Saturday, December 29, 2012

Setting the Scene

I need two three-minute bits to read aloud for school. One's for open mike night. That's tough because three minutes isn't long enough to read much of a novel to any purpose. So I just steal from the funnier of my posts here.

Last summer, I modified this post on Deciphering Romance Novel Blurbs & Reviews. Seemed to go over well enough.

This time (which is to say, next week's Stonecoast residency which is also next month's residency, and the first of next year's residencies) I plan to do a shortened version of my post on The Two-Minute Orgasm, possibly just for the thrill of saying "fuck" in front of my classmates.

The other read-aloud is more private. The ten or so students who started in Popular Fiction last winter got together midway through the residency and read aloud to each other, for practice. (I read a foreplay scene, perhaps again for the thrill of using the word "fuck" in front of my classmates.)

This time, someone asked for excerpts that "set the scene," meaning they establish a time and place for the protagonist to move through.

I've selected two really short bits from Love in Reality. First up, the hero visits his parents:
   Rand pulled into his parents’ driveway, turned off the car and sat for a moment, gazing at the perfectly-maintained landscaping. His parents’ house wasn’t large by Bel Air standards, but it sat on a particularly gracious lot, perfect for entertaining. Perfect for his mother to swan around, impeccably dressed, making sure everyone was comfortable. Perfect for his father to entertain industry moguls with his stories of clashes with the network honchos. Perfect for everyone to feel smart and creative instead of just lucky.

   Even the air smelled perfect as Rand opened the car door. He shook his head. All this perfection and he still dreaded the duty Sunday brunch visit. He loved his parents, but he and Alan-Jennings-the-TV-producer (as opposed to Alan-Jennings-his-dad—when was the last time Rand had a conversation with his own father that hadn’t been about the industry?) seemed locked in a tug-of-war over Rand’s disappointing career choices.

   The only imperfect thing the Jennings had to deal with was their son. No wonder he didn’t feel comfortable coming home.
Second excerpt is Libby early in her time on the reality TV show The Fishbowl:
   While the others were chatting about nothing in particular, waiting for the disembodied voice to tell them what to do next, Libby went back into the living room to look around. There was always a challenge involving details of the decor, so no reason not to study for it now. The walls this year were vaguely rounded in places, but they still had the large, built-in fish tanks, stocked with colorful fish. Libby crouched down to see the camera behind the fish tank, getting “watery” shots of the contestants in the background with real fish in the foreground. She memorized the number of fish in each tank before turning back to the living room furnishings.

   The decor was like Little Mermaid on Ice sponsored by Ikea—lots of blues and greens with sleek Swedish modern furniture. Tall, spiky potted plants mimicked seaweed and the few paintings echoed the sense of being under water. There were a lot of round shapes, too—rugs, wall art, pillows. Bubbles, Libby thought as she counted them.
 Nothing earth-shaking, but I think they get the job done. With luck, the reader can visualize the space and get a better sense of the character(s).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Next Big Thing

I got tagged by Ellis Vidler, author of TIME OF DEATH in the Interview Meme, The Next Big Thing.

Q. What is the title of your book? 
A. LOVE IN REALITY, available as a digital book from Harmony Road Press.

Q. Where did the idea come from for the book?
A. Watching too much reality TV! Specifically, shows like Big Brother, where contestants are locked in a fictional "house" and have to kick each other off one at a time until a winner is selected.

Q. What genre does your book fall under?
A. Contemporary single title romance. (That just means it's longer, about 90,000 words.)

Q. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
A. What a great question. Rand, my hero, thinks he looks a bit like Ryan Reynolds, but I really don't have a specific actress in mind for Libby. Plus, I rather think the couple on the cover is pretty close.

Q. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A.  Can love flourish when a law student is pretending to be her twin on a reality TV show and the TV producer is using her to write a winning screenplay?

Q. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
A. Love in Reality is published by Harmony Road Press, a "mom-and-pop publishing empire" I run with my awesome husband, Ross. (So, yeah, it's indie-published.)

Q. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A. About three months. Then I completely rewrote it, so add on another few months, and then I rewrote the first third of the story and the ending, so all told, about three years! (That's called "writer's math," kids.)

Q. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A. I'm not sure there is anything similar, but it's funny and contemporary, so maybe Kristan Higgins or Susan Elizabeth Phillips?

Q. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
A. It's standard on these reality TV shows for the contestants to talk directly to the camera.  I started to think about the relationship that might develop between the producer asking the questions and the contestant. It seems like a very intimate situation, but still fraught with challenges.

Q. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
A. It's the first book in The Blackjack Quartet, a series of interrelated romances in which Jack "Blackjack" McIntyre plays a role. And then, in Blackjack & Moonlight, he falls in love. (Blackjack & Moonlight was a finalist in the 2012 Golden Heart® contest and will be released in mid-2013.)

Okay, for all you authors out there…here are the rules:

 •Give credit to the person/blog that tagged you

 •Post the rules for this hop

 •Answer these ten questions about your Next Big Thing on your blog

 •Tag two or more writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Just like that, this is now officially an AUTHOR BLOG!

Okay, I'm not an author yet--Love in Reality will be on sale early next week--but I have a laundry list of stuff to do that's a mile long and includes school work AND writing the next book in the series, so forgive me if I'm jumping the gun.

Plus, I'm excited. Okay, so that's actually nerves. I'm nervous. Nervous that someone will write to me about some hideous mistake. Not the other kind of mistake--the kind where all you can do is thank the person very sweetly and inside you just shrug.

For example, I made a modest effort to learn about how a reality TV show like Big Brother (i.e., a locked house with a motley crew of contestants in skimpy costumes competing to win a lot of money) is made. I even called the production offices. They hung up on me. So if someone who's worked on a Big Brother-style show writes to say, "Boy, are you dumb," I'll write back and agree with them.

But if one of my law professors writes to say, "Did I teach you nothing?" I'll die a little. How embarrassing!

Okay, that's one of the things I'm nervous about. Here's another: Crickets. As in, Cue the...

How mortifying if we publish this, I tell everyone I know it's out there, I advertise, I guest-blog, people review it on Amazon or Goodreads, and...


Not even crickets.

Yeah, okay, so it's unlikely, but it could happen. Even the possibility makes me nervous.

On the other hand, bad reviews? I think I'm ready. Yes, really. Bring `em on. Tell me how hideous you found it, show me (and the world) all the places it could be improved. Tell me you thought it would have more sex, less sex, more of the TV show, less of the TV show, or even you bought a copy thinking it would be about converting a 1970's-era TV set into a fishbowl and boy do you want your money back!

Because at least a bad review is better than no review at all. And way better than those darn crickets.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Write the Book You Would Love to Read

I've given the same advice to two author friends recently and it occurred to me, why not post it at Promantica (aka, the most anorexic blog on the planet)?

Of course you don't need to read the post; my advice is in the title: Write the book you'd love to read.

