Tag Archives: characters

Why community is key to contemporary romance – and giveaway!

“In contemporaries, community is key,” Selina McLemore, Senior Editor at Grand Central Publishing, told me at the Romance Writers of America national conference last week.

It makes sense, right? Those of us who love contemporary romance fall for books set in a particular town or city that feels as fleshed out as the hero and heroine. A place we’d love to visit, move to, or just immerse ourselves in for a few hours.

But community shouldn’t be confused with setting. It’s more than that.

It’s characters—oddballs who make a town unique and help the hero and heroine when they need it most; fast-talking city folks who are so savvy they make a reader jealous; and families who can overwhelm the most patient person but pull together when it’s most needed. It’s colleagues who challenge and sharpen you, while also making you howl with laughter, like in Louisa Edwards’s Recipe for Love series.

But community shouldn’t be confused with character development. It’s more than that.

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The coolest animals in romance

A couple of weeks ago, I had a dream about my parents’ dog, Gina. In my dream, she was no longer an elderly, arthritic, deaf, incontinent, grumpy mutt with only one eye (and it blind). She transformed into the enthusiastic puppy she’d been when I first bought her for my parents to help my dad get over his grief at our other dog’s death.

I knew when I woke up that Gina was gone. My parents called several hours later to break the news. Because of the time difference between where I live (London) and where they live (southern California), there’s a good chance I dreamt of Gina as she was falling into her final sleep.

Gina was brilliant, and I’m not just saying that because I loved her. She was the smartest dog I’ve ever seen and fiercely protective of her family—not always a good trait, but it did come in handy when I was walking her once and a strange man kept trying to approach me despite my warnings that I didn’t want him to come any closer.

Her personality was as distinctive as any of my other family members’—that is to say, very distinctive. Perhaps because of the bond I formed with Gina, I love when animals feature in novels. I don’t just mean when a hero or heroine owns a cat/dog/parrot/monkey/fill-in-the-attention-grabbing-pet-here. I mean when a pet is so well developed that they become a character themselves.

Chinese Crested dog

Chinese Crested © backyardbirderwa/flickr.com

My all-time favorite animal character in a romance novel is Hairy, the Chinese Crested from Take a Chance on Me by Susan Donovan. He’s so integral to the plot that he has his own point of view—the cute little guy thinks of the hero as Big Alpha and the heroine as Soft Hands. He even solves a murder.

Hairy is as clever a foil for the hero as the heroine is. The hero, Thomas, is a rugby-playing lawyer who works with a special team of cops targeting people who’re trying to hire hit men. Hairy is a six-pound, shivering, nearly hairless pedigree dog who wears a maxi-pad because he pees when he’s nervous. And he’s often nervous.

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Love for the downtrodden hero

This is cross-posted at The Season.

One Fine Cowboy coverA couple of months ago, I wrote about how I don’t always connect with kickass heroines. The women I empathize with the most in novels are inevitably ones more like me—people whose main fights have been to overcome internal barriers, like fear and low confidence after spending too much time around mean jackasses, to accomplish the things they want in life.

Fortunately for me, romance is full of these women and I get to watch them blossom into confident, fulfilled people by the end of a novel. But what if the genders were reversed? How many romance heroes can you name who’ve been so badly beaten down by life and past relationships that they struggle with the confidence they need to achieve their dreams? Or worse, they barely allow themselves to dream anymore?

I was surprised to find such a hero in one of this year’s RITA-nominated contemporary single title novels.

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Step into another world

This is cross-posted on The Season blog.

Every keen reader knows how it feels to lose themselves in a completely different world—whether that’s JRR Tolkien’s hobbity Middle-earth, or the snappy, witty Regency England of Julia Quinn’s imagination.

Isn’t escape one of the biggest reasons genre fiction is so popular? It transports us to another time and place, inserts us into another person’s problems, and allows us to escape our own for a few hours.

That’s certainly one of the main reasons I read.

A talented author can build a world in one novel, but a brilliant author will spin that world out into several books until it’s as real as any character.

A few weeks ago, I asked you which character from a novel you’d bring to life for a week. Some people who left comments on The Season blog said they prefer to keep characters in books where they belong.

This week, I’m giving you the chance to step into any author’s fictional world. Unless you discover a magic potion, you can stay there for only a week, so don’t worry that you’ll spend the rest of your life smothered in the noxious body odors of sweaty, velvet-clad men in a Regency ballroom.

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Bringing characters to life

This is cross-posted at The Season.

One of the biggest reasons I’m a romance fan is that the genre thrives on strong characters. A good romance novel will put human behavior under a microscope and expose all the nuance of our emotions.

Reading a novel can make me feel like I’ve met new friends, or become part of a new community or family. I don’t mean that in a pathetic way. I love my family, friends and (sometimes) community. But I also love escaping into a new world, and well-written characters draw me in like nothing else.

I don’t know about you, but I start getting sad when I’m about 20 pages from the end of a book I love. I despise saying goodbye to people I’ve come to admire. If they’ve made me laugh or cry, I feel even worse (and let’s not mention those rare characters who make me laugh AND cry).

So today I’m giving everyone a magic potion.  This potion will let you bring one character to life for a week.

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Why you should never screw over a romance heroine

This is cross-posted at The Season

Ever had a husband or lover who screwed you over so badly you invented new forms of revenge?

