I got the go ahead to do revisions on “Hot Toy.” So let’s talk about novellas in general and my about-to-be-spruced-up opus in particular.
What’s your big complaint about novellas?
What do you like about novellas/why do you buy them?
If you read “Hot Toy,” what’s your reaction (agree/disagree/whatever) to the following criticisms:
Lack of character development
Ridiculous, over the top plot.
Short on romance/no heat.
Unsympathetic characters: Trudy is shrill, Nolan is a jerk.
And general comments and suggestions also welcome, as always.
84 thoughts on “So, Hot Toy . . .”
I may be the only Crusie fan left on the planet who hasn’t managed to read “Hot Toy” yet so I can’t comment directly on that exact novella, but novellas in general… I can haz opinion. ;p
My main issue with novellas is that they’re too short. I generally don’t buy them unless there’s an author I love in a collection or it’s put into my hands by someone I trust. I feel like I don’t get enough time to know the characters and their world and everything seems rushed. I’m also not a fan of short stories for mostly the same reasons, although I occasionally appreciate just the snapshot you get from them.
Take all of this with several grains of salt – preferably stuck to the rim of a margarita glass – as I haven’t read anything longer than a blog post in… I honestly can’t remember, because life & small kids. Perhaps I should be giving novellas a second try, then… lol. Good luck!
I second all of this. Haven’t read Hot Toy, wish novellas were actual novels, only read them if they take place in another fiction world I already read, ditto short stories.
I agree with all that Bonnie C said. Most novellas, not all, I don’t feel the characters don’t have enough time to fully develop.
I also haven’t read Hot Toy, because it’s not availible in an audio format I can access. (The NLS has done a decent job of audiofication of Crucie stuff, but a few are still missing) So I won’t comment on the story in particular.
What do I dislike about novellas? Too many of them are either novels with not enough in them, so things get missed, or they’re short stories with poor editing as too much is left in. In too many cases there’s either not enough or too much plot (in plot driven stores) in them, so they feel rushed or thin. This isn’t as common with situation driven stuff, probably because situation driven writing goes as long as it has to, but I’ve encountered a few of those that were over-edited to make them feel cramped and rushed too. It seems too many writers of novellas have, in the past, focused too much on the word/page count and not enough on giving the story what it needs to be what it is. It’s like trying to cram a husky into a chihuahua or the other way around. I’m hoping that the self-publishing craze will help more novellas be what they need to be.
I think it’d be wise to ask, “What am I assuming the reader will get that isn’t always obvious,” when trying to edit a novella. I’ll also point out that Mystery/Detective writers tend to get this right more often than folks writing in other genres, though some of the classic science fiction writers like Clarke, Simak, and Russell got this right consistently (stupid adverb) too.
Somehow I have not read it either, and I will break my “no short stories” rule in a heartbeat to read something Crusie. And “no” really is my take on novellas. It actually irritates me to see a new offering that sounds interesting or is from a favorite author, just to find out it is a novella. It almost feels like a bait and switch. Since I have been seeing an increasing number of them out there I am guessing I am a minority,
HOT TOY is one of my favorite stories you’ve written. I loved every page of it. It was fun, it was surprising, it said great things about family and how we’ll do whatever it takes to show people we love them. I don’t see why you have to change a thing. And why would anyone complain about over-the-top? Do we go to James Bond movies so we can snooze? What’s wrong with entertaining people? And when there are bullets, who’s actually following through on grabbing a quickie? Sure, you can think about it. But come on.
I buy novellas for a quick hit of feeling. I got exactly what I wanted with HOT TOY. At Christmas I want nostalgia, a sense that family matters, that love conquers all, that opportunity always exists if we just open our eyes and see–which is another way to say I want hope at the holidays.
My big complaint with most novellas is that they bore me with dull characters and bland plots. I want some zing. I want bigger than life.
Thank you, that makes me feel better (g).
I’m okay with over the top (this is not news to anybody here) but unrealistic within the terms of that story world would bother me. Also when I reread it last year, I thought Trudy kind of grated. Mad as hell and kicking everybody’s tires. I can keep her and that way but do it better, I think.
