Paranormal, historical, romantic suspense, erotic romance — all these genres fill the virtual bookstores. Readers want to be entertained, to escape from their everyday lives for a few hours, and these genres satisfy that need. So what about straight contemporary romance? The kind that doesn’t involve Greek billionaires or secret babies or convenient bouts of amnesia? Is there still a place for these stories? I firmly believe the answer is YES! I like to be transported to another reality just as much as any reader, but I also enjoy reading about characters I see in my everyday life. A heroine who doesn’t have secret magical powers. A hero who isn’t a lordly duke or a Navy SEAL. A couple who don’t have to dodge bullets or catch a serial killer, or have handcuffs in the bedroom. I love following their lives, recognising bits of myself or other people in them, relating to their problems.
Yes, I love reading contemporary romance. Writing them? That’s a little harder. These days not many people go for marriages of convenience, and the vampires that knock on my door only want a bag of lollies, not my blood. As a writer I have to come up with rational and compelling reasons why (a) my hero and heroine dislike each other, (b) they stay together despite their mutual antipathy, and (c) conquer their differences to fall madly in love. Oh, and the hero and heroine must also be characters the reader can sympathise and identify with.
Hopefully I’ve managed to pull off this tricky balancing act in my debut novel, WHEN HARRIET CAME HOME. As you might have guessed, it’s a contemporary romance, and it’s set in rural small town Australia. I loved writing about my hero and heroine, Adam and Harriet. They’re both flawed characters who have made mistakes in the past, but they’re strong enough to recognise this and to learn from their mistakes. The journey isn’t easy though, especially when they recognise they need each other in order to move forward.
Here’s the book blurb:
After ten years of exile, Harriet Brown is back in town. Things have definitely changed, but so has she. Now the confident owner of a catering business, she’s no longer the shy, overweight girl everyone—including her hot teenage crush—used to ignore. In fact, she’s determined to make peace with Adam Blackstone for her part in exposing his father’s secret affairs and corrupt behavior as mayor.
But Adam has changed as well. No longer a pampered, rich pinup boy, he just wants to reestablish his family’s good name. He reluctantly agrees to a truce with Harriet, and is surprised by how changed she is. He doesn’t want to be drawn to her, but he can’t seem to resist her allure.
As Harriet struggles to come to terms with her past, her adolescent infatuation with Adam morphs into something more serious… Will she ever be accepted again? Or will ancient history ruin the chance of a future full of possibilities?
Please visit me at my website www.coleenkwan.com and thank you to Manic Readers for hosting me here today.
My novel, “A Slot Machine Ate My Midlife Crisis,” takes place mostly in Las Vegas, a colorful, funny setting, but it’s really about these wonderful characters. Wendy, the lead, is full of contradictions. She does outrageous things, but is upset when people talk about her. For example, she keeps extending her stay in Vegas, but is furious that people back in Houston are criticizing this. Part of the reason she doesn’t want to go back is that she doesn’t want to face these people.
Another example: Wendy has a major crush on Gary, her friend’s boyfriend. She knows it. He knows it. We all know it. After she impulsively flies off to Jackson Hole with him, her friend goes ballistic—and, for the rest of the book, Wendy is upset about the rumors this friend might be spreading. I love that she’s strong enough to do what she wants, but vulnerable enough to worry about others’ opinions of her.
Paula’s another major character who’s a piece of work. She and Wendy have this complicated friendship. They basically get along, but they’re very competitive with each other—and they fight a lot during the weekend in Vegas. Paula tries to lure Wendy into all kinds of situations with guys that Wendy, a newlywed, doesn’t want to be in. Their fights are raucous and funny, but also disturbing because you see that they don’t really know, or understand, each other.
Paula and Wendy worked together at Panache, an upscale fashion-retail store in L.A. That’s how they know each other. So they have that in common, and not much else. But they don’t know that until much later in the book. One of the basic ways they’re different is that Wendy was pretty much ignored by her parents. They worked all the time and paid much more attention to her younger brother. I don’t think Wendy’s parents had a very happy marriage. What she saw of marriage as a child was not very positive. But her parents didn’t divorce. Instead, they stayed together and made everyone around them miserable.
