Thursday, May 19, 2011

Discovering Your Author Theme by Ashley March, Guest Blogger

My guest today is Ashley March, a Coloradoan and writer who once thought she'd never make it:

"The first manuscript, to be perfectly honest, is now in the category of “That Which Shall Be Forever Unnamed.” It was awful. Really, truly awful. So much so, in fact, that I knew I was in trouble when halfway through the book the hero and heroine couldn’t find anything to talk about except what their favorite color was. (There, I said it! Eek.) I was so traumatized by my utter failure that I gave up writing. I made myself finish the story, but decided that perhaps writing wasn’t for me, after all."


She changed her mind, of course. And we're glad she did. One lucky person who leaves a comment today will receive a copy of Ashley's first novel, Seducing the Duchess.

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Discovering Your Author Theme by Ashley March, Guest Blogger

Thank you for inviting me to the blog today, Pat!


A few years ago a critique partner of mine went to a conference and came back with news to share about discovering your “author theme.” As a fairly new writer, I had no idea what this meant or even how to determine what my theme was. I may have written three books, but I was still a fledgling in my own eyes, trying to learn everything about the writing and publishing business that I could in the least amount of time possible.

Author theme? Bah! I just wanted to get published.

However, after I received my first publishing contract, I suddenly became victim to a case of “seconditis”—I knew my publisher loved the book which got me the contract, but I doubted I would ever be able to write well again and was convinced that my second book in the contract would be a disaster. As a result, I returned to the fundamentals. I ignored the business side of writing (as much as I could) for a while and went back to craft: plots, characters, and the like. Surprisingly enough, I discovered my author theme as a result.

I write romance. Historical romance set in Victorian England, to be exact. Some might think this means my author theme is about love (the obvious conclusion) or about sex (a common prejudice). However, after reviewing my first unpublished and unworthy manuscripts (I like to call them the those-which-we-shall-never-speak-of-again manuscripts), and after comparing them to the book which sold my first 3-book contract, I realized that each of the stories had something in common.

My characters are flawed. I tend not to write the goody-two-shoes heroine who gets all the sympathy, and neither do I write the wounded and battle-scarred hero who only needs the tender love of a woman to help him get past his demons. My characters aren’t unfortunate or tormented; they’re people who’ve made mistakes, and the only way their love story can end with a happy-ever-after is if they can find forgiveness and healing.

This is evident in my debut, Seducing the Duchess, where a duke who married his wife for revenge three years earlier now realizes that he’s in love with her. Although he might try to woo her in various ways, the future of their relationship depends on her forgiveness and the healing of her heart before she can trust him again.

Armed with this knowledge of my author theme, I set out to write my second book. Flawed characters? Check. Forgiveness and healing? Check. My critique partner had said writers who knew their author theme could use this to their advantage, and I was determined to take this knowledge and provide greater depth to my characters and the story as a result.

As so often happens, though, the characters in my forthcoming second book would not cooperate. Yes, they were flawed, and yes, they needed to forgive and to be healed in order to have a happily-ever-after. But instead of being the perpetrators, the hero and heroine in Romancing the Countess were the victims. In short, the story ended up being about an earl and his best friend’s wife who were drawn together after it becomes apparent that their spouses who died in a carriage accident were having an affair.

I’ve learned from the experience in discovering my author theme two things. 1) It’s true that an author theme can help you understand your own writing better and help you delve deeper into your plot, characters, and their motivations. 2) Don’t be afraid to let your author theme take different directions; your creativity will often surprise you in wonderful ways.

Now, on to the third book! Although nobody told me there was such a thing as “thirditis.” :)

Do you already know your author theme? What do you think it is? Is it a common thread throughout all of your writing?

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Ashley, thanks again for being here today and for this thoughtful post.

Remember, everyone, if you leave a comment here today (up to midnight Mountain Time), you'll be in the running for a copy of Seducing the Duchess.

To learn more about Ashley and her books, visit her website or join her at her blog, Ashley March: Historical Romance Author. She is also on Facebook, and can be found on Twitter as @ashleymarch34.

