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THE ART OF ROMANCE—The Art and Your Questions Answered

Friday, April 29, 2011

There several important pieces of art in The Art of Romance, but I’m going to leave all but two up to your imagination. (And you might consider these spoilers, but I don’t think it’ll ruin anything for you.)

First, upon meeting Caylor, Dylan itches to draw her. But he’s been systematically programmed over the last few years (by his ex) that he shouldn’t do portraits (his first art love) but should focus on abstract. But, as you can guess, he finally gives in and sketches her:

To answer your next question, yes, I drew that. Now, before you get overly impressed, I cheat a little when I draw—I print an image of the person (the model in the stock images of Caylor in this instance), then put a piece of carbon paper under it and trace the outline and features into my sketch book. Then I just go back and fill in the details.

The second piece of artwork I want to share with you was actually inspired by the cover of the book. When I first saw the cover design, I was thrilled—I’d picked out those images. That was really Caylor on the front cover. But, as a friend of mine pointed out when I shared it, Caylor’s a writer, not a painter. So why is she standing at an easel?

Well, because I’d always known that Dylan would teach the painting class for the senior adults at the church and that Caylor would be there with Sassy (refer back to the original story idea), it didn’t take much imagination for me to put her in the class, not just observing. Caylor, however, is no artist. But at Dylan’s encouragement to have fun painting the vase of flowers at the front of the room, Caylor does just that:

Now, if you look at the cover, you can see that not only did I tie in Caylor’s being at an easel with a paintbrush in her hand, I also tied in the background color and the colors of the tubes of paint on the table! I don’t know if this actually comes through in the scene, but I hope it does! (And, no, I didn’t paint that. I drew a pencil outline on a piece of paper and scanned it into the computer, where I commenced “painting” it—and pulling the colors directly from the digital copy of the cover—in Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3.)

Your Questions Answered

Many of you asked about the character casting process and when/how I do it.

    Without going into vast detail (for that, check out the Be Your Own Casting Director series on the Writing Series Index page). The short-form of the answer is that I have to cast a character before I can write about him/her. I have to be able to visualize who it is in my head, and going off of a picture of a real person is the easiest way for me to do that—otherwise, they’d all end up looking the same. I have an eye for details, such as face shapes, eye shapes/colors, mouths/smiles, etc., that make it easy for me to find real people who share similar—shall we call them familial?—features. That’s how I put together my families. Because I have to cast my main characters when I write the synopsis I sell the story from, I have those images to build from when I start the book. Then, because I’ve been collecting templates for my casting book for so long, that’s where I go to start filling in all the secondary characters—and whenever a secondary character pops up.

    No, I don’t cast every single character in the book. Just the important ones.

Kav asked: “How do you balance secondary characters with the main ones…I mean so they don’t take over but you’ve fleshed them out enough to make them memorable?”

    I think part of that starts with that casting process. Once I’ve put a face with a character, they become a real person to me. Real people have backstory and what Donald Maass calls “range.” Basically what that means is that they have a life, a before-and-after outside of the brief period of time they appear on page in the book. They aren’t static. They aren’t Barbie dolls who are still in the same position they were in when I put them away last time I played with them. So, just as I need to know what my main characters were doing the moment before they step into the book at the beginning, I need to know what the secondary characters were doing just before they enter a scene. That helps me to see them as full-blown characters, not just space fillers.

    I also remind them that this is not their story. If they want to take over, they’ll have to make an appointment for us to talk about it later. Right now, there’s a waiting list with a few members of the Guidry family of Bonneterre on it, along with Dylan’s three brothers and some other folks as well. 😉

Audry asked: “Dylan’s family certainly is a bunch of brainiacs, huh? Where’d his artist genes come from?”

    I believe everyone has some kind of creative/artistic bent. We all just express it in different ways. Perty, Dylan’s paternal grandmother, was an English professor. She also made way for him to take lessons from the art professors at JRU (James Robertson University—the fictional liberal arts school where Caylor is a professor). I see Perty as the one who passed on the creative gene to him. And to her other son, Dylan’s uncle, who owns an angora goat farm out in rural Tennessee.

Pam Kellogg asked: “I find it interesting that you say you have characters popping up in the story that were unexpected. I’ve heard other writers speak about how characters seem to take on a life of their own and the writing goes in different directions than the writer anticipated. Does it bother you when that happens or is it fine with you to just ‘go with the flow?'”

