Michaeline: Trevor Noah and the Female Gaze

Woman in 19th century photograph holding a card with an oval up to her eye. Her shoulders are bare, and her robe looks rich and soft.

“Oh, I like what I see!” says the female gaze. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I think it’s safe to say that most romance readers are OK with the male gaze, as long as it’s not accompanied by more problematic behaviors. Heck, trends come and go, and the “rapey” romance novels of the 1980s were strongly connected to the male gaze, I think. It’s sexy to think you are exciting your lover – there’s a nice empathy loop going on there. And for some people, for a protagonist to be so sexy that her partner loses all fore-brain activities (like decision, discernment and outright good judgement) is a powerful kink. To have a partner who “can’t stop” isn’t any fun in real life, and even the fantasy requires a lot of coordination and mutual consent on spoken and/or unspoken levels. And I say that with a great deal of hesitation, because unspoken consent is so . . . easily misunderstood. As David Bowie sings in “Stay”, “’Cause you can never really tell when somebody wants something you want too.” It’s so much safer (if harder) to use your words.

But male arousal when presented with a lover? Oh, that’s very sexy! It depends on the reader of course, but I enjoy the trope with both straight and gay romances. I love strong people (male/female/other) who become helpless with desire and lose their minds (but not their good sense – in fact, the struggle between “oh, this is NOT the plan!” and “oh, this is the ONE!” is so delicious). Someone makes the first move of consent, the other makes the next move indicating consent, and they fall into a passionate entanglement of kisses and touches.

That’s what I mean by romance readers being OK with the male gaze – and another reason they are often OK with the male gaze is that romance readers and writers are often just as enthusiastic about the female gaze. The female lover looks upon her adored one, and maybe the dear one is classically handsome with Continue reading

Michaeline: Nothing on my mind

feet in hot lake water

My travelling companions find the hot spot in the hot sands next to the lake. (photo by E.M. Duskova)

Nothing much on my mind this week! Today, I’m touring around some volcanic lakes, and I’d like to pretend I’m filling the well for some grand short story about fire demons, but actually, I’m soaking my feet in the hot sands of Sunayu in Hokkaido, Japan. Ahhhh!

This area is very cool, though. Lots of museums and crafts by the native people of Hokkaido, and this particular lake boasts of a sea monster! Kusshie of Lake Kussharo.

How is your summer going? It’s almost gone, so let’s take advantage of it!

Michaeline: Add some contemporary to make your historicals more real

A young lady from the mid-1800s reading a newspaper.

Newspapers were a popular source for information of all sorts. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve talked about using contemporary newspaper accounts to make your historical more real in the comments, and I’ve used the technique extensively when researching my Bunny Blavatsky, Gilded Age Spirit Photographer stories. You pick up vocabulary and phrasing for your writing, and background knowledge that would have been part of your characters’ everyday life. You don’t just pick up local tidbits that don’t make it into history books, but in later historicals, you also get world events practically as they happen. The first transatlantic cable was successfully transmitted on August 16, 1858; by the 1870s, messages were transmitted across the ocean in minutes.

According to Wikipedia, there were 43 newspapers in America in 1783; in 1810 there were

A Japanese woman reading a newspaper while clad in a kimono.

Reading a contemporary newspaper could challenge some of the clichés and stereotypes you hold about an era. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

366 (including 27 daily papers), and during the age of yellow journalism and all the good and bad that attended, papers exploded from 971 in 1880 to 2,226 in 1900.

You can find some of these newspapers archived on line; the Library of Congress is a good place to start.

I’m blogging about it today because there’s an astounding article from the today-in-history feature (August 3) on the United Press International website. UPI brought back an article about the death of Warren G. Harding in 1923. The story is first told with the kind of drama I’ve always associated with New Journalism – it’s a mix of fact and dramatic speculation about the last hours of Harding and his wife. The story then turns deftly to the facts of Harding’s last days, with wonderful period words such as “apoplexy” and “ptomaine poisoning”. It details the reactions of key political figures before going into a pithy biography of the late president, including his achievements as president. In true UPI style, the end is a bunch of charming anecdotes that can be included or excluded as the member paper’s column inches required.

Even if you aren’t setting a novel in 1923 (although, to be honest, it seems like an underutilized and exciting time to set a romance!), it’s well worth looking at the article for the details and the story telling.

Michaeline: The Benefits of Goofing Off on the Internet

A woman with a pen in her hand contemplating a blank sheet of paper.

Think, think, think. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

So, long story short: my friend and I were texting this morning about various womanly complaints, and she said Amazon has now got a sparkly menstrual cup on offer. It’s the kind of idea that hits you in the middle of the forehead with a solid slug of “Why?” and then slaps you on the back of the head with a good, “Why not?” The things are becoming more popular, and I suppose there’s now a market for sparkly menstrual cups. (Note: I can’t actually find such a thing on Amazon now, but now that it’s out there, it seems like it should be an idea.)

But of course, this reminded me of the Glittery Hoo-Ha, and Jennifer Crusie’s post about it. HER friend, Lani Diane Rich (aka Lucy March and other names) had brought up with half-serious literary theory about why the hero loves the heroine and only her – even though she is a diamond in the rough, or in this case, even though he’s a man who enjoys women and enjoys have sex with many, many women.

You’ll have to read it, and the comments (and the second page of comments when there so many that the blog broke), but the gist is that once he has dipped his wick in her glittery hoo-ha, no other hoo-ha will do for him. He’s in love, and ready to be faithful.

