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.