Risky Business

Have you ever wondered where the idiom, sticking your neck out, originated? Some believe the saying is a metaphorical reference to turtles, which become vulnerable when they poke their heads out of their shells. If a turtle remains inside, it’s safe from predators. However, a turtle also can’t locate food from within its shell, so if it doesn’t ever risk its neck, it’ll starve.

There’s a lesson in this for writers. Publishing is a risky business, and editors pass up wonderful books all the time because they’re unwilling to take a chance on stories that don’t fit the current trend. On the other hand, the books that are given the biggest advances and the most publisher support are also frequently novels that are different enough to grab readers’ attention. That’s why acquiring editors constantly say they want something different—but not too different.

Negotiating that balancing act can be really tough, but if a writer always plays it safe, chances are she’ll go the way of a turtle who refuses to stick his neck out. She”ll starve as an author. If your keeper shelf is anything like mine, the authors of your favorite novels broke some so-called rules. One of the reasons LaVyrle Spencer’s and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s titles dominate my bookcase is because they aren’t afraid to tackle tough subjects that some might consider taboo or unpopular. They take risks.

For example, in Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s novel, Ain’t She Sweet, the heroine, Sugar Beth, did something most readers would consider unforgivable. And, yet, SEP managed to instill sympathy in her audience for this character, who by rights, everyone should hate. In The Fulfillment (which helped inspire my holiday release), LaVyrle Spencer managed to write a compelling romance involving infidelity and still managed to keep all of the characters heroic.

These authors’ ability to craft such irresolvable conflicts and to find ways to, not only keep the characters likable, but still give them a happy ever after, has always left me in awe. It’s books like these that reinforce my belief that characters can do anything in a story and still remain heroic if the author gives them sufficient and proper motivation.

My newest release, No Exchanges, No Returns, is this kind of risky story. It received a lot of mixed opinions and scores in contests. Judges either loved it or hated it. And, yet, this book got closer to selling than any of my other novels, which I believe is because its surrogate-mother plot pushes the boundaries.

At the same time, this à la Jerry Springer story defies the romance genre’s conventions enough that I feared it would incense some of my audience. Therefore, I considered leaving the manuscript under the bed for my pet dust-bunnies to feast on. In the end, however, my alter ego, L.L., refused to let me leave it unpublished. Any regular visitors to the Ruby blog have undoubtedly met L.L in my past posts and know what a bully she can be. I realize there are other, more fitting adjectives for my alter ego than bully, but this is a PG-rated blog.

Anyway, L.L. kept screaming in my ear, “Grow a pair, you wimp! So what if the heroine ends up with her sister’s ex-husband. Things like that actually happen. This is a great story about sisterly love and sacrifice. Even if some people don’t enjoy No Exchanges, No Returns, a lot of readers will love it. It’s touching, it’s funny, it’s real, and it’s hot—what’s not to like? Do you think E.L. James didn’t worry her Fifty Shades of Grey would offend some readers? Her book has over four thousand 1-star reviews. Name a book that’s hit the New York Times Bestsellers list that doesn’t have something a little different or offbeat in it.”

Don’t tell my alter ego I said this, but she made a valid point. I was being a coward. So I stuck  my neck out and published the book—mostly to shut L.L. up.  Now I’ll just have to wait and see what the readers’ response is.

No Exchanges, No Returns

A new twist on O. Henry’s classic tale, The Gift of the Magi

There were never such devoted sisters…

Dr. David Lambert and his wife, Brianna, received the ultimate Christmas gift from her fraternal twin. They gratefully accepted it, of course, because everyone knows you can’t return a baby like an itchy sweater. Yet, that’s essentially what Brianna does when she has a meltdown and unexpectedly divorces David. She runs from their home in Redemption, Pennsylvania, and leaves their surrogate—her sister, Casey—pregnant with his little bundle.

When David chose her beautiful twin over her, Casey McIntyre hid her hurt behind a wall of sarcasm. Now that her sister has divorced her husband, it’s increasingly difficult to remember why the hunky pediatrician is supposed to be off limits—especially since Brianna doesn’t seem to want him or care if Casey and he get involved.

David always liked and admired his selfless ex-sister-in-law—despite that the sassy preschool teacher is always busting his chops. Consequently, after his wife bails on marriage and motherhood, it’s only natural he turns to Casey for sympathy. Unfortunately, the exasperating pixie becomes more irresistible with each day she carries his child. He already mistook lust for love once and jumped way too fast into marriage. He’s not about to botch up his life that way again.

Casey wants whatever happiness she can grab, whether it’s temporary or not. The only problem is, if she lets herself love her baby (or David), what will happen to her when her sister inevitably realizes her mistake and returns to Redemption?

 To celebrate my holiday release of No Exchanges, No Returns, I’ll be holding a random drawing for a digital copy of the book from the list of commenters.


Now it’s your turn to share. In which of your favorite novels did the authors take chances and how? In what way are you sticking out your neck in your current WIP? What concerns do you have about pushing the boundaries of the romance genre?

21 responses to “Risky Business”

  1. Laurie,
    I’m so excited for your release. You know I can’t get them fast enough. Risks, huh? I’m currently in the process of making career decisions, and that feels risky. Best of luck with the new release. I’m so happy for you and your success. Chris


  2. Diana Layne says:

    Good luck with risk-taking, I’m sure it’s a wonderful story like your others.


    • It’s a great story, Diana–as long as the reader doesn’t have a problem with ex-in-laws falling in love. I don’t know why, but some people see it as incestuous.

