05/1/17

Quiz: Are you a Romance Hero?

Have you ever felt like you’re walking around in a movie? Or maybe that your life is the plot of a novel? Do obstacles pop up in a way that seems plot-driven? Do you wonder if your life is really someone else’s summer daydream?  Well, I’m here to help.

Every spring I judge a writing contest. Last year, it inspired my list of ways to tell if your hero is a jerk. This year, I’d like to perform a service for all my readers and help them figure out if they’re secretly the romantic lead in story, an always ideal creature that is usually called ‘the hero’. Consider each trait below. If they sound like you, you might just be someone’s hero.

You always have a condom, no matter how implausible sex might be.  Most of us don’t go hiking, riding on the range, kayaking, or to board meetings thinking about safe sex, but heroes always seem to have a discreet condom in their pocket.
Bonus points if you can offer a plausible explanation for the condom, like the cowboy hero who explained the condom was a integral part of his saddle bag first aid kit.

You’re such an accomplished lover you always know what to do for your partner, every time, even if it’s the first time the two of you have been together. Sure, everyone has different preferences, but the hero magically never tries something their partner doesn’t like.
Bonus points if you give your partner something they craved but have been too afraid to ask for/never even said out loud.

You are so potent, that the one time you forget protection your partner is immediately pregnant regardless of age, being on the pill, or a history of infertility.
Bonus points if those pregnancies have no negative side effects like morning sickness or exhaustion.

You always satisfy your lover first. Heroes never rush into anything, least of all their partner. The person (or people) they’re with is always satisfied at least once, usually twice, before the hero even thinks of their own pleasure.

You can go a very long time without having sex and lose none of your abilities as a lover. Even five hundred years of celibacy doesn’t make you rush or fumble.

You are never so injured, tired, or hungry that you can’t have sex. Ever. Bruised, beaten, or dealing with heavy blood loss a hero can always satisfy (see above).

You are never not completely in love with your partner. Is she moody? Does he have the flu? Doesn’t matter. You still find them sexy, or maybe adorable, but never annoying, whiny, or tiresome. Heroes never fall out of love and think their partner is always perfect.

You can always set the mood for some romance. Bad guys chasing you? Earthquake? Zombie attack? A real hero only needs a semi-dark or semi-private place to turn any situation into a sexy night to remember.

You are instantly loved by all. Colicky babies, defensive mutts, and disapproving mothers all immediately fall for you, even though they usually hate people like you. They instinctively know you’re different, without being able to put it in words.

Did you say yes to three or more of the above? If so, you might be a trope-driven romance hero. Maybe consider developing a few real life flaws to go with that tortured back-story. Or don’t: a lot of folks love romance heroes.

12/15/16

December, again? Really? Must we? Fine.

I was struggling to come up with a blog post this evening, so I checked back on what I posted last December. December 2015 found me apologizing for a late blog post with precious few words, and summing up what was going on in my personal life. December 2014 produced a review of what I was reading and a sentimental post about what was going on in my personal life. December 2013 had only one post and it was about my personal life.

It seems December steals my words and leaves me with nothing creative to say every year. I’d love to tell you “Not this year!” and reveal some great truth about writing, but I’m afraid I’m fresh out. Well, unless you count a few hard learned lessons:

  • Being published does not magically solve all of your life problems.
  • It’s hard to separate yourself from your writing when you get a bad review.
  • It’s hard to decide what the right choice is when you’re writing.

I suspect those are not shocking truths to anyone. Just like I suspect those who know me well can understand why this time of year hits me hard.

(This is the part where I tell you about my personal life – because hey, by now it’s a tradition.)

My father fell into a diabetic coma on Thanksgiving. I will never know what ended his life, rolls? Stuffing? One more slice of pie? Maybe if he hadn’t fallen asleep in front of the TV after his meal. Maybe if someone had thought to check on him sooner. A thousand maybes and unanswered questions and then his ashes were delivered to my house on Christmas Eve.

I’m afraid December has never recovered.

But I’m lucky to have my blog to look back on. It tells me that by January (just a few weeks away) I’ll feel more like myself again. And, of course, February is time to start planning for Halloween (only 7 months!). Then you’re into the good weather months, April and May. The summer is Con season, crowned by DragonCon on Labor Day, which starts of the best time of year – Halloween time! From Labor Day until November 1st, it’s pretty much all skeletons and smiles around here.

