I am thrilled to have my dear friend, The Incomparable Claudia Dain back with us in the Lair today. Not only is Claudia back, she is here to share a juicy secret. So come, pull up an armchair and prepare to be delighted! Without further ado, here is Claudia…
Writers really do write what they know.
It’s an old adage: write what you know. Lots of times, people assume (rightly) what that means is to write about medical stuff if you’re a MD or about Egypt if you’re an Egyptologist or about murder mysteries if you’re a serial killer.
Kidding on that last one. Or am I? Hmm.
Writers do write what they know in that they write from their world view and belief system and experiences. They breathe life into every character, and the breath of life comes from them, from their own lungs and heart and mind to bring the characters to life for you, the reader.
In short, writers write the books they’d love to read peopled with characters they can identify with in some way. Even serial killers.
That’s not as scary as it sounds.
What this means is that a devoted fan of a particular author’s work will know that author in a very intimate way.
I am a fan of lively conversation; zippy, fun, witty dialogue. This is true for me as a person and as an author. Therefore, my books are very dialogue heavy.
I am not a fan of road trips and so there is no traveling in my books. If a character needs to be someplace else, I magically put them there. I only wish that could happen to me in real life!
I am not a fan of food. I don’t like grocery shopping or cooking, and I’m not a gourmet by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, no one ever eats in my books. They may take a sip of a drink or be seated at a dining table, but I don’t describe the eating experience. I once read a book where the food on the table took almost a full page of description. I still bear the scars of that.
I don’t write shy heroines because I am not shy. I don’t write “how can he love me” heroines because I can believe that he would love me. (What’s not to love?) I write heroines who choose the wrong guy to fixate on because I have. I write heroines who feel insecure about something because who hasn’t felt insecure? I write about good friends, about frenemies, and about acquaintances that may or may not turn into something more. I write about making instant assumptions and having that assumption be wrong. And also having another instant assumption be right. Because that’s how it is in my life.
Which brings me to Sophia, the central character in The Courtesan Chronicles. Sophia is the courtesan in question, actually, a courtesan who married out of the life and is very happily helping other women improve their lives and achieve their very deserved happiness (because all women deserve happiness).
You’ve got know by now that I am like Sophia. How could I not be? Some part of me, even the tiniest part, is in every character I write, but Sophia, she is the most like me. Or rather, she is the best, most exaggerated version of me. My husband says that Sophia is Claudia on steroids. He laughed joyously when he said that—good man. Sophia is complex, layered, mysterious. But she doesn’t have any secrets from me. She is me. Sort of. I only wish I were as wise, as tough, as resilient, as beautiful as she is.
I’m going to guess that you’re like me; you like to read books that are peopled with characters you can relate to and that focus on the stuff you find interesting. Seems obvious, stated that way, doesn’t it? But isn’t it liberating to realize why you like what you like?
What kind of heroines do you like best? What kind of heroes? Does your heroic type match your dream man?
Caren, here. Claudia has offered one lucky commenter a signed copy of her Courtesan book, Daring a Duke. And I am also thrilled to announce that Claudia’s much-anticipated Courtesan book, Much Ado About Dutton, will be out August 26!!
I’m in dreaming mode at the moment, having just handed in Beckenham’s book (THE GREATEST LOVER EVER). Next in line for his own happily ever after in the Westruther family is Xavier, Lord Steyne (pronounced “Steen”, just in case you’re interested:) He’s a cold, Machiavellian character who shuns involvement in most family dramas.
I’m thinking along the lines of Michael Fassbender’s look for Xavier, although his eyes would be a darker blue and his hair inky black.
When thinking about a heroine for Xavier, I decided he needs someone who demands his involvement and engagement in an enterprise and won’t take no for an answer. And what could be more demanding than a ready-made family?
I don’t know if I’ll go down that path or not at this stage, but pondering this question made me think of all the romances I love where the hero interacts with children.
Georgette Heyer always wrote children exceptionally well, and realistically portrayed her heroes’ relationships with them. SYLVESTER is not the same book without all of Sylvester’s exchanges with his nephew, Edmund. I know, because sadly the version read incomparably well by lair favourite Richard Armitage left Edmund and all of the confusion over his Button out of the abridgment.
When we finally see this cold, proud duke with his naughty but engaging nephew, we see the real Sylvester, relaxed and affectionate, though never in a way that would make it seem unbelievable. At one point, Edmund begs the heroine to go with them back to England from France “acos Uncle ‘Vester’s damned if he’ll deal with me afore breakfast”.
In seeing Sylvester’s attitude toward his nephew, we see how he might be with the heroine, Phoebe, once he lets down his guard. It’s an enticing picture, and one which casts his previous behaviour in a new light.
In Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s MATCH ME IF YOU CAN, sports agent Heath Champion has an ongoing battle with a client’s daughter. Pippy Tucker has a penchant for cell phones and since Heath is practically married to his phone, this causes him all sorts of trouble. There’s nothing like a child for going straight to the heart of the matter and exposing someone’s weakness. By the end, Heath shows his love for Annabelle by giving Pippy his phone.
In Loretta Chase’s LORD OF SCOUNDRELS, Dain’s acceptance of his bastard child is a beautiful metaphor for self-acceptance.
What are your favourite hero/child interactions in romance? Or would you prefer not to have children in a romance novel?
By the way, 2 ARCs of my upcoming July release, LONDON’S LAST TRUE SCOUNDREL are still up for grabs on Goodreads. This is for U.S. residents, but keep an eye out on Twitter (@chrstnabrooke) and my facebook page. An international contest is coming up! You can read an excerpt here.
Ahh, feel that? That tingling feeling? Thats love. It’s in the air today, thanks to Valentine’s.
