BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS: A WRITER’S JOURNEY

“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert

I have been thinking a lot about writing. First let me digress to say that I am not a professional writer but, since I have self-published two books on Amazon, I’m not really an amateur either. Do two books make me a semi-pro or a semi-amateur? Since my total sale of books (in addition to the one I purchased myself) stands at seven, I’ll go with semi-amateur. I have had several thousands of pages read on Kindle Unlimited, so maybe I’m working toward being semi-pro. By the way, if you are interested, when a book is on KU the author gets paid by the number of pages that are read for the first time (if someone rereads a page that doesn’t count). The payment amounts to approximately $0.0044 per page. Suffice it to say, I’m not going to get rich off my writing. I am, however, an internationally read author. Of the seven books that were purchased, three were paid for in Euros, two in British Pounds, and one in Canadian Dollars. To all the American readers out there, you better jump on the bandwagon while you can.

But back to writing. I’ve been thinking about it because I just finished my second novella (lesfic of course) which leaves me with an empty feeling. I’ve been working on it for about two months, writing, deleting, rewriting and generally plugging away. I started out with a very basic outline, in this case it was a short story I wrote several years ago. I first visualized it as a longer, more involved story and then just plowed my way through to a conclusion. Despite what I’ve read about the writing process, starting was the easiest part. Finishing it was a bitch. I had the Epilogue in my mind from about the middle of the story, but had trouble moving from what Joseph Campbell would describe as the Threshold through the Trials and on to the Road Home. At one point I thought it would be easier to keep writing than to arrive at a satisfactory ending. Ultimately, I got bored and just worked through to a stopping point. Did it end abruptly? Maybe. On the other hand, I could have added more twists, but I really don’t think they would have added anything to the story itself.

One of my favorite writers of lesbian romances, Jae, has a tendency to do the same thing with her books. She is an extremely talented writer and creates good stories and appealing characters, but I often get the feeling she’s gotten tired of her characters and contrives an ending to get away from them. In that regard, she’s a role model for me. When you are done – quit writing.

Almost all of what I have written in the past has been in the form of short stories. When I took a creative writing class a couple of years ago we had to submit writing samples, weekly, of no more than 1,000 words. At the time I was working on a novel and had trouble finding excerpts within that parameter that could stand alone and make any sense, so I found myself writing stories with a beginning and ending in a thousand words. I learned to condense and suggest the middle part rather than explain. I found that using the reader’s imagination to fill in the details is much easier than writing them out.

I have read a lot of quotes from famous writers about how hard it is to start a novel. That’s not the case for me. I’ve got lots of stories started in my mind with no clear path to a conclusion. I find I do better if I can visualize a scene or bit of dialogue somewhere in the middle, then write both directions from that. The short story I expanded to a novella started out with a quote and a title, ‘Fucking Lesbos: A Love Story.’ The story had only three character: the one who uttered the words ‘fucking lesbos’ and the two who turned it into a love story. What could be easier? Of course, it was only about four-thousand words and now I’ve expanded it into thirty-thousand. There are a lot more characters now, and the story itself takes a completely different route to reach the same conclusion, a route that I hadn’t visualized when I started. Unfortunately, the original title didn’t fit any more – I loved that title. But the premise is the same: two women, one in denial about being gay and the other unaware of her potential attraction to another woman, meet at a fitness center, bond while watching a naked bimbo in the locker room, have sex, fall in love and achieve their HEA.

I am never going to write ‘The Great American Novel.’ I not only don’t want to write it, I wouldn’t want to read it. I like to read – and write – stories about the emotional development of individual people, women usually. And I will always write stories that have a Happily Ever After.

 

Novel Report:  Okay, I haven’t worked on it at all. I opened it yesterday, read what I had written most recently, and closed it again. I wish I could just find a way to wrap it up quickly, but there are too many threads still hanging loose. I’ll either have to go back and alter them or keep writing.

But the good writing news is the novella that I’ve finished, “Fit for Love.” I will be publishing it on Amazon later this week. My goal is to exceed my own sales record, maybe sell nine, or even ten. Although the book is set in Omaha (Jea Hawkins is not the only author who writes Nebraska based lesfic), I hope I can hang on to my international market.

