Jeanne: Telling Parallel Stories

Like Jilly, I have been spending time judging contest entries lately. Unlike Jilly, some of rails-3309912_640mine have been pretty good. One, in particular, interested me because the story paralleled the romances of three different couples, which is what I’m trying to do with my third demon book, The Demon Wore Stilettos.

I was especially interested because every time I tell other authors what I’m working on, they say, “That’s way too complicated. You need to get rid of some of that.”

And it may come to that, but I really want to keep all three stories, so I was happy to see someone else had tried the same thing with, I thought, some success. Her stories were all set in the same small town and used the marriage-of-convenience trope for all three.

Mine are all set in Minneapolis-St. Paul and all revolve around the second-chance-at-love trope.

Where I thought the contest entry could have been stronger was in cohesion. The stories run along side-by-side like train tracks, never crossing, never even approaching each other. In mine, the three couples are, respectively, demons, humans and angels. All three couples have had past romantic encounters and all are now, for various reasons, no longer in those relationships. Continue reading

Michaeline: Welcome to Riverdale

Puff pastry with a layer of cream, more pastry, more cream, more pastry . . . more better! Strawberry on top.

The many layers of a Japanese mille feuille (by Miya, via Wikimedia Commons)

Over the holidays, I binge-watched Riverdale, which is a live action reboot of the 75-plus-years-old Archie comics, and I loved it. I always love a good soap opera, because they are layered like a mille feuille, but Riverdale? Riverdale has layers in five dimensions.

First, artistically speaking, I was struck by the Twin Peaks vibe from the first shot. We open on the tragic drowning death of campus hero, Jason Blossom. In some ways, it feels like a prologue, but it is exactly where the season’s story starts. We’re given a gorgeous backdrop of river and mountains, somewhere near the Canadian border, and the stunning contrasts of all that summer green, and the Blossom twins’ pale skin and red hair. (Tone alert: Riverdale has Twin Peaks’ striking look, but there’s 50 percent less mumbo jumbo. The story references Twin Peaks as an influence, but it’s got better pacing, in my opinion.)

When I headed back to the DVD menu to click for my next hit, the episode names reminded me of old movies and short stories. Stuff like “Heart of Darkness” and “Faster, Pussycats! Kill! Kill!” I bet a reading/watching program of these references would provide quite an education in how to set up murderous fictional situations. But even if you’ve never read or seen most of these classics (and I haven’t), you’ve heard of them. They are in a million pop references, and you get it. It’s a little touch that re-inforces what you know about this series: it’s a pop rendition of some of the best of the twentieth century. That cult-hit vibe makes it even more cool and mysterious.

The next thing you notice is the stars. I’ll circle back to the younger stars in a paragraph or two, but the older stars? If you are a woman of a certain age, Archie’s dad (played by Luke Perry ((!))) and his mom (Molly Fucking Ringwold! THE red-headed sweetheart of my generation!) will provide all sorts of other feelings and memories. They don’t particularly Continue reading

Jeanne: The Complexity of Romance

muffins-2225091_640Romance may be the single most complex genre of fiction there is.

A romance author has to juggle five different arcs:

  • Story (plot) arc
  • Character arc for the heroine
  • Character arc for the hero
  • Relationship arc
    • And within that relationship arc, both the emotional arc and the physical arc of the romance

That’s at least double most other genres, which have a plot arc and character arcs for only one or two characters (and sometimes no character arc at all).

To make things even tougher on the romance writer (though easier for the reader), some of those arcs should line up, sharing common turning points.  Let’s do a hypothetical example:

Our Heroine wants to open a bakery in the perfect location in her little town. She has a character flaw, though. She hates confrontations and backs away at the first sign of conflict.

Our Hero wants the same spot to open a mobile phone franchise. He’s a good guy, but he’s very competitive. Continue reading

Michille: Just Can’t Help Falling in Love

Difficult Choice. . .  With Romance Novels.

This was a recent topic on The 1A on NPR. The topic was romance novels in general and the lack of diversity in romance novels specifically.

The guests were Alisha Rai, romance author of the “Forbidden Hearts” series; Alexandra Alter, publishing reporter for The New York Times; Sarah Wendell, Co-founder of “Smart Bitches, Trashy Books”; Leah Koch, Co-owner and founder of The Ripped Bodice.  Continue reading

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

Michille: Read-A-Romance Month

RARM-2018-FB-header-768x284August is Read-A-Romance month. What is that? According to the website it “was conceived and launched in 2013 by freelance writer and romance advocate Bobbi Dumas, after she realized there was no one place where the community celebrated romance all together, at one time, in a concentrated way. Read-A-Romance Month is cross-publisher and cross-genre, and represents a broad spectrum of authors and books.” Continue reading

Nancy: Romance is the Shizzle

OK, that might be a terrible and decidedly dated title for a blog post, but what’s important here is the message. Romance is hot! I’m not talking about 4-alarm heat levels based sexual explicitness. I’m talking about the state of the market. While other fiction genres struggle to recover from the hit book buying took last November (after something happened…something cataclysmic and unprecedented…ring any bells?), the romance genre is leading the pack in rebounding.

According to an article on Salon.com titled Welcome to the Romance Resistance, booksellers, publishers, and indie authors are reporting record sales in the genre. The article credits the escapism the genre offers its readers, something many women (remembering that women make up 84% of romance’s readers) are seeking  during these trouble times. No doubt there’s something to that. But other genres offer escapism, too, so what else is romance offering its readers?

It’s another e word. Empowerment. We’re seeing tremendous pushes toward regression in women’s rights, on issues ranging from workplace protections to bodily autonomy. Much of the romance genre provides a ballast to this frightening trend. Authors across the genre write about heroines who are smart, capable, and full of agency. Heroines who are empowered.

We’ve seen how threatening empowered women are to the powers that be and the pushback that women’s societal strides forward have engendered. But we must keep that forward momentum. When fighting the good fight exhausts us, we can take a break and sink into a good book for a little bit of escapism and a big dose of ‘woman power’.

Friend of the blog Jennifer Crusie has said romance is the most subversively feminist genre she’s ever read. That subversion, and the escapism, empowerment, and celebration it brings with it are center stage right now. So let your romance flags fly, readers and writers of this awesome genre!

 

Note: This week, whether you’re stoking your creativity by writing your own romance story or immersing yourself in someone else’s story world, how about a little musical accompaniment? Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the smash Broadway hit Hamilton, has undertaken a musical project to help victims of Hurricane Maria. If you want to hear him talk about the creative process of writing and recording the song Almost Like Praying with a whole host of Latinx stars, check out NPR’s interview with Miranda. To get straight to the music, check out the video on YouTube. Whether you stream the song or buy, the proceeds go to the Hispanic Federation’s Hurricane Relief Fund.