Here's what I'm talking about. Between various online discussions and the brand new Amazon author rankings, it's clear that some romance authors are doing very well indeed. E.L. James, Sylvia Day, Kristen Ashley, Robyn Carr, Debbie Macomber, J.R. Ward and so forth. Mazel tov to them!

I've enjoyed books by some of these authors, and not the books by others. Some books aren't particularly well-written, which clearly doesn't rule them out of "Ohmigod, you have to read this" status. (In fact, I've come to the conclusion that "the writing's not very good" is often a justification of someone's dislike of a book, but "it's very well-written" is never a selling point in the "No, really, you have to read it" urging.)

Here's the thing. I may never sell the voluminous quantities of these authors because to do so, I'd have to write books I don't personally want to read. How much fun would that be?

Oh, I don't think anyone's writing to the market--those bestselling authors are writing the books they'd love to read, and they've tapped into a huge readership that happens to love the same things.

Sure, that could happen to me, but I'm okay if it doesn't. Sales numbers, book rankings, and author status are all very nice, but they're ancillary to what I can control: the words on the page.

A lot of that is about good writing--believe me, that's the easiest thing to learn or fix--but a lot of it is about the storytelling, which is much harder to gauge.

So what sorts of things are true about books I love to read? Less tension between the hero and heroine. I know this means my books seem to have less conflict, but as I don't like to fight, I don't like to see my friends and family fight, I don't even like to overhear strangers fight, why would I want to write about characters who spat all the time?

I prefer characters who like each other, respect each other, are attracted to each other, and still can't make it work. (I'm all about the back story...)

I like angsty emotions, black moments, and heart-wrenching endings. I love five-tissue weepy reads!

I like sex but if I'm being honest, I can take it or leave it when it comes to a romance I love. What is required is that any sex be specific to those people and that situation.

And I like smarts. Characters with smarts. Plots with smarts. Sassy dialogue. Clever situations. I don't need the characters to have advanced degrees, but if they do, I expect them to act like they do. On the other hand, a street urchin can be credibly inventive. I love that too.

I like characters to be comfortable financially. Rich is nice but not necessary. Just not broke. That said, Rachel in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Dream a Little Dream has to be poor for the plot to work.

I'm sure there's more, but you get the idea. Right now, I'd say I'm writing books I'd enjoy if they were by another author. Not sure I'd love them to the point of saying, "No, really you absolutely positively have to read this!" Maybe someday.

Friday, September 7, 2012

My Summer Holidays

Regular readers Barb and JoDee have asked for that perennial September favorite: the essay on "What I Did Over the Summer." Specifically, how the RWA National conference went.

The answer: I dunno, I was sort of invisible, seems unhelpful, so let me parse it out.

When I was an associate at a Philadelphia law firm, I started quilting as a hobby. I'm not a very good or prolific quilter, but then I wasn't a very good lawyer. Interestingly, I didn't feel like a lawyer when I was with lawyers, I felt like a quilter. And when I was with quilters, I felt like a lawyer. In other words, I always felt different.

A couple years later, I went to a national quilt show and conference in Paducah, Kentucky ("Quilt City"). I was in a class where the instructor asked us to go around the room, give our names, and say a bit about ourselves. Surrounded by quilters, I felt all lawyer-y...until two  women on the other side identified themselves as lawyers. But I was still different: they were from California.

In early July, I went to the second residency for my MFA program, Stonecoast. It's easy to feel like a special snowflake there because we're all different. Sure, we're all writers, but writing is a solitary vocation: each of us writes unique stories, usually in a room by ourselves, and we're convinced no one will ever read them. You'd think since we share the same fears, we'd feel like a tribe and we do, but underneath the war paint, we're alone.

Or maybe I'm the only one who feels that way.

At the Romance Writers of America conference, there's a lot more solidarity. In fact, there are lots of tribes. Long-established published authors make up a tribe. Recently-established but bestselling authors: tribe. Authors of romantic suspense: tribe. Every chapter is a geographical tribe. Authors published by a specific publisher: tribe. Pretty young writers: tribe. And so forth.

I was inducted into a tribe this year: the 2012 finalists in the Golden Heart® contest, aka The Firebirds. We met up at a dinner on the Tuesday before the conference started, and we had official events together on Friday (when we got our certificates saying we were finalists) and Saturday (when the awards were given out). There was even a low-key pool party on Thursday evening.

I went to everything. Nonetheless, at the end of the week, people said, "Hey, where have you been? I haven't seen you."

Interesting. I'd somehow managed the art of invisibility from Tuesday night to Saturday night. It wasn't on purpose--I met up with long-standing friends and met new people too, I attended workshops, parties, and even the Annual General Meeting--but I'm just not good with groups.

Still, I was there, so let me tell you what I saw from beneath my Cloak of Invisibility:
  • RWA, as an enterprise, is struggling to keep up with the implications of self-publishing. At the same time, it's trying to keep things like the RITA awards (which go to books published in the past calendar year) relevant to readers. All of this, plus more, came up at the Annual General Meeting, and the reverberations haven't died down yet, six weeks later.
  • One of the bennies to being a Golden Heart finalist is you get to sit up front with Real Authors. I sat next to Jennifer Ashley (aka Allyson James), who was up for two RITAS in two different categories. She didn't win either, but like me, she had correctly predicted who would win in her categories!
  • My favorite workshops are run by people who normally work with screenwriters. I don't know what it is, but they're awesome and I always learn a lot.
  • Dominoes Rule OK: Because I went to a presentation last January at Stonecoast on how to adapt your novel into a screenplay and another one on what screenplay structures teach us, I decided to write a screenplay for my GH finalist manuscript, Blackjack & Moonlight. Because I'd written a screenplay, I joined Scriptscene, a scriptwriting chapter of RWA. Because I'd joined Scriptscene, I got to go to dinner with a bunch of its members, including LA Sartor. Because I sat across from LA Sartor, I got a referral to her editor...who's now my editor.
  • I had not one but two hunky men with me for the awards dinner:
Ross (aka Brit Hub 2.1), me, and Henry (Brit Hub 1.0)
After RWA we traveled to Spokane (lovely city) and Sandpoint, Idaho, where I developed pneumonia. Back home, lots of recuperation, lots of writing, and that was my summer.

How was yours?

Friday, August 31, 2012

From Where I'm Sitting

I haven't blogged here in months. Shame, really. I like this blog. I like writing about romance.