 

Advertisements

TROPES I HAVE KNOWN AND LOVED – OR NOT

“Some books are so familiar that reading them is like being home again.” – Louisa May Alcott

 

My father read a lot, but almost exclusively read Perry Mason books written by Erle Stanley Gardner. As a teenager I tried reading a few, but gave up because it seemed to me they were all the same story. Someone, usually a woman, is accused of murder. Perry, Della Street (his secretary) and Paul Drake (his investigator) search for clues. The story always ends with Perry discovering the real killer and getting him to confess on the witness stand. Since I didn’t read very many of them, I’m not sure if that would qualify for a trope or a formula, but in my mind it made for boring reading. My father thought I was overly critical. As far as he was concerned, Perry Mason was the best. And hey, I was a teenager. Of course I was overly critical. Unfortunately, I never really outgrew that trait.

As an aside, Mr. Gardner had one of the most enlightening quote about writing I’ve ever read. Before he started on Perry Mason he wrote westerns for the pulp magazines. He said someone asked him why his heroes, who were crack shots, always had to empty their six-shooters before hitting the bad guy. He said that every shot was a ‘bang.” He got paid five cents a word and he wasn’t going to end a shoot-out when he still had twenty-five cents worth of ammunition in his gun.

But to get back to tropes. While the word has more than one meaning, in this instance I am talking about what Wikipedia has defined as “[a] commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works.” In other words, the basic outline of the story before characters, locales and plots have been added. While tropes are prevalent in all genres of literature, they are the mainstay of Romance novels. I believe the main reason for this is that to be able to earn a living writing in the genre you have to write a lot of books one after another. Mary Balogh has published over one hundred books. Nora Roberts over 200 books. Sometimes I think authors should be required to keep their day jobs so they don’t have to write so many books so quickly to survive. Or maybe society should just provide them with rich sponsors – or spouses – to support them.  In any event, an author just can’t write that many books if she has to have completely new ideas for each one. Using a common trope gives the author a head start on each book, allowing her to increase her production. It also gives potential readers some advance information to help them decide what they want to invest their time in.

There are certain tropes I avoid, not because they aren’t legitimate stories. They can be well-written stories by authors I usually enjoy reading, but I just don’t like the particular type of angst in these stories.

I don’t like, and seldom read, stories where a character has been falsely accused of a wrongdoing. This is most often found in mysteries, but also comes up in Romances on occasion. Generally it is the lead character who has been accused, although often it is a friend, relative, or lover. These stories just make me uncomfortable, even though I know all will be revealed in the end, so I avoid them.

Finding a Lot Love is another trope I avoid. It is a  frequent theme in Romance novels. In straight Romances it usually has a woman (Character A) returning to the small town where she grew up and immediately running into the guy (Character B) with whom she a) had a crush on in high school but never had the nerve to approach, or b) the one who took her virginity then dumped her, or she dumped him. In most of these stories ‘B’ was a ‘bad boy’ as a teenager but has become a cop. They almost always re-meet when ‘B’ stops ‘A’ for a traffic violation as she drives into town.

In lesfic, ‘A’ reluctantly returns to her home town and immediately runs into the ‘B,’ whom she had a crush on as a teenager. Or they’d had a short fling. Or kissed once. One of the other of them, usually ‘B,’ either didn’t want to be ‘outed’ or didn’t want to believe she was gay. Now she is divorced/widowed/in a bad marriage just waiting for ‘A’ to come back and make her life complete. Often there are kids involved – cute kids, of course.

I’m sorry, I just don’t buy it. I don’t care for those stories in the straight Romances, and even less in lesbian Romances. While I have nothing against cute kids, as a literary device they can be annoying. Apparently I’m in the minority as these books are very popular.

A trope that I like is Marriage of Convenience, which appears frequently in Regency and Victorian books. It actually fits with the times as most upper-class marriages were for reasons of wealth, status or connections. Surprisingly, at least to me, it also a common trope in lesfic. Often it is an Engagement of Convenience, or a Girlfriend of Convenience, but it’s the same story. For some reason, most often financial Character ‘A’ has to get a partner quickly. Enter Character ‘B.’ In Regencies/Victorians this usually is required for an inheritance. In lesfic it can also be about fame or notoriety. Many of these, both straight and lesbian, are boring and predictable, but by a good writer they can be very good indeed.

The most recent I’ve read was “Just for Show” by Jae. ‘A’ was trying to market a book about relationships when her fiancée dumped her. She needed another on in a hurry show off to a potential publisher so she hires an actress, ‘B,’ to fill in for the missing fiancee. And of course they have sex, then reluctantly fall in love, etc. to HEA. Even though this book is formulaic, following the trope to its logical end, Jae is an extremely skilled writer – it’s a great read. In fact, it’s nominated for a Lambda Literary award for the best lesbian romance of the year.

