Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Relationship with Romance

I read somewhere recently that writing romance is like a romantic relationship. I've been pondering this idea quite a bit since. At first, I didn't fully make the connection, but then today I realised how true it is.
I began my love affair with writing romance about five years ago when I wrote my first adult novel. Because I'm a panster (someone who doesn't plot every detail of the book beforehand but just writes as the ideas flow), it turned out to be a romance even though the original book idea had no romance in it. Realising that it was a good idea to write what I enjoy reading, I began a relationship with writing romance. In the beginning, there were stars in my eyes - the words rolled off my fingers onto the keyboard and into my computer. Excitement used to surge through me whenever I came up with a new book idea. I wrote the books in under six months, loving every moment, until I received the rejection letters. That reminds me of the first few months of dating. The relationship is new, exciting and scary too, especially when your date finds out things about you they don't like and vica versa. But the love is too strong, so you keep going.
After several books which weren't totally romances and had so many problems, I began to realise that I wanted to pursue writing romance as a career. Hence the commitment to form a steady relationship. I loved it enough to handle the rejection letters and keep going. Some relationships are a little like that - the girl wants to marry her man but she's waiting on him to propose - to give her her dream. So I worked on my skills, learning how to write better. Every relationship needs work. When I was dating my now-husband, I used to read lots of books on marriage and relationships so I knew how to make it work well.
Then comes that special moment you've been waiting for for months and years. A publishing contract. It's like the marriage proposal. I don't know about you, but after I said 'yes' (after two other 'no's' much to my husband's distress), it was not all plain sailing from there. Doubts began to surface, especially as I moved closer to the day. What if he changes and isn't so wonderful after we're married? What if I make a miserable wife, and he divorces me? What  if our love fades after several years?
What if my book doesn't reach the readers' hearts? What if I can't write another good book? What if it's downhill from here? Will I always come up with new ideas?
So when you get that beloved contract, you still wonder. Do I want to write romance the rest of my life? Really and truly. Those initial tingles and goosebumps have faded a little. The words come slower now - often punctuated by much thought and adjustment. A new book idea evolves more from pondering and stewing - it doesn't always fall in my lap like a meteor from the sky.
But, I'm committed. I still love writing romance. I'm still excited about getting better and better. They say a good marriage gets better with age like a good wine. You know each other's weaknesses and faults and love each other nonetheless. In fact, you love each other so much more deeply because of it. You've been through the mill together, you've born with hurts and forgiven, you've held each other's hands through the darkest nights, and you've laughed yourselves silly and talked until two in the morning sometimes.
So for now, I'm going to see where my love affair with writing romance takes me. I'm excited about all I'm going to discover about this partner of mine. We have a lifetime ahead of us, full of challenges and fun. I'm going to give this relationship my time, my effort and my energy, just like a marriage needs. Even when it's not easy.
Would you ever compare writing romance to a relationship? Where in your writing journey do you feel you've reached?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We All Need Good Heroes

What is a hero?
Images of heroes across the TV or movie screen flash through our minds - fireman entering burning buildings to rescue a child, paramedics bringing someone back to life once their heart stopped, a man diving into icy water to save a drowning woman, and the list goes on ...
What does a romance writer's hero look like?  I don't mean on the outside.  He could be the ultimate alpha male who becomes sweet and kind with the woman he loves or the ordinary everyday man who sweeps the woman off her feet.  Whatever he is, he has to be good.  I don't mean good as in perfect but good as in - he has to make the reader fall in love.  Face it, most readers of romance are women, and they want the hero to be attractive to them.
I've recently read two books written by ladies in the Romance Writers of South Africa Group that had compelling heroes.  The first one was A Valentine Challenge by Kiru Tayo and her hero was marvelous.  He was very male in every way, yet the tenderness and kindness he showed towards the woman he loved, made him, oh so good.  Then there was the hero in The Devil of Jedburgh by Claire Robins.  (Spoiler Alert!!) Wow!  In the beginning, I really didn't like him.  By the end, I was crazy about him.  Both books had me pondering on them for days afterwards.  There's something so compelling about a lovable hero who is fully man.
What makes a hero good?  Here's a list of my ideas, but I'm sure everyone has a different idea.  That's what makes each of our books unique.
  1. Flawed.  There's nothing more off-putting than someone who isn't real or human.  Give him some foibles or eccentricities but even more important, give him something that stands in the way between loving his woman completely - something that will no doubt be resolved at the end of the book.
  2. Masculine.  That's obvious, but I know that someone made a comment when critiquing one of my books that I should watch out for my dialogue as sometimes my man said things that were characteristically female.  I think it was something like, "Oh, that's horrid!"  Very female.  He should show the traits of the male species which sometimes annoy us ladies - short sentences, speaking in headlines, getting to the point straight away, sometimes a bit harsh.  But of course, they're not all like that.  Maybe it's a good idea to read up on male psychology to understand what goes on in their heads.  Another idea is to be married for a while.  Or have sons.
  3. Protective of his woman.  If a hero isn't the safekeeper of his woman, he isn't a hero in my books.  He has to defend her against danger (probably more in a romantic suspense novel), against social hurt and against her own self when she's hard on herself.
  4. Passionate.  Who wants to read a romance without passion - either a sweet romance with restrained and respectful passion or a more spicy one with tender, giving love.
  5. Essentially kind and loving inside.  There's nothing more off-putting to me than a hero who has an evil streak.  Maybe in the beginning, you can give the reader the impression that he is mean and hard, but then, through his love for his woman, the real inner soft centre emerges.
  6. Likeable. Of course, this one is very subjective.
I know that I certainly need to work on making sparkling heroes in my books.  Sometimes I've spent too much time making my heroine real and human, that I have neglected the male.  What do you like the most in a hero?