Novellas: Are They the Red-headed Stepchild of “Real Novels?”
If you want to polarize a group of voracious readers, just ask one short question. “Who likes novellas?”
Boom! Insta-hate. Insta-love. Pick a side.
Being the obnoxious soul I am, I land squarely on both sides and in the middle, depending on a multitude of factors. I can see the arguments against them:
- Too rushed
- Not enough character development
- Insufficient subplots to keep them from being simplistic
- Lean toward the deux ex machina
and the list goes on.
I also see their advantages:
- Quick reads for busy lives
- A tighter story
- Limited points of view for people who prefer that
- Less expensive (usually)
Let’s face it… both sides have valid points.
For years, I hated novellas wholesale. I loved short stories, and I loved novels of any length between about fifty thousand to several hundred thousand words. But almost anything under fifty thousand words fell short. In a romance, things felt rushed, when I prefer a slow burn. In a mystery, there wasn’t nearly as much time for discovery and a complex plot. Adventures often worked, but not with multiple subplots (which can really ramp up the tension in any book.)
Then I ran across a few that I enjoyed—a few really short ones, even. If you want a novella by a master novella writer, look no further than Sarah Monzon. That woman knows how to pack a punch in a small paragraph—or something like that.
However, when you’re involved in multi-author collections, space is limited. Christmas collections, mystery collections, romance collections—all the collections. They have limited word count possibilities. This means the author has to fight to find a way to write a deep and meaningful story in half the words or less than usual. Build up to an inciting event? Weeelll… Maaaybe. Probably not. Subplots that seem unrelated until the very end? Also, probably not. There just isn’t the space to do that kind of set up. So then, where does that leave an author who loves all the words?
In trouble. Serious trouble, sometimes.
Last fall, I was invited to be part of the Save the Date anthology. This twelve author/story wedding-themed collection features some of your favorite authors writing books about weddings and wedding dresses. The word count limit was thirty-five thousand. I choked, but you know… I get it. That’s pushing half a million words for the whole collection! I mean, WHOA! So, I found a story idea and went to town. It would be awesome.
Then we decided to offer it in paperback and hardcover, too. The cost? Ten THOUSAND… words. Yep! We would have to keep our stories under twenty-five thousand words. I about cried. After much soul-searching, prayer, and consideration, I made a really hard decision (there really is a point to this…).
I couldn’t do that original story. I needed something else. It would not do the book, my readers, or the anthology any good for me to submit a subpar story. And that’s what it would be. The idea I had simply was not suitable for anything shorter than thirty-five thousand (and really, it probably needs a minimum of fifty to be optimal).
This is what I think sets apart great novellas from the pack.
Am I saying I am a great novella writer? Nope. My strengths lie in longer books. They do. However, I can recognize when I’m about to ruin a perfectly wonderful story by trying to fit a novel-sized idea into novella-sized packaging. Great novella writers are able to recognize the stories that have the right elements to work under the limitations that novellas require.
So, with all that, you’d think the second book I came up with for the Save the Date collection would have been a perfect match for the new word limit. It wasn’t. I ended with almost exactly twenty-five-thousand words. And while I really loved the characters and I loved the idea of the book, it felt lacking—rushed.
Let me tell you a bit about Adoring April.
Part of my Marriages of Conviction series, Adoring April is the story of two people with two very different but completely compatible convictions. Jesse believes the Lord has called him to serve in a small church rather than the mega-churches who are eager to have him on staff. So when the church he attended during his boyhood summers begins looking for a new minister, it seems as if God has confirmed that conviction.
Right up to the minute he finds out they expected a married guy. He’s not.
April is a new believer with a heart for children. Her dream has always been to teach preschool and maybe someday be mom to a dozen or two. But Chapelford, Ohio doesn’t have many (read any) single Christian men.
