Sunday, September 1, 2013

Helping Women Reshape Their Lives


Congratulations to "Julie O", the winner of Caren's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated. 

If I told you I write books that help women reclaim their lives, you might wonder if I had delusions of grandeur. Well, maybe I do, but it took me quite a few years and the grueling work of completing seven book before I finally figured out the theme of my books. 

Yes, theme. That thing we all struggled to identify in books we were forced to read in high school and college English classes. I was thinking about theme recently, when my rather desperate sister-in-law asked me to help my nephew finish answering some questions about his summer reading. My nephew is hovering on the brink of 12 and was about to start 7th grade - a grade most of us recall with dread and for which we offer fervent gratitude that it is over for us. Forever. My poor nephew, like most almost-12-year-old boys, is not a big fan of reading. He's also not a big fan of writing. And he is most certainly not a fan of book reports. I had a big job ahead of me.

Fortunately, I had a chance to look at his questions a couple of days in advance. When I saw there was one asking what the theme of the book was, I blanched. I've been in writing workshops with excellent presenters talking about theme to professional writers and getting lots of confused looks in return. Theme is rather an esoteric thing, so how was I going to pull anything about it from my nephew? 


Finally, I hit on a way to explain it that, while not perfect, got to the heart of what theme is. I told him that theme is what the book is really about. Not the plot or what happens in the book. Not the character's quest or goal. It's what the book is about. He gave me the confuddled look I expected, but at least it was a jumping-off point. The book he read was a YA spy thriller by British author Anthony Horowitz, called Stormbreaker. In the book, a teenager falls on bad times and is recruited to spy for MI6. While it would be easy to decide the theme of Stormbreaker is "good versus evil" (a broad and classic theme), we decided the theme was "things are often not what they seem to be." It took a lot of tugging and dragging to get my nephew to decide what the theme was, but we both thought that fit our quick and dirty definition of what the book was really about. 

On my way home, I started thinking once again about my own books. At one point I had decided the theme of my books seemed to be "to thine own self be true." That's a great theme and does fit most of my books. But I decided after all that theme talk that there was an even more overarching theme in my books, women reshaping their lives. I have divorced heroines, widowed heroines, heroines between careers, heroines trying to decide whether to have children. You name a crisis an adult woman faces and I will probably address it in a book, as long as it is about women taking a long, hard look at themselves, their lives, how they got there and what they want to do next. 
So now when people ask me what I write, I tell them I write books about women reshaping their lives. I hope that, in some small way, my books may help women reshape their real lives. Rethink their choices. Reassess where they are, who they are and what they want. I've decided that is my job as a novelist and I hope readers agree with me! 

Has a novel ever helped you rethink your life? Has someone's writing touched a part of your life that needed some attention? And if you had to choose a theme for your life's work, what would it be? 

Giveaway: 
One lucky commenter will win an electronic  copy of Kick Start in the format of choice.

About Caren: 
Caren Crane lives in North Carolina with her long-suffering husband and is sometimes visited by her mostly-grown children. She loves to read, talk about books and eat. She does not love to exercise, but does so in order to read and eat another day. You can catch up with Caren at http://www.carencrane.com and on the Romance Bandits blog (http://romancebandits.com).

Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST Sep. 2nd. 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.

47 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I absolutely LOVED this book! Caren, you are a natural writer, with not only a grasp of the idiosyncrasies of life but the humor as well. I also want my OWN younger man and have contemplated going back to college....not to enroll, just hang out in the bookstore...

    SECURITY!

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    1. Joan, I definitely recommend hanging out in the college bookstore for MANY reasons. Cute guys are way up on the list, though. :)

      But really, Kick Start is all about Linda reshaping her life. Really! Jack is just a fringe benefit of the reshaping. An eye-pleasing, ego-stroking, very tasty side benefit, but still. :D

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    2. So you're saying he's a ...."good egg?"

      :D

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    3. Caren, he doesn't stroke JUST her ego. Snerk!

