Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Internal Clock

I'm pretty sure it's broken.

My DH has claimed that for a while, but it's hard to argue after last night's escapades. I've known for a while that I pick up more steam as night wears on. In college, my peak hours were between midnight and two in the morning. And after last night, I can confirm that my internal clock has shifted yet again.

Yes, there's nothing like starting to write at midnight, look at the clock and realize it's four in the morning. The worst part is realizing you can't keep typing because, while you're brain is still going, your body is shutting down and telling you that you need some sleep.

Regardless, the start of a whole new story had taken shape. A Victorian steampunk meets dystopian military with a dash of romance added in for fun. Think...Gears of War meets petticoats. Yeah, that sounds about right.

So...over 3,000 words and counting. Let's see where it goes...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The "Reformed" Bad Boys

A little over a week ago (sorry this post is late, but the acceptance of Red Moon was a wonderful surprise), I decided to focus my writer's brain on the hero commonly referred to as the "bad boy," albeit the unrepentant one. This week (as promised), my attention is firmly centered on what happens when a bad boy becomes reformed.

Fixed. Changed. Altered.

Yes, when he loses the edge that initially placed him in the bad boy category, but has occasional moments when he busts a move that reminds us just how bad-A he used to be. This doesn't mean he's not just as maddeningly attractive as he once was, it just means that he's changed himself for the heroine.

As opposed to last week's unrepentant bad boy, who does not change for said heroine. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but it makes a huge difference to me while reading.

Take, for instance, those rugged vampires of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. She has an incredibly complex world to work within, complete with specific rules and patterns that she has created. Her alpha heroes are the ultimate in bad-assery. They're a physically imposing, tightly knit group of warriors. That in and of itself makes most women go, "Ooooo..." but there's another thing that Ms. Ward has thrown into this heady mix.

When her men meet their perfect match, they are slammed with a biological imperative to protect and cherish (and mate...a lot).

This throws a pretty cool kink into their stories. Because when you're a bachelor, it's easy to go out and slay baddies and risk your life on a daily basis. There's no reason to change your habits, good or bad, because there's no one who expects anything different from you.

One of my favorite aspects of these books is that the women these warriors end up with are just as strong as their men. It's the women's code of ethics that help change the men into being the best versions of themselves possible. It's a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, so the men don't lose out when they change their codes to meld with the women's. Definitely a more modern take on relationships, with both sides giving in order to reach common ground.

And, because I promised last week, two examples from modern media that I feel fall into this category would be Guy of Gisborne (played by the devilishly handsome Richard Armitage) for BBC's Robin Hood and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (played by James Marsters, who's one of the best audiobook narrators I have ever heard. Seriously, ever.).

Poor Guy...never fall in love with the hero's girl
Guy of Gisborne has a lot of baggage, and more got thrown at him as the show went into Seasons 2 and 3. He's got a lot of the alpha male traits: loyal (often to a fault), confident, hard working, believes in earning and maintaining the respect of those he cares about, and he's more than willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to achieve his ends. Unfortunately, this is also his weakness as a character, and the reason he never becomes a hero in the show. And when dealing with Marian, Guy constantly wrestles with the issue of changing himself for her, only to hate himself later on. The reason he never fully qualifies as a romantic hero is because he changes for the heroine, but can't handle the pressure that change brings, unlike the men in the Brotherhood books.
James Marsters

Spike from Joss Whedon's uber-popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer is similar. Love changes him to the point that he becomes a martyr to achieve Buffy's ends. Unfortunately, like Guy, this ends unhappily for Spike.

Unrequited love, sacrifice, and redemption. These are the key traits that seem link the "reformed bad boys," but it's rare for them to find a happy ending. I sometimes worry that by rooting for their characters I have signed their death warrant; there's no way they can survive in the same story that already has an established hero. Maybe that's why the Brotherhood works out...they are the heroes, so there's really no competition.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Email

The original Flynn Sinclair
It never ceases to amaze me that God has the best timing when it comes to matters of faith and doubt. When A Muse of Fire was rejected earlier this month, I decided that staying positive was the most important thing. The story had been my baby, it was the story I cared about most, and even though it was rejected, the publishing company had kept it a full week over what was said to be their maximum wait time. My critique partner is doing an incredible job going through the story to give me the best feedback possible. So in all honesty, I have a lot to be grateful for with that story.

But there are always quiet times of night when doubt begins to creep in.

