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Archive for May, 2012

HighlanderI’m a fairly eclectic romance reader. Although there are a few genres I don’t read much, I’m open to most of them and I’ve sampled lots. There’s one big exception, though: I’m just not a fan of time travel.

I think my problem with time travel is that it strikes me as a somewhat limited concept. Basically, time travelers either adapt or they don’t. Either way, you inevitably have a period where the modern person wanders around going “why are these people all dressed funny” and transgresses various cultural norms without realizing his/her mistake. The locals correct the time traveler who either figures out she’s in another era or spends an even longer period tripping over unfamiliar customs and behaving like the worst kind of tourist.

Some readers must enjoy this, given the number of time travel books that are published each year. I don’t much. I’m particularly annoyed by time travel books where the heroine is a stereotyped feminist who keeps demanding her rights while her medieval hosts prepare to burn her at the stake. As a feminist myself, I assure you we’ve got as much sense of self-preservation as the next person. If I’m surrounded by misogynists dressed in armor and carrying swords, I’m definitely going to keep my mouth shut.

Which leads me to another point. One of the not particularly subtle subtexts of time travel books is the idea that modern women would really prefer hot guys who hadn’t been ruined by modern attitudes—some hunky highlander who’ll skip the whole “sensitivity” thing. As somebody who read a lot of medieval and renaissance lit in college, I’m here to tell you that guys in the past were just as screwed up as guys are today. In addition, in past times there were a lot fewer cultural taboos about knocking women around as long as they were either spouses or women of a certain class. Being ravaged by a highlander is still being ravaged. And given the general lack of personal hygiene at the time, even mutual ravaging probably wouldn’t be all that great for somebody from this century.

Of course, you’ve also got the reverse kind of time travel book where somebody from the past ends up in the present. I may have a limited experience with this type of book, but in the ones I’ve read, the person who travels is always male. As usual, you have a period where the guy wanders around staring at the television and muttering about witchcraft—if the heroine is really unlucky, he destroys some of her electronics in order to defend himself from alien magic. This is supposed to be funny, but for me it’s usually more annoying than anything else, largely because it’s so predictable. Eventually, of course, the hero and heroine get down to the two-backed boogie, and once again we find that “real” men from the past are far better than the emasculated versions in the present. At least in this case the heroine sometimes gets the hero to take a shower before she takes him to bed, eliminating one of my complaints about the whole trope, but my previous objections still stand. Men in the past are pretty much the same as men in the present, with fewer scruples regarding women’s rights.

So give me a historical where everybody is in the right place and time. I’ll gladly read about highlanders getting it on with highland lassies, assuming those highland lassies aren’t modern archaeologists in disguise and assuming the highland lassies are fully in agreement with those highland lads as to the desirability of having sex in the heather. But please, keep the time travel for somebody else. I’m just not interested in making the trip.

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Fearless Love is my newest Konigsburg book, due out sometime this year from Samhain Publishing. I just signed the contract last week, so this is in the nature of a quick preview. The MS is far from final, but I’m guessing the following sentences will be in it. My hero is Joe LeBlanc, the sexy chef from Don’t Forget Me. My heroine is MG Carmody, who’s having a bit of difficulty in the following excerpt:

His bald head shone with perspiration, along with his face and his biceps. Now that she looked at him, she could see the damp sweat marks on his T-shirt stretching down his broad chest—running shorts, New Balance shoes. Okay, that at least explained what the hell he was doing up and around this early in the morning, although how he came to be standing outside her chicken yard was still a bit of a mystery.

“Who are you?” she blurted.

He gave her a lazy grin. “Darlin’ you’re being attacked by a rooster; does it really matter who’s getting you out of there?”

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Woman WritingOkay, it’s official, y’all. My next Konigsburg book, Fearless Love, has been contracted, and I couldn’t be happier! I don’t have much of anything to show you–no cover, no blurb, no release date. But it’s finished, and it’s coming.

For those of you who read Don’t Forget Me, Fearless Love is Joe LeBlanc’s story. Joe, you’ll remember, is the chef at The Rose restaurant. He’s from Louisiana, and he’s been a Top Chef around the country, but he has a problematic history that was touched on in Don’t Forget Me and will be greatly expanded in Fearless Love.