41 comments:

Heidi Windmiller said...

Wow. Your post really made me think.

I'm still searching for my author theme. But I write a lot about loyalty, which is interesting because it has never been a quality I've placed a high value on in my own life.

Laura M. Campbell said...

Great post! While I attended the Pennwriters Conference in Pittsburgh last weekend, I was faced with this question. I'm a newbie and still exploring through writing to find out what my author theme is. I'm sure over the next year I will be able to determine it.

One thing I do know is I like to write about relationships and flawed, but strong women. Thanks for the insight, Ashley.

Jeffrey Beesler said...

My theme delves within the realm of speculative fiction, specifically superhero sci fi/fantasy. I grew up reading comic books and watching superhero cartoons, so they've always been a fun subject matter for me to write on.

Ashley March said...

Hi Heidi! Thanks for your comment. I'm very intrigued by the idea of author themes. For me, I can see how the theme of forgiveness and healing may have evolved from seeing my parents divorce at a young age. I have a critique partner who focuses on duty and honor in her manuscripts, but she doesn't know where that comes from. If you figure out why your theme is loyalty, I'd love to know!

Ashley March said...

Hi Laura! I'm so glad I wasn't the only one who had no idea what her author theme was. =) I had fun discovering it, though. And I LOVE strong, flawed women. =) One of my favorite characters of all time is Scarlett from Gone with the Wind. Can't wait to read your writing!

Patricia Stoltey said...

Good morning, everyone. And thanks, Ashley, for checking in so early. Most appreciated. This is an excellent post and has made me think a little more about the manuscripts I'm working on. Might help smooth out the wrinkles as I do my revisions.

Ashley March said...

Jeffrey--I love this. I think the idea of superhuman abilities is such a powerful attraction to us weak mortals (speaking as a sleep-deprived mother of two here). I have to admit to also being a little envious because it doesn't seem like there would ever be an end to the creativity that goes into writing about superheroes--as you said, sounds like a lot of fun!

Kathleen said...

You're making me think on a tangent, Ashley. Up until now I thought my theme was "Keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard." Not a theme, huh?" All humor aside, I think the theme, at least in my first novel, would have to be alternating support on a journey. We're not all down at the same time, but we're always down at some time. At times you need a hand up. Sometimes I do. Same goes for our characters. The real heroes step up to offer that hand.
- Kathleen
http://RetiredInTheRockies.blogspot.com

Ashley March said...

Thank you for hosting me today, Pat! Once I heard about author themes, I started loooking for them in every book I read. I found that the strongest writing and most poignant stories seemed to weave the author theme throughout the characters and plot echoes. I hope my writing will be as beautiful now that I've discovered my own theme--definitely something I need to be mindful of in revisions as well.

Ashley March said...

Hi Kathleen! *waves* I only wish keeping my butt in the chair was a common theme for me. =) As soon as I read your comment, the first thing that came to mind was J.R.R. Tolkien's books. Of course, I'm sure there are also other themes woven throughout this writing, but this "alternating support on a journey" does leap out at me. Very interesting!

Marquita Valentine said...

Hi Ashley,

Great Post! Mine is about being unmasked to reveal exactly what a person is hiding (good or bad) with a strong secondary theme for forgiveness. I love to write about the outside image people project and for the h/h to discover that a person isn't at all what they seem.

And since I write contemporary romance, I like including the internet's "world view" as well.

And I love, loved SEDUCING THE DUCHESS! Can't wait for your next book!

GYPSYWOMAN said...

while i've written one short story that was published in a literary magazine many moons ago - the story of a very flawed woman seeking redemption - my work now is in poetry where the rampant theme seems to be of deep love unfulfilled unlived - wonderful to hear of the journeys of others as we pen our way through the pages! thanks so much for sharing! jenean

Rini said...

Thanks for the insight! Wow, I never even heard about an author's theme before. Being a beginning writer, I don't know if I have a theme yet, but a couple of my stories are about the heroines landing in unexpected situations and struggling to accept or adjust to their new circumstances. Thanks for the wonderful post!

Maryann Miller said...