It’s a match made by Faith—Nesbit, that is. Mrs. Nesbit sees the church’s need for a minister, Jesse’s heretofore unknown need for a wife, and April’s obvious need for a husband as a God-orchestrated trifecta.
Did I mention this book has a subtitle (have you ever noticed how the shorter the book is the longer its title seems to be)? I call it the Seven Week Hitch. Yep, meet and marry in seven weeks. You say it can’t be done?
My parents met, fell in love, and got married in six. What can I say? I come from a long line of over-achievers—in all the wrong areas sometimes.
Back to the word problem…
I had one. During editing, I discovered something. Even just five hundred more words between chapters nine and ten would really help. I went back to the other authors and asked if anyone hadn’t “used all their words.” Yes, folks. This is a thing. Several came in under the twenty-five-thousand mark. I claimed twenty-five hundred of the surplus words and went to town. One more chapter is all I needed.
And it worked. I have it. Adoring April as a novella is a book I love and am proud of. It has one of my favorite creative scenes of all time in it. It has snark, fear, trembling… and a father my heart just loves.
I’m even writing an expanded edition for the paperback because there were so many things that I wanted to put in but couldn’t. Does the story need them? No. Will it be richer for them? I think so. Others probably would disagree. But that’s okay, because once they buy the collection at just ninety-nine cents, they’ll have the “Readers Digest” version. I’ll write the Dickens version for the paperback. Everyone wins.
Either way, I hope you’ll grab a copy of Save the Date today. The authors are really killing themselves trying to make this the best collection anyone has ever put together, and I’m sure you’ll love it.
Mother’s Day Dilemma
I have a terrible secret. It’s one that will make some of you think poorly of me, but maybe some of you will understand my dilemma. I hate Mother’s Day. I am a mom who hates Mother’s Day.
It came as a surprise to me when I realized it. The only thing I hate more than that holiday is the fact that I do hate it so much. What a terrible person I must be to hate a holiday that celebrates mothers everywhere and the mothers in my own life specifically! Like so many negative emotions, it started with disappointed expectations.
There’s this idea before you become a mother that it will be a day of blessing and rest. Your children will ‘rise and call you blessed’, your husband will tell you how indispensable you are to their family, and they will faun all over you like a queen. You’ll get to sleep in and get pampered. No one will ask you to lift a finger, although you might help out simply because you want to. Everyone will beg to know what you want to do that day. Watch a rom-com that we’ve already watched a hundred times? Of course, Mom. Play games together? You got it! Eat something delicious that you didn’t prepare? Obviously! Want me to take the kids away somewhere this afternoon for hours and hours so you can have peace and quiet? Just say the word!
None of this has been my experience. As year after year passed, and I didn’t see my fantasies become reality, I began to dread Mother’s Day. It would be yet another disappointment. On top of the personal disappointment, I knew my disappointment was causing others to feel let down, too. My kids feel their mom’s sadness and they wish they had done something more. My husband feels it and doesn’t know how to fix it. The other women in my life – well, I try my very best to not let them feel it, too, and I hope I’ve succeeded.
What I’ve learned about Mother’s Day in the seventeen years I’ve been a mother is that there is a certain conundrum surrounding it. It feels like it should be about – well, me – after all I’m a mother, but it’s not. In my family it seems to center around the matriarch. The eldest mother gets to decide the day. And I want to honor them! I love them dearly, and they have done so much for us. They deserve a day of their own. But another part of me feels like the moms who are still in the trenches, battling every day with the schedules, discipline, attitudes, messiness of children, need and deserve the rest. I have this inner war inside me as I long to honor those who have helped to raise me and also long to be honored for what I do.
A typical Mother’s Day in our family is a meal at someone’s home after church. (Restaurants are too crowded!) The men usually grill something, or we might pick up fried chicken, but the women prepare the sides and the desserts. The women clean up after it’s all done. The women take care of the children. Then for a brief moment the moms open their gifts and for that moment it is about the moms. After that, the attention goes back to the television or the children. Expectations dashed!