I’m with Kieran, too. I actually think Hot Toy works because it is a novella -it’s zippy and fun, exactly what I expected from a holiday anthology. And Trudy wasn’t shrill. I don’t remember much about the guys, but I remember Trudy explaining exactly what she thought of them, and thatvstill makes me smile. I can’t remember if she actually says “Moving on!” but that’s how I think of her.
I agree with Kieran. I loved that story just as it was. I didn’t think Trudy grated at all. I don’t see why you need to change a word.
I’ve actually come to like novellas (although maybe that’s because I was just forced to write two of them). But I like them best when they feature characters I already know and love.
I agree that Trudy did not grate — I could sympathesize with her because of the stress she was under. Who of us hasn’t been edgy in a similar situation…?
I don’t object to a good novella. Haven’t read Hot Toy yet because I didn’t even know it existed. Should I wait for newly revised?
I think novellas and short stories have a bad rep because of all those old writers who wrote dreary, awful, hopeless stories or bizarre-is-this-really-the-end stories and got great laud an acclaim in literary classes while most of us readers groaned.
Somehow I can’t imagine you writing something like that.
You can probably get the anthology is was in for one cent in used books, plus postage which is usually the killer.
We agreed today that it’s going to be republished as a standalone novella in e-book format, which means I have a little more scope to develop it. I have no idea how much it’ll be. I just write them, SMP sells them.
They should be all over the place in used bookstores; it wasn’t a popular anthology.
Honestly, Hot Toy was ok, I thought. It wasn’t my favorite of yours – mostly since it isn’t my favorite format for stories, as others have said. I prefer more time with the characters, usually. And I liked those folks enough to wish/expect there might be more someday – her sister, I guess.
I’m glad it will be stand-alone though, because the other stories in the book weren’t great matches with it. They had very different…. approaches. Which made it odd as a set of novellas in a way that they sometimes aren’t.
We all thought that. It was one romantic comedy and basically two eroticas. And leading with the rom com was a real disservice to the other two because it set up the wrong expectations. No idea why they thought that was a good idea, I just know it wasn’t my editor.
I am sure they put your novella in first because you were the draw (see my comment below about the other authors being “footnotes” on the cover)… Perhaps whoever came up with this hoped for a kick-start for the others (or that they’d be able to pay off advances because others, like moi, would buy the book because “Crusie” had top billing).
Let me start by saying short stories annoy the crap outta me. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was being forced to read and examine them in high school repeatedly in the way that only a college prep high school can. Then I read a great one by Annie Proulx, and it made me laugh. But really, just that one. The rest of the stories in the book left me cold and hanging.
So, novelllas. I like them generally. I go into them knowing they are novellas, and so will be not be a long read, and that’s fine. I know that the form imposes some story-telling discipline, and that’s fine. Some of them actually go on a bit too long, and that’s not fine.
And now, Hot Toy. I enjoyed it very much. I don’t think Trudy was shrill. She has issues and it’s the holidays, and that’s when issues take on new and incalculable dimensions. I also liked Nolan, because who doesn’t like a smart, resourceful guy? But he could have used another dimension. What dimension, I don’t know.
And I have to say that during my four-year stint as an administrator at a university, I attended any number of functions and events, but tragically no sherry parties. And I am mightily disappointed by that lack in my experience.
I hate sherry. It was the worst thing I could think of.
I occasionally like sherry. The worst thing I had in my academic adventure was wild boar at the president’s house. I was explaining to a co-worker that it was better with the mushroom sauce. He said, “How was it?” And I said, “Better with the mushroom sauce.”
Sherry has changed, Jenny. Evolved, become more sophisticated in expressing terroir. You should try the new sherry. Then again maybe not. I believe you said you don’t drink. Still, not all sherry is to be denigrated.
I wasn’t aware you had a novella called “Hot Toy,” so I can’t comment on that specifically.
My main sorrow about novellas is that they are often too short and feel rushed. And I buy them to fill the gap between longer books by favorite authors.
The short stories I read these days are generally in the New Yorker. I like them.
