Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Relatability Factor

Photo by Lesle Sloan

Congratulations to "Jemi F", the winner of Barbara's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated!

Thank you for inviting me to visit “Just Contemporary Romance.” I am honored to be here, talking about the genre which gives me so much pleasure to read and write.

Given that, this next statement may seem completely out of context, but stay with me. I recently listened to the audio tape of John Sandford’s Broken Prey. Besides the fact that he writes gripping, fast-moving action thrillers, he also sets his stories around his home base in St. Paul, Minnesota. Since I was in the Twin Cities myself a few weeks ago, the story generated even more interest on my part as places I knew, such as I-35E, the Mall of America, Owatonna, and Blue Earth, to name a few were mentioned.


How does that tie in to my first published contemporary romance, The Sleepover Clause, and this post? The relatability factor. What is that, you ask? It’s my term for heightening the reader’s interest by including names, phrases, places, etc. with which the reader is familiar so they can more readily picture the setting and identify with the characters.

The Sleepover Clause takes place in my hometown, Burlington, Iowa. When a local newspaper reporter asked what familiar town landmarks I included, I had to stop and think. To my surprise, I’d only named two, both parks, although the Mississippi River, which runs past the city, serves as the backdrop for the hero and heroine’s first date.

Why hadn’t I mentioned streets or other locations? In retrospect, I can’t really answer that question. I guess I was so focused on plot and character development, I missed some great opportunities to enrich the story by doing more with setting.

Setting is definitely there. I envisioned the town’s main fire station, which is still operational in the downtown area, as the converted firehouse where the hero and his brothers live and work. I also included two “events,” an infestation of June bugs (water bugs, or cockroaches) and the arrival of mayflies. Neither was a particularly positive statement about the town, but they added a certain amount of authenticity. Plus, they were great mechanics for getting the hero and heroine together.

On the first page, I refer to the cornfields as well as the stifling humidity that often accompanies summer days in Iowa. The first paragraph ends with “Iowa sucked.” I thought this fitting, since my heroine, a native of Los Angeles, is a woman with an attitude, who arrives in the town where her mother grew up primed to dislike the place as much as her mother did. Since this is a “fish out of water” story, my heroine’s emotional arc encompasses her change of attitude and eventual decision to stay.

I’ve referred to this book as my Valentine to my home state and my hometown. However, after listening to Sandford’s work, I realized there was more I could have done to enhance the setting. The author’s lament; some of us are never totally satisfied with the final product. Fortunately for me, I’m currently working on the sequel, working title, The Travel Clause, which will begin in Burlington. This time around, thanks to the great model Sandford provides, I’ll be naming streets, places, events and including more cultural context to push that relatability factor higher.

What do you think? Do you get more engrossed in a story when you recognize familiar streets and places named in the book?

Excerpt
Interior designer Aubrey Carpenter has shown up at McKenna Custom Coaches, unannounced, ready to finish the inside of her sister’s motor coach. Mitch McKenna, who believes he’s already taken care of that detail, is doing everything in his power to discourage her from staying, even though he’s unable to resist his attraction to the intruder. He takes particular exception to her calling the coach a “bus.”

…he took in her hair, brownish with a tinge of red, cut smooth around the shoulders. It framed an elegant column of neck, the kind of place where a man’s hot breath and kisses could linger for hours.

Without warning, she lay down on the carpet, fixing her sight on the ceiling light above.

He jerked upright. “You okay?”

She rolled her eyes. “Relax, Bus Man. I want to see the place from every possible angle.”

Bus Man? “It’s not a…”

She raised her brows.

“Never mind.”

“I don’t usually let anyone else in on my floor show. Don’t mind my gyrations.”

Mind? “Have no fear,” he bluffed. “Just curious.”

Her acrobatics went on for another twenty minutes. She pulled at the collar of her tee. “Whew. That must have been more strenuous than usual. I’m perspiring like crazy.”

He ignored the bead of sweat that rolled down his own neck. “Maybe you should call it a day?” His question held just a tad too much enthusiasm.

“I’d like to, but can’t. Too many details yet to record.”

While she was preoccupied in the kitchenette area, he checked the inside temp on the controls. Seventy-eight degrees. Still bearable. When it got to eighty, he’d stop things for the day.

She rubbed the back of her neck. “You sure you’re not warm? I’m burning up.” She scanned the walls. When she spied the environmental system, she charged over to it. “Seventy-nine! Is the air even on?”

“The blower is. Not the AC.” He’d been waiting for over half an hour to say that. It felt good even though the heat was starting to get to him, too.”

She was in front of him in a flash. “There’s no air conditioning in here? Do you wait until some magical number, like frying-eggs-hot, to turn it on?”

“Still need a part for the coolant system before the air will kick in. It’s on order.”

“And you didn’t bother to mention that detail because…?”

“You wanted to see the interior today, come hell or high water. The former won.”

Author Bio
Barbara Barrett spent her professional career as a human resources analyst for Iowa state government, and that training has stayed with her in her writing of contemporary romance fiction. The theme of her writing, “Romance at Work,” reflects her fascination with the jobs people do and infiltrates her plots almost to the point of becoming a secondary character.  Now retired, Barbara spends her winters basking in the Florida sunshine and returns to her home state of Iowa in the summer to “stay cool.” Her first two books, The Sleepover Clause, Crimson Romance, and And He Cooks Too, The Wild Rose Press, were published in the past year. A third, Driven to Matrimony, TWRP, will be released in upcoming months.

