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Archive for February, 2012

Wedding Bell BluesSo here’s a little more from the first love scene in Wedding Bell Blues. Janie is teaching Pete to dance. Or anyway, that’s what she thinks. Of course, things begin to move beyond dancing pretty quickly.

Janie rose against him, her legs opening against the warm heat of his arousal, trying to find the right spot as her head swam.

She was losing it—she needed to pull away, right now, but she didn’t.

She moved closer, slipping up onto her toes until the V of her crotch fit across his groin. Pete groaned, his arm fastening tight around her waist, pulling her flat against him.

And then he raised his head to stare down at her. “Janie Dupree,” he said softly, “you are lightning in a bottle.”

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The Badass

Unhappy girlSo I’m reading this urban fantasy, and the heroine’s a real mess. Total badass. Given to leather pants and attitude. She gives the hero nothing but grief even though he’s clearly nuts about her. But she’s even harder on herself because she had this really awful childhood. Her mother neglected her. The kids made fun of her because she was “different”. Then her best friend was killed and it was her fault. So now she has her defensive shields up and nobody’s going to get close to her ever again, particularly not the hero, even though she’s secretly desperately in love with him.

Right now you may be saying, “Yeah, I read that one.” If you’ve read much urban fantasy, you probably have. Because I just gave you a composite of the majority of urban fantasy heroines I’ve run into over the past few months. You can almost check off the characteristics as you read the book. Bad attitude, check. Hostility to the hero, check. Ability to kick ass, check. Rotten childhood, check.

At this point I find myself wondering—why can’t I come across any urban fantasies where the heroines aren’t totally screwed up? I know they’re supposed to be dark, with inhuman villains and profound threats to humanity. I get that. But can’t the heroine just occasionally be somebody who isn’t a candidate for psychotherapy? Look at thrillers and romantic suspense. The threats the characters face are usually immediate and nasty. The heroines are frequently law enforcement types, occasionally with bad past experiences to overcome. But they’re usually functioning and competent. And they usually have no particular difficulties in hooking up with the hunky hero, even if he does have some problems of his own.

Look, I know every genre has its conventional characters. In regencies you’ve got the virginal bluestocking and the devil-may-care beauty, for example. In contemporary you’ve got the hard-luck heroine who’s coming back from some kind of social or economic disaster. But there’s a point at which convention becomes cliché. When the conventional character is the only type currently on offer, you may start feeling like the genre itself is running into a dead end.

So can anybody recommend an urban fantasy where the heroine isn’t a paranormal version of Lisbeth Salander? Anybody? Anybody?

There are some wonderful writers working in urban fantasy these days, and the genre itself offers a wealth of story possibilities. I’d just like to read something where I didn’t spend the entire novel wishing the heroine would pull herself together.

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Woman WritingRomance is written in third person. That’s not an absolute rule, but it’s close enough. Occasionally, an author will be successful with a first person romance—Kristan Higgins has a few, for example—and chick lit is notoriously first person. But what we might call “traditional” romance never ventures far from third personhood.

Of course, romance isn’t the only genre that’s associated with using a particular POV. For instance, cozy mysteries are almost always written in first person. Donna Andrews and Susan Conant stay very securely in the heads of their narrators, but unlike the first person narrators of some lit fic (Henry James leaps to mind), you never wonder if these women are reliable or not. The reader takes it as a given that Meg Langslow and Holly Winter know what they’re talking about. In fact, in the case of Langslow, you frequently have the feeling that she’s the only reliable person in the entire loony universe of Andrews’ fiction.

And that brings me back to the central question of third person and romance. Why do we use third person rather than first? I’d argue it has to do with the fundamental purpose of romance fiction—the description of relationships. First person narrators may bring you great insight into themselves. You know what emotions Meg and Holly are experiencing  and you sympathize. And it isn’t as if these first person narrators give themselves special breaks—both are very honest about being less than admirable. At the same time, you don’t really have much sense of what’s going on inside their significant others. Meg and Holly both pass on what their husbands do, but you don’t really understand much about how their husbands think and feel.

In fact, the husbands/lovers in these books are largely flat figures. All we know about them is what Meg and Holly know, and they frequently don’t seem to know much. Romance and relationships frequently don’t figure greatly in cozy mysteries. The heroines are far more interested in solving the whodunit (or in Meg’s case, solving whatever crisis the eccentric Langslow clan has developed this time).

