Bodice rippers, feminist literature, or just good yarns (Part 3 of 3)

This is the last part of the article based on my talk at Featherston Booktown. Part 1 talked about Dangerous Books for Girls, and the first of six reasons that romances are a threat to the establishment. Part 2 gave three more reasons. So here are the last two.

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#5 Because female orgasms

Romance novels are about people falling in love, which means (whether they are at the sweet end of the spectrum or far down the other end at erotica) they are about people who feel a sexual attraction to one another. This might well be a revelation to some now, as it was 200 years ago. Women have sexual desires. Women experience sexual pleasure. And women’s feelings, sensations and experiences are different to those of men.

A novel is a safe place to explore sexuality. It can’t make you pregnant. People don’t get STDs by taking books out of the library. Romance novels tell women that a hero cares for the pleasure of his beloved; that he puts her pleasure ahead of his own. Dangerous Books indeed!

And today’s best romance writers are very good at writing about sex, unlike the authors celebrated in the annual ‘Bad Sex Awards’, from which comes this gem:

Surely supernovas explode that instant, somewhere, in some galaxy. The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands – only Karun’s body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

Compare the list of ‘Bad Sex Award’ excerpts to the list of scenes that will get you hot and bothered, or this one, which is a first kiss.

She opened her mouth, already shaking her head, and he hurried on to say his piece before she could object. “You could marry me. I don’t flatter myself that I am a prize, but I am a better bet than Hackerton. Marry me, and let me care for you, Rose.” He bent, curving low to capture her mouth. It was as soft and full as it looked, though at first stiff and unresponsive.

But she followed his lead in this as she had in the dance, and what had begun as an impulsive gesture to prevent her from saying no became a luxurious vortex that spun him out of space and time until he was oblivious of everything except the giving, the taking, the sharing of their lips, their tongues, their mouths.

She looked dazed when he drew back. Well, good. He was dazed. He gathered her against his chest and rested his cheek on her hair. “Marry me, Rose,” he repeated.

#6 Because HEA

If a fictional heroine escapes the confines of the house, chooses love, has orgasmic sex, and dies at the end of the story, the message is clear: Don’t try this at home. But if she lives happily ever after? The message is also clear: Live the dream, girl!

In romance novels, the heroine lives. Not only that, she lives happily ever after, which is shorthand for a life of being loved for oneself and for having achieved a measure of security.
(Dangerous Books for Girls, by Maya Rodale)

Unhappy endings appear to be a convention in literary novels. They may be beautifully written, challenging, interesting, and effective in their own way. But they are not hopeful, and people need hope if they are to change their lives. Live the Dream!

While I’m here, can I just dispose of one particular feminist critique of romantic fiction, that it teaches women to believe that happiness lies in a successful love affair? Excuse me? This is a romance. Read the label on the box. If it says cornflakes, don’t grumble at finding cornflakes. If it says romance, don’t be offended by the happy ending.

The happy ending is not more nor less a fiction than all the killers brought to justice in murder mysteries, or the appearance of magical creatures and powers in fantasy novels, or technology that does not exist in science fiction. Do readers of thrillers really believe that a lone hero, with brooding good looks and the memories of an appalling childhood, will ride into town and save the day? No. It’s fiction.

But some killers are brought to justice, technology that was science fiction ten years ago is true today, sometimes one person might make a difference, and happy ending do happen.

And if some find that concept dangerous, isn’t that their problem?

Changing the world, one reader at a time

 

 

Around six months ago, I started posting my novel A Baron for Becky on Wattpad, one chapter at a time. ‘Grandmother,’ said the 15-year old, ‘don’t you realise that’s a site for fan fiction about One Direction?’

But I had read of other novelists building a following by posting there, and I figured it was worth a try. I did not know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect the results reported in the site’s analytics. In the last few weeks, since I posted the final chapter and epilogue, ‘reads’ (Wattpad measures how many people read each part of a ‘work’) have been rising by several hundred a day. As of today, A Baron for Becky has had over 11,000 reads, and nearly half of those have been from parts of the world where romance novels are as dangerous today as they were in England two hundred years ago.

