Luke believes he has his life figured out…and then he meets Theo.
It should have been simple—a summer spent with his girlfriend Zara at her family’s holiday cottage in Cornwall. Seventeen-year-old Luke Savage jumps at the chance, envisioning endless hours of sunbathing on the private beach and riding the waves on his beloved surfboard. He isn’t interested in love. Though his rugged good looks and lazy charm mean he can have his pick of girls, he has no intention of falling for anyone.
Nothing prepares Luke for his reaction to Theo, the sensitive Oxford undergraduate who is Zara’s cousin and closest friend. All at once, he is plunged along a path of desire and discovery that has him questioning everything he thought he knew about himself. No one, especially Zara, must find out; what he and Theo have is too new, too fragile. But as the deceit spirals beyond their control, people are bound to get hurt, Luke most of all.
And today, author Jamie Deacon has answered some interview questions for me! Check them out:
MR: I loved the setting and now I long to visit Cornwall. What is your connection/history with the area?
JD: Oh, I’m so glad I’ve inspired you to visit the West Country. It’s a beautiful part of the world. I was lucky enough to enjoy many family holidays in Cornwall whilst growing up, and it’s a place that’s close to my heart. And of course the Cornish coast is a hotspot for surfers, so it would naturally appeal to my hero!
MR: What are your favorite types of scenes to write? And what are the hardest?
JD: I must have a taste for the dramatic, because I love writing scenes with a lot of angst, something which probably won’t surprise readers of Caught Inside. Opening scenes are the hardest for me, I think. Finding the best way to introduce readers to the story and characters can be a challenge. In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I rewrote the first chapter of Caught Inside.
MR: Is there a genre you haven’t written yet but would like to try? How about a genre you’ll probably never write?
JD: LGBT stories are my passion, and I also can’t imagine writing outside young and new adult fiction. There’s something about YA and NA, the rawness of the emotion, how the characters are just discovering themselves and what they want in life, that really appeals to me. I’d definitely like to try my hand at something other than contemporary, though. I have an outline for a romantic suspense trilogy set in a prestigious art college, and even a tentative idea for a novel with a fantastical twist.
MR: What elements do you especially like to include in a love story?
JD: Lots of obstacles. I love tender moments and happy endings, but for me these are all the sweeter and more satisfying when the protagonists have had to work hard to get there.
MR: I must ask: are you a surfer? The descriptions of the sport in the book seemed realistic to me, but then, I’ve never really tried it!
JD: Hahahaha! No, I’m not a surfer. Like Zara, Luke’s girlfriend in Caught Inside, my balance is atrocious. The closest I’ve ever come to the sport is water-skiing, and it’s fair to say I spent far more time in the water than on it. I’m thrilled that my portrayal of surfing came across as authentic, though. It was really important to me to capture Luke’s passion, and I did a ton of research in an attempt to get it right.
MR: What are you working on now, and/or planning to write next?
JD: I’m currently writing Forbidden Steps, the second novel in my Boys on the Brink series. This one deals with a fledgling step family and all the tensions and conflict that so often results when two families are dismantled, then pieced back together to form something entirely new. The fact that my heroes are stepbrothers who fall in love only adds to the drama! In the meantime, a short story of mine will be appearing in an anthology of NA m/m romances about taking chances, due for release later this year.
I am looking forward to those new stories, for sure! In the meantime, connect with Jamie:
Jamie lives in a tranquil spot close to the River Thames in Berkshire, England, and has always been just a little out of place—the only redhead in a family of brunettes; an introvert far more at ease with dogs than with people; a connoisseur of simple pleasures in a society intent on the quest for wealth and fame. Despite an outward cynicism, Jamie is a romantic at heart, and, when not immersed in a book, can mostly be found writing emotional stories where young men from all walks of life are thrust headlong into the breathless, euphoric, often painful whirlwind called love.
Get Caught Inside at:
What I pinned to my purse this week. Almost literally the very least I could do, but I couldn't not do it.
A cross-post from my Tumblr:
I’d like to share with you how our youngest child learned and dealt with the shocking, traumatizing truth that same-sex couples can marry in the U.S.:
Our 10-year-old son: I love Lionel Messi. [A famous soccer player.]
Our 6-year-old son: Are you going to MARRY him?
10-year-old: No! He’s way too old for me.
6-year-old: Also, boys can’t marry other boys.
10-year-old, me, and Dad, in unison: Yes they can.
6-year-old, cheerfully unconcerned: Oh. Okay.