But romance novels are all about relationships. And you can’t really do much with the description of a relationship unless you know what’s happening to both of the people who are involved. Think about it—when you’re first attracted to someone, you desperately want to know if they’re attracted back. And if they are, who’s attracted more? With first person, you get the desperation on one side of the relationship, but you don’t have any more knowledge about The Other than you would in real life. With romance, on the other hand, the third person lets you know who’s attracted to whom and how much.

And that’s really what romance is all about. You get both sides of the story, hers and his. You no longer have to guess at what’s going on in his head—you know. Does that make romance less realistic? I’d argue it doesn’t. It just gives you a privileged position in terms of how the characters think. And given how rarely we have this kind of privilege in reality, that may well be one of the reasons so many readers love romance.

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Okay, this excerpt comes from my first Konigsburg book, Venus In Blue Jeans. The hero (Cal) and the heroine (Docia) are getting ready to make love for the first time–so it’s their first view of each other naked. Here we go!

Cool fingers wrapped around his shaft, measuring him, sliding lightly down the length of him.

“You’re very big.” Her voice sounded husky.

Cal swallowed, nodding. Even if he tried to speak, he figured his voice wouldn’t be more than a croak, and he wasn’t sure he could speak at all as long as her hand stayed where it was currently.

And then she grinned, eyes sparkling. “Fortunately, so am I.”

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Janie could feel the smooth plane of his body pressing against her breasts; an ache had started low in her body that had nothing to do with exhaustion and everything to do with Pete Toleffson. She closed her eyes and let her cheek rest against his chest for a moment, feeling warm skin and smelling faint hints of sweat and aftershave, letting herself relax against the hard muscles of his chest and thighs.

One muscle was very hard indeed.

What the hell was she doing? Pete Toleffson stared down at her, his eyes obscured in the dim light. “Something wrong, Ms. Dupree?” he murmured.

 

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Like a lot of Web users, I wasn’t all that thrilled by the two solutions to Internet piracy proposed by Congress: SOPA and PIPA. Both would have led to unwarranted shutdowns of innocent sites and both assumed a degree of oversight among site owners (including me) that just doesn’t exist on the Web.

But did you notice? Every time somebody made a statement about how bad SOPA and PIPA were, they included a statement to the effect that everybody knows piracy is bad too. Okay, if everybody knows this, why haven’t any of the big Web players tried to take realistic steps to stop it? Here’s the thing, guys: those of us in the creative community backed you in this fight, now how about backing us in our fight to keep people from stealing our creations?

It’s not like the identity and location of the pirate sites are a closely guarded secret. I can find a half dozen by doing a search on just about any book title. And I do that search on Google. Gee, guys, if I can identify the pirates just from my search results, why can’t you? And if you can find them, why can’t you delist them?

I’ve heard all the pro piracy arguments. There’s the “artists are all rich bastards sucking up money from the poor consumer” argument, for example. To which I can only reply, not this artist, baby. Sure Disney and Warner Brothers are concerned about piracy of their movies, but for every big studio, there are thousands of individual authors and musicians who are also seeing their creations stolen.

Then there’s the “books and movies and music are all too expensive” argument. But most of the books I see pirated from Samhain cost less than five dollars. Moreover, the Nine Naughty Novelists parody The Zillionaire Vampire Cowboy’s Secret Werewolf Babies sells for ninety-nine cents on Amazon. It also shows up on pirate sites. People steal stuff no matter how little it costs.

And then there’s my favorite argument: “information wants to be free.” Yeah, I remember when Stewart Brand first said that back in the seventies, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t referring to my books. There’s a wealth of information on the Web that’s out there just because people want to share it. That’s one of the wonderful things about the Web. But there’s also creative work on the Web that’s there for sale. And there’s a difference between these two commodities. If people stole artwork from Etsy or designer clothes from eBay, they’d be prosecuted. Why is it any different when they steal a novel from me? Does the fact that my work is digital make it less valuable or less real than a pair of earrings?

I guess I’m just looking for a little justice here. If Google and Wikipedia and all the other big sites can form a consortium to head off government intervention, why can’t they set up some kind of task force to deal with piracy themselves? It usually takes me three to four months to produce a finished book. Then I have to get it published one way or another. How is it even slightly fair that all that work can then be downloaded for free by some jerk?

Here’s the point: you stopped SOPA. Good for you. Now do something about the problem that SOPA was trying, ineptly, to address.

 

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