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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Defending Romance

As I’ve said before, I came to reading romance later than many. I’ve been reading romance less than a decade, which is nothing compared to a lot of people I meet. Early on, I took much ribbing from my husband who thinks every hero is named Biff. (And let me add that over the thousands of books I’ve read, there has not been a single Biff.)

I never thought about defending the genre. Some people like to read horror, others fantasy. I think there are stereotypes for every genre, but after immersing myself in the romance community for the last 5 years, I’ve noticed that romance takes a beating regularly.

Here’s a quote from an article at GalTime that pretty much sums up what I think many people believe about romance novels (including my husband):

It seems you can’t read an article about a romance novel without the author joking about bodice ripping and Fabio. And then, of course, there are the ones that straight-out condemn books as women’s porn, with no redeemable qualities whatsoever, saying the books offer readers unrealistic fantasies about their love lives.

The article goes on to defend the genre and has an awesome interview with Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Here’s another interview with Sarah, who is one of the great champions for romance authors.

Last week on the Internet, there was another attack on romance by some guy who clearly has never read one. Many romance readers and authors were up in arms to defend our genre of choice. Shiloh Walker has a good run-down of most of the exchange. I’m not going to link to the guy’s blog because I don’t think he deserves the traffic.

Here’s the thing…I read romance. It’s my go-to hobby for relaxation. I love knowing that I can get lost in a novel, fall in love with characters, and leave with a happy ending.

I read other genres. A couple of years ago, I read The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. It’s literary fiction. It is somehow better than romance because of the genre. I loved the book. It is beautifully written and Ms. Sebold is an amazing author.

But it took forever for me to finish the book because it was so depressing. I knew there would be no happy ending. The story fascinated me, so I couldn’t give it up, but I read romances at the same time to keep from getting totally depressed.

When I read romance, I don’t expect my husband to live up to some mythic standard, any more than he would expect me to turn into a super model because he watched one on TV.

Here is author Maya Rodale’s defense of romance novels. She explains why we get so much from them and why we keep going back for more:

For me, it seems ridiculous that I should have to defend what I read and what I write. I don’t think I have it in me to be politically correct and defend the genre with the intelligent words and research that so many other people do (like Ms. Rodale, Ms. Wendell, and Ms. Walker). I’m more likely to tell someone to shut the f*ck up and mind their own business.

Life is too serious. I read because it’s fun. I write toward falling in love and a happy ending. I refuse to feel bad about that.

Do you ever feel the need to defend what you read or write?

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Friday Favorites – One for the Money and Being a B**ch

photo courtesy of imdb.com

First, let me say that today is a gorgeous day. It’s 45 degrees in January. In Chicago. Excellent weather for my day off. Usually my day off consists of running errands I pushed off all week and catching up on housework (kind of). The piles of laundry tend to get out of hand. Anyway, today, after getting my tires rotated and before starting the laundry. I went to see One for the Money, the movie based on the Janet Evanovich book and series.

I really didn’t have high hopes for the movie. I love the books, no matter how contrived or ridiculous because I love the characters and I always laugh out loud while reading. Katherine Heigl actually was a decent Stephanie Plum. Jason O’Mara was cast as Joe Morelli. I really like Jason O’Mara, but in my head, Morelli has always been Eddie Cibrian. I understand why they wanted someone who looked different because Ranger is played by Daniel Sanjata.

Here’s the cast:

photo courtesy of bellasnovella.com

taken from google images

And here’s Eddie Cibrian

So, I think it made sense to go with someone obviously different than Sanjata, who I think is the PERFECT Ranger. It’s been a long time since I read the first book in the series, but I think the movie did a good job of getting right. The cast hits the mark. I think Grandma Mazur could’ve been played up a bit more; she didn’t seem quite crazy enough. Lula was great.

The one thing that I thought was missing was the sexual tension. I didn’t see it between Stephanie and Morelli or Stephanie and Ranger. With the movie being based on just the first book, I didn’t expect a whole lot of tension between Ranger and Stephanie, but she didn’t even seem all that attracted to him, which, hello? The man is hot. I think there should’ve been more sexual tension between Morelli and Stephanie, but I wasn’t feeling it.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie and I felt like I got my money’s worth. It did feel like I was watching a TV show, though. Again, that might be because I know there are 18 books and plots and that much more character development. I did find myself wanting to see more, like the next episode.

I am behind on my Plum reading. I have number 17 that I haven’t read yet, which means I also have 18 to read. I’ll get my Morelli and Ranger fix in paper, I guess.

On to my regular mash-up of awesome links…

I only have 4 links this week, but they are powerful. First up, for writers, it’s all about having confidence and not being afraid. If you want to write (and be published) you have to be willing to put yourself out there and that opens you up to a lot.