(In case you wanted very anecdotal evidence that homophobia is learned, not inborn.)
I know I thank you a lot, but I wanted to again, for supporting me as a writer, and supporting me as a member of the LGBT community. Thank you for writing how you do. Thank you for being someone I can comfortably send this message to.
That's part of a message I got today from a young woman I've never met, but with whom I've exchanged several emails about writing and publishing--and, occasionally, LGBT issues. Look, I'm a boring, straight, stay-at-home mom who writes about fictional people, some of whom are LGBT, because I like all kinds of love stories. But I consider myself practically a poser; or at least, not really someone who's putting near as much effort as she could into being the good ally I'd like to be. So what kind of world are we living in where someone as half-assed about LGBT kindness as me is getting thanked for being someone who's safe to send a message to about such issues? It breaks my freaking heart. We've come a long way, but we have a still longer way to go yet.
If you're an ally too, and you haven't said so, say so. Pin a rainbow heart on your jacket. Chances are, someone out there is going to feel comforted when they see it. Even if they aren't feeling up to saying anything.
I finally saw The Force Awakens (loved it!), and was reading news stories about the popularity of the Stormpilot pairing (which of course I could totally get behind). I should know better than to read the comments, though. Oy.
I don't want to give these articles extra traffic by linking to them. You can find them easily enough if you want. I'll just say that even on the more liberal news sites, and even in this modern enlightened age, the comments section is still filled with remarks like, “Who cares what their sexuality is; why shove our faces in it?” and, “Ugh, if they include that kind of politically-correct crap, I’m so done with this series.”
And when I read those comments it makes me even more determined to keep including LGBT characters in my writing. Because if LGBT people can be brave enough to go about their actual lives up against those attitudes every single day, I can surely be brave enough to write fiction about it.
Plus I think the more examples of non-straight relationships people see, the more they'll grasp that love and desire and vulnerability and all the other parts of relationships are simply human feelings, not straight ones or gay ones. And that you can be happy for someone else even if what they're into isn't your thing.
(I can't not include a photo from Maurice when discussing this topic. And here, Willow and Tara too, for the women's side.)
I was lately remarking to various people in comments that, by the end of Merlin, Arthur and Merlin "out-Frodo-and-Sam Frodo and Sam." But maybe it's a tie, to be fair. Now my mind won't rest until I've delineated all the items on the bromance checklist that both pairs seem to be using as their guidebook. Let's go!
Master and servant situation: check!
Save each other's lives a whole bunch of times (bonus points if you get soaked): check!
Also make verbal promises about continuing to save each other's lives: check!
Wear armor together even if that isn't usually your thing: check!
Play with ropes together: check!
Occasionally fall under evil magic influence and try to kill your bro: check!
Carry each other in case of unconsciousness: check!
Come around to seeing servant's mighty worth even if you took him for granted at first: check!
Hold your bro tenderly at the end and make us all cry: check!
Tearfully see him off on a boat headed for magical lands: check!
Yeah. I guess it's a tie.
I will go down with these ships. Bromances. Things.
I do honestly believe Tolkien didn't intend to make Sam and Frodo's relationship romantic. But I also know from experience that characters start doing their own thing after you've been writing them a while, and I'm sorry, Professor, but those two hobbits REALLY seem like a couple. And they seem like they have been for YEARS before this quest. Or, at the very least, Sam's in love with Frodo, and Frodo complacently humors it. I'm not even trying to be a swoony shipper here--the conditions of the quest are not exactly sexy--nor am I trying to be subversive. This is my (admittedly 21st-century) writer's instinct talking.
Sam does marry Rosie after they get home, so maybe the strain of the quest is what finally ends the relationship. I can see how the Ring would do that. (Curse you, Ring!) But up till then--really, I'm trying to bring non-shipper-ish, clear-headed analysis to this, and they STILL feel like a couple to me. I keep shrugging off one eyebrow-raising endearment only to have them voicing new ones the next page.
Yes, LOTR is a book full of close male relationships--which it would have to be, given the absence of females. But none of the other guys act the way Frodo and Sam do. Merry and Pippin are close and chummy, but theirs is more a bromance. Legolas and Gimli make a nice Odd Couple or pair of Grumpy Old Men willing to travel together after the quest, but that's about all. And Legolas does say how he, and others, will follow Aragorn anywhere because they love him so much, but that feels like a kingly-worship thing, along with an Elvish-courtliness thing.
