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Written by:
Wendi Friend

Romance novels… my mother lives on them. I can’t stand them.

When I first started considering writing as a career, due to my mother’s influence, I was under the impression that romance novels were the way to go. But then I read a few, and a few more, and was left with this hollow pit in my core and a sour taste of acid bubbling up from my throat.

Regardless of my reaction to reading them, the fact can’t be denied that romance sells like hotcakes. Women love this stuff… they gobble it up in huge doses and swallow it down with horny glee. Romance novels are the equivalent of soft porn designed for the woman’s libido. Cometh hither, Fabio!

It’s not difficult to find a group of women chattering about their favorite romance author, or the latest best seller, or the newest release. It’s an addiction… gotta have it. Get a book club membership. Become best friends with the librarian. It’s an addiction, an addiction to romance, an addiction to a fairy tale world that doesn’t exist, and in my opinion, is the cause of much un-due stress and unhappiness. How can something so seemingly fulfilling leave a person feeling so empty?

I’ve thought about this long and hard, and as a result, I refuse to read or write novels based solely on romance.

Let me begin at the opposite end of the spectrum and state what I feel works about romance novels.

Romance novels are extremely flowery with delicious words, and the deliciously flowery words are planted in a plush garden of daydreams and fanciful whims. The settings are exotic and described in such vivid detail that they provide the perfect escape from reality, which any “good book” should do. No problems there.

Women deserve an escape. Women deserve to experience exotic locations and, even if through character relation, women deserve (need) to feel sexy and adored; nothing wrong with that. Romance novels are portrayed with such detailed accounts of character and setting that the reader really doesn’t have to stretch themselves at all in order to envision themselves in the plot. That’s just good writing! So what’s the problem?

The problem, in my opinion, is the ability to separate fact from fiction.

I can’t speak for all women or all romance novels, so I won’t even try. However, I will account for my own experiences, which are responsible for my opinions.

I used to enjoy romance novels. Nothing makes a 6-hour plane ride fly by faster than a scrumptious tale of a remarkably chiseled Viking man, with a body to die for, who mysteriously travels through time by way of his sword, discovered centuries later by a beautiful, intelligent, young, modern-day female scientist who just happens to be void of love, passion, and intrigue.

There’s nothing more enchanting than a magical faerie male, quick-witted and sharp tongued, sleek and slick with charisma, who shows up to comfort and challenge a lost damsel in distress who traveled to Ireland to discover her roots. Oh, his charms! Oh, her desires! It’s a perfect match and a sizzling way to burn away time that would otherwise be spent in boredom or depression. So I read. I discovered my favorite romance authors and sought them out the way a starving cat scrounges for scraps. But then, I discovered a trend.

In my opinion, a good book is one that, when you close its end cover, having eagerly lapped up every word, makes you feel fuller in some way… like you’ve gained something, or like you’ve grown in some way. Finishing a good book should feel to the soul the way finishing a good meal feels to the tummy. Romance novels had the opposite effect on me, and each time I’d close the paperback snack, I’d feel like something was lacking,

Now why can’t I have a love like that? Where is my Mr. Right?

When I was single, these feelings weren’t as devastating as they were when I was married. When single, I could hold out the hope that Prince Charming would soon swoop in on his sexy steed, sweep me off my feet, and have me swooning over his every breath. And, when scanning the market for men, it was so easy to go, “Nope, not it. Not it. Not it… Next!” But then heaven have mercy on the soul with a penis who had even a hint of romance in his being. “He MUST be it! He knows romance!” It must be love!

Wedding bells (just like the fairy tale).

Well, the problem with reading romance novels when in an existing relationship is that when the book was done, I’d close the cover and begin to subconsciously compare my real life romance with the fiction I’d just stuffed myself with. The character in the book was so perfect, so smart, so witty, so creative, so sexy, and so well-built… and for goodness sakes, he never blew his nose, farted, got fat, went bald, or snored! Surely, then, I married the wrong character!

Before I’d read the romance novel, my husband (now an ex) seemed next to perfect. After I read the romance, he seemed listless and dull. Without realizing it, I began putting unreasonable expectations on my relationship by constantly dreaming of “the perfect man”.

Women, in my understanding of them, consciously know that what they’re reading is fiction, but subconsciously, they fall in love with these perfect characters and begin to feel dissatisfied in their own lives when comparing their facts to their fiction.

