Writing as Adria Townsend and J. S. Laurenz

Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Remote Chance is included in Adirondack Life Magazine's blog list of recent regional reads.  Here's the link: Adirondack Life Blog

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Free Book to coincide with 25th Anniversary of German Reunification

My last book Home Sweet Stranger is free on Amazon.com, and the iTunes store to coincide with the 25th anniversary of German Reunification coming up this Saturday.  Sign up for my mailing list and receive a chance to win a free copy of my latest book A Remote Chance. 

Click here for the link to Amazon.com
#25 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Contemporary Fiction > Romance

Forced to flee East Germany as a young girl, Ellie Meyer returns after the fall of the Berlin Wall to reclaim her home, only to discover her childhood friend Luther Beck has made a claim of his own. To avoid a lengthy property dispute, they enter into an uneasy agreement to share the house. Even as Ellie’s suspicions grow about Luther’s role in her troubled past, so too does an underlying attraction. As she uncovers his secrets, she’ll find that her heart might be the biggest traitor of all.

Praise for Home Sweet Stranger

“Home Sweet Stranger is a page-turner rich with history and full of surprises from its dark beginning to its bright and immensely satisfying conclusion. Adria Townsend’s fine writing, intriguing characters and a vividly rendered setting make her a rising star to watch. ”
—BIBI WEIN, Author of The Way Home, Tupelo Press

“Adria Townsend’s moving, fast-paced, well researched novel, Home Sweet Stranger takes us to twenty-first century Germany and reunites compelling characters who must confront their ghosts and their brokenness before they can claim what is rightly theirs. With poignancy and lyricism, Townsend asks us to consider how both a nation, and a self, can be torn in two by politics, and how the act of reunification is always more fraught and nuanced than it appears.”
—NATALIA RACHEL SINGER, Author of Scraping By in the Big Eighties, University of Nebraska Press

“Home Sweet Stranger is a modern love story with echoes of wise medieval fairy tales and emerging from the haunting influence of East Germany's harsh communist past. Adria Townsend's compelling second novel is hard to put down in its twists and turns toward a deeply satisfying conclusion.”
—MICHAEL VIRTANEN, Author of Within a Forest Dark, Lost Pond Press

Friday, July 24, 2015

New Release for Summer 2015 and free giveaway offer

A Remote Chance, by Adria Townsend, now available at Amazon.com.  Print version should be listed soon.  Sign up for my mailing list at this blog and I'll pick 5 random readers to receive a free copy!


When Grady Henderson is charged with vandalism for trying to stop the demolition of her father’s cabin in the Adirondack Mountains, the unconventional judge in the small town of Garnet Lake remands her to the care of Thane McMasters, a carpenter struggling to make a living. That’s the last thing Thane needs, but soon Grady is all he wants.  The attraction will complicate everything especially his friendship with a state trooper who will do what he can to see Grady prosecuted and to keep her house arrest from becoming Thane’s life sentence. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What Stephen King Can Teach us about Sex and Love: Reading Horror to Write Romance?

I'm reading Stephen King's On Writing and am just as captivated by it as his fiction.  Here's a reprint of a former blog entry I wrote about how much any writer of any genre can learn from Stephen King: 

A bad sex scene can turn a romance novel into a horror.  Conversely horror novels can offer great sex.  Stephen King is famous for fright, but his real specialty is finely-crafted stories that cover the range of human experience and emotion. Whatever he writes about, he does it with honesty, clarity, tension and passion.  It works for horror and it works especially for romance.  The author of The Dead Zone can teach writers of any genre something about erogenous zones and how to portray them on the page, without scaring readers.


In The Dead Zone, the hero is a regular guy.  John Smith—an everyman.  He loves an ordinary woman, a schoolteacher, Sarah Bracknell.  Before they can consummate the relationship, he has an accident and goes into a coma.  For four years, or roughly 200 pages.  For romance novels that’s too long, but there’s nothing wrong with creating tension and a good reason to keep lovers apart. 

