Monday, June 29, 2009


Last month I followed Kate and Vivi's advice and bought a copy of Beyond Heaving Bosoms, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan's book based on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. On vacation last week I managed to sneak away and indulge a few chapters. Reading their analysis of Old Skool romances such as Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower, I had one of those "I can do that" moments familiar to both crafters and aspiring authors. I resolved to go to the scary basement, unearth the bin of books from under the Christmas lights, and find The Wolf and the Dove, a Woodiwiss book I read twenty times during high school but not since. I remembered a Saxon maiden chained to the hearth by the Norman warrior who pillages her home. That would fit Sarah and Candy's description:

[I]t was well-nigh de rigeur for the heroine to be raped by the hero in those novels. The rape would be justified in any number of ways with the framework of the story ... Sometimes, the heroine was the spoils of war, so clearly, it was acceptable to rape her. Other times, the hero would assume the heroine was sexually experienced, and as we all know, rape counts only if the rapist knows the victim is a virgin.

I decided to blog using the Smart Bitches' methodology to analyze this old favorite, racking points for every "forced kiss - and she likes it" scene. I planned to ask you, Dear Reader, to play this parlor game with me. We would all be snarky New Skool romance fans together, bemoaning chained to the bed/hearth/ship's wheel/dirigible scenes, competing to rewrite overly modified sentences and rework similes beaten into "limp exhaustion," pointing out spears of manhood and other sexual euphemisms for our intellectual titillation.

I found the book box easily. The 1974 copyright date and $2.25 cover price dovetailed with my expectations. Filled with smugness and caffeine, I began to read and take notes, eager to line up this stereotypical Old Skool romance with the Beyond Heaving Bosoms flowchart.

I stumbled. Some bad guy named Ragnor, not the hero Wulfgar, is the one who rapes her (although, Candy and Sarah were correct in that Kathleen Woodiwiss contrived to have Aislinn and the villain consume sleeping herbs so in fact no actual bad guy rape occurred, thus the heroine was a technical albeit unaware virgin for the hero).

Sure, I found several forced kisses, such as page 40 where she slaps him, in front of his men, for mocking her and his retribution is ... "Without word or warning Wulfgar's hands were upon her like slaves' armlets." May I say, that is powerful writing? Read it out loud. Not an extra modifier lurking in that line. The repeated "w" sounds like a whip, doesn't it? Oh, the rhythm. It takes me hours to write like that.

Oops, it was her Saxon fiance chained to the hearth for trying to stab Wulfgar, who spares the poor guy and eventually elevates him to Sheriff. That's kind of progressive in 1066, isn't it? I am totally failing at snarkiness and remembering why I loved this book twenty years ago.

The Smart Bitches claim "most of these Old Skool romances were written solely or mostly from the heroine's viewpoint." But Woodiwiss does a fair amount of head-hopping, regularly giving Wulfgar his own point of view, such as this man-angst:
Was this to be his lot? To find her ever close at hand yet never know again the privacy with her that had been before. Was this marriage? To have a babe more oft between them than finding a moment to share long suffering passions? He sighed and turned his stare to the fire. Winter comes, he thought. And the nights are long.
Who among us is married with children and doesn't feel that? Woodiwiss wrote the thesis for Michael Lewis' new book Home Game when that dude still had baby teeth. The Wolf and the Dove is thirty-five years old, but it stills rocks and I feel ashamed at my pathetic intent.

I must apologize to the spirit of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss for assuming I could dismiss and mock a book that was already in its thirty-second printing twenty years ago, and remains in print and even ebook. I must apologize to my sixteen, seventeen and eighteen-year old selves for doubting their taste and judgment in reading material. And I must apologize for thinking I could convince you to play along with a petty game.

Let's try something nicer instead. I liked that paragraph from Wulf's point of view. Can you post a pre-1986 or so hero POV scene that you like? Something from the '70s or early '80s that reminds us all why we like those books (despite the arm-gripping). Brave your own scary basement, find a hero you've lugged around for longer than your favorite jeans, and put it up here.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Procrastination Station

If you're not familiar with Will Write For Chocolate, I recommend checking it out. Debbie Ridpath Ohi knows the writing life well. Sometimes I don't know whether to wince or laugh when I recognize myself in her comics.

I posted this particular comic because I am in the grips of some killer procrastination. First there was the hustle and bustle of wrapping up my day job. Another school year ended on Monday. I took a day or two to rest on my laurels. There was lots of sleeping, and a Bones DVD-fest.

Today, I should be tackling Revising Mr. Right. Instead, I cleaned the kitchen. Yeah, that's right. Nothing added to my word count. My latest WIP languishes, ignored, on my computer. But at least my cupboards are beautifully organized.

