Monday, February 25, 2013

Claire Ashgrove

Our guest blogger this month is Claire Ashgrove, and she says it all! So I'll just hand over HoF to her and let her do her thing.

Ah, it’s February and romance is in the air….

Not so much if you’re a single, romance author—then the romance is all in your head!  But as a romance author, I’m delighted to be here this month and celebrate that all important human emotion with all of you. 

One of my favorite movies is He Said, She Said.  When Terri-Lynne said I could piggy-back off one of the authors blog posts here, I couldn’t resist taking the opportunity to use that He Said, She Said approach and tag onto her thoughts about the happily-ever after and what constitutes romance.

Let me start with why romance (and across any genre) appeals.  I think it is because that is a human emotion that everyone relates to.  In non-romance genres, I think you see more of a “loss” of loving couples, so to speak, and heartbreak, because those emotions are even more powerful than the bliss of being in love.  As such, it’s natural to include it in plot arcs.

But when you start talking about genre romance, you start dealing with an entirely different core plot.  Compared to fantasy where the storyline often trends toward the “hero-quest” approach, a genre-romance isn’t so much about whether the demons are going to overtake the world, or whether the main character is going to escape the pandemic set upon the land.  The focus of a romance novel is the hero/heroine romantic involvement, and everything external has to contribute to that developing relationship.

The typical romance reader has a set of expectations the novel must meet, and when those expectations aren’t fulfilled, the reader has some…shall we say pretty strong…reactions.  One of those expectations is a Happily Ever After or Happily For Now resolution.  The hero or heroine can’t die in the end, otherwise the focus of building their relationship through however many pages is…pointless.

Let’s look at my other favorite movie, Message In A Bottle – Nicholas Sparks.  We have a wonderful love story.  But as I step back and dry my eyes from that gut-wrenching journey, that story isn’t about two people falling in love.  It’s about a man who has to be able to overcome his past.  The story is the hero’s journey. The heroine is merely his inciting action.  If you look at her life throughout the movie…nothing much changes.  She’s in a slightly better place at the end, than where she was at the beginning.

We love the hero’s journey because what he does to become a better man is so terribly emotional.  When we reach the end, and are sobbing because he’s not going to get the girl (or the girl isn’t going to get him), we’re also able to see that he died a stronger person, one who didn’t live in his shadows, and had come to peace with himself.

That’s more like women’s fiction…only with a sexy, brooding male main character instead of a quirky, smart heroine.

So what constitutes romance?  That wholly depends on how you define it.  If you choose to define it as what we all encounter in our daily lives, it can be present in any novel, in any form.  If you choose to define it as a genre romance, then yes, the expectations are boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl in the end. 

As someone who writes across a variety of genres – historical fiction, romance, erotic romance, thrillers, and fantasy – romance is fun, no matter how you use it in writing.  (Gee what better way to make a reader empathize with a character than to rip out his heart by killing his loved one in front of him?)  I love to plot and subplot, and subplot some more, and I don’t like having everything resolved all nice and tidy at the end, even if my hero and heroine have achieved their HEA.  I write in the other genres so I don’t have to maintain that standard when I don’t feel it fits the story running around in my head.

So that’s my three cents!  And I’d love to hear your questions or thoughts on them!

~Building on a background of fantasy game design, a fascination with history, and a lifetime love of books, Award-Winning author Claire Ashgrove brings to life action-filled, passionate journeys of the heart. Her first contemporary novel, Seduction's Stakes, sold to The Wild Rose Press in 2008, where she continues to write for the Champagne and Black Rose lines. Adding to these critically acclaimed romances, Claire's paranormal series, The Curse of the Templars (Tor,) marries the history of the Knights Templar with the chilling aspirations of the most unholy--a must-read for speculative fiction fans. Her books have received multiple nominations for "Best Romance of the Year" awards as well as placements within a variety of contests, including the rigorous, Reader's Crown Awards, where Immortal Hope was named Best Paranormal Romance of 2011. For those who prefer the more erotic side of life, she also writes darkly arousing espionage novels for Berkley as the National Bestselling Author, Tori St. Claire.

She is an active member of Romance Writers of America, and her local RWA chapters, Heartland Romance Authors, Midwest Romance Writers, and North Texas Romance Writers of America.