Appearances aren’t everything--strong vs. weak words

In The Dead Zone, when John comes out of his coma, he’s emaciated, a shell of his former self.  Weak.  But he just looks weak, he has an inner strength that doesn’t need to rely on physical appearance.   Just because a person is flashy or good-looking, doesn’t mean he or she is good in bed, and just because a word is flashy, doesn’t mean it works in a sex scene. 

Writing experts advise us to avoid what they consider weak verbs, and scorn “to be.”  Never write:  there is a house on a hill.  Write:  A house straddles the hill.  In sex scenes that concept can come across as forced.  In setting up the love scene between John and Sarah, King often uses “to be”:    “There was the sweet smell of the hay.  Time spun out.  There was the rough feel of the army blanket, the smooth feel of her flesh, the naked reality of her.”  Here it works as anything but weak.  It’s immediate, and most importantly unpretentious.  Honesty and good intentions, rather than acrobatics.  That’s what lovers (of words) appreciate.

Talking dirty and foreplay. 

It’s surprising how many female writers of romance make the same mistake men do in real life.  To grab readers by the throat, they go straight for the sex organs, completely ignoring the neck and a myriad of other places humans love to be touched.  Unless the scene calls for a quickie, don’t skip the warm-up, or ignore less excitable body parts in an attempt to create excitement.

Here are the only body parts King mentions in his scene:  stomach, face, legs, knee, back, shoulder blades, hips, hair, chest (his not hers), shoulder, fingers, bare toes, belly.  It’s possible and maybe even preferable to bring a scene to climax without mentioning unmentionables.

Here are some of the ways King describes the scene: 
“Her hand touched him like silk.”
“Sinking into her was like sinking into an old dream that had never been quite forgotten.” 
“Her voice is rising excitement.  Her hips moving in a quickening tempo.  The touch of her hair was like fire on his shoulder and chest.  He plunged his face deeply into it, losing himself in that dark-blonde darkness.” 

He does not use euphemisms.  He uses verbs like sinking, rising, plunged, not always to describe the sex act itself, but to describe the feelings that go with it.  The words convey a sense of losing control, as the lovers give themselves over to each other physically and emotionally.


Setting.  Where sex takes place is just as important as how.  “The sound of the barn creaking gently, like a ship, in the October wind.  Mild white light coming in through the roof chinks, catching motes of chaff in half a hundred pencil-thin sunbeams.  Motes of chaff dancing and revolving.”  In describing the setting, comparing it to the motion of a ship, or describing how the motes dance and revolve, he mirrors or intimates the motion of the two lovers without being explicit. 

Be spontaneous

When writing a love scene, don’t stop to organize thoughts or smooth out word choice.  How unromantic is it when your lover takes the time to fold his clothes neatly and place them over a chair instead of letting them drop to the floor.  Or worse, takes a few minutes to straighten out his sock drawer while he’s at it. 

In King’s essay, “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully  - in Ten Minutes” (reprinted in Sylvia K. Burack, ed.  The Writer’s Handbook.  Boston, MA:  Writer, Inc., 1988:  3-9) he writes: 
“Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word.  There are no exceptions to this rule.  You think you might have misspelled a word?  O.K., so here is your choice:  either look it up in the dictionary, thereby making sure you have it right – and breaking your train of thought and the writer’s trance in the bargain -  or just spell it phonetically and correct it later.  Why not?  Did you think it was going to go somewhere? . . .  You can check it…but later.  When you sit down to write, write.  Don’t do anything else except go to the bathroom, and only do that if it absolutely cannot be put off.” 

Don’t stop the action or interrupt the rhythm of a love scene for anything.  Let it flow.  If thinking too much during the actual act of sex is a problem, it’s an even bigger problem in writing about it.  

No sex without love.

Or at least not without emotional investment.  King’s characters have depth.  The kind of people you know well enough to marry vs. the kind you’ll have a one-night stand with.  Sarah and Johnny don’t make love until page 204.  They’ve suffered.  They’ve made choices that have kept them apart, and life has made choices for them.  The reader has invested in them, because King has invested in the characters.  Romance novels can sometimes come across as prostitution.  The author forces two characters together to make a buck.  There’s not much in the way of connection beyond a physical coming together.  To make a scene more emotionally authentic, consider yourself more a matchmaker than a pimp.