How do you procrastinate from writing? And how do you force yourself back to the desk?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

I was inspired by Zeek's Supernatural post awhile back. In it, she mentions the show's reference to the wide world of slash fiction. If you're not familiar, slash fiction is fan fiction that depicts romantic or sexual relationships between characters of the same-sex. In other words, stories depicting Captain Kirk and Spock making sweet, sweet love on the bridge of the Enterprise.

Now, one of the best academic discussions I've ever seen of slash fiction happened in the Bitch magazine article "Fan/tastic Voyage." Check it out if you want a truly thoughtful exploration of the implications of slash. (Slash writers = predominantly straight women. Slash audience = mostly other women. So why the focus on male/male romantic relationships? This is what the article explores.)

While I admire the article, I do not aspire to such lofty heights of feminist analysis here. I honestly just wanted to give you the recut Top Gun trailer. If you can't view the video at the top of this post, you can always follow the link here.

I don't know about you, but I thought the recut trailer was hilarious. If nothing else, it reminded me about the importance of editing! My, my... how it shapes a story...

What did you think? Did anyone else do a spit-take with their coffee?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Plot Happens in Vegas...

A few days ago, I promised to write about the Get-Drunk-and-Wake-Up-Married storyline, or as I call it, the Vegas Plot.

My new WIP is set primarily in Vegas, and for the longest time I didn't connect my love of cheesy strangers-getting-married-plots to my need to set the book there. After all, my hero and heroine already know each other before traveling to Sin City (they don't like each other, but they know each other). Given their reasons for visiting Vegas, I doubt they'll be hitting the craps tables and winding up at an all-night wedding chapel. And yet...

And yet, when you want to take two all-business characters and force them to get a little freaky, there's no better spot to set your story than Vegas. And not just in books or movies, as the perennial appearance of flicks like What Happens in Vegas or The Hangover prove. This year's summer pop hit (Katy Perry's "That's What you Get For Waking up in Vegas") bears a striking resemblance to last year's summer pop hit (Carrie Underwood's "I Don't Even Know His Last Name").

To bring things back to the realm of literature, Vegas operates in our cultural mythology like the forest in a Shakespearean comedy. In plays like As You Like It and (most notably) A Midsummer Night's Dream, characters leave the city and enter the forest, where they don disguises and alternate identities, where they experiment with different lovers and try on new relationships, where they reorder their place in world. It's an experience at turns jarring, confusing, exhilerating, freeing, and confining. When the characters leave the forest--after one long night or several long years--they return to their accustomed places in society and resume their usual relationships. But they bring something of their experience in the forest with them--a sense of the possibilities for anarchy and change that exist even in the most ossified institutions and rigid identities.

Doesn't that sound just like Vegas in 21st-century America? A confined and separate place where constrained and contained people can give free rein to the elements of themselves unallowable in their ordinary lives. A place where the promise that "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas" allows for the kind of role playing the hero or heroine of a Shakespearean comedy would recognize as his or her birthright.

Of course, for contemporary writers, the real interest comes not with the loosening of morals in the secret, sacred space of Vegas. We can see unrestrained ids on display every night of the week on reality tv. For us, the more interesting question is, "What Happens When Vegas Doesn't Stay Put?" When the Forest of Arden invades the court? Or when you wake up married in Vegas and have to go back to work in Cincinnati?

And then there's the biggest benefit of all to the Vegas-set story: Research trips!

If you're a writer-- what locations inspire you most? And since we're all readers-- do you love stories set on cruises? In European locations? In small towns? What kind of setting grabs you...and why?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Yums and Yucks (and Guilty Pleasures)

Every reader of romance has her (or his!) mental list of yums and yucks. Mine look something like this:

Anneliese's Yums
  • Second-time-around Stories
  • Getting-to-Know-You Banter
  • Hate Sex
  • Heroines with Shady Pasts
  • Super Angsty Heroes

Anneliese's Yucks
  • Virgin Widows
  • Forced Sex
  • Too-Stupid-to-Live "Plucky" Heroines
  • Super Asshole-y Heroes
  • Vampires (I know, I'm not a red-blooded American woman or something)

In addition to these guaranteed pick-me-ups and throw-me-aways, I've got another list. Super-cliched romance plot devices that I KNOW are ridiculous, but can't help loving. It boils down to two items.

Anneliese's Guilty Pleasures
  • Secret Babies
  • People Getting Drunk and Waking Up Married

Yup, if you're wondering who's buying all those Harlequin Presents titles about secretaries who get knocked up after a night with the boss and hide the resulting child for six years, it's me. If you can't understand why another movie about two drunk idiots tying the knot in Vegas just got greenlit, look my way.