This random summer surfing came at a great time: I’ve got some empty hours coming up this week, and I’ve been thinking about the multiple problems of my work in progress (WIP). Right now, the conflict box is pretty weak. (Conflict box a mystery? Let’s raid Jenny’s blog again, with a fabulous explanation of Michael Hauge’s conflict box here.) My heroine’s goal is Continue reading

Michaeline: One More Thing You Need To Start a Story

A little girl offering root beer syrup to a young woman in black.

Older and wiser, but still obsessed with root beer. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

If you read Saturday’s blog post, you already know three elements you need to get your story started: a character, a setting/situation and finally, another character to play against.

The final thing you need to get the ball rolling is an inciting incident. You need the spark that sets the whole ball of wax on fire, and starts it rolling toward the finish line.

Yesterday, I talked about Rachel, who is producing illegal root beer on a spaceship. She is up against Ms. Pratchett, an atmosphere engineer who is disturbed by the sudden increase of carbon dioxide in the air – and she isn’t very fond of exploding bottles of semi-alcoholic liquid in the cabin next door. Plus, she hates the smell of root beer. It reminds her of an old Chinese remedy her mother used to force down her when she was under the weather.

In this case, the inciting incident is pretty easy to find. In fact, if you put your mind to it, I bet you could think of several. The first one I thought of was having the carbon dioxide detector go off in the middle of the night, awakening both Rachel, the fussy Ms. Pratchett, and the entire ship.

But hold on a minute! The first idea MIGHT be the best idea, but then again, it might not. It would be better to brainstorm at least a half a dozen ideas – things start to get very interesting around idea 12, they say.

So, here goes:
2. The captain calls Ms. Pratchett into his office, and orders her to investigate (strengthens Ms. Pratchett’s position, but a lot less exciting than an alarm going off).
3. A bottle of soda explodes, and Ms. Pratchett must investigate. (I do like a good explosion.)
4. Change the perspective: Ms. Pratchett is the hero of this story, and Rachel is an evil rule-breaker. (This is worth exploring: the villain is often the hero of her own story in a good book. This could deepen Ms. Pratchett’s characterization, and who knows? Ms. Pratchett, or Susie as we come to know her, might be the real hero.)
5. There’s no root beer yet. Susie Pratchett finds Continue reading

Michaeline: How to Start a Story

 

Old ad for Zaratarain's root beer syrup with a little girl carrying a tray of small glasses

Make it at home! Or make it on a train! Or on a space ship! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Usually for me, I start with a character, and usually, the character brings a setting along naturally. Rachel was a root beer fan on a spaceship. Olivia was a woman looking for a buddy to bundle up with during the coming blizzard, and it was easy to set her in upstate New York. Perz was a paranormal plumber, and my huge mistake with that story was not putting her in a setting with plumbing problems, but rather, in a cave.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been talking about putting a setting first, as a place that will naturally produce a lot of interesting characters. Maybe it’s a wedding – you’ve got confident wedding planners, unhappy bridesmaids, dashing men dressed like 19th century robber barons! (First, second and third parts.)

Or maybe you’ve rented a gentleman in Japan. This isn’t setting so much as it is situational, but you could have an interesting artist who might be entertaining himself by renting himself out, or perhaps you’ve got a Good Boy who was suddenly laid off at age 45, and needed a little gig to tide him over until he can find a better position.

So, these are the building blocks I usually don’t have problems with: a character, and a setting/situation. I’ve got a protagonist – now I need to use the setting/situation to create an antagonist – because it’s very hard to write a story that’s all in one character’s head. It’s so much easier when you have another character to add interest, input and plot complications.

When I first started writing, I would usually start with just one person, write a few pages, and then run out of gas. Nothing was happening!

Later, I would sometimes start with a team – three best friends, for example. However, they’d usually work well together, and I’d run out of steam after a few more pages. It was better than one person, but without conflict, nothing gets done.

A girl with root beer syrup and a glass of root beer.

“All you need,” Rachel said, “Is some water, some yeast, and this little bottle of magic!” (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Now, I’m at the stage where Continue reading

Michaeline: You Can Rent a Man in Japan

A handsome samurai leaning on his sword in a Japanese ukiyoe wood cut print

Help wanted? Have sword; will travel! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

まじ!You can rent a Japanese middle-aged man in Japan for about 1000 yen (approx. $9 as of this writing) an hour. Now, if that isn’t a seed idea for a romantic story, I don’t know what is.

Tofugu talks about their experiences in renting two older gentlemen here, and Kaeru Parcels gets down to the nitty gritty of how to rent a guy in Japan.

There are ground rules. No sex stuff. You often pay for transportation and any expenses (food, drink, entry fees to museums, etc.) for your gentleman. No touching. And no trying to sell your gentleman anything. If you violate the rules three times, you go on a blacklist.

What do people do with their older gentlemen? Well, one lady didn’t have friends who enjoyed spicy foods, so she rented a guy to go to restaurants with her. Some people just wanted someone to talk to. And others did the sit-com thing, where they hired an old guy to play a role. For example, one guy was a sarcastic guest at a party.

In another case, one woman hired an old guy to play her ex- to make her current boyfriend jealous and propose. It’s a little hard to parse the Tofugu article, but the way I read it, she and the old guy found a spark, and are now happy together. (But it could be read as a happy ending for the girl and her boyfriend after a confession – either way, good story material.)

Rent-a-guy is a pretty common trope in romance fiction, and I think it’s a fun one. It can be very transactional, where Our Heroine rents an actor to play the boyfriend, or Our Hero needs to rent an actress. Or, it can be a matter of Continue reading