Paula’s parents do get divorced. Her mother then moves to Seattle, marries someone else, and starts a second family. She basically abandons Paula and Paige when they’re 10 and 3. Paula’s father steps in to “mother” both girls, but he gets overly involved with Paula and runs her life from the time her mother leaves. Paula adores her overly indulgent father, but sometimes he oversteps the boundaries and advises her to do things that make her unhappy. He wants control of her life because he doesn’t trust her to make the right choices. This undermines her self-confidence and self-esteem, so it’s a love that’s sort of destructive. Wendy’s parents ignored her—and that’s also destructive. The parents of both Wendy and Paula hurt their daughters without being aware of it. This is another factor that makes the two friends alike in some ways, but totally different in others.
Paula has this need to gain the approval and attention of men. The kind of attention she craves usually veers into the sexual. And she uses the weekend in Vegas as an excuse to indulge her every whim when it comes to the opposite sex. She just goes for it, and has these casual hook-ups. It’s kind of funny, but kind of sad. She seems to enjoy it, but then again, is she just trying to forget Ex-Hubby No. 3, Ron? Paula is powerful but pathetic, vulgar but vulnerable. One minute you want to hug her, the next, you want to slap her. She steals every scene she’s in. A complex character who goes for it when it comes to men, work, shopping, everything. But at the end of the day, does it make her happy?
Another thing I like about the book is that the characters talk to, and at, each other. They just don’t listen. Wendy and Paula are perfect examples. When you look at their conversations, you’ll see that they miss a lot of what each other says. But they’re not the only ones.
In one sadly comical chapter–that had to be cut because of length—newlywed Wendy feels torn and confused about her attraction to another guy. She calls three friends to talk it out, but in each phone call, the other person talks nonstop about their own problems. One has a loud, howling cat with a bladder infection shrieking in the background. One has four young kids and a cop-husband who’s having an affair with a donut-shop hostess. The third one is feeling stressed about her married boyfriend, her parents’ health problems, and her job.
Wendy doesn’t open up to any of them. They won’t stop talking—and she’s too ashamed to tell them that she’s a newlywed lusting after another guy. Then she’s sad that she has grown apart from these friends. I love that she refuses to open up, then laments that they’ve grown apart. It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
One last thing I want to mention is the strength of the male characters. I didn’t want to write a book where the female characters walk all over the men. I worked overtime to create strong, smart, sexy men who challenge the strong, smart, sexy women every step of the way. It’s one of the things that makes the book so compelling, and so much fun.
Roger, Wendy’s new husband, was her boyfriend for seven years in L.A. before he moved to Houston for work reasons—and she followed him there and married him. Roger is the Prototypical American Husband. He tries to do the right thing, and it comes out wrong. When he thinks he’s being supportive, it comes across as insensitive. For example, when Wendy and Roger have a dinner party for his bosses and their wives, the oven in their recently-bought house malfunctions bigtime, and the food is either burned or undercooked. Wendy is humiliated. In front of all the guests at the table, Roger offers to go get take out.
That sounds like a nice, reasonable thing, but at the same time it confirms that his wife’s cooking sucks—and the vicious wives of his bosses are gleeful and mock the food. Roger has tried to be nice and do the right thing, but it somehow comes across as unsupportive and insensitive. I don’t know what he should have done. Maybe ask her in private in the kitchen if she wants him to go get take-out? I honestly don’t know. I feel sort of sorry for him because he’s trying to do the right thing, but it usually backfires.
The phone fight in Chapter 9, when Roger and Wendy discuss her parents and she tells him how hurt she was when they died and left the family house and restaurant to her brother, is another example. Roger tries to explain to her that, from a business perspective, her father made the right choice. Wendy is hurt by this, but, as Roger explains, he’s only trying to get her to see their side. Once again, he’s trying to help, but it comes across as unsupportive and callous.