Claire lives in Missouri with her two young sons and too many horses, cats and dogs. In her "free" time, she enjoys cooking, studying ancient civilizations, and spending downtime with her children and the critters. She credits her success to her family's constant support and endless patience.
Connect with Claire via:  Facebook  |  Claire’s Blog  |  Claire’s Website  |  Twitter

Monday, February 18, 2013

Finding the Muse

Calliope, Muse of Epic Poetry
I have always loved the idea of the muses. The concept of beautiful spirits who whisper inspiration into the ear of the artist, giving ideas shape and form, makes the entire messy birthing process of art—and writing—seem so romantic. It probably helps that there have been so many romanticized depictions of the muses in art throughout history: always female, always beautiful, always with that dreamy, benevolent look on their faces. Because I am a child of the 80’s, my muses tend to look like their counterparts in Xanadu, complete with flowy dresses and roller skates. This is probably why I often feel like they are skating just out of reach, mocking me, on those days when I really just can’t find any ideas.

Some days—and these are rare—I’m pretty sure muses exist as full-fledged sources of inspiration. Those days when an entire scene or a brand new character pops into my head fully formed, the times when I can’t get to the computer or a piece of paper fast enough, I know muses exist. But more often than not, muses must be found, often in unlikely or unexpected ways. And most often, we have to forcibly remove the muse from that shady dark corner where she’s hiding and force her to work.

Because let’s face it: true out-of-the-blue, downloaded-from-the-mothership, children-of-the-gods inspiration is rare. The reality is that more often than not, muses are nothing more than writers’ favorite scapegoats. Writer’s block? My muse didn’t visit me! Can’t find the right words? She’s not paying attention! Don’t feel like writing? My muse abandoned me! She went shopping or fell asleep, that lazy wretch, so now I have to do laundry, wash dishes, grade papers, go the movies, or just lie around and mope, and it’s all the muse’s fault! That poor little muse, so pretty and sweet in her statues and artistic renderings, ends up sitting in the corner wearing rags and sniveling from all the abuse. We love our muse and we hates her, precious, oh yes, we do. We court her, we scorn her, blame her and praise her, until it’s a wonder she doesn’t just give up and go find someone else to inspire.

The Muses of Xanadu Skate into Your Consciousness
That muse is given an awful lot of responsibility, but the truth is that inspiration is created, not found; and when it is discovered, it is most often seeded in a thousand small ways, and rarely as a magical hotwire from the universe’s great mystical USB cable in the sky. And like all seeds, it must be nurtured to fruition; left on its own, it will wither and die. My books—in fact, most of what I write—often begins with a dream. Song and the Sorceress began one day after a really intriguing dream that involved portals between worlds, friends from school, and Duran Duran (don’t judge). I started writing it down the next day. Eventually, after many drafts, years of experience, maturity, and a general overhaul of what I wanted the novel to be (sorry Duran Duran, you had to go), that initial inspiration resulted in only a few main elements of the final novel: Ki’leah, Breyveran, and the country of Sildehna. Other characters developed along the way, based on smaller sources of inspiration. Llyrimin of Norr was modeled after a friend of mine who struggled with infertility; her children are based on my girls, my friend’s nieces, and another boy—a child for my friend (who, incidentally, did end up having a boy—intriguing). Much of what Aria, the protagonist of my short story “Faire Aria”, experiences on her first trip to the Renaissance Faire are direct observations and experiences from my own culture shock when I attended a faire for the first time. Some characters are based in look or mannerism on someone I once met, knew, or even just heard on the street. But very little of what I write is a direct result of the muse’s whisper, and everything I write is carefully considered, shaped, re-molded into characters, settings and plots that are wholly new.

So, yes, I do like to believe the muse exists. But the true work of the writer—and this is the hard part—is recognizing inspiration when and where it happens and shaping it into its true form. In every interaction with others, every place we visit, everything we see and experience, there is the muse. It is up to us to find what she leaves us and turn it into something tangible and real.

Kim Vandervort

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Love's Value in fantasy...

As a high school teacher, every year I get to watch my students go through hyper-romantic antics getting ready for Valentine’s Day. At our school it starts in late January with the Tolo, designed to help fund the yearbook costs. Between the silliness of creative asking moments, the quests to find matching shirts and the debates over dinner reservations, the students manage to turn themselves into something approaching sensitive romantics. For me it is a nice departure from their seasonal cynicism. These last few days of candy grams and candy-kiss roses, and Terri-Lynne’s post about the not so happy ending got me thinking about love and how we use it in our stories. And I am not talking about the ‘falling in love’ that provides so many possible conflicts and complications; or the emotional outbursts that come during tales of extreme danger, quests magnificent, rebellions or wars most martial. I’m talking about love long term and its role in story.

