Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Romance’

Who — or what — are your characters?

My brain has been on overload the last couple of weeks as I published one book and started on another. Family obligations and scheduling conflicts added to the overload. So the other day I gave up, pulled out my Kindle Oasis and read. Just read. For more than 12 hours, I let my imagination go where several different authors took it. One book was traditionally published and several were indie books. Each had their strong and weak points. Each came to mind when I read a post and the accompanying comments on The Passive Voice yesterday.

PG quoted from a New York Times article telling us we need more diversity in romance novels. Read more

The Erogenous Zone

Most romance writers these days – or their editors, trolling (that was a typo from telling, but I’m leaving it!) them to write what sells – are under the impression that they know where all the erogenous zones are, and they march through the checklist with their characters to steam their work up. While I don’t have a problem with smut, it does sell, I do have a problem with many literary (and probably film, although I’ve seen less of that due to censorship laws, thank goodness) depictions of sex. They miss the point entirely.

You see, the erogenous zone where you want to hit the reader is not located between the legs or on the chest or face or wherever… It’s wrapped up inside the bony case of the skull and can’t be touched directly. Especially for a reader, if you want to make a book reek of sex, you must get inside their head. Once in there, you’ll realize that their imaginations are all different, unique, and you couldn’t possibly write sex scenes that would turn every reader on…

I joke that I am a sapiosexual, but it’s not entirely a joke. What attracted me first to the person I later married wasn’t anything physical. I’m not sure I’d even seen a picture of him before we were good friends and slowly moving toward flirting. I fell for his mind, not his body. Readers are, more often than not, similarly inclined. Which means that to seduce them with a book, you are appealing directly to the erogenous zone of their brain.

It’s not that I would never write out a sex scene blow-by-blow. It’s that I think I would be failing my readers to do so. My idea of what is good sexytimes is almost certainly not theirs. Sure, there are sex acts that are the same the world over, but sex is -and ought to be – far more intricate a dance than simply ‘insert tab A into slot B’ which gets frankly boring to write more than once, not to mention the tediousness of finding euphemisms for the equipment involved.

I’d rather write up to a certain part and leave the rest to the reader to interpret according to what heats up their own personal erogenous zone. There are several ways to accomplish this: closing the bedroom door on your lovers completely, wandering in their with them and only describing high points, describing action up til their subconscious takes over, or the romance genre stroke-by-stroke method. I’ve written the first, the last, and then dumped those scenes. My preference as a writer and a reader is some combination of the first two options. But I’m not writing erotica… That would be a whole ‘nother post, not for this blog.

The other big objection I have to many romance novels (or in my recent cranky rant about mystery novels that are really romance novels) is the whole ‘we’ve just met, we instantly fell in love let’s f*ck’ which isn’t fun to read. I want more literary foreplay, I don’t know about you. I also object to love in all the wrong places, by which I mean sex in the midst of a running gunfight, or while the pair are being held captive by a psychopath (and he’s on the other side of the door), or… I recognize that adrenaline rush does weird things. I prefer my characters to not be a raging ball of uncontrollable libido.

I’m willing to bet if I asked folks to list what their favorite sexy but not explicit book was in the comments, I’d get as varied a list as we have readers. Because everyone’s erogenous zone is unique.

Follow-up

I promised I’d report back on the promotion I did for Pixie Noir. I realize there wasn’t a lot of interest in that post, but I did say I would, so you can skip this part in good conscience.

The highest sales peak of other books in the series came ten days after the start of the free days. To my surprise, sales of Pixie Noir itself were up slightly after the promotion as well. I suspect the momentum bumped it up on people’s radar and on Amazon as well. As of now, I have four new reviews on PN, all favorable, all obviously from new readers. The also-bot profile for the book has changed significantly, being Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy but not Correia and Butcher, more romance-style, for better or for worse.