Did you follow through on them?

I’ve been reading all the RITA-nominated contemporary single title romance novels (seriously, there has to be a shorter way of saying that), and two of them feature heroines who get revenge in very contemporary ways.

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Attack of the overbearing body parts

Woman with a stomach ache

© Juergen Sack/istockphoto

For some reason, my first drafts tend to be dominated by one body part, and it’s probably not one you’d expect, considering I’m a romance writer.

I hadn’t realized I had a bullying body part until one of my beta readers returned her incredibly helpful comments on the novel manuscript I wrote last year. Throughout the manuscript, she wrote “Stomach again” and “Gut again”. My characters experienced all their emotion and tension in their bellies. Their stomachs twisted and ached. Clenched and heaved. Tightened and rolled.

When I told people I wanted to write gut-wrenching emotional romance, that wasn’t quite what I meant.

The odd thing is that last year, when I wrote this manuscript, I was under a hell of a lot of pressure because of family illness and unrealistically big work commitments. I told my husband at the end of the year—when the pressure began to ease—that I’d had a stomach ache for about ten months. The pain hadn’t been debilitating, but a niggling ball of stress had lodged itself below my ribs and refused to shift.

When I saw all the places I’d relied on my characters’ tummies to show their emotions to readers, I had to laugh (a belly laugh, of course). Writing this story was the only way I’d been able to relieve some of my own tension. My writing time was the only peaceful time I had each day.

And apparently I’d achieved that peace by transferring my own stomach ache to my poor characters.

Are there body parts that dominate your early drafts? Do your characters carry most of their emotion in one place? Am I alone in transferring my stress to my characters? (Please say no!)

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How realistic is the contemporary virgin?

First off, welcome to my new followers! *waves* Just so you know, I’m a romance writer, so sometimes I blog aboout things relevant to all writers and sometimes I focus posts on the romance genre. Please feel free to comment and share even if you’re not a romance reader.

For those old followers (I prefer to think of you as “seasoned”, not old) who don’t know, my last post was Freshly Pressed yesterday, so it was on WordPress.com‘s homepage.  My blog picked up quite a few new followers, and I look forward to getting to know you all better.

Now for today’s post, which is cross-posted at The Season.

When I started reading romance *mumble mumble* years (okay, decades) ago, it was nearly impossible to find a heroine who’d had sex before meeting the hero. While this is completely understandable and realistic in historical romance, it’s always seemed curious to me that contemporary adult women were virgins.

Most of them weren’t just virgins but were about as inexperienced as I was at 14. (That is, not experienced at all).

As a teenager, I enjoyed reading about women who were a decade older but just as inexperienced as me. Considering I went to a religious high school, I knew sex would remain a vicarious experience for many years, and I’d probably end up like those heroines. Watching their long wait pay off with a hot man made me happy not to experiment with fumbling teenage boys.

I was also surrounded by messages from other forms of media telling me it wasn’t normal for teenagers to be virgins. TV, music, films—they all made me feel my friends and I were strange, while romance novels encouraged me that good things come to those who wait.

A couple of decades later, readers tend to complain when an adult heroine is a virgin. It seems unrealistic. Or perhaps it’s offensive to subject heroines to centuries-old double standards that real-life women are finally shattering.

But how realistic are contemporary adult virgins?

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Creating alternate endings

This is cross-posted at The Season.

Gone With the WindI hate Gone With The Wind. Hate it.

I know it’s supposed to be one the all-time greatest films, but I’ve seen it once and as God is my witness, I shall never watch it again.

I was 13 when I watched it. No one had spoiled the ending for me yet. My mom told me it was her favorite film, so we watched it together. After investing quite a bit of my heart in the story…after watching the characters’ painful struggle to grow…the film ended sadly?

Uh uh. Not for me, thanks.

The Romance Writers of America defines romance as having an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Perhaps my aversion to sad endings is a sign that I’ve been conditioned by all the romance novels I’ve read. Maybe I’m just naturally someone who loves a happy ending. But in my mind, Rhett and Scarlett stay together in the end. It isn’t a perfect relationship, but they’re perfect for each other and they continue to have a passionate, tempestuous marriage.

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Tasty skin colors

I quite often start feeling peckish when I’m in the middle of reading a novel, and I’ve finally figured out why. Authors have a love-affair with comparing skin colors to food.

How often have you read about a peaches-and-cream complexion? Milky or creamy skin (which always makes me think the heroine may have a skin condition)? How frequently are people of color described as being the color of coffee, mocha, or dark chocolate?

What about wine-dark nipples? Nipples like strawberries? Or cherries?

I’m guessing food is a popular comparison for a couple of reasons. First, “white” and “black” are not just inaccurate but sound crass. Humans can be so many shades of brown that the word becomes meaningless as a description.

Second, I imagine a lot of authors feel the names of real colors aren’t creative enough. And if you’re going to describe something, you usually want to compare it to something most people will understand and be able to picture easily.

Only white men seem to escape the consumable skin color. They can be pale, tan or ruddy-cheeked depending on whether they’re the hero or the villain.

Can you think of other ways to describe skin color without relying on food? Have you read any books that stick out for being creative and interesting in the way they describe skin? Are tasty skin colors mostly prevalent in romance?

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