Friday, August 9, 2013

Writing Romance Novels for Teens


     It can be tricky to write romance for a teen audience. A writer must carefully balance her characters’ relationships on the thin line that exists between too juvenile and too mature.  If the writing is done well, readers should feel a hazy intensity when reading love scenes but obviously not feel the need to go to confession or take a shower afterwards. Below is a piece about the all-consuming fervor a teen experiences when bitten by the love bug for the first time.


     First love comes into view.  You’re giddy, nervy, like there’s a marshmallow in your mouth and there’s no way to swallow it. Your skin is on fire, but you have goose bumps, not blisters. You want to stare straight into his face, study the contour of his cheekbones, his chin, but your eyes dart everywhere else. You flip your hair and sigh, trying desperately to act nonchalant as he approaches.

     The sweet subtle smell of him, all cinnamon chewing gum and musk, floats into your senses, and you melt, just a little. You beg your wobbly knees not to betray you and vow to stand straight and still and sturdy.

     The moment your eyes meet his, time stops. White noise slips into all of the empty spaces between and around the two of you, and your lips part just enough to quietly gasp. The atmosphere is lit with an electrical charge that’s hissing and spitting off of him and onto you, along a current that’s unmistakably alive. It juices and jolts you in the thread of a moment before allowing you to breathe again.  

     And here you are, basking in the warm glow of the aftershocks that buzz in the bottom of your belly like happy bees. You swallow the bliss of that silent interlude, the one that spoke volumes with no words at all. The moment has seared itself into the skin of your memory, knowing it can never be outdone. You will never forget this.

     Until he smiles.

     At you.

     And suddenly, you can’t even remember your name.


     Writing romance for teens requires me to open up that memory vault where I store my most cherished teenage memories of first love. Strangely enough, after all of these years, those memories are still pretty vivid, probably because of the intensity of emotion I felt during these moments. Most people can easily recall the sweaty brow, the bundles of butterflies, the two word conversations that meant so much more than what was actually said.  As adults, we tend to chuckle at the high drama of it all, but for the teens experiencing it, these feelings are very real and super strong.

     When writing a love scene, I take a trip back through time, shed the years of trial and error, disenchantment and practicality, and slip back into the penny loafers I was wearing the year I first fell in “love.” Immersed in memories of angst on top of pins and needles on top of breathlessness, my adult mind is both entertained and intrigued by the sheer concentration of every feeling, the phenomenon of emotions on steroids.  I allow myself to sink almost completely into the teenage drama queen I used to be, but make sure to keep my head above water – just enough to be able to use my years of life experience to send the right kind of message. After all, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to summon the passion of that recklessly love struck creature I used to be, while safely keeping the gifts of truth and wisdom in the back pocket of my (still hip) Mom jeans.

     I don’t know how other writers of YA romance handle this, but I feel a responsibility to set boundaries within my stories. I want to show examples of young men and women with forceful feelings for each other, attractions and urges my readers themselves are experiencing. Then, through the actions of my characters, I want my readers to learn how to harness those feelings and make good decisions. I’m not saying I’m going to hose down my lover boy with ice cold water and cover every inch of my protagonist’s skin. Characters have to be authentic, and sometimes steamy is authentic. Steamy doesn’t have to go over the line to be good though, and if love scenes are written well, they can do more than simply excite the reader. They can open up a conversation about limits and how abiding within them can foster a love story that’s real enough to last and last.

     The romance between Callie Evans and Joshua Pride in Whisper, book one of the Whisper series, is, in a word, magnetic. The intensity between these two individuals practically pulses off the pages. In Wake, book two of the series, both jealousy and danger push Callie and Joshua to an even deeper level of crazy love for each other and force them to have a discussion about boundaries. Although Callie’s identity has morphed to celestial proportions, her values remain those of a good Catholic girl with a conservative upbringing. In short, Callie and Joshua are engaged in war against both the Darks of Satan and their own hormones. It’s almost too much to bear, but the fragile hope of what’s to come, along with the core truths that have been laced into their consciences keep them tethered to the right track. Wobbly, but tethered none the less.

     What do you think? What, if any, lines should not be crossed when writing books for teens?

Friday, August 2, 2013

An Interview with Heidi Ruby Miller from Raw Dog Screaming Press

     I had the pleasure of meeting Heidi at the Penn Writers Conference this past May. Heidi not only is one of the managing editors at RDSP, but she is also an author herself. She has had amazing success both in mainstream and self publishing, and she shared many of the secrets of her trade with me. She is a self publishing guru and really knows how to work the market on her own. Check out Heidi's bio below for more info on this energetic, super smart, and incredibly sweet lady.

View Heidi Ruby Miller_author photo.jpg in slide show
1. Tell me a little about what you do at RDSP.I am the managing editor for RDSP's new Science Fiction Adventure imprint, Dog Star Books (launching August 2013). That means I'm in charge of title acquisitions and contracts, most content editing, and some copy editing. I also coordinate with our incredible cover artist, Bradley Sharp, and undertake some of the marketing responsibilities.

I also write for them so I have that rare opportunity to see both sides of the table, and I believe that perspective, coupled with teaching at Seton Hill and constant educational enrichment, makes me a better editor.

2. Why did you choose to go into the field of writing and publishing?
I always loved reading and writing, especially Science Fiction and Thrillers, but never pursued the writer's life seriously until enrolling in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Graduate Program in 2005. That changed my life, and I knew I could only ever follow my dream from that first term forward. And that's exactly what I've been doing.