None of them sleep in each other's laps the way Sam and Frodo do. They don't gaze at their buddy as he sleeps, find him "beautiful," and murmur, "I love him" (Sam, The Two Towers). They don't fondle each other's hands and say, "My dear" (both Frodo and Sam, lots of times). When parted from one another, they don't long only for that fellow, "for one sight of his face or one touch of his hand." (Sam looking for Frodo, The Return of the King.) In fact, only Éowyn so far, to Aragorn, has used stronger words of romantic love, and shown stronger signs thereof, than Sam and Frodo have to each other over and over throughout.
Sam is Frodo's servant, which does alter the nature of how they'd relate to each other, especially since this is a fantasy world where social norms could be different. Frodo's role as "master" could--people say--account for Sam's brand of loving devotion. Tolkien claimed he meant their friendship to resemble that of an officer and his batman in WWI. A rural gentleman and his familiar valet, perhaps, one could also say. As regards the cooking and pack-carrying and looking-after that Sam does for Frodo, sure, I accept that. But I'm sorry, Professor, my instincts say he's gone beyond the feelings of a faithful servant. Or else being a batman apparently means acting like someone's boyfriend.
Very fair was her face, and her long hair was like a river of gold. Slender and tall she was in her white robe girt with silver; but strong she seemed and stern as steel, a daughter of kings. Thus Aragorn for the first time in the full light of day beheld Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, and thought her fair, fair and cold, like a morning of pale spring that is not yet come to womanhood. And she now was suddenly aware of him: tall heir of kings, wise with many winters, greycloaked, hiding a power that yet she felt. For a moment still as stone she stood, then turning swiftly she was gone.
- "The King of the Golden Hall," The Two Towers
See, Tolkien? It doesn't take much to give us some romance. One beautiful paragraph sings it clear. And you even follow it up with two more moments in the same chapter: Éowyn's hand trembling as she brings Aragorn the wine cup, and her gaze moving to him while saying goodbye to Théoden before the men set off to Helm's Deep.
And this isn't even a couple that ends up together.
So if you wanted us to feel the Aragorn/Arwen bond, all you had to do was give us *one* such paragraph describing something similar between them, somewhere in all the pages of The Fellowship of the Ring. On basically every page you give one beautiful paragraph to the scenery or weaponry, or you recite several stanzas of a poem. So why merely a few murky enigmatic hints about Aragorn and Arwen's love, when it's got such emotional potential (a long-lived Elf giving up her immortality for the future King of Men!), and would only have taken a moment like the lovely one you just gave Éowyn? If you'd done so, maybe a lot more people would love Arwen, or at least like her half as much as they adore Éowyn. I, for one, would have appreciated it.
I know. I can't stop editing when I read nowadays. It's an affliction.
It's release day for Persephone's Orchard--hurray! Pick up your copy soon. The ebook will be $0.99, but only for the first two weeks. See: Kobo, Amazon, or Barnes and Noble for a few e-options. I like IndieBound for paperback so you can have it ordered through a local bookstore.
As for the story, I wrote it because, long ago, I had the same question a lot of people have: Did Persephone love Hades?
Several enquiring minds want to know, to judge from the first suggestion on Google's autofill. They've also asked it on Yahoo Answers and Wiki Answers and other forums. I've pondered it ever since reading about Hades' abduction of Persephone in my copy of D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths as a kid.
After all, it isn't your usual kidnapping. Ancient accounts of mythology vary on the details of pretty much everything, but they seem to agree, more or less, that Hades sees Persephone, falls in insta-love with her (an arrow from Eros might have something to do with it), lures her in with some pretty flowers, and pulls her down screaming into the Underworld.
But once he has her there, he doesn't act like your ordinary kidnapper and lock her in a closet and abuse her--at least, not as far as we're told. Rather, he marries her, at least in a common law way. He sets her up as his queen, very nearly his equal in power. When Persephone's whereabouts are discovered, and Hermes comes to bring her back above ground, Hades tells her: "Go now, Persephone, to your dark-robed mother, go, and feel kindly in your heart towards me: be not so exceedingly cast down; for I shall be no unfitting husband for you among the deathless gods, that am own brother to father Zeus. And while you are here, you shall rule all that lives and moves and shall have the greatest rights among the deathless gods: those who defraud you and do not appease your power with offerings, reverently performing rites and paying fit gifts, shall be punished for evermore."