I'll be posting in a few days about the lure of the Vegas plot and why I think it grabs readers/writers/audiences, so let me take a moment now to tease out my motivations for loving the secret babies.

I think it's all about control, gaining it and losing it. The mother's position of dominance as holder of the secret probably lies at the back of it. And then there's the moment when the father realizes the truth about his child's paternity. They're always angry, and shocked, and excited, and nervous, and sad, and happy. They're thrown out of their element, even if they act all lordly and commanding. They're reminded that they don't really control the women in their lives, even when they think they do (and they usually think they do, at least in historicals). Damn, that's so hot!

If the enjoyment of fiction requires the willing suspension of disbelief, I'm willing to take my disbelief, tie a forty-pound weight to it, and drop it out a twelve-story window for the sake of a secret baby or a drunk Vegas wedding.

How about you? What are your Yucks and Yums and Guilty Pleasures? Is there any plot that gets you every time, no matter how ridiculously unbelievable? And most important...why do you love them?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kate's Kitty

Last week's cat picture inspired me. I would like to introduce you all to my cat, Tigger.

Now, those of you that know me will be the first to say that I have never been a feline fan. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool dog lover. However, Mr. Marvelous and I kept Tigger for his parents while they went on a vacation. It turned into a slow but effective incident of pet theft.

Tigger has become my muse. Don't ask me why. He may be the most annoying cat on Earth. There are the 3 a.m. meowing marathons, the gluttonous requests for food, and the nights he decides to walk on my face. Of course, he does this because he knows he can get away with it. Why? We're sickeningly indulgent because he's just so cute and cuddly!

You know the cute cat face that Puss in Boots makes on Shrek? Yeah, he's got it down.

He's also truly a writer's kitty. He loves office supplies. He would much rather play with a pen than a cat toy. And he loves it when I'm writing--my desk is right by the door, which means that he can go in and out at his leisure. I can open the door for him without ever leaving my chair--a chair, by the way, in which he loves to lay. You can always tell when I've been writing because my butt is covered in orange cat hair.

Tell me about your own pets. What do the animals in your life reveal about you?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Say Our Names II

The damned scribbling women all have pseudonyms, for much the same reason. Anneliese wrote about our rationale awhile ago. As she said, "both Kate and I are involved in education and literary studies. While we feel that writing romance only adds to our credentials as proud feminists, not all our current and potential bosses/teachers and coworkers/fellow students will agree. Additionally, the parents of the little darlings we instruct may not want to associate Junior's English teacher with lusty Regency dukes or shag sessions in lakeside cabins."

Though we're not all teachers, the DSW do have daytime identities they need to keep separate from the writing life. Hence, pen names. And since picking a nom de plume such a big decision for a writer to make, I thought I'd share how I picked mine.

Factors to consider in picking a pen name:
  • Is it easy to spell? (Think of the future Google searches!)
  • Is it easy to sign? (Imagine your autograph sessions!)
  • Will it shelve well? (Will readers have to get out a ladder or lay on the floor in order to find your book?)
Surprisingly, I hit on the perfect name pretty quickly. "Kate" is a diminutive of my given name, and it's what my loved ones call me when I'm at my feistiest (think Taming of the Shrew). "Diamond" is my maternal grandmother's maiden name. It's also a precious stone associated with riches and romance. (Yes please!) I liked the way the two names sounded together. It was easy to write, spell, and remember. Pretty simple!

And that's how my alter-ego was born.

What about you? Fellow writers/bloggers, how did you select your nom de plume? We'd love to hear your story!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

My Husband, My Hero

I know, I know. In the "Meet Kate" post I already told you a bit about my husband, Mr. Marvelous. But I couldn't resist sharing some more about my good fortune. Having this guy in my life is great.

Writing romance has been a lot easier since he came into my life. For one thing, he's gorgeous. I know that makes me sound shallow, but seriously! It's somewhat inspiring to be married to a tall, dark and handsome dreamboat.

More importantly, though, he fully supports my writing career. Mr. Marvelous has offered to shoulder our financial burdens if I want to quit my day job and pursue writing full time (which is awesome, but also terrifying in this economy... I think I'll wait on that one!)

For Christmas, he got me an online writing course with Patricia Kay. This has been one of the best professional development opportunities I've ever experienced, and one which I highly recommend to you all!

Last but not least, he's got his priorities in order. Last winter we discussed the fact that we'd rather spend our free time pursuing our hobbies (his), ambitions (mine), or the fine art of being ooey-gooey married people (us). This seems much more important than scouring tile scum. So guess what Mr. Marvelous did? He did research and hired us a maid service! They come two times a month, and it's been great thus far. It's easier to be inspired in a clean environment--especially if I didn't have to clean it!

