Yes, you read that correctly. Today I have author J.L. Salter here to talk about his books and his journey as a writer. I adored his stories before I found out he’s a guy. And then I was impressed; he knows how to sound like a girl, and it’s hilarious! Read on:
Jeff: Delighted to be allowed this visit with Moriah, who’s become a good friend this year. She’s asked me to comment on what it’s like to be a male romance writer.
Since this is a rather long post, let me start with an excerpt from my second published novel, Rescued By That New Guy in Town — so you can decide whether to stick around for my thoughts on guys writing romance.
This excerpt comes from Chapter One — right after the mysterious stranger makes his way to the latched wooden cage that Kristen is trapped inside — the fund-raising jail… in the old Armory building. They’ve exchanged a few words as he has stumbled closer in the pitch-dark, but she knows absolutely nothing about him.
Imagine what YOU might do in such a situation!
|With a few stumbles, another splinter, and some uncreative curses, the mystery man finally reached the cage door. “Okay. I’m here.”I already knew that because I smelled his breath as he panted from the exertion. “Can you un-do this latch thingy?”“Where is it?”I realized he couldn’t see my hand pointing directly at the fastener. “I’m holding it. My arm’s through the bars and I’ve got the thingy in my hand.” I realized that could sound, um, unusual if overheard by anybody. I heard his hands roam over the outside of the cage door. He was too high. “Lower.” Suddenly his fingertips touched my forearm. He yelped and recoiled.It startled me too, but I wasn’t going to act like a sissy. “That’s nearly my elbow. Go the other way about a foot or so and my hand’s on the latch dealie.”“Okay. It threw me a bit to touch flesh.”This stranger was tall — I could tell from the source of his breath, which surely needed a mint. His hands gently explored my forearm to re-establish the location of my elbow. Then he walked his fingers the other direction. If he intended to grope me like this, he owed me dinner. Large hands and long fingers. Short nails. Some calluses on his fingers and the pads of his palm, but not like a lumberjack. Just a man who knew how to work with his hands but probably didn’t rely on those skills for his paycheck.“Will you get on to the latch?” I desperately needed a restroom
“Well, let go of it and give me a chance.” A slight bit of spittle when he sighed again.
Not sure I wanted to share spit from a tall stranger in the dark.
“Okay, I have it in my hands, but I don’t understand how it goes.”
I thought men could undo anything except left-handed buttons. “It felt like a doo-hicky that latches the overhead door on a rental van or something.”
“Oh!” The light came on — in his head, that is. “One of those. Okay. No sweat.” Two smooth movements and it was open.
I pushed on the door, apparently before he’d moved away. It caught him somewhere on his trunk.
“Sorry. Like I said, I need a powder room.”
He made noise backing up. “Okay, take off… for wherever.”
“Where are you going to be?” Didn’t want a strange man lurking in the dark.
“On your tail or as close as I can, without tripping.”
“I don’t want a stranger following me.”
“I need to use that same facility.”
“Whatever. Well, the door ought to be way over there where that exit sign is.” It was the kind with three or four small bulbs normally, but that particular one had only one dim lamp glowing. The signs over the other doors must have burned out completely.
“Oh, yeah. Switch by the exit door. Makes sense.”
So the tall man also had some cognitive powers. Wonder what he looks like? “Do you remember what’s between us and that door?”
“Nope. Never been here before. I’m new in town. Plus, I don’t know what part of this place we’re at right now.” His feet made a shuffling sound as he changed the subject. “So how come nobody let you out of that cage?”
“Karla was supposed to call my brother, but I guess Eric couldn’t be bothered to drive over here from Marrowbone.” I’d moved forward a few careful paces as we talked. “So what are you doing here … and how’d you get locked in?”
Another heavy sigh, from slightly farther behind me. “Long story.”
I focused on the dim, distant exit light and the restroom not far beyond it. “Yeah, well, I’d like to hear it sometime. But for now, we need to speed up before I bust open a bladder gasket.” My arms stretching forward, I remembered a dunking booth against one wall and a huge overhead door nearby. Several small booths around the perimeter. A large inflatable castle dominated the middle of the space.
