Chat with debut author Jackie Barbosa: Does length matter?
GIVEAWAY! One lucky commenter today will win a signed copy of BEHIND THE RED DOOR.
Like many of you, I first met Jackie Barbosa through the 2006 Avon FanLit writing competition. Since then, I’ve had the great fortune to become friends with Jackie both online and in real life. She’s a fabulous person and a gifted writer, and it’s been so exciting to watch her career take off. After publishing several contemporary and historical novellas with e-publisher Cobblestone Press, today Jackie celebrates her first print release with Kensington – BEHIND THE RED DOOR, a single-author anthology of historical erotic romance. I’ve been lucky enough to read it an early copy, and it is smart, sexy, and sooooo romantic.
When Jackie and I were discussing the best way to celebrate and handle this here guest blog, we decided perhaps we’d chat and interview one another about the writing of novellas–since I just recently released one of my own. Here’s our conversation on the long and short of it. 🙂
Tessa: *clearing throat*
So, Jackie–it amuses me that we’re having this conversation, because
we are both writers who end to write novels on the long side, but who
have also written short novellas (under 20K words). What made you
decide to attempt a novella in the first place? Did anything surprise
you about the writing process?
Jackie: I wrote my first short novella on a dare from Ann Aguirre, actually. She mentioned an Ellora’s Cave call for submissions, said she was going to write something for it, and challenged her blog readers to try it, too. At first, I didn’t think I had a story that short in me (it had to be under 15,000 words), but almost at the last minute, an idea popped into my head, and voila, Carnally Ever After was born. It wound up being the first manuscript I ever sold and, as the prequel to the novellas in Behind the Red Door, it was really the stepping stone to my first New York contract.
As far as whether anything surprised me about the process, I suppose it was how freeing it is to be able to concentrate almost exclusively on the romantic relationship and conflict and not have to worry about multiple subplots and tying them all up at the end. Not to mention, wow…when you hit 50 pages, you’re already halfway there instead of only finished with the partial!
I have to admit that I found writing novellas (I’ve done quite a few now) to be really helpful for learning how to write a story and not lose sight of the romantic tension. In my novels, I have a tendency to go for quite a bit of plot (which is a reason I often run long, especially in the first draft), and one of the reasons I wasn’t completely happy with my first novel was that I felt the romance kept getting run over by the plot. Now that I’ve got a few novellas where the romance is the plot under my belt, I think I’m better able to tackle single-title length. Although, dang, 100k seems like a long haul when you’re at 48k and, if it were a novella, you’d already be done!
How about you? What did you like best about writing your novella? Was there anything you found especially challenging about it after having written three single-titles (you came at your novella from the opposite direction I did)?
Tessa: My novella started out as a dare, too! Or more of a joke amongst
friends. A random conversation about paranormal shifters put the bug
in my mind that it would be hilarious to write a werestag story,
especially since there’s a line in GOTH that says the hero’s estate
includes “one of the last woods in England where one can hunt stag.”
But that conversation took place almost a year before I actually wrote
the story. The idea just wouldn’t die, and after I turned in the
third book of my contract, I decided I wanted to write it just for
fun. In that way, the pressure was off, and I really just had a great
time with it.
I meant it to be a 12-15k story (ended up 19k, so I guess I still write
long!), so one thing I decided right away was that my hero and heroine
should have some history and know each other fairly well. I didn’t
think 12-15K words would be enough to get from introductions to a
convincing HEA. In BEHIND THE RED DOOR (where you’ve got 30-35K words
to play with in each story), you have a great mix — one couple
just meeting, one couple who have known each other casually, and a
hero and heroine who’ve been best friends for some time. Was any one
of those more difficult to write, or just different from the others
for that reason?
Jackie: I barely kept my first short under the limit (it was 14,600 words, so I had 400 words to spare, lol), and my Red Door novellas never ran as short as they theoretically could (the minimum was 25k), so I think I’m like you in that even my novellas tend to run long.
I completely agree that it’s very difficult to get a satisfying HEA in a short word count if the hero/heroine are just meeting for the first time at the beginning of the story. In fact, I’d say that was the reason SCANDALOUSLY EVER AFTER (the middle novella in my anthology, which is the one where the couple just meet at the beginning) was the most challenging of the three to write. It’s the one I tackled last because I just wasn’t sure I could pull it off in a way that would be both believable and emotionally satisfying. I’m convinced the only reason it works in that story is that the heroine’s profession (she is a “working girl” in a high class brothel) allowed me to skip over the initial “getting to know you” phase of the relationship straight to physical intimacy, and because of who the characters are, that physical intimacy led naturally to emotional intimacy. Even so, I still ran some parts of that story past my critique partners with the question “Does he/she fall too fast? Is this believable?” because I was concerned about the very fast pace of the romantic relationship. They told me it was fine, though, and my editor didn’t complain, so I guess I pulled it off.
