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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Guest Blog: Kay Springsteen: Sweet Challenge

In December 2010, I met an editor/publisher with an incredible dream. She wanted to build a press that published only clean reading. Other people told her that, while they admired her, they didn’t think she would succeed by limiting the company so severely. Stephanie Taylor, with her dream of a sweet press is proving these cynics wrong. Astraea Press, a publisher who specializes in clean reading, has been making a name over the past several months, and all indicators are, this press will continue to grow.

I write full-length novels that are published by Astraea Press. My work is considered “sweet” romance. In truth, I think some of my stories should be categorized as edgy-sweet because of some adult-oriented topics and mildly violent themes. Even so, I have managed to successfully develop a style of writing that allows me to fall in the clean reading category.

Now, writing is a lot of fun for me. It’s about putting words together, crafting a story. I love a good challenge, so writing prompts are often quite fun. In fact, my about-to-be-released Heartsent, one of The Heart Stories (of which Heartsight is one), started out as the response to a writing prompt challenge between myself and a handful of author friends. The prompt was simply ice cream, and I ended up with 5000 words based on that one prompt, and another 1000 words for the next prompt, which was post office, and yet another 1500 words for the third prompt, chignon. At that point, a friend of mine suggested I take it out of the prompt game and turn it into a full story, but I was stubborn and I kept writing with the prompts, the next of which was fire. By then, my writing prompt story had grown to around 20,000 words and I had it completely plotted. Time to admit to my friend, fellow Astraea Press author Kim Bowman, that she was right—Heartsent (originally titled Sweet Treats and Hot Air) wanted to be a full length novel. Scheduled for release this fall from Astraea Press, the story simply took off for me, and it all started with a challenge (and yes, all those challenge words are still contained in the story).

Writing for a sweet publisher is a challenge of another sort. I have built a readership since my first full-length release in March 2011, and two subsequent full-length releases since. This readership expects certain things from my stories. First and foremost, my readers expect to be entertained. Second, they expect the story to be what they consider “safe” reading. This means I can’t include, as my publisher puts it, “anything you wouldn't let your Grandma Betty read.”
My mom was born in England in 1925, and for my entire life, she was an extremely old-fashioned person, with matching values. I learned to show my mother only my conservative side—not because I was afraid of her, but because I respected her. So it became easy to imagine what a sweet romance reader would want to read. I simply pictured Mom. While, sadly, she died before she saw me published, I still feel a sense of pride that the stories I write are tales she would have read and enjoyed. Over the months, I have been surprised by the number of younger readers who have contacted me and told me how much they enjoyed reading my work. Since the stories I write are contemporary romance rather than YA, I never would have thought young women in their late teens and early twenties would enjoy what I write. That just goes to show even a writer can be surprised.

At any rate, some of my “sweet” stories have an edge to them, and my challenge has been to maintain that edge, to tell a good story, to show a sense of internal and external tension, as well as sensual tension between my hero and heroine, without crossing the line to the steamier side.

This challenge has proven very fruitful for me in terms of my creativity. And my method so far has been to run with the emotions of the characters. Not to the point of melodrama, but definitely to the point where they are a fairly tangible part of the story. Simply put, I look for the emotional punch in my stories, and rather than building steam on the physical, I build it on these emotions. I have been able to pace the stories to give them realistic timelines, and I have been able to create characters and stories that somehow meld into something there is, indeed, a market for.

It sounds so easy as I sit here writing about doing it. But actually creating character chemistry that shows emotional connection with potential for physical connection has not really been all that easy for me. I sometimes struggle for the perfect mix without going over the top. I develop characters who scream at me to just turn them loose and let them “go at it.” Luckily, their degree of sexual frustration and the near-combustion that develops also works well for my readers. Rather than go on about why they don’t “do it,” as the storyteller, I simply place my characters in situations where it’s inconvenient to go further, or they experience interruptions, or perhaps they have other issues that they desire to work through before they move into that aspect of the relationship so one or the other simply backs off, or maybe the tension builds and the have an argument. The trick is to balance the story’s elements against the sensual tension of the main characters so neither overshadows the other and yet all of the elements interact and play off of each other.