Wattpad readers 19 May

The darker the blue, the higher the concentration of readers: 15% in India, 9% in Philippines, 4.5% in Malaysia, plus readers in Pakistan, Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Algeria, Namibia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Peru, Suriname, Indonesia, Mexico and other places too small to show unless you zoom in on the map.

I’m writing Dangerous Books, and they’re being read by Girls.

Reading romance novels is an affirmative action

As I’ve said before, genre is not a statement about quality, it’s a way to sort books. So why is it still open season on romance novels. Why is it rare to find a romance novel in a high school syllabus, or the study of the genre at university.

Take a look at the names that the genre attracts: mommy porn, chick lit, bodice ripper—they’re all about gender. It is hard not to conclude that the unthinking dismissal, often by people who have never read a romance novel, is anti-woman. And if that’s the case, reading romance is an affirmative action.

So read romantic fiction proudly. Read the best, by all means. In my sub-genre, read Elizabeth Hoyt, or Grace Burrowes, or Courtenay Milan, or Mary Balogh, or any one of a score of other thoughtful talented writers who research carefully and write brilliantly.

Or read light frothy stuff that gives you a rest from your day job. Again, you have many fine writers to choose from.

But read a romance. By doing so, you are supporting a writer who believes that women should have the same freedom as men to make choices.

 

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Bodice rippers, feminist literature, or just good yarns? (Part 2 of 3)

ferdinand-roybet-french-1840-1920-the-presentIn part 1 of this article, I made the claim that romance novels are inherently feminist. Pop back and read part 1 for the argument so far!

In part 2, I continue to argue the point that romances are Dangerous Books for Girls.

#2 Because the love match

Back when the romance novel first started, and even now in many parts of the world, marriages were not about being in love. Marriages were first and foremost alliances of families, at best a mutual exchange of value (my daughter for your cow, a better parcel of land for our joint grandson, your support in the House of Lords in return for my investment in your mills with a family connection to cement the alliance).

While technically in England neither party could be married without their consent after the mid-18th century Hardwicke Marriage Act, in practice, children (and particularly daughters) were raised to understand that marriage was about position, status, property, and opportunity.

The circles that controlled the most status and property, and that therefore had the most to lose if women wanted to have more than a token say in their life partner, were also those that controlled education and publishing. They had a vested interest in suppressing books that suggested that love matches were to be preferred, as do their counterparts in other parts of the world today.

This is not to say that the Brontes and Jane Austen and a plethora of other writers invented stories about love matches. But think of the great love stories before that time and name a few that ended well! Tristan and Isolde? Launcelot and Guinevere? Romeo and Juliet? Outside of fairy tales (As Valerie Paradiz points out in Clever Maids, fairy tales were stories shared for and by women), literature is largely and grimly devoid of happy love matches.

#3 Because escape

Romance novels, along with other genre novels, are often called escapist. This is used as a denigrator, as if escape is a bad thing. Who needs to escape? People in a cage. Who objects to escape? People who control the cage.

In romance novels, readers can live vicariously through the heroine. They can go to the ball. They can visit exotic places, triumph over the villain, fall in love with a rogue and have their heart broken then discover someone worthy to love instead.

They can take a break, a rest, from whatever consumes their day-to-day lives,—a high-pressure cut-throat job, childcare and housework, a daily grind just to pay the bills, illness or disability—and try being someone else for a change.

Escapist fiction broadens the view of what is possible. No wonder the establishment regarded it then, and still regards it now, as Dangerous.

#4 Because the author-ity

It has been said that men write about the big picture and women about the domestic world. This is a gross generalisation, of course. But certainly as a reader I tend to read more books by women than by men, because I’ve found that books by men tend to focus more on the chase, the action, while books by women tend to focus more on the personal growth of the characters. And I’m interested in people and how they interact.

