How far would you go to promote your book? Would you sacrifice your own (& your family’s ) privacy to guest on “60 minutes”?Arnold did and it worked! Naturally, his life story is far more compelling than my mundane exploits and he is a public figure, but, honesty compels me to admit that book sales being what they are, I’d jump at the chance to appear. I’d have to fabricate torrid affairs with prominent figures (check), embellish my accomplishments(why not?), and endure the prattle of idiots like Leslie Stahl.(ugh!). Despite the hardships, when my quarterly royalty check rolled around, I’d laugh all the way to the ATM. What about you?
Should writers read the online reviews of their novels that appear on Amazon, Goodreads etc.? I’m ambivalent about it. Like most people, I enjoy reading reviews that praise my books, and I force myself to scan (but not obsess over), less commendatory comments. Reviews are a key ingredient in any writer’s sales strategy. That doesn’t take away the sting of truly snarky, or blatantly unfair statements. Several well known authors have told me that they never read their reviews. Maybe it’s better to delegate that task.
Must all romance novels have a happy ending? That’s a basic tenet of the genre. The HEA (happily ever after ending), is a prerequisite for getting published and a guarantee for all readers. Ambiguity is never countenanced in Romance fiction, although in reality it is often the rule. Mystery readers, on the other hand, are realists who focus more on unmasking the villain than uncovering the alpha hunk.That divergence explains why writing Romantic Suspense/mystery is a tricky proposition. The author must satisfy the conventions of Romance writing, while still adhering to the needs of mystery readers for a taut, tantalizing crime story. It’s a challenge, but for those with the talent and tenacity the rewards are enormous! …
How do writers strike a balance between self-confidence and delusion? After constant rejections, a wise person must consider that the book of his heart might be irreparably flawed. (or is a masterpiece far ahead of its time). Either way, prudence dictates a course correction. Write a stand-alone, something entirely different. I did and it worked!
Hurrah!! Yesterday I put the finishing touches on “MANTRAP”, the sequel to “SWANN DIVE”. (pub. date 2014). It’s so exhilarating when everything comes together just right. Monday I’ll start an outline for my next book as yet untitled. Today I’ll luxuriate in this small triumph.
SULTRY, SENSUAL, NOT SLEAZY
What puts sizzle in a novel without igniting the book? The popularity of Erotica raises some intriguing issues that each author must consider. Elisabeth Benedict in her classic The Joy of Writing Sex makes a key distinction: a sex scene is not a sex manual. Moreover, even though a sex scene and a love scene share common elements, emotion carries the day in a true romance. Personally, my feelings about erotica range from mild distaste to utter boredom. Biology was never my favorite subject. I know the names for male and female body parts and they have all the allure of a frat house stag film.
Euphemisms can also be cloying. “Throbbing member” is a term popularized ad nauseaum by early romance writers. While it gains points for subtlety, it fails the reality test big time!
Most adult women have seen a representative sample of said product, but honestly, how often were they in motion? Moreover the term ‘member’ suggests a man more comfortable with Sam’s Club or the Kwannis than a passion pit.
I’m a strong advocate of sultry, sensual love scenes in which protagonists use each of their five senses to further the experience—a gentle touch on the cheek, a feathery brush of his lips against her neck, the faint hint of a masculine fragrance, (Creed’s Green Irish Tweed is my personal fav), the taste of honey cream on a woman’s skin, and the sweet sound of words that touch the heart. These things coupled with emotion will heat up any page without triggering the ick factor.
Let’s face it: strong, intelligent heroes with great hair and smoldering eyes rightfully claim their place in any love scene. Guys with a sense of humor and skill in martial arts surge right to the head of the line. Wimps, whiners and bullies can head for the exit sign anytime. In my novels, the most erotic scenes involve two dominant personalities whose hunger for each other overwhelms them. They unite despite their differences and find in each other that ‘missing self’. The experience for both the reader and the characters is heightened when the imagination is engaged. Consider this scene from The Abacus Prize as Grace Quinn and Patrick Fong find each other.
He rose and slowly walked toward me. “It’s not a crime to love something beautiful.”
I stepped backward. “You charmed your way into my life. You used me. I was a fool.”
Patrick smiled. “I didn’t hear you complain.”
My hand found the doorknob. I could escape, run away if I chose to.
He took slow, deliberate steps until he reached me. I caught my breath unsure of what would happen next. Patrick unclenched his fists and closed the bedroom door. He took my hand, gently kissed it, and pulled me to him.