I can accept bad reviews, because I know that not everyone will like my books. They still hurt, but they’re part of writing. And I can accept December, it still hurts, but sad times are a part of life.

Sadness and December, like fear, will pass:

    I must not fear.

    Fear is the mind-killer.

    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

    I will face my fear.

    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.

    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

– from Dune by Frank Herbert (One of my Dad’s favorite quotes)

 

So, see you next December to talk about my personal life. Maybe we’ll chat about how I don’t have kids. Or how I can’t decide if it’s more offensive to write characters from other races/genders/cultures (which is basically saying I think I know what they experience) than to only write white cisgendered heterosexual characters (which isn’t diverse, erases other people, and gets boring).

07/15/16

My blog so far…

I started this blog in November of 2010, eager to share a thousand things with the world. I blogged without a schedule, telling myself I’d get a great post out each week. Some weeks were more of a struggle then others but I made my goal. My plan included at least one short story each month. Inspiration didn’t always come when I needed it but I wrote some stories I dearly love on this blog.

Then in 2012 my writing life took a hard sideways turn I hadn’t expected. Somehow my blog became the only writing I did for a year. I succeeded at blogging but failed at actually writing and editing, not to mention the business side of authorhood. In 2013, I decided it was time to focus on those things more. When I did (predictably) the blog suffered. My posts followed a haphazard schedule, coming in between giant writing jags that produced two competed manuscripts. One of those was the Mermaid and the Murders, which is now published, so while I regret that blog neglect, I don’t regret it too much.

Still I came out of 2013 well aware that I needed structure, something to keep me on track with the blog.  I switched to blogging on the 1st and the 15th of each month. The hard deadline kept my blog going but I found that short story ideas melted away from me like a ghost in moonlight. My blog turned more toward writing and my experiences, places I went and things I did. It’s a change I’m comfortable with.

About a year ago now, I added monthly book reviews on the 20th of the month. Like my early blogging days that started out easily enough. I read about eight books a month, sometimes more, so I picked the best ones and dashed off a few excited sentences about the story.

But my reading habits have changed. I’m reading more samples and fewer complete novels. It takes a lot to wow me enough that I want to recommend a book to the world. So, from here on out, my reviews won’t come on any set schedule. When I’m wow’ed by a book I promise to share it, but the regular review posting on the 20th is over as of last month.

If I’m brutally honest, part of this blog reflection is because I’m in edits on the sequel to Under a Blood Moon. The working title is “Fire in Her Blood” and I’m enjoying polishing it for publication. I really love writing, crafting a story, researching a setting, and editing it until the manuscript shines. But while I’m happy to give up writing reviews on my blog for the chance to do more of that, at the same time I’m not willing to give up on my blog. It’s brought me too much joy to walk away.

05/1/16

Is your hero a jerk?

I’ve found some of my favorite authors by judging a writing contest each year in the spring. I’ve been a judge for several years now, but I’ve never seen this many “jerk” entries. That’s my pet name for romances where the hero is, deep down, a jerk. Thus I give you, signs your hero might be a jerk:

Your hero doesn’t let his heroine make decisions.
It doesn’t matter how he does it, withholding information is just as bad as sharing but ignoring her opinion. In either case, or any other situation you can think of, not letting an adult decide what will happen with their life makes you a jerk. I recently threw a book across the room because the hero refused to share with the heroine what was happening to her. He’d turned her into a vampire, but he wouldn’t say what that meant or how it would happen. While she (literally) sat in the dark wondering, he set up a car accident to fake her death, bought new clothes for her, and generally decided how her life would go. Jerk.

Your hero decides what the couple will do. All. The. Time.
The heroine wants to talk through an issue; the hero wants to have sex. They end up having sex instead of talking. The heroine wants to run errands; the hero wants to go to the game. They go to the game. Partnerships require communication and compromise. The hero picking every activity, meal, and sometimes even the heroine’s clothes isn’t fair. I don’t mean the hero should always do what the heroine wants. In The Mermaid and the Murders, the hero turns down sex, twice. Both times Danika, the heroine, is ready, willing, and excited, but the hero, Sam, isn’t. Now if Danika was a jerk, she’d insist or belittle him. She doesn’t. She’s still frustrated but she talks to him about why he said no, eventually coming around to his point of view. A hero who turns aggressive or pouts when he doesn’t get his way? He’s a jerk.