I've always been a bit confused about what the author theme is, and this post helped clarify that a bit. At least I know what your author theme is. I'm still not sure I know what mine is. Does that mean I'm doomed? LOL

Brooklyn Ann said...

Excellent post! Never heard of author themes until today. I think in the case of my heroines, the theme is the constant battle between their strengths and weaknesses. The heroes seem to vary a lot but what I'm going for is kinda the opposite of the Black Dagger Brotherhood series (Though I love it) and putting more emphasis on the female cast....however, my males are no slouches. ;)

irishoma said...

Hi Pat,
Thanks for another excellent guest posting.

Hi Ashley,

Like most of those leaving comments today, I'd never heard of author theme before. Your comment that you returned to the fundamentals when writing your second book sounds like a great strategy.

Still pondering my own author theme.

Donna V.
http://donnasbookpub.blogspot.com

Shasta said...

I'm another who hasn't heard of an author theme before. It's definitely given me something to consider as I continue writing!

Thanks for the insight, Ashley!
Shasta

Ashley March said...

Hi Marquita! Thanks so much for commenting. Your theme of unmasking sounds exactly like something I'd like to read! (Also makes me wonder if the reason you enjoyed SEDUCING so much is because we have similar themes--so glad you did!) Also, don't you love how great the unmasking theme is for the inherent plot conflict? =)

Ashley March said...

Gypsywoman/Jenean--Just with your comment I could feel the angst in your theme. This makes my romance lover's soul very, very happy. (Angst is a requirement before the big HEA payoff.) I agree--it's so interesting to read everyone's comments about author theme; it's a little bit like looking into an author's soul.

Ashley March said...

Hi Rini! I'm glad you found the post insightful. =) As a fairly new writer myself, I think it does help to know what your author theme is--one, because you're able to build upon the theme to make your story that much more powerful; and two, because you can be more cautious in succumbing to the same inclinations toward certain story lines again and again. (This is something I'm trying to stay aware of as I plot new books.) With that being said--I always enjoy fish out of water stories. =)

Ashley March said...

=D Hi Maryann! Lol. I felt the same way when my critique partner told me what her author theme was. Hers was so clear to me after reading her manuscripts, but I still had no clue what mine was. I think it's completely fine to not know what your author theme is; when you do discover it, though, I bet it will be one of those "aha" moments and you'll wonder how you didn't realize it earlier.

Ashley March said...

Hi Brooklyn Ann! =) I <3 you for saying this. One of the things I try to do is make my heroines realistic in showing that they're imperfect characters, and it really is a balancing act when you're also trying to make them sympathetic so your reader can relate to them as heroines. I can't wait to read more of your writing!

Ashley March said...

Hi Irishoma/Donna V! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Whether you know your author theme or not, I agree that getting back to the fundamentals with each book is a very important strategy. As I approach the publication of my second book and the conclusion of my first year of being a published author, it's one of the things that I keep going back to again and again. Stay focused on the craft of writing; make each book better than the one before--this is what matters most.

Ashley March said...

Hi Shasta! =) You're very welcome! Even if you don't figure your theme out right now, I think just being aware of the concept will be helpful. Hopefully it'll make you more conscious of the threads you weave in your story as you write and edit.

Edna said...

Ashley,
Thanks for the thought provoking post. I can think of authors whose theme are easily identified, but honestly haven't thought about it for my own writing.

Thanks Pat for hostig Ashley.

Linda said...

Hi Ashley
I thought your post was most interesting. I have utmost admiration for authors; the breath of your imagination & creative vision is truly amazing. I'm guessing that an author's theme would be a basic guideline but your characters may grow in different directions all by themselves.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Thanks so much to Ashley for being our guest today. I think it's best to wait until tomorrow to select the winner of a copy of Seducing the Duchess in case we have a few more visitors, so everyone please check tomorrow's post sometime after noon when I'll add the news.

Dean K Miller said...

I'll be interested to find mine. WIP 1 is still early, and WIP 2 looks like it'll be a completely different story line. Interesting post. Thanks.