Joe’s heroine is a new girl in town, MG Carmody. MG is a singer/songwriter, although she’s somewhat out of practice at her avocation. She’s also having some problems with her avaricious Great Aunt Nedda, who wants to take over the farm MG inherited from her grandfather.

I had a wonderful time writing Fearless Love because it centers on two things I love–fine cooking and Texas music. As the weeks go on, I’ll try to share a few more details, and this Sunday I’ll post a few sentences on Six Sentence Sunday (although the text isn’t exactly final yet!). Anyway, if you haven’t visited Konigsburg yet, Fearless Love would be a good place to start. And if you have visited (thank you very much!), I hope you’ll stop back again.

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Venus In Blue JeansHere’s a bit more from my first Konigsburg book, Venus In Blue Jeans. Docia and Cal (my h/h) are headed off to a dance where the citizens of Konigsburg are dressing up like the town’s earlier residents. This is Cal’s first sight of Docia in her costume.

The black satin top covered Docia’s upper body like a coat of paint. Silver roses were embroidered across her bosom, and silver lace rimmed the top edge of the bodice along the sumptuous swell of her breasts.

A great deal of sumptuous swell.

Another piece of silver lace circled her throat; she wore her hair in a topknot that looked like a cross between a Gibson girl and a can-can dancer.

She was a lonely cowboy’s dream girl—a dancehall queen with money, style and a creative imagination. She was also the hottest thing he’d seen since he’d discovered sex at age fifteen.

 

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A couple of weeks ago the hubs and I had dinner in a time capsule. It was a steak house on the high plains in Nebraska, but it was like wandering into fifties Vegas—zebra upholstered banquettes, thick carpeting, Sinatra on the soundtrack. A whole lotta Sinatra on the soundtrack. In fact, by the time we’d finished dinner (my annual prime rib), we’d heard most of Frank’s Greatest Hits, including “Softly, As I Leave You.”

Now “Softly” (as it’s usually known) is a legendary Sinatra tune. It’s actually an Italian pop song by Antonio Da Vita and George Calabrese translated into English by Hal Shaper. You can hear Sinatra sing it on YouTube, but lots of other people have recorded it too, including Andy Williams, Doris Day, Michael Bublé, and Shirley Horn. You can see the lyrics here.

The thing is, as I listened to the song this time, I realized something—the singer in this particular song is one prime SOB. To me, the song isn’t romantic, it’s infuriating. Maybe I was too young to understand it when I heard this the first time (and maybe back in the day those lyrics didn’t seem so bad), but boy do I understand it now.

The situation is this. The singer is leaving his Significant Other (I’m going to go with masculine pronouns here because of Sinatra, but it could just as easily be a woman). The SO is asleep and the singer doesn’t want to wake her because she’ll beg him to stay. So he’s just going to tippy-toe away before she wakes up because he can’t “bear the tears” after all the years they’ve spent together. Whether he’ll contact her after he gets wherever he’s going isn’t clear, but right now he’s outa there.

Stop and think about that for a minute. This is a long-term relationship—they’ve been together for years. But the singer is such a chickenshit that he can’t bring himself to take the time to even tell his SO he’s leaving. And why not? Because she’ll cry and it’ll get messy. Moreover, she might try to embrace him or kiss him and, well, he just couldn’t take that, it would just break his heart.

But not enough to get him to be a mensch and stick around to announce his intentions. The SO apparently has no idea this is going to happen. The singer is leaving “long before you miss me,” so we assume the SO is going to be totally in the dark when she wakes up and finds he’s no longer in his accustomed spot next to her. Given old Silver Tonsils’ aversion to unpleasantness, she may never find out exactly why she’s been dumped. He is, as I say, the very definition of a prime SOB.

Why had I never noticed before what a bastard the singer is in this song? I think it’s because the music is so lovely, and the singer’s delivery is typically so dramatic. You hear those quivering tones, those throbbing strings, and you never stop to think about just what words are being sung. But it makes me wonder how many other songs in the Great American Songbook are about jerks and cads. How many songs have I listened to over the years without really hearing them? We’re accustomed to hearing attacks on hip hop and rap, but maybe they’re not the only songs that seem to celebrate things that shouldn’t be celebrated.

