Are There Limits to the Darkness?

Romances have a strict adherence to the Happy Ever After ending. In order to get to that point, you can put your MCs through a lot of really bad things. But how much is too much?

The uproar around 50 Shades of Gray includes the fact that no woman should be treated the way the FMC is, even with her consent. What happened in her life to make her feel that treatment was sexy and wonderful should never have happened. And making a movie glorifying it, not to mention a book series, is too much. But it’s not really a Romance.

Outside of sexual preferences, the world has lots of violence aimed at women, and a difference of any kind can amplify the violence. If you haven’t heard of Cynthia Bond, you will soon. Her book, Ruby, has been chosen by Oprah Winfry’s book club, and for good reason. I heard about it on NPR’s Morning Edition program. The writing quoted from the first page of the book is poetic, wonderful, and also carries the promise of some edgy events to come. Ms. Bond’s inspiration for the story came from a beloved aunt, a beautiful woman (much like Ms. Bond herself) who was murdered because she had a white lover. Her murderers were never brought to trial. Again, this book is in the category of Woman’s Fiction, not Romance.

I write Romances. I have a heroine in my Regency Banquet series, Main Course – Pure Captivation who was raped. The story takes place in a war in Europe in the early 1800s. I can’t imagine a woman in Maryse’s position would have been able to avoid rape. And so one day as I talked to her in my head, she revealed what happened. It makes the story poignant, and gives the two main characters a way to really bond to each other. They will have their HEA ending.

The last book in the series, Dessert – Pure Indulgence, has evolved while I have been writing the first two stories. At my local chapter meeting of Romance Writers of America, I really began to think about the character of Cousin Mellie, the heroine in the last book. She has a strong personality, and always knew that she wanted to marry her cousin Roland. In a flash of insight, I realized that she has been desperate to get away from her stepfather, who has touched her inappropriately. I wondered if things had gone farther, if she, too had been raped. But Dessert is supposed to be a light and satisfying story, not as heavy as Main Course. Incest is a dark, ugly act, but like the rape in the second story, something that happened in more cases than would ever or will ever be told.

No, at this time, I am going to keep the situation lighter, but it’s the perfect motivation for my heroine. And the perfect motivation for the gentleman who will want to rescue her.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.


Relationship Age

On Valentine’s Day, my beloved husband and I took a long drive because we enjoy staying off the freeways and just taking in the scenery. Even though the route wasn’t new, there always is something new to see and observe.

We stopped for breakfast, and I observed the couples around us. Regardless of the ages of the participants, I thought I could tell the age of their relationship. Of course, there’s no way to prove what I surmised, but I also will never need to provide evidence of what’s true.

Couple #1: Male and female, young looking, nicely dressed. They sat facing each other, talked in normal conversational tones, and seemed to apologize to each other frequently. The young woman was very pretty, and the young man, also fairly attractive, couldn’t take his eyes off of her. I guessed this to be their first date or an early date. Perhaps even their first face to face meeting. She touched her hair a couple times, and he just stared at her. Sadly I didn’t get to watch much more interaction as we were seated somewhere else. But the signs observed tells me this is a new relationship, and it could go either way.

Couple #2: Male and female, middle age, well dressed, sat facing each other. Their conversation was quiet, except when the noise in the restaurant increased and they had to talk a little louder. They made eye contact and laughed a few times together. I would be surprised to find they had been together less than 10 years. They appeared comfortable together, anticipated each other in subtle ways like passing the salt and asking for more coffee. A nice and mellow couple, and happy together.

Couple #3: Male and female, young, he had very short hair and the build I associate with the military. She wore a very skimpy top and short skirt. They touched each other constantly, talked quietly face to face. I observed them while waiting for a table, and from the way he walked off at one point, and she waited only a few minutes before going to find him, I think they have a new relationship that maybe moved too fast for one or both of them. They need reassurance of a physical kind, not just an affectionate touch but an anchoring one. They might have issues they will work out, but then again.

Couple #4: Male and male, not too young, professional looking for breakfast, but very involved with each other. Seemed shy about showing their attraction to each other in public. And I have no way of confirming that they were a couple. They could have been really good friends, but there just seemed to be something more going on.

Couple #5: Well, Mike and me. Somewhat large people, obviously in love, kissing, touching, laughing, being coy, tasting each other’s food, and just having a great time. This is a lasting relationship, not new, not in any trouble. It’s just like heaven.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

Judging Book Covers

Someone I know recently won a contest based on the cover of her book. Well, actually, the person who created her book cover won. Covers, especially in Romance genres, are very important and can create sales all on their own.