Another of these that I enjoyed was “Who Would Have Thought” by G. Benson. Again, a marvelously skilled writer telling what otherwise could have been a trite story. “The Arrangement,” a straight Regency by Mary Balogh, also qualifies as a great read for a formulaic book.

Interestingly the NatashaWest book “A Marriage of Connivance” is not an MoC story, but another of her books, “Just Married,” is. Goes to show you can’t judge a book by its title.

One more trope that you find often in both Regency/Victorian Romances and lesfic is Reforming the Rake. In the historicals it is generally a licentious nobleman, ‘A,’ who meets and falls for a prim virgin,’B.’. In lesfic ‘A’ tends to be a ‘player’ whose sex life consists of picking up women for one-night-stands. Then she falls for ‘B,’ a virtuous lesbian and settles down. Yeah, right.

There are more of these I could get into, but enough for now.

 

Novel Report: Very little progress, but I have been busy on another project. Last week I published another book on Amazon. “Girl of My Dreams” is a novella about two geeky women who meet on vacation, have sex and fall in love. You can still be the first to purchase it – and if you do please write a review. Also my collection of short stories, “Women’s Passions” is still available. You can be the second to buy that one. I’ve got to work on that promotion thing.

 

 

 

 

Happily Ever After

Happily ever after? If justice doesn’t triumph and love doesn’t make the circle in entertainment fiction, what’s the point? Real life sucks too often.

– Nora Roberts, Angels Fall

 

While setting up for the book sale at the library, one of the volunteers, a woman about my age, was looking for books by her favorite authors, Lee Child or Vince Flynn. She was quite surprised that I had never read any book by either of them. She seemed perplexed when I asked if she’d read anything by Amanda Quick or Clare Lydon.  I believe she thought that since I am a guy I should go for the macho guy books. In fact, I never have. Not only do I not like to read about folks running around shooting each other and blowing things up, I want to read books with happy endings. And she’s a woman. She should at least read a Nora Roberts or maybe a couple of J. D. Robb novels. Those would surely satisfy her bloodlust.

For years I read mainly mysteries, which have their own form of happy endings. A crime is committed, someone figures out who did it, and the bad guy (or woman) gets his/her just rewards. Who could not call that a happily ever after? Then six or seven years ago I picked up a copy of Amanda Quick’s book “A Perfect Poison.” I thought it was a Victorian mystery, which it is in a way. But after I had finished it, and enjoyed it, I realized it was a . . . gasp . . . a Romance Novel. There was a woman and a man. They fell for each other. They made love, then they fell in love. At the end of the novel, after the mystery was solved and the bad guy dispatched, they got married and formed a partnership. It is also a paranormal novel, part of Ms. Quick’s Arcane Society series, but that’s a genre for another blog.

I was hooked. I read more Amanda Quick novels, truthfully I read all that our library had. Then I ran across Julia Quinn and got hooked on the Smythe-Smith musicales.  (If you don’t know what those are, get a copy of “It’s In His Kiss” and find out what you’ve been missing.) It should be no surprise that Ms. Quinn was the next Romance author I discovered. I read somewhere that she chose Quinn as a pen name so her books would be shelved next to those of the popular Amanda Quick. It worked. After working my through a number of Victorian and Regency authors I moved on to contemporary works, starting with Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Jenifer Crusie.

I have always preferred books with strong female leads. I can’t remember the last time I read a book for enjoyment that was written by a male author. To me, female writers, and characters, relate better than their male counterparts. So it should come as no real shock when my reading list took another turn. We had a large collection of books donated for our sale from the estate of a retired school teacher who had passed away. Among the twenty-three crates of books were several crates of lesbian books. In our Southern community known for its fundamentalist churches, we knew we would never sell them, so I took them home. The woman had been an English teacher. Her books were in perfect condition and I couldn’t bring myself to throw them out. As I was going through the stack of books it occurred to me that there might be lesbian romance novels, and sure enough I found “Curious Wine” by Katherine V. Forest.

This book, which was initially published in 1983, was one of the first authentic romance novels about and for lesbians. I have learned that prior to this, books with lesbian characters generally ended either with the woman being ‘converted’ to heterosexuality – or she committed suicide. In “Curious Wine” the two women meet, make love, fall in love and reap their HEA. I was hooked. Of course, it helped that Ms. Forest was an extremely talented writer. This book has remained popular for over thirty-five years not only because it was a ground breaker but because of the quality of the story and of the writing. It’s a damn good book.

And thus I dove into a whole new sub-genre or Romance novels that guarantees not one but two strong female lead characters. What more could I ask?

