by Anna Campbell
Cathleen Ross is one of the first people I met when I started hanging out with the Aussie romance community and she's great fun. She's also really clever and talented and knowledgeable about romance and the romance market.
I'm privileged to be in a crit group with her, the A-Team, that meets sporadically. Well, mainly when I'm down in Sydney - it was easier when I lived there! Here's a picture of most of the A-Team taken at the RWA conference in San Francisco in 2008. From left to right, you've got Anna Campbell, Cathleen, Kandy Shepherd, who was a fantastic guest here recently to talk about her debut LOVE IS A FOUR-LEGGED WORD, and 2009 Golden Heart finalist Vanessa Barneveld, who often posts here as Authorness.
You can find out more about Cathleen Ross and her books on her website: www.cathleenross.com
You can download her Spice Brief PSYCHIC SEX here: http://www.ebooks.eharlequin.com/EB004F77-4DD0-4615-BBAE-7447B4396066/10/126/en/ContentDetails.htm?ID=41E57707-AC43-4F38-93A0-42068FF90398
Today, I'm delighted to have Cathleen here to talk about something that's a bit new for the lair.
Cathleen has put together a fantastic course on how to write category romance. Here's the lowdown on the course:
Writing for Publication – Category Romance is a course I developed over a period of a year because I wished there had been a course like it when I started writing over twenty years ago. It takes many years to glean how the conventions of category work. Most writers understand that they need a hero and a heroine to make a romance, but they don’t understand how to get “Hero alert”, the level of emotional punch, conflict and sexual tension needed for a romance of 50-55,000 words.
I interviewed sixteen published romance writers for their views covering the alpha hero, the heroine, setting, characterisation, conflict, sexual tension and writing techniques so that students could get up-to-date information about what is required to write a category. Each module of the course has exercises that students do at home to build up their knowledge, followed by seven assessment tasks.
Students often have difficulty with plotting but I spend time going over their plot, teaching them how to deepen it so that there is enough conflict to drive the novel to completion. Another area that students find difficult is writing the love scenes. Believe me, it’s more than just “docking procedure”. They learn to weave in the five senses and the emotional punch so that readers are drawn into the story.
By the end of the course, students come out with three chapters and a synopsis, which is enough to submit to the Mills and Boon’s London office. It’s exciting to see students I have helped either win competitions or sell their novels. Although writers have to have the vision and drive to produce a book, having a published author to offer advice along to way, makes a huge difference.
TAFE OTEN’s 27079 Writing for Publication – Category romance is $580 Australian dollars.
For students interested in doing the course the link is:
Cathleen, this course sounds fantastic. I, like you, wish there had been something like this around when I started writing. Is it just for Australians or do you think it’s just as relevant for international writers?
The course is for writers who want to write for Harlequin Presents, Harlequin Romance and Silhouette Desire. The college I work for is a distance learning college so we have students from all over the world. The course is sent to students on a CD and students submit their assignments through the college website. I log in and print them off. I usually write my feedback straight onto the assignment and post it back, though sometimes I either ring or email the student and we brainstorm plot, conflict, characterisation together, going back and forward until the plot feels right. Occasionally, if the plot still feels off, I email one of the authors below and ask their advice as they are at the coal face dealing with the London and NY editors.
Can you tell us some of the writers you had involved in helping you put the course together? What were some of the really salient points they brought up?
I’ll be in trouble if I mention one name and leave out others, so I hope you don’t mind me putting in the list of great authors who helped me by contributing to the course: Anna Campbell, Michelle Douglas, Anne Gracie, Robyn Grady, Barbara Hannay, Melissa James, Bronwyn Jameson, Fiona Lowe, Melanie Milburne, Trish Morey, Valerie Parv, Maxine Sullivan, Paula Roe, Cathleen Ross, Denise Rossetti, Annie West.
These writers had a wealth of experience which they generously agreed to pass on. Stand outs for me are: Presents author, Annie West who does a knock out alpha male and Sweet author, Michelle Douglas who does such tender characters. They explain step by step how to create them. Emotional punch is essential for category and expert Barbara Hannay shows how to get that depth with her plot twists and turns and I mustn’t for get to mention a certain terrific author named Anna Campbell who talks about how to get the emotion into a love scene so that it’s more than ‘docking procedure’.
How are the assessment tasks structured? Do the participants receive a lot of feedback on their work? How long does the course take to complete?
There are seven assessments and the students have one year to complete the course. I get the students to submit characterization sheets and a loose plot in assessment one because with category I think you really need to know your characters well and what motivates them. Seasoned authors understand the conventions of category but new writers don’t, so I explain the necessity of a suitable conflict/s and how it has to be up front in that first chapter. By the time the students have finished the course, they have written three chapters, a synopsis, a love scene, a kiss scene and a query letter so that they enough to submit to Harlequin Mills and Boon.
What was the hardest part of putting the course together? What was the easiest?
After ten years of attending RWA National conferences and over twenty years of writing, I wrote this course in forty hours. It came together so quickly because there was so much romance knowledge in my head. What was difficult is that they made me program it under the supervision of a brilliant designer but I’d never built a website before. I’ve come out of it with a far great technical understanding than when I went in.
I think this is a marvellous resource. Would you consider doing something similar for the single title market?
No, because single title doesn’t have the parameters of category romance.
Some people believe you can’t teach someone to be a writer. What are your feelings on this question?
I know writing can be taught, but it helps to have passion. I’ve seen students start off with fairly mundane ideas until I put a bomb under them and say, “what about this, have you tried that? What I’m really doing is just helping them develop their imagination muscle and confidence. I like to get my students to a publishable level or at the very least placing/winning a competition. I run a private book editing service with author, Kandy Shepherd, which we don’t advertise because we’re already busy, but several of our clients have sold their books after we helped them, so I know that it is possible for students, who are prepared to put the work in, to rapidly improve.
You’re a multipublished writer yourself. Can you tell us about your writing and where we can get your books?
I love writing sexy, psychic characters who bite off more than they can chew. My latest release "Psychic Sex", Harlequin Spice Briefs has been published in NAUGHTY BITS, the Spice Briefs Anthology. I've also just sold DIRTY SEXY MURDER where my psychic heroine discovers there is more to Brazilian waxing than the ‘ouch’ factor to Lyrical Press.
Cathleen, do you have a question to get discussion going?
Can everyone write category? Writers need to find their voice and they can only do that by writing. People often start with category but that’s not necessarily where they end up. What publisher did you first aim for and if you did sell, where did you end up?
Cathleen has very kindly offered one lucky commenter today a copy of NAUGHTY BITS: AN ANTHOLOGY OF SHORT EROTIC FICTION from Harlequin. It includes her Spice Brief "Psychic Sex". So get commenting, people! And don't forget to pick Cathleen's brains about the writing course and category romance.