A few weeks ago, I was looking through a box of paperwork in the basement and came across a romance novel I’d written over 20 years ago. Back then, I didn’t have a computer or even a word processor, so it had been typed on a regular typewriter…all 500 pages of it.
I lugged the manuscript upstairs and started to read it. Some of it was good. Some of it was hysterically funny…but not intentionally.
“I’m going to type this into my computer and then edit it,” I told my husband. “I’ve heard that steamy romances are selling like hotcakes right now, so I’m going to heat up this one.”
He rolled his eyes. “Maybe you should hire a ghostwriter…one who’s about 30.”
I glared at him. “I can handle it – I’m not so old I can’t remember what ‘steamy’ is…at least I don’t think I am.”
My high-school English teacher used to tell me that whenever I wrote fiction, to write it as if I were describing everything to a blind person. “Paint a picture with words!” he’d say.
Easier said than done, I soon discovered. When I’m writing something, I can see it clearly in my own mind, but the only way I can tell if the reader will be able to see it just as clearly is to actually test it on someone. So I have been using my husband as my guinea pig.
For example, the other night, when I was working on the book, I said to him, “If I write, ‘He assumed an authoritative stance, his arms folded across his chest, his feet braced apart,’ what do you picture?”
My husband stood and assumed the exact position I had envisioned when I wrote it.
“How about, ‘His hand cupped the side of her face’?” I continued.
My husband put his hand against the side of his face…and then fluttered his eyelashes. I really didn’t need the added effects.
“Great!” I said. “So far, so good.”
“You’re not going to write anything about doing cartwheels in the nude or anything like that, are you?” my husband asked. “That’s where I draw the line!”
The main character in my book is a handsome Native-American warrior, so I started to think about how eye-catching the cover would be with him pictured on it.
When Rosalind, the heroine in my book, which is set back in the 1600s, first sets eyes on the warrior, he is described as follows: “Rosalind’s gaze instantly was drawn to the younger of the two. He wore snug leather breeches, nothing more. His muscular chest and taut, flat stomach glistened with a light film of perspiration. His chest was hairless and smooth, something she was not accustomed to seeing. Her eyes rose. His hair, well past his shoulders in length, was glossy and so black, it shone blue in the sunlight, and was held back with a strip of leather. Rosalind decided that his face, with its high cheekbones, strong chin and jaw, and large, dark eyes with their thick fringe of lashes, was one of the most handsome she had ever seen.”
Where, I wondered, would I ever find someone to match that description for my cover? I mentioned it to one of my friends, a fellow writer, and he told me about a website that sells royalty-free stock photos on any subject imaginable. He said they had thousands of photos on the site, so there was bound to be something I could use. I looked up the website and under “search” entered: “Handsome, young Native-American males.”
The sample photos I received bore no resemblance whatsoever to the warrior in my book. Most of the men had pot bellies, double chins, dozens of tattoos and looked as if they were at least in their mid-40s.
“Heck,” my husband said when I showed him the photos, “Even I look more like the guy in your book than these guys do! Maybe you should just buy me a loincloth and have me pose for the cover!”
I frowned at him. “You’re Irish! Our dog is more Native-American than you are!”
That same weekend, there just so happened to be a Native-American inter-tribal pow-wow being held right in my town. So I grabbed my camera and decided to go check it out.
“Don’t tell me you’re going to try to find some hunk over there and have him pose for your book!” my husband said. “The poor guy will think you’re one of those old ladies who chases young guys – what do they call them? Bobcats?”
“You mean cougars?” I shook my head and sighed. “I don’t care what the guy thinks I am. If he looks like the Native-American in my book, I’m not going to leave until I get a photo of him!”
As it turned out, when I arrived at the pow-wow, hardly anyone was there. There were two older men, who were dressed in Native-American garb and dancing, but that was about all.
So I’m beginning to think that by the time I figure out how to write this book, using my former English teacher’s rules, and then find a hunk who’s perfect for my cover, I will be too old to remember how to write a steamy love scene.
But that’s OK. I still will have plenty of fun making my husband act out more of my descriptions. In fact, I already have some real doozies planned for him.