedness, at the cost of control.  In other words, while my characters are going to up happily enmeshed in family, they start out Chapter One in sort of a rough place.  Lonely.  Disconnected.  Unhappy.  But that sort of relentless grimness isn't exactly inviting.  So it’s my job as a writer to leaven it a bit with hope, comedy, and--yes--some instant likability.

My latest heroine--Belinda West from TASTE FOR TROUBLE--taught me a great deal about how that can be done.  When we meet her, Bel’s about to get married to a very good man she doesn't love.  And who doesn't love her.  And she’s fine with that.  Better than fine.  She doesn't want love in her life or anything like it.  She is, in fact, marrying her lawyer.  Her best friend is her personal assistant.  There is nobody in Bel’s life--in Chapter One, anyway--who isn't paid to be there.  She has her reasons for keeping people at arm’s length--really, really good ones--but until we discover what they are, she’s a little tough to love.

But fear not!  Nothing makes a girl more accessible than public humiliation, right?  So how about we have her fiancĂ© and her best friend discover they’re in love and run off together minutes before the wedding? 

Not enough?

What if it all unfolds on live TV?

Still not enough?

What if it’s all the hero’s fault?

Mission accomplished. 

And why?  Because we all know what risk is.  We all know what failure feels like.  We all know how public humiliation stings, especially when it comes at the hands of a hot guy who didn't even notice you standing there.  And watching poor Bel swallow the whole thing in front of an audience of millions?  Instant sympathy.  Maybe she wasn't making great choices, but nobody deserves that.  You know what that girl deserves?  A happy ending.
And guess what?  She gets one.   She earns it.  I hope you’ll join her on the journey.

  • So tell me, who’s your favorite heroine of all time?  Why do you love her?  Did you love her right away, or did she have to grow on you?


Take one West Texas bad boy...

On the field, soccer star James Blake is pure poetry. Off the field? He’s pure trouble. When his fondness for fast women and bar brawls lands him a suspension from the game, he’s prepared to take his punishment like a man. But since when does a suspension come with a live-in nanny?

Add one domestic diva...

TV baking maven Belinda West is the epitome of home-made hospitality, on-screen and off. The personal is the professional when you’re selling the good life, after all. But when her wedding day implodes in front of a live studio audience, Bel’s career goes into a death spiral. She’ll do anything to save it, even take charge of soccer’s most famous bad boy.

Mix well and stand back... 

To hell with the morals clause in his contract; James isn't about to shape up for some knock-off Mary Poppins. But since when does Mary Poppins laugh like a naughty angel and smell like sugar cookies? He’s not looking for love but that kiss of hers is practically perfect in every way. And James has a powerful taste for trouble.

Because it's about to get hot in this kitchen.  Excerpt

Some years back, Golden Heart ® Award Winner Susan Sey gave up the glamorous world of software training to pursue a high powered career in diaper changing. Two children and millions of diapers later, she decided to branch out and started writing novels during nap time. The kids eventually gave up their naps, so now she writes when she's supposed to be doing the laundry. She currently resides in St. Paul, MN, with her wonderful husband, their charming children and a *very* tall pile of dirty clothes. 

You can visit her on the web at Facebook and Goodreads.


~Sia McKye~ said...

Susan, welcome to Over Coffee! I'm so glad you're visiting. I really like this story.

I have a few favorites, but I can't recall the names right now. Probably because the brain is done been fried, lol! I'll share some later.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Sia! Thanks for having me--I love a good conversation over coffee. In fact, on TASTE FOR TROUBLE's dedication page, I mention the coffee shop where I write because I so appreciate having a friendly place to write that smells so good. And isn't stingy with the coffee. :-)

Looking forward to having a great conversation today!

Terri Osburn said...

I cannot wait to read this book! And I'm amazed at the insight you have on your process and your characters. I never dive that deep. Afraid of what I might find. :)

Picking a favorite heroine is HARD! SEP's Sugar Beth stands out for me, and no, I did not like her right off. She's a tough one to like, but Phillips did a wonderful job of bringing her (and the reader) around in the end.

I also love Jennifer Crusie's Min in BET ME. So relatable. A little round. A little cynical. Okay, maybe a lot cynical. I so love that book, but it's one where the heroine really keeps the spotlight, though the hero is yummy too.

Susan Sey said...

Hey, Terri!

Oh, Sugar Beth Carey! I did love her. Not so much at the beginning, though. You're right. She was a hard sell at first. But I think it helped--a LOT, by the way--that SEP saddled her with a farting dog in Chapter One. See? Humiliation. It works.

nutschell said...

I've read a lot of YA books with wonderful, strong women in the lead. But for some reason, Hermione from Harry POtter always stands out in my mind whenever I think of a favorite female character. :)


L.G. Smith said...

I almost spit my tea when you said that writing a likable character is hard because you're an introverted control freak. Ha! That is so me. I'm not the first person people run to for conversation at a party.

So, yeah, I totally get what you're saying about having to figure out how to make a character likable by putting her in sympathetic situations. It's hard work! :))

Donna K. Weaver said...

Great post. And I love your example of providing connecting to an unlikeable female lead with sympathy. Sounds like a fun book.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Nutschell!

Thank you for mentioning Hermione! I think sometimes we forget that she started out book one as pretty dislikable. But doing battle with a troll in the bathroom has a way of revealing character, & hers is sterling.

In fact, Hermione is one of my younger daughters' favorite characters when she plays pretend. She spent much of last summer answering only to that name, in fact. I was annoyed at first ("Mom, you're supposed to call me HERMIONE."), then decided that if calling her a pretend name helps her be smart, brave, & principled maybe I ought to roll with it.

Susan Sey said...

LG, I'm so glad you identify with that! I think it's the hardest part for most writers because we're not what you'd call typical. We often prefer the people in our heads to the actual people around us, & that makes us a trifle...odd.

I understand there is such a thing as an extroverted writer but I'm not sure I believe it. Let me know if you spot one.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Donna! I do think if you're going to introduce a character who isn't immediately lovable (and sadly this is the only kind I write) you really have to put her in seriously hot water if you want the reader to hang in there. It's a tricky balance but one I've had to get the hang of.

Now if only I could get that balance right in the first draft. Or second. Heck, I'd be happy with third...

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing Susan. I don't write romance, but I'm starting a YA project and it'll have to have some. Your tips on what makes a romance work were helpful.

Susan Sey said...

Hi, Natalie--

Thanks for stopping by, & good luck on the YA! I love YA, myself, especially when there's some romance woven in. I'm so glad you found something helpful here.

Talli Roland said...

Great post, Susan! Hm, favourite heroine... Nancy Drew? Clever and resourceful!

Susan Sey said...

Nancy Drew's a great one, Talli! And she had a cool car to boot! That never hurts.