Finally, my KU reads for the whole series tripled with the advent of the promo – and have stayed almost steady at that level for two weeks now. The First Reader asked me when I would break even from the expenditure, shortly after the end of the giveaway, and I gotten up sales only… And was already in the black. So it’s been well worth the investment already.

 

 

 

 

 

Trendy Trendsetters, All

There are trends, and then there are trends.

Look at it this way: you could be trendy and buy jeans with fake dirt on them, for $425. Frankly, I raised an eyebrow when I first saw this go viral, because it’s an interesting psychological study. We are, culturally, fetishizing the working man. Think about it. It’s like guys buying used women’s underwear. It makes them feel like they’re sexy. Dirty pants? Sexy also, I guess. I mean, look at this book cover, and tell me that guy isn’t wearing dirty pants. For that matter, it you scroll through the romance listings, you’ll quickly note that there are some strong trends, and two of them are rich guys (who presumably could afford the fake-dirty jeans) and tough guys (who presumably don’t need no fake-dirty jeans). There are a LOT of writers putting out stories for the trends. But what happens when the trends end?

I suspect there’s a growing market segment that would like to see more sweet romance. I know I hear that from people I talk to – and the one romance I’ve indulged in, I kept sweet. Not just because my Mom and grandma were going to read it (Hi, Mom!) but because it worked better for the characters. I didn’t see a need to write to a trend. I’m not knocking it – there are writers making a ton of money because they are playing to the market and surfing the wave. I just can’t do it myself.

But then there are other trends. The ones that slowly build, and build, and then suddenly take off like a rocket. Susannah Martin interviewed Brad Torgerson and I about the self-publishing trend, and I highly recommend you click on over to her article.

But don’t forget to come back here after!

It’s not that I have anything else exciting to say… Oh, who am I kidding. I have a book.

Persistence has paid off, and two long years after the publication of my last novel, my seventh novel is now available for sale. It’s not out in print yet – that will be about two weeks from now. I could probably just not bother, but it is rather nice to hold this hefty chunk of paper in one’s hand and say ‘I wrote this.’ Right now, I’m looking at all of you out there, readers, because I know most of you are also writers. Two things: one, don’t give up on the story even if you feel like you can’t do this, or you can’t do this fast, or life is in the way of it happening. Keep working on it when you can. I got to a few points with this book where I was doggone good and ready to give up on it. Even my First Reader couldn’t help much, he was too close to it. In the dedication I thank my Mom, and one of my best friends, who both read it as alpha readers (before it was done) and egged me on to finish it. Mom actually was reading it as I wrote the end, because I was working on it in a shared Google Doc file. It was funny to see her colored cursor following mine as the words came out on paper, er, screen, and to have the comments in the side bar when I goofed up, or she wanted clarification on a thing. I wouldn’t recommend that for most situations, but it really did help me finish. I had to, so Mom could read it all!

Second, whack your inner perfectionist on the head and gag her. This book isn’t what I started out to write. Which is not to say that I don’t think I’ve produced a good book – it’s not the book I’d intended. It grew organically in ways I didn’t expect. But Cedar, I can hear you say, you’re a pantser, don’t they all go that way? Sort of. Only they don’t all take two years to finish. I think the longest I’ve taken before this is the Eternity Symbiote, and it’s got issues, being my first novel written and with a half-assed ending. I changed, as a person, my life was radically different, by the ending of the tale. That affects my writing. And that’s why I needed the reassurance from early readers that yes, I was on the right track, and no, I didn’t need to scrap it all.

My main concern was that the pacing was too slow, and that the characters would develop erratically. In the end, I think that although there’s not a lot of action – and by that I mean exciting combat scenes – the pacing does work. And I think that the growth arc is consistent. But I couldn’t see that while I was in the middle of it. I encourage you to not rely on your own perceptions if you are working on a similar problem with your writing.

Oh! Check out the awesome blurb Dorothy Grant created for the book!

