Thoughts on Writing a Contemporary Story
A year ago my publisher put out a call for novellas set in each of the fifty states of the U.S.. First author to claim a state got that state for a contemporary story. The idea was to showcase the state through a M/M romance. I thought, “What fun!” but I write fantasy and science fiction, maybe a bit of paranormal, so I figured I would pass.
Being a curious soul, however, I kept checking back to see if the two states I love most got adopted. Pennsylvania (the state I adopted through marriage) got taken right away. But the other state I call home, Wisconsin, wasn’t getting any love. Week after week I looked, and there was Wisconsin… unclaimed. No author wanted it.
I was born in Wisconsin. Though I didn’t, strictly speaking, spend any part of my childhood there, I moved back to my Mom’s home town, Milwaukee, as a teen and that’s where I finished growing up. I got all my jobs and raised my kids there. Wisconsin is a great state! My mom and siblings still live there, as does one of my sons and his family. I know Wisconsin. I know its people and its quirks.
Seized by the unfairness of it all, I sent in a proposal for a story called Breaking the Ice. About Wisconsin. About being gay and working class and passionate about one of the state’s signature winter sports: ice fishing. A few weeks later, I got a contract.
I knew nothing about ice-fishing. But I know Wisconsin and I know how to write. I could do this.
Writing a contemporary romance is totally different from writing a romance set in a fantasy world. In a fantasy world, I get to make up all the rules, or at least decide which existing rules still apply, like gravity, or sunrises and sunsets. Not so in a contemporary. A contemporary comes with the rules already built-in, including—I found—in how contemporaries are edited.
I know Wisconsin. I can think and talk Wisconsin, too. You know you’re a good friend of mine if I lapse into saying “You betcha!” or ask “How’s by you?” I know that a supper club cannot be called a club. It’s a distinct kind of drinking place with good eating. Editors, however, might live in Tallahassee and not know that. I learned I had to provide links for real world stuff like that.
In a fantasy, I would just invent a drink or tavern or anything to suit the occasion and slap a name on it. For a contemporary, editors check on whether the brew really exists. Links to the brewery appeared in notes on the side. Links to businesses mentioned. Links to real cities. Links to the kind of fishing bait a character uses.
To be clear, I’m a hardcore researcher. I can support every detail I use (and do), but contemporary stories are DEMANDING. Before long I was adding links to everything in Breaking the Ice: the rules of the Battle on Bago annual ice-fishing contest. Milwaukee Bungalows. How to cheat at fishing. That ICE BRIDGES are a real thing. That Milwaukee’s annual Pridefest is a big, really big, deal.
Naturally, I had a ton of fun writing the story of Matt and John. Matt loves his life and the sport of fishing. John’s a blue-collar guy who just wants to convince Matt he’s not a jerk—because he sure has managed to look like one. Wisconsin style. The book is scheduled for release on April 19th.
I’ll leave you with a fun VIDEO CLIP of a truck falling through the ice on Lake Michigan. Breaking the Ice takes place on Lake Winnebago, but this footage is too good not to share.
As a reader, can you detect the amount of research that goes into a story. And do you think it contributes to your enjoyment of the story?
If you’re interested in reading my first contemporary, The Last Cannoli is a free read. Enjoy!
About the Author:
Tali Spencer delights in erotic fantasy and adventure, creating worlds where she can explore the heights and shadows of sexual passion. A hopeful romantic and lover of all things exotic, she also writes high fantasy and science fiction. If you would like to see inspiration pictures for her characters, or glimpse how she envisions her worlds, check out her Pinterest boards.
Tali’s books include the Pride of Uttor series: Captive Heart, Dangerous Beauty, Adored, and Victory Portrait, all with Resplendence. Her gay male high fantasy stories, Thick as Thieves, Sorcerer’s Knot, and The Prince of Winds, are published by Dreamspinner Press. She often publishes in anthologies, and puts up free stories and excerpts on her blog.
Visit Tali’s blog at http://talismania-brilliantdisguise.blogspot.com