Contact information
Email: barbarabarrett747@gmail.com
Website and blog: www.barbarabarrettbooks.com
Twitter: twitter.com @bbarrettbooks
Facebook:  http://on.fb.me/11jvO3Q

Buy links
Amazon ebook, Amazon POD
Barnes and Noble
iTunes
iBookstore
Kobo

Giveaway
Barbara is giving away a digital copy of The Sleepover Clause to one lucky commenter!

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST June 23rd. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email maureen@JustContemporaryRomance.com with a subject title of JCR GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.

29 comments:

  1. Sounds like an awesome story - loved the snippet!

    It is interesting to read a story set in a place I'm familiar with - although I like brand new places too :)

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for commenting, Jemi. Appreciate your take on familiarity.

      Barbara

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  2. You know, I never thought about it, but I love recognizing places in books. It doesn't have to be my hometown, but if I've been somewhere I like reading about it.

    I already have The Sleepover Clause--no need to enter me in the drawing!

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    Replies
    1. I hope you enjoyed The Sleepover Clause, Monica. I'm having a great time working on the sequel.

      Barbara

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  3. I like your point about relatability. It reminds me of something I remember reading that Stephen King said about how including specifics in your writing does so much to draw the reader in and make him or her really experience the writing, like using "sparrow" instead of "bird" or Lipton Cup-o-Soup" instead of just "soup." It makes everything that much more vivid. Nice post! :)

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    Replies
    1. I have Stephen King's On Writing on my iPhone. I listen to it when I'm on the treadmill, but I don't recall that part. Guess it's time to hear it again. Thanks for commenting, Christine.

      Barbara

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  4. I loved this excerpt, Barbara. What a great interactive scene, can totally 'feel' the heat! Awesome writing, witty dialogue too. Thanks!

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    1. Pam, Nothing makes me happier than to have my dialogue described as "witty." You've made my day.

      Barbara

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  5. My husband was born in Iowa (Mt. Pleasant), and I visited with him one summer long ago. The humidity killed me! So, that, along with the June bugs, et al, may be all you needed in your first novel, to get the "flavor" of summertime in the Midwestern U.S. It certainly rang a bell for me. I think your next novel will be the perfect accompaniment to The Sleepover Clause, with its more detailed descriptions, and I look forward to reading both.

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    1. Mt. Pleasant is only 30-45 minutes away from Burlington. It's good to hear you agree about the humidity. We're having a bit of that right now, in fact.

      Barbara

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  6. I like reading about places I'm familiar with, but I'm not familiar with a lot of places! So getting into too many details of particular streets, etc. doesn't engross me further than I already am. I like to leave a lot to the imagination too. It sounds like you have just the right amount of setting details! Great post!

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  7. Hi Barbara, what an interesting post. I really do like reading about familiar places. It's also a lot of fun to read about places far from home. We can google them and find out more, and if the author gives specific details we can even look at the exact spot with Google Earth etc. Definitely adds another dimension to an interesting story. The Sleepover Clause sounds great - have fun writing the next one! :-)

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    1. Serena, what I get from your note is that familiar and unfamiliar are fine, but it sure helps when the author supplies some details that add local flavor.

      Barbara

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  8. Loved the interaction in the excerpt!

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    1. Thanks, Lynn. I went back and found a part of the story I hadn't excerpted before. I had a great time writing this scene.

      Barbara

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  9. Love his non challant attitude. Sounds like a fun book. As for setting details...I like enough that I can picture everything, but since I haven't really been many places, it doesn't do much for me to have things that are really there. Though I think it's a neat idea, that the place really exists. Gives a realness factor to the romance itself. Terrific cover, by the way!

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    Replies
    1. Joanne, I love the cover too. The colors are favorites. I had a great time writing Mitch, although in other parts of the story, he's not always so nonchalant.

      Barbara

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  10. Loved the post and excerpt. I actually have been encouraged not to be too specific about naming places, but I like your advice better. I've thought about place a lot, because living on the Texas-Mexico border, there's a sensitivity that may or may not be as relevant to others, but it's important to portray settings objectively in a generally political way--I guess sort of like you mentioning the insect invasions! I like realistic touches--definitely a book to read! Leslie ('cause I'm often anonymous when WP finishes with me!

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    1. I'm glad my thoughts about relatability aren't too far out there. The way I've got the sequel working, it starts right after the first book ends, which means it takes place in the heart of summer, so I'm going to have to find new "summery" touches to add. And your name did come through, Leslie.

      Barbara

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  11. Great post. And your books sounds great. Looking forward to reading it.

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    1. Hope you enjoy it, Suzi. It's a great summer read. Besides taking place in the early part of summer, it's light, and the pacing clicks right along.

      Barbara

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  12. *Hello from the QCA* Interesting and thought-provoking post. As long as I get a sense of the setting and the characters, I'm pretty grounded, so familiar places aren't a make or break thing for me as a reader. I see how it can help a reader though after reading your post.

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    1. Brenna, thanks for weighing in on setting.

      Barbara

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  13. I am a Philly girl and always get excited when my hometown is represented in any media. I tend to place my stories in Philly because I am so familiar with it I can be true to the setting. Oddly enough both my published works are not set in PA at all. Go figure LOL great post

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    1. That's funny, Becky. The same is the case for me. Although The Sleepover Clause takes place in my home state, my second and third books take place in New York City and South Carolina, respectively. I've visited both places more than once, but I found myself being a little more general with descriptions.

      Barbara

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