When the starship’s captain died midway through a run with a cargo of exotic animals, the owner gave first mate Jem one chance, and one choice. The chance: if he successfully runs the trade route solo, he’ll become the new captain. If he fails, he’ll lose the only home he’s ever known.

And the choice? He’s now raising an old earth animal called a basset hound. Between station officials, housebreaking, pirates, and drool, Jem’s got his hands full!

Writing a Love Story

What is love?

Since I can’t possibly answer that simple question fully in the constraints of the post, I’ll satisfy myself with keeping it short: Love is wanting only the best for the one that is loved with no expectation of anything in return.

Not enough? No, it really isn’t, is it.

Let me try again. English is a wonderful language, and I’m glad I know it. The way it absorbs useful words, the way spelling can be creative, the homonyms… But the one place where it really falls flat on it’s little nose is the single word ‘love.’ We love our parents, our children, our cars, our food, the view of the sunset… One word. It hardly seems sufficient to encompass this emotion we term love. Are we really putting all that on one plane?

The Ancient Greeks had three words for love. Eros, Philos, and Agape: sexual or sensual love, brotherly love, and a pure love that was said to be of divine origin and the most selfless of them. I’m not going to get into the cultural context here, I’m just going to use them to categorize love a little more neatly than the English language allows with it’s single word.

All too often when you pick up a book that has a romance in it in these modern times, it’s all about the sex. All sex all the time… I have no objections to sex. But sex is not love, something that seems to have been missed in many books. Eros, lust, these things can happen and have a place in a book, but they are not love.

Love is not always between a man and a woman, either. We can find literary examples of pure, unselfish love – Agape – in places like Silas Marner, Black Beauty, and Where the Red Fern Grows among many others. I’ve included two books where animals are the focus on purpose. There is a subgenre I dub ‘boy and his dog’ which also includes girls, horses, and it is a portrait of the love that connects a mute animal straight to the heart of a human. Writing this connection can be heart-piercing, I can think of few books that will make me cry harder than Greyfriars Bobby, and I grew up loving and reading all of Jim Kjelgaard’s books.

My First Reader recently reread Big Red, and remarked on something about it that bothered him. It had taken him a while to put a finger on it. The main character, he pointed out, was seventeen, and not at all interested in girls or sex. He just wanted to hunt the woods with his dog. Does it say something about us, in the culture we have soaked with sex, that this seems unnatural to read now? The young adult books my teens read are much more concerned with boys and girls and falling in love, and sex is very much a part of that. A love story with no hints of sex might seem strange to kids these days.

One of the other things we lose with this rush toward Eros for all the love stories is the philos aspect. Brotherly, or comradely, love: the platonic ideal. How many stories have you read recently where there was a man and a woman and they loved one another enough to lay down their life for the friend… but there was no sex? Not many, for me… And how many stories have you read about two men (or two women) who loved one another that much, and still, there was no sex (or worse, crippling doubt implied because they couldn’t love as it might mean they were *gasp* gay).

In too many books I find paper-doll characters made out of thin cardboard and being mushed up together with kissy noises being made as they are moved through a parody of love and sex like marionettes. Love is many-faceted and yet authors fall into the trap of looking at only one – at most two  – facet. Which yields a flat story.

That isn’t to say that there are no great love stories out there. I have read many, and suggest that before you start writing, you think about love. We tend, as authors, to focus on the conflict, the hates, the crises… and not on what love can do for our story. Love gives support, offers a refuge, gives our hero something to hold onto when he’s about to break. Hope and love walk hand in hand.

Something that annoys me – and when I stop to think it through, disturbs me – is the treatment of love in series. I’ve been reading mysteries recently, three different series, and they all share a common thing: the hero’s love interest doesn’t last long. In one series, the hero is happily married in the beginning, his wife dies of cancer, he takes a lover who is killed, he is sexually attracted to his grad student, he takes a lover who turns out to be the killer (but wrongfully persecuted, natch)… In another series the hard-bitten old cop has run through three wives, before the series even starts, and then in the series has no less than three relationships in five books… in another series the hero is less promiscuous but no less ambivalent to his on-again-off-again lover… While I can understand the need to introduce conflict into each book, I can’t help but think about James Bond, who had a girl in every port, and how that can’t be healthy. While I know there are series out there which have long-running happily married characters, I can’t help but wonder if the frequent break-ups and easy sex in series is a cop-out for the author who feels they need some personal angst to go along with the overarching plot of the books.