An article about a program that picks the gender of a writer based on a piece of text has this to say:

Men more often concern themselves with actions, ideas, and analysis. Women more often concern themselves with processes, perceptions, and implications. Philip Ball observes, “men talk more about objects, and women more about relationships.”

Gender Genie claims a 60–70% accuracy, which is better than a random guess.

Romances are about human relationships, usually from the perspective of a woman. Women are the authority. More than that, a woman is usually the author. And in the (fictional) world controlled by the woman author, before the end of the novel the male love interest is going to learn to love, respect, understand and value a woman.

(When I got to this part of my talk, a man in the audience asked me if that meant this might lead readers to be disappointed in real life men, to which I answered ‘Yes, absolutely. And a good thing, too!’

Romances that teach women that they can be loved, respected, understood and valued are very Dangerous Books.)

Part 3 (two more reasons and the conclusion)

 

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Bodice rippers, feminist literature, or just good yarns? (Part 1 of 3)

Story tellers tend to start from one of three main story elements: a character, a setting or situation, or something that went wrong. (How to Plot 101: don’t ask yourself what happened next; ask yourself what went wrong.)

For each of the following pictures, pick a main character, decide the setting, and tell yourself what went wrong. I’ve written below the picture what genre the story should be.

Now remember those main characters, and in a minute you’ll find out why.

What genre is best?

Genre is an interesting thing. It’s a sorting device that allows booksellers and librarians to shelve books into groups, to make it easy for readers to find the kinds of story they like, but in the minds of readers, and perhaps especially critics, it is sometimes scene as saying something about quality.

And no genre attracts more name-calling than the romance genre: trashy books, mummy-porn, bodice rippers, chick-lit. The headline to this blog post is the title of my talk at Featherston Booktown yesterday, and I heard from a number of people beforehand that they believed precisely the opposite. They had not themselves read romance, but they knew it to be poor writing, formulaic, and anti-feminist.

I have read romance. Lots of romance, and particularly historical romance, which is the sub-genre I write in. And I’ve read all sorts of other fiction too. And in every genre—not excluding mainstream and literary fiction—I’ve found books that are well written and researched, and books that are so poorly done I can’t finish them. I’ve also found those gems that stay with me; great books that change or deepen my view about something, so that I return and read them again, revisiting and finding deeper layers in the book and in myself.

There is no best genre. And there’s no worst genre, either.

So why does romance get so much flak?

Let’s define terms. A romance novel has two characteristics. If it doesn’t fit both, it may be an excellent book, but it isn’t a romance. (And remember, genre is just about how to shelve the book.)

  1. the story is about the growing emotional attachment between two people
  2. the story ends with the hope that the two people have a happy future together.

Romantic stories that qualify for the first but not the second include: Titanic, Romeo and Juliet, The Marriage of Mergotta, Gone with the Wind. Not romances.

And I’m using the term feminism to mean the belief that women have the right to the same social, economic, educational and other opportunities as men, and should be as free as men to make choices about those opportunities. By that definition, I’m a feminist. And so, I am about to argue, are romance novels as a genre.

Dangerous books for girls

So why, for more than 200 years, has the romance novel been derided by the establishment? I’ve organised my response under six headings taken from Maya Rodale’s book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained. Her headings, my thoughts—but I highly recommend the book. Her overview of the past 200 years, her survey results, and her thoughts about what it all means make fascinating reading.

So why were and are romance novels Dangerous Books for Girls?

  1. Because women
  2. Because the love match
  3. Because escape
  4. Because the author-ity
  5. Because female orgasms
  6. Because HEA

Let’s talk about what each of those mean.

#1 Because women

A few minutes ago, I got you to pick main characters for four different stories. How many women did you pick? When I did this exercise during my talk, male characters outnumbered female characters eight to three. I used the same painting several times for different genres, and I included the romance genre as one of the options. Twice. So two of those three women were main characters in a romance. (The other was a spy.) In the other genres, males outnumbered females eight to one.