A couple years ago, Hot Toy got me through one rough holiday. I thought it was perfect. Uh, except too short. Perhaps it was my mood, but there was something Noel Coward about that tale. Maybe the gin.
A lot of bitter people snacking at each other and drinking gin? You’re right. Private Lives.
Huh. I have an affection for Private Lives that I’ve never really understood (OK, part of it is probably Robert Montgomery). Maybe that’s one of the reasons I remember enjoying “Hot Toy.”
I love novellas.
I especially love novellas by my favorite authors. It’s like a special treat. I can hardly drive home from the bookstore fast enough.
Problems I have with novellas are trying to cram too much story into the length.
That would be my one quibble with Hot Toy. Too many details for the length. It made the story read at a high pitch. Too high for comfort. (hope this makes sense!). It took me a bit to get adjusted to the super fast pace.
I blame Bob for that. “Chinese spies,” he said and I went for it.
Actually, I loved it or I wouldn’t have said, “Oh, you’re right, Chinese spies.” But I can do the pacing better. better.
“Hot Toy” is in my TBR pile. So I’ll read it and review it some time in the near future. I cannot answer your question about that story yet.
But I’ll try to answer the other questions. My biggest complain about romantic novellas is that, as they focus on a short period of time, it’s difficult to believe that the HEA is real, because the main characters know each other for a short time.
I think they work better when a couple has known each other beforehand. Strangled couples, long-time friends that turn to lovers, that kind of plot.
About your second question. I’m not a big reader of novellas, it’s not my favourite format.
I just read them if they are written by any of my favourite authors. That’s why Santa, baby, is in my TBR pile. If I think about the novellas I liked in recent years, I realized that I bought them just because of the name of the author (Courtney Milan’s, for instance).
Trudy and Nolan dated in the past. It didn’t work out, not that she’s bitter about that or anything.
I loved HOT TOY, too. And I thought the story was a very realistic look at Christmas, family expectations, gift giving, and dating, only better than real life. And in HOT TOY, Trudy gets to kick Nolan in the shins, which I am not allowed to do, and she gets her HEA. Plus, gin. I’ve reread it multiple times, not always at Christmas. Because a person has to give gifts at birthdays and anniversaries, too. Like Kieran, I wouldn’t change anything.
Thank you. You are a nice person.
I second Kay’s comments. I’ve read Hot Toy many times and love it, though I do pretend the other stories in the collection don’t exist. I can’t think of what I’d change about the story – it hits the spot for me just as it is.
I bought “Santa Baby” only because it had a JC novella in it. Here’s what I wrote just after I read it:
The banter is so quick and clever and amazing. I read in awe, sometimes. At one point in time Trudy is talking with her sister on the phone while two men argue about her over her head, and you know who is saying what and how it all matches up and it is great. Revolves around a desperate Christmas Eve search for a specific toy, which turns out to have something to do with Chinese spies and nuclear launch codes and such. Didn’t really care much about the plot…loved the characterization.
I am not sure what I meant about “didn’t care much about the plot” so don’t ask me. 🙂 Maybe I thought the plot was weak, in comparison to the characters? Who knows, I wrote the review a long time ago.
So, my thoughts on the rewrite? Keep the banter, keep the characters, keep the pace, but maybe do something with the reason why the toy is so important?
The plot is insane. That could be part of the problem. Thank you!
i LOVE that about Crusie books – the dialogue is so quick and clever.
My favorite is in Tell Me Lies when Maddie takes her daughter out to visit people, and at dinner they discuss making cookies, argue about mowing the lawn, and other important stuff, and the whole time you get the sense of everyone talking at once but you never get confused. You always know exactly who is talking.
In the Agnes book too. My favorite scene is when she’s whispering a cover story to Garth while multiple conversations are going on, and Garth is saying, “What about the ribs? I got to paint the house.” And you know exactly what’s going on.
It’s amazing. It’s a gift.
I have read Hot Toy even though I don’t read novellas much – although I just read three by
connie willis that were great. Actually I read Hot Toy twice which is a low count for a Crusie for me. Probably because Nolan did act like a jerk and both times I finished reading it I found myself wondering if Nolan would eventually revert to jerkdom which seemed likely.
