Turn Up the Heart

We’re due for another 100+ degree day here in Western Maryland, complete with bugs, humidity, and a strong possibility of thunderstorms, and yet, I will tell you, heat for an author is not just a good thing, it’s the factor that makes or breaks a novel, and more is better.

By heat, I do not necessarily mean erotic content. Sherry Thomas’ recently released Ravishing The Heiress” has exactly one major hot scene in the book, 222 pages into a 300 page read, and that scene is between a man and woman who’ve been married for eight years and are on the verge of a civil separation. This book has gotten raves from PW, Romantic Times, and the Library Journal, and well it should.

Why? Because the author makes an impossible pressure cooker out of the tried and true love triangle, with twists, and loops and bends that would break wrought iron—but it doesn’t break these characters, it refines and strengthens them.

A diamond is a lump of coal subjected to extremes of heat and pressure. So too, does applying “heat” to our characters, propel them from their damaged selves at the beginning of a book to a much stronger, healed version of the same people at the end of the book–people capable of loving and being loved.

The link between heat and character transformation is old. When Dante wanted to show the utter absence of hope, a static and most terrible hell, he didn’t use heat. For the innermost circle of hell, he used the image of a sinner frozen up to the neck in ice—and that’s a powerful image. In current usage, we refer to trial by fire, the hot seat, or taking the heat, all in reference to situations that challenge what we’re made of.

My first job out of college was as a proposal coordinator for a government contractor. Proposals are how such companies win new business and survive in the marketplace, the deadlines are utterly inflexible, and sometimes we had one week to generate a 300 page document that in theory wasn’t supposed to sport a single typo. I learned what I was made of.

In my next job, I worked more than full time, and went to law school five nights a week.Then came single parenting…

In life, heat descends on us. During a spell of hot weather, we know to stay in the shade, stay hydrated, and avoid overexertion. During a hot spell in our lives, we similarly learn how to cope, how to grow under duress, and how creative and resilient we can be—even as we long for the shade and a cool breeze. So too in a good book, an author will turn up the heat on the characters, and then turn it up some more.

In my life, romance novels have always been the shade and the cool breeze, the place I could go to forget the deadlines and impossible co-workers, the cases that ended in disaster.

How do you cope with either the hot spells in life, or the hot spells we’re enduring this summer? To one commenter below, I’ll send a signed copy of the ARC for “Lady Louisa’s Christmas Knight,” which come to think of it, deals with a lady on a hot seat, so to speak.


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29 comments on “Turn Up the Heart

  1. Through the many intense spells of “heat” in my life, I’ve found that laughter is most often the best method of coping. Being able to find that one humorous angle of any situation, however twisted or off center it may be, makes the whole situation seem less threatening and much more tolerable.

    As far as dealing with the summer temperatures and humidity of the southeastern US, there’s not much you can do other than stay out of the sun, enjoy icy drinks, and dream of the cooler months to come!

    • Unless your William Faukner, and then you write Southern Gothics, and become a literary icon… You’re right about the laughter, and the immunological benefits of laughing–even if nothing is funny per se–are enormous.

  2. Do you think back on the time when you were working, going to school, raising children and wonder how you did it? My last semester of college I worked seven days a week and thought nothing of it. Looking back, I wonder how I didn’t go crazy.
    These days when it all seems to go south, I just hunker down and wait for it to pass. A few years ago I had a bracelet made that says “It will all be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

    • Sabrina, I suspect in part I did it by whacking the daylights out of my immune system. I ended up with autoimmune thyroid disease in my thirties, which is about twenty years ahead of schedule for most women.

      I also “coped” by losing track of what indicates fatigue in me. I got in the habit of getting up early, whether I was rested or not. Breaking that habit has been wonderful fun.

  3. I could complain about the weather we are having here that is in the 90’s but that is no where near 100, so I have no right to complain and should be happy we are cooler in Ohio.

    For the heat spells in life I generally go and talk to one of those few friends who seem to understand everything and are willing to help you move through things. Now if that doesn’t work I always keep at least one book in my purse and I’ll just take it out and read it. There’s something about reading a good book and getting so lost in it. When I have a really bad problem and nothing seems to work, a good book and a few hours generally make a world of a difference.

    As for dealing with the heat, I will admit I do not like heat once so ever, give me snow and I am much happier. On the extremely hot days I will most likely stay inside where it’s cool.

    Thank you so much for the chance to win a ARC from you.

    • Tiffany, this weekend, with its dangerous heat, has reminded me of “snow days.” We know they’re coming, we stock pile the necessities, we check in everybody else, then get comfy in the house for a few days. I wonder if we’ll see a crop of “heat wave babies,” like we sometimes have “blizzard babies” in the fall.

      • You mention that and I do have to agree. When at the store recently I tried to stock up on anything I might need, because who really wants to go out in this heat and sweat? I have one friend who is absolutely loving it, but that’s it. We might see some “heat wave babies” I have a few friends that could definitely happen for.

