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Tag Archives: Inez Kelley

Emotion and Conflict – What’s Enough?

The idea for this post has been percolating in my brain for a while and I recently read a blog post by author Janice Hardy which sparked me to want to write it now. Her post is about stakes for the characters in a novel. I’m a little torn about what she says. I agree that you have to make readers care about your characters. You have to have something at stake. The hero and heroine have to have something personal at risk.

For me, this is where it gets sticky. I agree that characters have to have something personal at stake. In many books I’ve read lately, that personal stake is letting go of the past and the personal baggage that is mucking up life. Ms. Hardy says, “Stakes make the reader care, and stakes are about personal loss…If you feel it, then the characters will feel it. If the characters feel it, the reader will feel it.”

I agree with all of this and I’ve read a ton of books that drew me in emotionally as a reader because this is done well. My question then goes to conflict. Many writers will argue that you can’t have good conflict without an antagonist, a bad guy. The antagonist doesn’t have to be a serial killer or terrorist; it just needs to be someone that stops the protagonist (hero) from getting what he wants.

Kristen Lamb wrote about it here. I agree with what she says, especially when she says that the antagonist is the hardest concept to understand. Bob Mayer writes about it here. I’m sure if I spent some more time searching, I’d have a million more examples.

While I agree with the concept, I’ve begun to wonder if it matters to readers, specifically readers of contemporary romance. Of course, this interests me because this is the genre I write, but it’s also the genre I read. I’ve read quite a few books over the last year that have been light on the antagonist.

And I didn’t care.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have noticed me talking about Ruthie Knox’s book, Ride With Me. This is a great read. It’s about two people riding their bikes across America and they fall in love. I suppose at a stretch, you could call the hero’s sister an antagonist because she pushes him from his comfort zone and makes him interact with people. She’s the one who tricks him into having a riding partner. Ruthie does such a good job of making me care about the characters, that it didn’t matter to me that there was no antagonist. The conflict revolved around each if them getting over their own issues.

A few months ago, I wrote about one of my favorite books from last year, Inez Kelley’s Sweet as Sin. I adore this book. It’s dark and emotional and totally sucked me in. Now, it’s been a long time since I read it, but I can’t remember any antagonist. If there was one, it was unimportant to me.

Shannon Stacey has a trilogy that I read last year about the Kowalski family. The first and last book of the trilogy do have antagonists, but they read like antagonist-lite. In the first book, the antagonist would be the heroine’s boss, who is forcing her to get an interview with a famous writer, the heroine’s ex-boyfriend. In the last book, the heroine’s grandmother would be the antagonist because she wants her granddaughter to be married so she’s not alone. In the second book, there was no external antagonist that I can recall.

All of these books were published by the digital division of big publishers. Ride With Me is a Loveswept book (Random House), Sweet as Sin and the Yours trilogy are both from Carina Press (Harlequin). These books have found an audience.

It bears repeating. These books found an audience even without strong antagonists. Shannon Stacey hit best seller lists with her books and Harlequin decided to publish print editions.

In addition to these authors, many self-published authors are also finding success. Both Marie Force and Bella Andre have published with New York houses and are currently self-publishing their books. While I haven’t read everything they’ve put out, I have read at least a couple of books from each their contemporary romance series. The stories have been enjoyable, but from a craft standpoint, light on the conflict because of a lack of antagonist. I say this not as a criticism, but as an observation.

These authors are enjoying great success. Readers are gobbling up their books. If they don’t have strong external conflict and no antagonist, shouldn’t their stories be lacking? Experts might say yes, but I don’t think the readers agree. The emotional pull of the characters keeps us glued to the page.

As a reader, do you notice if the book has an antagonist? Is the emotional journey of the characters enough to sustain the novel for you?

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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 – New Authors

Still traveling, with limited access to the Internet. Instead of a mash-up of awesome links this week, I’m going to talk about a new favorite author: Inez Kelley.

(standard disclaimer: No one gave me any books or asked me to write about these. The books were purchased with my own money.)

To be honest, I’d never heard of Ms. Kelley before Carina Press opened its doors. I saw her name on one of their erotica books, but didn’t think much of it. At the time, I didn’t own an e-reader, and I don’t like to read on my computer. In addition, I don’t generally read erotica (although that might be because I haven’t found a good one yet).

Fast forward to last June. I finally bought myself a Kindle. I immediately went to Amazon to get some books. I searched by publisher because I knew Carina would have some good books at reasonable prices. I found Sweet as Sin by Inez Kelley. It was released back in January 2011, so it wasn’t a new release, but I liked the blurb:

John Murphy is tormented by nightmares. A bestselling young-adult author, he writes the ultimate fantasy: stories where good always triumphs. He knows better. His past has shown him the worst in people—and in himself. When he moves next door to the sexy, vibrant Livvy—a woman completely unlike his usual one-night stands—he’s driven to explore every curve of her delicious body.

Pastry chef Livvy knows that giving in to the temptation that is John Murphy won’t lead to anything permanent, but she deserves a passionate summer fling. John discovers she’s as sweet as the confections she bakes while Livvy slowly unravels his secrets. But what will happen when she uncovers them all? (taken from the Carina Press web site)

I’m not sure what I expected. I mean the blurb tells you the book has a tormented hero. I guess I thought it would be a fluffier read than it was. It wasn’t dark and depressing, but man, it grabbed me so hard I couldn’t stop reading. John is one of those heroes that stayed with me for months. Months after I finished that book, I wanted more of John.

Last week, I read Turn It Up. This book by Ms. Kelley is a lighter read. It’s a friends-turned-lovers book. What amazed me about this book is that the author manages to create sexual tension and keep it intense throughout the book. Because of a bet, the hero and heroine don’t actually have sex. Few authors can sustain such a high level of sexual tension without boring the reader.

After reading these two books, I know I’ll definitely keep my eye out for other books by Inez Kelley.

How about you? Who was the last new-to-you author that you picked up? What did you like best about the book?