I love Valentine’s. Not just for the romancey goodness, although that does rock. But because it’s one of those crafty, show you care kind of days. From those sweet kindergarten days when we pasted lopsided doilies on red card stock and glued gilt cupids to the center of a heart, to the epically bad love poems written in middle school to boys we were too afraid to talk to directly (c’mon, was I the only one who did that?) to the excitement of champagne and candlelight possibilities as we grow older… Valentines is romance, yes. But it’s also fun.
At least, it is for us ladies *g* For guys, I think this day comes with more pressure than birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas all rolled into one. Because while roses or a heart-shaped box of chocolates are traditional, oftentimes we women (while gobbling down the candy) will sigh over how unimaginative or the idea might be. Because while we want to feel loved, we also want to feel like our guy KNOWS us. GETS us. That he put some effort into romancing us!! Then again, I’ll admit, there are years I’m just grateful my guy remembers the date LOL.
But for our romance heroes, the pressure really is on. Because they were hot enough, romantic enough, special enough to star in a book–not just any book, baby, but a ROMANCE novel! That means they have to step up and be romantic on Valentines’s Day.
Luckily, our guys are up for the task…
My own Blake Landon, from A SEAL’s SEDUCTION, actually would give his Alexia chocolate. Not for traditions’ sake, but because she seriously LOVES chocolate. He’d start with a deluxe heart shaped box of hand-picked See’s (all her favorites with almonds and caramels), then while she was humming in appreciation, he’d show her the tin of her favorite hot chocolate made from Belgium shavings. As she was sighing at his sweetness, he’d whip out a jar of very rich, very decadent hot fudge. Then he’d suggest they set the candy and cocoa aside, heat up the fudge and go make a very special snack…
Nancy Northcott’s Griff from RENEGADE would give Val a painting of her parents, who were killed by ghouls when she was a teenager.
Kate Carlisle’s DEREK STONE would give BROOKLYN WAINWRIGHT a packet of beautiful endpapers he picked up on a business trip to Japan. That’s the official gift. His unofficial gift would be food, of course. Steak. Red wine. Chocolate for dessert. (Come to think of it, that’s Kate’s favorite gift, too. )
Anna Sugden’s Jake would give Maggie from A PERFECT DISTRACTION (out Sept 2013) a mixed bouquet of real daisies and chocolate daisies, because that worked so well when he had to apologise for being a jerk *g*. He has a game on Valentine’s night, so they won’t be able to have a private celebration until really late.
Joan Kayse’s Damon would give his heroine Julia a book by a famed Roman poet Catulluss, poems of love and longing. However…. beneath the scroll page would be his real gift…a copy of the Art of Seduction by Ovid.
Suzanne Ferrell’s Matt Edgars would give Katie Myers (hero and heroine from HUNTED) a boxer puppy.
Christie Kelley’s Colin Barrett, the Duke of Northrop would give Selina White from BEWITCHING THE DUKE, a beautiful pair of diamond earrings because he’s discovered she has an obsession for earbobs.
And from Donna MacMeans’ THE CASANOVA CODE had it taken place in February : Besides being a code-breaker, Edwina Hargrove is a closet adventurer.
A gift! Ashton had brought her a gift for St. Valentine’s day! No one had ever done such a thing, at least, not for her. She opened the box tentatively, savoring the moment, then lifted a heavy glass globe set upon a wooden pedestal.
”It’s from the Paris Exposition,” he said. ”Shake it and snow will reign down upon the Eiffel Tower.”
”It’s beautiful,” she whispered, though she couldn’t really see the snowflakes for the tears in her eyes. No one had acknowledged her desire for travel before. ”I will cherish it always.”
He smiled then cocked his head. His finger delicately traced the moisture on her cheek. “As I, dear Edwina, will you.”
Awww, aren’t our heroes romantic!? And aren’t our heroines lucky to have such fabulous Valentine’s gifts on this special day dedicated to celebrating love.
Share with us what your ideal Valentine’s gift would be to be entered in the drawing for this wonderfully romantic collection of Valentine’s treats.
This weekend, my family and I plan on (finally!) seeing Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I loved the first Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law. The humor, the action, Sherlock’s brilliance in solving the mystery…it was all fabulous fun! But my favorite part was the love story.
After all, I am a romance writer
But I’m not talking about the romance between Sherlock and Irene or even the one between Watson and his beloved Mary. What I’m talking about was the clear and heartfelt affection between Sherlock and Watson. These two men are as close as brothers who, though they often disagree, would risk their life to keep the other safe. And while Watson wanted to move on with his life with his new fiancée, he just couldn’t force himself to walk away from Holmes. Not completely. Just as Holmes couldn’t imagine his life without his trusted sidekick and did everything in his power to dissuade Watson from leaving (luckily, he came around in the end and even helped Watson get Mary an engagement ring *g*)
I love when friendship between men is portrayed so well! Nora Roberts does an excellent job of this, especially in books like her Sign of Seven trilogy about three lifelong friends who are destined to fight a horrible evil. Another favorite is the bond between the men of Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters and Tall, Dark and Dangerous series.
What are some of your favorite ‘Bromances’ in books, movies, TV and/or real life (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck? Matthew McConaughey and Lance Armstrong?)?
What a treat I’ve got for you today. I’ve long admired Julia Phillips Smith’s wonderful A Piece of My Mind blog which covers all sorts of arcane and fascinating topics with the lightest and wittiest of touches. So when Julia asked me to read her debut paranormal-historical romance, SAINT SANGUINUS, I was delighted. This book kept me awake into the wee hours as I devoured the dramatic, passionate story of Peredur and Tanwen. After that, I just had to bring Julia into the lair to chase the cabana boys…uh, tell us about her books.
There’s a very dramatic trailer for SAINT SANGUINUS which you can see here:
Julia, welcome to the lair! Great to see you here. Congratulations on the release of your historical paranormal debut SAINT SANGUINUS which as you know I loved and called “a dark, dramatic take on the vampire genre.” Can you tell us about this story?