  4. The hot spells in my life have been many. Wonderful life until divorce, then single parenting, problems kids, 2 and 3 jobs, having to move, poor paying jobs, and on and on.

    If I didn’t have a sense of humor I probably would have given up years ago. But I have to laugh at how I ended up at this place in my life. Sometimes people ask about my ‘story’ and I tell them, then I get the ‘oh I’m so sorry’. No, I’m not looking for pity, just to let people know that no matter how hot it gets, you can get through it with laughter, friends, and for me, faith that God is talking care of me and there is more excitement ahead.

    • Sheila, there’s a book in there somewhere. It also sounds like you’d be a great fit with the books by author Susan Donovan. They’re called romantic comedies, but the content is often anything but funny. What makes us laugh is that the characters have that resilient, honest, sense of humor in even the most challenging situations.

      • Thanks Grace, I’ll look her up.
        Life is very strange, never turns out the way you expected.
        Love all your books.

  5. Getting through the ‘hot’ spells in life, I rely on humor, music and prayer. And support of those that care about me. It’s not always easy to divulge major traumas in one’s life, so often times, we can only rely on ourselves and the stength inside of us. As far as the heat of summer, cool baths, air conditioning, cold iced tea and hot books get me through.

  6. I love getting in the water to cool off in the summer, but for the hot spots in life, I’ve found music and reading to be wonderful cures!

    • Claire, I do not recall a time when I didn’t know how to swim, or when a trip to the pool or the farm pond wasn’t an occasion for fun. My mom didn’t know how to swim and was afraid of the water, so she made sure all seven of us weren’t similarly afflicted.

  7. I LOVE Grace’s books and would LOVE to have and ARC of this one!!!
    I have found that when life gets really bad I remind myself that “this too shall pass”. Usually after a good night’s sleep the world looks so much better… and cooler.
    Physically, I find that being by or in the water helps to cool one down also. Thanksfully I live in South Florida and water is never to far away. The ocean also has a very calming effect on me and works well with my “this too shall pass”. Best wishes with the new book. I am truely looking forward to it!!

    • Betty, my mom used to tell me, “Don’t make decisions when you’re tired. Things will look better in the morning.” She was right, and you are right: This too shall pass.

    • In that vein, Mary, I’m surprised at how well “Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish” is STILL selling. I mean, c’mon, people. It’s JULY. Maybe that chilly, snowy, cozy setting is mental air conditioning.

      • I just re-read Lady Sophie last month. I needed the winter imagery to save me from the rising temps outside. 🙂

  8. I have realized that hot spells in life will burn itself out, in due time. It didn’t come easy understanding that such is life; there are hard times and there are good times. How I approach a current hot issue determines the ‘coolness’ of the outcome.

    Refreshing, renewing, reliable cold shower, is my answer to hot, summer days – several times, if needed – nothing quite like it!

  9. I deal with the heat this summer by staying in the A/C as much as possible. When I can’t, I rely on lots of ice-cold drinks.

  10. For crazy hot weather I too hide inside with the AC, a good book, and cool washcloths imbued with drops of lavender essential oil.
    For life’s hot spots now I remain still, consider how things may unfold. Often the best response is to not respond.

    • Larisa, you remind us that fight or flight is a false dichotomy. A lot of animals who blend well with their environment get through tight spots by freezing, and using that ability to blend in. Somebody told me once that’s where the long-ear’s tendency to be “stubborn” comes from. When they’re not sure, or not happy, they hold still and let the situation sort itself out.

  11. A little off topic, I can so relate to inflexible deadlines and don’t you dare have a single typo/style error…. “Why didn’t you catch that this blank space has the wrong format applied?!@#%^&!”

    • After I’d been up for about three straight days on that job, sleeping in the dark room, living on delivery food, I missed a typo in the company newsletter (greatful for grateful), and the company president came to my office to read my beads.

      Guess who started looking for a new job that day?

  12. When things are going badly for me, I think I must keep a part of my mind aware that things aren’t usually so difficult. For the most part, the hard times don’t last very long. Deep breaths, time away, a good night’s sleep – these are the things that fill the time until some more perspective can be gained, and a plan made to recover from whatever happened.

    • Catherine, your point reminds me of why having my elders this late into my life is such a blessing. They’ve seen EVERYTHING. I was visiting mom and dad once upon a time when my daughter proposed to drive herself from Seattle to DC with all her worldly goods, two cats, and her pet rats. WHAT a dither I was. I should fly up to Seattle to drive with her. I should have her car driven home and fly her and her stuff…. I should, I should…
      My dad was vastly entertained. He pointed out to me that sooner or later, this kid was going to drive herself, all by herself, to some place far away, and I couldn’t mother hen her. At her age, he’d been on Navy destroyer in the Pacific theater, hoping to live long enough to see his honey again.
      I told her to charge up her cell phone and drive carefully, and she solo’d without a hitch.