Sunday, June 08, 2008

Guest Drunk: Stephanie Doyle

In my writing/drinking life, before there was Maureen and Sinead there was Stephanie Doyle. She's a fantastic Harlequin writer whose career has taken her from Intimate Moments to Duets, Flipside, Bombshell (The Contestant 2005 Romantic Times Best Bombshell winner, right here, folks) and now the Athena Force series. Untouchable is out now and I couldn't recommend it more.

She poses a question in the following post regarding what is the Stephanie Doyle experience - and I'll answer it for her: out of the box heroines (did I mention Untouchable's heroine has poison skin?) and heroes who leap off the page fully formed. Stephanie gets away with things in category romance that no one else does.

Here she is:

First I want to say thank you to the DWs for allowing me to guest blog. This is officially my first blog. Very exciting. Usually, I read blogs and think… all the good stuff has been said already - why bother? That’s especially true of DWT. It’s almost a little weird how much I jive with you guys.

Anyway I told Molly I was going to write about one thing. Then I changed my mind. Not unlike what I do with my editor. What I wanted to talk about was a) I’m in love with David Cook. For those who don’t know he won American Idol. And b) how a singing competition really sets an example for writers who want to be successful.

I ‘lurv’ David. I figure I’ll wait until he gets his fill of hot Hollywood ass and then make my move. I’m starting with a ‘Will You Marry Me David C’ sign that I plan to hold up during the Idol concert. That’s right. I’m a 37 year old single woman and I’m going to the Idol concert. It’s okay. Mock me. I would.

Moving on… In one of the writers group I belong to there is an author who was in the publishing biz for many years. He gave a talk at a conference in which he said something that blew me away but probably shouldn’t have given that I’ve been doing this for 12 years. He said part of being a successful author is the ability to repeat the same experience book after book.

I get it. Stephen King has to be Steven King. Nora Roberts has to be Nora Roberts. But as I watched this season of Idol it hit home with me. What made David special wasn’t just his voice it was the David Cook experience. If you look at several of his performances he consistently did three things: big notes, angsty-emo emotion, new twist.

A different song each week but the same feeling. I found myself thinking it doesn’t matter what he sings. I want the experience. Me and the other people who voted for a total of 94 million times. (I only voted like 50 times. I swear.)

As writers we need to do the same. Deliver a different story, but deliver the same experience with each book. It’s not easy. The first hurdle is not re-telling the same story over and over. I can say there are a number of authors who I fell in love with, who ultimately I gave up on, because for me the books ran together. The plotting, the characterization, the pacing, the resolution - same old, same old. Insert character’s name (here).

The second hurdle is identifying what you want your experience to be. This is where as a writer it really comes down to crunch time. You need to choose the elements that will make up your experience and you need to love them because whatever you pick you will need to repeat them FOR-EVAH.

Imagine a JR Ward Brotherhood book that’s funny and lighthearted with a well adjusted beta hero who doesn’t need saving? Or an Elizabeth Hoyt historical that closes the door on the bedroom scene? Breaking faith with readers is just about the kiss of death for an author.

Keep in mind what I’m talking about isn’t voice. You don’t choose your voice – it is what it is. All you can do is hone it. But the experience – that’s completely up to you. Do you like hot sex scenes or tame ones? Lots of action or lots of angst? Do you want to make readers laugh or cry or both?
As an experiment think about your favorite authors, old and new, who are successful. What are the elements you need from them to consider the book a success? I’ve been writing for 12 years. I have 10 books published. I’ve done funny, action, mystery, paranormal. I have done strong heroines and alpha males. Now I’m attempting an historical. Basically I’ve been all over the place. The thing to do now is to isolate from those 10 books what elements are consistent. What do I keep going back to? What makes a Stephanie Doyle book a Stephanie Doyle book?

If you’re thinking about being a successfully published author you need to do it too. Who are you, what elements make up your experience, and what do you want to bring to each story each time? If you figure that out, and if readers fall in love with that experience, you too could win 94 million votes.