Observation: Most of the women I’ve encountered personally who suffer from extreme depression or dissatisfaction are the women who fill their time, minds, and hearts, with the unrealistic fantasy of “perfect romance” by reading love stories that they hope will become a reality. What’s worse is that in many cases, the women don’t stop believing in “the perfect man”. Instead, they stop believing in their own worth or beauty, or their own ability to attract such a mate. Of course, then they drive themselves mad with the ideas of the perfect female character… if I could just lose 20 pounds, if I just had bigger breasts, then I’d be lovable.

Romance has its place and its value. I don’t discredit the need for romance, or its popularity. However, I don’t believe a novel should be based on romance alone.

I don’t have a single complaint about the way romance novels are written – and they do provide a certain appeal in the way of escapism and fantasy, but in my opinion, they lack true substance and leave the reader feeling empty rather than fulfilled when the story concludes with its unrealistic and inevitable “Happily Ever After.”

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Written by:
Wendi Friend

Blogs, otherwise known as online diaries or web journals, are the hottest thing on the Internet today. Virtually everyone surfing the net on a regular or semi-regular basis either has a blog themselves, or has spent time reading blogs. There’s just something about the raw exposure of this “reality internet” that is attractive to people. But the other hand, there’s a vulnerability involved with baring your essentials for the world to feed on in their spare time.

Plenty are the numbers of scorned souls, bleeding hearts, and wounded spirits who have fallen prey to online predators with negative intent. One of two things usually happens to set back or scare off those who are new to the blogging scene. The blog won’t “take off” and isn’t popular and doesn’t stand out in the multitude of seasoned blogs, or the new blogger will get caught up in the excitement of it all, get too comfortable, expose a secret, and then live to regret it when the wrong person finds the post on the web. But the seasoned blogger will tell you: you must find your own creative flavor, and then merge it with good common sense in order to deliver an enticing enough blog to the public without jeopardizing privacy or self-respect.

The first problem new bloggers generally face is what to write. They have read and been entertained by other blogs, and they want their blog to be just as interesting and entertaining, but don’t want to expose anything personal, don’t have any creative insights to express, and aren’t sure how to get the words moving. Here are a few ideas for subjects to get you started that are “safe” concepts to explore and display in public forums, such as blogs:

-Find a quote generator or use a quote book to find random quotations. When you find a quotation that strikes your fancy, copy it down, and then write 400 words or 20 minutes about what your thoughts are regarding the quote.

– Write about books you’re reading and how they make you feel.

– Write about movies you’ve seen recently, and whether or not you liked them.

– Write about your favorite music.

– Write about your funniest moments.

– Write about favorite childhood memories.

The second problem new bloggers encounter is frustration when there’s not enough traffic or response to their blog. There are things you can do to improve public interaction and invite comment.

Make sure you use catchy titles that will change people’s attention from mere initial curiosity to recognition or identification with the subject matter. The title is the first “taste” the viewer gets of the flavor of your blog. A catchy title reels them in.

Your first paragraph should further entice the reader and draw them in to the post. If the first paragraph is boring, confusing, or somehow offensive, the viewer will close the screen and move on to the next blog.

Try posting questions within the body of your blog entry, such as, “Can you believe this guy?” or “Is she for real?” It may seem like an innocent, rhetorical question to self, or “cyber-space”, but the viewer is more likely to answer if a question has been stated somewhere in the post.

Make your blog attractive. Dress it up with bells and whistles while at the same time making it easy to navigate. Adding photos, colors, designs, favorite quotes, jokes, favorite links, or other trinkets and treasures make the viewer want to stay and play.

Consider posting quizzes and fun games that can be interactive with readers, such as online quizzes they can take themselves, or “games” they can play along with you. One woman kept a blog and communicated with those posting on her blog message boards. After she’d identified her following, a group of people who were staying with her and revisiting the blog, she hosted a “jeopardy” type game in which she quizzed the viewers on facts disclosed in former diary entries. All the participants had a great time and continue to go back to her blog.

Update your blog often, adding new interesting topics, conversations, and interactive activities. People have a tendency to stop visiting a site that looks the same every time they visit. Keep it active, mix it up.

