Thursday, February 21, 2019

From the Writing Cave: Observations About Genre Limitations

Personal observation for the week...

What is the most liberating part of switching from the romance genre to other types of fiction?

(At the moment, I'm working on horror, paranormal fiction, and YA fiction).

Creating truly flawed characters, not heroes.

If you ask a reader or author of romance what is the most important rule--unbreakable, sacred--they will most likely answer...


As a writer of romance, I never found the happy ending to be a limitation. I generally gravitate to what I like to call "optimistic fiction" whether it's romance or not.

The insistence of a happy ending puts limits on plot.

But to be honest, my struggles with the romance genre had to do with CHARACTER not PLOT.

When the characters are defined as "HERO" and "HEROINE" there are expectations that squeeze them into a box.

When you try to break out of that box--Tom in APPLES SHOULD BE RED is 62, a chain-smoker, borderline alcoholic, coarse with language and manners, rude, judgmental--there might be push-back.

I discovered something important with that book.

There is a difference between...



That's not to say that all heroes in romance are the same. Sure, plenty of them have gorgeous physiques, but there are others with flaws who are less than perfect. Likewise, not all romance heroes are good guys, but all of them have a character arc that shows growth and courage over the course of the book.

I have seen readers complain that heroes/heroines in romance were not "likable." If you are not rooting for the H/h to get together and have a happy ending, a romance fails.

What happens when you get to write a "character" instead of a "hero?" 

You gain the freedom to create a real person who may be extremely unlikable. Likability is not a prerequisite for all fiction, as we know.

I'm working on a horror novel right now.

Not gonna lie. The freedom to create a truly flawed character--with darkness, jealousy, cruelty--is absolutely delicious. 

Of course, "real" characters may also exhibit heroic elements and some sort of growth arc over the course of the novel.

But knocking the character off that romance pedestal is a freakin' breath of fresh air.

This isn't meant as a criticism of the romance hero. In fact, I have issues with "dark" romance where the "hero" is someone who kidnaps, tortures, and rapes the "heroine." IMO, not heroic behavior.

I also have issues with cheating in romance. I don't want my romance hero to cheat on his partner. But I'm totally fine with that in a mystery, thriller, lit fiction. 

My point is that creatively speaking, the ability to create a character vs. a hero opens up a whole new world for a writer.

It's fun.

And creepy (horror novel!)...

And not knowing if the character has good/heroic qualities until the bitter end adds a nice element of suspense that we don't get to play with in the romance genre.

So...yeah. I'm enjoying this.

For a sneak peek of LITTLE SHADOW MAN, here's a snippet I posted.

Writer Friends: What is your opinion about this? Do you enjoy creating heroes and that corresponding character arc? Do you like creating unlikable characters with or without redemption?

What's the most fun, challenging, interesting approach for you as a writer?

Let's chat!

All my best,


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Creating Treasure

I love it when something changes my perspective on a certain topic. 

Looking at things from a different point of view is a way to learn, grow, and change.

Recently, I had two separate events in my life that opened up my eyes about writing and publishing.

One was meeting a woman who wrote her memoir.

The other was expanding my "friends" on social media to include authors of nonfiction, poetry, kiddy lit, mysteries, thrillers, women's fiction, horror, literary fiction, and more.

After fifteen years of being totally immersed in genre fiction and the current indie publishing model--write fast, crank out a book every three months, follow trends, write to market, write a series, etc--it was refreshing to get a different point of view about the publishing world.

There are myriad approaches to writing and models for publishing.

Some folks write ONE book in their lifetime. 


Just one.


I met a lovely woman at a book-signing who was selling her memoir. She was bubbling over with enthusiasm about her book. She'd scheduled talks at libraries, bookstores, and for groups that were appropriate for her topic.

When I asked what she was currently working on, she answered, "No other books. This is it for me. My story."

I was flabbergasted.

No other books?

She had written her story. It was her own personal literary treasure. 

It didn't lose value after three months. It didn't lose relevancy. She wasn't worried about cranking out a book every ninety days, and fretting that readers would forget about her.

Her book had a unique title and cover and story because it was her personal treasure.

It wasn't disposable. It was written to have long-term value. To be durable, special.

I also found that different corners of the publishing world had very different personalities and goals.

Some were focused on language, emotion. Their goals included being published in literary magazines and winning awards.

Some reached out to people with shared interests and concerns about the world around them.

Some were focused on bestseller lists and marketing plans.

I noticed a difference in the way the books were discussed and treated.

Some had longevity, timelessness. 

Some seemed generic, with similar covers, titles, and blurbs.

I discovered that I LOVE poets. They respect language. They respect each other. They're all about authenticity. 

I met people who promoted their books in a professional, non-aggressive way. And others who don't know that messaging a "new" friend with a spam promo is off-putting.