This is pretty typical. Women had 30% of speaking roles (and 12% of lead roles) in recent movies. Books about women don’t tend to win literary awards, either. In her study of the last fifteen years results for six major book length fiction awards, Nicole Griffiths found that only one, the Newbury Medal, consistently had books about girls or women (girls, in this case, the Newbury being for children’s books). Of the other five—so seventy-five prizes in total (Pulitzer Prize, Man Booker Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics’ Circle Award, and Hugo Award), only eight prizes were awarded to books with a woman or girl as the major protagonist. And, by the way, all of those were written by women.

Romances are written by women (about 80% of writers are women), for women (around 90% of readers), about women. Women are central or at least co-equal in almost every plot. They’re not a plot device. Even when the heroine is Too Dumb To Live, the plot still hinges on her choices. Even if the hero is a creep calling out for a restraining order, the plot still hinges on the heroine’s choices.

The book isn’t over till the heroine gets what she wants.

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Continue on to part 2

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The top ten reasons I read (and write) write historical romance

I read to learn

  1. textile-mill-cotton-1834-granger“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana)
    Through the lens of history, we can more clearly see our own times. The Regency and Georgian eras fascinate me. There was a growing disparity between rich and poor, privatisation of public good properties, wars and rumours of wars, rapid technological changes with unpredictable outcomes. Sound familiar?
    Although I write to entertain, I also write to inform, and in doing so to hold up a mirror to our own times.
  2. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)
    The similarities are challenging; the differences are fascinating.
    I continually trip over things in my reading and my research for writing that astound, horrify, or delight me. Did you know that between a quarter and a half of all women in the early 19th century had ‘Mary’ as one of their first names? That an estimated one in five women in London made income from the sex trade? That the man who invented one of the world’s earliest self-propelled wheelchairs did so after demonstrating another invention: the world’s first roller skates?
    I love to read about history, and now I’m not wasting time, I’m doing research.
  3. “I like reading novels because it provides insight into human behaviour.” (Claire Danes)
    We learn about people by meeting them; by watching them. In historical novels, the people we meet face different challenges to our own, have been moulded by a different culture, must react to a different context.
    But they are still people. I want to read about people who are real to me while I’m in the book, and stay with me when I close it.
    I know I’ve captured a character when my readers discuss their motives and their beliefs. It’s enormously thrilling when someone explains to me why one of my characters thought, felt, or did something, and I have an ‘Aha’ moment because the thought is new to me but they’re right.

I read to be entertained

  1. lovecouplegfairy003b“These boys in books are better.” (Carrie Hope Fletcher)
    Knights, Dukes, Earls, handsome rogues and pirates; what’s not to like? Let’s face it; gorgeous men in cravats and knit pantaloons are hot. And hot men who are considerate and respectful are even hotter.
    Fletcher’s song points out that real life men can’t live up to the standard set in Twilight, Deadly Instruments, and the like. And any girl who stays single till she finds someone as good as her book boyfriend is in for a long wait.
  2. “I read for pleasure and that is the moment I learn the most.” (Margaret Atwood)
    Reading taught me that the kind are rewarded, that perseverance will win in the end, that love is worth striving for. That you can start a fire with spectacles and that sharks can’t swim backwards. That lying on a frozen over pond spreads your weight so you are less likely to break through.
    Ideas; concepts; principles; facts. I’ve learned all of those from reading. I read for pleasure. And I write books that I hope others will read for pleasure; books with strong determined heroines, loving heroes, compelling story lines, and convincing challenges.

