What I Really Want

I’ve been reading a lot of craft books. Things that tell me books should be all about plot, and tension, and making characters miserable until the very end. But maybe, just maybe, that’s not what I want to read.

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Please let it be a kissing book!

Yeah, I know. Kind of a revelation to me, too.

But the deal is life has been pretty stressful.

There’s hurricanes like Irma and Harvey, issues with North Korea, Las Vegas shootings, NYC terrorist attacks, trade concerns, Russia investigations, debt ceilings, border walls, and whatever else is gobbling up the news. It feels like a constant stream of ugliness and negativity. Maybe it’s always been there, and I was better at not noticing.

There’s family and work and health issues and . . . Well, you get the idea. You probably suffer from all of it, too.

So maybe, just maybe, when I slip into a fictional world, I’m not looking for heart wrenching agony. I’m not looking for Game of Thrones level treachery, betrayal, and angst. Maybe, I just want a nice romance with a few obstacles to overcome and then a happily-ever-after.

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Yeah, that’s kinda ugly to admit. But it’s true.

I have a rather large stack of books to read. Most of them romance, so I should get my happily-ever-after. Yet, I don’t want to read about a lot of things in them. I never have the stomach for rape. I’m really not looking for characters that keep making bad choices as we watch the suspense build.

I don’t really want to be on the edge of my seat. I just don’t have it in me to care. Or, if I do care, I’d rather save it for something else.

I want to slip into a book and let it be a nice ride. Give me some bumps and challenges to overcome, but that lets me escape into it. I don’t find fear or horror relaxing. Or suffering.

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While maybe it’s not good storytelling and doesn’t follow the rules of craft, this is what I want right now. What I’ve been reading. What entertains me. And for me, that’s all that matters at the moment.

Maybe I’m alone. And that’s okay. It won’t be the first time, and it won’t be the last.

 

How about you? Ever find yourself too wrung out for high-intensity fiction? Am I the only one that watches reruns of Bob Ross to relax some evenings?

What the Meme Really Means

While I prefer Twitter over Facebook these days as it seems less political, every once in a while some meme or another crops up that makes me say something.

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Truly, I do try to avoid politics, but this wasn’t even about politics. Someone chose to post a meme they thought was funny.

It wasn’t.

I will not repost it here as I find it repugnant. But you’ve seen the meme before. It basically shows a conventionally beautiful female with the caption: girls I want to date. Then it shows another girl, usually fat, that says: girls that want to date me. Then, the poster laments why he doesn’t have a significant other.

The only amusing part of this was when someone snagged the picture of the girl he said wanted to date him, and replied back that no, in fact, she didn’t want to date him, either.

If you’re reading this blog, you probably understand. You get that the above meme reduces women to an object, a trophy. This is not romantic or endearing, despite what some might thing.

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See, the thing is, the person posting the meme believes he deserves a conventionally pretty significant other. He is owed this.

Here’s the thing, though. The person that posted that meme has already told me a couple of things about himself.

  • He must not be conventionally attractive himself. I’ve seen the guys at Gold’s gym. They never seem to have a dearth of conventionally pretty women to date.
  • He’s shallow. I think this speaks for itself.
  • He’s probably a jerk. Why do I say this? Because he’s objectifying women. Demanding something as his right when he has no right. I instantly wonder what else he things he’s entitled to that he doesn’t think he should have to work to get.
  • He probably won’t care about my needs. If someone must meet a certain mark of physical beauty to even consider dating, I doubt he’ll be there when the chips are down.

 

To me, the kind of person that feels okay posting this meme is illustrating his blatant entitlement. This is one of the seeds of rape culture in America today. Too many people think they are owed access to another human being’s body, time, and affections. That this is their entitlement for simply living, rather than something they need to be worthy of, something they need to earn.

I posted a while back that there’s a lot you can learn by reading in romance novels even if they aren’t your favorite genre. Sure, you’ll find doctors, dukes, and billionaires in them. You’ll also find school teachers, detectives, and bar owners.

Some of the key things you’ll find regardless of the male lead’s profession is that he cares about the heroine, wants her to be happy, and sees to her pleasure as well as his. He falls in love with her for who she is, even if that means she’s got kids from another marriage, is going through a messy divorce, or is not conventionally beautiful.

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Or appearance. 

My in-laws have been married fifty-one years. Neither of them look like they did when they got married, but they’re still together. Because they built the bonds talked about in a romance novel, not the ones based on looking hot in string bikini.