I’m not saying to not write sex. Intimacy can be a wonderful thing to read about, although personally I know how tab B fits into slot A and I’d rather let my imagination take over as the bedroom door shuts. But there are bits of scenes that can fit in there – a moment of sheer silliness like tickling your lover, the moment of whispering in the dark that seals a connection – that can be powerful, alluring, and don’t get into the gory details. Eros, Philos, and Agape all are part of the ideal romantic relationship, I was taught.

In a book, as in life, we need more than love. But love can add a dimension to our characters that was missing, can flesh out a story into something beautiful. Love can be filial, can be passionate, can be the lifeline you throw your hero, or the string that draws him into deeper trouble trying to help his loved one. If we’re going to play marionettes, let’s make them dance, not just fuck. Dum vivamus, vivamus!

I asked in a couple of places for a list of love stories that people connected with. What books, other than straight romance titles, did people like to read as love stories? The response was huge, and I’ve put that list over at my blog, for those of you in search of a good love story. More than one person commented that they love a book about deep sacrificial love. And I think that’s a good use of the word love!

A Newbies Guide to Romance

Ah, romance. Everyone thinks something different when they hear it, and especially when you are talking about the literary genre called Romance. For one thing, it can be argued that tales as far back as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe were romances, as in the romanticized tales of action and adventure, in which the guy always got the girl. In a more strict sense, the Romance genre began with Jane Austen’s comedy of manners tales of wooing, marriage, and slowly developed relationships. Now? Well, when I started talking about writing a romance, this is what my First Reader told me he thought of when he heard the term.

When I went looking for a: nurse, romance, cover, there were so many that came up it was hard to choose one. This one with the Wizard of Oz floating head was just weird enough I couldn’t resist.

The problem with romance is that this is what the typical romance novel is, especially the harlequin books of the 60’s which was the last time I read one. Nurse Jane loves Dr John, who is handsome and everything she wants. Dr John is caring for terminally ill patient Clara. Nurse Jane is sure Dr John loves Patient Clara. Patient Clara is actually Dr John’s sister/mother/aunt, and would love to see Jane and John together. Dr John loves Nurse Jane, but doesn’t know how to approach such a ravishing beauty, he’s sure he’s not worthy. Patient Clara pushes them together. Sparks fly, there is an explosion, they break up, but true love wins out and they get back together. If Patient Clara is terminal or not, she’s at the wedding, if she’s terminal, it’s her last act before she dies.

So… well, the good thing is that’s no longer a common theme in romances, although I swear I’ve read something like this myself. You see, when I was younger, and we lived out in the deep woods, 5 miles or more from the library, I used to read every book in the house, even the Harlequin romances my mother thought she had hidden (sorry, Mom). It didn’t take me long (at the age of ten or eleven) to figure out that the one thing romances have in common is a formula. More than any other genre, Romance is full of comfort reads, which means that the readers expect to see certain things. Perhaps the most firmly set-in-stone rule is the HEA (happily ever after) ending. Heaven help you if you write one without that.

I’m really not kidding, folks, Harlequin (whom I’m using as an exemplar because this is the publisher most people associate with Romance, although I strongly recommend you go read this before you even consider submitting to them. Submission to Harlequin is like going all 50 Shades on the author doing so, and not in a good way). Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes, Harlequin has a specific template of what they want to see in manuscripts to this day. For any of you considering writing and indie-publishing romance, this isn’t a bad place to start, to get an idea of what readers will expect to see in your work.