I came to this conclusion. There is room for everyone...

...The folks who focus on productivity and speed and commercial success.

...The folks who choose to create one treasure in their lifetime.

...Writers who concentrate on language and quality and recognition for that.

...People who teach and connect.

...And many more. An infinite number of possibilities.

Most importantly, any kind of book can have longevity and durability. 

Think about a favorite dog-eared cookbook.

Non-fiction, genre fiction, literary fiction.

Any kind of book can be timeless treasure with a long shelf-life.

That's a good goal for all writers, of all types. To create treasure for our readers.

Off to write,


Friday, January 11, 2019

10th Year Book Anniversary: Life Lessons

Ten years ago, in 2009, my first book was published.

It was a quirky take on the legend of Santa Claus, complete with drunken elves, five rambunctious brothers, and romance under the Christmas tree. It had won a couple of awards, and was picked up by a small publisher who offered holiday options.

Here I am, 10 years later. A decade has passed. How did that even happen?

I have now published one children's book, all five installments of the Klaus Brothers Series, an award-nominated short story with "seasoned" characters in their sixties, a rated G snowbound-in-a-cabin quickie, a novella about a treehouse designer, and an award-winning women's fiction about a reality cooking show.

In the meantime, I survived a heart attack, raised two kids, a husband, and a wiener dog.

I've been in three critique groups, attended countless conferences, offered workshops from Florida to Maine, co-hosted an indie publishing symposium, won a bunch of awards, sold a bunch of books, accumulated reviews--the good, the bad, and the ugly--mentored other authors, befriended many readers, ran a review site, and learned more about the publishing industry than I really ever wanted to know. I even had a film company express interest in one of my books. This amounted to nothing, but it added a bit of excitement to my author journey.

Yesterday, I spent some time thinking about what lessons I've learned over the last decade. Yes, I've learned a lot of lessons. 

But when you really get right down to it, I can sum up a decade of learning into two points...

1. Focus on the writing.

2. True friendships are the golden nugget.

The Writing: I started my writing journey as an eight-year-old, lugging around a dingy white notebook with my first story scribbled in extremely feminine cursive.

I was eight. I didn't know anything about marketing trends, agents, or conferences.

All I knew was that story I could not stop thinking about was growing and expanding and becoming something exciting. I had discovered the "thrill" that a writer experiences with the birth of a novel.

And, after a decade of publishing bullshit, I now know that the "thrill" is still the most important thing.

Really, the only thing.

It's true. I see a lot of authors get caught up in the other stuff--dollar signs in their eyes, and awards season, and so bent out of shape when they get a bit of criticism. But the truth is, if you have the heart and soul of a writer, that "thrill" is the reason you're doing this.

As it should be.

True Friendships: Doesn't matter who or what you are. Teacher, social worker, stay-at-home mom. Scientist, author, Hollywood actor.

Pretty soon you figure out those true, loyal friends are the golden nuggets of your life.

They deserve your time and energy and love. And you learn to push the backstabbers, who are sometimes dressed in sheep's clothing, off the proverbial cliff.

Those true friends are with you every step of the way, whether you're rich or poor or depressed or useful. Long after you write your last book, you'll be laughing together at the nursing home and listening to 1980s Madonna songs.

Hold on tight to those people.


That's it.

Those are the lessons.

I expect those same two lessons will still be appropriate years from now.

I find it interesting that over the last twenty years of writing, I've come full circle. Started as an enthusiastic writer, became fully immersed in the publishing world, and then found my way back to this basic place where writing is the focus.

It's a good place to be.

Love and good wishes to all the storytellers out there,


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Confessions of a Quirky Author

This is the time of year when we reflect upon the past twelve months and think...what just happened?

Did I accomplish the things I wanted to? Did I succeed, fail, let myself down, surprise myself?

Yes to all these things.

This is also the time of year when we think ahead to the next twelve months. A fresh new start! What will I accomplish? What will be my successes? What will be my failures?

Many things.

True confession time: I have had the SAME TWO THINGS ON MY LIST FOR 3 YEARS.

Didn't get them done in 2016, didn't get them done in 2017, didn't get them done in 2018.

And so, in an extremely unfortunate and discouraging turn of events, these SAME TWO THINGS are now on the list for 2019.

These 2 things:

1. Get rid of diabetes.

2. Finish BLUE.

They say that when you are truly ready for change, the change will happen. 

Re: diabetes. I started to lose weight (15 pounds), but my A1C hardly budged. I got very discouraged.

I know how to diet. I know how to exercise. I know what I need to do to make this happen. AM I READY FOR CHANGE?

Am I ready? Yes, I am.

Determined. Ready. THIS WILL NOT BE ON MY LIST FOR 2020!

In 2020, I will not have diabetes. 

