Two Weeks To Go Before RWA Nationals

Where did the time go?  Granted, RWA hits a month earlier this year, but still, wow.  Time to start packing.

I’m happy to report that Book 1 & 2 of the new trilogy have both been delivered to my new editor at Berkley.  On time.  The books are not bad, by the standards of my first drafts.  But still, I’m already thinking of improvements, connections, and deeper layerings to add to them, when they come back from my editor.  Now onto the updates.

1) Three-Chapter Critique from Yours Truly

On the 13th of June my Crit for Water critique goes up for auction here.  If you need three chapters looked at, by all means bid.  It’s an excellent cause and I am a terrific critiquer.  (You didn’t expect me to say anything else on the eve of the auction, did you? :-P)

And Mary Baader Kaley at Not an Editor was kind enough to interview me about my approach to critiquing.  But basically, I’m a good fit for you if you really need your work looked at by a pair of fresh eyes and you actually want to know what’s not working.  I will tell you what’s working for me too, but I assume that you, like me, are more interested in what can be improved than what cannot be.

2) Don’t Judge a Girl by Her Face

I participated in a multi-author fun vid a while ago.  And here’s the result of it.

Each author does her own recording.  I recorded myself with the Photo Booth app on my MacBook–and immediately realized what TV/movie folks are constantly talking about lighting and makeup.  My first go around I looked a combination of malnourished and zombielike.  So I threw on everything in my make-up bag–very liberally, since we are not dealing with high-def cameras here–and then pushed a really strong lamp right into my face.  You see me sitting on a couch, what you don’t see–and which made Sr. Kidlet lose his @#$% laughing–was all the chairs and stools and everything that held my laptop and my lighting at the correct height and angles!

So this time I looked alive and well-fed, but because I almost never, ever see myself in motion, I realized, for the first time in my life, after watching the footage, that I have a come-hither face.  What to do?

I recorded for a third time, this time with my dress on backward.  Yep, that’s what you see in the video, that very prim neckline, that’s actually the back of my house dress.  The front is not exactly plunging, but I figured, if I already have a come-hither face, then I’d best keep everything else covered.  🙂

3) Now For Something Slightly More Intellectual

I had the great pleasure to be interviewed by Ms. Courtney Verronneau, a sociology student at the University of Oregon, for her final thesis on gender relations in romance novels.  She asked some wonderfully thought-provoking questions, which required me to actually organize my thoughts.  I post the interview here with her permission.

1. Together with her profession, her more collected and self-assured personality, and her quiet confidence, Bryony is quite different from other heroines in romance novels.  Why did you decide to create her character and how would you compare her to other heroines in yours and other authors books?

The origin of NOT QUITE A HUSBAND lies in the 2006 film adaptation of THE PAINTED VEIL.  I’d never read the original book, so I went into the movie not knowing the story.  When I came out, I felt I’d been hit by a truck.  <BEGINNING SPOILER>  I couldn’t believe the hero died!  </END SPOILER>  It was gut-wrenching.

Almost immediately I know I’d have to write a similar story of reconciliation, but give the leads the happy ending they deserve, rather than only a fleeting happy moment.  But I never want to just rewrite another story; it has to be different enough.  And one of the easiest things to do in terms of finding new angles to approach a story is to flip the genders.

In THE PAINTED VEIL, the hero is a bacteriologist, serious and bookish.  So in my book, Bryony is a physician, serious and if not bookish, rather unapproachable.

I’ve heard a saying that in movies, if you want to have a memorable female lead, write the part for a man then find a woman to play it.  And ALIEN, with Sigourney Weaver, is often given as an example, a part originally written for a man.  By this, I interpret the meaning not as men are more memorable than women, but that Hollywood is such a male-driven, male-dominated industry that roles for women are often relegated to those of girlfriends and mothers etc., and that a full-fledged female character, who is not a supporting character in someone else’s story, but a hero of her own, is awfully hard to come by.  (We are excluding rom coms here, of course.)

So if Bryony is different from other characters, both my own and many other romance heroines, that maybe part of it.  That she had her origin in a male character and does not possess any desire to please–one of the most prominent feminine characteristics in fiction and possibly in life.  That she will thoroughly cut someone out of her life if s/he has disappointed her.  That she finds it so difficult, if not impossible, to forgive any transgressions.

2.  A common theme I have run into in romance novels is the heroine loving the hero since childhood and the hero finally returning her love in adulthood.  But “Not Quite A husband” reversed these roles, having the heroine be the focus of the hero’s admiration since he was a small boy.  Furthermore, Leo is not portrayed as stereotypical or hyper-masculine: in the story we read of his physical distress, gauntness, and exhaustion after traveling and malaria, and find him dependent on Bryony during his sickness and the uprising in Chakdarra. What about Leo to you makes him stand out from other romantic heros and how, if at all, does he contribute to a new definition of masculinity?