Whap. My right hand grazed something and my fingers felt coarse rubberized fabric. “Found the castle. I think the area right around this is clear, unless somebody stacked something on the floor. We’ll bear left to reach the corner.” I sped up a bit, figuring we had a good forty feet after turning the corner of the inflatable.
Suddenly his hand touched the side of my neck and gripped my shoulder! “What the…”
“Sorry. I’m a little dizzy and my head’s pounding. Just had to steady myself a bit.”
“Well go steady with that castle wall. I don’t want strangers groping me in the dark.” Actually his touch made my heart beat faster, but the extra adrenaline didn’t help my bladder any.
He’d pulled his hand away quickly. “Good grief. You act like I grabbed something.”
“You did. My neck and shoulder.”
“I meant something else.”
Hmm. Interesting conversation. But I’d need to see his eyes before I let him anywhere near my else… or my others.
What it’s like to be a guy writing romance…
In a sense, I (unwittingly) prepared for this by nearly 30 years as a professional librarian. That field was predominately female and I often found myself largely surrounded by women — which was fine with me. Women are fascinating creatures!
Though most of my creative writing had been in poetry, when I realized there were novels inside me, I had a choice to make. Would I compose fiction in a vein similar to much of the esoteric and literary material in my verse? Or would I write books which had a remote possibility of actually being published?
It didn’t require much research to realize that – compared to men – women read more books, borrowed (from libraries) more books, and purchased more books — by a margin of nearly three-to-one! So it didn’t take a genius to figure out which market offered more statistical possibilities for publication.
My wife read – among several genres – a lot of paperback romances. My research indicated romance was the hot market, so I decided that I should be able to write that genre as well as anything else. After all, I spent several years as a newspaper photo-journalist — covering a wide variety of ASSIGNED subjects … and usually on deadlines! I rarely had the luxury of selecting my own pet topics to write about.
Problem was: I had very little actual grasp of what a “romance” was about. [Note: I now realize there are numerous sub-genres and hybrid genres within the broader realm of romance… but when I first approached this endeavor, I just thought of romance as “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl.”]
My first novel manuscript – though it included a romantic thread – was pretty awful and fell far short of being anything which would interest a reader of romance. My second had an interesting story line, but I mistakenly assumed – in order for it to be a romance – that the guy and girl needed to hop into bed seven times during the story. It took the feedback of an astute female beta reader to convince me the couple’s RELATIONSHIP needed to undergo some sort of development during my story — and that relationship was more involved than them hopping into bed. [Note: I know some of you are laughing now, because there is an entire universe of erotica in which the couples do exactly that! But my beta was giving feedback about non-erotic romance.]
So I did more research, read articles and books by romance writers ABOUT romance writing, and joined RWA to rub shoulders with authors who were doing what I was trying to do. I also began reading romance novels — can’t say I enjoyed all of them, but I learned a lot. For one thing, I determined I did not want to write simplistic formula stories. For another, I realized that a subtle glance or touch could – in the right hands – express something quite meaningful.
I also got loads of feedback from subbing that second novel (which I’ll loosely categorize as “novel with romantic elements” — a category now extinct in RWA) in several contests. The judges did not hold back in their criticism of my failings.
With my third novel, I focused more on the story and characters, and let the romance follow. [Don’t scream yet… I’m about to clarify.] This story had a loving couple in their 80s, another in their 60s, a pair in which there was a 20 year difference, plus the central romance between my young heroine and her boyfriend. My novel was not ABOUT those four different romances … but their loving relationships infused my story and affected their decisions, actions, and dialog. That story – Called to Arms Again – was published in mid-2013 by Astraea Press… despite the fact that nobody could consider it a proper “romance”. [That’s due to Astraea’s focus on publishing great stories rather than enforcing rigid genre lines.]
Writing the Female POV
This, I believe, is the primary point Moriah wanted me to address.
When I began subbing my fourth and fifth novels – both screwball romantic comedies – to contests, I got a lot of feedback about “head-hopping” and other cardinal sins. In fact, it seemed the judges would rather quickly hunt for an obvious flaw (like my POV shifts) so they could totally dismiss my contest entry… than they were willing to read a bit and see if my characters and/or story had any merit.