But from where I'm sitting, there are so many topics I can't write about safely. Here's a partial list:
  1. Other authors' books. I have discussed books in the past, but I don't review them. There's a very narrow range of topics in which I talk about a book because something about the book is interesting. Alternatively, I can praise a book to the rafters--no one objects to that--but this leads to a different problem:
  2. Writing. My writing, another author's writing, writing in general. Promantica was never intended as a "writer's" blog, and truly I would post even less frequently than I do now if I limited myself to sparkling observations about the business of writing/revising/publishing. The problem is that I mostly read books as a writer would: I enjoy them but I'm also looking underneath the hood to see how the book runs. I used to be a cranky reader, now I'm a cranky, stuffy reader. Deadly. Even when I like a book, I often like it because of technical matters that most reader can't care less about.
  3. Social media and the kerfuffles therein. Used to write about that, but those halcyon days are past. I don't think I even want to say why. ;-)
  4. Traditional vs. independent publishing. Apart from the fact that much smarter people are writing about this on a regular basis, I myself don't have much to say on this topic. And what I do have can be summarized thusly: I don't believe there's a gatekeeper any more; I see as many typos in trad-published books as in indie books but that's anecdotal evidence at best so who cares; and I just want to read good books regardless of how they get into the marketplace.
  5. My own books. And the pimping thereof. I'll say something on my website about them as they come out, but not here.
  6. My life. Because it's boring. And the few bits that aren't boring are sad, or would constitute self-promotion, or something. I don't have cute kids, my pets sleep most of the time, and my husband is delightful but shy.
There you have it.  That leaves me one topic at the moment: romance. And I haven't had much to say about romance recently until this article popped up: Are Romances as Bad for Relationships as Porn?

Katherine Feeney is just wrong.

Here's why: Porn shuts people out. It's usually a solitary experience, and most people are disinclined to talk about it. Romances can be--and are--shared. So in a relationship where the guy is accessing porn and the woman is reading romances, he's more likely to deny his activity than she is.

Yes, both porn and romance include fantastical images/portrayals of the opposite sex--I'm just talking about a heterosexual couple--that presumably real people can't compete with. I think the instinct to compare and judge is rather more a guy's trait than a woman's. If the guy is looking at a lot of porno women, he may look at his wife and think, "She should exercise more." A woman reading about six-pack abs and bulging manhoods is less likely to view her husband as inadequate and inferior just because there's a super-sexy guy on the cover of a book.

That would be the "real-world" view of these media. How about their inherent qualities and shortcomings? Well, I don't have an absolute view on that. Some romances are poorly written and convey heroines who are TSTL and heroes who should be arrested rather than revered. Some porn, presumably, is better done with less demeaning portrayals of ... oh, who the hell knows. I don't watch any.

More importantly, the original article was trying to tie porn and romances to relationships, which, frankly, gets us to a guns-and-butter point in the argument. Butter can help clog your arteries or it can augment a dish so that it tastes fantastic. Guns can win wars, allow crazy extremists to kill innocent people, or help defend loved ones at home. So what? If I had a stupid statistic about how butter kills more people than guns do, would that even matter?

People matter. The ways in which people read romances, watch porn, consume butter, and use guns -- that's what matters.

And, at the end of the day, it makes about as much sense to blame the romance novel, the porn site, the gun industry, and cows for the stupid things humans do. Whatever else I believe, I wish people would make smarter choices.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sampling Theory

I love (LOVE) free samples. No, not those titchy little plastic spoons at the supermarket. I'm talking about the free samples of books that you get to download at Amazon.

You get ten percent of the book. If, at the end of the sample, you want to read the rest, you buy the book. If not, delete the sample.

Here's what I love about this. It shifts the line between readable and unreadable. It gets rid of the DNF entirely. Samples allow me to skip downloading the merely readable. I limit myself to downloading the un-put-downable, the story whose sample is so cool, so hot, so intriguing, so irresistible that, well, I don't resist it.

And this is the answer, I think, to that old canard about self- or indie-publishing. Afraid you'll get someone's slush pile reject? Download the sample and decide for yourself. After all, who says editors publish only the very best, leaving the sad & dejected behind? I think they publish only "marketable" books, leaving behind a fascinating stew of quirky, personal, and even excellent books behind.

Plus, a lot more authors are doing the math and realizing that there's money to be made with their series of historical romances, or unusual contemporary romances. Even if such manuscripts could be sold to a publisher, it might be years before a book hits a shelf. Publish them now and people can download a sample and decide for themselves.

I also think this promotes better books. Ten percent is a sizable chunk of a romance novel. No longer are we locked into the hooky first sentence or grabby first page. With ten percent of a romance, you'll meet the hero and heroine, and most likely read about them meeting each other. You'll get dialogue, chemistry, and maybe even (in the case of erotica) some sex. After ten percent, the only unknowns are: will the middle sag, or will the ending disappoint? The way I figure it, a writer who can set up a good opening can produce a decent middle and end.

I now "sample" even auto-buy authors. Why not? I've got a finite amount of reading time, why waste it slogging through a novel that's not nearly as good as what that author's written in the past?

This is another of the ways that the Internet is changing how we select books to buy. I love (LOVE) the Internet.

Friday, June 22, 2012

I'm Team "Write More Books"

A wonderful benefit to being a GH® finalist is that I was instantly enrolled in a class with a lot of other talented writers. Then they suggested other groups, and before I knew it, I'd joined two new (to me) RWA online chapters, two more Yahoo groups, and watched my email grow exponentially. (Personal motto: You're never alone after you final in the Golden Heart®!)

It was also a chance for me to change my mind about publishing my contemporary legal romances through Harmony Road Press (which we could do pretty quickly) or try again to get an agent/editor/publishing deal. But I quickly discovered what others have seen for themselves: if your writing isn't what the traditional publishers are looking for, you can have Golden Heart® tattooed on your forehead and it won't make a difference. So we're sticking with the original plan and will start publishing Magdalen Braden romances in the fall.

Which means gearing up for marketing Magdalen Braden romances. Only, do I need to?

I've been watching with interest the various discussions about independent (aka self-)publishing. One debate is on how valuable marketing and promotion is. Taking out ads, creating a trailer, soliciting reviews, doing blog tours, participating in social media, etc.: do these efforts generate sales?

Confession time: I'm not very good at online marketing. So that colors my perceptions dramatically. I would imagine someone who's good at marketing has a very different opinion of the process.

And maybe it's that simple: if you're good at it, it works, and if you're not good at it, it doesn't.

Here's another possibility: that the best marketing is to write more books. (I'm defining "book" in the digital-age sense: any specific and separate story that gets its own cover, its own blurb, its own page on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Apple, and that you can announce as a separate release.)

Write one, and maybe it will take off, but maybe it won't. Write two and the odds are better that one will take off and its readers will find the other one, which will sell better than it did on its own. Write three...

You get the idea.

So the story of an author who was selling a couple copies a day when she started with a single book, but who'd made $25,000 by the end of her first year, makes sense when I tell you that she'd published nine books in that period. Most of the money was made from the first two, but even that makes sense because they'd been on sale the longest.

Who knows--maybe if she'd published only seven books but spent the extra time promoting the first five, she'd have sold even more. No way to know.

But looking at it logically, I'm guessing she did fine on the "Write More Books" team. First of all, who's actually tapping in to our social media streams? Our friends, our colleagues, our existing fans. And they're going to buy our books anyway (or not) pretty much regardless of our tweets and posts. All social media does is remind them that we have another book out.

What about the ads, reviews, trailers, blog tours? Sure, that can get your name out to a lot more people, but so can Amazon's heuristics, which tell readers all the time about new-to-them authors. Nine books means nine more chances to get the author's name out to thousands of new readers.