First of all – thank you, Sven *winking as I scoop up my prosecco from the tray* – my smile is impossible to tone down today, because I’m so thrilled to be here at the Banditas Lair.
My story is a Dark Ages vampire superhero origin story. Quite a combination, but there you go.
I’m a big fan of superhero origin stories. Wolverine, Green Lantern, Thor, Harry Potter – I can never get enough of watching the genesis of a hero as he steps into the role that destiny assigned to him. The more epic the scope, the better. That’s why the superhero genre always delivers for me.
But I also love all-too-human heroes and their stories. 300, GLADIATOR, Horatio Hornblower, the Sharpe series with Sean Bean – I love watching these natural leaders emerge from among their peers. SAINT SANGUINUS follows the tradition of these stories and introduces readers to a man destined to become something quite different than he could ever have expected from the opening scene of the novel.
Here’s a taste:
An elite brotherhood stands between humans and vampires, preventing one side from annihilating the other. Who are called to this service? Only those warriors who curse God with their dying breath.
Welsh warrior Peredur falls to a spear before he can claim Tanwen for his bride. Raging on the battlefield, Peredur utters the curse that seals his fate and leads him to another life. Using the power of a saint whose bone makes up an amulet, Peredur takes on the trials to become a true member of the brethren. Yet his need for the chieftain’s daughter Tanwen still burns.
Tanwen resists her father’s command to take a husband. The only one who understands her sorrow is Cavan, the wise woman’s son. When he promises that he can reunite her with her beloved, she agrees to his terms. But does Tanwen truly understand the depth of the price that must be paid?
Wow! Lots happening there! What were the inspirations behind this book?
My initial inspiration was the Count Saint-Germain series of books by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. As a running theme throughout her series, Ms. Yarbro addresses the more day-to-day (or should I say, night-to-night) problems of being a vampire with a long lifespan. How does one hold onto different properties stashed here and there? How would you keep leaving these holdings to a future descendant, and how would you eventually claim your homes and businesses as your own ‘descendant’ after enough generations had passed, so that the locals don’t recognize you anymore?
I just love how her main vampire character has to deal with problems that don’t usually surface in vampire fiction. Although, if you think about it, Bram Stoker dealt with Count Dracula’s transportation-of-Transylvanian-soil problems in the beginning of his story.
So this got me thinking about the kind of scenes that don’t often appear in the vampire genre. My main character Peredur’s transformation from man to vampire was the launch pad for me. I wanted to really experience how it felt to take those first vampire baby steps.
I found the setting so intriguing. Can you tell us about your fascination with Dark Ages Britain? Did you come across anything unusual or unexpected when you were researching the period?
I can pretty much say I’ve been fascinated with the Dark Ages since late elementary school, when I went to a Christmas Tea and Sale at the neighbourhood church where I went to Girl Guides. I bought a paperback copy of Mary Stewart’s THE CRYSTAL CAVE in the used books section. Not only did I inhale every beautifully crafted line of that book, but I couldn’t get enough of her Author’s Notes detailing her historical research and her decisions as to naming conventions for towns and villages in post-Roman Britain.
I then gravitated toward all things Arthurian. Arthur Pendragon is the ultimate seize-your-destiny prototype hero for me. The Arthurian romances also whet my appetite for courtly political intrigue. But I tended to collect non-fiction research books on Arthur, ever since high school, including ARTHUR’S BRITAIN by Leslie Alcock and THE QUEST FOR ARTHUR’S BRITAIN by Geoffrey Ashe.
A few years ago I blogged about the unexpected discovery of Dark Age artefacts in Staffordshire, England:
Of course, I wouldn’t claim to know EVERYTHING there is to know about Dark Age life. Right, Anna? (ANNA: Hey, what’s a potato or two between friends?)
The power vacuum created in Dark Age Britain by Rome’s withdrawal always fascinated me. In contemporary times, the same situation replayed itself in the Eastern Bloc countries as the Soviets pulled out. I find that sort of scenario irresistible as a writer, and it’s one of the issues I’ll be exploring as I continue the series. I love to see who steps to the front of the pack to take charge of all the squabbling.
What’s next for you?
I’ve been posting serialized fiction on my blog for a little over a year, now, following the dark fantasy tale of a boy once brought up to be a noble, but never claimed by his family when it came time to leave the nursery. Instead, he’s raised by a falconer to be his apprentice, until a fateful hunt while in his teens sets him on an unexpected and dangerous path.
I’ll be wrapping up this storyline soon, and then shaping it into novel form which is due to be released in the spring. It’s packed to bursting with deadly power plays within the noble houses, threatening to pull down servants like my hero Scorpius along with them. That will be book one of a trilogy, so I’ll have book one of two separate series out, and then continue on with both series.
Sounds great. And another hero thrust into the role! You live in a really beautiful part of the world that one day I hope to visit. I’d love you to tell us about YOUR Nova Scotia. Do you think that dramatic landscape inspires your writing?
I grew up in Halifax alongside my cousin Julianne MacLean’s family. Our dads were both scuba divers, so we spent many dreamy days running over the granite bedrock along the Atlantic Ocean as the men went on their dive and the moms set up picnic base camp.
As you can see in these two pictures, it’s a landscape that invites gothic tales to run rampant in my mind. That’s a shot of my dad back in the day, and the other one is of the four of us: back row, my sister Daisy Piper, my cousin Charlie. Front row, Julianne MacLean and me.
So besides the gorgeous ocean, my favourite thing about Nova Scotia is the woods. The province is still heavily forested, with large tracts of undeveloped land, and in my own neighborhood we have a greenbelt running through the subdivision. Walking in the woods really renews me.