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    4. Joan, I'm saying he's a good egg with benefits. AND he makes eggs Benedict. *snort*

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    5. Anna Campbell, Jack is an exceptional stroker of all manner of things. I'll say no more. :D

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  3. Hey Caren! So glad to see you over here today! I love your points about theme and how to figure it out. I'm one of those who've sat, confuddled, in those selfsame workshops. Grins.

    I finally decided my books are about going for it - taking charge even if you don't feel qualified or ready - and just going for it. :>

    There are so many books that influenced me or changed the way I thought, and therefore how I acted. From To Kill a Mockingbird right on up to Kick Start. I love how a story can give you an insight and a change of heart without you having to actually go through the painful slog of experiencing something. :> PReventative medicine if you will.

    Great post!

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    1. Jeanne, I'll admit that I've been baffled by theme many a time. I think The Incomparable Claudia Dain is the one who made them make sense for me. You know how Claudia is. She can take the most esoteric idea and make it like concrete for you. She's amazing! So, yeah, when I had to go through it with the almost-7th grader, I was worried. Glad I could boil it down to a pretty simple concept, though. It made it even clearer for ME. :)

      I love that you allow books to shape your world view. I was reminded today (because I was leading a Sunday school lesson) that most humans are NOT very open-minded. I think people who read a lot tend to be more open-minded than the regular Joe, though. I, too, have been influenced by many books. And I have to say that romances taught me a lot about what I did and did NOT want in a man. Preventative medicine, indeed!

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    2. There you have it, Caren! And you're right, people who read not only live longer with better-functioning brains (go, us!) but they do seem to have a broader world view. Grins. Like you, Romances taught me a LOT about what I did want in a man. I learned a lot about what I didn't want, but sometimes that's just not enough - you have to know (and have good examples) of what you DO want!!

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  4. Hey Caren! Interesting points about theme - but darn you for making me think on a Sunday evening :). Will have to have wine now!

    Romance novels have, over the years, had a huge impact on my life because they helped me see that women can be strong even when they think they aren't. And that happy ever afters really do exist! :) I think this is probably what my books have as a theme.

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    1. Anna, I'm so sorry to have made you kick the brain in gear on a lazy Sunday! :) Definitely have the wine. Heck, have some for me, too!

      I love that so many of us see and identify with the theme of women discovering their hidden talents and strengths. Really, until life kicks you around a bit, it's all a guessing game as to who has guts and who doesn't! I can't wait to read your debut release that's out this month. I'm sure your heroine in A PERFECT DISTRACTION has all sorts of hidden strength!

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  5. Hey Caren! Love the post on theme...loved KICK START, too! And yes, I think you got your theme just perfect.

    I've wondered what my theme has been for a long time. And I think it's this: "When life throws you a curve ball, stay calm, think hard and take a big bat to knock it out of the park for a home run." (Yea, the Indians are on TV right now...sigh). Seriously, I have ordinary women, with skills they didn't know they had and an ability to react under pressure. So I think the theme works pretty good. I could be wrong, too.

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    1. Suzanne, thanks for backing up my theory about my theme. I think you've hit it out of the park for your own books! Your books do, indeed, show ordinary people in some pretty extraordinary circumstances. I think for many of us, stories about women finding their power really resonate deeply. Yours strike me that way. Of course, you do a fair amount of curve ball handling yourself, so naturally you would write women like that! :D

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  6. Caren - What an excellent thought provoking post. And what a wonderful inspiring theme to apply to your books. I think knowing the central story or theme will certainly aid in writing more books - which you certainly must do - write more books! :-)

    For years and years I've read books such for the sheer enjoyment. With no English teacher demanding book reports, I'd never bothered to think about themes. I wasn't even sure theme and enjoyment could co-exist. LOL. But oviously they can and do. I think maybe my themes are a discovery of one's assets combined with love can triumph obstacles.

    Love the book. Love the so apropos title. Love the theme. Well-done.

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    1. Donna, you know I am not usually a Deep Thinker. I only refer to myself that way ironically! :) So when The Incomparable Claudia Dain sort of challenged me to identify the themes of my books, it was like homework I didn't want to do. It took years - no exaggeration - and only became clear sometime in the past couple.