Oh, and about that Happily Ever After thing. I’m in my seventies. Happy Endings are important, trust me. And yeah, as Ms. Roberts says in the quote above, “Real life sucks too often.”

 

Novel Report: The word count now stands at 62,865, not much progress I know. But – I am now published. I self-published a collection of erotic short stories on Amazon. The title is “Women’s Passions.” It’s available for $2.99 and can also be accessed on Kindle Unlimited. Act now and you can be my first purchaser. It is certainly not going to be a best seller. I’d settle for one or two. In truth, I put this out to find out if I could, and how hard it was. Not too hard. I used Kindle Create to assemble it and Kindle Direct to publish it. If you get the book you will probably notice that I have the title page and the table of contents in reverse order. I don’t know how I did this, but I spent half a day trying, unsuccessfully, to fix it. If anyone knows how to correct this I’d appreciate the advice.

 

All About Sex

If there’s no sex, it ain’t LesFic

Eliza Andrews

 

I’m Back.

After finishing up my literature class, I’ve finally gotten time to read and write about the things I like again. Sorry about the hiatus.

I recently read a blog by an author of lesbian fiction in which she talked about the “requirement” to have sex scenes in LesFic. (Okay, it was Eliza Andrews, hence the quote above) She said that she, and other authors she knows, generally dislike writing these scenes, but if they are not included the readers complain and it negatively effects their sales. The most recent book of hers I read was a fantasy novel about an eighteen-year-old girl who was the daughter of the emperor in a made-up land. Although there was some romance in the story, it was not the focus. I thought the book was extremely well written with a complex and compelling story. With a teen-age heroine coming of age and learning to take control of her destiny, this would have been a good book to recommend to girls in their early teens –  except in the first few chapters there was a lot of explicit sex between the heroine and her seventeen year-old lady-in-waiting. The implication of a sexual relationship was necessary for the story-line, but the level of detail and made it inappropriate for an audience that could have learned from it.

Another of my favorite authors wrote a book about a woman whose practical joker of a brother set her up on a date with a lesbian friend of his. The two women decided to pretend they were falling for each other to teach him a lesson, and of course they did fall for each other. It was a nice little tale with the requisite HEA. Nobody got laid because the story didn’t call for it. It was a story about a woman slowly falling in love with another woman and coming to terms with her sexual orientation. A sex scene would have been completely gratuitous and would have distracted from the story line. On her website, the author said that she had gotten complaints from her readers about this. So much so that she wrote a sequel novella that was entirely about the women consummating their relationship. To me, it detracted the original story. The two protagonists were both shy, private people and I felt like a voyeur peeping into their bedroom.

When I first started reading Romance novels I found that most of them contained one or two sex scenes, which generally start with the heroine losing her virginity. While there are a few authors who make sex a major theme in their books, such as Stephanie Laurens, and Harlequin has a couple of categories where sex (mainly BDSM) substitutes for actual stories, for most writers of straight romance it is simply a small part of the relationship between the main characters. With just a few exceptions, the frequency and level of detail in LesFic is notably greater. Are lesbians that much more sexually oriented than straight women? There’s a question a straight guy like me will probably never have answered – and I’m not sure I really need, or want, to know.

Generally I will just skim these scenes to make sure something relevant to the plot isn’t snuck, in, but for the most part I find them vaguely embarrassing, both in lesbian and straight romances. Admittedly, sometimes the stories call for a sex scene or two, and I have written some. But not every story calls for its leading characters to get naked and give each other orgasms while we watch. Jae’s “Just Physical,” which I wrote about in my last blog, required explicit sex as it was integral to the central point of the plot. The same is true of some of Mary Ballogh’s Regency romances, such as “Simply Love.” The story would have been incomplete and incomprehensible if we had not experienced what the characters experienced. On the other hand, British author Natasha West has written several excellent LesFic romances where she has kept the bedroom door firmly closed.

I once posted on an All About Romance message board that mothers should require their adolescent sons read a few romance novels for educational purposes. They are written by women describing their ideal sexual experiences – what their perfect lovers would do – and the young men would get a true idea of what a woman wanted. I suppose the same is probably true for mothers of lesbian teens. I pointed out to the mothers that their daughters-in-law would love them for it.

And now in the spirit of full disclosure: in the past I have written a number of erotic short stories. In my defense, I’ve always tried to write about the characters having sex rather than about the sex itself, but the bottom line is that there are a lot of orgasms in them.