Maureen McGowan said...

Wow. What great food for thought, Stephanie. Thanks so much for guest blogging. You must come back up to Toronto for some real DWT.
I fret about genre/sub-genre all the time (which one to write in), but you're right what I should really be figuring out goes deeper than that... (or transcends it, or both...)

Only one problem with your post, and I hate to break it to you... but David Cook will be mine!!! I saw him first. I'm sure I did. I remember calling dibs before you. Sorry.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Hilarious - because what you don't know about David Cook is that he likes pregnant older women. Namely, me.

I've been thinking about this post all day and what really resonated with me as a reader is how forgiving I am of authors as long as they keep delivering that experience. Anne Stuart -- flawed writer, but I keep going back for more because I know what I will get no one else can give me like her.

Anonymous said...

Maureen - I'm with you on the genre/sub genre thing. It's what got me thinking about this since I'm switching gears with the historical. In theory - it shouldn't matter what sub genre you write in as long as the experience is the same. Jayne Ann Krentz comes to mine as someone who can straddle historical and contempory and paranormal.

And I posted here once about Kresely Cole - YOU ALL HAVE TO READ HER - so I can have someone to discuss her with. Her paranormal series is amazing - but I just learned she first did historicals so I can't wait to see what they were like. In the paranormals she takes hot to a whole new level. I think she would make JR Ward blush.

As for you and Molly - beating me to David - I'm sooo not worried. Hello? Did I not mention that I planned to propose via a sign. I plan to draw hearts on it too. You two don't have shot.

Thanks for letting me do this. It was fun.

Anonymous said...

Hey Stephanie,
So true, decide what elements work in your writing and you can take those elements to whichever genre you choose to write in.
Smart. We need you back for more DWT.
I think with a few beers, or ciders, this topic could get even more interesting.

I've earmarked David Cook for my twenty five year old sister. I'm going to live vicariously through her.

Maureen McGowan said...

Damn you and your sign, Stephanie. It will win his heart for sure.

Marilyn Brant said...

Stephanie, this was a wonderful post (and kudos to DWT for bringing in such fascinating guests :)!

This line really jumped out at me: "He said part of being a successful author is the ability to repeat the same experience book after book."

You're so right--about how this fits in with D.C. and the A.I. experience (I didn't miss an episode, btw, and David's "Hello" was my favorite song this entire season :), but also about the authors I've read who I love best. That it's the feeling I get reading their books that keeps me coming back...

Thanks for posting.

Molly O'Keefe said...

I wonder about how much of Jayne Anne Krentz's cross genre sucess came because she used two different names? And was totally prolific under both names. Or maybe she just was working in a time that that was necessary. Gena Showalter is writing everything under her own name and she's writing across all genres.

I'm going to give you my David Cook winning secret -- maternity underwear.

Anonymous said...

I heard Jayne talk at RWA once. She said she'd destroyed her own name with with the Sci Fi/paranormal romance she did back in the late 80s. Her only option was to re-invent herself.

It used to be you had to keep the genre names separate - again not to mess with fans heads - but I think more and more are getting away from that.

It's a topic that interests me because I don't know if I'm going to use my name for the historicals.

Then again - if I'm Mrs. David Cook shortly... I'll just go with that.

M. said...

hello, stephanie - do my eyes deceive me or is the heroine on your cover (i'm assuming it's the heroine) wearing a sari? while packing a pistol? for that alone i'll read your book!

ref: kresley cole - i'm too confused by her titles to approach closely enough to actually read

hello, molly - i didn't know you are in production again, congratulations! despise that maternity underwear, though. i could never do it. i stayed with lowriding bikinis througout. for all readers for whom that was TMI i apologize.

J.K. Coi said...

Stephanie, great blog! And while I have no idea who David Cook is (sorry), I do love Kresley Cole and her books (I even read the historicals, which were great!) So we can definitely chat her up anytime!

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