Not what your typical kidnapper says, right? That's from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter, which at roughly the 7th century BC is one of the earliest sources we have. Clearly Hades' insta-love hasn't diminished during the months he's kept her there--and it would seem he remains much more faithful to her throughout history than nearly any other god does for his wife (yeah, I'm looking at you, Zeus). But whether Persephone has begun to feel any Stockholm Syndrome at that early stage, we can't be sure.
We do know that before she leaves, Hades sneakily feeds her a few pomegranate seeds, knowing the food of the Underworld will oblige her to return there. (Again, that's how the Homeric Hymn has it. Other sources say she eats the fruit of her own accord, though perhaps absentmindedly.)
Though Persephone returns gladly to her mother Demeter, she does honor her pomegranate pact and return every year to her husband Hades. That's when Demeter lets the Earth go cold and barren: it explains winter, see? Neat. But the seasonal issue, though rather major in the whole myth, is a sidenote to our love question.
It's clear from other myths that by the time Orpheus, Theseus, Herakles (Hercules), and other heroes brave their adventurous descents (while still alive) to the Underworld, Persephone is the realm's powerful queen, able to bestow or deny momentous supernatural favors. She gained serious authority through that kidnapping, and at the very least she learned to accept and use her new role. She gained worshippers, too: Persephone's descent to the Underworld and acquisition of afterlife-related knowledge is a central part of the Eleusinian Mysteries, an actual religious cult that practiced in Greece for centuries.
So couldn't she have learned to love her husband, too?
Plenty of us have thought it possible, and even likely. This list of books about Hades and Persephone shows how the question has fascinated several of us enough to write whole novels about it. Some go as dark and disturbing as you might expect, exploring all those Stockholm-Syndrome possibilities. Others, like mine, rewrite the relationship to eliminate most of the non-consensual portions but still retain the obstacles of dating or marrying a man whose job requires him to live in the Underworld.
For, if you look at it through the lens of modern book genres, the love story of Persephone and Hades is one of the first paranormal romances of Western civilization. The immortal who owns the Underworld and can show you around it anytime: now there's a figure who's dark and intriguing, and, yes, romantic. At least, I'm strange enough to think so. And so, perhaps, do all those other people asking Google the same question.
J.L. Campbell is an excellent writer, and proves it in this novel, where she takes some difficult and sometimes taboo themes (adultery, addictions, domestic abuse, sexually transmitted diseases) and writes with beauty and compassion about them. My heart went out to these three women and their lovers and families, who live through an exciting soap opera of problems as this novel develops. Though this is "women's fiction" rather than "romance"--because the romance genre often doesn't dare touch said taboo themes--there is plenty of romantic interest that had me sighing and cheering and feeling bereft as the relationships twisted and changed. Take for example Xavier, a serious distraction to the married Justine: he's tall, gorgeous, patient, understanding, *and* can play guitar and sing. Yeah, I see how she got distracted. Yum!
Best of all was the flavor that the setting lent to the whole story. Campbell excels at sprinkling enough Jamaican dialect and cultural details (foods, plants, gorgeous beaches...) into the novel to make me feel like I got to know the island, without it ever being confusing. Since I've never been to the Caribbean, and wasn't sure what to expect of the culture, that was especially interesting and fun.
From the teaser chapter of the sequel, at the end of this novel, I get the impression there'll be more coming from these characters, for which I'm glad. I want the soap opera to go on! Great beach read, whether you're anywhere near the Caribbean or not.
...an idea flashed through her mind, to fling herself into that death, as she would have done into any other, and to thrust Marius into it also. ...She died with the tragic joy of jealous hearts who drag the beloved being into their own death, and who say: "No one shall have him!"
In short, she leads Marius to the barricade after *withholding* a letter Cosette tried to send to him. Finding Cosette's house abandoned, he plunges into despair and is willing to die. Which indeed is an overreaction on his part, and Eponine does at least take a bullet for him and finally give him the letter, which I suppose evens out her final tally. But still. Not exactly cool, girl.
How come she gets all the good songs in the musical, dang it? Poor maligned Cosette.
In other news, I love that Victor Hugo is so precise about addresses, because it enables us to Google-Street-View them and peek at what's there today. Cosette and Valjean's house, containing the garden where Cosette and Marius meet in secret for a couple of idyllic months, is evidently at 55 Rue Plumet. Marius lives at 16 Rue de la Verrerie with his friend Courfeyrac. Those streets are both still there, not that they look much like they would have circa 1830. (I could find the Rue Plumet, but not a No. 55, and no gardens resembling Cosette's.) The barricade upon which they fight is in Rue de la Chanvrerie, and that confuses Google Maps, so the name probably got changed.
