Sunday, December 01, 2013

BELIEVE

In the summer of 1991 I had just returned from three years of living and singing in Germany and Austria, and the city I considered my second home was calling me. I attended graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi, one of the most fortuitously located colleges in the country. Only an hour from the beach and about two hours from one of the most lovely and fascinating cities in the world - New Orleans.

Three of my girlfriends and I decided a road trip to the Big Easy was in order to properly welcome me home. We had a ball! On our last night we were walking back to the hotel along Saint Charles about 4 AM and our worst nightmare came around the corner. Five rather large, rather drunk young men surrounded us and began to ask questions and shove us just enough to be intimidating. Frankly we were all scared witless (you can substitute whatever word you care to for 'wit.' I know I did!)

Just as suddenly as they'd surrounded us they began to back away. I knew from their accents they were locals. One pointed and rattled off a few words in Creole. The others argued with him - some in Creole and some in English. I don't know what he finally said, but they took off like rats offered a D-Con martini. What frightened them? A gris gris bag - a pouch made from the foot of a hundred plus year old snapping turtle, peculiar to the gris gris bags of one particular mamba in New Orleans. Long story short (Too late, I know! Why do you think I write historical romance?) I was given the bag as a gift from a mamba whose interview notes I took for a professor of mine who was researching voodoo culture in New Orleans. Apparently one of this crew recognized it and whatever he saw, he didn't want to mess with someone under this mamba's protection.




I attended hours of interviews with my professor. He spoke with dozens and dozens of people. We attended rituals and visited sites associated with the history of voodoo in New Orleans. One thing the mamba said has stuck with me over the years and very likely is the reason I slipped the gris gris bag around my neck before we took to the streets of one of the oldest cities in the country. I asked her if curses were real and what happened when the person being cursed didn't believe.

"It doesn't matter what he believes, ma petit. It only matters if I believe. A true sorceress can create reality from her belief if she is willing to do all it takes to make it so."

Writing romance is an alchemy all its own. We mix the ingredients -

A hero to die for.
A heroine who takes no crap from anyone, especially the hero.
A fascinating, alluring setting - time or place or both.
Enough conflict, bad guys, twists and turns to make Karma say "Damn! This writer's a real *itch!"
Sexual tension followed by organic, "I need a cigarette and a cold drink," smokin' hot love scenes.


When I think about those romance novels I love above all others they certainly contain these ingredients. But when asked WHY I love them so much, I am sometimes at a loss to explain. I realize now those are the ones where the writer took all of those ingredients and added magic. The sorceress made her belief mine. How else do you explain ...









A one-armed, scarred hero and a victim of rape who make me cry every time I read this book.


  
A hero with Asberger's who says to a dying heroine "Is this what love feels like? I don't like it, my Beth. It hurts too much."



 
 A spoiled, selfish hero who lives his entire life to get even with his horrible mother and his madman father and a heroine who makes her living off such men who can't make herself leave this man who wants to own her body and soul.

 

 
 A courtesan used nightly to pay off her protector's debts and a hero who doesn't even know her name until they meet again, each fighting to do what is best for the other even if it breaks their hearts.

 


Belief. The magic ingredient in every story that rises above the well-told tale to the story you can never forget. But you can't expect your reader to believe if you don't believe first - in your characters. your story. It is the author's ability to use the magic of the written word to create a reality into which the reader steps willingly and never wants to leave that makes a romance a reader never forgets, a novel a reader reads over and over again because they simply must.

All the writing skill in the world, all the alchemy we learn at conferences - from teachers, and workshops, and critique partners, and mentors is just so much smoke and mirrors. Absolutely necessary without a doubt, but there is more. It takes the magic of your imagination to set your readers free or even better, to bind them to you forever. So get out those cauldrons, my fellow sorceresses. Fill up your gris gris bags. Gather new alchemy every day. Add all of the ingredients and 

  


What ingredients do you use to make your stories magic? What have other authors used to make you put their books on your keeper shelf? Do you study those books to see what it is that draws you to them and do you try to use that magic in your own writing?

