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Jan O’Hara: When Characters Got Quiet, This Author Went Rogue
Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Last fall, with only a few months left on my deadline for Cold and Hottie, my second-chance romance set in Jamaica, my characters stopped cooperating. They were still doing interesting things but I had no freaking idea why, because they wouldn’t talk to me.

That was a big problem. As a writing friend says, romance readers are all about the feels. If you fail to give them an emotional journey you can count on receiving hostile reviews.

Fortunately, I had been down this route before and had a solution: I would write upcoming scenes in first-person, replacing “she said” with “I said,” for instance, so as to get deeper in my characters’ heads. Then I’d take what I learned and convert it back to third-person, making it match the 30,000 already written words.

At first it looked like the plan would work. The story was progressing in delightful ways and I suddenly had characters emoting all over the place. Then I discovered two giant flies in the suntan lotion.

First, I couldn’t figure out a way to keep all the lovely emotionality during the conversion.

Second, my hero and heroine had started speaking in present tense. (i.e. “When the knock comes at the door” rather than “when the knock came at the door.”) Now, while I will read virtually anything in any point of view or tense, provided it’s a good story, I’m aware some readers have much stronger preferences. In fact, some downright hate books written in first-person present-tense, so why would I cooperate in earning their wrath?

I doubled-down on my shoe-horning efforts.

And I got precisely nowhere.

This was when I reached out to a cadre of savvy writing friends. To a person, their advice was to go where the story was leading, no matter how odd I might seem to the marketplace.

But was a first-person romance really that weird? I was starting to wonder if my fears matched reality.

To gain objectivity I went to Amazon, which is undisputedly the biggest site for romance sales in North America. I pulled up their bestseller lists and…I learned that I had underestimated romance readers’ flexibility. Books written in first-person were far from being the exception, as I believed, but were close to forming the majority of books in the Top Twenty lists. Even better, readers were embracing present-tense.

Thus freed up, I put my efforts into finishing the back end of the book, rewrote the front end, and managed to make my deadline. And while I’m not sure I’ll deliberately choose to go this route again on purpose, I won’t be nearly as afraid to do it, if required.

Did it work? Preliminary feedback would say it has, but I’ve included an excerpt from the first chapter below, so you can decide for yourself. And in the comment section, I hope you’ll let me know your feelings about first-person present-tense stories. Are they alien to you, a deal-breaker, or intriguing new ground?

Cold and Hottie

She’s being sent to Jamaica for a team-building exercise. It will be led by a crazed psychologist, and the man she done wrong…who is now her boss. Oops.

A decade ago, in a messy breakup with the only man she has ever loved, Olivia Prosser behaved badly. Since, she has lived with the consequences.

Then bad news comes in rapid succession: the company she works for has been purchased; her ex, Finn, is her new employer; and she’ll be reconnecting with him during a mandatory retreat in Jamaica. Five days filled with forced emotional intimacy and corporate-speak, not to mention memories better left in the past.

A white knight’s armor will rust in salt water.

For years, Finn Wakefield has known who to blame for his breakup with Liv. Then new information comes to light. Liv might be innocent, and the party who framed her might be lodged within Finn’s company, continuing their acts of sabotage.

But Liv shows no interest in righting the wrongs of the past. Is that for ominous reasons or because she is over Finn? Either way, for the sake of his company, Finn must push for the truth – even if the cost is a twice-broken heart.

Cold and Hottie was previously published as part of the Tropical Tryst box set, which became a #1 international bestselling ebook anthology (Aug. 1/17). See why readers call it “…a delicious page-turner set in an exotic setting.

Excerpt:

At 4:37 p.m. on Friday, after weeks of dread and just when I’ve convinced myself I’ve been spared, a dossier bearing the title Jamaica lands on my desk. Tucker had probably been aiming for my in-basket, but since he’s standing in my doorway and the basket is overflowing, the folder tips over the edge and continues its horizontal motion. It comes to rest on the refinery drawings I’ve been marking up, the right lower edge touching a pump that needs modernization.

When I find my voice I say, “You’re kidding me.”

Tucker’s smile is his signature blend of cynicism and amusement. “If you pull yourself together and need to talk, I’ll be in my office for another five minutes.” He pivots on a well-shod foot and vanishes from sight.

I turn the pencil in my hand and use the eraser to tease out the top sheaf of paper, willing this to be one of his practical jokes. Easy enough to put a label on a folder and pack it with documents destined for the shredder. Then to stand in the hall just out of sight, ready to pop in with a, Haha, Liv, got you good this time.

Alas, this evening brings no such luck. For there in black and white, issued in the name of one Olivia Prosser, is an e-ticket for this coming Monday morning. I’m flying from Columbus to Kingston, via Atlanta.

I use the pencil to extract the next sheaf. Apparently the resort and I have corresponded, most recently when I confirmed an ocean-facing, non-smoking room with a king-sized bed.

At least I was smart enough to avoid having a roommate.

I close my eyes and bend forward to clunk my head repeatedly on my desk. Having seen fellow staffers open their envelopes, I don’t need to examine the rest of the paperwork to know what it contains. There will be a shiny brochure on the all-inclusive resort’s amenities. (Seven pools! Six restaurants featuring international cuisine! Unlimited soft drinks and booze in your room’s mini-fridge!) There will be a listing of optional paid activities, both inside the resort and on the island. Finally, there will be the handout delineating the source of my dry mouth and blossoming headache.

I don’t need to look at the handout but…I stop banging my head and do it anyway, because some masochistic impulses can’t be resisted.

Three months ago, the company I work for, HMZ Consulting, was purchased by Wakefield Enterprises. When I say “purchased,” I really mean “swallowed whole.” We were the krill to Wakefield’s blue whale. Now the time has come for us to “harmonize our corporate cultures.” Accordingly, for the past several months, select employees within my office have been receiving invitations to the upcoming retreat in Jamaica. Once trained in the ways of the mothership, they—and I guess that includes me now—will return as ambassadors to the home office, where we will spread the ways of enlightenment.

Most of the five-day retreat will be run by Wakefield’s second-in-command, Yolanda Perez. The brochure photo shows a woman in her early forties with tight black braids and a confident smile. She’s a psychologist, reportedly half-crazy in her own right, and the rumors about her outdoor group exercises are downright intimidating.

Then there’s the CEO, Finnegan Wakefield. I don’t know if his photo has been retouched, but thirty-four looks good on him. Even better than twenty-four did, if that’s possible.

Finn is giving the Tuesday noon keynote—one hour is his full commitment for the entire program. Depending upon how he receives me, that one hour could be all it takes to upend my life.

Sales links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |  Kobo | iBooks

Author bio and contact links:

A former family physician and academic, Jan O’Hara left the world of medicine behind to follow her dream of becoming a writer. These days she confines her healing tendencies to paper—after making her characters undergo a period of delicious torture, naturally.

Jan lives in Alberta, Canada and is a columnist for the popular blog Writer Unboxed.

Join Jan’s mailing list for updates on her forthcoming books, exclusive content, and access to reader giveaways: http://janohara.net/newsletter
Website:  www.janohara.net
Facebook: https://facebook.com/janoharabooks
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/JanOHara

Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Jan-OHara/e/B01M1C7HUT/
Email: jan@janohara.net

One comment to “Jan O’Hara: When Characters Got Quiet, This Author Went Rogue”

  1. Jan O'Hara
    Comment
    1
      · February 22nd, 2018 at 4:44 pm · Link

    Thank you so much for hosting me, Delilah!

    I wasn’t smart enough to include a conversation starter in this post, but if anyone has questions about me and/or the book, I’ll do my best to answer them.