The start of the "grave malady":
Marius had thrown open his whole soul to nature, he was not thinking of anything, he simply lived and breathed, he passed near the bench, the young girl raised her eyes to him, the two glances met.
What was there in the young girl's glance on this occasion? Marius could not have told. There was nothing and there was everything. It was a strange flash.
She dropped her eyes, and he pursued his way.
What he had just seen was no longer the ingenuous and simple eye of a child; it was a mysterious gulf which had half opened, then abruptly closed again.
There comes a day when the young girl glances in this manner. Woe to him who chances to be there!
...That evening, on his return to his garret, Marius cast his eyes over his garments, and perceived, for the first time, that he had been so slovenly, indecorous, and inconceivably stupid as to go for his walk in the Luxembourg with his "every-day clothes," that is to say, with a hat battered near the band, coarse carter's boots, black trousers which showed white at the knees, and a black coat which was pale at the elbows.
It goes on in equally charming manner for many pages, which I'm refraining from posting in its entirety by serious self-control. Why aren't you reading this novel??
Go see my Goodreads profile if you want to find the reviews for *all* the books, famous or not, that I've read lately. Otherwise, here are the indies that can use your help and are actively seeking avid fans. Most are available as paperbacks, and all (I think) as ebooks, and please do find one that'll make a great gift for someone you like--or a treat for yourself. So, in no real order...
The Hambledown Dream, Dean Mayes. Two young men's souls, one living and one dead, fuse into one body, linked by a passion for music and the love for a certain woman in Australia. Will he find her again, across the borders of death (not to mention the International Date Line)? Literary fiction meets paranormal romance. Made me weepy in a happy way.
Dark is the Sky, Jessica Chambers. This was such a skillful "ensemble cast" novel, full of all kinds of characters in a dysfunctional family. I was gripped by both the sympathy for their sufferings and misunderstandings, and the burning need to find out what exactly happened on that tragic day that damaged everyone so thoroughly. Intricately plotted, and written with a gorgeous sense of setting, this book is a sure bet for those of us who grew up on darkly romantic stories like Rebecca.
Shadow of a Distant Morning, William Topek. I don't usually like film-noir-ish detective stories, but this one rocked. The protagonist was super-smart, funny, and human, and the plot was devilishly intricate, while the violence was kept to tasteful levels. Great historical detail too. Come visit Kansas City in 1934--but bring a bulletproof vest.
Tallis' Third Tune, Ellen Ekstrom. Beautifully written, this novel takes the ordinary life of a twentieth-century woman and turns it into a poignant, surreal ride through the afterlife and our own world. Makes you ponder what you'd do differently if given the chance to alter your past. And, of course, makes you hope our heroine will find a way to end up with that one romantic, sweet musician who got away. (This year I also read Ellen's Armor of Light--a magical-historical retelling of the legend of St. George and the dragon. Tolkien fans, give it a try!)
Counterpoint: Dylan's Story, Ruth Sims. Oh, fans of historical slash, this one's for you. Nineteenth-century Englishmen in love against all odds, while trying to pursue respectable careers in music. What's a virtuoso to do? Non-graphic as far as the sexual content, but still highly romantic--and heartbreaking at times.
Letters from Wishing Rock, Pam Stucky. When Ruby, stinging after a broken engagement, moves to a quirky little Puget Sound island town where everyone lives and works in one big apartment building (which is in fact the town's *only* building), she knows life is about to change. And Pam Stucky shows the change--along with some trips to Scotland and other far-flung locations--in a story told entirely in the form of emails; a modern epistolary novel. With some free recipes. Delightful overall, with a "Northern Exposure" vibe.
Between, Cyndi Tefft. Outlander fans, take note: those of you into historical Highland men in your paranormals, sexy accents and kilts and all, try Cyndi Tefft's book on for size! Modern college freshman Lindsey, upon her death, meets such a fellow in the realm between heaven and Earth, and they're instantly attracted to one another. But the rules of "between" mean they'll have to be torn away from each other...unless they can find a loophole.
Priscilla the Great, Sybil Nelson. Got a smart, sassy middle-school kid on your gift list--or anyone, really, who enjoys fun superhero stories like "The Incredibles" or something Joss Whedon might write? Snap up this book, which has some truly funny, and definitely original, twists on the usual "kid superhero" tale. Adventure for the whole family!