      The Old Testament directs men to marry their brothers’ widows, so I don’t see why ex-wives’ sisters should be off limits.

      I suppose that was one more way the Catholic Church distinguished itself from Judaism. Because, from the sixteenth century until the very early twentieth century, the United Kingdom laws of consanguinity applied to in-laws.

      However, in the United States those laws weren’t observed (otherwise, Ashley never would’ve been able to marry Melanie in Gone with the Wind).

      I think one of the reasons the Church of England felt the need for these laws is because it’s pretty common for Ex in-laws to fall in love when they’re thrown together. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense. Sisters and brothers often share many of the same qualities that attracts a particular person to them.


  3. Kim Law says:

    Terrific post. Life is all about taking risks! I firmly believe that it’s far more exciting and rewarding if you’re willing to stick your neck out, even if your neck occaionally gets nicked!

    I LOVED Ain’t She Sweet for the same reason, Laurie. At the beginning, I thought there was no way she was going to make me like her, much less love her! SEP is a master!

    Your new release sounds terrific too! Can’t wait to read it! Of course, I have to finish sticking my neck out in my current WIP first 😉 I’m redeeming a guy who literally left his fiance at the altar!

    Good luck with your new release!


  4. Liz Talley says:

    Great post, Laurie, and I’m so proud of you for sticking your neck out there. I love daring books and I read the copy for this one and knew your subject would be handled skillfully. Sounds very intriguing and I thank L.L. for being pushy 🙂

    Congrats on this new release!


  5. You and I have the same books on our keeper sheleves. I love SEP and Lavyrle and totally agree. I didn’t like SEP’s Sugar and thought no way would she pull it off. And, Lavyrle’s Home Song was another taboo story– among many others of her’s.

    I think you do need to push the envelope while making your characters sympathic, loveable and human.

    Congrats on your new release, lady. I’m sure it’s going to be an awesome read.


    • You’re right. Home Song was incredible, too, Autumn! Twice Loved and Then Came Heaven, LaVyrle’s last novel also had really deep conflicts. Thanks for your faith in me.


  6. Rita Henuber says:

    Congrats on the book Laurie. I’m sure it will be a huge success.

    I LOVE a risk taker book. When it’s done well. Like I’m sure your book is.
    I started (key word started) a book in which in the first two chapters the reader learned the heroine , a married homicide detective, who having an affair with a partner because her husband was having one. She witnessed a homicide, her husband, and didn’t report it because she thought her lover had been the masked assailant. Then she proceeded to frame another man for it. At that point it became a chuckawalla book. That is, one you throw against the wall. Several months later having nothing else to read I went back to it. I did not like a single person in the book. I managed to have sympathy for the person she was framing. Oh and she was pregnant. I felt sorry for the child.
    Don’t mess with me like this book did. Life is life. Sh*t happens. I get it. We all go through it but for me at some point the characters in a book need to have a light bulb go off come out of it better. Otherwise it’s a piece of literary whiney crap.


    • You’re so right about that light-bulb moment, Rita. Character growth is vital to a good book. Have you thought about making the hero of your story the person who is being framed? Same story, different perspective.


  7. Vivi Andrews says:

    In one of my favorite Jennifer Cruise books the heroine ends up with her sister’s ex – Tell Me Lies, I think? I agree, Laurie, it’s all in how you execute it. I’d rather have an outside the box romance that feels REAL than one that’s been sterilized by the urge to offend no one. Best of luck with your new release!


    • Thanks, Vivi. Good word, sterilize. That’s exactly what editors’ revision letters frequently asked for. Invariably they rejected a second time with a whole new list of lame reasons they never mentioned before. Truthfully, I believe it’s because they asked me to take out or tone down all the edgier elements that made them ask for a rewrite in the first place. When I gave them what they wanted, the story was just average.


  8. June Love says:

    Laurie, congratulations on your release!

    Taking risks is what life’s all about. As long as the author can back up the risks she/he is taking, then I enjoy reading them. SEP outdid herself with Sugar Beth.

    I thought you took a risk with The Memory of You and you came through solid on that one. I have no doubt this newest release will be just as wonderful. I’m looking forward to reading it.


    • Thanks, June. I hope you’re right. This was actually a two-heroine book, and in a lot of places my secondary heroine has a tendency to overshadow the main heroine, because both of their stories are equally compelling. It’s so much easier to let secondary characters speak their minds.


  9. Gwyn says:

    As always, wishing you the best of luck.


  10. Elise Hayes says:

    Ohh, Laurie, your story sounds delicious!! Can’t wait to read it. 🙂

    And you make a good point about writers who stick out their necks. Look at Joanna Bourne’s Regencies…most of which don’t have a single ballroom setting. Who’d of thunk that was even possible of a Regency-set historical?


  11. Thanks, Elise. I don’t know if non-writing readers are as impressed with an author when she pulls something amazing like that off, but I think subconsciously they notice.


  12. Laurie Kellogg says:

    The lucky winner of No Exchanges, No Returns is Chris Campillo! Congratulations, Chris. I hope you enjoy it.


Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Elisa Beatty: Amen to that!!
  • Elisa Beatty: Yes! Those finalist ribbons get a surprising amount of attention!! Even Big Famous Writers will say...
  • Elisa Beatty: “To my first love, Rodger”
  • Elisa Beatty: That’s such an important insight: most writers tend to be on the introverted side, so don’t...
  • Elisa Beatty: The recordings are great! Lots of people buy t hem and then listen to them in the car on their...