Novel Report: It now stands at 61,160 words. Not much progress I know, but I’ve been busy putting together some of my short stories with the aim of publishing them on Amazon. And yes, they are erotic stories.

 

THE HERO(INE)’S JOURNEY

I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.

Joseph Campbell

 

I am taking my second class in the English Department of our local community college, and in both classes we have talked about Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, “The Hero’s Journey.” The short explanation is that after studying the myths and tales throughout history he found that the typical epic tale has twelve distinct phases or steps. Examples of these Heroes include Ulysses and Gawain, or Bilbo Baggins and Dorothy (of Oz fame). And let’s not forget Batman.

While Campbell was originally writing about men with long beards and big swords, we also find this cycle in a much broader range of stories, including in Romance Novels. One of my favorite novels, by one of my favorite authors, follows this cycle perfectly. The author is Jae, and the Novel is ‘Just Physical.’

While this novel is a story about two women in love, a lesbian romance, it could just as easily have been about a man and woman or even two gay men. The real story is about much more than the sex and romance. A quick summary: Jill Corrigan is a successful movie actress who has made a career of playing the best friend in romcoms. At the beginning of the story she has recently come out as being gay, but more importantly as having multiple sclerosis. Being gay is not nearly the impediment to her career as is having a condition that could quickly debilitate her. Producers who cast her face the possibility that she could not complete the movie, requiring parts of it to be re-shot with a new actress, a potentially expensive risk to take.

Step One, Ordinary World:     Jill has been given a role in an historical disaster movie, mainly because the script writer is the partner of her best friend. She approaches the making of this movie trying to prove that she is a professional, and dependable, actress and her physical condition will not detract from her abilities. She is bothered by what she sees as preferential treatment, such as being given an air conditioned trailer (heat exacerbates the symptoms of MS).

Step Two, Call to Adventure:      Enter stunt-woman Crash Patterson. To minimize their risk, the producers have insisted that a stunt double be used, even for such minor actions as tripping over a bedpan, which occurs in her first scene. Both women feel an almost immediate attraction.

Step Three, Refusal of the Call:     Despite the sexual chemistry she feels with Crash, Jill refuses to risk having a relationship, afraid that if she allows herself to fall in love, or be loved, her physical condition could deteriorate to the point her partner would be forced into the roll of full-time caregiver. “What if she has to get up and clean the sheets if I have an accident while we’re making love?” she asks her friend Grace. When she learns of Jill’s medical condition Crash has the same concerns. Nevertheless, while shooting on location in San Francisco, Jill and Crash have sex. Jill insists, and Crash agrees, that it will be a one-time thing, not to be repeated.

Step Four, Meeting the Mentor:     Jill’s best friend Grace and her partner Lauren have noted the attraction between Jill and Crash. They think that Jill needs a loving relationship and work to put the two women together, initially by inviting them both to a cook-out, having arranged it so Jill will need to drive Crash home afterword.

Step Five, Crossing the Threshold:     After driving back from Grace’s home, Jill and Crash fall back into bed together. Jill insists, and Crash again agrees, to the stipulation that they will have a purely physical relationship, no hearts involved, and it will end when they have finished with the filming in six weeks. At this point both women are still concerned about Jill’s condition relapsing, condemning any lover she might have to the roll of care-giver.

Step Six, Tests, Allies and Enemies:     The heart of the story. Jill and Crash struggle to be ‘friends with benefits’ instead of lovers. Crash’s mother advises her not to get involved and risk sacrificing her life to be a caregiver. Jill’s mother, barely acknowledging the fact she is gay, constantly sends emails with quack remedies for her condition. Lauren and Grace encourage Jill to be open to a relationship. Jill’s homophobic brother tells her that having MS is a blessing as it keeps her from acting on her perverted desires for other women, ironically as Crash is in the next room following a night of love-making. Jill explodes at Crash after she impulsively ties her shoes for her. Jill feels Crash is telling her she can’t take care of herself and Crash struggles to understand why she can’t accept a simple act of kindness. The underlying conflict of the story become clear here, that Jill, while refusing to allow her condition to determine her professional life is letting it control her personal relationships.

Crash participates in an MS Caregiver support group, where she meets Sally, and later her husband George. George is confined to a wheelchair and is totally dependent upon his wife for his daily activities.

Step Seven, Approach to the Inner Most Cave:     The entire cast and crew of the movie sign up for an MS walk-a-thon. Despite her misgivings about being the center of attention because of her medical condition, Jill decides at the last minute to participate. At the event there is a board where participants can write down why they are there. Crash writes “for Jill.” After a lot of thought, Jill writes “I’m sick of being sick.”