Again, if you're good at marketing, great. But if you're not...if, like me, you're better at keeping your head down and tapping out more stories...then don't assume there's some fabulous readers-only cruise but for you, "that ship has sailed."

I can't prove it, but I'm willing to believe that Team "Write More Books" does just as well.

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Take a Licking and Keep on Ticking

I'd love to tell you how to take critiques, comments, judges' remarks, beta-readers' notes, and other feedback in the right spirit. Gracefully. With aplomb. (A curtsey might be over the top, but you get the idea.)

We authors need to know how to do this. Because, honestly? I think the animal behaviorists missed a trick. There's Fight, there's Flight, and then there's Cringe.

I do that. I get creepy-crawly sensations up my arms, the back of my neck tingles, and I just want to hide. And that's even with nice comments!

If I have any advice at all it would be not to respond right away. Because after Cringe comes Oh, Yeah?!, also known as Get Defensive. And that's rarely an author's best side.

This past weekend was Critique Central around here. I got back the judges' scores and remarks on my first-ever screenplay; an online friend had extensive, helpful comments on Blackjack & Moonlight, and a short story I wrote had to be turned around following the editor's corrections.

The easiest are the line edits. That's someone actually trying to make your work better. Assess all the proposed changes, make as many as you can and then accommodate the rest. Thank your editor; she's worked hard to improve your work, which in turns makes you look better as a writer. Send her flowers, if that's possible. Or chocolate.

Next easiest: the comments by a friend on a completed manuscript. Everything my friend said was right. I just didn't agree with all of it.

Wait. What?

Yes, I think it's possible for an author to acknowledge good advice while still seeing valid reasons not to take it. My friend is right: Blackjack & Moonlight would benefit from more conflict. But not without a major rewrite, and as it's just had a major rewrite, I suspect I don't have the energy right now to do a second one. Plus, I am willing to sacrifice conflict to keep other qualities that I like as much.

Still, Blackjack is the third book in what we're calling "The Blackjack Quartet" (because Jack "Blackjack" McIntyre appears in all four books). Our current plan is to start publishing the quartet in the fall, so I won't be prepping Blackjack & Moonlight for release until 2013. Maybe then I'll know how to address the changes my friend has suggested.

That's because I know I'm still learning how to write. What was hard a year ago is now much easier, so it stands to reason that what seems hard now might be doable next spring.

Finally, the judges' scores and remarks. This is tougher because it's my first screenplay. That should make it easier because I know I'm a newbie, but paradoxically, I'm more nervous about facing my faults in this situation. I think that actually fits with my thoughts about my friend's advice. When we're faced with evidence of our failings as writers, that's just hard. But it gets easier as we demonstrate to ourselves that we are learning and improving.

I may never write another screenplay, so these comments could be the only feedback I get. I want to approach them as constructive advice on how to improve, and not a terminal diagnosis from a professional. (One judge is a producer, the other is one of those industry insiders that has lots of different titles.)

I think I can get there...with time.

Which makes it suitable that I picked the old Timex watch slogan for the title of this post. Give feedback time to find that part of you that believes you're doing okay, that you're learning and improving, and that you want to be a better writer. And that you're grateful to be strapped to an arrow, sent through a glass pane, and dunked in some water. Don't worry; you'll survive. (John Cameron Swayze is very reassuring on this point...)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Ten Weeks

Two months ago, I was gutted (as the British would say) by a family matter. It's hard to convey how bad it was without getting specific, and as it's not all about me, I won't go into details.

D'arry's Verandah Restaurant

The point is, my world deflated like a badly-prepared souffle. This made social media, which is like a well-prepared souffle, hard for me to do.

Ten weeks later I engaged in a Twitter conversation. It was lovely; a delectable trifle that cheered me up no end.

Ten weeks.

Don't get me wrong. This wasn't the death of a family member, or the loss of a home, or any of the myriad really horrible things that can happen to a person. This was just my personal bridge too far.

The thing is, some people took it hard when I stopped being friendly on Twitter. I don't blame them. I just didn't know what to say. And, ironically, the dearer the online friend, the less I knew how to deal with a profound sadness when "talking" online.

That's the trouble with a menu of carbonation and air pudding: it can't support the heavy stuff. It wasn't that my online friends wouldn't have understood what I was going through. It was that I had no idea what to tell anyone. It's not that my online friends--you!--aren't "real" or don't care. You are real and you do care. I get that.

Sorry for the cliché but it's true: it's not you, it's me. I didn't know how to explain and I couldn't compartmentalize so that I was frothy online and devastated at home. I don't judge people who can do that; I imagine it can be a great comfort. I'm not very good at asking for comfort, and I'm probably pretty prickly when it's offered.

That's what makes online relationships tricky: they're based on our "best" selves. But it's not our "best" selves that take the hits and go into little emotional caves. Those are our "real" selves.

Thanks for understanding that my online self disappeared for a while and it wasn't personal. It was just real life.

Incidentally, that delicious looking dessert up there is a Passionfruit Soufflé from a restaurant in Australia. At least, I think it's Australia. Here's their website.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sleeping Uphill

Jennifer McQuiston has a three-book deal with Avon.

Romily Bernard has a three-book deal with HarperTeen.

Kat Cantrell (who won Harlequin's SYTYCW contest) and Ami Weaver have series titles coming soon from Harlequin.

They're all fellow Golden Heart® finalists for 2012, and I'm proud of their accomplishments, just as I'm very happy for the many finalists who've gotten agents since the announcement, and all those who already have agents. (Another finalist, Moriah Densley, worked really hard to get all our websites linked up to our names in the list. I'll be lazy and just link to her fabulous post so you can see all the names I've left out.)

I'm a little envious of their successes, maybe, but I'm also happy. Truly.

This reminds me of the "Asphalta Karma" theory a friend taught me when I lived in Philadelphia. If you're driving around looking for a parking space, you say a prayer to Asphalta, the goddess of urban driving. If the car in front of you gets a parking space you wanted, you give thanks to Asphalta for helping out a fellow driver: it's good karma. (Also good Asphalta karma? Overpaying the meter.)

So it's good writer karma to be over-the-moon happy for my fellow GH finalists even as I don't expect to get an agent or a book deal out of my GH finalist manuscript. Mind you, I'm working hard on making it a better book--hell, it's my entire semester's workload this spring; by June, it will have all sorts of improvements. But it may always be an odd duck that the industry doesn't know what to do with.

This effort to keep plugging away at my own writing while I watch my colleagues grab their brass rings is like sleeping uphill. See, we're staying at a cute little cabin in the hills outside Asheville for a few days; it's like living in a treehouse. There's a king-sized bed that's comfy enough, but you know how those beds get. There's always a slight dip toward the sides.

So last night I woke up a little chilled (note to self: if we stay here again, bring a quilt) and I wanted to move toward the middle of the bed, closer to my husband (aka, my British Thermal Unit). Only that involved rolling uphill slightly, enough that I had to make a conscious effort to accomplish it. All the warmth was in the middle of the bed, but I had to wake up enough to get there.