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Fascinating post. When I first started writing stories for children, I didn't think they had anything in common. I didn't notice until later that I always wrote about girls learning that they could put aside their fears and succeed. In my mystery series for adults, my heroine has had to learn the same thing, several times. Do you suppose I'm trying to tell myself something? Liz

Jenn LeBlanc said...

This is fabulous and why i need to be around writers more often. I don't think I've written quite enough to know what my theme is with any surety, but my guess would be devastating loss.

I now want to get more into that, and work with it. Great post Ashley thank you for sharing!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I'll be posting this notice in a couple of places. The winner of a copy of "Seducing the Duchess" using random.org is Jenn LeBlanc. Congratulations to Jenn.

Ashley March said...

Hi Edna! Thanks for your comment yesterday (and sorry I'm a little behind in replying). I think it's always harder to look at our own writing objectively. I also wonder if my critique partners would say that I have a different theme...Hmm. Something I'll have to ask. Glad you enjoyed the post! =)

Ashley March said...

Hi Linda! Thank you. =) This is so very true. I wrote a while back about the evolution of an idea, and it's amazing how different a story and the characters end up from the original germ of thought. It will be interesting as I continue to write if my theme will grow along with them.

Ashley March said...

Hi Dean--thanks for your comment! Good luck with both WIPs! The greatest thing about this, I think, is that we can't force an author theme--it seems to be an organic evolution as we write. An interesting self-discovery, which I suppose all writing is (and kind of scary!;).

Ashley March said...

Hi Elizabeth/Liz! You're the first person I've known who's written two different genres. It's fascinating to hear that you have the same theme for both, especially since I'm sure your author voice is different in each. As far as the fear--you could teach a lot of wannabe writers a lot. You put aside the fear and actually wrote the books. Congratulations! =)

Ashley March said...

Hello Jenn! We writers are interesting creatures, aren't we? ;) I'm looking forward to hearing back from you as you continue to write on whether your theme stays the same or whether it changes as you become more aware of the common threads. Congratulations on winning the book!

Ashley March said...

Thank you again for hosting me, Pat! I had so much fun, and look forward to visiting your blog as a reader from now on to learn from you and all the other writers you host. =)

Elizabeth C. Main said...

Once more, Ashley, thanks for your comments. I have also written in a third genre, romance. In examining whether I followed the same pattern there, i.e., girls/women can succeed, I find that I probably didn't. That novel was almost the reverse. It concerned a woman who was successful in a high-powered career, but hadn't built a satisfying personal life. You won't be surprised to know that she discovered the value of less tangible rewards than money. As for facing fears, I didn't start writing until my mid-forties (twenty-odd years ago), so it took me quite a while to get up my own courage. Liz

Jeanne M said...

Ashley -

I'm a reader not a writer and I'm so glad I read this post. I love your stories and had been curious how you came up with your wonderful characters. I love that they are so "real".

We all make mistakes in our lives and after being married for 41 years I can attest that it takes a good man to have a marriage where your short comings are forgiven and even embrassed because they make you the person you are.

When friends ask how we've done it we tell them we try to be tone deaf to each other faults and embrace all the good in them instead!

Thanks for many hours of wonderful reading I've had from your books!

Ashley March said...

Hi Elizabeth/Liz! Thanks so much for following up and letting me know. (And yay for romance! =) Hmm. But in your heroine's case, I wonder if she had to get over her fear of giving up something in her professional life in order to succeed in her personal life. It could work that way, too. I'm not trying to make something out of nothing, and I haven't yet had the pleasure of reading your book, but when I think of succeeding, I think of being able to get something you want. She might have known from the beginning she wanted it, but it sounds to me from your description that she let go of whatever was holding her back and yes--she did succeed. =) What do you think?

Ashley March said...

Hello Jeanne! =) I'm so glad to hear from you! Thank you for sharing a glimpse into your married life and your imperfections...although I have to say that even after only 7 years it amazes me how good a man my husband is to have put up with me for this long. Although my parents' divorce may have driven my theme of healing and forgiveness, it is my husband who makes each HEA that I write seem believable. =)