Roeing Oaks, Kristina Emmons. Here's a good one for fans of sweet historical romance. Emmons begins with the unusual (though historically factual) premise of auctioning off one's wife, and follows through into the disinherited daughter's mission to reinstate justice to her family. Luckily there's a kind and mysterious rich man willing to assist her...cue the Cinderella romance!
Amber Frost, Suzi Davis. Ready for an all-out young-adult swooningly romantic paranormal novel? Well, here you go--and it's set in our beautiful Northwest but is blessedly free of vampires and werewolves! The paranormal element is still quite magical, but subtler and more original. The young hero's skin does NOT glitter, I am happy to say. Rather, he has black hair, tattoos, earrings, and regular warm blood in his veins, on top of a private-school uniform, and possesses a sweet and philosophical temperament with just a hint of danger. Totally squee-worthy. Sequel is now out, too! I am excited.
The Gentleman and the Rogue, Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon. Last but certainly not least, male/male lovin'! Yaaaaay! Yes, it's erotica, be warned. But it's well-written erotica. It has, like, an actual plot, and realistic, likable characters. (And sizzling Scenes of Adult Intimacy. Aplenty.) Bonus points for the authors' research on street cant of the times. The linguist in me enjoyed that.
* * *
Now. Weren't those some beautiful book covers? I tell you, great work is being done out there. Round of applause to authors, indie publishers, and cover artists! Happy holidays!
"Lucy and Paul Emanuel have the same kind of abusive-relationship-played-for-laughs that Jane did with Mr. Rochester. In this iteration, I felt really uncomfortable with it, even as M. Paul reenacts a lot of the same bullshit Mr. Rochester tends to pull: he locks Lucy in the attic to learn her lines for a play, puts her in humiliating situations with third parties, finds fault with her character, plays head games, etc. The funny thing is that when Rochester and Jane Eyre go through this, I actually really enjoy it, because they do. They're both positively kinky about how much they like tormenting each other, and I never quite take it seriously when they call each other ugly and screw with each other's minds. With Villette, though, the fun has gone out of the game for the equivalent characters."
Jane and Edward are kinky! Hah, they are! I never thought about it like that, precisely, but it's totally true. They're kind of proto-BDSM, in a way--and actually, the same can be said for a lot of Brontean romances. (Oh hi, Cathy and Heathcliff; or do you two fall into actually-BDSM?)
Meanwhile, agreed about the utterly depressing nature of Villette. As commenters over there said, the novel is well worth reading--once. But Jane Eyre, oh, how many happy double-handfuls of times will we women read that one in our lives?
Suffice to say, if you feel like you've been alone in your sufferings, believe me, you haven't been. There's a LOT of it going around. And aside from the "misery loves company" angle, you also haven't been alone in the sense of being unremembered. I, for one, have been thinking of you and feeling for you. And I am stepping up to demand of the Powers That Be: hey, Powers, make the bad luck leave the good people alone! Make 2012 better! Make things better NOW, in fact!
But, regardless of the answer the Powers have in store for us, we can take a moment and focus on the good things we do have. So, please, come here and do that. We can all bask in each other's good news for a change.
If you wish, you can start with the bad things ("Sucky Thing X happened this year, but..."), but you don't have to share that if you aren't comfortable. What I do want every commenter to share is something good that's happened to you lately. It can be small ("I made a pretty decent loaf of banana bread") or big ("Cushy new job with minimal hours and six-figure pay!!"). Whatever it is, we'll congratulate you.
So okay, here's mine. I have nothing grave to report from the year, thank goodness. My two little guys keep bringing home illnesses to set us back, but they've all remained at the nuisance-but-not-serious level; and though the kiddos annihilate my free time, they're intelligent and cute and hilarious and affectionate, and on the whole I'm very lucky. Plus right now I'm re-reading Middlemarch and watching Downton Abbey for the first time, both of which cast a lovely glow upon my life. And I'm making some delicious Southwest corn and sweet potato soup this evening.
And at the WovenStrands blog, they're doing a giveaway of RELATIVELY HONEST (ebook format). It's open only another few days, so go get your name in the entry form.
Back to drinking rooibos tea, watching foliage change colors, and pondering my next move toward literary world domination.
The big one is about cheating. Infidelity on the part of the hero or heroine is an absolute big-time no-no in the romance genre. Now, I understand it's a sensitive topic, and that cheating has hurt lots of actual people, who therefore don't want to read about it. However...yeah, it does happen to lots of actual people. Therefore it's a pertinent issue. And while infidelity is usually not the *best* idea, I wouldn't qualify it as pure evil in most cases either. And, more to the point when we're talking about writing, it usually makes for juicy plot twists. Therefore, though I don't want to include it in all my stories, I do sometimes explore the sticky and interesting issue of being not 100% faithful to one's significant other.