Tonya Kappes writes about NOT being a fearful writer.

Merry Farmer talks about how confidence is a writer’s greatest asset.

My next two posts have to do with being called a bitch and what it means. I’ve been called a bitch by men and women alike, and probably a few kids who were students. It’s never bothered me, although it probably should have. The word itself has so many different connotations that I find it hard to be bothered by it. For me, I think bitch is used most often as a way to describe an independent, opinionated woman. I’m okay with that.

Emma Burcart starts off the conversation with So You Think I’m a Bitch.

Jennifer Liberts Weinberg, the Kvetch Mom, talks about the snarkiness encountered on social media, especially when one screws up (one of my greatest fears). She questions why women choose to be bitchy towards each other. Definitely food for thought.

What are your thoughts —  on Stephanie Plum, writer confidence, or being a bitch?

Plot vs. Character

Obviously you need both character and plot for a story to be any good. It’s not that one is better than another. If there is more emphasis on one over the other, it’s simply a different kind of story. When I used to teach creative writing, I explained this to my students in the following way:

A plot-driven story is like an action film. When you see an action flick and you need to describe it, you might mention who the characters are, but you focus more on what happened. “There was a guy who had to rescue his wife and he did this and then the bad guys did this and then this blew up…” You get the point.

A character-driven story is more like a soap opera. It doesn’t matter so much what happens because we’re invested in the lives of the characters. When we describe a soap opera, we talk about the characters and what’s going on in their lives. When we’re invested in the characters, we can accept re-hashed plot lines (really, how many time can a terror plot with a bomb really land in Port Charles?) because we want to see how these characters will handle it.

It’s the same for TV shows. I’ve said lots of times already that it’s usually characters that draw me and and keep me watching a show. Even the cop shows that I watch, which by definition tend to be episodic (solve a new crime each week — plot), I keep watching because I love the characters. Shows that don’t get you involved in the characters’ lives run the risk of losing you. Honestly, I don’t know how the Law & Order franchise lasted so long. I watched for many seasons, but it got old. There are only so many ways you can rape, murder, or kidnap someone.

This season, though, there are actually 2 shows that are heavily plot-driven that I’m sucked into. One of them, Revenge, I talked about last month. In addition to being heavy on plot, this one also has a great cast of characters and I have a lot of sympathy for the main character.

A new show that has just started that I’m really digging is Alcatraz. For those of you unaware, Alcatraz is about finding the ’63s. In 1963, 302 inmates were supposedly transferred out of Alcatraz when the prison was closed. Now, these prisoners are showing up and committing new crimes. Here’s a trailer:

Each week, a new prisoner is being hunted by a super secret government organization, a regular cop, and a comic book author who is an expert in Alcatraz. We’re given some background into these characters, but not enough (at least not yet) for me to care about them. I don’t want to know what’s going on in their lives. I want to see them catch the bad guys.

I think what works for both of these shows is that beyond the episodic nature, there is an overall story arc that keeps going. Each week, Emily Thorne in Revenge targets a new person to ruin, but her end game is to bring down the Graysons. Each small bit of revenge has an impact on that family.

In Alcatraz, we want to know where these 302 men have been. We want to know who’s pulling the strings and releasing them to commit more crimes. We want to know why they’re not discombobulated by the world that is so different from 1963 and how they know about cell phones. We’re dying to figure out why some of the supposed good guys were actually working at Alzactraz in 1963 but they haven’t aged.

Although I am a self-professed character person, it’s the ongoing suspense that keeps me coming back for more with these shows.

I think the same holds true for series books. If there is an end game, an over-arching story, the books are more unputdownable. If it’s an ongoing series with the same characters but it’s just episodic I’m not going to stay as long. That’s not to say there isn’t a huge market for those books. Who wouldn’t want to be Janet Evanovich or Sue Grafton? But look at the difference between those and Harry Potter.

Are you a character or plot person? Have you tried out Alcatraz? If so, what do you think?

The Broken Hero

It’s after nine p.m. Monday night and I realized that I had no blog post for today. Nada. Usually I have something at least drafted, even if it’s just a title and an opening paragraph. But it’s been one of those weeks where a lot has been going on (mostly good) and I’ve been wrapped up and the blog faded from my mind at least temporarily. So I went to my handy file of ideas. (You have one of those, right? Things you find and say, “I might use this one day.”)

Anyway, I came across this post from November that explains why Batman is the greatest superhero. Now, I’ve never been much of a comic book reader, but I’ve always liked superheroes. Especially Batman. I grew up watching reruns of the 1960s TV show. All of my kids have played with the action figures and watched many versions of the Justice League. In fact, my youngest daughter absolutely loves superheroes. For a long time, Batman was her best friend (invisible as he was to the rest of us).

