Nancy: Will They or Won’t They?

When we read romance books, we know that, by definition, the couple will get a happily ever after (HEA). The joy isn’t the destination; it’s the journey. Not the what, but the how and, as Lisa Cron would remind us, the why.

But one thing I’ve been pondering as I finish my final round of revisions on the next Harrow’s book (Two Scandals are Better than One) is whether part of that journey should be the sense that this couple’s obstacles are so great, they just might not make it. Two Scandals doesn’t have that burning question. One of my beta readers listed it as a problem, although she liked the overall story. And as the writer/god of this story universe, I can thank her for that input and then choose to ignore it. But that bit of critique has stuck in my brain, because I think she might be onto something.

Let me give you some of the story deets. Edward and Lucinda (Luci) are friendly, acquainted through his sister, and of the same social class and tangential social circles. She had a girlhood crush on him but decided he’s dead boring (spoiler alert: he’s not), and he finds her mesmerizing but believes she’s from a family of dangerous men (spoiler alert: she is). They work together to rescue her father from a treacherous criminal gang, which leads to visiting houses of ill-repute, playing dress-up and assuming aliases, and crossing a group of cut-throat smugglers.

Neither of them is betrothed or promised to anyone else. Neither is hiding a dark secret that could keep them apart. Neither is being forced into close proximity against his or her will. There’s no impediment to them being together. Instead, this story is the journey of each discovering themselves while falling for the other.

Each of them is trapped in the proscribed life their families expect of them while dreaming of the life they wish they had. When they join forces against outside entities, they each doubt themselves but believe in the other. They each help the other recognize his/her own potential and achieve it, which makes them feel ready for and deserving of their HEA. All while on a dangerous foray into London’s seedy underworld.

Have you read (and liked!) any romances where there was never a point when you wondered how these crazy kids were ever going to end up together, but instead were watching them fall–perhaps  predictably–in love? Does the fact that the story involves mortal danger and weapons, most of them deftly wielded by the heroine, make the set-up any more appealing 😉?

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