My local RWA chapter – Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada – has a yearly retreat which takes place at White Point Beach. These two shots were taken there and showcase both of my favorite things.
I’ve long been a fan of your blog, A Piece of My Mind. You range so widely when it comes to topics. I’d love you to talk to us about keeping up the mojo for a long-running blog (when there’s only one of you!) and ask if you have any advice for would-be bloggers.
Thanks, Anna! I’ve actually given a workshop on blogging at my RWA chapter, because not every author enjoys blogging. Yet my chapter knows how much joy my blog gives me. And that’s really the secret.
Not helpful, I know, if writing blog posts feels like donating a kidney, minus the anaesthetic.
When I started A Piece of My Mind, a lot of the blogs I followed were written by authors about the writing life. However, I was four years away from this debut release, and my own interests ran to the full range of the arts. I decided early on to let my blog follow my heart, and after taking part in a year-long Blog Improvement Challenge in 2009 run by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness (http://www.sophisticateddorkiness.com/) I defined my blog as an arts blog.
I soon devised a weekly schedule, which I kept up solidly for four years: Poetry on Mondays, Arts features on Tuesdays, Photography on Wednesdays, Lists of 13 Things on Thursdays, Music on Fridays and Serialized fiction on Saturdays. Each of these features was attached to a meme hosted by another blogger, which carried its own readership (except for my arts feature, which is my very own.)
This year, however, as I put the push on to either sell or self-publish SAINT SANGUINUS, I realized that I couldn’t hope to keep up my regular blog schedule. I pulled back on three of the weekly features – Poetry, Arts and Photography, shuffled the serialized fiction from Saturdays to Wednesdays, and had to cut way back on how much I visited with other bloggers.
This is where I can see the shine coming off of blogging for writers who feel that it takes away from their fiction writing time. Let’s take the cooking analogy for blogging. I come from a family of cooks, and though I adore eating delicious food, I’m not a cook. Every moment spent in the kitchen is a precious moment of life I’ll never get back.
Meanwhile, my mom lives to cook. She expresses herself through preparing food. It’s an art form for her, and each ingredient is a color or texture. That’s what my blog is for me – a way to express myself and to connect with people with similar interests. I’ve made so many friends through blogging, from all over the world. Like you, for instance, Anna!
So for writers who are thinking of attaching blogs to their websites, my advice is this. If you suspect you will run out of things to blog about in a matter of months, perhaps your best bet is to hook up with a group blog where you will only be required to post once a month.
Another idea is to find memes that interest you and take part in them. This gives you ready-made subject matter and helps your blog to schedule itself. For example, on Fridays I take part in a music meme called 5 on Friday, run by Travis at Trav’s Thoughts (http://travsthoughts.blogspot.com/). We post five tunes (which I link to on You Tube) and that’s that. Easy peasy.
Yet another way to shake up your blog schedule is to take part in a blog carnival or festival, or a blog challenge. Carnivals can be huge affairs, with literally a thousand bloggers signed up. A carnival is centred on a time-limited event, such as the A to Z Challenge (http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/) which takes place throughout the month of April. Or the Movie Madness challenge (http://reviews.blueteacup.com/?p=2134) I’m joining this year.
Which brings me to something I’ve bumped into on blog sidebars here and there: Blogging Without Obligation buttons, started by Tiffini at Down the Rabbit Hole (http://www.tartx.com/blog/?page_id=233). For me, blogging is fun. My enjoyment with it is contagious. Try to capture a sense of play when blogging. It’s like a giggle – before long, your fun will ripple out to readers, who will then want to know more about you – and discover you’re an author, with a book they’ve just got to read!
Julia, is there anything you’d like to ask the Bandits or the Bandita Buddies?
I’ve had the good fortune to meet six blog friends In Real Life. I’d like to ask Romance Bandit readers if they’ve had the same pleasure – or if the Real Life meet-up brought surprises?
Julia has very generously offered a commenter today a copy of SAINT SANGUINUS! So get commenting, people!
I’m a slow reader. It takes me most of a day and night—and yes, I do mean the WHOLE night, to finish a fat, single-title novel. The time investment—and therefore the heart investment–in a novel, for me, is considerable. I just finished one at about 4:30 this morning.
My downfall, you see, is that when I start a book, I can’t stop.
I read most nights before bed, and I can pull out any non-fiction book for bedtime reading, and I’ll fall asleep almost immediately. No matter how interested I am in the subject, I’ll intend to read just a chapter, but within a page or two, I’m nodding off and dropping the book in my lap.
But with a novel? Not so.
I’m a shameless hussy for a good story. I never fall asleep reading a novel.
Okay, there’s been one. It was a mystery. And no I’m not telling you whose it was. It was most certainly NOT one of Bandita Kate’s Bibliophile mysteries. I can’t put those things down. *thinks of Derek and wipes drool off chin*
So back to last night’s book. It’s by a well-known author. And I’ll tell you something. I almost didn’t read the second half. I’d started the book on Sunday night. I wanted something funny, and it did have funny moments. Great writing. Totally loveable heroine.
But you know what? On Monday afternoon, when I was on the phone, I called it a wall banger to one of my close friends. I was, frankly, pissed.
Yes, I was cranky and tired from not enough sleep…up reading the bloody effing book, ya know? I’d been staring at the computer, working without a break, for half the day since then. The weather system moving through Kentucky had given me a headache. And the whole time, I’d been thinking about that stupid book.
Because the hero was a jerk.
Let’s pause for a moment to define “jerk,” shall we?
Lots of readers—and writers—seem to call jerks “bad boys.”
No, no, no!
The proverbial “bad boy” is one who rides a motorcycle, wears a leather jacket, blows off convention, and wears aviator shades. Or flies a fighter plane, wears a leather jacket, blows off authority, and wears aviator shades. Or rides a horse in rodeos, wears a leather jacket, blows off silly expectations, and wears aviator…
Okay, so the aviator shades seem to be a common thing.