This week has been a week of doubt for me. Muse's sequel was giving me problems (which I've slowly been working my way out of), and I was nervous about Red Moon's submission. I had no idea how long it would take to hear back on a requested full; I expected at least two to three months. I mean, it is a lot of writing to get through, and editors are swamped with all kinds of additional work on top of their manuscript reviews. Besides, Red Moon was a book I wrote because I wanted to read a werewolf story like it, and my DH told me that if I couldn't find it, I'd just have to write it for myself. I never expected it to go anywhere, especially not after SYTYCW.

In short, I was feeling sorry for myself.

I sat down the DH, whined quite a bit about how I didn't know if I was meant to be a writer, and with his *gentle* pep-talk, decided I had to get back on my butt and write some more. I did, and as I was able to write out another 2,000 words of A Pure Flame.

By now it was officially night in Alaska. DH took out the dog for one last potty break and I sat down again at my computer. It's become habit now to go to the Internet and open my emails, even if I don't expect to get any. But this time, there was a note waiting in my Gmail inbox from Escape Publishing.

I didn't even fully read the email. I got to the line that said, "I'm delighted to accept it for publication."

I was up out of my chair and throwing on my boots. Then I was out the door and sprinting towards the DH and the dog while laughing/crying/yelling all at the same time. DH nearly had a heart attack; his exact words were, "Are you okay? I've only been outside for two minutes..." before I slammed into his chest and explained.

Needless to say, he was pleased.

There is a ways to go in this journey, but I've taken my first steps. Like I said, God really knows when to give you a boost...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wren and Rhys's first meeting

This last year I competed in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I hadn't really planned on it, but a few nights before the official start date I had just a snippet of a dream that left me feeling like I should probably write it down. One month and a little over 90,000 words later, A Muse of Fire was born.

That moment I'd seen while sleeping eventually turned into the section below: the moment Wren first meets Rhys Donovan. 

I am reaching under the counter, searching for another pad of hold tags, when I hear the floor creaking. I give up my search and look up in time to see Essence of Darkness in front of me. I hold in my groan at the sight of the book. I have no idea why this particular novel is so popular, but it’s been flying off the shelf – at least, according to Helen. This is only the second copy I've sold and I've been here for a week.

I look up from the book cover to give my general welcome-to-the-store smile, and find myself taken aback. Because the customer is not a woman like I’d assumed. The man who put the book on the counter is probably in his late-thirties. And he is striking.

Tousled black-brown hair with just a brush of gray at the temples, piercing dark eyes, features that are too rugged to be classically handsome, the barest shadow of stubble on his jaw past the confines of his goatee. He’s wearing a soft, cream-colored dress shirt with rolled up sleeves, which makes the darkness of his features stand out even more. Christina would wrinkle her nose at him; she prefers blonde beach bums. I can’t seem to breathe.

He is definitely not a regular.

“Good morning,” I say softly, hoping I don’t embarrass myself.

He doesn't smile, but he gives me an appraising look as I start to ring up the book. “Don’t you like it?”


The minute gesture of his hand helps me realize what he means.

“Oh! The book?”

His head tilts slightly, an assent. He’s still studying me. I can’t decide if I like it or not, to be subjected to this intense perusal.

I try for a friendly smile, but I’m afraid it comes out as nervous instead. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.”

“I highly doubt that.” The sarcasm in his words is biting, but isn't directed at me. He seems to be enjoying some private joke.

“Then why are you buying it?” I can’t help myself. I’m intrigued.

“It’s for research.” He sees my curiosity and answers my unspoken question. “I’m trying to learn how to write better.”

He’s a paying customer, otherwise I’d tell him to run as far from this book as possible if he wants to become better. That it’s not worth the time or money, especially since it’s only in hardback right now. Instead, I swallow down my opinions and shoot for a bland, “Oh.”

I tell him the total, but his reaching for his wallet takes such minimal movement that he is still able to observe me. The intensity of his gaze is unnerving. I feel an unwanted flush rising in my cheeks, and for the life of me, I can’t stop it.

He holds out two crisp twenty-dollar bills. As I take them, he asks, “You wouldn't suggest this book for that purpose?”

Now he has me trapped. I can’t imagine myself lying to this ridiculously attractive man, one whom I will probably never see again. But if Helen heard me trying to talk him out of a purchase, I don’t think my job would be safe for long.

“It’s been a best seller for weeks,” he adds.