One of my favorite things about LEGEND OF THE WERESTAG is the way you keep the story moving right along but still manage to have great character development and emotional, meaningful character arcs. I think in novella, one can fall into the trap of concentrating on the plot elements–I have x many scenes, during which I must accomplish x, y, and z plot points to arrive at the HEA–and fail to develop the characters and their emotional growth. It’s hard to make characters feel “real” to readers in a shorter word count, yet all your characters felt very real to me (even the secondary characters, particularly Brooke, whom you already know I adore!). Did you find that difficult to achieve, or did it come more naturally than you expected?
Tessa: Wow, thank you! I’m blushing. You know, I really love writing large
groups of friends. In my novels, too. Nothing makes me happier than
writing a scene where I can have 5 or 6 (or 8!) friends, lovers,
enemies pinging off one another. And those group scenes do a lot of
the characterization work for me, because I think readers learn the
most (and the most quickly) about a character by watching him or her
interact with others. In Werestag, I knew I needed one character to
be an outspoken skeptic, to give voice to the reader’s (and my own!)
internal skepticism. That’s where Brooke came from. I had a great
time writing him.
And it’s been wonderfully surprising to hear people say they’re now
curious to read Brooke and Portia’s story, or even Denny’s! I hadn’t
planned to write their stories, but you never know… One of the
things I loved about BEHIND THE RED DOOR is how masterfully you tied
the three stories together with overlapping characters and, of course,
the all-important setting of the Red Door brothel. Any advice for
writing connected novellas? How did your vision of the Red Door
Jackie: I’d love to be able to say that my vision for the three novellas came to me as some overarching idea and that I knew in advance how the brothel would factor into the stories and how the characters would overlap. The truth is that it happened a lot more organically and in a very piecemeal fashion.
The first novella, Wickedly Ever After, was conceived while I was writing Carnally Ever After. In that short novella, the hero and heroine (Alistair and Louisa) throw over their respective betrotheds and elope. As soon as I wrote the first scene in which heroine’s betrothed (who was a horribly dissolute rake, drank too much, and at the beginning of the story, jilted her at the altar) appeared, I knew I had to write a story for him. What motivated Nathanial? Why was he such a jerk? And how could he be redeemed and find love? And then it became clear that the heroine most likely to save him from himself was Eleanor Palmer, Alistair’s icy, uptight former fiancee. I had no plans for additional stories at that point, though.
It was as I was writing Eleanor and Nathaniel’s story that I “found” the characters who would populate the other two novellas. The third novella in the group is the one that came to me first. Early in Wickedly, I wrote a scene in which Nathaniel has dinner with his family. During this scene, his younger sister, Jane was introduced, and she demanded her own novella. She wasn’t beautiful, she was “on the shelf,” and she took a lot of abuse from her parents for both failings. Then, later in the story, Nathaniel went to visit the Red Door brothel, which had been mentioned casually in the first few pages of the novella. Not only did the character of Calliope introduce herself to me during that scene (and demand her own HEA), but the fact that the brothel would play an integral role in all three novellas became clear to me.
I’m glad you liked the way the characters and setting were woven together, though. Because I was writing a set of three novellas that I knew would be published in one volume, I felt they needed a strong enough connection so that readers wouldn’t feel they were being jerked from one “world” to another throughout the course of the stories. And although each novella can be read independently, I find they wound up supporting each other in wonderful ways. I don’t know how I could have created a believable HEA for Callie and Jack in Scandalously Ever After without Nathaniel, for example, or how I could have engineered the plot of Sinfully Ever After without Callie.
So, at this point, I think I’m probably supposed to plug my book and encourage all your readers to rush out to the store and buy it. But I’m kind of bad at that sort of shameless self-promotion, so I’ll just thank everyone for reading our little discussion and perhaps getting a glimpse inside the (weird, virtually inexplicable) mind of a writer.
And thanks for the opportunity to chat about this, Tessa. It was great fun.
Tessa: Don’t worry, Jackie! I will do the shameless promotion for you. 🙂 Thank you so much for coming by on your busy release day. We’re all so excited for you!
Everyone, be sure to go out and buy BEHIND THE RED DOOR! On sale today, May 26th, from Kensington Aphrodisia. The cover is gorgeous, the prose is beautiful, and the stories are heartfelt, intelligent, and sexy.
Jackie’s been generous enough to give me a signed copy of BTRD to give away! For a chance to win, just leave a comment. I’ll close the comments Wednesday midnight PST, and announce a winner Thursday.
ETA: If you want to double your chances to win, go comment at Courtney Milan’s blog. She’s giving away a copy today, too!
Do you like to read novellas? Write them? Or do you prefer a full-length novel? Are your expectations different going in? Any reading recommendations? And just what (or who) do you think is behind that Red Door? 😉