But lots of folks seem to use the same terminology—bad boy– when they’re talking about edgy guys your mom would not want you dating…(certainly true)….and when they talk about guys who exhibit jerk-ish behavior (not true at all, necessarily, in my view). I guess this is because they lump all “bad” behavior into one bucket.
I like leather jackets, love motorcycles, and –hold the phone–even wear my own…aviator shades. And I deposit my share of lust onto hot guys who wear and ride same.
Aaaaand then there are jerks.
A whole ‘nuther category.
Jerks are selfish, inconsiderate, and treat people badly.
Some bad boys may be jerks, but “jerk” does not equate with “bad boy.”
Are we clear on the definition?
Now…I know that we have to have personal growth for our heroes. And yes, I will say, reluctantly, that the worse a “hero” behaves, the lower the author can take him into the pit of despair which he so richly deserves, and the sweeter the reward at the story’s end when finally, finally, he sees the light, and is redeemed.
Intellectually, I get this.
I have no problem at all with a hero who has to be hit in the head with the proverbial two-by-four in order to realize the heroine is an angel sent from God just to redeem him. He’s a good man inside, and he’s just fallen on hard times and into bad behavior. In fact, I’d be perfectly happy to step up into the “hand of God” role, in many books I read, and actually wield the instrument of smitation upside the idiot’s head. Give the man his comeuppance, dangit! Make him sorry!
That’s why we read romance, right? We get to see the darkness transform into light in the hero and the heroine. And we get to see the happily-ever-after for that couple who has gone to hell and back to earn their happy ending.
So, honestly. I should know better, don’t you think?
I love Christina Dodd. I sing her praises to everybody. She’s brilliant, and she’s one of my favorite authors. But…okay (Cassondra crosses self though she is not Catholic)…I’m about to confess.
The first of her books I read was The Barefoot Princess. It was book two (I think) in her Lost Princesses series.
****Forgive me Christina, for I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of being a true fangirl. You don’t know me, but if by some off-chance, ill-handed twist of fate, you are reading this blog, please please please, read on to the happy ending of what I, one of your biggest fans, am about to say.****
I literally threw the book across the room. It lay forlorn on the floor, having banged the wall of my bedroom one afternoon, and every time I walked by, I snarled. Because the hero was an absolute, unmitigated, total JERK! Such. A. Jerk. A jerk to the point that I believed I could never care about him. Never want him to be with the brave, beloved heroine. He did not deserve her, dangit!
I tried to move on to other books. I read a couple, but could not get invested. Because I kept walking by that one I’d thrown, and scorching it with my most evil glare. (Yes, it still lay in the floor.) It haunted me, how awful that hero was. What was Christina thinking?! I could not get my mind off of it, but I was just too mad at him to keep reading. At last I determined I would finish it, because I had to get that book formally out of my to-be-read pile. Lay it to rest. Give it a proper burial. Oh and yes, I did have to vacuum.
So I picked it up. And was rapt.
I cried. And I cried some more. And at the end of the book, I was smiling while I cried.
Christina Dodd’s Barefoot Princess is one of my favorite books ever. The jerk got his, and got it good.
Anna Campbell’s incredible debut, Claiming The Courtesan, is another of the most perfect stories I’ve ever read. Her hero was so selfishly blind and cruel that I would never believe he could be redeemed. But sweet mother of God, Anna put that hero through hell. Kylemore had to slog through the muck borne of his own dark soul, and he had to drag himself out of that pit with his own bleeding fingernails, first to save the heroine’s life, and then to be worthy of the woman he’d so wronged.
It’s on my list of top five most satisfying reads ever.
So wouldn’t you think I’d learned my lesson about heroes who are jerks?
Really, wouldn’t you?
So yesterday afternoon, I was calling this book (which shall still go nameless) a wall banger. I stayed up until 4 this morning to finish it. And you know what?
I cried near the end. I’m jaded enough, now, that it’s hard to make me cry. But cry I did.
And I’ve been thinking about that all day long. Not the hero or the heroine–more on that later–but on the reason why I was so mad at that book.
What the blazes is wrong with me? Why am I so intolerant of jerks in my novels? How in the world did my standard for “hero” get set so blasted high?
This is really bothering me now because, as a writer who studies the likes of Christina Dodd, Anna Campbell, and yes, even the author whose book I just finished, I want my own readers to laugh and cry at the same time when they read my stories.
Now I will tell you that last night’s book…I did notice one difference about it. It did not take the hero to what I think of as a particularly low point. I think that’s why I was not thinking about them through the day. Those characters are not living in my psyche as real–not the way Christina’s and Anna’s are living there, still, months, and even years, after I read the books.
Granted, last night’s was a contemporary romance, so it’s not like the hero had to ride his steed to near death while bleeding out from a wicked sword wound in order to save the heroine from the gallows or a London prison. But still, there are emotional lows which can be fallen into, and there is a harsh, brutal light to be shined on the ugly stained souls of heroes who act like jerks. Last night’s book did not take the hero to that low, and the light did not shine as harshly or as brutally as I think it needed to shine. I did not witness that hero’s internal change in a way that made me go “oh, yeah.”
I think the hero got off too easily. Yes, I do.
Even though I cried, there was not the deep soul satisfaction that comes from watching a hero wade through his own personal hell to redeem himself for what he’s done–to fully comprehend the difference between what a good person does, and his own actions.
And as a result, this book is not a keeper.
So now I’m worried, and I’m out to find what makes this whole thing work or not work.
Here’s the problem I’m facing.
Most of the time, I write nice guys. Flawed, but generally good guys, with big hearts, lousy circumstances, and a situation with choices that…well…they suck. And I’ve started to worry that my heroes are cardboard. That they’re not complex and won’t be real to the reader.
