Archive for October, 2012

Here I wait…

Anyone get that song lyric? No? GTR. Anybody? Bueller? Now that I’ve dated myself, let’s move on. (And no, I’m not linking to REO Speedwagon’s “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” I will link to The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” ๐Ÿ™‚ )

I am indeed waiting. I am right in the path of Hurricane Sandy, the “Frankenstorm.” Schools are closed, chairs are in the shed, Halloween decorations have been taken in, and we filled up pitchers of water just in case. We’ve also found our flashlights, batteries, radios (hey, a radio!) and did our shopping run. I have to say I found it highly amusing that creamy peanut butter was the survival food of choice. At my Walmart, the creamy PB was pretty much gone, although many jars of crunchy remained. I decided I wasn’t going to pay >$3/jar for creamy when I had some at home, along with crunchy.

It’s a weird thing to be waiting like this. In one sense it’s kind of fascinating that these days, we get so much warning on storms (last summer’s derecho notwithstanding, I guess). We can watch them from up close, from far away, we can watch as the outer bands of the storm come in, and as cameras blow around when the big stuff hits.

And isn’t it funny how everyone becomes an instant expert after a few hours’ exposure to The Weather Channel? Suddenly you can talk about bands, pressure, eyes, vectors, etc., as though you minored in meteorology.

This looks like serious stuff, no doubt. I’m pleased to see precautions, even big ones like evacuating the NJ coast, in place. I lived on one of those barrier islands when Hurricane Gloria came though in 1985. We went inland to my grandparents’ for the night, but not until we’d taped up windows and done whatever else needed doing. Luckily Gloria came through with almost no damage (I saw one thin uprooted tree in a front yard when we returned). This time there’s already flooding in Wildwood, and a portion (mostly unused) of the Atlantic City boardwalk is on the verge of being washed away. (And it has.)

As I said, though, it’s the waiting that’s weird. Here we’ve done all this stuff, and we’re hoping we’ve done it for nothing. Some had to be done anyway at some point, so I guess we consider this incentive.

I’d like to say I’m using this time for writing, but alas, such is not the case. There are still meals to be made, things to be cleaned, Halloween to be prepared for, etc.

Anyway, for anyone in the storm’s path (i.e., most of those east of the Mississippi), stay calm and safe and please follow the precautions and directives you get. A little inconvenience now is better than a lot of it later.

Rules of romance

Wow, I’m getting worse at this all the time. Sorry.

Within the last week or so, on a forum thread I was reading, a writer that I was helping for a bit was kind of frustrated. He talked about writing romances and was upset, or displeased, with the way romance readers often seem to want the same thing. Many were asking him to make sure his protagonists ended together and HEA, which is not something he usually does. Why do they demand this, he asked.

I have to agree that many romance readers do seem to want the same thing. And that’s okay.ย  If they want the geek to get the pretty girl, or the highwayman to fall for the lady, or the brooding male to find hope and love, that’s good with me. There are a lot of writers out there who can write these things, and put their own spins on it, and my feeling is read what you want, and if you don’t like it or get tired of it, there’s plenty of other things out there to read.

But to answer the question, the first thing I’d say is that it’s not much of a romance if your two leads don’t end up together at some point. One of the things I’ve found in writing romances is that for most of them, the excitement and enjoyment comes from your two leads overcoming whatever obstacles are in front of them. These could be internal, like a person afraid to trust after being hurt, or external, like a third party physically keeping the two leads apart (something I’ve mentioned is used a lot in nonhuman romances).

To have your protagonists deal with all of their obstacles and not end up together is tricky.ย  It can be done, but it seems to me that the reason that keeps them apart is something big, like death. (I’m guessing this is Love Story territory, but I’ve never read or seen it.)I had reasonably good luck with a non-HEA romance when I wrote a story called Who Cares What I Wear? It’s been long enough that I think a spoiler warning is unnecessary. ๐Ÿ™‚

I set this storyย  up as I wrote it so that the reader knew that Emily and Ben were no longer a couple and that Emily was quite hurt about the whole thing. Purposely, I tried to lay a foundation that made it seem possible that Ben had found someone else and broken up with Emily. Towards the end, as Emily talks to her friend (and Ben’s), Neal, the reader learns that Ben died suddenly, apparently during the course of a robbery.

I considered ending the story with Emily’s death, and her relief at knowing she’d be with Ben. Then I thought, that’s a wussy ending. Emily is better than that. So Emily goes on, finally releasing some of her hurt and knowing she’ll always love Ben. So there was a romance where the two leads were not together (if one considers Ben a “lead”), but as I said, they did not choose to be apart.