“I never lied to you,” he said, “and I never will.”
He scooped me up and carefully placed me on the bed.
Bring out the fans, ladies! That’s my concept of a sexy scene that stimulates the imagination more than a description of body parts ever could. Margaret Mitchell understood the power of suggestion when she penned the famous staircase scene between Rhett and Scarlett. Without using explicit language, that Southern belle ignited passions and inspired sermons that reverberated worldwide.
To my delight, thriller king Lee Child included a tender love scene in his most recent Reacher novel,The Affair. He chronicled the union of his tough guy protagonist with a beautiful ex-marine in understated, exquisite prose that added dimension to his characters and his writing.
Bottom line time: sex, romance and love are interrelated concepts that spice up our reading material and our lives. The “X” factor is emotion, engaging the mind as well as the body of our literary creations. Novels offer a full menu of choices. I’ll take mine ala carte, please.
BAD BOYS AND VILLAINS I HAVE LOVED
Bad boys are easy to love and fun to create. Despite their flaws, they flirt and fascinate more than the average Joes we meet, date and marry. Every female with a pulse harbors a missionary’s zeal to reform the beast and find gold beneath those rippling muscles and chiseled abs. After all, smoldering charm and lethal hobbies are a major turn on!
Literature is replete with bad boys who make us tingle. Rhett Butler inflamed even the flinty Scarlett O’Hara, although she lusted after willowy Ashley Wilkes for far too long. Anyone who read Gone With the Wind (or saw the movie) has only one question for Scarlett: Girl, what were you thinking?
Millions of readers adore Jack Reacher, a good guy with bad boy vibes. He’s a big brawny lad who thrills female fans every time he defies convention and does the right thing despite the risks. (Author Lee Child is no slouch either, ladies. British charm at its best.)
Hawk, loyal sidekick to Robert Parker ‘s Spenser, is the ultimate bad boy/villain oozing with sex appeal, menace and the fastest gun in New England. Small wonder he’s besieged by lusty females of every race, color and creed. You might not take him home to Mama, but why bother? Keep him for yourself.
Fans of the Stephanie Plum series know all about hunky bad boys. Women from eighteen to eighty gasp every time RANGER appears on the page. He’s smart, uber-masculine, and a skilled practitioner of the erotic arts. Ranger also protects Stephanie and vanquishes any villain in her path. He’s the type of edgy character who straddles the hero/villain fence quite neatly.
On the small screen, Jack Bauer kept us enthralled for 9 seasons of “24” despite (or because of), his unfortunate tendency to kneecap any really bad guy who got in the way. Actor Chris Noth is the ultimate bad boy in every role he plays. That’s part of his considerable charm as his partners in “Sex and the City”, or “The Good Wife will attest. “
My personal favorite, however, was the pulse pounding Michael Samuel (Roy Dupuis), of La Femme Nikita. Good Lord! Who knew that frigid Quebec could produce such a hot commodity? Even today there are tributes to him all over the Internet.
As writers, we are urged to create characters with depth, ones who embody some of the elements of normal life. When I first described Dr. Patrick Fong (based on the glorious Russell Wong), readers said he was too perfect. I thought hard, and gave him a flaw or two. In subsequent books, Patrick yielded to temptation —frequently—even though he loved only his wife, Grace.
This caused quite a conundrum. Male readers were envious, but many females thought Grace was a wimp, a pathetic dishrag, and worse for not kicking Patrick to the curb. My position remains unchanged: life is a game of tradeoffs, and trust me, no sane woman would arbitrarily discard a sizzling hunk of beauty, brains and bucks without making extraordinary efforts to reform him.
Bottom line, what makes a bad boy/villain an acceptable risk? If we exclude all the absolute taboos (cruelty to animals, violence against women/children), a few bumps in the character road are seldom fatal. Patrick Fong is a wonderful father and tender husband who made a clear distinction in his own mind between the love he felt for his wife and the casual sex he engaged in. He played relationship roulette until he risked losing everything he valued in life. Then he saw the light.
To keep us interested, bad boys must have the capacity and willingness to ultimately reform. Taming one of these rakes is a daunting task. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!
Heroes, Hunks and Perfect Men
“Men like that don’t exist in real life.” So say many guys when they flip through a Romance. Duh! Of course they don’t. If I want reality, I’ll stroll around a low-end shopping mall and stare. Writers sell fantasy and readers of Romance expect it. Our female protagonists often resemble an airbrushed version of our better selves. Attractive, smart, professional women populate every corner of the world and they buy and read the many variations of the romance genre. Our heroes, those gasp inducing hotties with great bods, muscular brains and bright futures, represent a female’s fondest dreams.