Your hero plays tricks or tries to catch the heroine in a lie.
People make mistakes and tell white lies. Accepting that and forgiving your partner is part of being in a healthy relationship. Tailing them to confirm they’re going out with who they say they’re going out with, using the “find my phone” feature to track them, or insisting they call you when they reach their destination is a jerk move. This behavior pops up in historic mysteries too. One of the books I judged had a hero who waited in the alley outside the heroine’s, watching her. Another set up a dinner where the guests could test the heroine’s knowledge of India to ‘help her’ prove she had really been there. If you’re hero can’t trust the heroine at all, he might be a jerk.

Your hero shouldn’t rape. Ever.
I hate that this has to be said, but I saw in two books this year. Here’s the deal – rape is an unforgivable crime. I can’t move past it to care for the hero. There are no circumstances where rape is okay. Not if the victim is a prostitute and the hero gives her extra money after the assault. Not if the hero uses supernatural powers to make the victim forget. Not if the hero is part of culture where rape is okay. There are no heroes who rape.

I’m not saying every man in a romance novel must be perfect – flaws make characters real. There’s a big difference between a flawed character and a jerk. A flawed person apologizes when they screw up. They recognize what they did was wrong and try not to do it again. They might not always succeed but their apology is meaningful and sincere. You can see that they’re making an effort to be better. The jerk doesn’t think he’s screwed up. He might apologize but it’s an insincere effort to get something. Maybe he’ll do something the heroine wants, once or twice, but always with the idea of quid-pro-quoi in mind.

I read romance to see a healthy relationship develop over the course of the book. I expect to see the couple talking, considering each other’s feelings, making decisions together, and generally working through their troubles to have a healthy, happy relationship. I don’t need them to be perfect people but I require kindness and respect.

Because at this point in my life, real heroes aren’t the guys with abs or bags of money; they’re the guys who do the dishes, take care of the kids, and remember my favorite flavor of ice cream. I’m more impressed by people who show they genuinely care. Diamonds are lovely, but taking the day off work to sit with me in a doctor’s office when I’m scared is priceless.

Of course not every guy is going to do that. It’s asking for a lot, but at least the guys in romance novels shouldn’t be jerks.

02/1/16

Random Thoughts – The Value of Things

The costume worn in the first Indiana Jones movie. New the garments cost a few hundred dollars, with their history people pay $25 just to look at them, drop them off at a charity shop and you might be able to write $10 off your taxes. What's their value though?

The costume worn in the first Indiana Jones movie. New the garments cost a few hundred dollars, with their history people pay $25 just to look at them, drop them off at a charity shop and you might be able to write $10 off your taxes. What’s their value though?

Editing is hard work that leaves you slightly scattered making it difficult to come up with a blog post that stays on topic. Thus, here are the very random thoughts about worth, value, museums, and mermaids swirling in my head.

I recently attended the National Geographic Museum’s Indiana Jones and the Adventures of Archaeology. Blending movie magic with actual artifacts the exhibit left me with struggling with the idea of value and how it is defined. What makes something important?

The exhibit started with the costume worn by Harrison Ford and then showed the famous Ark of the Covenant, before moving on to ancient necklaces, a series of stone carvings, and the first map. It was hard to tell the movie props from the actual artifacts. I started by wondering what was real, and then immediately wondered why it mattered. Does the experience an item provides make it valuable?

While the exhibit was meant to showcase actual archaeologists and explain their work, most attendees clustered around the props, costumes, and movie memorabilia. Are those items not as much of a representation of our culture as the real things kept under glass? Popularity certainly didn’t seem to be related to the archaeological value of the item on display. Winding my way around the exhibit I found ample room by the ancient pot shards and antique photos of actual digs but barely enough space to breathe next to the crystal alien skull props. Does popularity define value?