I know I sound so incredibly ungrateful and whiny. Why am I complaining? I still have both my mother and my grandmother around to celebrate. Many people aren’t that blessed. I have a mother-in-law that I actually get along with. That’s not an every day occurrence. I have three wonderful children. There are so many people who are desperately praying for one child. I think that’s my biggest struggle with this whole holiday. I know how blessed I am, and I want to celebrate those women in my life. Selfishly though, I’d also like to feel like the day is at least a little bit about me.
This year, I had a plan, but I wanted to check my motives before I went through with it. I told my husband that I didn’t want gifts this year, I didn’t want anything. I’m going to focus on Mother’s Day being about the others, and not me. I will do everything I can to make them feel honored and appreciated on this holiday. It sounds unselfish, but I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t doing it to be passive-aggressive – “Since it’s not all about me, I don’t want it to be about me at all!” Or possibly saying that’s what I wanted and then being disappointed later that they actually did what I asked them to do. If I was going to do this, I wanted it to be for the right reasons.
My husband came up with another idea. Mother’s Day will be about the others. We will give them a special day, and make sure they feel loved and appreciated. Then on another day we will do a Mother’s Day celebration for me with just our little family. All of a sudden, I knew that this was the solution. It’s the best of both worlds. I still get to celebrate the moms in my life which I always wanted, but I get to have a special day, too.
Some of you are probably shaking your head and rolling your eyes at my selfish behavior. Believe me, I am too. We all have things we hate about ourselves, and this is one of mine. I hate feeling this way, which makes me feel even worse, because on top of the disappointment, I get guilt and self-loathing. Sharing all my dark, nasty inner thoughts with my husband has helped so much, and together we came up with something that I think may change the way I view Mother’s Day.
Maybe you don’t struggle with this particular area, but I think most of us have some darkness we try to hide from others. I encourage you to find someone you can be honest with about how you feel. After all the Bible tells us to confess our sins to one another – not to gossip about them, or judge them – but help them. Through prayer and conversation, you might find that there is a lovely solution hidden under all the grime.
Have You Ever Met a Billionaire?
My husband works for a billionaire. And not in the sense of “works at the same company, maybe sees him every once in a while in passing.”
Nope, my husband meets with his billionaire boss on a regular basis. He works closely with him on important company projects. He travels to meetings with him on his private plane.
Once, when they were co-presenting at a conference in a foreign country, my husband traveled from the airport to the conference hotel with his boss’s lead bodyguard in a fancy convertible, while his boss trailed behind in an old, nondescript sedan.
To say that I was unhappy when I learned that his boss’s security team had used my husband as a decoy in case of a kidnapping attempt is a huge understatement. Fortunately, nothing happened, but it could have. And the message was loud and clear: You, worker-bee employee, are not as valuable as your billionaire boss.
From a secular perspective, the message makes sense. My husband doesn’t have a billion dollars. He doesn’t run a multi-billion-dollar company. He doesn’t influence government policy or set trends or rub elbows with the Hollywood elite.
And yet, just like his billionaire boss, my husband was created in the image of God. Like his billionaire boss, my husband has a divine purpose. Like his billionaire boss, my husband is a child of God—no better or worse than anyone else.
I’m in the middle of writing a billionaire romance right now, and the men I like to write about are humble, they’re God-fearing and they treat everyone around them with respect.
Realistic for a billionaire? Maybe not, but it sure is nice to dream…
Meet Beth Stevens of the Independence Islands
Typically, I share what I have learned both in my walk with Christ and in my writing craft as I walk this journey of being an author. This time, I’m going to talk about my beautiful main character in the Independence Islands collection—Beth Stevens. Yes, I should have talked about her before now but I was still trying to get to know and understand her myself.