In Lifeline Echoes, my main characters in present day were instantly attracted. But the entire story in present day took place inside a total of eight days. Added to that, they each had people and pasts they were trying to move forward from, and even with the sensual chemistry that choked them up, they never actually moved into the physical realm of the relationship for the duration of the story. Now, in the second of the Echoes of Orson’s Folly series, Elusive Echoes, the challenge was to keep two characters apart who had grown up together and were soul mates. So, I gave my heroine a life shakeup that damaged her psyche enough to keep her from making that final commitment. Hopefully my writing will continue to be less formulaic and more original, and the overall story will carry the weight needed to balance things. That’s my sweet challenge.

Writing “sweet” has been a challenge for me. But it has also been very rewarding, with every fan who reaches out to tell me how much they appreciate what I write, every reviewer who tells people they enjoyed the stories. And it’s something I plan to continue.

BIO:
Kay Springsteen grew up in Michigan but transplanted to the south about 10 years ago and now resides in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia with her five small dogs. Two of her four children live nearby, a married son who has a daughter of his own, and one of her twins. The other twin lives just outside of USMC Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and is preparing to spend three years in Okinawa with her USMC husband. Her oldest daughter still resides in Michigan. When she's not writing, Kay is transcribing and editing medical reports, and she edits for two different fiction houses. Besides being an avid reader, hobbies include photography, gardening, hiking and camping, and of course spending time with her terrific Grandbaby. She is a firm believer in happily ever after endings and knows there is one out there for everyone; it just may not be exactly what was expected.

BLURB: ELUSIVE ECHOES (Second in The Echoes of Orson’s Folly series)

They’re two people caught between friendship and something more; they can’t move forward, and they can’t let go.

Drawn together from early childhood, Sean McGee and Melanie Mitchell seemed destined for each other. But at age thirteen, Melanie was wrenched from the people she loved and forced onto a path she loathed. Sean was no stranger to people leaving, but losing Melanie devastated him. When she suddenly reappeared in Orson’s Folly, Sean was overjoyed. The Melanie who came home, though, wasn’t the same girl. She’s got a harder edge and she’s obviously hiding something, but Sean no longer knows how to reach her.

Returning to Orson's Folly as an adult, all Melanie wanted to do was forget the years she spent away. But she soon learned that going home didn’t mean she could return to her old life—or her childhood sweetheart, Sean. Even their mutual attraction to one another hasn’t rebuilt the bond of trust and closeness they once shared. It’s been seven years since she returned and now everything Melanie wants to forget has broadsided her. She must confront her demons and relive her past in an unexpected way or risk losing the only man she’s ever loved. But even if she succeeds, Sean might be lost to her anyway.

8 comments:

Karen C said...

I don't normally read 'sweet' romances, but I had the occasion to read Heartsight and absolutely fell in love with it. I look forward to reading more of your books.

Tina Donahue said...

Congrats on your release, Kay - your cover is simply beautiful. May you have many happy sales. :)

Molly Daniels said...

This sounds wonderful! Congrats to you and to Astraes for beating the odds:)

For my mom's birthday, I went through my Kenzie books and 'sweetened' them up; took out the language and in one case, closed the bedroom door. I then printed them out and had them spiral bound. She enjoyed them, but still said I left too much sex in it.

And shocked one of my beta readers for Arbor U when I revealed I took out the sex scenes in books #6 and 7!

Liz said...

nice post Kay. Thanks for your insights.
Liz

jean hart stewart said...

congratulations for bucking the trend. all my editors seem to want hot and hotter, and I find it fun but kind distressing.

Jennifer Comeaux said...

Wonderful post! As someone recently told me, it's great to have a story that both moms and their young daughters can read. I think people are looking for those.

Harlie Reader said...

I had the greatest pleasure of reading and reviewing Lifeline Echoes and its one of the ten best books I've read in the last few years.

Kay, I applaud you for your conviction and I look forward to reading more.

Harlie Reader said...

I have Elusive Echoes on the Nook, ready to be read.

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