Take the time to visit the blogs hosted by people who frequent your blog. It’s only polite and spreads the love around. If someone has been to your blog and has posted to you a few times, it would only be right for you to visit their blog and make a few posts. If they don’t have their blog information listed where you can find it, such as in a user profile, and then ask them directly if they have one. They’ll be honored you reached out to them personally. If you don’t repay the kindness and show courtesy to your fellow bloggers, they’ll get bored with you and go elsewhere. Many bloggers intentionally seek out friendships in this way and for this purpose.

A seasoned blogger will tell you that there are risks involved with keeping blogs. Blogs are often used for raw expressions, venting, or for working through difficult situations. In many cases, things are stated that are later regretted. When the blogger has an unidentifiable screen name and no personal information disclosed, the risks are less, but the blog is less interesting to users. However, many people host blogs that have their first and last name, hometown, and other personal information that identify them to viewers. In cases where your identity is not hidden, there are things you can do to help protect yourself from internet dangers.

Use common sense and never post your home address or telephone number in a public forum.

Use nick names or pseudonyms for every person of whom you speak in your blog entries, including kids, spouses, friends, and the schmuck at work who pissed you off this morning. Don’t use real names when talking about other people online. It can and will come back to haunt you.

Learn to speak or write in ways that use metaphors and imagery to explore subjects that can’t be disclosed but need to be expressed.

If your real first and last name are appearing on or can be discovered within the content of your blog, do not confess to doing anything illegal or immoral. It can be used against you.

There are plenty of free blogs available online, and an immeasurable amount of how to articles or opinionated prose on blogs, online diaries, and web journals. What are you waiting for? Get yourself a free blog, deck it out with the bells and whistles, adorn it with groovy titles and fun challenges, produce it with common sense, maintain it with integrity, and enjoy the “reality internet” wave of blogging. Before you know it, you, too, will be a seasoned blogger.

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Written by:
Wendi Friend

Through experience I can tell you that writing, trying in and of itself, can be quite the challenge when there are children on hand demanding attention. To be hot on the heels of a fantastic thought process only to be interrupted by a two year old who needs to go potty is the most frustrating experience a writer can have.

Just as your main character comes into focus, nearly transparent and quickly fleeting, the baby wakes from her nap for her afternoon feeding, chasing your character far beyond reach. Arrgh! Writing a hot love scene for a romance novel can be cooled quickly by a pre-teen who wants to know what he can have for a snack and when dinner is going to be ready! One might think that balancing two loves – the love of children and the love of your writing career – might be a far fetched fantasy. However, with a few good tricks and a whole lot of patience (with yourself and your children), it is possible to reach the dreams of being a great parent AND a great writer!

Without tying them up in a closet or placing them in front of the insta-sitter television set, there are ways to occupy your children for reasonable amounts of time while you get in touch with your muse. When children are in their infancy stages, a writer can plan writing increments while the baby is sleeping. But, once that baby hits the terrible twos, you’d better have a back up plan!

When my first son reached the age of two, I found that he was easily entertained at his own pseudo desk. I flipped a cardboard box upside-down and told him that was his desk, placing it next to mine. My desk had a coffee cup full of different colored pens and pencils, so it only made sense that his desk should have the same. Knowing better than to give him one of my glass cups, I got a plastic disposable cup, filling it with crayons and set it on the corner of his Box. Wouldn’t ya know he’d notice that Mommy’s desk was full of notebooks? That problem was easily solved with a carefully chosen selection of coloring books. A pair of plastic toy frames made him look just as professional as Mommy did in her glasses. Children love to play pretend, children love to play grown up and children love to mimic their parents. With a little cooperation from you, your child can play his favorite games right under your nose while you get some work done. But, be careful not to work too long. Take small breaks to play with your child, to take turns showing each other the work you’ve produced.

As my child grew, he wanted to help with everything I was doing. At first, this was frustrating for me because I wanted to write my own words in my own time. But eventually, he taught me that at times, his words and ideas were much better than mine. Children have a magical way of viewing the world, a fresh outlook on life. By taking the time to listen to your child’s suggestions, you may get the help you need in overcoming such beasts as writer’s block! Eventually, with the help of my son, I found myself writing a series of rhyming stories for children. Carrying on that tradition with my other kids, I found that we wrote excellent poetry together! Not only did my writing get the boost it needed, but my children grew to be fantastic writers themselves!