Which really doesn't mean anything. He’s watching me expectantly, as if he knows I want to disagree with him. I glance around the store quickly, checking to make sure Helen hasn't snuck back upstairs.

“Look,” I say quickly, “Michaels is a decent writer. The book has an interesting main character and some great descriptions. The word choice is impressive; he’s intelligent without being off-putting. But the love interest of the story is vapid – and that’s putting it nicely – and his pacing is terrible. The beginning drags on with too much expositional dialogue, the rising action is too short, and the climax is more like a…like a…”

His lips purse…in amusement, I think. “I believe,” he says smoothly, “that one reviewer claimed it was akin to a fake orgasm.”

I think I’ll burst into flames as that word leaves his mouth. I exude some kind of hitched sigh, one that raises his eyebrow, before turning it into a strangled, “Yes.” Another moment and I've collected myself. “That’s true. And the ending is almost non-existent.”

Another head tilt, this time asking for clarification.

“It’s like he wanted to set it up for a sequel, but there isn't enough substance there to pull it off. So it just stops.”

“And this disappoints you.” He phrases it as a statement, but I can hear the unspoken question in it. I manage a slight nod and bite my lip as I realize how foolish I must look. He focuses on my mouth, and the flush is back. It draws his attention back up to my eyes, where he fully meets my gaze for the first time.

His eyes are nearly black, with the faintest suggestion of gold edging the iris, and I can see their minute movements as he studies my face. I look down at the cash drawer and put his money in with shaky hands. He needs change. Which means that I may accidentally touch his hand.

I instantly berate myself for my giddiness at that thought. I’m not some kid in elementary school. There’s no reason to be so nervous. A deep breath. I manage an uncomfortable smile and pass over the change.

He takes it without checking the amount. But his fingers brush against mine – not my doing, but his – and I end up sucking in a breath at the charge I feel. He notices it; his lips curve up in a private smile. Like a gentleman he doesn't comment though.

I quickly put his book in a bag and hand it over. He’s careful to avoid touching me this time, but he still lingers at the counter. Eventually he asks, “Are there any other books you’d suggest?”

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Bad Boys

Part of being an author is practicing your craft and continuing to learn, even when you *inevitably* think you know everything. So part of what I intend to work on through this blog is honing my craft through such exploration. Today that means looking at one of my favorite types of hero: the bad boy.

I understand that there's a lot of leeway with this group. Maybe that's why I find it so intriguing. For the sake of argument (and because the Harlequin forum group I work with is focusing on villains this week), I intend to focus on the bad boy who recognizes himself as such and doesn't necessarily want to change.

Richard Armitage as Guy of Gisborne
And, dear readers, I know that some of you have now completely lost interest in this post.

Because, let's face it, most of the time women fall for a book's "reformed bad boy," the man who appears bad on the outside, but is never so far over the edge that he can't be redeemed by heroic actions or emotions brought out by the heroine. You know, someone like Guy of Gisborne from BBC's Robin Hood or Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I'll get to men like them next week...

I'm talking about the other one. The one who revels in the skill set he's earned that makes him a "bad boy." This isn't to say that he doesn't change because of the heroine, but what I've noticed is that these men retain the same personality traits or special skills that put them into the "bad boy" category in the first place. They adapt these skills to protect the heroine, but don't leave them behind as they find a new life with their perfect woman.

These men are slowly making a comeback in today's world. This is an interesting trend in and of itself, since not that long ago they were considered ancient and useless, relics leftover from the pre-Feminist era. But if the unique attributes of this group of men are used correctly, they can be a welcome change to the Superman-esque alpha hero that is so common today. It's not that those types of heroes are bad, it's just that they're so...reliable.

The bad boy is not reliable, at least not in the way we've come to expect.

One of my favorite bad boys comes from Karen Marie Moning's Fever series. Jericho Barrons is everything this kind of hero should be: mysterious, powerful, and scorching, both in bed and out of it. On her site, Ms. Moning put his allure into far better words than I ever could: "JZB is the closest to a true sociopath by the terms we define one, yet has the most impeccable system of ethics of all the personalities in the FEVER world. His ethical structure is flawless. It doesn’t contradict itself. There’s beauty in that. Trust derives from consistency. Barrons is a consistent man."

Barrons is the reason I read the series in the first place, and has remained the reason I've had to buy and rebuy new copies of the books...I wear them out because I read them so often. If you're a fan of paranormal romance, you should read these books. If you are interested in reading complex characterization, a heady mix of internal and external conflict, goosebump-raising sexuality, or how good authors can write what their characters need - no matter how dark and scary the place that writing takes them may become - you must read these books. If you're too scared to take them on right now, visit Ms. Moning's site first, explore a bit, then read the books. You won't regret it.