Several people said that. Note to self: remove jerkdom from Nolan.
I wanted our heroine to have something nice in her life, and (as I recall) it didn’t seem like she did. She was driven by taking care of others, never herself. Nolan wasn’t a complete jerk, he just seemed real to me, given the amount of words in a novella (and my ex). And I didn’t find it unrealistic (for fiction) but then I spent my teen years reading a lot of Ian Fleming, Alistair McLean, spy adventure stories (Man from U.N.C.L.E.). I wanted more of the soft nougat centre for her. She seemed desperate and driven and while I like that in a heroine in general, I also like for her to wear Wonder Woman undies for courage or have to go into the washroom stall to stand like Wonder Woman to regain courage and drive before going out and beating Nolan again. I did like the story, and I like romance novellas.
I just couldn’t picture myself as her, as I can with Min and (Manhunting) and all the other Crusie women.
I think that’s part of the hectic pace which needs dealt with. I hadn’t thought of that but it’s true, she’s fighting for everybody but herself. Hmmmm. Cogitating now.
Jenny’s women are not hero type–they are fixers. They just need to fix themselves up first
Thank you, Jill, I hadn’t thought of it that way. But you’re right. They’d all be appalled at being called to be heroes.
I didn’t love it till about the 3rd or 4th time I read it. It moved too fast; I never knew what was going on; the sister annoyed me. Once I got its pacing, I could love it. But it took a bit, and I’m pretty sure that’s the novella format with an action story, not you.
I think you’re right; the pacing is supposed to be hectic–almost everything happens on Christmas Eve–but it should be that hectic.
Since I haven’t read “Hot Toy,” I can’t comment on it specifically. (Sorry, what’s the anthology it’s in?) But some of the very best romances I’ve ever read have been novellas. There’s a particular art to dealing with them, just as there is to writing short stories or novels. Being skilled at one length of story is no guarantee that an author can handle a different one, anymore than being able to compose a charming etude is proof one can also write a good symphony. Anyway, congratulations on the go ahead. I’m sure you’ll carry it off with style.
It’s in Santa Baby.
I’m not a writer, just a reader. I like short stories on occasion. The older I get the less patience I have for longer books, unless I’m listening to a book on CD, which is always. I re-read KE Woodiwiss’ books about 12 times over the years. (Just the first 6) They are too l-o-n-g for me these days AND the print is 8 font! I don’t recall it being so hard to read! Anyway…I like short stories, get in, read it and move on. I can’t wait to read Hot Toy…or anything else with your name on it.
Oh, lord, small type makes me crazy. Especially small pale type run across patterned backgrounds on things I’m trying to decide to buy. I feel your pain.
I read a lot of short stories and short novellas on Tor.com and they can be really great. From what I remember of Hot Toy (I don’t re-read it as often as some of your others) I got a really good feeling of how bad a holiday can be when everyone knows it’s going south but hope it’s not. I like Trudy being more physical then some of your other heroines because she’s in a more immediately desperate situation then some of them. Also, I remember the sex was good, or at least it stuck with me (blush). I don’t really remember Nolan that well though, he doesn’t really have something that sets him apart. (like Cal’s dyslexia, Phin’s ties to his town, or Gabe’s family past) that makes him more complete if that makes sense.
They don’t have sex. The other two novellas in the book are really steamy, though, so maybe you’re remembering one of those?
I’m embarrassed to say but I don’t think I read the other two, because they weren’t yours and I was pretty stubborn in my early twenties. I must be mis-remembering one of your other stories, because there was banter.
I’m pretty sure I read it but for the life of me, I can’t remember a damn thing about it. So I’ll look forward to finding it and rereading it and then seeing what you do with the rewrite.
And didn’t Terry Pratchett rewrite one of his books 3-4 times? First round was like age 15, and then every 10-15 years he’d go back and take another whack at it? And I know Christopher Stasheff rewrote King Kobold – he called it King Kobold Revised and recommended burning of every copy of the original…. So go ahead and do what you need to do with this.