At a party recently I was talking to a friend’s husband and we chatted about all sorts of stuff, and I discovered my inner geek peeking out. We talked Star Wars (new and old) and super heroes. During the conversation, I mentioned that Batman had always been my favorite because he was just a regular guy but had that mysterious bad boy image. Who could resist?

Then, my friend mentioned that Batman was damaged goods, which made him a bad choice. Which got me to thinking. Some people might call Batman an anti-hero (which I talked about here). Maybe they’re right, but for me, he’s a broken hero or a tortured hero.

I love to read about a broken hero. There’s something about watching him fall in love and healing whatever is wrong with him that is so completely satisfying. I know a lot of readers love a tortured hero.

The why of it got me wondering. Because really, those guys tend to be total downers. They’re not uplifting or hopeful or even funny most of the time. They tend to be cold and distant, caught up in their own twisty dark side. Why the hell do we like them?

Maybe it’s because as women, we’re supposed to be nurturers. We want to care for those that are hurt and the tortured hero is nothing but deeply scarred. In having a hero that is so damaged, it makes it easier for the reader to become emotionally invested. I think that another part of it is that these guys tend to be alpha – take charge, do what needs to get done. I always find that sexy.

As much as they are always in control, it’s so much fun to watch them lose control as they fall in love. I think that’s where the hope lies. That love is possible even for these men who seem (and believe themselves) to be totally unloveable. And finally, there is great satisfaction in knowing that the heroine is the one who rescues him.

The last great tortured hero I read was John in Inez Kelley’s Sweet As Sin. I talked about it a couple of months ago. If you love a broken hero, you’ll love him.

Who was the last broken hero you read and loved?

Friday Favorites – Trusting Yourself

So very many excellent writing blogs this week. Before I get to those, let’s run through the just for fun ones —

Tiffany White does an awesome roundup of TV shows that she’s reviewed and talked about. If you’re looking to add something to your lineup, check out this list. Heck, even if you’re not looking to add, you’ll find something anyway. She keeps hooking me into new stuff 🙂

Merry Farmer has a great discussion going on her blog about the appeal of paranormal romance. If you love all things paranormal, stop by and explain the fascination.

In addition to having a really funny blog full of dirty jokes, Tawna Fenske is a launch author for Coliloquy. Basically, she’s writing a choose your own adventure for adults. I did download it (Kindle only), I haven’t ahd a chance to read it yet. Coliloquy is giving away a Kindle to one of Tawna’s blog readers, so go check it out and enter.

Now, onto the writing posts.

First up – Craft

Lucy March, along with Jenny Crusie and Anne Stuart did a couple of great posts about character. They have one on heroines and one on heroes. With these 3 fabulous authors, you have to learn something.

Last week, I linked to a post by Jenny Hansen about Man-speak. She follows it up again this week with part 2. This is must-have information if you’re writing male characters.

The next 4 posts are all about being a writer and taking yourself seriously:

Kristen Lamb tells us not to eat the butt (avoid the poison that will ruin our writing careers). I have to admit that I am a little guilty of what Kristen talks about. Although I take my writing seriously – I write every chance I get by making time for it, I don’t talk to other people about it. I don’t introduce myself as a writer. Mostly, this is because I’m always afraid the next question will be “Where can I get your book?” and I’m not published yet.

Trish Loye Elliott (via Wordbitches) points out that if writing is what you want to do, then you need to act like a professional.

And finally, two post from Chuck Wendig. Warning — if cursing bothers you, don’t click on these links.

25 Things Writers Should Know About Finding Their Voice – For me, finding my voice as a writer was difficult. I love to read romantic suspense, and as writers, we’re told to write what we know. That’s great in theory. I know romantic suspense. I wrote my first 2 manuscripts, which were romantic suspense, and about a third of the way through the second one I knew it wasn’t right. It wasn’t “suspense-y” enough. I tried to fix it, but nothing worked. When I began writing contemporary romance, I discovered why the romantic suspense didn’t work. It’s not where my voice is. I was trying to force something and it didn’t work. Don’t be afraid to play around with different stuff.

25 Things Writers Should Start Doing – This post just has so much, I don’t know where to start. I think that like many of you, I’m good at some of these points, others not so much. I think I’ll start with getting out more. Between being a writer and a mother of 3, I hardly get out at all (at least not alone). But you know what? All 3 kids are in school during the day and my day job is work from home and I make my own hours. I’m setting a goal to get out more.

What goals are you setting to get you closer to your dream?