I realize I'm incredibly lucky. So feel free to congratulate or heckle me (as the spirit moves you). Better yet, tell us a bit about your own romantic hero/heroine!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Sex & the City Effect

Last week, I was channel-surfing as folded laundry and I landed on E! Entertainment Television. (I'm allowed to watch whatever I want while folding my knickers. Don't judge me.) It was a pseudo-documentary about the making of Sex and the City. The E! show claimed Sex and the City was the first show to unflinchingly reveal how women really talked about men. Then I ran across this article in which the show's creator indicates that the show was less about showing women as they actually are and more about "turning the stereotype on its head," objectifying men instead of women and playing against type.

I'm guessing the truth is somewhere in the middle, that women didn't talk like that nearly as much before Sex and the City gave them permission to be blunt and selfish and sex-obsessed, but that doesn't mean they weren't already thinking that way. And once we got permission... woo, baby, just watch us run with it. Now the Sex and the City version of femininity has wedged itself firmly into our culture. And into the culture of contemporary romance novels.

Hex and the City, Sex and the Immortal Bad Boy, and the similarities don't end with plays on the title. The modern day romance heroine may not even be looking for love unending (though in my favorite romances that's what she ends up with). Nope, in the current generation of romance novels, the heroine is just as likely to start out looking for Mr. Right Now as Mr. Right. Cocktails and confidence, the new romance heroine is a different breed than her virginal predecessors. Did Sex and the City do that?

And what about the increased level of sensuality and sexual frankness? Sex scenes, baby. In recent years, romance novels have been steaming it up. Now that the bedroom door has been thrown wide by Sex and the City, readers seem to be looking for more heat. Metaphors and euphemisms are falling away as the savvy start calling things by their Sex approved names.

Is this a good thing? (Yay, honesty & freedom in sexuality!) A bad thing? (Everyone is just so darned superficial these days! There's more to life than Manolos and Cosmos!) Are we heading toward some Sex & the City-instigated cultural apocalypse or is this just the natural progression of women's lib? Equality or licentiousness? Liberation or just a new method of devaluing emotion in favor of blunt sexuality? What's your take?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Meet Vivi

A new scribbling woman emerges...
Vivi Andrews writes romance - paranormal romantic comedies, sultry shape-shifter romances & sassy contemporary capers.

Day Job: Author (I wish; until the writing pays big dividends I'm a Jane of All Trades, currently between day jobs)

Hails from: Alaska (with strong nomadic tendencies... I'm currently on the road)

In your next life: It's a total cop-out if I say I want to do exactly what I'm doing now, isn't it? Okay, then. If you insist. I'll go with... a gun moll. Or a "pro" on Dancing with the Stars. Both of which require great legs and sequins.

Preferred writing snack: Diet Coke and dry Life cereal.

Best romantic moments from movies:
1. Love Actually - There are so many moments I love from this movie, but one of my favorites has to be the Prime Minister of England trying to confess his feelings around a small child in a papier mache octopus costume. Brilliant.

2. The Last of the Mohicans - This is going to sound beyond macabre, but I think one of the most romantic moments ever captured on film is when Alice jumps off the cliff after Uncas is killed. They have this intense, wordless relationship throughout the entire film. They never say a single fricking word to one another, and yet he will fight to the death to save her. He fails, of course, and she jumps off the cliff, which normally I would not be a fan of (I think Romeo and Juliet were prize idiots for killing themselves), but for some reason I love it. Go figure.

Who are your favorite heroines from romantic fiction?

  • Elizabeth Bennett from Pride & Prejudice. Wit and wisdom, beauty and brains. What's not to love?
  • Sophie Dempsey from Welcome to Temptation. Though Tilda Goodnight gets an honorable mention. I adore all Crusie heroines, but there is something about the con artist and the art forger that make these two my absolute favs. This probably says something unfortunate about my moral compass.
Who are your favorite heroes from romantic fiction?

  • C.K. Dexter Haven from The Philadelphia Story. I'm going filmic on this one because I love this movie with a passion that cannot be described. Cary Grant as Dexter is brilliantly Machiavellian, smooth, witty, wise and surprisingly compassionate as he attempts to win back his ex-bride.
  • Phineus T. Tucker from Welcome to Temptation, again a hard call on the Crusie awesomeness. Davey Dempsey from Faking It ran a close second. I love me some Crusie men, mostly because they are so obviously in love with the Crusie women. Nothing is more attractive than sincerity of emotion.

Who's your favorite real-life romantic hero? As the first single Damned Scribbling Woman, I'm afraid I don't have a Mr. Perfect to brag about. My nomadic tendencies make me hard to pin down. Suffice it to say, that role has yet to be cast.

**Thank you, DSW ladies for letting me splash about in your pool.**