I’ve started to read more novellas lately, usually as an intro to a new series or a fun filler to hold the momentum in a series between full-length titles. As long as they’re clearly identified and priced accordingly, I know what to expect and I’m fine with the shorter format.
I really enjoyed Hot Toy. I haven’t read it in a while, but I clearly remember that I liked it a lot. The energy and larger-than-life plot were great. I don’t remember having problems with Trudy or Nolan – maybe a little with Trudy’s sister, if anyone.
Also you gave Trudy one of my favorite lines ever. “With your shield or on it, bear.” Still makes me laugh. Hope I remembered it right. That alone would make the book a keeper for me. I don’t think there’s anything I’d change.
I think it was “With your shield or on it, cow,” but I’m just going to re-read it now.
It was indeed “cow” — but Nolan, not Trudy, said it.
So….I had to re-read it last night, as it had been a while and I had no memory of Nolan being a jerk. Upon re-reading, I still don’t see Nolan bring a jerk. He’s trying to get the doll away from Trudy by pretending to be a collector, then plays the doofus when Reese convinces her to go to the warehouse. He gets snippy when she refuses to accept she’s in danger, but it’s more impatience and frustration than jerkdom.
I really did love how you tied it all up with the “it fell off the sleigh” bit. Dialog, as usual, rapid-fire and sassy. Still miss the character development that a longer form has, and what were Reese’s minions doing hanging around a toy warehouse? For that matter, why did the spies need a warehouse full of toys? Felt that the “plausibility gap” was greater because of lack of time/room for development.
This remains, however, probably the only novella that I have read more than once, but only because I adore your stuff. Still unsatisfying in many ways, but still fun. (The other two in the collection are totally forgettable, probably ’cause of the mismatch. Also, the cover is done in such a way that it appears to be a book by you, the other authors are like footnotes. I actually bought the book on that premise and was mightily disappointed that it wasn’t — so Hot Toy was sort of a booby prize. However, I have re-read it a couple of times over the years, do not a total loss. This has nothing to do with your writing — on the contrary! — but everything to do with my just not being a fan of short forms…)
Sorry, random thoughts here!
Not random at all. Very helpful, actually. Thank you.
I love novellas, especially romance novellas. I think that just as some authors have specific lengths that they’re most comfortable or best at writing, I think some readers have lengths they’re most comfortabke reading, that are their sweet spot. And novellas are definitely one of my sweet spots. Part of it is my ever shortening attention span (I have no idea how I read all of those epic fantasies or historical sagas in my youth)
Bother. I meant to write more before submitting.
I read Hot Toy – the anthology is on my keeper shelf, although I haven’t reread it much. My memory of it is that it was fun but the pacing felt really frantic, like I couldn’t quite catch my breath the whole time I was reading it. I also wasn’t that invested in the romance, but I was pretty invested in getting the damn toy for the nephew.
I think that’s really true. Novella length is really a cramp for me. Short stories are hell. I like lots of room (g).
I like 90% of the novellas that I read by my favorite authors. What stops me from purchasing them sometimes is the price and the fact that they are packaged with other authors whose work I do not enjoy. Oh, I try to grit it out and read the other author’s contributions, but I usually am disappointed. So, at the end of the day, I spent $8-$10 to read 80-90 pages of material that I enjoyed. That is the only situation that pushes the price button for me. If I love an author’s work, I’m first in line to buy it at whatever price as soon as it is published. I can’t wait to buy the revamped version of Hot Toys (not that I remember that it needs to revamped) in an ebook format!
I think that’s another big plus of e-books: you can get just the novella you want.
I think the problem with many novellas is probably what someone mentioned above, that the romance doesn’t have enough time to develop. Considering full-length romances often push believability in that area as well, it makes sense that the problem would be exacerbated in a shorter work.
That being said, I read Hot Toy a couple of months ago and actually didn’t find it unbelievable (I mean, aside from the espionage stuff which isn’t supposed to be believable, anyway, haha). The fact that the characters had met before made the relationship more acceptable, and while the pace was definitely quick it also reflected the time of year in which rational people lose their minds, LOL. It could probably be developed into something with greater depth because the underlying plot was hilarious, but I guess you’re constrained by the length of a novella (which is the point of this post to begin with:)).