    Because I’m still more of a seat-of-the-pants writer than a plotter, I love it when unexpected secondary characters pop up—usually because I didn’t know I needed them to get to an important plot point I otherwise never would have found. So when a new character unexpectedly pops up, I definitely go with the flow!

Barbara asked: “Do you write your chapters in order–or write scenes as you think of them and come back later and fill in the missing scenes?”

    I am very much a chronological writer. A very long time ago, I used to just write whatever scene struck me—and I did that for more than fifteen years. It netted me a lot of words written, but never a full manuscript. At my first writing conference, Davis Bunn not only gave the advice, “Above all else, finish your first draft,” which I definitely took to heart, he followed that up by suggesting that newer writers would probably find writing chronologically (from beginning to end without skipping around) the easiest way to get that first draft finished instead of just writing in circles. Now, after I finish the first draft, when I’m in the revision process, if I see a hole, I have no problem writing a scene or chapter to fill it—in fact that happened with The Art of Romance. After turning it in at a whopping 103,000 words (3k over my contracted length), my content editor and I realized something was missing toward the end—that we needed more scenes of Caylor and Dylan together. So I ended up adding a full chapter and an additional full scene—almost 7,000 words, making TAoR my longest published novel to date!

Sherrinda asked: “Dylan has had some difficulty in his life. How did you decide on his backstory? And what made you decide to have the big age difference? So often we see the man quite a bit older, but not the woman.”

    From the original story idea, I knew Dylan (a) left Nashville at age eighteen for college, (b) paid part of his way through college by painting romance-novel covers and using himself as the model, and (c) was coming back to Nashville with no job. But if he’d just decided to move home, there was really no story arc for him, no growth as a character. So I needed to go deeper with him. Why was he moving home? Why did he have no job? What happened at the college in Philly where he was teaching that would force him to leave mid-year, sending him home with his tail tucked between his legs—especially since his parents never approved of his choice of major? Really, it took a whole lot of asking “what if” until I settled on what felt right for his character—on what it felt like he was telling me about himself.

    Whenever we hear of someone coming out of an abusive relationship, we immediately think the victim is a woman. However, men also fall victim to abuse—not physical as often as women, but definitely emotional. There had to be a reason why Dylan had pulled away from his family as much as he had—and not just because his parents basically cut him off when he chose to go to art school instead of following in their footsteps and becoming a lawyer. Because he grew up with such an overbearing mother, the groundwork had already been laid for a domineering woman to get hold of him and subtly start isolating him from everyone in his past until he depended solely on her for his purpose and direction in life. Because I knew Rhonda was considerably older than him, I wanted to throw another obstacle in Dylan’s path to happiness—and that’s the fact that Caylor is also an older woman. And he fears that an older woman, more established in her career and life, will try to take over running his, once he starts getting it back on track.

Now that I’ve answered those questions, what other questions do you have about The Art of Romance? (You don’t have to ask a question in your comment to be entered in the drawing. I just want to make sure you feel free to ask more questions if you have them.)

  1. Daphne Webb permalink
    Friday, April 29, 2011 12:30 am

    Only one question:
    Do any movies inspire you to write a certain story, especially in the case of The Art of Romance?

    I find it interesting the layers of the title. Writing and painting are both forms of art. And the love story that will develop between these two characters is also an art form.
    On another note: that the characters are indirectly connected before they even meet adds more depth to the story, in my opinion.


  2. Jackie S. permalink
    Friday, April 29, 2011 9:57 am

    I, too, wonder how much emphasis movies have on your writing?!?! Love this post and would love to win the book!


  3. Friday, April 29, 2011 1:05 pm

    Daphne and Jackie, yes, I am always inspired by movies and TV. Aside from the inspiration for Dylan coming from a reality show participant (Sam Talbot, a “cheftestant” on the second season of Top Chef), the only other show I can point to that inspired any part of The Art of Romance was the TLC show Say Yes to the Dress, which I watched almost obsessively (first five seasons are streaming on Netflix) after I broke my ankle and I was trying to find something—anything to get me back into the mood for writing romance. And I pay tribute to that show in the book!


