Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More Than You EVER Wanted to Know about Writing a Harlequin NASCAR Romance…

First of all, thanks to PC for the very nice review of the THE ROOKIE here at the Playground. And I always enjoy stopping by here to check out what’s going on, so I’m pretty darned excited to be the guest blogger today.

When I first heard that Harlequin had teamed up with NASCAR to cover romances, I thought it was a very savvy business move – I just didn’t realize I’d be one of the writers involved. I was invited to write one of the books and while I was still on the phone with the editor, the characters and the storyline popped into my head – a pampered daddy’s girl who’s always had everything handed to her on the sponsorship side and a down-to-earth rookie driver who’s fought his way up the ranks. It’s always a good thing when characters show up wanting their shot at happiness.

Now color me strange (please hold all cheeky comments on that), but the other appealing factor was it had to have a romance and sexual tension, but it also had to be written at a PG-rating level. No on-page sex. No “earthy” language. Uh, both of those things are a given in all of my books. Plus this was a longer word count than I’d ever written. This was an opportunity and a challenge for me to write outside my norm, to tell a story that would appeal to NASCAR fans who’d perhaps never read romance before, and likewise to interest romance readers who weren’t necessarily NASCAR enthusiasts.

I hopped on-board.

And I quickly learned an important thing. You can like NASCAR racing and you can watch it but there’s a whole lot to know beyond that to write about people who live in that world because it is a world unto itself. It very quickly slapped me upside the head that I needed to do some major research. I do actually research pretty much every book that I write whether it’s location or jobs or professions, but this was way beyond and above any kind of research I’d had to do before.

I bought lots of non-fiction books about NASCAR and read. The fam and I went to a race at Talladega and sat in the nosebleed section and when it got rained out on Sunday, we won the Bad Parent Award by keeping our kid out of school and going back to the Monday make-up race. It was very cool to “experience” a race at the track, although I could have definitely lived without the horrendous traffic. There’s a reason they fly the crew members in and out.

In May 2006, a group of us met in Charlotte for a tour of Roush Racing headquarters and the Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Here we are, all assembled for dinner the night before:

Front, L to R: Carrie Weaver, editor Marsha Zinberg, Ken Casper, (Back) Gina Wilkins, Wendy Etherington, Yours Truly.

What an amazing experience to go through the garages where these cars are being built and fine-tuned, to see the assembly crews at work, to realize the depth, scope and sophistication behind those Saturday and Sunday races. We also got to tour one of the haulers – those big transport vehicles that take the cars to the track. It was kinda mind-boggling when the tour guy told us that when that hauler pulls out heading for a race, fully loaded down, you’re watching one million bucks pull out of the parking lot.

When you think garage area, grease and oil and well…dirty immediately comes to mind. Uh, no. People, we are talking pristine. You couldn’t buy a spec of dirt or oil. It was cleaner than my kitchen floor. Actually, it was probably cleaner than my kitchen table.

And here’s the inside of Carl Edward’s hauler at Roush.

And outside the hauler…

Then it was over to Lowe’s Motor Speedway where the Busch Series cars were practicing. It didn’t matter that we were there with NASCAR personnel. No one’s going in the in-field without registering and picking up a band at the Credentials office. Here we are sporting our wrist bands:

And who could resist the opportunity to stand in Victory Lane when the other guys have to fight it out on the track for this opportunity? Not us.

My other research trip was to Atlanta Motor Speedway in October. Fellow writer Wendy Etherington and I were lucky enough to get “cold passes” which granted us entry to the garage area and pit road until an hour before the race began and a pass to the NASCAR skybox which overlooks the start/finish line.

Here’s a pic of the crews setting up the pit boxes early in the morning:

Inside the NASCAR Nextel Cup Garage trackside:

and a crew waiting to take the car though to have it checked out by tech:

I’ll have to say the research was incredibly interesting and brought a nice authenticity to many of the scenes. When the hero or heroine is in the hauler, it’s authentic. Skybox? Check. Plus my husband and daughter were green with envy.

No. I did not meet any of the drivers and that suited me just fine. Tucker Macray, the hero who is a rookie driver, is totally a person I built in my own head. He’s not based on or inspired by any driver out there. Tucker was so firmly in my head, I didn’t want to muck that up. Plus, I’m actually kind of shy -- no snorting from any of the playfriends -- yes, I will talk your ear off once I know you, but otherwise…. Other than “Hi, nice to meet you” I doubt I would’ve managed to say much more. And third, the kind of things I’d want to ask any of the drivers, they wouldn’t want to answer because it’s the kind of “crawl into your head” stuff a writer wants to know.

Despite the research when all is said and done, it’s a love story set against a NASCAR backdrop. For two people with such different backgrounds, a stock car driver who attributes racing with literally saving his life and a pampered heiress, I really felt as if this hero and heroine were meant for each other, which at the end of the day is what it’s all about.