 


   

18 comments:

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

I'll be honest. I have seen and still see enough horrible things people have to go through in life that I don't want that in my reading. I tend more toward the lighter side in my reading, which is probably the reason Georgette Heyer is still my favorite author. I like my characters to have problems, that are overcome by intelligence, wit, and the occasional fist or gun. Great post. I tweeted and shared on FB.

Samantha Grace said...

What a great New Orleans story, Louisa. I try to write from the heart and with humor. Is it magic? I don' t know about that, but writing brings me joy. :)

Andrea Stein said...

Thank you for an angle I hadn't realized. You're absolutely right. If I don't believe, how can readers lose themselves in what I write? Food for thought. I love lots of emotion in the romances that speak to me. Can't have emotion without belief. Great post!

Connie Gillam said...

Great post, Louisa.

When the conflict and motivation of the main characters comes together seamlessly that's magic to me. When the main characters have grit plus humor, that's magic. When they love each other but are in denial, that's magic. I just mix all that together and hope I've created a book people will love.

Sandy Owens said...

Loved this post, Louisa, and thanks for reminding me I need to read Simply Love again. It was such a beautiful story!

Chris Bailey said...

Louisa, I haven't been thinking about magic--but I promise I am now! What an inspiring post!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Ella! I absolutely love Georgette Heyer's novels for that very reason. In a world that seems to drop further into hell in a hand basket every day her wit, intelligence and FUN really appeal. And conflict doesn't necessarily have to be violent. Sometimes the most powerful conflicts are the ones born of our own perceptions of ourselves - our demons and our misconceptions and fear of spiritual intimacy with others. Your books definitely have that sort of magic in spades!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thanks, Samantha! Writing from the heart with humor is definitely magic! You create situations that are funny and romantic to which any modern couple can relate and draw the readers into the world of Regency England and you have magic, which is very evident in all of your books!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Roomie! Like you, I hadn't realized the power of belief until I remembered what the mamba said. Belief creates reality and what is writing, but a spell to bring someone else into your reality.

Louisa Cornell said...

You get it, my Pixie Sister! You are a master sorceress! Your belief in the magic of all of these ingredients shines through in everything you write!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Sandy! I reread Simply Love at least twice a year. It truly is a magical love story!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Chris! I don't think any of us realizes the power we have if we just Believe!

Di said...

I loved Ian Mackenzie!

Louisa Cornell said...

He truly is an unforgettable hero, isn't he, Di!

vicky dreiling said...

Great post, Louisa. By the way, you grabbed me immediately with this post! I think when we're deep into writing the story, something magical does happen. In On Writing, Stephen King talks about the things in the basement. I know my subconscious plays a huge role in my writing. I dreamed large portions of What a Wicked Earl Wants. As for magical books, I think Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm is the most brilliant historical romance ever. I've read it so many times, and still I get sucked in each time.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you so much, Vicky! I am thrilled you stopped by as I am a HUGE fan of your books. You definitely know something about working magic. Isn't it amazing what the subconscious can do when we let it run free? Dreaming large portions of a book is a testament to your belief in you characters and your story!

And I can't believe I didn't include Flowers from the Storm on this post. It is another book I find myself rereading at least twice a year simply because I cannot help myself!

Carla Swafford said...

You write some of the best posts!

You bet I study them. I especially like the books where the guy's an asshole (not necessarily to the heroine). And the heroine is willing to stand up (and with) to the hero, but she wants to figure out what's the guy's problem. LOL!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Carla! And you write some of the BEST books! Your Circle series is so real to me and I know it is because of your skill as a writing sorceress! :)

I am completely with you on studying those books where the hero is a complete jerk and the heroine just wants to figure out "What is this guy's problem???" It makes for sparks flying and real MAGIC!