Mind you, in both the published books where I've gone into that territory--What Scotland Taught Me and Relatively Honest--I was dealing with teenagers, not married adults. Age 18 is a time when plenty of us make questionable decisions, and learn from them. I was going more for realistic coming-of-age than strictly for romance. Nonetheless, I think a love story benefits from a dose of reality--and a dose of juicy gossip.
Also: how come we modern romance novelists have to stick to this no-cheaters rule when some of the most acclaimed love stories on film--and on paper--had infidelity in spades? A couple of whopping examples off the top of my head:
Gone with the Wind: All right, it's more like historical fiction masquerading as a bodice-ripper, but it's still considered to have set many a standard for romance. And, dude! Scarlett marries two other guys before giving Rhett a chance--stringing him along all the while--and, in the meantime, does her best to seduce Ashley, a (mostly) happily married man. This would never fly with a modern romance editor. But it's a great book, and Scarlett's ruthless, clueless flirtations make for a ripping good read.
Sleepless in Seattle: Again, held up as a contemporary classic of the romantic film genre. But Meg Ryan's character, throughout, has a fiance, a nice guy, who she's sleeping with throughout most of the film, and lying to about her crush on this stranger in Seattle. Again, romance editors would send this a tidy rejection letter. But if she didn't have the fiance, she'd have no particular reason to be so conflicted about checking out Tom Hanks, and you'd have no story.
Can you think of other examples? Do you have non-negotiable rules for the love stories you read? Or are there no deal-breakers as long as the story is well written?
What was I thinking? Writing from a male, British, 18-year-old point of view, when I'm completely not any of those things?
Well, in my defense, I was once 18, and that's when I dreamed up Daniel Revelstoke and began writing about him. I stole his last name from the swashbuckling-sounding name of a small town in British Columbia, which we drove through once on a family vacation. I made him English, because then his accent and tousled Cambridge-student-ish hair would make him instantly hot. I gave him a zeal (and a talent) for attracting and seducing girls. And, of course, I made him fall in love and change his ways--while dealing him some payback for those broken hearts and white lies in the past.
Nearly all women, young and old, are soft on the Don Juan character--or the Casanova, or ladies' man, or whichever label you prefer. Why? Because they're good at charming us females, of course! Naturally we can't hate them altogether when they're so good at buttering us up. But we also want to be the one who changes the Casanova, the exception to his rule. It's a common romance trope, actually. But, darn it, it's huge fun to write and read, if you ask me.
I've lived with Daniel, and his co-stars Julie and Sinter, for half my life now, so the publication of this novel at long last is a momentous personal occasion, even if the book itself is still mostly a lightweight, if twisted, romantic comedy. Oh, it's not the same manuscript I scrawled when I was 18, not by any means. I weeded out the pointless, meandering scenes and the excessive girliness, and gave Daniel's voice a chance to sound at least halfway masculine. Upon the advice of actual English people, I upgraded his dialect so he sounded modern and not like a character from a 1940s movie. (I used "bloody" instead of "damned," for example.) I cranked up the tension throughout, as well as the comedy, and toned down the soppiness. And I ended up loving my Don Juan more than ever in the process. I hope you do too. (And his roommate Sinter--oh, some days I love Sinter even more. He'll get his own novel before long. I just have to go in and revise *that* one from basement to ceiling.)
RELATIVELY HONEST is due out as an ebook on September 15--one more week. Comment here and you'll be entered to win a signed ebook, your choice of format. I'll be giving away three of them. Good luck!
Romance requires obstacles. Any good plot does. In romance, you need to have a pair of people who desire to be together, and--more importantly--you need strong reasons why they can't or shouldn't be together. That's your plot, your conflict.
In the old days, this was easy. Obstacles to romance were everywhere. For instance:
Class/race divide: A governess can't marry the master of the house. An heiress can't marry the chauffeur. An Untouchable can't marry a Brahmin. A white woman can't marry a black man. Etc.
Arranged marriage/ No divorce allowed: Turns out you married a jerk? Too bad! You're stuck! (Until you get lucky and he dies, which will happen about 90% of the way into the book, so hang in there.)
Long-standing family feud / Being on opposite sides during a war: ...Self-explanatory.
