Musings on Romance books

Okay, so over the last several months, I’ve made an effort to read more Romance novels because, well, when one wants to write in a genre, one should consider reading in said genre. Most of the books I’ve checked out have been in the gay romance category, though I’ve got a couple now that are firmly in the hetero category. I’ve started developing a list of pet peeves and things that I like as I read.

One thing I’ve noticed–there are way too many green-eyed protags in this line of fiction. I must have read at least twenty stories this year alone and I’d say that at least fifteen of them had one partner with green eyes. I’ll admit, if I hadn’t gotten into reading this genre so frequently, one of my own characters was destined to have that perfect, amazing shade of green. But since it really seemed to be all over the place, I switched it out for another color.

Another issue I’ve got: don’t ever reference women when the scene is male on male. I’ve seen it in a couple of works and I find the tactic damaging in a few ways. If I’ve chosen a story for it’s male/male potential, an analogy that includes a woman is jarring. Like, I understand that if the person identifies as male and so the description includes anatomy typically associated with women, but that’s not what I’ve discovered. Instead, it’s telling me about this guy with a cock feeling all flushed and exposed ‘like a maiden,’ or ‘soft like a woman.’ These references often happen when one character is submitting to another, or is the ‘catcher’ in the relationship–therefore reinforcing many of the stereotypes in the gay community and adding a flair of misogyny to the process. How is it misogynistic? By keeping firm to the idea that women belong in the non-dominant role in the bedroom.

There was one selection of heterosexual short stories that I read which almost turned me off from the genre. A majority of the women seemed to be waiting for the guy to complete her world and a couple of them glorified a relationship that did not see them as equals. (Sorry, if the guy has everything prepared and essentially ‘claims you,’ that doesn’t speak of much equality to me.) They didn’t even seem to really care so long as they got the guy and seemingly got to do what they wanted for the time being.

A positive that I’ve discovered is that I really do like this kind of fiction, when it’s done right. I’d read stories that had romantic elements to them before, but never really embraced the genre–outside of reading some Laurell K. Hamilton. I’ve become enamored of Josh Lanyon’s Adrien English series and I’ll keep reading in hopes of finding several others that I like as much. Seeing two characters flirt and fall for each other? It’s a thrill.

However, if the language usage or characters are too awful, even the flirting can’t save a book. I ranted earlier this year about Ally Blue’s Oleander House, and I’ve got another book to add onto the list: Olivia Cunning’s Double Time. This book’s apparently #5 in the series, but it’s the first I’ve read. I’ll give it points for not making me wonder too hard about the other books. Without looking online, I never would have realized that it was that far into the series.

Her style is very matter-of-a-fact, with far more sentences that are telling of the action than outright description. “Partner A did this and Partner B did that.” While the style isn’t the most engaging in the universe, most of her word choice is actually fine. I wish there were a few more emotions from characters beyond ‘wanting Trey’ or ‘wanting Reagen’ or ‘wanting Ethan’ or ‘so horny,’ but okay, it’s an erotic romance. There’s going to be plenty of wanting to sex it up.

The part that bothers me the most about Double Time is the portrayal of bisexuality. First, there’s Reagan thinking that Ethan was gay when she caught him with a man. Never mind that they had been dating for a long time, she sees him with a guy and just assumes gay. (Although a plot point I still can’t understand is why Reagan continued to have such a close relationship with Ethan after feeling so betrayed by him. I get that they’d be roommates stuck in a lease, that happens all over the place, but the cheating had wrecked the romantic relationship so completely that I can’t understand why he was still her best friend.) Yet Reagan’s assumptions aren’t the worst part of this.

See, Trey and Ethan are both bisexual males. That’s all fine, but it’s their need for having both a man and a woman. Neither is satisfied without getting their hands on both sexes within a given time frame. Despite Trey wanting to put Reagan first, he’s spent much of this novel complaining about how he didn’t have a man–first Brian, and then random other men, and then he got latched onto Ethan a little but only because it had been several weeks since he’d had a cock in him. Having one character be compulsive in needing to have both sexes is a trait/flaw, but the discussion of bisexuality throughout the book heads straight into the ‘bisexuals are greedy sluts’ trope. Since Ethan takes this up too (citing his need for men as the whole reason he cheated on Reagan in the first place), it sets up a unilateral belief that bisexuals must want sex from multiple genders all the time.