Knights: Code of Chivalry

The Knights of Valor are a prominent part of my fantasy romance novels. Why? Because I like the good boy, the knight in shining armor, so to speak. While I don’t feel the need to be rescued, thank you very much, I’ve always been drawn to the white knight.

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While the Knights in my stories live by a moral code directly tied to the god they serve, that code wasn’t created in a vacuum. I’ve never listed the code these Knights follow, because that wouldn’t exactly keep the story moving in my novels, but their code is very much based on historical precedent.

Real knights in the days of yore had a code of chivalry that they were supposed to follow. How many did, well, that’s another post. The punishments for not following it, again another post.

While many parts of our past are lost to us, The Song of Rolland documented the code of chivalry during the time of William the Conqueror, around 1066 AD.

1066 AD Code of Chivalry

  • Fear God and maintain His Church
  • Serve the liege lord in valor and faith
  • Protect the weak and defenseless
  • Give succor to widows and orphans
  • Refrain from the wanton giving of offence
  • Live by honor and for glory
  • Despise pecuniary reward
  • Fight for the welfare of all
  • Obey those placed in authority
  • Guard the honor of fellow knights
  • Eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
  • Keep faith
  • At all times to speak the truth
  • Persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
  • Respect the honor of women
  • Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
  • Never to turn the back upon a foe

Sounds a lot like what we’ve come to expect from knights that followed the code of chivalry. A few of these seem redundant to me, and a few seem too bravado for my Knights of Valor, but I did think through all of them as I was creating my own code.

The speak the truth at all times gives my Knights of Valor a great deal of trouble, and from time to time, they may have even had to interpret that a little creatively.

In my fantasy world, being chosen by the God of Justice to be one of his Knights and following the code of chivalry imbues certain holy powers, including the ability to channel the god’s power to smite evil. But that’s fantasy. I could see how some of this code could really hamper a medieval knight.

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There are other codes of chivalry, including the one espoused by the Duke of Burgundy in the 14th century, but it’s not really all that different from the list above. The code from King Arthur’s court is perhaps the most famous, though much of this is shrouded in legend. The lack of solid facts makes it fun to write about, but more subject to interpretation.

More interesting to my mind is that such a code had to be written. That many things which seem like basic values had to be spelled out. But then, it was another time and Dracor, God of Justice, has not always reigned supreme in human history.

 

How about you? What do you think of knights and codes of chivalry? Ever see any in a book you especially liked? Or maybe you think the whole thing was bunk and prefer the knight that follows no code?

Beach Reading Without Getting “The Look”

I want to be reading more, but it’s been a hectic summer with all the activities for the kids, DH having a much heavier than normal work schedule, and events for family and friends. Our vacation was less than spectacular, and we failed to potty train DD2 during it.

Now that summer is in its last throws and we’re gearing up for school to start, we’re taking one last long weekend. I haven’t gotten in much reading this last month with everything else going on, so I want to pack some beach reading.

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What I plan to be doing. Wishful thinking with a toddler, I know.

This means no iPad. While I do really like my iPad, it doesn’t like sand or water. And, it’s pretty tough to read in direct sunlight.

So, I have to find some actual, real paper books. I have mixed feelings on this. See, I love holding a real paper book in my hands. There’s just something about it I enjoy.

What I don’t enjoy is the traditional half-naked romance cover. On the beach. With the kids. And all the other snickers from family that come with it. Invariably, someone comments on it.

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So, even dressed, still obvious.

I don’t *hide* that I love reading romances, though most people don’t think I’m your typical romance reader. They’d be wrong, as demographically, I fit the profile perfectly.

The iPad hides this cover beautifully, and no one ever need know I’m reading either a bit of Regency, a retelling of a fairy-tale, or if I’m really lucky, a love story with dragons instead of the Economist.

I wish Amazon sold romance books with an optional hide-what-I’m-reading cover. Make it a plain and boring cover without eve a title. Or a title like Complete History of the Napoleonic War. So us Regency readers know exactly what that means, but the rest of the beach can be blissfully unaware.

I don’t know why DH can bring a book with space ships and laser battles on the front, and no one looks twice. But a half-dressed hot guy and suddenly it’s nothing but snickers.

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A book by DH’s favorite author. Less clothes than the romance novel, still gets fewer comments.

Oh well. Maybe I’ll have to borrow one of his space ship books. He’s been trying to get me to read more than the one book I did by Charles Stross anyway.

 

How about you? How do you read at the beach? Or on vacation? Do you prefer to read on an electronic device or a book? If you read romance, do you have any tricks to disguising your reading fare? Or maybe you just don’t care? Or maybe your family is less prone to teasing you?