Can you get away with not writing to a formula? Yes, maybe, I don’t know? I’m trying, with what I’m writing. I’m really sick of the neverending TSTL heroines (too stupid to live) I remember from reading illicit romances as a girl. On the other hand, some authors and books made strong impressions on me, and them I wouldn’t mind emulating. Gaudy Night, for instance, Dorothy Sayer’s romantic mystery tale of how Lord Peter and Harriet finally got together.

“But when he entered, she knew that the image had been a false one. He came into the quiet room as though he belonged there, and had never belonged to any other place.” And a little later, “Harriet could find nothing to say to him. She had fought him for five years, and found out nothing but his strength; now, withn half an hour, he had exposed all his weaknesses, on after the other. And she could not in honesty say ‘why didn’t you tell me before?’ because she knew perfectly well what the answer ought to be. Fortunately, he did not seem to expect any comment.”

Now this is such an understated love-affair you can almost miss the undercurrents that are in play, the give-and-take that make a real relationship, one outside the covers of a book, one that might last the undertow of time. Unlike the explosions and flames of the trite stories.

Another author I grew up reading – couldn’t help it, given my name, and everything – is Zane Grey. Between him, and Louis L’Amour, I was steeped in a Western romance until it flavoured much of my outlook. I pulled Maverick Queen off the shelf to find an exemplar passage to share, and this one is colorful enough.

“The sheriff shoved open the door to reveal Lucy, clad in a new becoming blue costume with a small bunch of flowers adorning her coat. To Lincoln it seemed that he had never seen anything so beautiful as the blue of her eyes or the flush that tinged her cheek.

‘Go on in, young lady,’ said the sheriff. ‘He looks kinda like he might want to see you after all… Wal, young folks, I’ll lock this gate and stand guard.’ He closed the door, chuckling to himself. For and instant they stood looking into each other’s eyes; then she literally ran into his arms.”

Here we see a more floral language, and open sentimentality that suits the style of the era it was written in, although it may seem strange to our modern sensibilities. Another of my old-school favorites is The Harvester, by Gene Stratton Porter. Literally floral, in this case, the story of a man who made his living growing and harvesting medicinal herbs. There’s a strong thread of mysticism in this book, as there is in many of her tales.

“’Six years,’ said the Girl softly, as she studied him. ‘I think it has set a mark on you. I believe I can trace it. Your forehead, brow, and eyes bear the lines and the appearance of all experience, but your lips are those of a very young lad. I shouldn’t be surprised if I had that kiss ready for you, and I really believe I can make it worth while.’

“Oh, good Lord!” cried the Harvester, turning a backward somersault over the railing and starting in big bounds up the drive toward the stable. He passed around it and into the woods at a rush, and a few seconds later from somewhere on top of the hill his strong, deep voice swept down, “Glory, glory hallelujah!’”

Even for a book published in 1911 that seems like a funny reaction to the offer of a kiss, but as I said, this is one of my favorite romance tales (she’s been very ill, you see, and he really thought she was dying). I think a lot of my favorite romances fall into the historical settings, like the works of Georgette Heyer, which I recommend for many reasons, not just if you’re thinking about writing romance.

See, here’s the thing. Many, many books have romantic elements in them, without being straight romance. Falling in love is a universal. Pairing off is as natural as breathing. Sometimes there is drama, other times you fit together like to puzzle pieces, and it’s not dramatic at all, just comfort, warmth, and mutual support.

How about modern romance? First, I suggest if you’re interested in learning more about it, you start haunting the blog of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. It’s an education, for sure. I really enjoy some of their snarkier moments, but also, reviews like this one of Lady Windermere’s Lover give you a thumbnail sketch of what’s popular, and reading the comments tells you why.

Secondly, be aware that Romance is a very broad category. Within that, you can find paranormal romance, Western romance, and many more. Type it into Amazon and take a look at the things that pop up, or go here and take a look at the sheer variety of what’s out there. When I was prepping Farmhand, I categorized it as a Romance, and Western Romance, as it involves a modern couple living on a farm out west (sort of Montana, although I was vague about locale, as my mother pointed out, it could well be in Eastern Oregon).