That's what it feels like to get everyone's good news about their agents and book deals: sleeping uphill. It's cozier to be in a group, but it takes some effort to see that it's okay to be different.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

I Don't Believe in Fictional Ghosts

True story: The tiny house I grew up in, built in 1765, was haunted. Weird noises, strange occurrences, definitely a sense that someone or something had never moved out. I walked in the front door one day and heard my brother Dan playing the piano. Only when I poked my head in the living room, he wasn't there at the piano, or in the room, or even in the house. No other exits, no windows he could have crawled out of.

My sister had the best story. Believing we had a poltergeist, she stayed up late one night to play with the Ouija board. Everyone knows that it doesn't work with only one person...either because it doesn't work, period, but at least with a second person you can *think* it's working, or because it just can't work with one person.

But Ann explained that she hadn't been pushing the heart-shaped thingie across the board. Instead, it moved on its own. She asked the board, "Am I alone?" and the device flew off the corner with NO. She put it back on the board, resting her fingertips on its rim and asked, "Is there a spirit here?" and it flew off the corner marked YES. Then she asked for proof, and a file cabinet fell over in the room above her head.

That was bizarre because the upstairs room was the bedroom she and I shared, it didn't have any large metal objects in it, and when she went up to check, I was fast asleep.

I believed my ears when it was Dan playing the piano, and I believe my sister's account of her night with the house's spirit.

I still don't believe in ghosts the way fiction would have us believe.

This became relevant while I was reading Sarah Addison Allen's The Peach Keeper. I enjoyed the book a lot...except for the woowoo elements. (I won't spoil the book for anyone, but stuff happens that seems farfetched in mundane terms, although perhaps not magical enough for magical realism.) I kept wondering what Allen's own explanation would be for the things that happen.

See, I have no trouble believing that the barrier between life on earth and whatever happens to us after death is thin enough under some circumstances for mediums to get "messages" from the dear departed. (I overheard a conversation at my MFA's January residency. Two women chatting, one explaining to the other that she's a bit of a medium. "It's weird because I can't choose who contacts me. There's a woman here and I wanted to tell her that her husband is pleased she's getting her MFA. But she doesn't know me from Adam..." Yeah, that seems a lot more realistic than The Sixth Sense or The Ghost Whisperer.)

So I kind of believe in ghosts, I just think it's a pretty inconsequential element of our daily life. I don't believe ghosts can move physical objects or alter events in the corporeal plane. In a lot of ways, I bet it's like waiting at a window in the fog, hoping someone walks by close enough to hear you when you tap...and even then most people would have no clue why you're tapping. In a word: boring. No wonder so few ghosts stick around. I'd have better things to do as well.

All this helps me understand why I'm not the best reader of paranormal romances. I keep trying to figure out what the author's world view has to be. Yes, I get it: it's fiction. Made up. Not real. Not meant to be real.

But surely there has to be some idea of how your made-up, not really real world works. Right? I like books by authors who appear to have the entire alternate universe spinning in their heads. J.K. Rowling, for example, or Thea Harrison. I can believe wyr-creatures (humanoids that can assume an animal form) better in Thea Harrison's Elder Races books simply because so many things are different that it's not anything like our world anymore.

I have a much harder time reading stories that are set in our world with only one or two see that wolf over there? Yeah, he's actually a man too. I dunno, maybe I took too many animal physiology courses in college, but I'm quite comfortable with the belief that our bones, tissues, organs, etc. simply can't do that.

In the end, I liked Allen's The Peach Keeper for its purely mundane story of generations of women dealing with the challenges of being women and finally getting it right. Surely that requires enough magic all on its own.

Monday, March 26, 2012

One-Way Doors

Last year, I blogged about not being a finalist for the Golden Heart.

What a difference a year makes. Jeanne Pickering Adams, the Region One representative to RWA®'s board, phoned me this morning to announce that Blackjack & Moonlight is a Golden Heart® finalist in this year's contest.

Two things have popped into my head since this morning.

First, something Jim Kelly said in a workshop at Stonecoast, the MFA program I started this year. The subject was story elements, and Jim said the choices the protagonist makes at the end of Act One and Act Two should be "one-way doors." He was talking about those decisions that can't be undone. Once you say yes, or take that job, or get that phone call, it can't be reversed. Like the saying in trial advocacy: you can't unring the bell.

I stepped through a one-way door this morning. From everything I've read, once you're a Golden Heart finalist, you're always a finalist. It's ad copy, it's the perfect intro to a pitch, it's the lead paragraph to a query letter. It's a big deal.

Like I say, I hope I'm ready.

But I know my writing is ready. That's the funny thing. Blackjack has been rejected by over 50 agents and editors, pretty much everyone who might be interested in it. Throughout that entire process, I knew it could be improved, but I also knew it was good. The problems the professionals saw--lack of external conflict and the focus on urban professionals--I knew were actually strengths. I just wasn't presenting them in the best possible way.

That brings me to the other thing that popped into my head this morning.

My sister and I were at a fitting for my wedding dress in fall 1998 when she asked me a question. Understand, I was 42 and this was a first marriage for me.

"Had you given up?" Ann asked. She was talking about the statistics that claimed (pre-9/11) that women in my age cohort were more likely to get killed by a terrorist than to get married. (Here's Snopes on why that's a false statement, as it happens.)

I hadn't given up, even though I probably should have. I wasn't just a woman over 40, I was obese and quite "quirky." But I'd never worried about it.

When I answered her, though, I admitted to the one thing about my engagement that had surprised me. "I never expected to be this happy."

I had reason to call my first husband recently and thank him for all the love and support he has given me and continues to give me. Marrying him took me through a one-way door into a better, healthier, happier place than I'd ever been in before. Marrying my second husband took me to a more productive and creative place.

Each marriage was a one-way door. I may have divorced Henry, but I can't (and wouldn't) undo the wonderful gifts our marriage gave us. And I simply would never have started writing again without marriage to Ross.

I just walked through another open door. I wasn't ready last year. With Henry and Ross by my side in Anaheim at RWA National, I'll be able to handle it, whatever it turns out to be.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Check Mates

I'm reading Thea Harrison's Elder Races books, and while I'm not the biggest fan of paranormal romances, I do enjoy her depiction of an entire world that's divvied up among seven different classes of paranormal critters--and that one of the classes is witches. (Even if none of the novels thus far casts a witch in anything other than a bit part.)

I had to reread Dragon Bound, though, to really appreciate what's going on. That's the one with the Wyr-dragon, Dragos Cuelebre, and his mate, Pia Giovanni. Early on, he tells her "you're mine," an unequivocal statement of possession, but what does he really mean? Dragos may not know and Pia's not sure...but we totally get it. She's his True Mate.