I read to escape, to take a micro-holiday

  1. discountticket“I have never known any distress that an hour’s reading did not relieve.” (Charles de Montesquieu)
    I lived more than 50 years with an undiagnosed condition that gave me chronic tiredness and constant pain. In that time, I raised four children, two with serious health conditions, and fostered two others. We entered adolescent hell with one of them and didn’t emerge for ten years. Reading allowed me the break I needed.
    When people say that historical romance (or science fiction, or fantasy, or mystery novels) are escapism, I agree. Any book that captures your imagination allows you to escape whatever distress you may be in. The best books strengthen and inform you, sending you back into reality better able to deal with your challenges. But even the most flagrant chewing gum for the mind gives you time to recharge.
  2. “You can travel the world and never leave your chair when you read a book.” (Sherry K. Plummer)
    And not just the world! I want to go somewhen else for my book holiday. Travel, so we are told, broadens the mind. In historical romances, I am able to travel to another time. In the hands of a good writer, I experience the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the stories, and all without the risk of plague, pressganging, or death by tooth infection.
  3. “Reading is a discount ticket to everywhere.” (Elizabeth Hardwick)
    I dream of a life of leisure, with nothing to do but flirt with rakes and dance at balls. I’d undoubtedly hate it in practice. I like being busy and useful. But I can have that in a book, and then walk away, back to my real life.
  4. “There’s no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” (Frank Herbert)
    I like happy endings. Some other writers like tragic endings, or even no ending at all. In my view, happy endings are better. Every writer has to choose where to start and where to stop the story, so why not choose the bit that feels good?
    The romance novel’s ‘happily ever after’ is not about perfect resolution of all problems; it’s about convincing the reader that the protagonists will support each other through whatever problems arise.

I read to learn to write better

  1. how_to_read_a_pile_of_books“I believe that writing is derivative. I think good writing comes from good reading.” (Charles Kuralt)
    Reading good books gives us the sound of good language. It teaches us how plots work, how to show character rather than telling it, how to make choices that show the theme of the book, how to use words to create atmosphere, how to write dialogue that sizzles.I believe I need to do two things to be a good writer. Read a lot. Write a lot. That’s all.

(Originally written for Nicole Zoltack’s blog)

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#WhyIWriteHistoricals

paradeIn most parts of the world, it’s #WhyIWriteHistoricals #WhyIReadHistoricals day. Here, it is Saturday morning, but I thought I’d share with you the tweets I posted yesterday.

  • Through the lens of history, we can more clearly see our own times
  • I write what I love to read: strong determined heroines, loving heroes, compelling story lines, convincing challenges
  • Knights, Dukes, Earls, handsome rogues and pirates; what’s not to like?
  • Sometimes the stories I want to tell could only have happened in one time and place
  • I dream of a life of leisure, with nothing to do but flirt with rakes and dance at balls
  • I love to read about history, and now I’m not wasting time, I’m doing research
  • The past is a different country
  • I want to go somewhen else for my book holiday
  • Gorgeous men in cravats and knit pantaloons are hot
  • The Regency and Georgian eras fascinate me. They hold up a mirror to society today
  • Those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
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Romance novels are feminist

Dangerous-Books-For-Girls-bigHere’s a book I’m putting on preorder: Dangerous Books for Girls by Maya Rodale. I did her survey last year when she was researching for the book, and I read the preview over the weekend. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s easy to see how women were stifled in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: for most women owning property, financial independence, a real education, and a voice in the political process were just not on the table. And while women’s status has changed dramatically for the better in Western society, we’re still Not. Quite. There.

It has been nearly a century since the Equal Rights Amendment was proposed and it hasn’t been ratified to the U.S. Constitution. Women still do not receive equal pay for equal work. We are still debating whether women can have control over their own bodies—but insurance will gladly cover all the Viagra a man wants. Our academic institutions and respectable media predominantly study and review literature by men—and they definitely don’t cover genre fiction, like romance. That’s just America. China has one child policies resulting in an overabundance of boys. In Afghanistan, families without sons encourage their daughters to live as boys (the practice of Bacha Posh), because it’s shameful to be a girl or to have a girl. Again and again we see women considered less—unless it’s in a romance novel.

Because of this high valuation of men and low valuation of women, we’re more comfortable talking about one, lone man instead of a genre that speaks to the hopes and dreams of millions of women.

This isn’t about bashing dudes. Romance readers love men. There are even men that love romance novels. Romance novels are all about two individuals meeting and loving and living as equals. It’s not even just about men and women and heterosexual relationships. Romance novels featuring LGBT characters are written and read and becoming increasingly popular. Romance novels are about two people discovering their best, true selves and finding a loving, egalitarian relationship.