Probably Nolan was more underdeveloped than Trudy and there could’ve been more heat. But this plot was never BORING, which cannot be said for all romantic novellas.
Don’t have anything helpful to add about novellas, but amazon still carries your brownies: http://www.amazon.com/Pillsbury-Sugar-Chocolate-Fudge-Brownie/dp/B003ZCY1EG
It was very hectic. The pacing was breathless, and sometimes the characters were screechy as a result. Hey, this happens in real life at Christmas time! So, it may be a “not my cup of tea” issue. I already have a lot of hecticness in my life in December.
And if it’s NOT December . . . well, the title is “Santa Baby.” I don’t feel like reading that in March, when my real-life could use a little extra hecticness.
I’m not putting this very well — I should read it again, and refresh my memory about what exactly made me feel harried. Harried was certainly not the only emotion I had reading the story.
For me, that novella was the best thing in the book. And it was very good. Like I said in the previous, I loved the doll as mcguffin, and the Chinese spies were a nice touch.
I’ll go back and read the comments after I initially answer your questions.
First, I liked Hot Toy, a lot. I liked the characters too. Unlikely, okay, sure, so? I really like the whole time they were in the shop. Classic Cruise banter, full of snark, all excellent. Getting to the warehouse, that was an area that was a little awkward, possibly confusing, definitely a larger stretching of reality. I’ll need to reread it to be specific, but I seem to recall being pulled out of the story by something at the warehouse or the cab ride over. I do know that I wished it hadn’t been a novella but a full novel as it seemed ripe with good characters and possibilities.
Personally, I don’t think you need to rewrite it.
In regards to the second part of your post (since I can’t comment on Hot Toy because I immediately lost my copy in clutter right after I bought it) – I just want to throw in my view that life is, more often than not, a tough slog uphill. I love the movie, Mom’s Night Out where the main character laments that she just can’t get in front of it (her crazy struggles in life), but by the end she has accepted that she is a beautiful mess. One of my favorite things about you and Argh Nation is that we get glimpses into your daily grind – Wolfies health, the bears, no heat. And still, through all of that daily stuff you’re wading through, you rise above it and share your wisdom with us – most of whom are strangers. You wade through moving, decluttering, and diagnoses and still you come to the table and share with inspiring generosity these things that you know and things that you wonder. Maybe I don’t want to be Jennifer Crusie, but I hope that I am a lot like her.
Ack! I think I meant this in regards to the last post. Sorry for the goof.
My gosh, all these responses about Hot Toy in such a short time. I must pull it down from the Crusie shelf and take it to bed with me tonight.
I read it; I loved it. It was fun, fast, and I could relate to some of it. And the part about the spies was just what I wanted. I enjoy a plot that takes me away from everyday, and I love when I find a holiday novella that does that. (Actually, Hot Toy and Visions of Sugar Plums are the only two that have really lived up to my “Let’s de-stress and the holidays loom” short reads). It was a good escape. I would enjoy revisiting the characters again, maybe in another story.
Darn, I looked at my Crusie shelf and it isn’t there. I must have loaned it to someone. I would have re-read it tonight.
Anyway, from what I recall Trudy was not shrill she was pissed off at running into Nolan in the toy store, and it was Christmas eve and she was in a hurry. The plot was over the top fun. The pacing was good. I do recall smiling a lot. I can’t recall if the H&H had any steamy scenes because they were on the run a lot, but I think the tension between them was good. I don’t remember a lot about Nolan, but I do remember Trudy. That’s kind of funny for me, because I always get a crush on your heroes. Maybe if anyone needs a bit more oomph it might be Nolan? Just guessing here. Was it written from only Trudy’s POV or did you give Nolan a POV?
I don’t read a lot of romance novellas but the ones that worked for me had a tight focus on the relationship. But then again, those stories had no wonderful suspense plot. You held my attention with Santa Baby because of that crazy fast-paced adventure.
