RWA 2013: Contemporary Romance Chat With Shalvis, Carr and Higgins

Yesterday at the 2013 Romance Writers of America Conference, bestselling authors Jill Shalvis, Robyn Carr and Kristan Higgins held an interactive workshop where they gave their best advice on how to write great contemporary romances. These publishing superstars answered questions from the audience about being full time writers. Today we are bringing you highlights from the chat that will hopefully help inspire a new wave of contemp writers!

Authors Jill Shalvis, Robyn Carr and Kristan Higgins

Audience Question: How do you balance family responsibilities and writing?

Kristan: My kids are still at home and my life revolves around them. I drop my daughter off at school and spend the best hours, the quietest hours, on fiction only. When they get home from school, I am theirs. Late at night I will go and take care of social networking and blogging. But writing is my job and all the other stuff is superfluous. You can't make a living with cute Facebook posts. 

Robyn: My kids are gown and my grandchildren do not live with me, so basically I have the perfect life! My process is that I work all of the time and it is not a problem for anyone. But I remember 30 years ago when all we did was write and for the new generation, expectations far exceed just writing the best book you can. You are asked to write more. Write faster. Do PR.

Jill: It is very difficult for me to balance everything. I've got a lot of teens and animals in my house. But writing is very important to me and therefore important to my family. I am a morning person so I get up very, very early and then write until they get home from work and school and give them my time. At night is time for PR.

Audience Question: Where do you get your ideas?

Jill: I buy them from a warehouse in Toledo. 

Kristan: I eavesdrop on strangers. I tell people, 'It's nice to meet you, how did you meet your husband.' Very polite, but really I am just mining your soul, stealing your life for my stories. 

Robyn: I get my ideas from my ideas. I start with one idea like who would [the heroine] love? Then from that, I start thinking what is she up against? Does she have a sister? How does she earn her living? What does she crave? What does she hate? The story evolves from there.

Audience Question: What do your families think about you writing romance?

Kristan: My family was very unimpressed when I told them I wanted to write romance. I had always read these kinds of books, but I come from an intellectual, overeducated family that looked down on them. They are proud of me, but still scratching their heads at my decision.

Jill: My father is a NASA rocket scientist and my brother is a computer genius so when I chose to write romance it boggled their overeducated brains.

Robyn: I had a hard time because my husband was not just unimpressed, but he thought I was wasting my time with writing. It is difficult because you might not sell right away. Getting no paycheck is hard to justify and it is hard to make the non-writer in your life understand the long road. But if you are driven to do this, give it everything you've got.

Audience Question: What is the hardest part of writing contemporary romance?

Jill: Everything about what we do is difficult. You have to make a believable conflict in contemporary world that doesn't involve a ghost or vampire or a person coming after your character with a hatchet. You've got a couple attracted to each other, why don't they hit the bedroom on page 5 and then the story ends on page 10?

Kristan: Creating a rich, emotional conflict explaining why the characters are hesitating is hard. Fortunately, I have two younger brothers-in-law and one is single (and very good looking) and I think what would he do in the situation. 

Audience Question: Robyn, you've wrapped up your Virgin River series. Will you ever go back? 

Robyn: I didn't exactly wrap it up, but I'm not going back today. Once I started the new [Thunder Point] series and enjoyed it so much, there was a question in my mind that if I went back to Virgin River would it be like dating an ex-husband? Maybe in a year or two I will get an idea that makes the trip back worth it. I didn't burn the town down!

Audience Question: What if you are not writing a small town romance? Any advice?

Jill: The small town setting is not as important as the characters. 

Robyn: A small town cul-de-sac or office building, what makes a book unputdownable is transporting the reader and sending them to a specific place. A laundromat in Biloxi or office at IBM make it so that the reader assumes the character's dilemmas. This is how character, setting and plot all go together. 

Audience Question: How much do you invest in your characters to set up their stories in the future? 

Robyn: I really believe that you should write every book as if it is the only book you will write. When you work too hard at setting up things for the future it creates a very complicated map that is too hard to follow. Your reader won't remember the details. 

Jill: Tell as little as possible about upcoming characters. Too much and you get committed and stuck. Maybe when you write their book you won't want them to have red hair and two babies.

Audience Question: How do you do your research?

Kristen: I've been to everywhere from a funeral home to a bakery. I once called a local police chief and talked for 3 1/2 hours. I just couldn't get him off the phone! Research gets me out of my chair and into the world and people love to be talked to. They are flattered. 

Robyn: I can tell you what not to do. Don't call the police department and ask them how to dispose of 500 pounds of explosives. There will be an unmarked police car sitting outside of your house from that moment on. 

Jill: Personal experience?

Robyn: Yes.

What's the best writing advice you've ever heard? Share it in the comments below. You can also click here for more tips on writing and join us next week on the RT Daily Blog when we will bring you more from the RWA conference. And you can always get your contemporary romance fix on our Everything Romance Page.