Take Dr. Patrick Fong, hero of my first mystery series. He’s self-assured, brilliant and breathtaking. (Think Russell Wong in Romeo Must Die). A man like him could have any woman but he adores Grace, a spunky take no prisoners mix of Irish wit and Italian fire who thinks she’s a detective. Patrick’s not without flaws— he’s catnip to any red-blooded she-devil within a fifty mile radius. He’s also a sophisticated hunk who loves a strong, smart woman despite her flaws.
Romance heroes are never threatened by assertive females. They know how to use tenderness , respect and exquisite love-making to make the fiercest lioness purr. SPOILER ALERT: Since poor but proud is the ultimate fiction, my heroes are also financially fixed or on their way to being so.
Lucian Sand the fiery Frenchman in INTRUSION (Mainly MurderPress, 12-11), falls head over heels for Elizabeth, a grieving widow who has absolutely no interest in him. This virile MIT grad knows that patience, fortitude and love can penetrate the hardest heart. He’s headstrong and impossibly stubborn, but a hero to the core.
One of the immutable laws of Romance writing requires a ‘happily ever after ‘ ending. Readers invest a lot of emotion in the lives of the protagonists. They want and deserve a payoff. So do the rest of us.
So here’s to the men of Romance fiction — those heroes, hunks and perfect men. We love you, yes we do!
The Grey Lady Strikes Again
The Grey Lady strikes again! I know that the NYTimes features “All the News that’s Fit to Print” but this time they went too far. In the March 28th Arts Section, literary critic Janet Maslin revealed the ending of Henning Mankell’s latest book—a book that Amazon just mailed to me. Thanks so much, Janet. Now that I know he obliterated Kurt Wallandar after 13 books, I can save lots of time reading this mystery. All that Swedish doom and gloom is irrelevant since you also blabbed major plot points in the book. So what if it was published in 2009 — I don’t read Swedish. His secrets would have been safe with me.
Perhaps the number 13 is prophetic. After all Colin Dexter axed Inspector Morse in book 13. He had the grace to cushion the blow by entitling “The Remorseful Day”, the final Inspector Morse novel. That’s what we mystery people call a clue.
Eliminating beloved characters is never easy for the author or the reader. Agatha Christie granted a stay of execution to Hercule Poirot until after her death. The appropriately named “Curtain” gave the dapper sleuth a graceful exit and his fans a satisfying climax. Miss Marple was dispatched a bit earlier in “The Sleeping Murder”, but remember she was a very old lady. Happily her faculties were intact even at the very end.
I think Robert Parker had the best solution of all. Spenser never aged, Susan always remained beautiful, and Hawk was still the sexiest man to prowl Beantown, up until Parker’s untimely death in 2010. Hail to you, Mr. P. You let us keep the illusion alive.
The Ultimate Intellectual Battlefield
I love to read! My particular universe becomes unhinged unless I have a good book at my side. As an author, I glean information from all types of writing—horrendous, mediocre and sublime. Most of my favorite authors write mystery, and romantic suspense, but the literary greats (Shakespeare, Jane Austen etc.) have taught me invaluable lessons about building compelling characters, creating exciting story lines and keeping the reader engaged. As they say, good writing is good writing.
From kindergarten to my second year of college, I went to Catholic schools. (I had to get married to escape to a public University.) One of the values the nuns inculcated into me, besides fear of women in black uniforms, was a reverence for books and a love of reading. Our compulsory summer reading list would send most students today into a fugue state. There were low points, of course. I recall the bleak summer between junior and senior year when I was forced to read every book ever written by Thomas Hardy. Not a fun experience. The man invented the concept of turgid prose, and should be listed right next to water-boarding as an unacceptable form of torture.
But mostly, I remember the excitement of reading Strindberg, the incredible scope of War and Peace (unabridged—1100 pages), and the slugfest our pre-feminist class engaged in after reading Ibsen’s The Doll’s House. The nuns and every male in the class sided with Torvald. (big surprise). The distaff side applauded Nora’s bravery for abandoning a life of comfort in order to save her soul. Needless to say, Terry Southern was not on the approved list. I had to stand in a drug store near the Air Force Base for two hours to read Candy.
Reading provides the ultimate intellectual battlefield — a chance to debate, learn and evaluate the great truths of the world while being entertained. I pity those who rob themselves of this pleasure.