Step Eight, The Ordeal:     Jill is beginning to understand how she has given control of her life over to her illness. At the event, Jill meets Sally and George and watches as Sally happily feeds him a hotdog, and he just as happily accepts her help. She and Crash both consider if they could fill those roles.

Then Crash has to perform a stunt where she will be set on fire. On a previous shoot a similar stunt went wrong and she received severe burns. Crash is ‘scared shitless’ of the fire, but determined to not let her fear keep her from doing her job. At her request Jill comes to observe the shoot, and Jill is put in the position of offering support as opposed to being to one needing it. She starts to understand how caring is a two-way street.

Jill enters an on-line support group for people with MS and encounters others with attitudes ranging from George’s upbeat outlook on life to “Sucks-To-Be-Me,’ a group member who sees himself as a victim and a loser. Faced with this contrast, Jill begins to consider how she is going to reconcile her life with her medical condition.

Part Nine, Reward:     After the wrap-up party following the end of filming, Jill and Crash agree that there is a possibility that they could become a couple. They agree to work towards that in a traditional dating/courting relationship.

Part Ten, The Road Back:     The morning after their decision to start a relationship, Jill suffers a relapse. While Crash is in the shower, Jill gets up to join her and her discovers she’s lost the use of her legs, falling and lying helpless on the floor until Crash comes back into the room. Jill is both embarrassed and scared by what has happened, and pushes Crash away. She insists that Crash call her friend Grace to come help her, asking that Crash leave. Jill starts treatment for her relapse, refusing to see or talk to Crash. While in treatment she talks with other women with the same condition and learns more about how they are coping with it.

Having been pushed away by Jill, Crash talks with her mother who, despite her misgivings about her daughter sacrificing her ambitions to be with a woman who cannot care for herself, tells Crash that if that is what she really wants she needs to go for it the same way she would approach any other difficult task.

Part Eleven, Resurrection:     Jill, who lives in a fenced and gated property, literally and figuratively tries to lock Crash out beyond the gate. Crash, literally and figuratively, climbs over the fence and refuses to be pushed away. Both women admit their love for each other.

Part Twelve, Return with the Elixir:     Jill needs regular injections to stabilize her condition and has always given them to herself, never letting any other person help or even observe her doing so, seeing that as an admission of weakness and dependency. The story ends with her letting Crash give her the injection. The two women are facing life together as a couple, as close as they are going to get to an HEA.

I have often told skeptical friends that Romance Novels are about a lot more than the romance, the best ones are about the women and men involved. “Just Physical” is not unique in following Campbell’s monomyth. Others that I have read include “Simply Love” by Mary Balogh, “Breathing Room” by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and “Nothing to Lose” by Clare Lydon. I’m sure there are plenty of others, and I’m looking forward to reading them.

 

Novel Report: It now stands at 59,197 words. I’m afraid I’ve taken out more than I have added to the story this time. It’s a damn good thing I don’t write for a living.

 

 

What is a Romance Novel?

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
    Jane Austen: “Northanger Abbey”

 

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I read (gasp) Romance Novels. For most people when you say those words they think immediately of the gaudy books published by Harlequin and Silhouette, which is not what I read. Oh sure, I’ve tried a few, and each time ended up wanting a refund of the time I spent on them. At least they don’t take long to read. I suspect there’s a computer program somewhere that churns those things out. How else could you come up with hundreds of books with almost exactly the same number of pages.

Despite the shadow cast by H and S and their ilk, there are a lot of very good authors writing very good books in this genre. After all, the first Romance books are said to have written by Jane Austen. So for those who say ‘I would never read a Romance novel’ –  you already have. Now get over it.

A lot of accomplished people are writing Romance fiction today. Here are a few of the contemporary authors and their provenances:

Julia Quinn; graduated from Harvard and entered the Yale School of Medicine. She dropped out to write Romance novels.

Stephanie Laurens; has a PHD in chemistry. Before she started writing she was the head of her own cancer research lab in Melbourne.

Victoria Alexander; was an award-winning television news anchor who found reporting on fictional romantic liaisons was more fun than reporting the news.

Radclyffe; was a plastic surgeon before quitting her day job to write full time. Not surprisingly, most of her works have a medical setting.

Jae; was a practicing psychologist before becoming a full-time author of lesbian romances. Although a native, and resident, of Bavaria she writes in American English and are her books are mostly set either in the Pacific Northwest or the Los Angeles area. She has also written several lesbian Westerns.

