Missing the Obvious

A few days ago, I noticed a woman giving me strange looks. After she stole several glances in my direction, I whispered in my husband’s ear, “Why is that lady staring at me?” His answer was immediate: “Because your hair is purple.”

Ah.

My hair has been various shades of purple off-and-on for a couple of years, so I don’t even notice it. It feels natural to me. That would not have been the case a few years ago, when I was still practicing law and going to court several days a week. I’m reminded of a time that I had to cover a court appearance for another attorney without notice. I didn’t have a jacket. Going to court with my arms exposed–and, therefore, my tattoos–made me feel like a spotlight was pointed my direction. Looking back, I would have felt the same way about going to court with purple hair. My perspective has changed.

Which brings me to my point: missing the obvious. I think this can be a useful tool in creating realistic characters and conflict. In real life, we often miss the obvious, which can cause feelings of confusion, bewilderment, sadness, anger, etc. (i.e., conflict). The same should be true of characters in books, right? Sometimes, my characters have a tendency to be too self aware, to the point of stretching credulity. It’s far more interesting to have a character who doesn’t know quite so much. Who misses something that is obvious to the reader (and perhaps the love interest or a secondary character).

Is anything going over your main character’s head? What might he/she be missing? How does this create conflict in your story?

ashley profile pic  My purple hair.

The Power of Romance Novels

I had a terrifying couple of minutes this morning as I waited to hear back from a friend who works in the Fifth Third building in Cincinnati — the site of an active shooter situation. She quickly texted back that the building was locked down, but that she was safe. The sense of relief that washed over me was immediate and overwhelming, until it dawned on me that the texts of the family and friends of the victims would go unanswered.

Last week, I listened to my mom recount the horror of active shooter training at the high school where she teaches. It’s now necessary for teachers and students to prepare for gunfire in the hallways, cafeterias, and libraries. In a matter of seconds, a school can become a war zone.

The world is a scary place. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. Homophobia. Violence. Injustice. Climate change. The decimation of the environmental protection agency. The changing face of SCOTUS. The economy. Mental illness. Sickness. Death. The list goes on.

That’s why we need romance novels. When we’re overwhelmed by the evil in the world, we can crack open a romance novel and be reminded that love conquers all. Through the twists and turns, the laughter and tears, there’s always a happily ever after at the end. It’s guaranteed.

Romance novels are about overcoming the odds, growing as a person, changing for the better. They’re stories of hope, kindness, and the power of human connection.

So, read. Read romance. Share your favorite books with others. After all, we’re in this together.

We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make men better. Love is the only way.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sweet or Spicy?

My husband and I had Thai food today at one of our favorite lunch spots. When asked, “How spicy? 0 to 5,” my answer is an emphatic 2. Anything less is bland; anything more is too hot.

As it happens, that’s also how spicy I like my romance novels — the ones I read, and the ones I write. The books that fall in this range are often called “sweet romances”. A sweet romance can be just as sensual, and just as sexy, but they don’t include graphic sex scenes. The sex is off the page, so to speak. The focus is more on the emotions involved, and less on all the sizzling-hot sex the characters are having.

I have a fabulous critique group that meets online at Inked Voices. My critique partners are all talented writers and I wouldn’t trade any of them for the world. But guess what? We all have different spice preferences. One writes Amish romance. Another writes super steamy romances with scenes that make HBO seem prudish.

Fortunately, there are lots of great romance books to choose from, regardless of whether you’re a 2-star girl like me, or whether you like it hot, hot, hot!

So, what’s your spice preference?

“Variety’s the very spice of life, That gives it all its flavour.” — William Cowper

I’m a Happy Camper

Okay, so I’m not always a happy camper.

My husband and I have a teardrop camper. It’s adorable and comfortable and I absolutely love it. After a day of fun, I look forward to climbing in through the little door to settle in for the night. Nestled against my husband with a book in hand, I am the happiest of happy campers.

Until.

We’re tired. We’re cranky. We have sunburns. It’s rainy and buggy and we’re covered in itchy mosquito bites. The sheets are sandy. We haven’t showered in a few days and are starting to smell like it.

That’s romance. That’s reality. That’s what’s missing from too many romance novels (were you wondering when I’d get back around to books? Well, here it comes…).

Romance novels have conflict, lots of it. There are villainous stalkers, police chases, love triangles, natural disasters, secret babies, scandals galore and more.

But sometimes they’re missing the small, every day stuff. The sunburns and sandy sheets. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly possible to go too far the other way. A good book offers an escape, after all, and no one wants to read something that’s too much like real life. There’s a reason not many romance novels include scenes with the hero plunging a clogged toilet. But there should be some degree of reality, shouldn’t there?

It’s easy to be in love with the gorgeous FBI agent who is hiding you from an assassin. What happens after the drama ends? I think it’s important to have a hint of that in the book. Will the hero and heroine live happily ever after in the real world? (Yes, I know they’re fictional characters and there is no “real world”; work with me here.)

These are things I think about as a romance writer. It’s always a balancing act. For me, it comes down to character development. Characters need to be believable. They should feel like real people. Flawed. Imperfect. Damaged. Because that’s where you find true love. If you can still want nothing more than to be with the person beside you, even when they’re a smelly & cranky jerkface, you’ve found it.

No one is a happy camper all the time. It’s not true in real life and it shouldn’t be true in romance novels.

Like campfires and marshmallows, we’re just better together. — Unknown

teardrop camper
Our tiny camper (yep, that’s an AC unit in the front!); pretty awesome, right?  

I’m Not Ashamed

I attended a workshop recently that was open to writers of all categories and genres. At the start of the day, we were asked to introduce ourselves and say what we’re writing. A man seated near me said, “I write fantasy…but at least I don’t write romance!” When it was my turn, I resisted the urge to glare at Mr. Fantasy as I said, “Hi, I’m Ash. I’m writing a romance novel.”

My annoyance with him quickly turned to pity. He was attempting to make a joke because he was uncomfortable about writing fantasy. That’s sad. No one should be ashamed of what they choose to write. Or read.

Romance writers and readers are frequently looked down upon. We’re told that our books are easy to write (they’ve never written one), that they’re formulaic and predictable (they’ve never read one). They say we shouldn’t waste our talent on genre fiction and think they’re complimenting us when they say this.

Over half of all mass market paperbacks published are romance novels. That’s a lot of books, y’all. A lot of writers. And even more readers. And that’s not even taking into account the huge romance e-book market. Romance novels are awesome, but I’ll write about that another time. It’s not what this blog entry is about.

All I want to say now is this: no one should be ashamed of the books they love. You hear me, Mr. Fantasy? Hold your head high. And knock it off with the romance bashing.

If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.  — J.K. Rowling