I just unpacked a box of Romance books that have been in storage for a long time. I have been collecting Romance books for at least three decades now, and the changes in the covers is interesting. Especially Regency and Historical books.

Old Harlequin covers and Georgette Heyer books were pretty tame, a pretty woman, a handsome man, a lovely setting. This Mills and Boon cover from a 1965 novel is eye-catching, but tame.

There came a lot of odd use of matt-like covers. The evolution went from a square half-page presentation to a round picture in a white field. This style persisted and has been modernized a few times.

The current style is a full size photo with a red band across it. Very nice.

Historical romances started with Kathleen Woodiwiss and her Flame, Flower, Wolf, Dove stories. The advent of the bodice ripper covers. The first version wasn’t that blatant. This is closer.

Rosemary Rogers jumped in with great novels, and pretty good covers, too. The people are smaller, but that changes soon. Special inside artwork covers came about, with an increase in man chest.

In general, the historic romance went the path of more chest, and men with really big swords. The women got flouncier. And less was left to the reader’s imagination.

Contemporary Romances are very different, not really much more that something to catch your eye. That’s not a bad thing. A couple kissing in the rain will always get my attention. So will a bad boy with tats.

I can’t wrap this up without a word about Fabio. You may think of overexposure when you hear his name, but really, he started (or at least made it good) the man chest standard. Plus he has that chameleon quality that makes him look real no matter what the artist does to him.

Buzzfeed put out a great humor piece as to what Fabio is really thinking on the various covers.

And comedian that I think I am, here’s a collection of funny covers

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

Where Will Your Story Take You?

Research is an essential part of writing. Unless, you know, you are writing about your home town, your business, and what happened last Wednesday. But in order to write an interesting work of fiction, you will probably need to step outside that safe circle.

I decided to place my second Regency Banquet story in France. Oops. I needed there to be military action between Britain and France in 1806 or so. I could just ignore the fact that no such battles occurred, but I want to attract regular Regency readers, and a few of them might just know the truth. With help from smart people on Scribophile and history books (okay, Google and Wiki), I found out that there was some activity in Belgium at the time.

Oops. Belgium wasn’t called Belgium until the 1830s. The area was mostly called the Lowlands, with a nice ethnic area of Walloon. Saved! Now my French lady of noble birth hiding in a farm works out perfectly.

My paranormal romance (sadly on the back burner) starts in Florida, moves to Nassau, with a goal of Cuba for the real action. Google Maps street view of Florida is awesome. Nassau is pretty good. Even Cuba gave up enough information for me to move forward. Until I had to set it aside for all the other projects.

I love my Regency story, The Viscount’s Mouse. And for the cover, I decided to use some period pieces that are in the public domain. English cottages are pretty easy to come by. But when actually writing the piece, I needed more inspiration. This one is exquisite.

And for Regency Banquet: Main Course, I needed to look at French Farm Houses. I suffer so.

And a stable.
Types of Ships.
Basements where a person could be chained up.
And since Parker Hurley, my inspiration for the Curtis twins, has an awesome collection of tattoos, I decided Roland Curtis should get an animal in the family crest inked on his shoulder.

But I digress. As a writer, I know I will be reaching out all over the world, and maybe even creating worlds for my stories. As a reader, I want the setting of the story to be as authentic as possible, and not bump me out of the story with some really obvious error. And all this work is totally worth it.

Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.

Photoshop of the Mind

Last time I mentioned that my husband looks just like David Gandy to me. Few other people see the resemblance, but that’s their loss. Or perhaps I am using Photoshop. In my head.

I’m sure you have seen a movie or a TV show where one half of a couple is looking at the other half and seeing their favorite movie star. I have a good friend that I have known for many years, and whoever she was dating or married to looked just like whoever her favorite celebrity was at that time. And maybe she always picked guys who looked like Oliver Reed. I just had more trouble seeing it than she did. My version of Mental Photoshop produced a different picture.

As a writer, I need to use my Mental Photoshop on the job, picturing my characters as living people, seeing them interact with each other. I use Pinterest like a fountain of inspiration. I spent lots of time this week looking for a character who will be in a short story, his ex-wife, their two kids, and the woman he dates, plus the town sheriff.