Eloisa James; is a tenured professor of English Literature at Fordham University where she lectures on Shakespeare. She is married to an Italian count, which is a nice touch for a Romance author. She started writing as a graduate student to pay off student loans and kept her Romance writing a secret from her professional peers for years until she finally ‘came out’ during a faculty meeting. Many of her books have Shakespearian overtones.

These are not starry-eyed maidens overcompensating for their lack of love-life. These are highly educated professional women. They don’t write crap.

Well, mostly. A lot of what Ms. Laurens has written I would nominate for the Crap Award. If you read her books on an e-reader you’ll notice that at about the 30% mark they become more about the sex than the story. She writes Regency Romances in which the female lead is a strong woman in her late twenties who is burdened by her virginity. (In one book her heroine is a virgin/widow whose husband had been so intimidated by her beauty he was unable to consummate their marriage – yeah, right, that happens all the time.) About a third of the way into every Laurens book the heroine cedes her maidenhead to an Alpha Male, often thanking him for the service afterward. The books tend to go downhill from there. Despite any accomplishments the women might have had prior to their defoliation, they cannot reach their potential until exposed to the Alpha’s magic penis. To make sure we get complete exposure to that magic, some of her sex scenes stretch over several chapters. Ms. Laurens never met an adjective she didn’t love, or over use. At some point all of her heroines will be described as having ‘ruched nipples.’ Matching the material of their skirts I suppose. I personally don’t think I’ve ever seen a nipple ruch, but maybe I’m not alpha enough to cause that reaction. Or maybe I just haven’t known that many virgins.

Oh, and speaking of less than stellar writing, in one of her books Eloisa James referred to the waltz as ‘that German dance.’ It’s hard to understand how a classical scholar could have made that mistake, and even harder to understand how it got past an editor. To her credit she owns up to the mistake on her website, but still . . . come on professor.

In contrast to the accomplished women above, one of the most successful and prolific Romance authors is Nora Roberts, who also writes as J. D. Robb. She has authored over 225 books and won numerous awards along the way. She was a stay-at-home mother who started writing while snowed in with her kids for several days. Nothing says romance more than a couple of cranky pre-schoolers.

With a wide range of authors comes a wide range of sub-genres. I started with Victorian and Regency stories. Before that I didn’t even know the difference between the two periods, or where they fell in the historical timeline. Reading Romances can be educational. There are also Elizabethan romances and historical (prior to Elizabeth I).  On this side of the Atlantic are American Western Romances and all those books with a girl on the cover wearing a little white bonnet. I’ve not read any of the Amish books but they are extremely popular, especially among older women of a religious bent. I was told by a young Mennonite lady that they badly characterize the Amish, but that may just be her opinion. Contemporary stories, gay and lesbian, and para-normal Romances (usually featuring were-creatures and vampires) can be anywhere in the world, although most seem to take place in the U.S., the U.K. or Australia.

The only one I’ve ever read that took place in Canada was Georgia Beers’ “Ninety-Six Hours” which was set in Nova Scotia, although the characters were Americans stranded there after 9-11. It’s a wonderful story about a community coming together to care for thousands of travelers stranded when all flights in and out of the U.S. were grounded – with a love story thrown in for good measure.

In summary, there are a lot of intelligent people writing interesting, and in some cases insightful, Romance novels. And, whether it’s a piece of formulaic fluff from Harlequin or a neo-Shakespearian tale from Professor James, every one of them has a happy ending.

 

NOVEL REPORT

Writing on my novel progresses ever so slowly. It now stands at 59,481 words. Unfortunately there are a couple of pages I’m going to take out, but they will be put back in at a later in the story.

 

 

THE BOOK AND I

. . . that long black period from your birth to the day you discovered reading.

Adair Lara: “You Know You’re a Writer When”

 

To start this off, let me just say that I love books. I love the look of them. I love the feel of them and the smell of them. (did you know booksellers say that Harlequins smell slightly of vanilla?) I love holding them and sorting them. I am surrounded by books. They are overflowing my book cases. They are stacked on the table, and floor, around both my recliner in the living room and the reading chair in my bedroom. I have them on my Kindle and on my phone. Sometimes I even read them.

Who am I kidding? I read them all the time. I have a sort of a rule that I won’t read more than two books on any given day, but that mainly refers to novellas. I will occasionally read two novellas in one day, but I try to pace myself. I rarely read an entire novel in one day, except for certain authors. I will usually finish an Amanda Quick novel in less than a day, but that’s not hard as her books are printed with a lot of extra space on the pages. I suspect that a three-hundred page A. Q. novel could be printed on two-hundred pages if they filled up all that white space.