Perhaps I’m being disingenuous, but I just don’t come across too many tales that include a long term relationship. Some of the pair-bonds in the Pern novels come to mind, hints and nuances appear in Tolkien’s work, and I am sure there are others. In fact, I’d like for anyone who reads this to post a response spreading the word about those other works.  I don’t think the list is as long as it probably should be. Rather, we see stuff like Trystan and Isuelt, Arthur and Guenivere; the love in conflict, threatened, betrayed or lost just seems more prevalent. Even Aragorn and Arwen only got 120 years before she had to taste the bitterness of his passing.

I wonder why?

The easy answer, hinted at above, is that long-term love, stability, nurturance, quiet and peace just won’t sell. Where are the dramatic elements that provide for character growth, complication, that all important element of danger so important to plot?

Why can’t the stable bond fit into that paradigm more often? So much of modern fiction treats all the turmoil (cue Jane Austen) that leads to love and the happy ending. In fact, all that stuff is really just the end of the happy beginning. And more and more, as suggested by Terri-Lynne and our present era, the endings of those moments don’t always suggest long term love. What were Darcy and Elizabeth’s next two decades like? That story didn’t get written, and I think the lack is a shame (cue the opening sequence to Up). I just don’t think it happens enough, especially in our genre. Check the stacks of the local bookstore. How many covers imply happily ever after in pair-bond-wedded bliss?

I’m guilty of this in my own fiction. Love seems to be a vital element in my stories. King’s Gambit deals with a war, but as I revised and re-wrote certain parts (dang editor…) I began to realize the whole thing was a quest for happiness through the chaos. Despite the conflict described, the book is actually more about women than otherwise, more about love and the prospect of extended, bonded connection than anything else (thank you, wonderful editor…).

I’d like to see if the long-term pair-bond could be worked more frequently into the stories we see published. And I’m excluding the eternal vampire love-fest foisted on us by Twilight. We live in a world beset by uncertainty. This week is Valentine’s Day; show me the love.

So, readers, educate me on all the stories I haven’t read but should because they show or use the long term pair-bond successfully. Make a case for it showing up more often and more importantly in our fiction.

Mark Nelson

Monday, February 4, 2013

(Not So) Happily Ever After

It is February, the month of love. Ah, Valentines Day! Some optimist must have decided that February was far too bleak and wisely chose the old legend to create a holiday around. (I know that's not the real history. I did that one last year.)

Quite coincidentally, I have been reading To Weave a Web of Magic, a collection of four fantasy tales with a romantic bend (Claire Delacroix, Lynn Kurland, Patricia McKillip, and Sharon Shinn.) I highly recommend it. Three of the four tales end in the seemingly prerequisite happily ever after. One does not.

Let me backtrack just a little...

I joined the RWA (Romance Writers of America*) in 2011. I do not consider myself a romance writer, but my books always have a strong romantic element to them. Because the RWA broadened its horizons to include my sort of stories, I was able to sign up, and thus able to join a local writing group that I am very happy to be part of. There is one thing about the RWA that I don't like, and that is that it is absolutely necessary for your novel to end in happily ever after. It's right there in the definition.

I do love happily ever after. I'm a sucker for it, I have to be honest. However, I don't like it all the time. If you know how it is going to end right from the beginning, in my opinion, it gets boring no matter how many stones you throw at your lovers. I rarely let everyone in my stories live happily ever after. Some of the characters will, but some will not. And some will have happily enough.

Slight spoilery:
The fourth story in To Weave a Web of Magic is Claire Delacroix's An Elegy for Melusine. It combines elements of the John Keat's poem, La Belle Dame Sans Merci and the Cupid and Psyche myth. As you can imagine, Ms. Delacroix's story doesn't end any better, and yet it was still incredibly romantic from start to finish.

My favorite painting, La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee
So--does a story have to end happily to be considered romance? If you are strictly a romance writer, it seems the answer is yes, it does. The RWA has recently cracked down on what is considered romance, and what they will call romance by their standards. But what about those romances that do not end happily? Is Romeo and Juliet any less a romance because they both die? Cupid and Psyche? I won't add any less obvious stories here, but I can think of quite a few tales I would consider romance, even if they don't end happily.

Romance? Or strong romantic element? Is it fair to say something isn't a romance if it doesn't end happily? What books/stories do you consider romance, even though they don't end happily? Comments are open to all spoilery! Just be warned before you read them.

Terri DeFino

*The RWA is a fantastic organization, very writer-friendly, especially friendly to unpublished writers. It is an organization of cooperation, mutual respect, and truly, a group of writers and writing professionals who work together even when they are--in fact--competing with one another.