But when the subject of romance novels comes up and we talk about Fabio, we are really talking about a cultural tendency to value dude stuff more than lady stuff. We are showing our fear of love and pleasure. And we are sidestepping a conversation about possibly the most revolutionary, feminist literature ever produced.

Take a look for yourselves. Fabulous stuff.

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Alpha and omega

My hero in Farewell to Kindness is an alpha male.

My hero in Farewell to Kindness is an alpha male.

No, not the Alpha and the Omega, though it is Sunday here in New Zealand.

In a number of Facebook events, and most recently in a discussion on the Facebook group ‘I Love Historical’, we’ve been invited to comment on whether we prefer alpha or beta heroes.

I wasn’t quite sure what people had in mind by the terms, so I’ve done a bit of research, and here’s the result.

The terms come from research into dominance hierarchies in social animals. The alpha male is the leader; the one with the greatest access to food and mates. In some social species, only the alpha male can mate; in others, mates are shared by the alpha and his trusted lieutenants; in still others, the males lower down the social hierarchy will sneak access to the females, or several lower ranked individuals will gang up on the boss.

David, the hero of my current WIP Encouraging Prudence, is a beta.

David, the hero of my current WIP Encouraging Prudence, is a beta.

The beta male is the lieutenant — the alpha’s trusted offsider. He will often take over as alpha if the alpha is disabled or killed.

Next down the hierarchy is the gamma, and so on, till we get to the omega — the animal no-one wants to be, the weed who everyone picks on.

Depending on the species, females can also be alphas, betas, gammas, and omegas. A female alpha might be pack leader, as with hyenas, or half of an alpha pair, as with wolves.

Popular culture has seized on the terms alpha and beta, but has them wrong. I found a lot of articles implying beta was the opposite of alpha, and was a bad thing to be. Not so. Beta is the cushy role, the wingman spot. Beta individuals suffer less stress, but still enjoy many of the benefits of leadership as they coast along in their leader’s train.

Alpha males chartHow much any of this applies to people is questionable. We’re a hierarchical social animal, beyond a doubt, but our tendency to pair bonding and our ability to ignore our instincts both mitigate against a true alpha, beta, gamma type of social structure.

That said, the categories are more useful than I expected in romantic fiction.

Think of the alpha male as the one who must be in charge; the natural leader who finds it hard to sit back and let others take the lead (though a good alpha is happy to delegate to a trusted beta).

The beta male is the one with the same ability to lead but not the same drive to always be first; the lieutenant who can always be trusted to support his leader but who can step up to take over if he has to.

And the gamma is a follower born, happy to take and carry out orders, and only really happy when he has someone to look up to.

I’ve saved this chart in my character tools database. I found it on an organisational psychologist’s site, and I think it will be a great help in character development in novels to come.

 

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Writing to a different drummer

Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.

Stop trying to fit in when you were born to stand out.


I write the type of historical romance that I like to read, with strong determined heroines, heroes that almost deserve them, and villains who are more than paper cut-outs. I like complex plots with real issues at stake, and I enjoy a sense of the rich tapestry of life, with characters galore. I especially like writers who create fictional worlds that they revisit time and again, where each book stands alone as a story, but where we meet characters we’ve known before from other books.

Quite early on while writing Farewell to Kindness, I had a few critiques from book industry people that suggested I was skirting too near to the edges of the historical romance genre. I should remove the villains’ POV chapters. I should simplify the plot. I should soften the heroine, who starts the book by threatening to shoot someone. I should remove some of the action and add in more about the romance. I should move the meeting of the hero and heroine closer to the front of the book. I should remove the two secondary romances, the heroine’s older sister, and a number of other characters.

These critiques were kindly meant. My advisers wanted me to write a book that would sell. Writers need readers. The story isn’t just the one I tell; it’s the one you hear, and until you hear it, it doesn’t live.

I didn’t ignore them. I tightened my writing a lot. I did remove some characters and ‘unnamed’ others to make them less distracting. But I didn’t completely rewrite my book, either. The book these advisers wanted me to tell could have been written by any competent writer. It wasn’t one I could throw a year of my life at.