  4. Friday, April 29, 2011 2:11 pm

    I should also mention, when it comes to writing a character who’s an artist, that both of my grandfathers were artists. My maternal grandfather, Crawford Reid McLellan, in addition to being a Chemistry professor at LSU, enjoyed oil painting—portraits (from life or memory or imagination), still-life, and animals (especially his English setter and German short-haired pointer bird dogs). One of my favorites, which I now have hanging in my living room is a painting of the “Little Brown Church in the Wildwood”:

    After my paternal grandfather, William Carroll “Bill” Dacus, passed away, I received some of his books, and among them was a sketch book he carried with him when he was stationed in England during WWII full of pencil drawings like this (drawn, according to his note, from memory in January 1945):


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 10:02 am

      I love the “behind the scenes” posts you do. So much fun, and it adds so much to the book. And the art from your family is wonderful! I have a painting done by my grandmother’s great-aunt that she painted of the “family home” in western NC. Such a treasure to have!


  5. Friday, April 29, 2011 2:12 pm

    I love the explanation of Dylan’s background and the age difference. It totally makes sense. I also love the way you share your thought process with you minions. Some of us need as many tools in our belts as we can get!! I can not WAIT to get my hands on this book!!!


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:09 am

      I didn’t realize until actually going through Dylan’s scenes with his mother that she’s the one who prepared him for the abusive relationship. It’s amazing how deeply layered things can get and yet still be a surprise to me once I find myself in the middle of writing it.


  6. Friday, April 29, 2011 2:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I found it interesting that you used to write scenes as they came to you and in any order needed. I don’t do this, but I’m glad to know why not to do this. 🙂
    You definitely have artistic talent. Even if you do cheat, your sketch of Caylor is amazing.
    I would love to be entered into the drawing for this book. I’ve read every book that you have written so far. Love them all!


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:11 am

      Sheri, as I said, I can’t write that way any more. Ever since beginning what would become my first complete manuscript in 2001 (finished it in 2002), I’ve written everything else in sequence with one exception. You can read about it here:

      The scene I mention stopping to write came to me when I had just finished revisions on Ransome’s Honor, and long before I started writing Ransome’s Crossing, which I wouldn’t start writing for almost two years after writing that scene, which appears about halfway through the novel. So if something like that comes to me, I definitely don’t ignore it. But so far, that’s the only time it’s happened in nine books.


  7. Friday, April 29, 2011 2:43 pm

    I read & reviewed this book and loved it! When I was finished I was really hoping that you were going to write a new series about Dylan’s awesome brothers. hint~hint 🙂 Might you?


    • Friday, April 29, 2011 3:05 pm

      They are definitely in the queue. But they need a few years go grow up and be old enough for me to consider making them heroes of their own romances! 😉


  8. Kelly permalink
    Friday, April 29, 2011 2:56 pm

    All of this talk REALLY makes me want to read it!! =)


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:17 am

      Just got a notification from Amazon that it’s in stock and starting to ship. also shows it as In Stock. Heard from a friend who works at LifeWay that it should start appearing on store shelves on Tuesday or Wednesday!


      • Kelly permalink
        Saturday, April 30, 2011 4:16 pm

        I just checked Amazon – it says there are only 3 left in stock!


  9. Lynn permalink
    Friday, April 29, 2011 5:18 pm

    I wish I was an artist. I see the end result in my head but CANNOT – I repeat, cannot, draw. Not a straight line, not a cute stick figure. Can’t even crayon well. NADA. But it’s all there on the inside. I have paintings and scenes inside my head but no way of getting it out onto paper. So I just stare and envy everyone who can do it. 🙂 (in a good way of course)


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:19 am

      If I really practiced at it, as my maternal grandfather always wanted me to do, I might get to the point where I could do those kinds of “bust” portraits (head and shoulders) without the printout and the carbon paper. But I do it only for fun (I have sketchbooks with this type of drawing of most of the characters I’ve developed over the last fifteen or twenty years in them). Aside from collecting more templates for my casting book and creating more characters with them, it’s one of the main things I do to procrastinate from writing.


  10. Friday, April 29, 2011 5:23 pm

    I love hearing background from authors about their books! It helps me establish a connection with the book before I even pick it up. I already have a review copy of your book on the way but I’d love to win a copy to give away!


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:22 am

      I, too, find that I sometimes get more enjoyment out of a book if I know something of the author and her experiences or imaginings that went into writing it. I had that kind of experience when I read Linda Windsor’s Along Came Jones. I’d just attended a conference and sat in one of her teaching sessions—in which she kept us in stitches from all the humorous stories she tells—so when I read that book a couple of months later, it was almost as if I could her her telling the story in my head, just as she had in that class. To this day, it’s one of my favorites.


