Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What Her Heart Remembers by C. Barry Denham

When you’re from Mars, it’s not easy getting into the head of a Venusian. So how does a man write romance and write the POV of a woman? The short answer is: He maybe doesn’t, at least not fully. The long answer is: It takes work, I can tell you. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a typical guys in most regards. I’m a sport enthusiast. I love to fish, and I [b][u]loves[/u][/b] my John Deere. On the other hand, I’ve been told I look pretty good in an apron. I can make mean chocolate chip pancakes for my daughters on Saturday mornings, and great pot roast on Sunday. And I must admit, one of my favorite things is lying in bed late Saturday night with the love of my life and watching Lifetime and (gulp) sometimes Hallmark movies.

Pre-romance writing, a few years ago, I was at a book signing for one of my traditional mainstream novels–a fictional account of a man who adopts a little girl from China, and falls in love with a Chinese woman who could be the child’s mother. It’s a love story, one of those that tug at your heart strings. So, anyway, these three women approach my table and introduce themselves. I soon learn they are fellow novelists, as well. After a short round of pleasantries, one of them gets straight to the point.

“You need to join our writers’ group.”

I was intrigued. The small group I was part of had dissolved.

“Great,” I said. “Tell me more.”

“We’ve started a local chapter of Romance Writers of America, and you can become a charter member.”

“Whoa.” I backed away and almost fell over my chair. “No, no, no, no, no. I’m sorry. I’m a guy.”

“We’ve very aware of that,” another one said.

“Your book is essentially a romance.” The third one pointed to the book display. “I think it’s time you took the next step.”

That was the start. I attended the next meeting. Fortunately, it was winter and I was able to adequately disguise myself. I wore jeans, a worn-out denim jacket, a baseball cap and sun glasses. I waited until no one was looking and found a back entrance, and slipped into the meeting room. I sat in the back and kept quiet, hoping I would be invisible. To my dismay, I was recognized as a visitor and asked to introduce and tell a little about myself.

“I like long, slow, romantic walks on the beach. Champagne and candle lit dinners. . .” 


What I really said was: “How ‘bout those Bucks, huh? Super bowl this year, ya think?”

I can’t remember feeling so out of place. All those ladies looking at me, no doubt seeing right through me.

To make a long story short, I joined the chapter and RWA and found I enjoyed the meetings. It was actually at one of those meetings that I found out just how little I know about writing. I actually thought I was a writer, until this group of talented ladies proved otherwise. I’m not even close. About the only thing I have going for me is that I have some good ideas for stories.

Over the next months, they set me straight, helped me fix my writing and then talked me into entering a contest–which I won. I got a contract and was soon on my way to writing romance. Not saying it’s been a bed of roses, but it’s been quite a ride. Made PAN and just signed my fourth contract–first with TWRP, the one publisher I’ve been trying to land for a long while. With any luck, Time for Raine will be released next spring or so.

Through it all, one thing has never changed. I have a sure-fire secret weapon for success. It isn’t a critique partner, a beta reader, or even a copy editor (although I rely heavily on all of these).

It’s my wife. the love of my life.

How so, you may ask?

Karen keeps me on track. She has no experience in writing, editing or critiquing. Very simply, she is an avid reader of romance. So I take advantage of this invaluable resource, which conveniently lives under my roof. Two or three times a year, I rely on her expertise in a special way. Here’s how it goes:

I wait until things are quiet, and catch her alone with a paperback. It might be in the den, in the bed at night, or on a chaise by the pool. I test the waters by walking slowing past her, usually barefoot, with just jeans or pajama bottoms. (She’s a sucker for a hairy chest). If she looks up for no longer than a cursory glance, I know the book she’s reading is good, and there’s no chance I can keep her attention long enough for what I need. In that case, I wait for a better opportunity. But if she keeps looking I just stand there, looking as if I have something on my mind. She looks at me with that “why have you interrupted me?” expression.


 I have her attention. “I’ve got this idea for a new story.”

“I’m listening.”

This is the important part. I begin my carefully rehearsed pitch. Yes, I said pitch. This is essentially what I have prepared, practiced over and over before walking past. I know I have two or three minutes, tops, to present the idea to her. Rule number one: Never look at her during the pitch. Wait until the pitch is over, then look. Peripheral vision is the key. If she removes her glasses, that’s good. If she book marks and puts the book down, I know I have something. I finish my pitch, look at her, and the scenarios go like this.

“Well?” I ask.

Her response is key. If her eyes are dry, the story’s crashed and burned, especially if I get the following or a similar response.


Or, “That’s nice.”

Or the absolute worst, “I don’t get it.”

But if my first look finds tears or even the smallest of a sniffle, and I get a response like:

“Oh my god, I love it.”

Or, “Why do you do this to me?”

Or my favorite, “Don’t look at me, I’m a mess.”

Touchdown! I go immediate to my laptop and start formally outlining and plotting. (Well, if I’m lucky, I take advantage of those adoring looks and maybe get the book started a little later.)
But it doesn’t end there. If I have a real winner, she will return to my idea, sometimes even days later. She’ll revisit my pitch and ask questions or make subtle suggestions. And she’ll stay with me the entire way, reading excerpts and making sure the POV of my heroine is what a woman would really say or feel.

She’s just supporting me, helping to make sure I’m going to get that story done.  For her, the story is already real. The characters are alive and in the fabric of her very being. And she can’t stand the thought of my not writing about what her heart already remembers.

C. Barry Denham



stanalei said...

Just Awesome, C. Barry! Awesome. :)

Kimberly Keyes Romance said...

Now that's sweet. :-) Thanks for sharing. Loved hearing about your secret weapon.