      Oddly, I find that now I've figured out how the whole theme thing works, I can easily identify themes in OTHER author's books. I could write a book report on anything! :D I think a big theme is your books is the heroine discovering who she really is. As my erudite friend Edie said below, the heroine's "primal, authentic self." Isn't that wonderful? Edie is a genius.

      I think in all romances, love is the icing on the cake. It gives the heroine (and hero) the reward for coming so far and battling so long and hard. I'm kind of developing a crush on themes now, I think!

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  7. Hi Caren! Hi JCR girls! Caren, what a fascinating piece. I was the kind of swot who always liked working out the theme in things like book reports. Yes, painful, I know. Love that you've done some thinking about your theme lately - it's actually kind of interesting to dig deep into our stories and come out with those universals, isn't it? I used to think the theme of my stories was redemption - and there's definitely a redemption arc going on with either my hero or heroine and usually both of them in my stories. Very Beauty and the Beast - the way love can transform a beast into a prince (or princess!). But lately I've thought a bit more and come to realize that identity plays an even more important role in the bones of the story. These people have to be brave enough to drop their false personas and accept who they are - that's when the redemption takes place (not giving up on redemption!). I was surprised to think how often my characters adopt false names in my stories - I should have twigged that identity was a big issue right from the start!

    Loved your take on your deep theme. And it's all done with such insight and such humor! Bravo, you! xxx

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    1. Anna, you are always so deep and insightful. I want to be Anna Campbell when I grow up! I'm afraid I was that sort of swot, too. The horrible girl in college English Lit who was the professor's favorite because I could always grab things out of (apparently) thin air while everyone else sat giving her the Big Eyes. I was much despised in English Lit! :)

      It was so tough to do for my own writing, though. I'm not sure why, but all the "noise" got in the way. The details of story and plot and characters. I would happily have gone along with your Redemption theme, by the way. I think it's certainly part and parcel of your books. But I think Identity fits even better! Hey, maybe I can pick up Redemption as mine! :D

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    2. Ha ha, Caren, clearly we were both despised. What a pity we didn't know each other then to bask in our mutual admiration! ;-) I think redemption is central to a lot of romance.

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  8. Hey Caren, Great to see you out and about this holiday weekend! I think the theme of my books is do-over. My characters are always taking their lives back and correcting for past bad mistakes. That's one of the things I loved about Kick Start! I love Linda is taking her life back. She's who I"m modeling my post-divorce self after. Clearly time for me to sign up for classes at Wake Forest.

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    1. Kimberly, you could certainly do worse than hanging out at the bookstore at WFU. Most of those kids have money, too! :D I agree with your theme of Do-Overs in your books. Your characters tend to have Big Issues to overcome, especially concerning (or because of) their families. That is huge life stuff! Your heroines always make the tough choices, though, and make it look easy and logical. As if they could not do anything else!

      I think you are doing an awesome job reshaping your life. You have so many balls in the air I have lost count of them all! If you choose to add some true love in there, it will truly be icing on your post-divorce cake. :) Which I hope to share with you. The cake, I mean, not the guy. Well, unless you're sharing... LOL

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  9. My dear Caren,
    I'm reading Kick Start now - just started it yesterday, and sadly, life got in the way of me getting more than just a few pages. But I already recognize myself in it, and I recognize my life and living in the South (in "all the right places") and my own past. And I have no doubt that I will recognize more themes.
    Since I'm very much in a period of reinventing myself, I am eager to read more. I agree, it is during times of trial and tribulation that people find out what kinds of strengths they have. It's like searching for your primal, authentic self requires catalytic (sometimes catastrophic) impetus. Further, the people I have known that I admire most(such as your wonderful self) are ones that have had the trials, have bested them, and have emerged somehow stronger and more beautiful than before. I hope to join that club someday.

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    1. Edie, it's so great to see you here! I hope I was able to convey the sense of place you know so well from your years in NC. I think betrayal like Linda experienced is something most of us have, in one form or another. Also her denial, anger and eventual acceptance. Life is hard, now!