Choosing to be apart seems to violate the idea of the romance, to me. If you’d like to write that story, where the leads decide that for whatever reason, they cannot be together. That’s fine. Not every story needs that kind of ending, although I think it’s likely that a romance story may need it more than others, because as I said, if your leads are not together, then where is the romance? I think otherwise, what you have may be a well-told story with romantic elements, but not necessarily a romance.

I think there’s always room for a well-told story, no matter the genre. And I know I’ve said that what keeps some of these genres fresh is playing with some of the rules or themes or commonalities. Vampires can be much more interesting if allowed out in the sun, or if unaffected by crosses and holy water. Werewolves are a little more intriguing when shape-shifting is not limited to the full moon. And the same goes for romances — let’s have women who make the first move, men who are not all alpha males, things like that.

But if you are going to mess with the goal of the traditional romance, then you have to be ready for criticism and perhaps consider that what you have is a good story, but not a romantic one.

Am I the only one not attracted to glass bowls?

And you know I don’t literally mean bowls made of glass, right? Just trying to keep things a little light here.

So I’m waaay late on posting this time. I keep hoping and trying, I really do. It’ s hard to find both time to write and something to write about in a blog.

I read this article yesterday, and along with a couple of e-books I’ve read recently, this line got me thinking:

Day says similarities in the stories should not surprise people already familiar with the genre because “the tortured millionaire hero” is a romance staple that has been around for decades.

And I have no doubt this is true, and I’ve read a number of such books myself. Plus, I think the nonhuman genre — your werewolves, vampires, et al — take something from that. The alpha wolves and alpha vampires (if you will) are not so different from these guys. But when does your tortured hero become an ass? And if he is such a jerk, why is that so appealing?
Okay, I know some answers — it’s not the jerkiness that’s appealing, I get it. It’s the idea of helping the tortured man, or the wounded little boy, that lies underneath the glass-bowl-ness of it all. And that’s okay, to an extent. But why do these guys get a free pass for acting in ways we’d never take from other people? And why don’t the women involved have a little backbone?
For example, I just read The Italian’s Inexperienced Mistress by Lynne Graham. It’s an older Harlequin novel. In the story, your “tortured millionaire hero” decides he’s going to humiliate, in true Count of Monte Cristo fashion, a man he’s been told abandoned his mother (who has since passed away) when he was a child. Turns out he doesn’t need much help, as the guy is an idiot and has been discovered to have skimmed money from his employer. However, the Italian finds the man’s daughter — who has the Cinderella role; the idiot is her father, but she’s the product of his affair with someone else, although he takes her in after her mother’s death. His wife and her two daughters are less than impressed.
When Cinderella come to the Italian to ask for some kind of leniency for her father, he makes her one of those romance-novel offers: Be my mistress and I will take/not take action as appropriate. She does. She is intimidated by the Italian, and then later appalled by his behavior towards her and others, but — oh my, the chemistry is there and she is apparently a slave to the hormones/pheromones/whatever. I think this is what kills me.
Fine, she can be attracted physically to the guy — he’s gorgeous (a pre-req for this type of novel), etc. But knowing what he’s doing, and done, and why, I am baffled as to how she can get her physical and mental responses in line to have sex with him. Mind-blowing sex, of course (b/c there’s rarely any other kind in these novels and hey, I’m all for escapism ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I cannot imagine myself enjoying such a thing, especially when the guy makes it all about him. Even — at first — the pleasure he wants for her is more about what he can do, satisfying his ego that yes, he can make a woman do this or that.
I know, I know, at first it is all about him being all Monte Cristo and relishing his plans for revenge, and to quote Inigo Montoya, “Humiliations galore!” on his target.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing these books, their authors, or their readers. And I know that what I want — stronger, what I think of as more rational responses from the heroines — is on me. So I should seek out those books, or write those stories (and I will). I just find it hard to relate and empathize with these characters. And I’m not even saying that these kind of arrangements don’t exist — I think it’s more that I’m just not wired that way.
I’m all for escapism and fairy tales, so I can understand in an academic way how these stories appeal. The man lets his defenses down, realizes the error of his ways and how much he loves the woman. The woman many times — not always, but many — is simply waiting. But you know what I want, don’t you? I want one of these women to say, “No. You’re a jerk, and I don’t sleep with jerks.” Then she leaves for a while. They can argue some more, because let’s be honest, few things get the blood going better than a good argument. ๐Ÿ™‚
Is this too much of a departure from the “rules of romance”? Maybe. I can’t help it. I’m not usually one to go along with the mainstream. I don’t mind popular things, but sometimes what’s common or commonly popular just makes me scratch my head (exhibit A: the entirety of reality TV). Do I like the equality factor too much? Maybe. But aren’t there other people out there who want their romances to be just a wee bit different? Or do they want, as I saw on a forum, the stories to be “completely different yet the same”?
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