All in all, I was just sharing some thoughts about reading in the romance section of the library. Even though there were complaints throughout this post, I’m learning a lot about the genre and I wouldn’t stay in these books if I didn’t have a curiosity to see how the story turns out in the end. Anyone have some Romance novels to recommend?

Holy crap, I finished a draft!

I finished a draft recently and I’ve gotten really gushy about characters! Drafts can be a long, exhausting process. This one kicked around in my head for over a year before it was completely out in one long, full story. I must have started and restarted the first thirty thousand words nearly a dozen times before I had the characters situated the way I wanted, and even then they managed to surprise me. The trick was to keep sorting the pieces until they combined into the pattern I wanted to make.

I’ve seen some stuff lately (Okay, Supernatural producers) about ‘going where the story takes you.’ Well, if that were true, this story would have completely dead-ended last year and would never have finished. I’m often struck with ideas for character-driven plots, and they like running away in their own directions. And I like seeing where the characters will go. Wes Kingston–protag of the draft I just finished–can be a willful, stubborn loner. If he really got his way, there wouldn’t be a story ’cause everything would be neatly solved and life would work out perfectly for him. He wouldn’t have the exciting adventure, wouldn’t have stuck around and realized that his high school crush was available, and he wouldn’t have any chance for growth or change because a majority of characters are just like people–they don’t want to change. Basically there comes a point where I’ve got to figure out what the story is and remember that I’m really the one in charge.

I’ve discovered there has to be a balance, though, between character and plot decisions. As I was writing up Possession and Other Invitations (the working title of upcoming book), I had a moment that I really wanted in the text. I thought that would be the cool, awesome way to lead the story. I was certain that’s where the draft “was going.” That moment seemed like the flawless, right decision. However, I realized that plot point would significantly change Drew–the romantic counterpart–and he’d become a different person. Since I planned on creating a series with Wes and Drew as the center points, I decided that forcing Drew into that choice this early in the series was too harsh. I opted for a slow growth pattern for now, because it just makes more storytelling sense to me. In other words, the story stopped driving off on that path and followed the directions I gave it. The course-corrected plot makes much more sense in the long run too, and winds up having some cyclical action.

And I’ve fallen madly in love with the characters too. By this point, I know Wes and Drew probably better than myself (mostly ’cause I’ve invented Wes and Drew’s subconsciouses while mine is elusive to me). As I was going over cover-art ideas with my talented friend, we were digging into what Wes Kingston looks like and there’s a lot of his appearance that has to do with his personality and history. I realized that I could go on talking about him for hours–which shouldn’t be a surprise to me since I’ve already done that and written a book about the guy. Also, as we worked, surprising details came out. She asked me about his ear lobes–detached or not–and the decision that flew out of me was “Oh, attached. Otherwise, he would have had to pierce them.” Little decisions like personal dress are areas where I’m happy to trust the characters. While clothes can affect plot, those are things that are going to be unique to each character. Wes, for example, is always dressing in old clothes, somewhat worn, some a bit too big and that comes from his lack of funds and his lack of concern over his physical appearance. The man forgets to shower sometimes, he’s not really one for keeping his t-shirts pressed. On the other hand, Drew is immaculate. His shirts are high-quality, even on his days off. Everything fits him and worn clothes are reserved for yard work. Oh, and he’s the kind of person who totally has pajamas sets for cold weather but doesn’t bother in the summer—

See what I mean about being able to go on and on about them? That’s just a fragment of the thoughts that are running through my head about them. The longer I continue working, the more characters flit about in my headspace. Besides the ones from Possession and Other Invitations, I’ve got characters from Starfell begging me for an audience, and then others whose voices are only light whispers at the moment. I think that keeping in love with them is what’s going to carry me through the drafts and the edits and the publishing cycles. Their stories are ones I want to share with as many people as possible–and of course it’s up to me to decide how those stories go. I can’t wait.

Thanks for indulging my ramble. Anybody happening to read this, feel free to ramble in the comments about your favorite characters! Created anyone awesome lately? Fallen in love with a figment? What’s your favorite part about writing a story draft?