Re: BLUE. After years of writing romance, I switched to a new genre and a new format. This book has changed so many times, I can barely keep up with it. But I know in my heart, this is the best thing I've ever written. Also, the most challenging and the most difficult.

The writing is always easy for me. But having so many choices about my characters, the story--and how to get there--is tough with this one. 

I need to buckle down, choose a central theme, and write. Write, write, write, and find the story in those words.


By 2020, BLUE will be finished. 

Easy days: When the number on the scale is down, when the words flow.

These are the days it's easy to stick with the goals.

Hard days: When the number on the scale is up, when the book feels like a hot mess.

These are the days you have to push through to get to the other side.

One thing I know for sure about 2019...there will be easy days and hard days. 

I have to get through all of them to achieve my goals.

My goal for 2019: 

That's my goal. To wrap up these things that are hard, challenging, life-changing.

I've pushed a little bit, they've pushed back. Forward and back.

This year I will push back all the way.

So, that's sort of a quirky goal for 2019. To have a new set of goals for 2020.

But there you go.

To everyone who is planning to push back all the way...




Monday, December 24, 2018

Thursday, December 6, 2018

5 Quirky Christmas Films

There are all types of holiday movies. Some are sappy, some are goofy, some are romantic, some are sweet.

My favorite holiday films are a little bit quirky, different, fun.

Here are five adorable movies that have become Christmas traditions for my family...

The Snowman

My son was utterly mesmerized by this 1982 film when he was little. It is based on the book by Raymond Briggs and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. It is a whimsical, moody, charming holiday movie with almost no dialogue--just a haunting, emotional musical score. This story is magical and lovely. One of my all-time favorite Christmas films. 


Not only is this one of my favorite holiday films, it's a favorite for any time of the year. Will Ferrell brings his wacky, weird energy to the character of Buddy the Elf, who is raised in the North Pole, but then ventures forth to Manhattan to find his biological father. The quirkiness of this film includes random cartoon characters popping up in the North Pole, a fist-fight at Gimbels Department Store, a raucous break-dancing scene, and plenty more hilarious scenarios. This is a movie that both adults and kids will adore.

Olive the Other Reindeer

This animated holiday movie hits all my quirky high points...adorable main character voiced by Drew Barrymore, evil villain penguin voiced by Dan Castellaneta, and an entire ensemble of kooky gems. It has suspense, music, and of course, a wonderful happy ending. Schnitzel the Reindeer is Michael Stipe (from REM), and his rendition of WE'RE NOT SO BAD is hilarious. (Watch it here). My kids were addicted to this one. Super charming illustrations and lots of quirky humor.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

This 1964 stop motion animated television special is a classic for a reason. It includes a nerdy elf wanna-be dentist, a sort-of jerky Santa, an entire island of misfit goofy toys, and a reindeer with a red light bulb for a nose. My favorite nutty Abominable Snowmonster with hidden talents. Singing elves, catchy tunes. We watch every year!

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Animated classic from 1966 based on the Dr. Seuss book. This adorable made-for-TV film has all the quirky weird sensibility of a Dr. Seuss story with a great musical score.  The Grinch is one of the greatest villains of Christmas history. But never fear, it has a precious happy ending, and a lovely Christmas message for adults and kids. Forget about all the remakes...the original Grinch is the one to watch.

Do you have any favorite quirky holiday films you watch every year? Let me know!



Friday, November 30, 2018

Now Available for Purchase...A LUMBERJACKY CHRISTMAS!

I decided to try a little experiment. I'm using Draft-2-Digital for the first time with a new release.

I usually offer my books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo only.

D2D will allow me to sell via Apple (iBooks), as well as offer other library options.

This super short story--A LUMBERJACKY CHRISTMAS--was available as a download on my website a few years ago, but I'm not sure how many folks actually saw it/read it.

I decided to make it available for purchase so it would find a larger audience.

It's a very short story--only 4,000 words--but it definitely captures the sweetness and hopefulness of the holiday season.

Here's the blurb...(purchase links, too!)

Happy Holidays to all! xoxoxoxo

Love, Nina/Penny


From award-winning author Penny Watson...

A super-schmaltzy, super-sweet, super-beardy, super-short snowbound-in-a-cabin holiday romance.

**Previously available on Penny Watson’s website**

Genre: Holiday Romance
Length: Super short story, 4000 words

Looking for a super-schmaltzy, super-sweet, super-beardy, super-short snowbound-in-a-cabin holiday romance?

You just found it.

David Green is an award-winning children’s author searching for inspiration. Hannah Morgan is an illustrator who is unlucky in love.

When they find themselves stranded in a cabin on Christmas Eve, can they possibly create their own special story...together?

Book includes 4,000-word quickie and an excerpt from National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award-winning A TASTE OF HEAVEN.


Ebook only 99 cents!


Sending love and sweet treats to you!