When I say I grew writing this book, I mean it literally. By the time I finished the revisions, I’d packed on ten pounds and I hit Harlequin’s deadline but I was nearly a month past mine. Of course, you’ve got to factor in that in the middle of revisions my mother fell and shattered her arm and had to have surgery and I figure ten pounds was a better deal than a nervous breakdown.

The book is done and I’m on to the next one and I get this cover:

I wasn’t sure whether to cry or laugh hysterically. I decided on both. Surely, the cover gods couldn’t have deserted me so horribly on a book I’d worked so hard on and sacrificed ten horrid pounds for.

Voila, a month later, I learned that the cover had been scrapped in lieu of this one!

Woohoo!! Thank you, cover gods, thank you!!!

Okay, so I’ve blathered on enough. I’d love to answer any questions you might have except I AM NOT telling how much I weigh.

P.S. You can learn more about Jennifer and her books at her website and be sure to visit The Soapbox Queens, her group blog.

This just in! "I'd like to share the Harlequin NASCAR love...and giving away a free copy of The Rookie to two visitors today."


Joyce said...

I want to thank you for my copy of your book (that I won on your website) and let you know that I'm lovin' every minute of it!

There's only one problem I have with your book, life keeps interrupting my reading!!! Why do people have to talk to me when I'm reading? Don't they see the book I'm holding and the reading glasses sitting on my nose?

The book may have a PG rating, but the sexual tension is there and it's a great read.

I hope your Mom is doing well.

PC's Mom

Rhonda Nelson said...

Jen, I'm so glad that you got that second cover. Dude on the first one look like Jethro Bodine. :-)

Smarty Pants said...

Hey Jen. Thanks for stopping in.

I always thought it was interesting how the NASCAR books has to be PG. Have they been in the stands at Talladega? a Blaze writer, how big of a challenge was it for you to write not only a longer book but one that didn't have the detailed and frequent love scenes that the line is known for? I know Instigator's plot problem solver is always "throw in a sex scene" which of course never works for me. How was it to write knowing that wasn't an option?

Angel said...

Hey, Jen! Yep, I would definitely not classify you as shy. Or should I say, you hide it well. :)

I'm also interested in how you wrote this longer book. I'm currently trying to write a book that's 70-75,000, compared to my normal 55-60,000. Any suggestions?

Also, you mentioned that life got crazy during the writing of this book. When you were facing that deadline, what helped you cope the most?


Jen said...

PC's Mom, I'm so glad you're enjoying the book! And what's up with people interrupting? I always ask my husband if he'd like for me to chat with him during a movie. :(

LOL, Rhonda. Yep Jethro Bodine meets Liberace.

SP, I was very nervous about writing without the sex because it had always been such an integral part of all my books. But the bottom line is everything that happens in a story should propel the story along and precipitate character growth. In a Blaze you can use sex but it's never just sex for the sake of sex -- it's also illustrating emotional states of each character and where they are in their growth arc and in their relationship arc. In this story it had to be something else other than sex. It wasn't nearly as difficult as I thought it'd be.

Instigator said...

Welcome, Jen!

Yep, I'm with Angel, you hide your shy side well. :-)

Was the editorial process on this book different from your others? Were there surprises along the way (like not being able to put something in the book that you needed)?


Playground Monitor said...

::sigh:: I have so much other work to do but I can see I'm going to have to get a copy of THE ROOKIE. Is it still in the stores?

I'm with SP here. I know NASCAR wanted to promote racing as a family-oriented sport, but they must have missed the throng of guys yelling "Show us yer *&%#" and the women happily complying for a strand of fiesta beads. They must have also missed the interviews with readers who say "I love the sex scenes in romance novels."

I've read a couple of the NASCAR books, though, and enjoyed them. I'm looking at my schedule and thinking I can squeeze THE ROOKIE in after I finish the proofreading job I MUST start today because it's due September 8th -- and I have to allow for mailing. Yikes!

Welcome, Jen! We're happy to have you. And we won't even tell them about the email challenge last night, will we? LOL!


Smarty Pants said...

Oh, come on now. You mentioned it, so now I want to know about the email challenge. Fess up.

Ginger said...

Good to see you and I can't wait to read The Rookie. I truly admire you writers. I wouldn't have a clue on how to get started which in my case is good. I love to read, it's my passion. Have a wonderful Wednesday.

Problem Child said...

Hey Jen! Glad you're here.

This book is Jen's September release, so it should be on shelves soon (if it's not already).

Here's a question...did you have your regular editor, or a different one? Did that make it easier or harder?

Jen said...

Angel and Instigator, I swear it's only because I feel that I know you all. When I first joined GRW, for the entire first year I didn't say a word to anyone. I'd come to the meetings and sit through lunch and say nothing.