At least in the case of “Softly As I Leave You”, I’m listening now. Trust me, the next time I hear it I’m going to be thinking C’mon, lady, wake up and kick his ass!

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Venus In Blue JeansVenus In Blue Jeans was my first book for Samhain. It features a hero and heroine, Cal Toleffson and Docia Kent, who are both more than six feet tall (in Cal’s case, way more). In this scene they’re sizing each other up, so to speak.

“The national ideal is five-foot-three-inch blond women who fit into middle seats just fine.”

Cal put down his glass, sliding his arm along the back of the couch. “Docia, no man in his right mind would want one inch less of you.”

“Good because not only am I not changing, I don’t want to; I like my size the way it is.” Her gaze drifted over his torso, down his legs to where his boots crossed at his ankles. “I like yours too.”

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I’ve written before about my love of well-drawn villains, by which I mean villains with understandable motivation and rational characteristics. I’m not partial to “motiveless malignancy”, which is why I’m not interested in psychopathic serial killers. But give me somebody who has a reason for doing what he or she does, even if that reason is despicable, and I’m frequently fascinated. You know the kind of person I’m thinking of, right? Somebody like Mary Balogh’s villain in Slightly Scandalous, a rather horrible woman who feels perfectly justified in her actions. Or the awful mayor in Linda Howard’s Open Season, who’s annoyed with people who just don’t understand his plans. Or Mags Bennett in Justified.

Of course, most people met Mags over a year ago—Margo Martindale, the actress who plays Mags, won an Emmy for her work. But I watch Justified on DVD, and I’m just now making her acquaintance. Let me tell you, Mags is one scary woman.

Which is not to say she’s Cruella Deville. Thanks to the Justified production designer, Mags looks and sounds like just another country woman. She favors faded housedresses and flannel shirts along with oxfords and crew socks. She’s somewhat dumpy and heavy-bodied herself, with her nondescript brown hair pulled back in the sort of ponytail that leaves chunks hanging around her weathered face. And her voice is a smooth, even-toned drawl.

Everybody in the area knows Mags and her two sons grow marijuana (actually all three sons, but one son is nominally a cop). What they don’t know, at the beginning of the season, is that Mags and her sons are planning to manipulate their way into getting a lot of money from a coal company, and that Mags has no compunction about killing anybody who gets in her way. She sends her son and another minion to torture a man whose fourteen-year-old daughter, Loretta, harvested marijuana on state land she considers hers. And when she discovers that said trafficker reported one of her men for trying to molest his daughter, she decides to kill him.

But this is where it gets interesting. Because Loretta has also come to Mags for help, and Mags has promised that said molester will be punished. When she poisons the father (placing the poison in his glass rather than the bottle so that she and her son can drink with him safely), she assures him that she’ll take care of Loretta and tells him, as he’s dying, that he’s going to be reunited with his beloved wife. And then she tells Loretta (who thinks her father has been sent out of state by Mags) that she’s looking forward to taking care of her because she’s only had boys to raise before.

All of this is, as I say, scary as hell—at least in part because Margo Martindale is so good. You believe Mags. Both when she’s being maternal and when she’s being murderous. When she tells the dying man, “I’ll raise her as my own,” it’s not only believable, it’s appalling—a much worse threat than physical violence.

Of course, Mags comes to no good end. The name of the show is Justified, after all, and the hero, Ryland Givens, is suitably relentless in his pursuit of the bad guys. Plus he’s suitably concerned about the fate of Loretta in Mags’s care, a concern that’s well-founded as it turns out.

But Mags’s double nature, her maternal concern for Loretta along with her total ruthlessness when it comes to her business interests, is what makes for a good villain, at least in my opinion. Sadism is both boring and icky. But someone like Mags, someone who believes she’s absolutely justified in doing what she does because of who she is—that’s terrifying. And fascinating. So let’s hear it for Margo and Mags. And for good villains everywhere.

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