I got so disgusted with all the chastisement about head-hopping that I decided to try a story from a single POV. First person, in the head of the heroine!
Then I began to worry a bit: what would people say? Could I pull it off? Would readers look at my name and automatically reject my book, simply because it was written by a guy?
My publisher and editor helped me solve that last point — we went with my initials: J. L. Salter. I already knew I could write convincing scenes in the heroine’s head, because several of the contest judges – assuming I was female – had made comments about how well I had channeled the MALE POV. LOL. So that left the first point: was it a little weird for a grandfather to write a story from the POV of a young female?
I concluded that I didn’t care if it seemed weird to anybody else, because it didn’t bother me to TRY. I told myself when I started that sixth manuscript – which became Rescued By That New Guy in Town – that I would give it about 20k words. If it didn’t feel comfortable writing the female POV by that point, I could / would go back and re-do it in third person.
But here’s where everything came together. All those nearly 30 years of working every day among a staff which was predominately female had given me very intimate access to a vast storehouse of information which many men never experience. I learned how women talk, act, react … a good bit about how they think, what they feel, what’s important to them, etc. In other words, I had a terrific head start on how to get into a woman’s brain and heart, because I’d been around so many – and such a variety – for so long… in so many different circumstances.
But could I write them?
One aspect which I believe stands out in my portrayal of the female POV is that I can poke fun at the way MEN think and act. Not only do I know how and why men say and do what we say and do… but I have lots of insight into how WOMEN view their men’s words and deeds. So I comprehend what (about men) exasperates women, how men can be (genuinely) clueless at times, plus some of the differences between what men want out of a relationship and what women think those guys SHOULD want. Et Cetera.
So, that’s why I think the right guy can write romance.
Got any questions for me?
ABOUT J.L. SALTER
My published novels (with Astraea Press) are: “Called to Arms Again” (May 2013), “Rescued By That New Guy in Town” (Oct. 2012), and “The Overnighter’s Secrets” (May 2012). Romantic comedy and romantic suspense are among eight completed novel manuscripts.
I’m co-author of two non-fiction monographs (about librarianship) with a royalty publisher, plus a signed chapter in another book and a signed article in a specialty encyclopedia. I’ve also published articles, book reviews, and over 120 poems; my writing has won nearly 40 awards, including several in national contests. As a newspaper photo-journalist, I published about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos.
I worked nearly 30 years in the field of librarianship. I’m a decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote tour of duty in the Arctic, at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland).
I’m the married parent of two and grandparent of six.
Find Jeff Salter’s books on his Amazon Author Page
When Kris awakens in a costume, behind wooden bars inside a pitch black community center, her only available rescuer is the hung over new guy in town (who’s dressed as a pirate). Problem is: she’s sworn off men, especially buccaneers.
Badly burned four years ago by a player who ruined her financially, Kris Prima’s heart is locked down as tightly as her lifestyle is confined by those massive debts. When first assisted by recent newcomer Ryan Hazzard, Kris is resentful, slightly afraid, and determined never again to trust men. But when court-ordered community service brings them together once more, she begins to appreciate Ryan’s charm, good looks, and capable manner.
With all the rumors and assumptions which followed Ryan from a large metropolitan area, how can small town Kris even begin to trust him? And why won’t he explain any of those situations? Through her efforts to learn Ryan’s mysterious past, they share further experiences: many comedic, one quite dangerous, and others very tender. Despite several misunderstandings, Kris’s bottled up feelings slowly reawaken and she finally learns enough about Ryan to know she wants him in her life somehow. But can Kris regain her ability to trust a man and allow her heart to be freed from its jail?
Jeff Salter is offering a digital copy of the winner’s choice of his books to two lucky winners! Leave a comment below to enter. He’d love to hear from you. We’ll announce the winner here on Friday, Nov. 22.
Congratulations Kathy B. and Kate R. You get ebooks from J.L. Salter! Check your inbox. Thanks to everyone who participated.
And by popular demand…
Here’s the link to Heather Gray’s blog which featured Jeff’s treatise on why guys toss the “apology flag.”