My children and I loved to go to the library together. To them, it was an outing to an adventurous place filled with more books than they could count. For me, it meant getting the research materials I needed to complete my project. For us, it meant spending time together as a family. What’s more, is that since I was in the practice of writing books for children, then reading books with my children counted as research!

Keep a notebook in the rest room, in your glove box, in your purse and wherever else you find yourself sitting still or standing in line. I used to write some of my best pieces while waiting in my car outside the school for the bell to ring and children to come running. Try keeping a hand held recorder with you. When you don’t have time to write out the inspirational flow, you can catch keywords and phrases on cassette and write them down later. When your writing flow begins to tire, try playing with your kids for a break. That way, when the inspiration returns, your children won’t feel neglected and you won’t feel like you’ve neglected them. When everyone’s too cooped up in the house, try taking the wee ones to the park! They can play and exhaust their energies while you write and exhaust your muse!

These are just a few ideas written from experiences I’ve had with my own children and career. Of course, it’s not always easy and the muse and/or children don’t always cooperate. But where there’s a will, there’s a way and the balancing act can be achieved as long as you have patience with yourself and your kids.

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Written by:
Wendi Friend

Next time you’re sitting at odds with your muse, try setting down your pen and picking up a photo album. What may seem like a “lack of productivity” may actually produce a large range of benefit. Writers often try to overcome writer’s block by writing something, when actually, what we need to do is rest our creative brains, feed them, and allow them to rejuvenate. Sifting through old photos will not only occupy the writer during down time, but may also stimulate memories, characteristics, story lines and raw emotion, with which to return to writing.

One way to use old photos while writing is to pick one photo at random and begin your writing with the sentence, “I remember when….” Knowing that you’re simply strolling down memory lane for your own benefit rather than trying to create something profound for publication, you’ll be more apt to be honest with yourself and less concerned with your choice of words. Writing for and from personal experience, any number of things might appear before your pen runs out of ink, or your mind of ideas. Often times, we’ll uncover some sort of emotional blanket that has kept our creativity well covered. By exploring that emotion, we can then transfer it into a character or an article, or have it removed from the course as an obstacle. In this way, old photos can help us uncover the emotion that has been buried beneath the inner editor’s logic.

Old photos can also provide fascinating characters for our story line. For example, let’s say that you need a male character in his sixties who is quiet, but intelligent, dependable yet unpredictable and is comfortably nestled into a certain financial status. Maybe grandpa fits the bill! Maybe you have a picture of Uncle George that spawns the energy to write about an obnoxious character who smokes cigars and tells stupid jokes. We can never tell Grandma to her face how terrible her hairdo was last Thanksgiving, but we sure can slap that hairdo on a character and let other characters make fun of it for us. Using people in photos to enhance characters in fiction is a great way to keep the pen moving.

Reminising over old photos of family members and ancestors is also a remarkable mental trigger. Words fail me in attempts to describe the effects caused by stepping into the past and learning from our elders, but a thought process is stimulated in great force just the same. My favorite old photograph, as a child, was that of my great grandmother Olinger with her almond shaped eyes. She comforted me from her position in that picture. Her eyes told stories, which I could then transfer to paper with my own words and thoughts. Though the old photo was void of color and torn on the edges, to me, it was priceless. Faces trapped in time.

One of my personal uses of photos is to look at old photos of myself. By looking at where I’ve been and combining it with where I am, I have a better sense of self and direction. Sometimes, I’m blocked creatively because I’m dealing with a personal spiritual issue, having lost touch with myself. The only way to get back in touch with creativity, at that point, is to get back in touch with myself. Old photos is a great way to get that done.

Old photos don’t always have to come out of your personal collection in order to stimulate writing. Try picking up one of those seven year old magazines collecting dust on your bookshelf. Due to the dating, you’ll probably not find an article of current interest. However, by sifting through the photos, some image could stimulate a “then and now” or a “what ever happened to” kind of article or story. Seeing a picture of a flower in a gardening magazine might stimulate some creative masterpiece about nature. You just never know what ideas are waiting to happen.

Also, for a neat twist on old photos, try having your photograph done in “old west” style! There’s nothing like seeing yourself in a fancy lace gown with a wide-rimmed, flower-covered hat! Make yourself the character!

When you suffer from writer’s brain freeze, try resting your eyes from words and letting it absorb images. It changes the whole perspective. Believe it or not, there really are some pictures that are worth a thousand words.

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