One exhibit box showed an ancient shell necklace and a modern diamond engagement ring, explaining that the two are roughly equivalent. Both are items that were/are considered precious by their culture but are actually easily obtainable. Diamonds are a common stone; their scarcity is a marketing device. Shell necklaces impressed ancient people without the means to travel to the ocean, but today they’re tourist trinkets. Yet somehow, both diamonds and shells were used to signify relationships. Does the value of a thing reflect the value of what it represents?

One of my editors told me to work on world building, to tell more about how the mermaids live, how their world works, if people know about them, and so on. But while the main character is a mermaid, she doesn’t want to be. She deliberately shuns mermaid culture, choosing to learn about biology, history, and life on dry land instead. For her the value of any mermaid item would be less than the value of any human item. Regardless of representation or popularity, individual beliefs about an item change its value…but only for the individual. I don’t like diamonds, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Museum goers would rather read about special effects than the rosette stone, but the stone is still extremely important. So maybe usefulness determines value?

When I moved I gave up a lot of useful things. Decorative cupcake stands I loved but rarely used, more plates and dishes than most families needed, and a vintage sled un-ridden in years, all went to another home. While I still thought they were valuable, they didn’t have a place in my life anymore. The last year or two have been a season of shedding for me. I want more experiences and more time with the people I love, but I’m not keen on having more things. At the same time I want to be sure I’m keeping what matters. I wish I had an easy way to judge the value of a thing.

01/1/16

Rewrite Your Story

A combination of holiday doldrums, editing stress, and my first cable subscription in years led me to re-new my acquaintance with stories I hadn’t watched in a few years. In between editing and unpacking boxes I plopped down on the couch to revisit old favorites, shows I once stopped everything to watch.

But a funny thing happened while I was away: the stories changed. Characters I loved started behaving in unbelievably strange ways. I expected things to get back to normal after an hour or two, but slowly I realized this was normal now. Strong female characters became emotionally crippled shells; decisive heroes became hesitant. Two shows embraced the same bizarre story-line where a villain raped the hero only to become pregnant and avoid all punishment.

I can imagine how it happened – in some boring conference room writers surrounded a table, fiddling with pens and rapidly cooling coffee. One of them looks up with excitement to exclaim ‘I’ve got it!’ and the world of characters and circumstance I found so watchable becomes a mess, the story so far away from what it had been that I don’t want to take part any more.

How far back would I have to go to fix the problem? How many paragraphs of dialog, how many scenes? I could change something subtle  or maybe it needed a drastic push like cutting out a character completely or moving them all to someplace new. Picking a new path isn’t easy. Every decision I don’t like, every plot point that makes me cringe, is someone else’s favorite. From where I sit choices are regrets but to another person they’re a triumph, a story I should love.

It’s hard to know which perspective is right because often the out of control past writer  is yourself. Great choices sour in the light of reality, things spiral out of control. You find yourself someplace you never expected to be or suddenly dealing with circumstances you never thought could happen.  Don’t waste time lamenting how it should have gone. Move forward, try something new, don’t spend energy on the future that wasn’t. Work to make the story better and make a new ending for yourself.

Sometimes stories go the wrong way. It’s up to us to rewrite them. The story doesn’t have to be about your biggest mistake, it can be about your biggest victory – the way you turned a mistake into the best decision in your life.

 

12/1/15

My friends don’t live here.

I struggled to write this blog post, starting from scratch three times before I came up with an idea worth sharing. In the middle of those attempts a friend-I’ve-never-met dropped me a link about her Prime Minister to distract and inspire me. I didn’t understand all the humor/humour but I realized that moment, that interaction, was what I was struggling to capture.

I’m moving. Again. I swore the last move would be my last. I expected to settle down in my small, historic town and surround myself with friends. But my friends don’t live here. They live in Canada, the Northeast, the Northwest, Florida, and overseas. I’ve developed a collection of like minded, brilliant people who inhabit the globe. There are people I’ve known for years that I’ve never seen in person in New Zealand and Iceland, France and California. I could find someone to go to lunch with in great snowy plains of the Dakotas, the Midwest, or even Seattle but I struggle to do that in my own town.