I write contemporary and futuristic romance, among other things. But there is always suspense. Always. When you have a big suspense element in a book, it takes a lot of words—a lot of pages—to set that suspense up, develop it, and resolve it in a way that is satisfying. And unless you’re Diana Gabaldon, you have only so many pages in a book.
So maybe, when you have suspense in the novel, you can’t really have a guy with quite so big a hill to climb in his own soul, because after the suspense, you don’t have the pages left over to take him down to that kind of personal pit and then redeem him. Yes, the internal growth and the external problem or plot–that does need to happen all at the same time, and a perfect writer, I suppose, would make all of it happen in the same book, every time.
But if he’s a total jerk, it seems to me that it takes more time to heal him than if he just needs to learn to let go and trust his heart and love. He can do that lesser bit of healing while he’s saving the heroine from the vile villain. Maybe the total jerks work better when the novel is a straight up romance, where the focus is strictly on the people and the relationship?
But then I get scared. What if my nice guy will make a “meh” book? Can a basically good guy—one who would not like treating the heroine badly from page one–make a reader laugh and cry at the same time?
I just don’t know.
About the middle of any novel, if the hero is still being a complete horse’s patoot, there comes a point where I throw the book across the room. Or I want to.
Honestly it’s almost like I’m afraid to keep reading. I’m so invested in the heart of the heroine, that if the author fails to redeem the blasted ignorant man…if she fails ME, I will simply not be able to recover. And no matter how many books I read, that fear does not go away.
And yet, those lows, when the redemption does come, make up the books which often end up on my keeper shelf.
I want to be a keeper shelf author.
Some of y’all write, I know, but ALL of you are readers. So I want to know from you, how far is too far?
There are authors out there who I generally do not read, because the heroes tend to always be jerks. One of my sticking points is when the hero is simply a spoiled brat. So self absorbed and oblivious that I just don’t like them from the outset. The read is less satisfying for me if I think the hero has not really changed by the end of the book (this is true of the heroine as well—both must grow as people, and be better at the story’s end, but for this blog, I’m talking about the guys). A spoiled brat…he takes a mighty disaster to become unspoiled in real life. I know this. So it’s hard to make me believe he would change without that mighty disaster in a book.
A good person who behaves badly because of what he’s been through, is one thing. A basically rotten, selfish person is quite another.
So I have a dilemma, Bandits and Buddies..
Have you read books where the hero is a complete and utter jerk, but was so redeemed in the end that you truly believed he was deserving of the heroine’s love?
I’d love a list of books at the end of today. I promise to read every one of them I can…So tell me–
hat books have made you say, “He’s too rotten. There’s no way they can ever be together,” and then have made you laugh and cry and cheer at the same time when they finally are?
Do any of you think the heroine can have a happily-ever-after with a guy who is still a jerk? I have a tough time with that.
Come on, throw it out there. Help me understand.
How low can a hero really go in how he treats the heroine, and still be a redeemable hero?
How many pages into a novel can you read without seeing some light–some potential– in the soul of the hero, and still keep reading?
How far into a book can a hero act like a jerk without you slamming the book into the wall?
And…What does it take to make you believe a jerk has really changed and become a decent person, deserving of the heroine and her love?
It’s true that some things–such as wine and cheese–get better with age. And while I enjoy both, and I’m sure they’d make an interesting blog topic, today I’d like to discuss something a bit…prettier. (Or at least, more fun to look at *g*)
My top five picks for men who have gotten better with age!
1. Hugh Jackman. I think most of us could agree that the years have been kind to Hugh *g*
2. Liam Neeson. I fell hard for Liam in Love Actually.
3. George Clooney. I never watched ER but I do remember George from his days on The Facts of Life. Yes, he has definitely improved with age
4. Patrick Dempsey. The same goes for Patrick who I first saw as a nerdy teen in Can’t Buy Me Love.
5. Sting. I recently saw footage of Sting in concert and he still kicks butt up on that stage! I also love that he’s into yoga *g*
Who are your picks for men who have gotten better with age?
We have an AHA Go Red pin for one commenter today. I’m also giving a copy of Tawny’s latest Red Hot Blaze, BREAKING THE RULES!
The healthy heart tip for February 20 is: Try something new – dare yourself to try a new fruit or vegetable. Next time you’re at the store, pick up something you’ve never made before. Many grocery stores have free recipe cards in the produce section or just type the food into your favorite search engine.
Romance Writers of America and the American Heart Association have partnered to raise awareness of heart disease in women and encourage you to join us in wearing red on February 4, National Wear Red Day. Visit Go Red for Women to learn how to fight heart disease.
From Feb 1 through May 31, 2011, receive one free romance e-book when you sign up for the American Heart Association’s Better U Program and one after you complete week six of the program. And look for the Eat Smart for Your Heart limited edition magazine (that features this offer) on newstands and in a grocery store near you.
Go Red for Women is trademarked by the American Heart Association, Inc. Romance novel downloads provided by Belle Books.
Thanks to the wonders of Google Alerts, I encountered this particular blog topic. The lovely Kylee J from Kylee’s Journal included my hero Keirnan Fitzgerald from The Treasures of Venice in her list of Top 5 Male Crushes.
This exercise involves listing your favorite male “crushes” from books you’ve recently read. Or perhaps it was your top male “crushes” from any book, which makes me feel even more complimented that Kylee included Keirnan on her list.
That forced me to think (always a painful process) about which drool worthy heroes I would include on MY list of crushes, besides my own three yummy hunks, Donovan, Keirnan and Kevin, of course. How to chose from so many worthy candidates?