Roger’s a great guy: intelligent, attractive, successful, but he’s a workaholic who sometimes makes decisions that put his job and ambitions ahead of his marriage. Wendy ends up doing the same thing in response. Can this marriage be saved?
Gary’s another great guy in the novel. He’s a hunky playboy pilot who lives in Wendy’s building in Las Vegas. He’s a nice guy: always helping out around the apartment, great company, fun to work out with and eat breakfast with. But he’s a womanizer, and doesn’t recognize how his flings with other women affect and hurt Wendy. She’s attracted to him and has to make an effort to stay away from him to protect herself. It’s a major crush for her. I think he likes her a lot too, but we’re never quite sure how much. I love Gary, but does he have to hurt Wendy so much with his womanizing ways? Does he deliberately ignore the way she feels about him–because she’smarried–or is he truly unaware of it?
Kent, the music producer from L.A., is the creative, funny, attractive crush of the last third of the book. I love Kent. He’s funny, romantic, brilliant, and sexy. He seems to really understand and appreciate Wendy. This guy is almost too good to be true, but he does have three ex-wives, and he can be a bit crass. I think he senses early on that Wendy has a crush on Gary—and he does everything in his power to make her see that Gary’s a hopeless tomcat. Kent is so much fun to be with—and all those flowers he sends! What a guy.
The three men in the book represent the three different sides of Wendy. Roger is the normal, down-to-earth, hard-working, security-seeking side. Gary represents the physical side that needs warmth and a sexy closeness, and Kent, the creative side that craves emotional connection and intimacy. If the three of them could be merged into one guy, it would be the perfect man. But we all know he doesn’t exist, right? So, she ultimately has to choose one. Will it be security, normalcy, and conventionality with Roger? Physical satisfaction and a laid-back lifestyle with Gary? Or fun, games,and artistic fulfillment with Kent? Whoa. Sounds like a tough choice. Stay tuned!
“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” – character Willy Wonka in the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
One of the best parts of my job is being a rebel. How so? Breaking genre rules and loving it! My debut novel, CANCELLED, is not a traditional romance, nor is it a traditional chick-lit title. It’s a little of both. It’s not in first person, it’s in third. And the main point-of-view isn’t female. It’s male. And the best part about writing it? It was fun….
And I didn’t stop there. You know how so many chick-lit titles take place in NYC, London, and occasionally Chicago or Los Angeles? My book takes place in Washington, DC. It had to. My main character, Johnathan Michaels, is a robotics engineer specializing in custom-designed rough and rugged solutions for military and paramilitary applications. In fact, the primary work project is The Claw, an armature on a remote controlled helicopter that can swoop into dangerous areas for a human and pick up or drop off supplies. The “pretty” version of this tool is the humanitarian aid it could bring to natural disaster victims or civilians caught in war-torn countries. The reality is the The Claw could also just as easily deliver explosives or another weapon of mass destruction.
The world of defense contracts and robotics is a far cry from the normal work spheres in romances and chick-lit titles. From personal experience, I know this world is very smile-while-you-shake-a-hand- and-hold-a-knife-in-the-other-to-stab-with-at-your-earliest-convenience. I’ve worked in this industry. My father works in this industry, and my husband, being in the Navy, sees yet another side. The insane details and back and forth flurry of contracts and drawings is standard. You cannot fathom frustration until a report you worked on for days comes back because the customers changed their minds on how they want dimensions calculated, or because they now want all reports in a brand new format. I’m getting flashbacks just writing about it. 🙂 But I had fun venting many of my frustrations from years ago while crafting the corporate culture of my novel.
The main vehicle in the novel, a robotic helicopter, is loosely based on a project I’ve seen in real life. My husband and I are basically geeks and were members of the Charleston Linux Users Group. Professional geeks are awesome people. We’re the kinds of people with a computer hooked up to our TV handling all of our movies and streaming content. Or hack our Roomba to make it obey our laptop’s commands (made it into the book). Or use a computer, projector, and webcam to setup digital graffiti in a downtown park (also made it into the book sans setting). As a writer, I enjoyed working in this part of my life my non-geeky friends find odd, yet fascinating. And I hope readers enjoy the look into a world that’s usually behind security clearances, background checks, and nondisclosure agreements.