      I think the search for your authentic self is something only the brave undertake. Like you! Many of us, especially women, can go whole lifetimes without ever even looking into who they really are. We all know those women, too! I know you are a strong, beautiful person and always have been. I am waiting to see just how much more amazing you can be. I'm not sure the world is ready! :D

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  10. Caren, congrats on the release of Kick Start. You know ai love it. Today is kind of nuts, so I'm not coming up quickly with a book that changed my life. I'm not sure what the theme of my life is, either, alas. Maybe I need to think about that.

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    1. Nancy, I know you are busy having all the fun today, so no worries! I'm so glad you love the book. You are an exceptional writer, so that means the world to me. I think you definitely have a theme going in your books. It may be something like "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility." Your heroes just need capes! :-D

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    2. Nancy - I think you have a strong theme of justice in your books and in your life as well. just saying...

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  11. Karen enjoyed your article love the idea of helping women that Read fiction and I hope you have a great day theme is important in a book to me and and I like your particular emphases.

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    1. Thanks so much, Joanna. I love to believe that I can help someone - anyone - by writing fiction. Otherwise, why bother? I may turn out to be delusional in the end, but it's working for me now. Thanks for stopping by!

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  12. Karen enjoyed your article love the idea of helping women that Read fiction and I hope you have a great day theme is important in a book to me and and I like your particular emphases.

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  13. Karen enjoyed your article love the idea of helping women that Read fiction and I hope you have a great day theme is important in a book to me and and I like your particular emphases.

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  14. Love this book--and this theme in your other books too, Caren! I always laugh right out loud reading you, and I love that I can laugh, cry and learn all at the same time! Your characters always do the most realistic soul searching--and inspire us when they come out stronger and also more open and giving in the end.

    So..write faster please!

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    1. Deb, thank you for your lovely words. Making you laugh is a goal of mine. Always! I'm afraid my poor heroines reason like I do at times. Not linearly. Not well. But eventually they hit on something that smells like Truth. :)

      I'm trying hard to get another book out, I promise!

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  15. Caren, I think you've nailed your writing them perfectly. And I've had to reinvent myself so many times, I related to your heroine immediately. I can't wait to see what you come up with next.

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    1. Aw, thank you, Cassondra! I know I've had to reinvent myself. Sometimes with little support from anyone else, too. It does make you stronger, for sure, as you know all too well. I'm glad Linda was relatable. The poor woman shared a lot of background in common with me, but then all that angst I dumped on her was all her own. I think self-doubt, though, it something we all battle like Linda did.

      I have a couple of books waiting in the wings, so I hope to get one out soon. I had hopes for this month, but that's not looking so good now. Maybe October!

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  16. Oh, wow, what a great post! It's far too early in the morning for me to think this deeply! LOL But you have set me to thinking about my theme, which I've pretty much shied away from before. If I come up with something, I'll let you know!

    But Caren, I have to say what a wonderful and empowering theme you have in your books. I love the idea of a woman reshaping her life as her circumstances change. Whenever I read a book like that, about a woman regaining her sense of self after allowing herself to be defined by others, it makes me reassess my own life. Kim Hudson's Virgin's Journey was a real revelation to me. I'd recommend it for writers who write women's fiction because so often the woman's story (and some men's) simply doesn't fit the hero's journey mould.

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    1. Christina, this is my third and hopefully last try to answer your comment. We shall see. Thank you so much for your nice comments! I find that writing about women with Big Problems helps me keep perspective on my Not So Big Problems. I set out to write straight romance, but my characters had their own ideas. And problems. And stories they wanted told.

      I've had to do a lot of soul-searching in writing my Cross Springs series, especially since I've given each of my three heroines a Big Problem (or two) that I've never dealt with. But I know women who have. Women I love and who mean the world to me. So I can well imagine what my heroines are going through. I always want my stories to feel like Truth, so I do lots of plumbing of my darkest fears and worries. Big stuff, that!

      And thanks so much for the book recommendation. I love getting those!

