Reflections on Romance

I love many romances, I do, honestly.  But sometimes I’m disappointed by the genre restrictions. 

I was reading an enjoyable romance by an author I love, and the heroine was forced to choose between two men (granted, not my favorite trope at all, because you know what I’d say:  let Guinevere have both King Arthur and Sir Lancelot!)  But this wasn’t an erotic romance, so I knew she was going to choose one or the other.  I suspected something a little odd was going on, and then one particular event ruined the “reveal” for me entirely.  The surprise twist of the book was no longer a twist — it couldn’t be.  Because it was a mainstream romance.

What was the big event that spoiled the twist?  She had sex with someone other than the “hero” of the book listed in the blurb, quite late in the book.

Now how many books have we read where the hero is in bed with some skanky mistress?  Scads.  But we rarely see a HEROINE of a romance involved with anyone but the hero–because to allow her to be with someone else implies that she’s a slut.  That she DID have sex with the other man told me immediately that the “two men” thing was a complete and utter sham.  He had to be the same man, and yes, he was (although it was complicated).  I’m not naming the book so I don’t spoil it for anyone, and I still enjoyed the book.  I mean, she did get both heroes, then.  In a way. 

But it made me think about romance in general and the double standard.  I’m not saying I want skanky heroine sluts running around by any means, but sometimes, the restrictions of our genre chafe.

Come on, haven’t we moved beyond the following “choices” for a heroine?

  • virgin pure as snow
  • previous experience but they were all terrible, unsatisfying lovers and only the hero can teach her how wonderful a “real” man can be in bed. 
  • skank!

Of course I also read about a review of Victoria Dahl’s A Little Bit Wild today where the reviewer couldn’t get over the heroine’s “morals of a gnat.”  Errrr, I didn’t know that gnats were so permiscuious?  But the point:  the heroine (in a historical, no less) had had sex with other men, and that was just unforgivable.  Worse, she likes sex.  How terrible! *boggles* 

I guess that’s why I’m so intrigued by Victoria’s heroines.  They’re typically brash and unashamed with their own sexuality.  They’re subversive, really, compared to the rest of the heroines I’ve been reading lately.

That’s one of the things I really wanted to play with in the new world I’m building.  Subversive heroines.  Role reversals.  Taking beloved romance tropes and totally turning them on their heads, but still pulling off “romance.”  We’ll see if I succeeded…or failed utterly!

Sometimes I love that I can trust everything to work out in the end when reading a romance.  No matter how terrible things get, in the end, I know they’re going to be happy.  Nobody too crucial is going to die.  Nobody’s going to make a permanent wrong decision that costs them someone they love.  Happy happy happy!  But sometimes, that safety net reads more like a lie and a cheat than forever.

What subversive heroines have you enjoyed?

Those Genre Fences

I did some soul searching with my accountability partner, Jenna, and I think I finally realize why I can’t get any momentum built up on the Maya story.

I can’t decide what genre the story should be in.

You might be asking, how on earth could you have written 70+K in a story and you don’t know what genre it’s in?  I find myself asking that same question. *wg*  It comes back to Romancelandia, the tall white-picket fence I tend to sit on, and which side I think this story’s going to jump down to become.

I’ll always write a “romantic” thread, sometimes smoldering and boundary-pushing, but other times, quiet and gentle.  In the first draft of the Maya story, I tried to make the romance smoldering, and it came out forced.  I *despise* forced.  I’ve toned things down considerably so it is more natural.

It’s not a traditional romance “thou shalt have hero and heroine met on page one” kind of story.  In this second major draft, a lot of plot is going on around and in the main story line.  The hero and heroine don’t even get on page together until around the 86th page.  The focus of the story is NOT them getting together.    They don’t even have relations *cough* until after the 200 page mark, and then just the one time, a feat for me.  (I dare you to go count the sex scenes in Rose, say, or Beautiful Death, or even Survive My Fire, a mere 20K!)  The romance is much less “in your face” than I would typically write, but I didn’t do it deliberately — it just happened as I worked through this draft.

Now the ending…it’s so crucial.  I have two paths.  The path I know is “romance.”  The path I don’t know is “not.”  I don’t want to take the easy path, whichever way that is.  Part of me says take the path less traveled, explore that new way, but then I wonder:  is this just me wanting to kick the genre fences down?  I do get that way sometimes (while according to the Chinese horoscope I’m a dog, I feel a lot of empathy for horses which don’t like to be penned in stalls).  I don’t want to make a choice just to be obstinant, n0r do I want to play safe.

I think the more compelling ending would be the non-romance path with a cliffhanger.  It would lend extreme urgency to the next book (although I have no idea what that plot might be).  Yet is that the *right* thing to do?

I have to make a decision.  Today.  Because I have two days off next week and I’m going to bust my metaphorical balls to finish this revision before I go back to the Evil Day Job on Wed.

Opinions?  Discussions?  Would you rather see a “happy ever after” or “cliff hanger” type ending?

Happy Birthday, Year 5

Today, I’m five years old as a writer.  Five years ago, I made a commitment to My Beloved Sisthat I would FINISH Rose (then titled MBB).  I didn’t even dream of publication at that point–I just promised to get Shannari out of that prison cell and back to her barbarian. 

To be honest, I’ve struggled to decide what I wanted to say.  This past year has been hard…and glorious.

I’ve had to learn how to write new books and push existing books through to production at the same time.  Not to mention promotion, which I really don’t like to do much.  Giving away books and prizes are much more up my alley than chats (or book signings in the future), but the introvert must come out occasionally.  As a writer, there’s nothing better in this world than fan letters, though.  Meeting people who actually READ my BOOK is a humbling, thrilling, boggling, stammering-inducing experience.  Lord help me, I’ll be a basketcase if I actually have to talk anywhere.

I think my writing has taken some interesting steps.  I’ve pushed myself in 2008 to finish two very challenging and non-politically-correct stories.  AKA Romancelandia may hunt me down with torches and pitchforks after certain scenes in The Road to Shanhasson…

*Gregar grins and there’s absolutely nothing innocent in his wink*

and beta-readers either love or despise Conn in Letters to an English Professor.  That’s one book I really waged war with myself against.  Again, I almost listened to other people’s advice and filed it away instead of finishing it the way it deserved.  I’m so happy with that story I could just bawl thinking about it, but then Miss Belle would beat me over the head with her pink parasol.

Neither story was within my comfort zone as a writer.  They hurt my heart in many ways.  Gregar is not easy.  I actually wrote his big scene wrong the first time in a vain attempt to sneak around his heart’s desire.  I didn’t WANT to write him that way, but the Shadowed Blood was adamant and patient until I got it right.  Well, he did bring out his ivory rahke several times, and once I swear he grabbed me by the hair and threw me into the Well.  But hey, I finished it, and it is one incredible ride. 

And Letters, well, what the @#*&% was I thinking to write a contemporary?  It would have been much easier to shelve it instead of pushing to the end.  Sometimes I felt like that scene in the original Rambo movie where he’s hauling the POW up the sloppy muddy hill toward the helicopter, which then abandons them to the enemy.  But oh, oh, oh, I’m so glad I kept climbing.

And that summarizes the year, I think.  I kept climbing.  Maybe not as fast as I hoped (my word count took a dip over the summer).  Maybe not as far.  But I feel like my writer’s heart grew a size or two after writing those books.

May every book help my heart grow until it busts right out of my chest.

Here’s to another year.