I launched Farewell to Kindness last week, with over a hundred books presold and the reassurance that prereaders had enjoyed it. And I am finding readers, and I love that they’ve enjoyed the book, and cried in the right places, and argued over whether the hero’s cousin is an arrogant so-and-so, and written me some wonderful reviews. Maybe my audience will be small, and a different book may have reached more readers. But this is my book, and I love it.

Yesterday, a couple of things happened that prompted the following private message conversation with fellow Bluestocking Belle Mariana Gabrielle. The trigger was a series of comments from another writer about how we need someone experienced in the industry to comment on our books so that we can tailor them for the market.

Mariana: This laying down the law about writing for the market just bugs me. Silly, really, but true nonetheless.

Jude: It must be nice to know everything.

Mariana: LOL. Exactly. LOL really is one of those days!

Jude: Short weeks are always crazy. And I got a 3 star review on Amazon that pointed out the ways I don’t comply with industry norms. (Not a bad review — quite a fair one – but just a reminder of why I went indie.)

Mariana: I hate the fair ones.

Jude: This review started “This book is pretty good, but it’s not a good match for my tastes,” and went on to suggest cutting out a lot of the plot twists and spending more time on the romance. Which is fine, but this was not that book.

Mariana: ‘Not a good match’ says it all. At least that was acknowledged.

Jude: I get cross with those who pontificate about the one right way.

Mariana: Me, too; about anything, not just writing.

Jude: Yep. Makes my skin crawl. I’m fine with ‘right for me’; just not ‘my way or no way’.

Mariana: That’s why I trained myself to talk about what works for me. Much more palatable.

Jude: If I’d responded [on the post that triggered this conversation] it would have kept the point off topic. But I’m tempted to do a new post on how ‘the industry’ inevitably plays it safe by doing what has worked, and therefore is doomed to playing catch up when readers follow something new and different.

Mariana: That sounds like a good point, and I have opinions on that. Trying to be “the next XXXXX” is incredibly stupid. By the time you think it, you are too late.

Jude: If I let others shape my writing I might be mildly successful but dissatisfied.

Mariana: Many of my friends say, “You could write the next 50 Shades…” They don’t get that there is no next 50 Shades. No next Twilight or Harry Potter. Trying is a fool’s game.

Jude: If I write what I want to write, I will be satisfied, and if people like it they’ll need to come to me to get it.

Mariana: Yep. And my integrity will be intact.

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Tropes and storytelling

CarolineToday, I’m pleased to welcome Caroline Warfield to my blog, to post about tropes and storytelling, and to tell us a little about her latest release. And read to the bottom for news about her giveaway!

Jude has written eloquently about the classic tropes, archetypes, and storylines that underlie storytelling in general and romance novels in particular.  It made me pause a bit to consider which ones influence my own writing.

Both of my published books and my work in progress are have English characters and are set in the Late Georgian/Regency era. It might be easiest to begin with what I don’t write.   I avoid very young virginal heroines.  I avoid the “marriage mart.” I have little interest in the reformed rake.  I have also avoided impoverished orphans, inheritance issues and compulsive gamblers, at least so far. While some of my characters have titles, none of them could be defined in terms of power and its uses and abuses, as is often the case. Each of the books, however, uses a classic story line.

romeDangerous Works could be called a spunky bluestocking story, except Georgiana’s pain as a frustrated scholar runs deep and her dedication is fierce.  The classic story is that of the hero (or in this case heroine) who is repeatedly foiled but keeps trying. She pushes forward for years in the face of family resistance, a system that excludes her from so much as a decent library, and the academic snobbery of Cambridge. Ultimately, with the help and love of Andrew, the hero, she succeeds.

Rome - Caroline's postAnother classic storyline is the one in which actions in the past by the hero or heroine eventually catch up with them, and they must pay their debt.  In Dangerous Secrets a terrible mistake haunts the hero, Jamie from the very beginning.  He runs as long as he can. His love for Nora actually makes him run harder, but it catches up with him in the end and he has to resolve it.  This story does have some common story elements: a wastrel father, a stern vicar, a widow recovering from a bad marriage, a wise older woman friend, and an evil count.