The world is growing up, or maybe culture is growing up. I watched some comedy shows from the late sixties, and the issues of race and political processes are mind-boggling. In one sketch, a white woman and a black man get married in Mississippi. The preacher, instead of saying “May I have the ring?” says, “May I have the noose?” Funny but not really, because that was the truth of the times.

My hero is a white man who fell in love with and married a black woman. They have two daughters. The wife is conflicted about who she is and who her children will grow up to be. She decides to leave my hero, and they divorce. But he never falls out of love with her.

He is set up on a date, and decides to go through with it. The woman is a beautiful Latina, a business woman who applies for a job at the hotel the hero is remodeling. They just don’t work out, and so she goes to console herself with an old friend, the town sheriff. A very all-American looking blond with blue eyes.

There’s more to the story. You don’t expect me to give it all away, do you? I hope when you read the story that you will be impressed with how it all works out.

And if anyone asks, my husband sees me as – Ta-Da! Me. He’s not a writer. I don’t even know if he installed Mental Photoshop. Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Sunday.

Contract Negotiations

My husband and I know we are two of the luckiest people on this planet, and maybe several others. Against all odds and oddities, we found each other. Two nerds. One married and a smoker, the other single, fat, and forty, we started talking online (before the internet, on a local bulletin board system ) and fell in love. Just like Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett.

The way Mike proposed to me was to ask if I could put up with him for the next 60 years, with an option to renew. This kind of silliness is exactly why I loved him then and love him more now. I’m not saying our life has been an easy, no bumps, no slippery slopes journey by any means. We’ve been a blended family, we weathered unemployment twice, and until the right drugs were prescribed for me, I shouldered depression all too often. We raised his two youngest children together, with mixed results. I love them both and accept their willingness to have me in their lives at the level that makes them comfortable.

We lost pets, and if that doesn’t bring a couple closer together, nothing will. We learned that some things are important to me (holidays and birthdays) but not so much to Mike. And something that is important to him (beer) is not that high on my list of interests. And we learned to be flexible.

I had just been writing romances for a couple years when I met my soul mate, and interestingly enough, I stopped writing during the early years together. Writing for me was a way to replace the missing romance in my life. But once Mike brought that alive for me, writing took a back seat.

Sometimes I regret that I stopped, because the chances are good I might have been published by now. However, now that self publishing is available and no longer carries a stigma, I am published, so it’s all good. And because writing is such a deep part of my makeup, I never really stopped. Ideas went down on slips of paper, I used humor when I wrote out minutes for various groups, and I offered my writing services for my peers at my job.

Now don’t think that my relationship has simmered down or gone cold. That’s not the reason I am writing romantic erotica. In fact, this is what my life with Mike is like, in my mind: Yes, in fact, Mike does look just like David Gandy to me.

In March of this year, we will celebrate 20 years of being together and in love. We happened to talk about it, and I told him I am glad we have 40 more years left in our 60 year contract. “After that,” I said, “We should renew year by year.” Mike: “I expect we will just renew ad infinitum, until the world or either of us ends.” Me: “That works for me.” “Mike: “So, do you want to renegotiate now and leave it that way?” I did.

And so we are set, and it’s written on our hearts. Thanks for reading, and I will be back on Thursday.

Across the States Part 5

We are on the home stretch of this trip, unless I do some territories. So many decisions to make. Get your souvenirs and let’s hit the road.

41. Pennsylvania. As a long-time member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, my first thought of Pennsylvania is the annual Pennsic War. In Pennsylvania. I have never been, but love hearing the stories brought back from the event. I had a friend who grew up in that part of the world, but didn’t join the SCA until she moved away. I always hoped to go visit her during the time of the wars when she moved back home for a while. I loved Mary Margaret Pulver’s novel, Murder at the War, but I can’t determine and don’t remember if it actually took place at Pennsic, or a fictional war. I’m leaning toward Pennsic, but I am unable to commit. And as stated before, murders don’t entertain me as much as romances do. Instead, I found a highly-rated-by-reviewers romance about a farm. Anything You Ask by Lynn Kellan is a little slice of sweet with just enough tart past to keep things interesting.

42, New Jersey. I honestly am going to start writing contemporary romances in a new genre, Senior Adults. Young and New are great, but there are a lot of us Boomers hitting the golden years, which by the way hit back. I’d really like to read about someone finding out it’s never too late to fall in love and live happily ever after. The first thing I saw about You Dropped a Blonde on Me (okay, after the funny title) was the age of the main female character. Over 40. Yes! Reviews are mixed, but I would give this one a try just for the odd sensation of reading about a real woman. Thanks, Dakota Cassidy, for writing this.