Happily-Ever-After According to Science

Why do some marriages work and others don’t? Why do some people stay in a bad marriage, while others will leave a relatively good marriage?

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I hated Romeo and Juliet anyway.

Some will say love. Romance. Soul mates. On the more mundane and practical side, people will say shared interests, beliefs and goals.

As a romance writer and reader, you often see the story end at the point where the characters are married and are now expected to live happily-ever-after. Or, maybe this particular trope is one where they’re forced to marry because of plot reasons, but by the end of the story, they confess their love for each other and then live happily-ever-after.

Either way, we end with the characters in love and ready for their happily-ever-after ending.

In the real world, more marriage will end in divorce than be successful. At least in America they will.

Yeah, not very romance-writer of me to mention that, I know. But, if I want to give my characters a believable happily-ever-after, I need to understand what leads to that happily-ever-after. What makes some marriages work?

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No, no, no, no, no!

 

Well, science has an explanation on why some marriages work and some don’t. It’s called Interdependence Theory.

Interdependence Theory states the following.

Rewards – there are rewards from marriage (or any social interaction). These can range from companionship to physical intimacy. Interdependence theory has defined them as the following:

  • Emotional – Positive and negative feelings in a relationship. These are especially important in a close relationship. Ah, here we’re getting to where love comes into play. See, you knew I was a romance writer!
  • Social – Or how you appear to others. Does being seen with a super model make you feel better about yourself? What about with a stripper? What other social repercussions are there from the relationship? Perhaps you have to attend a lot of operas, and you love opera. But what if you hate opera?
  • Instrumental – These rewards are achieved when a partner is proficient at handling tasks. Like mowing the lawn, building the kids a tree fort, or doing the laundry without anyone getting stuck with pink socks (true story).

Costs – there are costs to a relationship as well. Basically, for all of the different types of rewards (emotional, social or instrumental), there is a corresponding cost. So, just like there are emotional, social and instrumental rewards, there are emotional, social, and instrumental costs. Makes sense.

So, DH putting up with my annoying habit of leaving my shoes by the sofa where I kick them off every night would be an example of an instrumental cost my husband has to pay regardless of how many times I’ve promised I’d be better about it. Or going to the annual corporate party for my employer would be a social cost. Sorry honey!

Rewards Minus Costs  Should Be Positive – Yeah, not very romantic, is it? Sounds more like I’m building a profit and loss statement than writing a romance novel.

Yes, I’m sure I’m a romance writer. But science is seldom romantic.

However unpleasant it may sound, research has shown that humans keep a record, whether consciously or not, of the net value of a relationship to us. So, you’re in a “profitable” relationship if the rewards outweigh the costs. But, this still isn’t enough to keep people in a relationship. They have to be making “enough” profit. Kind of like when you invest in your 401(k) account. You only have so much money, so you want to select the investments that will net you the most profit for the time you have them invested.

Comparison / Opportunity Cost – Once someone has tallied up their total relationship rewards and costs, they will either consciously or subconsciously review their other options. Even if they are net positive, in their account isn’t earning as much as they think it should, they are more likely to end the relationship and look for another. This may explain all of the Hollywood break-ups.

 

Okay, so now that we know this, how can we apply the science to making a romance novel earn its happily-ever-after?

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Not the response I’m looking for, though I may have said it about a romance novel or three.

 

I want my happily-ever-afters to be believable. So, here are a couple of ways I can use the Interdependence Theory to make it believable:

1.No Alpha-Holes – A strong male lead could provide a lot of rewards on the instrumental level. He gets stuff done. But even if a heroine loves him, the emotional and social costs of dealing with him are going to be extremely high. Toning him back so he’s still an alpha without being a jerk would help a lot.

2. No Porcelain Dolls – Both characters in the romance have to be active. If either can basically be put on the shelf while the other does all the heavy lifting, you’re going to have a relationship with very high instrumental costs. No matter how much you love someone, if they can’t figure out how to open the refrigerator and get themselves a soda, you’re going to get pretty ticked at them after a while.

3. Opposites Might Not Attract – The whole wallflower with a super outgoing character trope might not end well. If the wallflower really doesn’t like much social interaction, but the extrovert loves it, there is going to be a high social cost to the relationship. Unless, of course, one or the other is the way they are to mask their true personality. The extrovert who actually hates all the parties etc.

 

What do you think? Does interdependence theory hold water in your book? Think it’s bunk? If so why or why not? Any other way that it could be used in writing to give believable happily-ever-afters?

