THE ART OF ROMANCE—The Art and Your Questions Answered
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.)
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