Finally, because I could say a lot more, but this post is getting on the very long side of my usual offerings here, don’t be afraid to write Romance. It’s not always about the tropes. Sometimes it’s about love, family, and life. Focusing on character development, letting your readers get all warm and fuzzy inside without blowing up worlds, well, there’s nothing wrong with that. Big stories about saving the world are good, but so are the little intimate ones about the perpetuation of the human race (ultimately… first, they meet, then they kiss…)

Oh, and you will note I didn’t even get into sex. Not that it doesn’t belong in Romance, but IMHO it’s not what the story is all about. If it is, then it’s properly Erotica, a whole ‘nother ball of wax. By the way, if you don’t have sex onscreen with your romance, you’ll note that the word ‘sweet’ indicates this kind of romance for people searching for their love stories sans smut.

Love is…. holding the cabinet door while your man gets the hinges on straight.

Love is… making your sweetie eat a good breakfast before an exam.

Love is… sneaking up behind her while her hands are in the dishwater and tickling her.

Love is…

Farmhand cover finalAnd now, the moment of self-promotion. I have just released a sweet Western Romance, Farmhand. It appears under an open penname, because I know that some of my fans will shy away from anything romance related, and down the road when I have fans of my romances and mysteries that I plan to write, some of them will not appreciate the close encounters with pixies, ogres, and exploding spaceships of my other persona. If you read and enjoy it, please leave a review, as that will help others know what they are looking at when they find it.

Romantic men, part II

The title of my last piece got me thinking. Yes, I know, you could smell the wood burning so you knew the grate brain was turning over. I am sure other people still have wood-fired boilers powering their steam-driven brains too.

It struck me, that, based on the popularity Downton Abbey, what women really wanted in a man was someone else to do the cooking dusting and washing-up for them. Oh and a toffee-nose accent. I can do that at a push, but real life confirms that most women choose to marry — and stay married to — ordinary men, who excel at flatulence and beer rather than hot potato accents and Champagne, and who are not precisely the acme of gentility. In fact, observation suggests that women often crowd around the sort Downton antithesis, which may may explain why genetic selection has not evolved men of us into weak-chinned but ever so noble chaps with spiffing accents.

Now as someone of the heterosexual and male ilk, I honestly don’t really know (any more than heterosexual women would know precisely what pushes male buttons. Males are generally less subtle than women and easier to watch, but they too play to the audience.) just what makes some men the romantic daydream, and some really nice-seeming, keen-on-relationship guys seem to have a kind of really nice-seeming girl repelling fields. The converse seems as true – I’ve met -as a happily married guy a lot of single women where I wonder if the males on the planet have lost their minds – and a lot ‘orrible baggages with some poor guy, where I _know_ at that particular guy lost his mind (and probably his money, and self-confidence). It’s rather like books: there is a perfect match for each person out there somewhere but so often it gets missed. So I was curious: just what is the dreamboat? It does seem to change with every age – I look at the idols of men in paintings from the 16th century and wonder whether it’s just tastes or if women were uglier then? Look at the film stars of half a century ago… not all of them wear it well… and some do. Look at tastes in traditional African society, and Naomi Campbell would have been the girl on the shelf, desperately trying to fatten up. Apparently this was true in Scotland, or at least in the Hebrides too, which has its own genetic possibilities.

And is the dreamboat romantic hero something in real life and something else entirely in print? So: opinions please. I want to write them right. Is appearances or is all in our heads? I’ve tried –

should be a link to one of my romances (I cut it to 99 cents. I’d make it free but I would have to take it down from Smashwords) and I’d be curious to know from anyone who read whether he was romantic hero or not? The physical description is sparse. And before you ask, there is no sex.

And a Merry Christmas to you and all of yours!