ANY of Anna Campbell’s gorgeous, tortured hunks (Kylemore, Gideon, Eirth) are certainly drool worthy, as are Christine’s dangerous Max Brooke, and the scrumptious Jardine. And I can’t forget Christie’s scandalous William Atherton or Donna’s naughty Lord Nicholas! Plus on the contemporary side are Jeanne’s dark and dangerous Caine Bradley, and Kate’s sexy Derek Stone. Susan and Beth’s reformed bad boys, Patrick and Dillon, and Tawny’s cursed reporter Sebastian. And I’m not even through with just Bandita books yet.
Clearly this is a case of “too many heroes, too little time!”
So besides all those already mentioned, here’s who would make my short list:
Roarke from JD Robb’s In Death series — he’s sinfully gorgeous and rich, plus he’s Irish! Just can’t beat that combination.
Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series –he probably single-handedly made both red heads and Scot heroes sexy.
Rupert Carsington from Loretta Chase’s Mr. Impossible –he’s pretty much impossible to improve upon.
Ranger from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series — Okay, okay! I know Stephanie will probably end up with Morelli, and she probably should. But Ranger is the one who makes my lil heart go pitty pat the loudest!
All righty, I’ll stop there and let you have a turn. Who are some of the drool worthy heroes on your short list?
We all love a good rescue, don’t we? Many of us in the Lair especially like rescues involving massive boom. Most rescues, though, are a lot quieter. Even when there’s boom in a romance novel rescue, the more important salvation comes when the hero and heroine free each other from their baggage–when love lets them finally shed the ghosts, scars, and fears of their pasts and make a new life together.
This blog was inspired by the Remy Zero song “Save Me,” which happens to be the theme song for Smallville. The chorus, which is the part in the credits, starts, “Somebody save me, let your warm hands break right through me.” (At least I think “me” is the last word in that line. It’s hard to tell, and I found competing versions on the net.)
Think for a minute about all the saviors in the novels and movies you love–from “everyday” heroes who find it within themselves to step up when needed to firefighters and police and soldiers and Navy SEALs and BAD agency and other covert operatives and Dark-Hunters and vampires and wizards and super-heroes. Genre fiction abounds with them. There’s something innately appealing about a character dedicated to saving people.
In Tears of the Sun, a gritty, violent but moving film, Bruce Willis as Lt. Waters leads a SEAL team taking refugees out of a war zone. They come across a village where residents are being brutalized by rebel forces, and Waters tells his guys they’re going in. One of his men says, “Rules of engagement, LT?” They’ve been told by their commander that their rules of engagement, their code of conduct, is to fire if fired upon. Waters looks at him and says, “We’re already engaged.” By compassion and simple humanity. And I have to say watching the SEALs take out the bad guys was a thing of beauty, if a bit gory.
In Acheron, we finally take a complete look at a character who has spent millennia saving humanity. At last, we have all the pieces of this hero’s story, all the pain and humiliation he had to overcome, and see the damage his youth did to his soul. The first half of the book makes for difficult reading because it’s so full of pain. Luckily, all that leads to redemption.
One of Acheron’s friends tells Soteria, Ash’s true love, to remember how hard it is for someone who has known neither kindness nor compassion to show them to others. As Ash and the Dark-Hunters have saved others from agonizing deaths, Tori rescues him from the humiliation and pain of his past. It isn’t easy. The biggest obstacles to the rescue are his shame and, despite all the marvelous things he’s done and has the ability to do, his lack of self-esteem and lack of faith in his own resourcefulness. In the end, Tori’s love for Ash forces him to be the man she sees him as and gives him a bright future.
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, dramatically risks life and limb to save his love, Kat Boleyn. It’s a dramatic, fabulous rescue, but it doesn’t resolve their larger problem. Sebastian has extraordinary physical gifts, money, and a brilliant mind, but he can’t convince Kat a lord and an actress can build a life together. She unshakably believes marriage to her would isolate him socially and ultimately make them both unhappy.
In a later book, a tragic secret comes to light. I’m not spoiling it, but I will say I hoped someone would rescue one of the characters from the resulting grief and pain. Looks like that’ll be in a future book. I hope.
On Smallville, Clark Kent goes into tunnels full of Kryptonite to save his arch-nemesis, Lex Luthor. The tunnels are also wired with explosives, on detonators that are running. With the Kryptonite down there, Clark is in as much danger from a bomb blast as anyone else. His friend and confidante Chloe Sullivan tries to discourage him, but Clark won’t be swayed. At last, she grudgingly concedes, “I get it. You don’t get to choose who you save. Not if you’re Clark Kent.”
Acheron and Sebastian and Willis’s Lt. Waters and Superman and their ilk inspire those around them and, by extension, their readers or viewers, to look to their better angels. How cool is that?
I’ve been watching a lot of Smallville lately. Comic book geek that I am, I watched the first couple of seasons, but I’d been out of high school so long that a show focusing on high school angst, even with super-powers, just didn’t grab me. I drifted away from it, watching an episode occasionally if I remembered it was on. While I wasn’t looking, it got interesting. Lois Lane brought a dose of attitude and a fondness for verbal sparring with Clark to Smallville. What really got me to pay attention again, though, was a rescue.
I happened to tune in to an episode last year in which Clark had no powers and was working as slave labor somewhere in the former USSR. Finally, someone showed up to rescue him–Oliver “Green Arrow” Queen, the world’s greatest archer. Oliver and Clark didn’t fight their way out of the situation in quite the usual way, though they did throw some punches. Oliver mostly talked and bought their way out, preserving Clark’s cover and his own.
Note what Clark says to Oliver at the end of that clip, “What took you so long?” He knew his friends would find him. Counted on their doing so, and don’t we count on our friends to help when we need them? In the previous season (Season 7 for DVD-ites), Clark and Oliver teamed up with a posse of super-heroes to rescue people with powers from becoming Luthorcorp’s lab rats, a mission that played a big role in forcing Clark to take a wider view, to look to all the world’s problems and not just those right around him.