But now it’s YOUR turn. If I could have any robot in the world it would do……
My dream robot would swap my laundry, sort, fold, and put it away. Hypothetically, I could see this working with RFID tags in clothing, some kind of hopper to sort, and additional information on the RFID tag that details the room and drawer a piece of clothing lives. Or maybe just a system that worked automatically with all of the clothes in one central closet, like the Duggars’ house. That is MY dream robot. What’s yours?
Please leave your dream robot idea in the comments with your preferred ebook format (.mobi for Kindle, .epub for Nook, Kobo and others, or .pdf) and an email address (like eawestwrites on gmail, no need for the @ symbol). Each person who shares their dream robot will receive a free ebook copy of my book, CANCELLED. And while I could chat about techy stuff all day, I need to get back to working on the sequel, but I will pop in to see all of the great ideas from the Manic Readers! Free ebook giveaway valid until midnight est Nov.8, 2011.
Inspired by a recent article I wrote describing what I look for in an engaging heroine, I decided it might be fun to look at the romance hero in the same way and come up with some must-have’s for the tall, muscled, good-looking men who stride across the pages of my favorite books.
First and foremost, I want my hero to be capable. I’m not talking MacGyver making a bomb out of kitchen appliances or a superhuman behemoth who shoots lasers from his eyes. But I do want him to take care of business when he has to, whatever that business might be. And if he can happen to escape a locked room with a toothpick and a pair of socks or hurdles tall buildings in a single bound, I want him to be tossed into a situation where these abilities aren’t an asset. Heck, maybe they’re even a liability, and he must find another way to solve the conflict. Perhaps in a way he never expected.
Next, my hero has to have a sense of humor. I’m as susceptible to dark, brooding, and mysterious as the next gal, but sometimes all that grim menace gets to be a bit much. I want him to crack a smile every now and then, even if it’s just to make sure he has teeth. The hero and heroine should be able to laugh together, to tease each other. After all, they’ll be dealing with problems up to their eyeballs. If they can’t find the humor in the situation and in themselves, it’s going to be a long book. By the end, I want them to be friends as well as lovers and a sense of humor goes a long way toward that enduring happy-ever-after.
So now, we’ve established his ability and his funny side, but this is a romance, so it goes without saying I want my hero to be . . . romantic. Grand gestures involving sweeping the heroine off her feet (literally) are permissible, but it’s the small meaningful actions that make my heart beat faster. Give me a hero who takes note of his heroine’s love of (flowers, books, art — take your pick) and surprises her by unexpectedly acting on that love, or the hero who makes her dinner because she’s worked late. Maybe he takes care of her when she’s sick even though he runs the risk of catching the illness himself, or maybe he just listens when she needs to talk or cry or rant. That’s romance to me. The knowledge that this guy is there through thick and thin, no matter what.
And finally and most importantly, he must be needy. Not in a whiny, call-me-five-times- a-day kind of way. I want my hero to need this heroine and no one else. I want her to be the perfect fit, the yin to his yang, the woman who brings out the best in him, quiets his demons, eases his hurts, and makes him a better person. I want him to realize that his happy-ever-after depends on having her in his life, and he’ll do whatever it takes to win her love. When I close the book, I want to sigh in sweet relief knowing he’s done just that.
So, now I’ve given you my four essentials for the perfect hero. What about you? What do you look for when you read? Or write? And on the flip side, any characteristics that you absolutely can’t stand?
A writer of historical-paranormal romance, Alix Rickloff creates a compelling world of magic and enchantment set during the British Regency period. Her books have been described as “sexy and intense”, “exciting and spellbinding” and “a universe you won’t ever wish to leave”. You can visit her at Alix Rickloff, Facebook, or Blame it on the Muse.