Four Things You Can Learn from Romance Novels Even If You Hate Them

Sadly, I’ve seen  a lot of people say they hate romance novels since joining social media. Some even proclaiming romance has no place in movies or television. When pressed for the reason why, it tends to come back to “I never get the guy/girl, so I don’t want to see someone who’s got everything get him/her.”

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A part of me says welcome to Hollywood. I can’t think of the last movie I saw where the heroine wasn’t amazingly beautiful, thin, and with perfect hair.

This is why I love romance novels. There the heroines come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The heroes, too. Depending one what you read, cowboys, bikers, and billionaires are all there. So are teachers, dragons, and knights. seriously, whatever you particular interest is, there is someone out there writing it. But, you have to look.

Here’s something I’m not sure the people saying they hate romance because it doesn’t work for them realize. Their very words are a red flag for anyone they may be interested in having a relationship with. Why? Because this hints at the fact they think they’re owed a relationship, owed love, and probably owed sex. These might not be their real thoughts, but in a world where one out of five women are victims of sexually assault, I’d wary.

Think about that for one moment. One out of five. Think of five women you know, and statistically, one of them has been hurt this way. I have no idea what a comparable situation is for a man, so I won’t try. But yeah, it’s a lotta women’s worst nightmare. I often wonder how many men walk to their car after dark with their keys between their fingers “just in case”.

The reasons are not part of this post, but it does give an insight into the world we live in today. But, it’s not the world women want. Hence, romance novels. It’s an escape. An idealization. A way to explore love and sexuality in a non-threatening way. A way for the reader to know things are going to turn out okay in the end for the heroine, even if they don’t always in real life.

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of things that can be learned from romance novels. Here are a few.

1.Get past the Trappings – this is probably harder for men who are more visually stimulated than women. Yes, the guys in the stories are usually attractive. Just like the women in the movies and on TV. But the women aren’t always, or at least not in the current accepted fashion. Either way, most romance novels don’t dwell on it. Sometimes, neither the hero or heroine is attractive in the traditional way. In one of my favorite contemporary romance novels, the hero was a somewhat dorky Princeton professor.

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2. Common Interests – Most of the characters in a story have some sort of common interest that brings them together. Horses. International spy rings. Vampire hunters. Customizing motorcycles. Pick your reason. In most novels, they don’t sort of bump into each other at a nightclub and just hit it off. This is playing to fantasy, and there are as many kinds of heroes and their interests as can be imagined. Some of the people I’ve heard complain about romance novels make me wonder if trolling in their interest. Probably not the best interest if you want to meet a significant other, but I bet there’s a romance novel out there somewhere with that in it. In the story about the Princeton professor, the thing the hero and heroine shared was a love of books. In a romance novel. Go figure.

3. Listening – It’s such a  tired cliché that men don’t listen, but it’s become cliché for a reason. In romance novels, the hero listens to the heroine. Learns she’s scared of vampires because they ate her little brother or whatever. This can have a huge impact in the story when later he later understands why she’s frozen with fear when the normally heroic vampire hunter sees a vampire about to gobble a child. If he hadn’t listened? No chance to understand. Same thing in the real world. My husband listened to me and knows I’m terrified of spiders because a brown recluse bit my sister and it necrotized the skin on her leg. (I won’t post a picture here, but here’s a link to what it looks like). So killing spiders without question and without making me feel bad has helped our relationship. In the book I referenced above, the professor listened and understood the heroine’s issues with her controlling mother. This helped bring them together.

4. If you listen in the living room, you’re more likely to listen in the bedroom – There’s a lot of research out there that says women are just as sexual as men when the woman thinks she’s also going to get an orgasm. I have yet to read a romance novel where the woman wasn’t brought to orgasm. The path to her fulfilled desire may seem unrealistic to me, but it’s always the end result. In some novels, there will even be scenes where the hero holds off on his own pleasure to make sure she gets hers. In the real world, I know women do it for men. So, I’m not surprised in a romance novel, roles change. Shouldn’t be too surprising that women want pleasure, too.

 

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Are all romance novels good? That’s like asking are all action movies good. Are all science fiction books good. Are all TV shows good. Different people like different things, and some clearly just suck. Mystery Science 3000 made a show out of how bad some movies can be.

Also, romance novels change along with society. What sold to repressed women in the 1950s is not what sold in the 1980s or what sells now. More recent ones show more current fantasies. And as with everything, quality varies dramatically from author to author. Sometimes book to book.

But the good is out there.

 

What do you think? Think you can learn something from romance novels or am I full of bunk? Me being wrong is always an option. Is there something I’m missing? Something you’d add?