As readers of romances, and paranormal romances, we understand the concept of "the one true mate." More than "soul mates," which suggests a "we fit together so well" hook-up of personalities more than an "in the entire history of the universe, only you will do for me" specificity, the True Mate is the single entity that an other-worldly creature is unconsciously looking for. When found, the True Mate is instantly recognized as special, important, vital...or, as one Elder Races character puts it, the person who becomes "True North."

In real life, or in the world of contemporary romances, if a character started spouting off about a "True Mate" he or she would seem like a stalker. And even then, the line is pretty thin between the confidence a hero or heroine has that he or she has met The One and an irrational refusal to accept rejection.

[Which got me thinking tangentially about what would happen if two stalker-y people were each convinced that the other was The One. It seems wildly unstable, as part of stalking is the delusion. A stalker-to-stalker mutual obsession might start out okay, but eventually one of them is going to piss off the other by not behaving in the proscribed manner. To picture it another way, it would be like two inmates in a psych ward. One is convinced he's Napoleon and the other is sure she's Josephine. Could work at first, but part of being delusional is having total control over the delusion while certain that there's no control because it's Actually Happening. At the first sign of a conflict, Napoleon is likely to claim that's not Josephine, it's really Marie Antoinette, and where can a guy get a guillotine in the middle of the night?]

In a paranormal romance, the True Mate system works better. First, the author simply states that's how that world works. Second, our only examples are successful ones. Harrison presents it as extraordinarily rare that when a Wyr finds his or her mate, it's not a perfect match.

In Dragon Bound, Dragos, who's been alive since the planets in our solar system were created, says to Pia, "As for Wyr mating, I remember once a couple hundred years ago it didn't take right. At least I think. Were they going through the bonding process or were they just fucked-up? She killed herself when he wouldn't have her." And in True Colors, an Elder Races novella, Gideon Riehl (a Wyr-wolf) mates with Alice, a rare Wyr-chamelon. She tells him, "I do not believe that we would be mates without also being right for each other. The fates of the gods, or whomever it was that created the Wyr to be what we are, would not have been so cruel."

Wouldn't that be so much easier than our current (real life) system of dating? No need to chat people up at parties or bars. Just go about your business; when The One shows up, you'll know. And he/she will actually be The One.

Don't get me wrong. I get it -- people do believe they've met The One, and sometimes it works out great. But it's not guaranteed as it is in Wyr-land.

Of all the fantastical elements of paranormal romance (with physical attributes being high on the list), I think the True Mate system is one of the most emotionally potent. If the reader is single, it reassures her that The One is out there. If a reader is married, it says she made a good choice. And even if a reader is divorced or unhappily married, there's still hope that The One may yet show up.

As Alice puts it in True Colors, "I'm a person of faith." Gideon replies, "I don't have your faith...But I do know one thing--you're the purest gift I've ever been given, and I'll do anything to keep you safe and be worthy of you."

Sigh. A perfect romance; all you have to do is wait.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fusion in Romance Fiction

I (finally) finished R. Lee Smith's Heat, an immense book (really: 500+ pages or longer -- hard to gauge on the Kindle, but it's a nearly 1 MB download) and one that's hard to categorize.

Or rather, Heat is easy to categorize...several times over.

First of all, I heard about it at Dear Author, where January's review used the words, "the best independently published book I have read, and one of the best books I have read in a long while."

Hey, I was sold. And she's right--it's very well written and hard to put down. (Although I did skim the final three chapters, which could have been tightened by an editor.)

What I can't do is easily assign it a label so another reader would be able to say, "Ooh, erotic Sci Fi -- I love those books," or "Speculative police procedural -- sounds like fun."

The problem is, there are too many labels, and they all apply. Here's a partial list of genres that Heat falls into:
  1. Science fiction. That's a no-brainer. The heroes are three-toed aliens from the planet Jota with claws on their hands and feet; you don't get characters like that from anything but SF.
  2. Romance. If the definition of a romance novel is that the development of a love relationship between (at least) two characters culminating in a happy ending, then Heat is two romance novels: both couples get their own HEA.
  3. Erotica. Lots of explicit sex, most of it highly relevant to the plot and/or characters, some of it objectionable (if non-consensual sex bothers you), some of it resulting from a long, slow build-up of sexual tension. Heck, there's even some (kinda sorta) f/f action, although I wouldn't suggest anyone buy Heat for those scenes.
  4. Police procedural. Not the best aspect of the book, but it's undeniable that the elements are there: a law enforcement officer is charged with apprehending a criminal whose whereabouts and activities are hard to track.
  5. Morality tale. I found myself musing pretty seriously about oh, say, deer hunting (which is big in my literal corner of the woods), specifically about how human hunters think about their lower-order prey. I also wondered about the wages of environmental degradation (a sin of sorts), what constitutes an "innocent victim," and what the appropriate punishment should be for the criminal in the book. And that's all without getting to the non-consensual sex, overtones of slavery & cruelty, Stockholm Syndrome, and so forth.
Would I recommend Heat to someone? Maybe. I certainly enjoyed it. I also admire it a lot. It's well-written, and while that's not a reason to read any single book, it's a quality we take for granted until it's not there. Heat is wonderfully creative; the title refers, variously, to a biological condition experienced by Jotan males that allows/requires them to mate in a particularly violent fashion; to thermal energy; to sexual tension; and to the 90-dog-days-of-summer that Oregon (!) suffers in a vaguely futuristic United States. (Hard to tell what year it is; Law & Order is still playing in constant rotation on basic cable, which in theory suggests the early 21st century, but does anyone believe that L&O won't still be playing in, say, 50 years?)

But even if I recommended Heat, I'd have a hard time summing it up succinctly enough to help another reader make an informed choice.

By contrast, I'm rereading Mercedes Lackey's 500 Kingdoms series: Feminist retelling of fairy tales.

I got Victoria Dahl's Good Girls Don't in the mail today: Single-title contemporary romance.

Someone strongly recommended Fiona Hill's The Country Gentleman: Traditional Regency romance.

See? You know immediately what sort of books those are. But if I say of Heat that it's an erotic science fiction romance, I haven't conveyed the violence, the moral relativism, or the kinky sex. (Frankly, I don't know that it's not also a horror story...)

Fusion is great in food, music, and nuclear physics, but we're not programmed to understand it in Romlandia. Maybe that's true in all popular fiction, or in all fiction, or all writing. I don't know.

It's hard to do books like Heat credit. It succeeds on so many levels that if you like "that sort" of book, you'll love it.

I just wish I had a better way of telling you what sort of book it is.

Oh, wait. I know: It's a good book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


Once again, I've failed at the TBR Challenge. (Sorry, Wendy.) Mostly that's because I'm not reading as much. I started Heat by R. Lee Smith, which had been recommended by Dear Author, but it's a long book, and I don't seem to have the time to devote to reading that I used to, so I haven't come close to finishing it.

But the challenge itself, to read a book in my TBR that was recommended, nearly stymied me. First, I don't make a note of why I've bought a book when I order it. By the time I next look at the book--in molecules or electrons--I have no idea why I own it. In some sense, they've all been recommended by someone, whether it's a friend or a book review.