Trusting the Audience

I think as writers there is a fine line we travel between trusting our audience and not revealing enough. I’ve talked about this before when I talked about my love for Leverage. In that post I talked a little about showing versus telling and how a little goes a long way. Today, I’m going to take it a step further and talk about trusting your audience.

image from MikePedersen.com

As I mentioned in that Leverage post, as a writer, I tend to under-inform my reader, especially in early drafts. I don’t want to bore anyone with an info-dump of backstory. Sometimes that means that I confuse my reader. I have a critique partner that considers herself a lazy reader. She wants the author to come out and just say things instead of implying it or leaving it for her to figure out. I, on the other hand, become irritated when an author feels the need to tell me the same things multiple times. Once is usually enough.

My TV example for this is Criminal Minds. I love this show. I’ve been watching from the very beginning and have never missed an episode. Nothing beats watching the BAU (FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit) develop a profile for a serial killer and then go after him. In developing their profile, the team often brainstorms with each other either in the conference room or on the plane en route to the killer’s city.

For those of you who haven’t watched the show, Spencer Reid is a genius with a photographic memory. He can remember everything he’s ever read. This, in addition to the genius status, makes him somewhat of a know-it-all. I don’t mind when he spouts off random facts. I find it entertaining. What irks me is when he tells the team something they probably (or should) already know. For example, as a regular viewer of the show, I know that rape is not about sex; it’s about exerting power over the victim. If I know this, shouldn’t the entire team know this?

Here’s a clip where Reid feels the need to tell the team about arsonists (it comes in at about :43):

I think that the team would know this basic definition of an arsonist. I would be offended if he did this to me at every meeting. I know that the writers of the show are adding that information in for viewers who might not be aware of the BAU basics, but for those of us who do know, it ends up being what’s known as a “You know, Bob” conversation.

On Twitter last month, Carina Press editor Angela James made mention of the use of “You know, Bob” conversations as a means of giving backstory to the reader without it being a straight info-dump. Things like “You know when my dad took off my mom was crushed, Bob,” or “We’ve been friends since the sixth grade, so you remember the first girlfriend I had broke my heart.” As a reader, these conversations annoy me. And that’s what leads me to leave details out of my writing.

If my heroine is talking with her girlfriends about her cheating ex-husband, she’s not going to use his name and then remind them that he cheated. They should know this. Now, it’s not that I’m trying to keep things from my reader. My heroine might have a thought about how hurt she was to see him hanging on another woman because it brought back bad memories. To me, that’s enough of a hint.

As a reader, I don’t need the whole backstory, just give me enough to know what’s going on and let it come out naturally.

What do you think? Do you prefer to have things spelled out, even if it’s not a natural conversation? Do “You you, Bob?” conversations bother you?

First Kisses

One of my first posts a couple of months ago talked about being a bad kisser. Today I want to talk about excellent first kisses. I think most people have experienced the good, the bad, and the so-so for a first kiss. But I believe that sometimes, it goes beyond being good, deep into WOW territory and that’s the kind of kiss I look for, especially the first kiss, between my characters.

I read a lot of romances because it’s a great way to take a break from my work and my writing, while still keeping my brain engaged. I’ve read about all kinds of kisses, but I find that most kisses between the hero and heroine fall into one of two categories: the passionate – hard and fast, or the sensual – slow and gentle.

Neither kind of kiss is better than the other. They both serve their purpose. It boils down mostly to what fits the characters. I’m in the middle of revising one manuscript while I write my current WIP. I find myself rereading those early scenes, the first kisses because they feel off. Part of it, especially in my WIP, might be because I don’t know my characters as well as I think I do. Are they passionate or sensual?

I think I tend to go for the sensual by default. It’s my fallback kiss. But the more I go through revisions, I think I might have to ramp things up to suit the characters. I have one heroine who is flighty and fun and one that is worse than a stick in the mud. (In fact, the hero often accuses her of having a stick placed elsewhere. 🙂  )

Then, I went back to my list of YouTube videos to use in this post and I got lost. I went back and searched some more. Really tough work, let me tell you, watching steamy kisses for hours at a time… Anyway, I digress again. What I found in looking at all those videos, is that while my supposition about the two types of kisses seems to hold up, it also looks like more often than not, that first kiss is of the slow and sensual variety.

Which made me think some more. Maybe it fits that the slow kiss is the first kiss. Both people are kind of seeing what works, hoping not to get shut down. Then I thought about times when the harder, more passionate kiss might come into play (other than when heading directly for the bedroom). I think if the characters have a history and the sexual tension has built up enough, I think that’s where the hard and fast kiss comes in. Maybe they’re friends-turned-lovers or they are lovers reunited.

Either way, it definitely makes me look at my characters more carefully before I have them lock lips.

Here is a cool collection of kisses (one of many I looked at) for your viewing pleasure:

What do you think? Is the first kiss between the hero and heroine based more on the characters or on their history? Do you have a preference for the type of kiss you like to read?