I grew up with the idea that you make friends through volunteering or your job, but that never quite worked out. The people I volunteered with weren’t interested in getting together after the task was done. The civic groups I served didn’t check on me after my car accident or hospitalization. I couldn’t talk about the things they liked: football, church, or hunting. They didn’t understand the things I liked: running, fantasy novels, and comic book movies.

The people online did. The phone calls and emails, posts on Facebook and message boards provide me a constant sense of support and friendship. A new paradigm is emerging and the people around me don’t quite understand how it works. My relationships with people I’ve never met are more fulfilling than the ones with people I see every day. Dinner with someone I’ve only chatted with online turns into an evening with no pauses in the conversation, no struggling for topics, but the ten minutes before a meeting stretch on as I scramble for something to say. Thank all the gods for the weird weather we’ve been having.

So I’m moving to a city that’s served by three major airports with lots of chances to travel. Being in a small town, trying on that dream of buying a house and settling down was important, but it didn’t fit. I’m terrible at home maintenance, and a menace in the garden. I’ve killed countless seeds and plants learning that all those things I once dreamed about don’t really work for me. I’d rather be back in the city taking belly dance lessons than in a garden struggling to grow a tomato.

I’m ready to go back to the good and the bad, the crime, traffic, and high prices. I expect I’ll complain about them soon enough, but for now they seem like a small price to pay for the opportunity to go to Drag brunch or spend my Sunday at a museum. I’m going back to DC, purging all the things I acquired to fill my suburban home. You’ll find me at the Smithsonian Folk life festival, the Scottish games, the Romance Writers of America meetings, and every dance class I can fit in. And sometimes, you won’t find me at all, because I’ll be flying to meet those friends I haven’t ever seen. I know we’ll have a great time together.

10/1/15

Hurricane Watch

As I type these words a gentle rain falls softly on the world outside my window, unlike the rain last night, that one tip-tapped on the roof until the middle of the morning. We haven’t had a good soaking rain yet, one fierce enough to get this Florida girl to open an umbrella, but there’s a hurricane on the way, so it’s coming. The anticipation is hard for me, the anxiety, the questions no one answer, and the powerful reminder that human beings are not as powerful as we imagine.

Hurricane Joaquin

Hurricane Joaquin, photo from NBC News at http://tinyurl.com/pjko3c2

I’ve lost track of how many hurricanes I’ve survived. I remember the bad ones. Frances hit just before DragonCon, causing the most surreal sixteen hour drive of my life. Andrew ripped away houses leaving brown scars you could see from the highway no matter how fast you went. Charley chewed through roofs and every other house wore a blue tarp for months. Erin arrived the day a surgeon removed my wisdom teeth. With limited water and no electric, I developed an infection and passed the storm hallucinating with fever.

Despite the hardships, I’ve always appreciated the raw power of the storm, the beauty of it. My father and I would head to the beach after the all clear, searching for treasure churned up by the waves, watching the wind rip the foam off the surf. One our way home we’d stop and help people. One year I helped my favorite pizza joint take down the heavy plywood that kept their windows safe. Before the storm came we helped neighbors batten down the hatches (literally) and put away possible projectiles like lawn furniture and ornaments. After it hit, folks with generators run extensions cords to refrigerators down the block, and people smart enough to have a gas water heater offer hot showers. Communities can come together in a magical way after a hurricane.

Hurricane preparations always make me rearrange my priorities. Mentally packing my ‘go box’, a five gallon plastic bin I’d grab in the event of evacuation, makes me realize what matters. None of my clothes are important enough, nothing from the kitchen except food. The electronics only matter because of the things on them – family photos, manuscripts, scanned copies of documents we’d need to file insurance claims. The jewelry maybe, especially the few things I’ve inherited, but if it meant getting out in time or being trapped I’d leave it behind. I’d pack my quilts if there was room but even my prized 1938 sewing machine could be replaced. Hurricanes remind us what matters most.

Someday I’d like to write a story about a hurricane, stealing pieces from my childhood like the way we went outside to play as the calm eye of the storm passed over us or the chemical smell of rainwater purified with exactly eight drops of bleach in each gallon. At age four I struggled to count the drops exactly, at fourteen I poured the much more dangerous lamp oil with confidence. Now I’m the one searching for batteries and picking out canned food, closely watching the forecast to see where it will land. It’s hard, but not impossible. Once you’ve lived through a storm, it becomes a part of you, especially the bad ones. You realize you have it in you to survive, to help others when the sky is falling, and move forward when the storm passes.