  11. Friday, April 29, 2011 5:55 pm

    Thank you so much for the explanation on the age difference and the background. It totally makes sense. I should have realized his mother was in some ways like Rhonda…domineering. And I see the reasoning behind the age difference now too. It’s so interesting to see the thought processes that go into complicated relationships. You really nailed it in this book!!! I loved it!


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:24 am

      In cleaning out an end table today, I ran across something I thought I’d lost—a hard copy printout of my Caylor family ancestry which my great-uncle had given me thirteen or fourteen years ago. It’s from this ancestry that, obviously, Caylor’s name comes from. It’s also from this ancestry that I pulled the name Major for Major O’Hara in Menu for Romance. What I didn’t know until I typed it into the computer this afternoon was that Major General Caylor’s wife, Julia Frances Garrett, was ten years older than him—she was 30, he was 20 when they married in 1891!


      • Sunday, May 1, 2011 6:17 am

        Oh my goodness! That is amazing! I need to do a family tree some day. No telling what goodies lie there. 😉


      • Sunday, May 1, 2011 10:57 am

        Family trees are so much fun! I have been working on mine too. I never thought to use part of that for a story idea or for characters. Hmm… I am still a fledgling that hasn’t really completed anything yet. Just sort of messing around, but I keep getting great ideas.

        I just finished reading the netgalley copy of The Art of Romance and had to stop by your site to tell you how much I absolutely loved it!


      • Matthew Caylor Dixon permalink
        Sunday, April 1, 2012 12:55 am

        Hi Kaye your Caylor family ancestry is very interesting because my great great grandfather’s name was Major General Caylor. I wonder if it could be the same person from Alabama. His daughter which was my great grandmother was Gracie Dixon.


  12. Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:08 am

    Wow, I had no idea you could draw, too. 🙂


    • Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:25 am

      It’s something I do keep pretty close to the vest.


  13. Saturday, April 30, 2011 6:22 am

    I love the pic also. I cant draw to save myself even copying from something im hopeless.
    love the questions and answers. a little behind in posting as I got caught up in wedding fever then went out last night and watched the wedding after I got home. Oh arrived home for the kiss.
    I went to an Aussie party plan for books called light the dark which is trying to get Australian books, fiction, non fiction, kids etc and also some gift items out to the public as alot of the bigger book stores dont support the aussie authors as much as they should. There is so much American stock which is nice but its also nice seeing aussie fiction on the shelves to for us Aussies.
    I also have been thinking of reviews and am now going to try to be more constructive. I have two to review which I liked but one was hard to get into and the other left me with some questions. I also went back and posted about the book I was given to read but stuggled with cos of some of the language and wrote why I couldn’t read it and that it was an Aussie issue why I wasn’t reading it not that it wasn’t good. I have aussie readers on my blog and most would feel the same way about reading the book and I actually doubt it would make it to the christian bookshops in australia.
    ok end of novel.
    cant wait to read this book.


  14. Esther permalink
    Saturday, April 30, 2011 11:25 am

    I love reading all your comments and your answers to them! It’s all very enlightening. Thanks for sharing so openly.


  15. Saturday, April 30, 2011 12:46 pm

    Love your behind the scenes thought processes and the sketches, too.


  16. Pam Kellogg permalink
    Saturday, April 30, 2011 7:32 pm

    I enjoyed your answers to the questions and learning more about the “story behind the story.” It really makes me want to win a copy of “The Art of Romance.” Thanks for giving away a couple of copies.


  17. Saturday, April 30, 2011 7:54 pm

    Were y’all watching HGTV tonight? Dylan’s younger brother Spencer, a.k.a. Evan Lysacek, was on the program Hollywood at Home showing off his Las Vegas “bachelor pad.” He’s SO cute! Yep, there’s almost definitely going to be a Bradley Brothers series somewhere down the road . . .


    • Lady DragonKeeper permalink
      Sunday, May 1, 2011 8:17 pm

      Thanks for answering our questions! In my opinion, tracing isn’t cheating if you disclose that it wasn’t all free handed –people are using computers more and more in art … it doesn’t mean that works with digital media can’t be art as well … it’s just different. You’ve got some shading skills too! =)


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