The Chloe character mentioned above irritated me hugely at first because she wasn’t in the Superman mythos I grew up with, but I’ve come to like her. I’ve also come to view Lex Luthor differently. Thanks to the writers and to Michael Rosenbaum’s nuanced portrayal, Lex was a much more complex character than the comic books gave us. (The character has since departed.) Lex actually saved Clark in one episode. Watching a bunch of episodes back to back, as I’ve been doing, reveals a pattern of Lex being desperate for love. In fact, Chloe tries to explain Lex to Clark by saying, “Total absence of love. Someone once said that’s the definition of evil.” Yet every time Lex had a shot at love, his Machiavellian dealings torpedoed it, just as the fears and scars and ghosts of so many characters’ pasts in romance novels torpedo their shots. Until the right lover comes along to save them.
Five for Fighting‘s Superman album contains a song called “It’s Not Easy” that actually is about the Man of Steel and contains the lines, “Even heroes have a right to bleed” and “Even heroes have a right to dream.” Sure, they do. But they often put their own pain and their own hopes and their own dreams aside to save the lives and wellbeing of others. That’s part of what makes them heroes. It isn’t always simple, though. As Oliver says to Clark in one episode, “I know you want to save everyone, but sooner or later, you’ll have to make the hard choices. That’s what heroes do.”
In a romance, heroes and heroines who sacrifice their hopes and dreams for each other usually somehow attain them anyway or end up with something even better. If only things were that way in real life.
Some of you may remember that I have a weakness for ensembles. The quality of a hero’s or heroine’s friends can say a lot about the lead character. Even loners usually have someone who helps or supports them. Nicholas Brisbane and Sebastian St. Cyr are loners but have people who help them. Brisbane has his assistant and his former mistress. Sebastian has Tom, his light-fingered tiger, and the magistrate, Jarvis. Holmes had Watson and, at times, Inspector Lestrade. Frodo had the Fellowship of the Ring and the gift of Galadriel. Acheron had Jaden and Simi and Appollymi and Savitar and, for a time, Nick.
Chloe and Oliver and Lana and Lois (one of the few “good guys” in the Smallville universe not in on Clark’s secret) and the love of Martha and Jonathan Kent all make Clark who he is. Clark is lucky to be surrounded by people who care about him and keep his secret, but Oliver Queen pushes him to step up to what his powers can do, which is why I used his picture so many times on the blog. (I also think he has a way cool costume, pictured at right.) Coming from someone who also sacrifices to save others, as Oliver does, the advice seems to have more punch for Clark than it would coming from an ordinary person. All the people in Clark’s life help him remain true to the best in himself.
Isn’t that part of what our own friends and loved ones do best, keep us true the best in ourselves? Save us from our darker angels?
For more about Smallville and its fandom, click here. New episodes return in September. What’s your favorite book or movie rescue (with or without boom)? Which hero or heroine do you think made the most heart-wrenching sacrifice, and why did you choose that particular one?
A mystery package of books from RWA (which have now arrived, so I’ll be posting winners tonight) will go to one commenter.
Tomorrow is Father’s Day here in the States which, for some unknown reason, has me thinking about some of my all-time favorite Movie/TV Dads! (I know. It’s scary how my brain works. Let’s just go with it, shall we? *g*)
So here, in no particular order, are my Top Ten Favorite Movie or TV Dads:
1. Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) of TV’s Castle. So far I’ve only caught a few episodes of this show but the thing that struck me right from the beginning was Castle’s relationship with his daughter Alexis. Alexis is actually more mature than her dad but their love for each other is clear *g*
2. Will Hayes (Ryan Reynolds) in Definitely, Maybe. I’m a huge Ryan Reynolds fan (and I can’t wait to see him with Sandra Bullock in The Proposal!) and this movie about a single dad telling his daughter about his past was very sweet
3. Jack (Michael Keaton) in Mr. Mom. Oh, how I love this movie! Jack loses his job and soon embraces his new role as a stay-at-home dad. Anyone else remember this scene where he’s trying to get his son Kenny to give up his woobie (security blanket): “I understand that you little guys start out with your woobies and you think they’re great… and they are, they are terrific. But pretty soon, a woobie isn’t enough. You’re out on the street trying to score an electric blanket, or maybe a quilt. And the next thing you know, you’re strung out on bedspreads Ken. That’s serious.”
4. Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) in Sleepless in Seattle. As much as I love the romance in this film, I also love the bond between Sam and his young son Jonah.
5. Robert (Patrick Dempsey) in Enchanted. I can’t get enough of this movie and Robert is such a cynical New Yorker but his love for his young daughter pushes him to bring fairy tale princess Gieselle home.
6. Seeley Booth (David Boreanaz) in TV’s Bones. Seeley is a tough FBI agent AND a caring father. And he’s easy on the eyes, too
7. Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) in TV’s Friday Night Lights (one of my fave shows!) Love how sexy Eric is with his wife and how wonderful he is with his daughters. Plus, as a football coach, he’s a role model/father figure to many of the boys on his squad.
8. John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) of TV’s Supernatural. Before JDM was in Watcher’s, he played Sam and Dean’s father and I have to admit, I fell hard for this tough guy who would do anything to protect his sons.
9. Daniel (Liam Neeson) in Love Actually. The story line of Daniel and Sam is my favorite of this fabulous movie. Seeing their relationship grow after suffering a huge loss is so bittersweet.
10. (TIE) Richard White (James Marsden) and Clark Kent/Superman (Brandon Routh) in Superman Returns. Young Jason White couldn’t ask for two better Dads!
Who are some of your favorite Movie/TV Dads? Which star would win your vote as sexiest dad? I know we have a few Hugh Jackman and Johnny Depp fans out there *g* Let’s hear it!
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