I’m pretty sure it was all Trudy’s POV. I didn’t have a lot of real estate to share because she was up to her ass in plot and subplot.
Yeah, the whole Chinese spy thing was not my strong point. Should have gotten Bob to write that. I’ll see what I can do.
Not a novella fan, but I got “Santa Baby” and enjoyed “Hot Toy” so much that I think of it whenever I toy shop, or grab a slightly dented box from a store shelf. I also remember laughing at the gingerbread house falling apart.
I have to admit I’d rather read new stories from you than a rewrite of one that’s already delightful…but if this is what feels right to you, have fun!
It’s more that if I don’t rewrite it, it’ll go out as it was. I think I can do better.
I’ve only read “Hot Toy” once and don’t really remember much about it except that the sister was sloshed and angry for pretty much all of it. I typically only read/watch Christmas stories between late November and early January, so that’s one of the reasons I haven’t gone back to it, although I will now.
I enjoy the novella form in general, but I’m much choosier than I am with full length novels. I do not buy anthologies unless I can’t get a story I want any other way (which is why I own Santa Baby); that’s what libraries are for. In my experience, novellas and short stories are better when they’re set in an established world and/or feature established characters. They’re great for spotlighting supporting characters in a series or delivering back-story to readers that want it.
As stand-alone stories, they’re more hit or miss, and romance does not generally fare well with the lack of real estate. Not nearly enough time to sell falling in love. I learned that the hard way with a number of “Once Upon…” anthologies in high school. I don’t remember having that reaction to “Hot Toy,” though. Probably because Trudy and Nolan knew each other before; that head start is a big help with the novella format.
I think short stories and novellas are tough in romance for exactly that reason: not enough time to develop the relationship. I think the solutions are to either have the people already in a relationship and this is the final act leading to commitment, or the story is the first meet ending with optimism but no commitment. It’s just too hard to get a span of time in a short story and still establish emotional connections. Easier but still hard in a novella.
Now that you mention it, I think a lot of my favorite romance novellas (if not most) fall into one of those two categories. I tend to like friends to lovers and rivals to lovers type stories anyways, and I think those tropes lend themselves well to novellas. Although I can think of exceptions.
I agree, I think the length of a novella makes first-meeting-to-firm-commitment romance too long a journey for the road actually available.
I think short fiction, in general, tends to work much better in sf/f than in romance, since sf/f is often a premise-based or “idea” genre rather than a relationship-building genre. You can explore an idea in 30 pages; much harder to introduce complex characters and build a permanent and fulfilling relationship between them in 30 pages, or even 100 pages. Romance tends to be a novel-length genre, IMO.
I read a (sort of) romance novella the other day that I enjoyed–and almost certainly because it has the structure you mention; when it opens, the characters have already been together for 2 years. So they’re dealing with an already-committed, serious relationship in 20K words, rather than trying to start, build, and cement one in 20K words; and it’s believable and makes sense that there’s emotional intimacy and hot sex between them in that short stretch of story road, since they’re already in love.
I think the key to the sf novella is that you don’t have to build a relationship. It’s not that sf doesn’t do relationships, it’s that it doesn’t have to, while romance is ABOUT the relationship. And it’s damn hard to do a first-meet-to-committment relationship story in 20,000 words, but you can do other conflicts in 20,000 words believably.
So, while I’ve read Hot Toy twice and have greatly enjoyed it, I haven’t read the other two novellas. I’ve read the other two authors and don’t consider them needing a push in their career. I also tend to think of their stories as sort of light, funny contemporaries, especially Phillips. Foster will detour into other areas. I’m surprised what they wrote was more steamy. Perhaps I’ll read them one day.
I also wanted to comment that Christms novellas are probably the exact right size story to try to squeeze into the busyiness of the season. I also think that the fact that Hot Toy featured a very real problem – finding the exact toy that every child wanted after it has been way sold out – with the over the top, never going to happen, Chinese spies really helps a frantic parent laugh and destress. Remember, it could be worse and probably will get there. 🙂 Anyway, I’ll likely buy the rewrite just to see what you changed.