Elizabeth “Beth” Stevens is complex, and many times, confused. When you first meet her in Scrumptious Independence, she has just lost her beloved Gram. The woman was Beth’s safe haven of sorts. A sounding board when her mother and sisters tried to push her in a direction she doesn’t want—like marrying a nice, wealthy man. Gram encouraged her to dream big and chase after it.
When Beth arrives on Merriweather Island, the memories of her time there as a young girl brought a wealth of feelings that she wasn’t prepared to face. The result of this wave made her look like an unstable individual to unknowing eyes. Even as she works to get her food truck, Comfort Cuisine, up and running, irrational logic and outbursts are part of her processing the pain she feels. I don’t think there is a single human being who doesn’t know what these up and down cycles feel like. Those who knew Beth understood, though, and they willing wrapped her in their arms and loved her. They poured wisdom and kindness over her because they believed in what she was doing. Her biggest advocate quickly shifted from friend to something more, and boy did she fight every minute of it. Scott Anderson weaved his way into her life like the old friend that he was, but he wanted to do more than make sure she had plenty of help. He wanted to care for her heart as well.
When Beth’s life begins to settle in Heart Pressed, she broadens her friend circle to include new people that push her to grow more. She also is more stable than before. He business is doing great, she has the love a wonderful, to-good-to-be-true man, and a sweet, furry companion named Oliver. This told me that she is settling into her new life. She enjoys the simplicity of island living and a small community. Even if they are gossipers and gawkers. When her mother comes to the island, unexpectedly and like a strong storm, she losses her footing a bit. Who could blame her though. Could you keep yourself together if your mother was a “Mrs. Bennett” type of woman? Me neither.
Beth grows even more through this visit and takes big steps in her push for independence. She no longer sees being a lone woman on a hill as freedom, but rather, surrounding herself with people who care about her heart and her faith. I know that doesn’t seem possible, finding freedom among others, but when it is the right kind of people anything is possible. By the end of the book, she is learning how to stand her ground while allowing herself to love and be loved. She sees that Scott doesn’t want to control her but wants to grow with her.
So, as you can see, Beth Stevens is an ever evolving character, learning as she goes. This is also why readers will see her and Scott’s story continue to drive my five contributions to the Independence Islands Collection. I want to show readers the growth this character goes through as she allows more of the right kind of people into her life and learns to say “no more” to those who bring her down. The beauty of it is she does all of this with grace and her faith matures.
Wait until you see her in Seasoned Grace. I was even surprised.
To help a one lucky reader out, I am giving a signed copy of both Scrumptious Independence and Heart Pressed so that you can get a start on witnessing this amazing character for yourself.
Is this real life?
Come on, sing the rest with me. Oh, wait. I don’t actually know the lyrics…and I don’t sing.
Let’s talk books! It’s my favorite.
Stealing the First Mate is a real book. I mean, I knew it would be, but I’m giddy as a kid on Christmas morning. For someone who never knew they wanted to be a writer, I can admit that accepting the job God laid out for me has been a tremendous blessing.
The idea for Stealing the First Mate came from an adventure my boys took while we were on vacation one year. Their grandparents found a pirate ship tour boat and signed up to take the boys on a cruise around Destin, Florida. They had no idea at the time that the boat was Christian-themed, or that the captain would spend the hour telling stories of Jesus.
The boys loved it.
When it came time to write my next island story, that boat came to mind, and though it doesn’t play a prominent role in Nigel and Darcy’s tale, it added a little something personal to the history. Can I tell you a secret? Captain Black makes another appearance in my fourth novel in the Independence Islands series. His story is quite enthralling. So much so that I was tempted to write a book just for him, but I couldn’t find a place for it in the series. Once you’ve read Stealing the First Mate and/or From Shore to Shore let me know what you think. Does Captain Black need his own book?
He’d say yes.
Until then, I leave you in Nigel and Darcy’s capable hands. Set sail with them as they traverse the path from friends to something more…though Nigel has loved Darcy for years already.
Nigel and Darcy stole my heart, and I hope you enjoy their story.