43. Delaware. Everyone who knows who Thomas Campano is, raise your hands. You probably live in or around Delaware. Or you really like real life murder mysteries. I think this was a blip on my radar at the time, but it’s not my cup of tea. I am just amazed by how many books have been written on the subject. To find an interesting romance, with no one dead at the end, I went back to 1992 for a book set in 1887. The Reluctant Bride by Barbara Bretton is a cute tale of a proper Englishman who inherits a seaside hotel about to crumble into the sea, and meets the overly enthusiastic Ameican woman who grew up there and wants to restore the building. I have a feeling the title was applied by the publisher, I expect the author would have called it Love’s Bargain or something more to the point.

44. Maryland. The only state I know the opening line of the state song! Also know about the naming of the state and the early settlers. Partly because I grew up Catholic, do I know all this. And I also love the Irish and horses and Nora Roberts. This book could have been written with me in mind. And it’s the first in a series called Irish Hearts. Irish Thoroughbred by La Roberts.

45. West Virginia. Take me home, country roads! Yeah, so not much in my brain about this state, but absolutely can’t wait to read this book. Obsidian by Jennifer L. Armentrout is the first in the series Lux. We have a hunky but alpha rude guy next door, and high school student heroine (sigh) and a very odd twist to the story. So okay, I can hang with a young lady for a bit.

46. Virginia. I have to mention Bridge to Terabithia. My kids had to read it for school, and so I read it, and so I am scarred for life. Great book. Someone said there’s a movie. But on to the state book. A romance has only so many possible story paths. It’s not about creating a fresh way to get two people together, it’s about the fresh way to have them get there. Does that make sense? Well, in Tempting the Best Man by J. Lynn (whose secret identity is Jennifer Armentrout) the couple in question tried to get together, but have done nothing but argue since the night they did The Deed. Now there is a family wedding, because her brother is his best friend, and they are thrown together with best wishes for a happy ever after.

47.North Carolina. A compass is so important when traveling. West, North, South, all so confusing without that little needle swinging around. Just so you know, we will not be looking at any Nicholas Sparks books. And because you have to start 4 books before they even get to America, no Outlander books. Don’t give me a chance to rethink that, because I am so in love with Ms. Gabaldon’s creations. Instead, I am going with Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist, in part because the book is listed in Christian fiction, but the author includes details of a wedding night. And someone is outraged, OUTRAGED, that married people have sex. Or that someone would write about it. Set in 1898 and filled with Vanderbilts and other rich society folk, the story sounds delightful.

48. South Carolina. Please read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Not really a romance, but such a delightful story. And so important to the history of our common growth as people, not as different races but as people. With that, I am going to take a step on a different path and look at a paranormal romance. The Restorer by Amanda Stevens is the first in the Night Queen series. The female main character comes from a family of graveyard restorers, who also can see the dead and know they need to protect themselves from it. She ends up helping a detective when a body in found in a graveyard that shouldn’t have been there, but must keep her distance if she can. Otherwise his ghosts may invade her life instead. The clincher for me on this book, a reviewer mentioned the prose from Ms. Stevens to sound more like poetry.

49. Georgia. You must have read The Color Purple by now. If not, do that immediately. One of the unusual situations where the book and the movie were both excellent. Thank you, Alice Walker. On a lighter note, I just found a gay werewolf romance that is delightful! The cover is striking, the story blurb is great, and here’s the product warning: Contains color abuse with a really bad sense of fashion, a southern accent from hell, sex on antique furniture, a pouncing playful werewolf, obnoxious siblings, liberal use of a color identifier and impatient sex. No lightning bugs were harmed in the making of this book. So wrong, and yet, so write. Er, right. With Abandon by J. L. Langley is third in the With or Without series, but come on, how can you resist?

50. Florida. In the interest of full disclosure, I have family living in Florida. And as far as I know, none of them have been involved in any polyamorous relationships. Some of the first porn I ever wrote involved two men and one woman. To make it worse, the men were brothers. Guess it’s a hidden weakness, and here’s a book that could have been written just for that girl I used to be. Love Slave for Two by Tymber Dalton (how can someone with such a great first name come up with nothing better for this title?) is a plausible story and full of hot interaction between two men, in a committed relationship, who suddenly both fall in love with a woman. Go figure. And it’s the Love Slave for Two series, book one. Talk about a happy ever after!

So glad to end our tour with a bang. Thanks for reading, and we will find something else to do on Sunday.