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  17. Oh, Caren, what a fabulous post! I so wish I was the kind of writer, or reader, who could easily analyze and discern things like theme in a story. I'm not, though (I should have sat next to Anna in school, she could have given me hints, it sounds like). That said, I absolutely do credit and appreciate romance novels for teaching me so much over the years (so does my husband, but thats a different subject). To face fears, that women can overcome anything, to embrace life - those are just part of the messages that have stuck with me. I love reading about strong women and seeing that they, too, have issues they face. It makes me feel stronger in facing mine.

    I'd be as hard pressed to tell you my theme in my own writing as I would in finding it in others. The closest I could come is to say that its about believing in oneself, in ones strengths and hopes, and with that belief, making it (whatever it might be *g*) happen.

    see, told ya I wasn't very good at figuring it out LOL

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    1. Tawny, your books are all very empowering, each in their own way. Your heroines seem to grapple a lot with standing up for themselves and growing into the independence they crave. That is powerful stuff, even if you don't analyze it. :D

      I also think Anna C. could have helped lots of people pass English Lit. I have no doubts she was a serious Teacher's Pet! (It takes one to know one, you see.) LOL

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  18. Great post, Caren. I love talking about themes (English teacher, here). I guess my theme for my life's work would be similar to something John Steinbeck said (paraphrasing here). He said that at his passing he wished that no one would be happy to see him gone.

    As far as my book, I've never intrigued by the idea of how far down the road to perdition can a person go before he cannot return. It's a good and evil concept, but pushes deeper for me. Are there some unforgivable acts or deeds?

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    1. Jo, that is very cool about the road to perdition. As I get older, I find that things I would never have forgiven when I was younger don't seem quite as heinous anymore. It's an endlessly fascinating concept and I think, as a writer, what keeps me wanting to plumb the depths of the human condition. I love the dark edge of your books, Jo!

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  19. There are several books that reflect some of parts of my lives. There are subjects that I know I wouldn't ask about but to see in written in a story and knowing that I am not alone is quite empowering.

    kmccandle(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Kai, it's always nice to come across a topic in a book that you didn't expect, isn't it? I know I've been surprised, especially by books that seemed more lighthearted, when they address very serious life issues. Those are really hidden gems!

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  20. This is a great post! As a teacher I often have those same discussions with my students (although we've done away with book reports and we've never had summer reading lists where I'm from!!) - and it's fun to see how many different stories have similar underlying themes!

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    1. Jemi, I'll bet you were one of those students everyone despised, just like Anna and I were, because you always could pick out the theme! :D I'm glad you are helping to make theme less scary for your students. I think it was some sort of English nerd litmus test when I was in school. LOL I really do think theme makes reading more interesting for some of us, though. It sounds like it really enriches your reading experience. I'm so glad you stopped by to share with us! :)

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  21. Hi Caren... if you're going to have us think about themes, women reshaping their lives is a good one. This is going to sound odd, that pretty much sums me up, the books that had a major influence in my life were the Nancy Drew series. They taught me at a young age that girls can be brave, smart and industrious. Through the years I've seen friends, that have never understood my love of books, who stayed with the wrong man because that was better than being alone. I chose to be smart, brave and industrious AND single until I met the right man. Now I've been with my husband 20 years while my old friends have had numerous husbands (or live ins).

    Thanks for stopping in!
    jo1963jo at gmail dot com

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    1. Julie, you definitely chose a good role model in Nancy Drew. Although she liked Ned just fine, she certainly didn't NEED him. Plus, she had that great little sports car! :D I'm glad you held out for the real thing and didn't succumb to the pressure to just get married because everyone else was. I watched lots of people head down the aisle just because it was time. I've also seen others wait for the right one. Usually, the holdouts are happiest. A couple of my dear friends have had a number of marriages and it makes me sad that they didn't find the right man the first or second time. I felt "old" getting married at 27. That's practically young these days, though! :)

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    2. I beat you by a bit. I was 30 when I started dating my first, and only, husband. We married when I was 32. I had an aquaintance get married and divorced 3 times in the two years hubby and I took to really get to know each other. I can't understand the thought process of someone like that...

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