When writers on panels used to talk about themes, I never really knew if my stories had any.  I don’t start a book and say to myself, This is the theme.  Instead, I get an idea.  For LOVE ON TAP, I needed a woman chef to come to Mill Pond to work at Ian’s inn, because I wanted to write the story from her POV. Why did she come?  Because she fell in love, got married, had two small children, and then her military husband got killed overseas.  Now, she’s a single mom, trying to juggle raising her kids with her job as a chef.  It’s tricky, so she leaves the prestigious restaurant she cooks at in New York to work at Ian’s resort in Mill Pond.  That way, she can spend more time with Aiden and Bailey and keep them close.  Time passes, and she finally starts thinking she might want more in life.  She might be ready to meet someone new.  And therein starts the romance.  It’s a slower start than usual, and to be honest, I’m a little worried about that, but Paula’s been out of the dating scene for a while.  She’s only dipping her toe in the water, and she’s out of practice.  Heck, she doesn’t even get it right the first time.

Luckily for her, she lives in Mill Pond.  And when Ian’s resort gets so busy she’s working as many hours as she did in New York, Ian decides that she needs an assistant chef.  Enter hottie, world-traveler Tyne Newsome, whom she loves like a brother.  Period.  He has no interest in her, either, but oh, does he love to give her free advice.  And he’s sure she’s picked the wrong guy.  Worse, he tries to steer her in what he considers the right direction.

That’s the set-up for the book, and after I figure that out, then the book’s characters start jabbering in my head, ready to dive into their roles.  I get attached to them and a story unravels as the protagonist tries to find what she needs to be happy again.  I’m usually finishing the book before I recognize its theme.  For LOVE ON TAP, I dealt with being a single mom who loves her kids and her career, who searches for a man who’ll make her happy, but will also add to her children’s lives.  The book also touches on how to move forward when a spouse dies, how to move past grief.

Every genre has certain, built-in expectations.  Mysteries deal with crime.  Suspense pits a good guy against a bad guy or situation.  Thrillers have a ticking clock.  Fantasy often deals with a quest, and romance deals with a happy-ever-after.  But those are just the frames the stories are built on.  Themes give them depth.  But don’t worry if you sit down and have no idea what that theme will be.  Usually, your characters will tell you.


I posted a short snippet from Love On Tap on my webpage, if you’re interested:

Author Facebook page:

Twitter:   @judypost

Writing & The Meaning of Life

I’m not sure what pulls people to become writers.  There are easier things to do in life, but many of us feel driven to put ideas on paper and to tell a story from our own perspective.  We can tinker with what we include or emphasize, and we can tilt our fictional world to explore what interests us.

For me, one of the joys of writing is exploring some of the great WHYs that plague me.  What gives life meaning?  Each of my characters might give a different answer to that question, and that lets me look at it from many perspectives.  Are people born with certain, predetermined character traits?  And which strengths do I admire and which weaknesses repel me?  Sometimes, when I’m writing, the answers surprise me.  I might respect a passionate villain who believes in his cause while I cringe at a protagonist who whines and feels sorry for himself.   But then, what made my characters the way they are?  A sad childhood?  Unloving parents?  How much of who we are is determined by genes, and how much by environment?  Is there Destiny?  Why do some characters buckle under the slightest adversity and others rise above all odds?  I might not have definitive answers for those questions, but I can give my characters reasons and motivations for each story I write.

When we write, our beliefs, values, likes, and dislikes seep into our stories.  For one of my friends, telling lies is at the top of her list of sins.  When she paints a villain in her stories, he’s often a liar–because if he lies, he probably does much, much worse.  Betrayal is often considered one of the worst character flaws, but when I read Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence, his protagonist believes that if he cares too much about anyone, it weakens him.  And Jorg would consider himself weak if he sacrificed a victory to save a friend.  He’s very capable of betraying people close to him.  Since Jorg lives in such a violent world, though, the reader can empathize with Jorg’s view, so betrayal is still repugnant, but sometimes, it seems necessary.  As writers, we can play with what’s good and what’s evil.

I’ve heard a few speakers claim that every writer explores certain, broad themes in their works.  They repeat those themes over and over again in different settings and under different circumstances.  Do we each have a question that we’re trying to answer with our stories?  Do romance writers believe that love can conquer all?  Or that nothing in this world matters more than love?  Mystery writers reinforce the idea that justice will prevail and good will conquer evil.  Horror writers scare us because evil has a decent chance of winning and good sometimes gets trampled.  Are those the authors’ world views that are reflected in their writing?  For a friend of mine–who believes Shakespeare’s view that all the world’s a stage holds true–none of it really matters, because we each only act out whatever part we’re given before we step into Earth’s spotlight.  His stories have a temporary, what happens now only seems important quality to them.

Maybe we write to understand ourselves and our lives more.  We can turn ideas over and come at them from angles we’d never try in real life.  We can create characters we don’t like and let them push and prod protagonists we do care about.  We can study what makes each character tick, what defines him and sets him apart.  Writing is a great experiment in which we can decide what’s important and what isn’t in the worlds we create.  And just maybe, testing out those what-ifs also helps us define who we are and how we see our own world.

Writing–What’s your theme?

My friend, Paula, from Scribes flew with me to San Diego years ago for a writers’ conference that featured Elizabeth George.  We’re both huge fans of her writing.  Her  presentation was well worth the flight, but one of the things that stood out for me was her idea that each writer repeats a theme over and over again in each novel they write.  There might be a “topic” theme that’s unique for each book–and she said she doesn’t know what hers is until the book’s finished–but authors have a personal take on the world that sneaks into their work.

I thought about that when I switched from the mystery genre to urban fantasy.  Did that mean my life theme had changed?  I don’t think so.  I couldn’t figure mine out for a while until I attended a lecture where the speaker broke down what attracted readers to different genres and sub-genres.  I fell into the “good vs. evil and good wins” camp.  In my stories and novels, I do what many mystery writers do–I make sure that crime, ultimately, does NOT pay, and good conquers evil and restores the world to its natural order, even if my protagonist has to break a few rules to make that happen.  That’s why I can’t really write horror.  In horror, evil CAN win and sometimes does.  My evil might win a few battles, but it always loses the war.

Another friend, who writes noir (Les Edgerton–and he does it exceptionally well–you should check him out if noir’s your thing) wrote that monsters can’t scare him in fiction, because he knows there’s no such thing.  He can’t suspend disbelief and worry that the vampire will drain poor Miss Marple.  To frighten him, the threat has to be distinctly human in the making–because that, he can believe might happen.  I, on the other hand, can easily be more frightened by a supernatural threat than a mortal one.  Why?  For me, it’s not about the actual event.  It’s about the struggle of “good vs. evil.”  Mostly, it’s about how hard a person will cling to his morals/beliefs in the face of almost sure defeat, how hard he’ll strive to be his idea of “good” or “worthy.”

My author friends who write romance don’t just like “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy must win girl” type stories.  They write romance because they believe in and value the concept that love is a unique, important value that can change a person’s life and world.  They love the idea of love.

When a writer creates a plot, peopled by characters, his most basic beliefs color the world he creates, and that, maybe, becomes his own personal theme.  Every planet and orbit revolves around it, because at his core, that’s how he sees the world, what drives him.   What seeps into your stories?  When you play creator, what rules drive your characters and the decisions they must make?

(Just a note:  my novel, Fallen Angels, is free for Kindles through May 21st:

Also, later this week, the author Kyra Jacobs interviews me on her blog, Indiana Wonderer.