Needless to say, as a reader, these books are part of my Holy Grail set.

But as a writer, Barrons and the Fever world has taught me an even greater lesson. A true hero is a man the reader can come to rely on, to trust. If he changes, it must fit within his code. It doesn't compromise his value system, even if he loves the heroine more than his own life. If anything, his system should be set up so that if that woman ever comes along, he can enfold her into his morals.

That's hard to write. Maybe that's why not a lot of authors have taken on this hero.
Ian Somerholder as Damon Salvatore

But there are other examples of this hero out there. Not to go all CW on this post, but Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries (regardless of how he'll change by the end of the series) initially fit this hero type as well. He has the potential to be a good person; Elena sees this, as do other characters as the series goes on. The difference is that Damon doesn't want to be a good person. At one point, Elena asks him, "Why don't you ever let people see the good in you?"

His response: "Because when people see good they expect good. And I don’t want to have to live up to anybody’s expectations."

It's an interesting conundrum for a character. Do you stay true to that character's personality, or do you force 
them to change to get what they want?

I'm eager to see where the series goes with this one, because in my experience, you can paint a zebra with spots, but they'll eventually wash off.

Can you think of other heroes who fit this bad boy type? What makes them alluring to you?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Joining the ranks

To be honest, I'm not a person who likes to spend money on herself. I find things I like, argue with myself in the store, and come up with some guilt-inducing reason why I shouldn't get the thing I wanted to get. Even for things like M&Ms or new writing pens.


So it was due to the urging of my DH that I decided I needed to take my writing career more seriously. After months of badgering, he finally got me to send in my membership application for Romance Writers of America. And this morning I got my email confirmation.

That's right, I am now an RWA member. 

I even got to go check out the member forums there! Now, for many people who use the brilliant technology of the Internet on a regular basis, this may not seem like a big deal. But for me, this is a huge step forward in my progress toward becoming a tech savvy individual. 

The information I know I'll learn from other RWA members is already overwhelming; the threads that are up have already made my membership worth it, and the courses that are being offered look incredible. 

It's another step forward on my journey to become a professional romance author!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What is a romance writer?

Type this question into Google and a plethora of results crop up. The ever-cliched Wikipedia definition, which now replaces Merriam-Webster at the top of the search results page (to my eternal horror - but that's for a later post), links to sites that promise to teach "how to write a romance novel," the blessedly reliable link to Romance Writers of America, and many others. But the problem remains: no one seems to be able to put their fingers on exactly what a romance writer is.

My definition is probably far too simple to encompass the true variety of authors who write in this genre, but I'll give it a shot anyway. To me a romance writer is an eternal optimist. No matter what is thrown at the hero or heroine, no matter how many struggles are faced - be it alien scourges, rabid vampires, missing children, kidnappings, struggling marriages, soul-shattering betrayals, or changes that alter one's destiny - romance writers always find ways to provide a happily ever after. They fight, bleed, and weep alongside their characters to provide that ending, the emotional (and sometimes physical) satisfaction that keeps their characters and readers going during hard times.

Yet this somehow doesn't ever get translated to be "literature." At least, not "great" literature.

Funny, considering how many fairy tales we love and adore, most of which have a happily ever after. Or that Disney is still one of the most iconic and recognizable brands out there, despite the fact that their animated films always have a HEA. (Granted, their stories are often sanitized and the HEA added, but I've got admit that I don't want my nieces or nephews seeing the real ending of The Hunchback of Notre Dame when they're young.)

It seems that our culture has determined that "great" things (literature, film, art) must somehow revolve around suffering, pain, and realism.

I feel it's time to bring back the Romantics, the oft-called "naive" leaders of hopes and dreams. I want the stories of successful Hollywood couples over the drama of Chris Brown/Rhianna or Kim Kardashian/whomever-the-flavor-of-the-month-is.

I want to see mothers pass down their wedding dresses to their daughters, watch golden anniversary celebrations, and smile every time I see an old couple holding hands in the grocery store. I want love - the real kind that makes us remember we're human and on this Earth for a damn good reason and not the barrage of misery and failure that inundates our lives.

I want to read those stories. I want to write those stories. In my eyes, that's the literature that will endure, and those are the authors who make a difference.