In my work in progress, Dangerous Weakness, the hero, Glenaire, is forced to journey in search of Lily who is pregnant with his child.  It is certainly a hero in search of treasure story. However, the oh-so-perfect marquess is thrust into one alien situation after another, peeling off layers of London refinement. He has to fight his way back to normal life, and, of course, redefine what he wants that life to be.

There are no new stories in any genre. My job as an author is to create flesh and blood, imperfect characters that come to exemplify the traits of true heroes and succeed in completing the challenges presented to them by the storyline. I hope my readers find that I’ve succeeded.

About Dangerous Secrets

Dangerous secretsWhen a little brown wren of an Englishwoman bursts into Jamie Heyworth’s private hell and asks for help he mistakes her for the black crow of death.  Why not? He fled to Rome and sits in despair with nothing left to sell and no reason to get up in the morning. Behind him lie disgrace, shame, and secrets he is desperate to keep even from powerful friends in London.

Nora Haley comes to Rome at the bidding of her dying brother who has an unexpected legacy. Never in her sunniest dreams did Nora expect Robert to leave her a treasure, a tiny blue-eyed niece with curly hair and warm hugs. Nora will do anything to keep her, even hire a shabby, drunken major as an interpreter.

Jamie can’t let Nora know the secrets he has hidden from everyone, even his closest friends. Nora can’t trust any man who drinks. She had enough of that in her marriage. Either one, however, will dare anything for the little imp that keeps them together, even enter a sham marriage to protect her. Will love—and the truth—bind them both together?

Available on Amazon

US http://tinyurl.com/ph56vnb

UK http://amzn.to/1Gd9Im9

Canada http://amzn.to/1bbDxde

Euro http://amzn.to/1LrSLru

About Caroline Warfield

Caroline Warfield has at various times been an army brat, a librarian, a poet, a raiser of children, a nun, a bird watcher, a network services manager, a conference speaker, a tech writer, a genealogist, and, of course, a romantic. She is always a traveler, a would-be adventurer, and a writer of historical romance, enamored of owls, books, history, and beautiful gardens (but not the act of gardening).

Social Media Links

Web http://www.carolinewarfield.com/

FB  https://www.facebook.com/carolinewarfield7

Twitter @CaroWarfield

LibraryThing http://www.librarything.com/profile/CaroWarfield

Amazon Author http://www.amazon.com/Caroline-Warfield/e/B00N9PZZZS/

Good Reads http://bit.ly/1C5blTm

Bluestocking Belles http://bluestockingbelles.com/who-we-are/caroline-warfield/

To enter Caroline’s prize giveaway, go to: http://www.carolinewarfield.com/dangerous-secrets-blog-tour-2015/

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Romance fiction is escapist

child-12I had the best compliment last night. One of the people at the Facebook launch party for Farewell to Kindness sent me a direct message that said:

Your talent is amazing and all the days that the kiddos have been sick , had a fussy baby, and getting ready for family to come I have also gotten to escape to a country fete. You really know how to draw your reader in and make them excited about the next day’s events and all the characters.

I’ve been an undiagnosed coeliac for most of my life – plagued by gruelling headaches, rashes, abdominal cramps, nausea, and bone-deep exhaustion. And I raised six children, one through cancer and then disabilities caused by the chemotherapy. And I worked full time after my youngest started school.

Books were my escape. When I was reading a good book, I went to another world where the problems and challenges belonged to someone else, and where good won over evil. Badly written books didn’t do it for me; but a book that captured my imagination took me on holiday.

Books kept me sane, refreshed me, and sent me back into my life ready for the next challenge.

To know I’ve performed the same service for another person is beyond amazing. I’m touched, humbled, and exhilarated, all at the same time. Thank you, Crystal.

Romance fiction is escapist? Hell yeah!

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