The language that is.  King throws out all the unessentials in the climax to the scene.  Sentence fragments mimic the breathlessness of lovers.   Short and long sentences dictate the rhythm and speed.  There is a sense of order being fractured, of thought being scattered.   
“Time spinning out in the sweet smell of hay.  The rough-textured blanket. . . She cried out.  At some point she cried out his name, again and again and again, like a chant.  Her fingers dug into him like spurs.  Rider and ridden.” 
That last metaphor is presented without a verb, but it works perfectly to convey the action and their interaction with an image, being explicit without being graphic, or pornographic. 

In conclusion it's not fear that keeps King’s readers up all night long.  It’s his craftsmanship, and his honest way of working with words to create tension, suspense and a sense of deep emotion

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

More Thoughts on Ann Patchett and the Getaway Car and Writing

I think Ann Patchett is a beautiful writer, but when I read her philosophy behind that beautiful writing, something inside me rises up in protest. 
She takes issue in The Getaway Car with a fellow guest at a wedding who believes everyone has a Great American Novel inside them.  Ann Patchett thinks that’s not the case just as not everyone has a great floral arrangement within them.  I think they’re both confusing the relatively modern construct of a novel (first the alphabet and the act of writing had to develop, along with the printing press, etc.) with story which always was and always will be.  The earliest humans sitting around the very first campfire probably said something like:  “tell us the one about ...”  I  doubt they asked for a query and synopsis first.

Not everyone has a floral arrangement in them, but everyone has an appreciation for and a capacity for understanding beauty.  We all have a story.  We all ARE stories with a distinct beginning, middle and an end.  I once interviewed Al Hyslop who had been an actor, a journalist, the producer of Kaptain Kangaroo, and a producer of Sesame Street and after he retired, a director of citizen theater.  I asked him how he was able to transition between all those professions.  He didn’t make a distinction between any of them.  He maintains he was always in the business of good stories, well told. 

The story is a field of wildflowers; the great American novel is a bouquet of cut flowers artificially arranged.  Confusing the great American novel with story is confusing the vehicle with the trip.  Sure, not everyone is capable of writing the American novel, that is, not everyone has a Mercedes, the means, the style, the knowledge of the craft, but we all have an intrinsic sense of direction of a story.  Training helps, but isn’t the point in and of itself.  Doctors, for example were trained at one point in blood-letting.  MFA programs are training writers with the knowledge and craft of the times, for good or for bad.  That doesn’t mean what they’re producing will be a timeless story. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Thoughts on Ann Patchett, on writing, and the Getaway Car

Ann Patchett compares writing to trapping and dissecting a butterfly—it’s a killing act, but the only way to come close to getting down on paper what’s in the mind.  I think the whole act of writing is getting something to live, no matter how imperfect, an act of creation, not deconstruction.  In keeping with the butterfly metaphor, I think a writer’s job is to distract with action and unique pattern so that no one notices the seams caused by revision and hard work.  Just like the flutter and design of the butterfly wings distract us from the insect things in the middle.  Norman Mailer called writing the spooky art, and I agree it’s a mysterious act of creation.  I see writers as trained midwives in the process of creation.  That’s not to say perfection.  A story can never truly be life, it can only imitate it.  It can be a Frankenstein, sewn together out of myriad parts, ultimately uncontrollable, or a Pinocchio, so close but not quite human, or a zombie out of Pet Cemetery.  But it is creation. 

There has to be hard work in writing, but I think MFA programs can train writers to sharpen a story like a pencil until all that’s left is the point.  Polish is important, but not if it strips away what’s underneath. Writing comes out of necessity and the instrument doesn’t matter as much as the story, like a murder victim scrawling a final message in blood.  Use what you’ve got to get your message across.  I think it’s possible to kill a story with craft.  I’d rather let it live through a difficult birth and a disappointing childhood. 

I don’t want to think of writers as scientists in lab coats, removed from the real world studying carefully dissected entrails.  I think of writers as paramedics performing CPR in the midst of an accident scene, trying to resuscitate.  It’s hard work,  physically and mentally draining, not always successful, but not killing work.