I did have an obvious choice, though. Shadow Kin by M.J. Scott. A friend strongly recommended this to me, and I started it, got a quarter of the way through and stopped. Not "DNF" stopped, but "good book" stopped. This loops back to the point about not having Heat finished in time for this post -- good books take longer to read. Often because they are longer, but sometimes it's just that quality takes longer to enjoy, absorb, contemplate, assimilate. A bad book, well, a readable-but-still-bad book, can whiz by. Other good books I haven't gotten around to finishing? The Black Hawk by Joanna Bourne, Spoiled by the Fuggirls, and The Affair by Lee Child.

No big surprise, but despite reading less I'm still making time for the Interwebs. I loved this gargantuan essay by Maria Bustillos in The Awl in support of romance novels as "the last great bastion of underground writing." I didn't pick it apart bit by bit, but I liked the author's tone and enthusiasm. So I was surprised when people on Twitter complained about Bustillos's claim that "Romance novels are feminist documents." Of course it depends on what you consider a feminist document. Is it one that was crafted in a free and fair environment of equal rights for women? Or is it one that espouses and reflects the feminist doctrine? (Assuming there's a single feminist doctrine that all feminists can agree on -- a big assumption.)

I think the former claim is rather obviously true. Here's a billion-dollar industry where millions of women (and some men) buy books written by women (and some men) and edited by women (and some men) and reviewed by women (and no men that I know of). Okay, so the CEO of Torstar (the corporation that includes Harlequin Enterprises) may not be a woman, but would it matter? He's hardly going to tell the editors and authors at Harlequin to publish anything other than what sells. We know what sells and we know who's buying it. Can anyone with a straight face argue that romance novels are not the product of a completely gynocratic business?

That's the problem, isn't it? If women write what they want to write, edit what they want to edit, and buy what they want to buy (because no one can argue there are too few books in the marketplace for choice), then those books are what women want them to be. And if the resulting books have retrogressive titles like "The Billionaire Sexist Sheik's Patronized Personal Assistant," guess what: women want that. I have a hard time believing that after more than 50 years of Harlequin Romances, the market can be seen as inherently corrupted by The Patriarchy simply because women like to write, and want to read, books that don't espouse a feminist agenda.

Women are sexist. Yup, I said it. Smart women are sexist. In 35 years, the worst sexism I encountered and witnessed was inflicted by women attorneys on other women attorneys. The second worst sexism was by a high-ranking public health official (a woman) against a staffer. I've been taken out to lunch by professional women who assured me they believe in supporting women in the profession, and then turned around and reflexively discriminated against me and other women while favoring men.

I have a theory why this happened, but suffice it to say, I don't think women are completely on board with the feminist agenda. They may know it's the right way to go, and they may say it's the right way to go, but then some guy comes along... Or, in the specific case of romance novels, some hot hero comes along...

So, like it or not, romance novels are feminist documents. Every last one of them. And if their plots and characters are too sexist for your scruples, write better ones. It's one of the great rules: Write what you want to read. That's the beauty of the current publishing situation; self-publishing means you can write what you want and put it out in the marketplace. If what you write isn't what the majority of the book buyers wants to read, you just won't sell as many copies.

If feminism is about equal rights for women, then accept romance fiction as the gynocratic industry it is. Perhaps in a feminist utopia, romance readers will want to read only books that present women as fully-evolved, self-determining paragons of confidence and sexual freedom. But in today's society, fully-evolved women are writing about hot heroes and paragons of confidence and sexual freedom are spending their own money to read about billionaire sexist sheiks (or bossy Dutch doctors). And we're enjoying it.

You can't say you support women's right to choose and then insist that what women freely choose to write and read isn't feminist. It's not like a man is forcing us to read this stuff.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Two-Minute Orgasm in Romance Novels

The numbers vary, but it's widely agreed that women need upwards of 20 minutes to achieve orgasm in a sexual encounter with a man. (Masturbating to orgasm can be much more efficient, taking on average just a few minutes.)

By contrast, men take far less time to reach their climax in a sexual encounter. I heard numbers as low as 3 minutes, but let's just say it's way less time than women take. According to a colleague of mine, his friends had a routine to deal with this: the husband would send his wife up to their bedroom early to "get started" without him. I have no idea if their marriage survived but that approach sure wouldn't cut the mustard in a romance novel.

I'm reading Ava Young's confection of a Victorian romance novel, An Inconvenient Seduction. Absolutely delightful, and pleasantly sprinkled with some plausible Britishisms. But it includes two "quickie" climaxes for the heroine even before the hero gets her horizontal. That got me thinking about the two-minute orgasm for women, even virgins. And that got me thinking about how there are some ludicrous conventions in our genre that NO ONE complains about.

Men are idealized in romance novels, and yet no man writing to complain about romantic fiction ever cites that as a reason to decry the genre. You'd think they'd at least mention it in passing: "Yes, it's smut written by women for women, but what really revolts me is how far off the mark the heroes are. Taller than average, with more hair and more muscles but less of a beer-gut, romance novel heroes ask for directions, listen to their beloveds, and can fuck for 30 minutes without stop, just to ensure that the heroine has her third orgasm. It's grotesque!"

Similarly, while there are copious complaints by readers, reviewers, and pundits about any number of inaccuracies in romance novels, no one seems disturbed by the two-minute virginal orgasm, except to complain about virginal heroines generally. That's because, just like our male counterparts with their 30 minutes of stamina, we see nothing implausible about being able to orgasm in short order. Surely WE all do that in real life, right?

The presumption is that WE are all well-primed for pleasure. WE are the highly-evolved, sexually-adept women who don't need 20 minutes, even with a partner for the first time. WE are the ones taking very little time at all to achieve orgasm with our partners because only ninnies need longer. (Silly cows.) So when romance heroines, even virgins, merely need the hero's fingers in a couple strategic spots, we nod sagaciously and murmur, "Sounds about right."

My question is this: Okay, so WE are all in the top 1 percentile on this chart, and maybe all our friends are too, but aren't there women out there can I put this delicately...need more than a few fingers and a couple minutes? Particularly their first time?

(I won't even discuss women who can't orgasm the first time; they surely don't read romance novels. Probably they read only collections of 19th century sermons on the evils of fornication. And women who can't orgasm except when masturbating? They must not read at all.)

If we acknowledge that some women might fall into the "needing more" category, and if we believe (and we really do) that magic woo-woo sex with the hero is particularly powerful, might we not demonstrate this by having the heroine need a bit more at the beginning, when she and the hero are just starting their romance? (Yes, of course, if they only have sex at the end of the book, or off-stage entirely, then we may safely assume that the sheer fact of falling in love has endowed the heroine with sufficient sexy skills to achieve the speed-gasm.)

That way, we could see what he does and what she does and how they do it to get her to sexual NASCAR-levels of efficiency. Because that's what I'm waiting to read: how the sexually jejune heroine becomes a fine-tuned orgasmic champ. We're treated to all sorts of other "makeover" stories: she learns to dress better, she accomplishes long-strived-for professional success, she finds & falls for her man...but there's no character arc for sex.

