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.

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.

08/22/12

Night Cobbler

It never failed, even on vacation her body woke up promptly at 5:45, just when the alarm at home would have gone off. Still, it meant Amanda could sip tea on a balcony overlooking Bourbon street as the sun came up. It meant she could walk the French Quarter in the early morning quiet and pretend no one else was alive. With all that she didn’t mind getting up so early.

The open sign no longer screamed, but now whispered, the red color long ago faded from bright to a dusty orange. Dust seemed to have won the interior of the shop as well, with a few cobwebs joining it. She looked through the plate glass windows at racks upon racks of shoes: high wooden stands with beautiful heels on top, boots lining the wall. For a woman whose one true love in life was shoes, it looked more like a treasure chest or a box of candy. She checked her watch, then the old sign in front of her. They opened at 10, she had time for a beignet at Café Dumont.

Except that a beignet turned into two, and then a walk in the Farmer’s market, until her first day in New Orleans became her first sunset over the Mississippi, and then her first dinner. Now she walked alone, the night crowd just taking over the French Quarter. She took a minute to watch them, the coupled up, the coupling. As always she walked alone. It seemed to turn out that way, no matter where she was. Too shy to speak up, to quiet to get noticed. She wanted to be part of the party, the center of it, loud and brash, but in the end she was a wallflower with a closet full of beautiful shoes.

Loneliness and desire threatened to take over her, she insisted her mind stop it, this was her vacation, her holiday, this would be different. But it wasn’t until the shoe shop came into view that she smiled. A new sign appeared in the door, ‘Night Cobbler’, in large flowing script, underneath it ‘custom orders and repairs’. She tried the door again, and this time it opened.

“You’re open?” She asked. The empty space surrounded her as she walked inside, quiet and smelling like leather and furniture polish. The dust she saw through the window seemed to stop there. Here everything sparkled. Her eyes fell first on a pair of blue leather boots, the front made of wide straps secured with large black buttons. She’d never seen a pair like them.

“Open at ten.” A gruff voice startled her, but when she jumped she saw another pair of boots, bright red Chinese silk, stamped with multiy colored dragons. “It’s 10:15.”

“Yes, but 10:15 at night. The sign said 10 in the morning.”

“The sign said 10.” The man looked old, at least sixty or maybe seventy, and not too happy.

“How much are these?” She pointed to the red boots.

“Not for sale. Not to you.”

“Well what about these?” She pointed to the blue boots.

“Nah, not for you. Those are vampire boots.”

“Vampire?”

But the old man had already walked away. She turned and examined the wares. Shoes of every color and variety, each pair more exquisite then the last. Kitten heels in silks and satins, with feathers and sequins. Furred boots, leather boots, a variety of colors she’d never seen collected in one place. On the men’s side she found brogans and oxfords. Shoes like her grandfather wore, somehow brand new and smelling of polish.

Her eyes drew back to the boots, the boots the woman she wanted to be wore every night. Boots that said she didn’t care how much her feet hurt, she was beautiful and that mattered more. Her fingers couldn’t stop from touching them, caressing the soft blue leather, then the red silk. She was so lost in the shoes that she didn’t turn when the bell on the door tinkled. But soon the noise, the raucous laughter forced her to look.

Vampires. Of course they were. Here for the vampire shoes. Everyone of them beautiful and perfect and loud. Unashamed to be what they were, the women wore dresses from every era. Not a hair out of place, their makeup and clothes exactly done.

And the men! Handsome, and more handsome still. Her heart thudded against her rib cage. The first was perfect and blond, tall and handsome. Then a dark haired brooding Heathcliff came into the room. Next she saw a ruddy Irishmen with a thick brogue and perfect waves of red hair. It was almost as bad as picking only one of the shoes on display.

“Are you new, sweetie?” The woman wore diamonds dripping from her ear to her bare shoulders, her dark hair pulled out of the way. Blood red lips matched her nails. She was exactly the kind of woman no one ever called a wallflower.

“I’m…” But the woman had been pulled into a reel; they were dancing in the aisles of the cobbler’s shop. Outside a gunshot rang out, an antebellum duel was being fought in the garden.  Amanda couldn’t help herself from gasping when the victim of the shooting got up, laughed loudly and handed his pistol over to the next pair of duelist.

“They do it every night.” The woman was back, breathless from her dance. “For centuries. I’d rather see the dancing, have you seen it? The burlesque off St. Charles street?”

Amanda shook her head.

“You have to see it, come with us!” She called to her friends, and suddenly all of them wanted Amanda to join in. It was a daydream come true, if you ignored the long canines and the blood staining the gunshot victim’s perfect vest.

“I’m not dressed.” It was the weakest excuse, and she didn’t even know why she gave it. Here was everything she ever wanted, every man she ever imagined, every delight, why was she hesitating?

“You know what I say? Change your shoes and change your life.” The woman, the vampire, pointed to the racks. “Pick a pair, and meet us down the street, we don’t walk fast. Come away with us.”

“Yes. Of course, yes. I’ll just pick a pair and…” But the shop was emptying, the cash register ringing up final sales and everyone leaving. Amanda turned, her heart set on the blue boots, when something white caught her eye.

Small satin slippers, decorated with tiny roses along the top, peeked out from a low shelf. White satin Mary Janes, a child’s shoe, a baby’s shoe. “Are these vampire shoes too?”

“No. Not for sale to those types. They wouldn’t ever want to either.” The old man snorted his disapproval and Amanda agreed with him. The white shoes didn’t appeal the way the boot did, but they were lovely, delicate. Another day dream she had once.

A noise in the garden pulled her outside, only two of them left, a young woman in wide sack backed gown struggled against the blond man Amanda had admired just a moment ago. The altercation looked intimate, the man’s head darted to kiss her neck, but even then the girl fought, saying no again and again.

“But you came out with us, little one, you danced with us. You keep coming back, this must be what you want.” His mouth went to her throat again, and in the moonlight Amanda saw blood flash black. She backed into the store, frightened and running into shelves. Shoes toppled, and fear made her trip.

A pair of strong hands caught her, calloused and rough. She grabbed the man at the waist, feeling the warmth of his tan skin, the safety in his dark brown eyes. Without thinking she kissed him, her body melting against his, falling in love with him before she even knew his name.

“Who are you?”

“The Cobbler’s Apprentice. They won’t follow you in here. There’s no biting in the shop. You’re safe.”

“I…” She looked at him, thought about the boots and the baby shoes. She wasn’t ready to buy the baby shoes, not today, but she wanted them, someday. The way she wanted this man. “I’d like to stay with you.”

“But you said you’d go out with them, and you can’t break your word to them.”

She had said it, and a part of her still wanted it, to dance, to be the desirable one, just for one night. “Will you be here when I get back?”

“Always,” he said and she trusted the promise in his warm lips.