I read it several years ago, and I haven’t re-read it, so take this with more than a couple grains of salt. From what I remember, I liked the characters and the banter and I had a lot of fun reading it, but I didn’t believe the vast majority of it. In hindsight and from reading the other comments, I’m guessing that had to do with the pacing, some details that didn’t really seem anchored in the story, and Trudy not having something she wanted for herself. It was fun, and I was happy I bought it, but it was more 30 Rock than Parks and Rec – sharp and funny, but without the warmth and community I normally find in your books.
I remember liking both Trudy and Nolan. But also my tolerance for jerks dropped rapidly in the last couple years, so I can’t say for sure what I’d think now.
Generally I avoid novellas – price, authors who would clearly like a little more or a little less space, etc. – but I have to say I love Courtney Milan’s. Some of the ways she gets around having things feel rushed is by having the characters already know each other (like you did), using selected days/ scenes spanning a longer time frame (which wouldn’t really work here), and by sticking to simple stories in worlds I already know from her other series (again, doesn’t apply here).
Good luck! Out of curiosity, do you find it harder or easier to re-write something that you wrote this long ago?
Easier because I know my craft better.
Harder because I’ve changed which means my voice has changed which means it’s like rewriting somebody else’s story and trying to stay true to that writer rather than the writer I am now. Sometimes it just doesn’t work and I have to let go of it.
I read Santa Baby but years ago, so in general I liked that they weren’t falling into bed after just meeting while a hail of bullets whined over head. I hate that in romance novellas. They are tough for me as I hate insta-love and when the hero’s been a jerk, I like to see lots of grovelling before he’s accepted instead of insta-trust after jerkdom which I also hate. That said I loved the banter between the two and cannot wait to read the new version!
Oops, just realized I posted comments in the newer thread. I won’t repeat that, but here are responses to your specific points, as somebody who loves and rereads the story a lot.
1) Lack of character development (disagree, it fits the form)
This is like the sufficient-romance bit. The characters were vivid, because they effectively inherited their back stories. Courtney is surprisingly vivid, even with such limited space, which is amazing. Reese felt off, which seemed more like an age thing to me – he wasn’t plausible in the context of the department, not in the larger-than-life plot.
2) Ridiculous, over the top plot. (agree)
Yes. Entirely appropriate to the form, and very fun. Didn’t bother me at all.
3) Short on romance/no heat.: (mostly disagree, factor of the form)
It was in the back story, and seemed to carry into the story well. Nolan and Trudy ‘clicked,’ but there could certainly be more sizzle in a longer form.
4) Unsympathetic characters: Trudy is shrill, Nolan is a jerk. (disagree)
I liked Trudy and Nolan and their interactions.
Interesting. Will work on Reese. I stuck him in the dept. because I needed him to be known to both, but that may have been a mistake. Must recall grad school years.
It’s hard to say he should be more plausible in the context of the deliberately exaggerated plot, but it does sort of toss me out of the story each time.
For what it’s worth (not much – sciences are different and I don’t write fiction, so take this with a grain of salt), I could probably believe him as history with a concentration in Asia or something, or, better, as a work-study undergrad/transfer and make him flakey about major picking. Nowhere he’d need the language, but would still have reason to interact with all three of them and make “ring run from the department” plausible. Or I’d think he would need to be cast as a bit less of a putz, though I love “as the most inept RA of his career” line.
As I remember (this was a long time ago), I was going for the idea that he was a plant, not a real RA. But I was never an RA, I was a TA. I should have gone that route. I have YEARS of experience at that. And I’ve known a lot of inept TAs.
Re-reading now, RA switch for Reese to TA sounds like a good idea. I like the remarks about Barbie and Trudy’s Dad, and I think the nephew’s phone conversation with Trudy works well. Nolan’s quick wrapping paper fix is a nice touch. The fighting and using the cow as a distraction were fun also. “Aunt Trudy had a Mac for you,…” is a great line, and the tie in with “It fell off the sleigh…” was smooth. I am also partial to the way the Mac One re-appeared, duct tape and all. Have fun with the re-write!
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