Seems a missed opportunity. But I guess it makes sense that none of us is writing about that. Because it's "write what you know" and none of us has ever had that problem. Nope. Not ever.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Why I Love SEP (And Why She's Brilliant) (And Why Cale McCaskey Isn't)

A writer named Cale McCaskey has a blog post up about "The Problem with Romance Novels." It's a bad essay with an over-reaching thesis (really, dude? all romances?) and the only examples he provides are of three works of literature (Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice, and Romeo & Juliet), which he argues--badly--are not romance novels.

Yale (I admit I didn't get into Yale Law. I went to Penn)
So, being the uber-bitch that I am, I posted a comment. I'm not proud of this, but I mentioned my Ivy-League law degree (McCaskey makes a "so what" point about Ivy League colleges not teaching romance novels, which is absurd because Yale had a course recently on romance novels) and my top-ten MFA program. Specifically, I said that Stonecoast (that's my MFA program) requires its students to write an essay in the proper format: State a thesis in the first paragraph, cite three examples that support your thesis, and then write a concluding paragraph. His blog post would fail, I argued, and then I (being a bitch, remember) suggested that he revise it and repost.

Cale McCaskey (I want to make sure Google Alerts lets him know what I'm saying about him) deleted my post, which is pretty ballsy considering that I'd at least read something he'd written. I bet he's never read a romance novel.

Which is too bad, because some of them are pretty damned fine. It just so happens that I wrote an ESSAY for school about just such a novel. And here's that essay:
       In Dream a Little Dream (Avon Books, 1998), Susan Elizabeth Phillips uses two little boys to get the reader emotionally sucked into the story. One little boy, Edward, is alive but his well-being is at risk and he could be taken from his mother by Child Protective Services at any time. The other little boy, Jamie, is dead, so Edward’s presence triggers intense grief in Jamie’s father, Gabe. Even though neither Rachel nor Gabe seeks our empathy, their near-frantic emotions surrounding their sons grab us by the throat almost from the first page. (Conveniently, Edward also serves as a wedge of conflict keeping the adults apart for nearly all of the story.)
       Rachel is living in her car when she returns to Salvation, N.C. on a quest to find some money she thinks her late husband, a charlatan televangelist, squirreled away. That money is her El Dorado, where she’s no longer one disaster away from losing her son to a social service agency. Phillips has stacked the deck against Rachel: no immediate family, hated by the community, broke (as a result of Edward’s recent hospitalization for pneumonia), and scrawny. Even though she denies herself food that she could give to him, she can’t guarantee her son’s physical well-being.
She experienced a surge of helplessness so powerful it nearly crushed her. She wanted to stockpile everything for [Edward], not just food, but security and self-confidence, a healthy body, a decent education, a house to live in. And no amount of self-deprivation would do any of that. She could starve herself until she was a skeleton, but that still wouldn’t guarantee that Edward’s belly would stay full. (Dream, p. 77)
Offering sex in exchange for a job (admittedly with the hero), a step that was previously unthinkable for Rachel, becomes a deliberate, desperate choice. She will do anything for the money to feed her child. And the reader is acutely aware of how close she is to failing her son. It’s her love for Edward that fuels our love and fear for her.
       Gabe falls for Rachel slowly, but he can’t stand Edward. Everything about Edward bothers him; the boy is a weakling where Jamie was robust, timid where Jamie was fearless, and miserable where Jamie was joyous. Of course, those complaints are all just manifestations of Edward’s real fault: he’s right in front of Gabe while Jamie is gone. Gabe has shunned his family’s sympathy but he’s also blocked his grief, preferring an emotional limbo. Edward makes that numbness impossible. Worse, Rachel’s devotion to Edward eats away at Gabe’s humanity, his decentness, mocking his memory of his wife telling him he was the gentlest man she’d ever known. If Rachel had been childless, they could have had a less complicated affair, but the way Edward reminds him of Jamie is a barrier Gabe can’t breach.
       At five years old, obviously Edward doesn’t have much depth as a character, although Phillips gives him lots of personality. But he makes a delightful Cupid. Toward the end of the book, Rachel has given up on finding El Dorado and decided to leave Salvation because she loves Gabe too much to stay. He proposes, but they both know that a future is impossible while Gabe can’t love Edward. Edward (who wants to be called Chip) has dreamed up a way to keep Rachel from taking him to Florida: he and Gabe will pretend to like each other. But Edward can tell that Gabe’s not pretending very well, and he yells at Gabe, then causes an accident. Gabe spanks Edward.
    The child rubbed his elbow, even though it wasn’t his elbow that hurt. He tilted his head to one side and caught his bottom lip between his teeth. It quivered. He didn’t look at Gabe. He didn’t look at anything. He just tried not to cry.
    And in that moment, Gabe finally saw the child as himself, instead of as a reflection of Jamie. He saw a brave little boy with flyaway brown hair, knobby elbows, and a small, quivering mouth. A gentle little boy who loved books and building things. A child who found contentment not in expensive toys or the latest video games, but in watching a baby sparrow grow stronger, in collecting pinecones and living with his mother on Heartache Mountain, in being carried around on a man’s shoulders and pretending, if only for a moment, that he had a father.
    How could he ever have mixed up Chip and Jamie in his mind, even for a moment? Jamie had been Jamie, uniquely his own person. And so was this vulnerable little boy he’d struck. (Dream, pp. 317-318.)
It takes Rachel a chapter or so to believe that Gabe’s let go of his grief, but by that time they’ve found the money, cured a little girl’s leukemia, and sorted out all the subplots.
       As a writer, I admire the efficiency with which Phillips tells the reader to care deeply about Rachel’s well-being. Without Edward, Rachel’s quest is self-serving, not self-sacrificing. Without Edward, she’s rootless and even prickly. Without Edward, her resistance to Gabe would seem stupid. Similarly, Gabe’s grief for his own son would surely have muted faster if Edward had not been an affront to his heart. Most importantly, Phillips takes care to make Edward plausible and distinct as a fictional little boy.
Now, that's an essay! And that's a great romance novel. I'd be happy if I could write one even half as effective as Dream a Little Dream.

As for Cale McCaskey, here's a comment he posted, probably around the same time he deleted mine:
I will not rehash stupidty [sic] people. Read prior comments before trying to post your own to make sure your nonsense has not already been gone over or it will be deleted. I don't have the time, nor the inclination to deal with a pack of throw-away housewives who still sit around thinking about romance like a 13-year old girl. You can do that if you want to, but do it away from me. I like women, not little girls. I think you'll find most men in the upper half of the IQ spectrum feel the same way, as do most women.
I could write a five-paragraph essay on the thesis that McCaskey's blog post fails because it's riddled with restatements of the thesis instead of supporting evidence, plus his comments are larded with ad hominem attacks, but I won't bother. I think Google Alerts has enough to work with here.