09/15/15

Things We Keep — Under a Blood Moon First to Final

How important is preserving the past? And which version of the past do we keep?

When the paperback copies of Under a Blood Moon arrived I quickly snapped a photo of one on top of the original draft. Under a Blood moon first draft to final copyPrinted in March 2007 that draft only roughly matches the story in the finished novel. I intended to shred it the next day, not out of anger or malice, but because I didn’t need it any more. I mused about leaving the past to the past, and focusing on the future. But then I hesitated.

A story will change with the telling, altered as people apply their own point of view. It changes more when the author writes a sequel or explains things in other works. One of my favorite series began with the heroine being saved from a pair of attackers by the (eventual) hero. In the first book she was alone and desperate. Later in the series we learn another person was watching the shadows. By the end of the series some seven people were there and only the hero moved to help. Critics were quick to point out the inconsistency, but does it really matter?

I’m editing the second Mallory novel now. The third is ‘proofing’ and my mind is chewing on what will happen in the fourth. I’m tempted to re-read every word I’ve written, from beginning to end, before I start on that fourth story. It would give me a more consistent, more ‘correct’ version of the story but I want to write what’s in my mind now rather than trying to recapture what I felt then.

One of my first readers of Under a Blood Moon is a friend who I met at my day job. After reading the book she asked me an interesting question – would it bother me if Mallory was Black? There’s nothing in the text that specifically makes her White, and a reader might imagine her as a Black. I told her it wouldn’t almost instantly, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I want readers to imagine Mallory as Black, Latina, Asian, or whatever she looks like inside their mind. I want them to read my story and make my characters real.

Which is why I finally shredded those first manuscripts. A story isn’t just words on a page, but an evolving idea. I don’t want to look back at what I might have meant but instead move forward toward what my stories can become. I want that more than I want to remember what the story once was. Holding on to the past leaves your hands too full to reach for the good things to come.

12/1/14

Goodbye to my Fairy Wings

In my 20’s I wanted to be sexy. That’s probably not shocking to you, but to me it’s a revelation. Schoolyard bullies convinced me I would always be ugly. I carried that truth into college where I focused on my classes, taking as many as 28 credit hours a term, rather than risk the assured rejection of the dating scene. It was only in my 20s, after grad school, that I realized my body could be something more than a container for my mind.

I found cosplay right around that time. There’s something enormously powerful about a man stopping a long line of pedestrian just to take your picture. It’s hard to find a greater confidence boost than to have ten or fifteen camera flashes go off when you stop and pose. Immersing myself in a world of corsets, costumes, and conventions, I found my fairy wings.

fairy wings

Over four feet tall and made of shimmering purple fabric, my wings could not be ignored. Walking on a crowded convention floor required a ‘wing man’  to make sure that no eyes got poked. In my wings, I floated as a sexy, free spirit. I became fey, an attractive just out of reach, thing of beauty to be coveted.

Oddly, as I left my twenties, my wings hung on my wall more than my back. I found that I wanted to be more than sexy. My tastes in costumes began to veer more toward the Evil Queen than Tinerkbell. Sexy was fine, but I wanted to be strong and sexy. The light, flirtatious, giggles I never quite mastered began to grate on me. The goal ceased to be being desirable to someone else and became proving I was strong.

My fashion ideal: Once Up A Time's Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) (Photo : Reuters)

My fashion ideal: Once Up A Time’s Evil Queen Regina (Lana Parrilla) (Photo : Reuters)

I write about strong woman, and some of them happen to be sexy. I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. Instead they strike me as phases of a woman’s life. Just like the maiden-mother-crone cycle, surely there must be a fairy-dragon-queen cosplay cycle. Or perhaps there’s something even greater, a systematic unboxing where as women grow older they broaden their definitions of what they want to be, and expand the list of things they can be at once.

My fairy wings will go up on the auction block soon, maybe at a local SciFi Con or maybe in a costuming group. I will miss them, especially the easy way they gave me to define myself. I won’t be the girl with 4 foot fairy wings any more but I will always be the woman who wore them.