Technically, any of the above problems could still take place today, given the right culture and situation, but they all feel pretty outdated. This is why, to take a small tangent, historical romance is also hot, and always has been, and always will be. Obstacles to happiness in historicals are easy to find. They're littering the field! Good luck not running into them! Similarly, a dystopian future can have any such obstacles you want to create, and those stories are fairly popular too.
But in contemporary romance--you two want to be together? Go ahead. Couple up. These days, you can divorce a jerk. You can move away from your parents if they're a pain about your choice of mate. You're protected by a lot of shiny new laws ensuring your pursuit of happiness. And that's great! For humankind, I mean. It sucks for romance writers. We can, and do, explore the remaining taboos and tangles that snarl up couples, but those are trickier. Love triangles tend to be messy if realistic, and annoying if unrealistic (why wouldn't the triangle quickly resolve into a couple if that third person isn't likable?). Geographic distance has its possibilities, but again, it's usually not hard to overcome in modern times. Taboos like teacher/student, doctor/patient, and boss/employee can work, but also run the risk of squicking people.
(Yeah, I wrote about teacher/student anyway, and yeah, I think it did squick some people, despite the characters being well over the age of consent. I wouldn't have dared write a story where one was under the age of consent. Nabokov's braver than me there.)
Oh! But! You know what would be a seriously great obstacle? What if one lover was human and the other was a vampire? Or a werewolf? Or a ghost? Or an angel? Or a selkie? Or a faery? Or a--yeah, you get the picture.
And it's true. These are not only interesting, fanciful story ideas, which bring lots of exciting mortal peril (also vital to a romance tale), but they come inherently packed with the crucial obstacle to happily-ever-after. So that, my friends, is my big and surely non-original theory on why the paranormals are selling like shape-shifting hotcakes lately.
That and escapism. Reading is always about escapism, and elements of fantasy increase the escape velocity (so to speak). But you knew that.
* * *
From darkness to light, utter ruin to the highest joy, worthlessness to triumph--Dean Mayes' novel takes us through the biggest transformations a protagonist can undergo, and displays sheer beauty throughout. It's the kind of story that had me almost jumping up and down in excitement by the end, eager to cheer the characters on to their certain reunion.
Plotwise, it's a bit like, say, the film Sleepless in Seattle,* where the main question isn't "Will they get together?" so much as "Will they ever meet?"--or rather, "Surely they'll meet eventually, but when, and how will it go?" For Baltimore and Seattle, however, substitute Chicago and a small, gorgeous seaside town (Hambledown) in Australia. Plus, introduce a paranormal element. Andy, the young drug addict barely scraping by in Chicago, gets a wake-up call in the form of a near-death overdose, from which he wakes up with the distinct feeling that another soul has taken up residence in his mind. Indeed it has, and as the two souls become one, Andy turns his life around 180 degrees, and brings joy back into not only his own family but also to a heartbroken young Australian woman who's mourning her dead lover. Or is he really gone? Guess who that extra soul just might be...
Mayes writes addictive prose, fast-paced and even brutal during the action sequences (Andy knows some rough characters in his drug days), but lyrical and enchanting when the subject turns to love--or music. This is decidedly one of those novels that you long to have a soundtrack for, so you can hear Andy play that guitar with ever-increasing skill and emotion. Luckily Dean has taken care of that on his blog, giving us a playlist and YouTube clips to listen to. :)
Love is stronger than death, as yet another music group once put it, and Dean's novel explores that theme in beautiful ways that brought tears to my eyes more than once, and left me bubbling over with happiness at the end. Looking forward to more from this author, definitely!
* Another film it kind of reminded me of is August Rush. The guitar/music theme as well as the long-lost lovers made me think of it--but, strange as it may sound, Mayes' is less weird and actually makes more sense.
One of my stories is in Volume Three (the one with the pretty blue cover)--it's called "Midsummer Daisies," and, for what it's worth, I sort of pictured David Tennant as the hero. You can tell by my description of his "reddish-brown hair in a tousle of controlled chaos." That story is rated PG and purely heterosexual, as are all the Vol. 3 stories. Volume One contains male/male romance that can get very steamy (woohoo, slash!), and Volume Two contains erotic male/female stories. (No, I don't have any stories in those two volumes--this time...)
Enjoy! And remember, for online gift shopping ideas that don't involve standing in line outside department stores on Black Friday, check out the comments in this post. It's becoming quite the books-and-crafts fair. Very cool. Browse, pick something for someone you love, and support an independent artist or entrepreneur!