Angel, you asked about how you write longer books. The extra word length is actually nice to have because it gives you more room to dig deeper in your character and also the room to develop sub-plots (which is yet another way to dig deeper in your characters). As to what helped me cope when life was falling apart and the deadline was staring me in the face -- food and friends. I'm not kidding when I say I gained 10 pounds. I wouldn't recommend it because then I was just further stressed that I'd gained 10 pounds. And my friends were so supportive and such sounding boards. And the one thing I've learned is that I can't rush through it. I'm not saying I have to go slow but I have to dig in and do the work and I can't just skim through it. Does that make sense?

Instigator, the editorial process was very different. It was the first time in eight years of writing that I was working with a different editor and it was a different line. I did try to curb myself a bit because I knew the line demanded it but editorally they pulled me back a little further. I can't say there were any real surprises along the way. When I was approached with the project it was very up front as to what they wanted and I was sent guidelines from the get-go.

PM, the book's not out yet but after the email debacle I will gladly send you one -- I owe you!

SP, the email thing? Let's see...I was a little late in the day sending it to PM and then AOL and Bellsouth don't like each other and then I'm not real computer savvy so I had to resend it to poor PM.

Ginger, I too still love to read!

Playground Monitor said...

Email challenge...

Jen had emailed me yesterday and said she had to work on her book but hadn't forgotten about the blog and would get it to me in the early evening. Well it gets to be 8:00 here (9:00 her time) and I haven't heard anything.

So I sent her a "Yoo-hoo" email and she answers back and says she sent the blog post thirty minutes earlier, but she attached it again. Of course, the first one arrived 36 minutes after I emailed her.

So... I have her Word document. I scroll through and there are all these fabu photos from her NASCAR trips and I right-click and they won't save to my hard drive. How'm I gonna get them in the blog.

So I email her back and ask if she can (1)either send me the pics separately or (2) tell me how to get them out of the document.

Next thing I know my phone rings and it's Jen, apologizing for making me think she's a stalker (yeah, right... like I'd think this talented, funny lady was a stalker). We discussed the whole periodic AOL/Bellsouth email incompatibility issue and she says she'll send me the photos.

Meanwhile I'm googling "extract photos from a Word document" and learn that if you'll save it as a web page, it creates a separate folder and extracts the photos and dumps them in that folder.

About that time, my email box begins to fill with emails from Jen with the photos attached.

In retrospect it was pretty much a Keystone Cops episode. I was in panic mode cause it was getting later and I didn't know how much work her blog was going to take to post it (not much, actually).

But the photos are great and really help you get the feel of just how big NASCAR really is.

And that's the email story.

Care to add anything, Jen? :grin:


Jen said...

That about covers it, PM. :) Down to the wire -- that's my modus operandi. And now you know how my poor beleagured editor feels. Me assuring her it's coming and her having no idea how much work is going to be involved in "fixing" me.

Jen said...

Ooops, missed your question PC. Yep, different editor -- actually it was two editors. It was definitely part of the "growth" experience of writing this book. You get used to working with someone and they way they give you feedback so it was a bit of an adjustment working through the revisions with someone different as to delivering what they wanted and how they wanted it.

Sassy said...

I being a tomboy most of my life love any sports whether it be wrestling, Nascar, baseball or football. But my girlie side loves romance novels, everything from Inspirational to erotica :). So this book would combine two of my lifes loves in one. I haven't had the honor of reading THE ROOKIE yet but I can't wait to go and get a copy.

ForstRose said...

Please enter me for the book. Sounds like an interesting new read. forest_rose[at]yahoo[dot]com

Maureen said...

Congratulations on your new book. Your post was interesting because I have never been to a race and don't know much about it.

Jen said...

Sassy, it sounds as if it would be a perfect "read" for you! :)

Thanks, Rose. Even with the NASCAR backdrop, it's still a romance.

Maureen, the research was really interesting and ultimately invaluable.

tetewa said...

Glad to see you here today and the book sounds great! I can't believe that you went into this without knowing anything about NASCAR. Sounds like you had to do alot of research and that you had fun doing it. Me myself not a big racing fan I also don't know much about it either. Count me in for the draw!

Jen said...

Sadly, Tetewa, I did know something about NASCAR, but when I started writing I realized I didn't know nearly enough.

Anonymous said...

I love drag racing and car racing; the sound of the engines reving, the clouds of smoke from warming up the tires and the smell of burnt rubber gives me goose bumps. A book dear to my heart.


Jen said...

Robynl, I love when the drag racers are waiting on the tree to come down and floor it with the trans-brake on. Course, my husband is a drag racer.:)

Thanks for having me here today at the Playground. As usual, it's been GREAT!