Oh, I also usually read a J. D. Robb novel in less than a day, but that’s because I skip of lot of what’s in them. I know about Dallas’s nightmares and Roark’s nightmarish childhood and don’t need to share those experiences in every book. I got it, okay, let’s move on to the story. Oh, and I also just kinda skim the sex scenes – there are almost always two of them per novel and usually make up about two chapters. I will hold my thoughts on sex scenes in general for a later date, it’s enough to say right now that the J. D. R. books can be finished much more quickly without all the angst and orgasms.

While I have always been a reader I don’t have any recollections of being read to as a small child. I do remember that my mother got me a subscription for Donald Duck comic books, which I received either once a month or once a week – I don’t recall the frequency. When I was four years old I was very jealous of my cousin who was a year older and was in kindergarten. I would sneak up to the school at the end of our block, and watch the class through the window. But we moved to Oklahoma that summer and they did not have kindergarten so I couldn’t start school until the first grade. I think that was when I started getting the comic books in the mail, and learned to read from them. (A few years later my mother got a subscription to Playboy for my older brother. Pretty sure she was hoping he’d teach himself to become interested in girls instead of boys by reading them, or at least looking at the pictures. It didn’t work. Reading is a powerful tool, but not that powerful. I, however, appreciated the pictures.)

I have never read books to become a smarter person or a more thoughtful person or a better person, I read because I like the stories. While I appreciate good writing, I’ll take a good story every time. I am not going to spend my time plodding through “Crime and Punishment,” or even “Moby Dick,” to search for deeper truths when there’s a hot romance with a happy ending waiting to be read. I’m in it for the entertainment. If I happen to run across a deeper truth, well, that’s just a bonus.

Over the sixty-some years since Donald (the duck, not the one in Washington) taught me to read I have gone through genre phases, reading mostly books from a couple of genres until I either got tired of them or something else caught my interest. I didn’t stay in the comic book phase all that long as I discovered books that had more writing and fewer pictures (although Classics Illustrated comics did get me through several English classes without having to spend my time plowing through things like “Les Miserables” or “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” when there were more interesting stories to read). For years I read mysteries which I got started on with the Ellery Queen, Jr. books. Remember those? I would be surprised if anyone else did remember them. They were written by the same guys who wrote the Ellery Queen books, but featured a young boy named Djuna. Apparently he started his literary existence as a houseboy for the Queen family, but in his own books he seemed to always be traveling somewhere. It seldom occurred to me to wonder how a kid that young would be moving all over the country, bumping into and solving mysteries, with little or no adult supervision. Sounded like the perfect existence to me at the time. Hell, it still does.

Somewhere along the line I started on the Nero Wolf books – and am pretty sure I’ve read all of them. Talk about suspending disbelief. Archie Goodwin stayed a thirty-something smart-ass from the mid nineteen-thirties to the mid nineteen-sixties, eating fancy food and going dancing with the same hot girlfriend while helping his boss solve mysteries. Again, the perfect existence. Rex Stout, the creator of Nero Wolf, claimed that he wrote only one draft of every book without knowing how they were going to come out until Nero explained everything in the last chapter. Not a recommended, or even believable, writing regimen.

I alternated the mysteries with science fiction, more and more so as the fifties segued into the sixties. Didn’t we all. Reading “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Lord of the Rings” was almost a required rite of passage. To quote a J. D. Robb character, “You want fiction? Go with science fiction. You know it’s bullshit going in.”

Science fiction is often referred in to as ‘sf’ and Isaac Asimov opined that should stand for ‘speculative fiction.’ Sorry Ike, that’s redundant. All fiction is speculative. Every author is saying, “If these people existed in these situations, here is what I speculate would happen.” In other words remember, “It’s [all] bullshit going in.”

Enough for now. Sorry about all the boring personal history. I’ll try to stick with opinions as this goes on.

 

NOVEL REPORT

Over the years I’ve written a lot of short stories and last year I started writing a novel, just to prove to myself I could – sort of a bucket list thing. I am not trying to write the Great American Novel. I’m writing something that I would enjoy reading, you know, fluffy crap with a little sex and a happy ending. I was taking a Creative Writing class at the time I started it and used that as an incentive to write regularly. I was writing nearly a thousand words a day then, happily zipping along – until the class ended. Since then I’ve been lucky to average a thousand words a week. As an incentive, in every blog I will report my progress, at least word-count-wise. Right now it is sitting at approximately 56,789 words. Stay tuned for the next report.