3. What books did you love as a young adult and what are your top 3 favorite books (any genre)?
I was just telling my husband yesterday when we went to see Pacific Rim that I bought every RoboTech book as a child, along with all the G. I. Joe Choose Your Own Adventure Books, and Star Wars comics. I also loved Madeleine L'Engle. A Wrinkle in Time is my favorite book, and one of the few I've read twice. Rounding out the rest of my top three are Don't Stop the Carnival by Herman Wouk and 2010 by Arthur C. Clarke.

4. What is your view/the industry's view on self pub and how is it changing?
Wow. This could be an entire post. Suffice it to say that I believe self-pubbing propelled my career. In the two years since I released Ambasadora as an e-book, I have noticed less stigma attached to self-publishing, but also the profits seem to be evening out a bit. It feels as though the industry changes each month. I try to keep up with it all, as I'm rather business-minded as well as a creative type.
My husband and I both have a hybrid philosophy at the moment. We have some works published through Big 5, some through smaller publishers, and some we've put out on our own. I see many of my peers keeping to a hybrid as well. But each writer must do what is best for him or her. One thing I've learned is that every circumstance is different and all writers have their own journeys.

5. What advice would you give to an author who is going the self pub route?
Write what you want to write. Put out the best product you can. Immediately write the next book.

6. How do you think e-books are changing the market?
For readers: more choice, better prices, more convenience, easy sampling.
For writers: more money, more creative control, faster development, faster feedback, more room for experimentation, easier to reach niche markets.
And, for those who panic and lament the end of print books and the feel of paper and the smell and such--print books aren't going anywhere any time soon. In most instances the audiences for print and digital books are still very different.

7. You are an e-book marketing guru. Give me 5 tips on how to market and sell.
Having as many good books available under your name as possible is the biggest marketing tool of all.

Whether some people like to hear it or not, really the key to selling right now is Amazon. Fiddle with your book. Change the price around every once in a while, but hover around that magic $2.99. Try a new description if the one you have doesn't seem to attract an audience; the same is true of a cover. Use your KDP promotional days to get your books into the hands of as many readers as possible and don't worry if you give away 5,000 books--there are millions of readers.

Make the most of your Amazon author page and your Goodreads author page--both are more important than your website because they are right there in the path of readers so they can find you without having to look for you. Because most often they won't come looking for you. Why do think Starbucks put two coffee shops on oppoiste sides of the street in some cities? Because they know people are unlikely to alter their routine even to cross the street.

8. Tell me about your books. What gave you the idea for Ambasadora?
My biggest influences for all my work, whether my speculative fiction or my thrillers, comes from dreams. I know I am finally immersed in a story when I begin to dream and daydream about it constantly. Then I often go into hermit mode and forget about much of the world until the book is finished.
Bits of the world for Ambasadora came from many different influences: Disney World, TV, comics, books, the fashion world, travel, movies, and music. The Ambasadora-verse really exists out there somewhere so far as I'm concerned and there are lots of stories waiting there, like Greenshift, which is about to make its paperback debut (available as an e-book now) and Starrie, which is next in line for publication.

Ambasadora (Book 1 Marked by Light)          Greenshift (From the World of Ambasadora)
9. You talk a lot about your travel experiences. How do you think these have influenced youand your writing?
I always include details from each journey I take--and the journeys don't have to be far away. I can get as much inspiration an hour from my house as I can across the world. Luckily, my husband and I are still childlike in our sense of awe. I hope we never lose that.
We're heading to Paris in a couple of weeks. You can bet each of us will be infusing the feel and the details of our time there into our books somewhere down the line.

10. What is one thing you'd like your readers to know about you?
I love fashion! Part of what makes me happy each morning is putting on a cute dress or top. I only buy items that I love and I mostly stick to black and grey with a pop of bright color from time to time, even if it's just a small accent. I'm especially fond of reds, purples, and blues. And, I have finally begun to wear white a bit more often, though it tends to get lost on my fair skin.


Heidi Ruby Miller uses research for her stories as an excuse to roam the globe. With degrees in Anthropology, Geography, Foreign Languages, and Writing, she knew early that penning fast-paced, exotic adventures would be her life.

She's put her experiences and studies to paper in her far-future AMBASADORA series and into ATOMIC ZION, the beginning of her new supernatural spy series.

In between trips, Heidi teaches creative writing at Seton Hill University, where she graduated from their renowned Writing Popular Fiction Graduate Program the same month she appeared on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. AMBASADORA was her thesis novel there, and the multi-award winning writing guide MANY GENRES, ONE CRAFT, which she co-edited with Michael A. Arnzen, is based on the Seton Hill program and was named #5 in The Writer magazine's Ten Most Terrific Writing Books of 2011.

She has had various fiction and non-fiction publications, as well as various jobs, including contract archaeologist, foreign currency exchanger at Walt Disney World, foreign language teacher, and educational marketing director for a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Currently she is an editor at Dog Star Books and sometimes co-hosts author interviews on the GoingLIVE talk show on FCTV.

Heidi is a member of The Authors Guild, International Thriller Writers, Pennwriters, Broad Universe, SFR Brigade, Science Fiction & Fantasy Saturday, and Science Fiction Poetry Association.

She's fond of high-heeled shoes, action movies, Chanel, and tea of any sort.You can read about her books, travels, and author interviews at and tweet her @heidirubymiller.

She lives near Pittsburgh with her traveling companion and writer husband, Jason Jack Miller.

Contact her at