I have always felt hyper-masculinity to be strange.  I wonder if its recent resurgence–or perhaps it never went anywhere, since we did have a whole lot of it in the Old Skool romances–is a subconscious reaction to the man-children we see so often in popular culture.  I mean, look at the comedies of the past decade, they are all about immature men who are forty-year-old adolescents.  But hyper-masculinity, if you to mean mad-alphaness, my-way-or-the-highway-ness, is as cartoonish and repellent as 40yo adolescents.  And if your definition of hyper-masculinity is physical, like the Black Dagger Brotherhood heroes who are of a jaw-dropping size and have shoes bigger than my garbage can, ur, I guess they are just unrealistic in a historical era.  Plus, all men get sick, at some point, don’t they?  🙂

As for Leo, he has that one thing I feel that separates real men both from adolescents and from cave men alphas: he is secure in himself.  And because he is, he does not need to force his will on anyone else.  And because he is, he learns from his mistakes–once he sees those mistakes.  He does not get defensive or angry when it is pointed out that he’d done something wrong; instead, he repents and makes amends.

So it is a character issue, masculinity, and not so much physicality or mannerism.

(BTW, I hold my heroines to the exact same standard.  They have to eat crow if they did something wrong and show changes in behavior before I deem them to be again trustworthy.  Some readers have felt that Camden in my book PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS is an unforgiving bastard.  But the issue for me has always been, has Gigi realized yet she did something fundamentally wrong, or is she still only sorry that she got caught and lost him?)

3. On page 118 of the book, when Leo is reflecting on their failed marriage he thinks to himself that he believed he could break through “The Castle” by making love to Bryony, but that “instead she banished him altogether. They grew further and further apart. And their marriage dissolved like a pearl in vinegar.”  At face value it seems that their marriage fell apart because they weren’t having sex.  Do you believe this was the main reason the marriage didn’t work, or was is it a side effect of a larger issue?

It is very much not the cause, but the effect of the secret that was eating away at their marriage from inside out.  They had plenty of good sex–lol, with her dreaming through part of it–so it’s not an issue of frigidity, but an issue of trust.  She could not trust him.  She could not forgive him.  She could not stand him, in a way, even as she desperately wanted him and desperately wanted everything to be right again.

4. Many feminists like Andrew Dworkin and Catherine McKinnon view sex as the ultimate form of male domination over women, while feminist Camille Paglia argues that female sexuality as the source of our power. How much do the themes of domination and power affect sex? Do you think Bryony’s sexuality makes her powerful?  And do you believe there is more to self-empowerment then just female sexuality, if so, what about Bryony and other romance novel heroines makes them powerful?

Um, whatever happened to sex just being mutually enjoyable?  🙂

I definitely think of the entire female reproductive system as an asset, both because men can’t get enough of it and because it is just biologically useful.  Where else are you going to turn if you want a baby?  If not your own womb, then someone else’s.  🙂  But all this talk about empowerment via sexuality, I’m not sure how to interpret it.

Chairman Mao had a saying, “Political power comes from economic power.”  Which is quite astute, if you think about it.  I think, in observing the world, I can say sexual power comes from economic/political power.  Certainly women find rich/powerful men more attractive because of it.  And throughout most of history, those women who practiced their sexual powers most assiduously were often not after sex, but economic/political power.

While I am a flinty-eyed realist, I very much believe that sexual power is not a long-lived power.  Because  sexual power is dependent upon infatuation, and infatuation is a short-lived state.  Which is fine is you are just using a man as a stepping stone to a man even higher up the foodchain.  For there to be a happy long-term relationship, there has to be more substance.

Bryony has that substance–even though she is emotionally stunted, in a way, she brings to the table a great competence. She makes a difference in people’s lives.  She is admirable.

And what makes her powerful in this book is that she is not willing to sweep Leo’s sins under the rug.  That if he wants her love–and access to her body–he has to earn it.  That she values herself too much to be  swayed by just good sex.

(Sorry for the rambling answer.  The question is so big!)

5. Do you think your characters Leo and Bryony challenge traditional gender roles? Why or why not? How do they challenge these roles both inside and outside the relationship?

They do challenge traditional gender roles, if we see traditional gender roles as the female as the nurturer and breeder.  Leo is definitely the nurturer.  And Bryony is no breeder.  🙂

But then traditional gender roles are so limiting, aren’t they?  Life is much more nuanced and complex.  My heroes, who are very secure in their mindset, do not find women with achievements of their own threatening.  They admire these achievements.  They think of their women as individuals, and not just as walking vaginas/ovaries.  This may make them unusual, but such men have existed all throughout history and hopefully today more than ever.

And my heroines are unapologetic about interests they have outside the hearth and the home.  Certainly there were many such women by the end of the 19th century and I’d like to think countless today.  By this I do not mean they repudiate hearth and home–Lord knows I love mine–but just that they are very comfortable with the idea that is not where their identity begins and ends.

And Leo, if you look at him, is very much a man’s man.  He is comfortable taking charge.  He is just as comfortable yielding the control of the situation to someone who knows better–he is not about to stitch his own wound when Bryony can do it so much better.  And yet she cannot persuade him to deviate from a course he believes to be right, i.e., taking part in the defense of the fort at Chakdarra, despite the danger and his injuries.

Never let it be said we don’t live up to our intellectual potential on this blog.  (Actually it could be said, but lol, maybe not today.)


12 thoughts on “Two Weeks To Go Before RWA Nationals”

  1. Sherry, beautiful interview! I loved NQAH (as did my husband, as you know!), and I really enjoyed this “behind the scenes” insight into your characters. I couldn’t have articulated it nearly so well, but when I was reading NQAH, I thought both Bryony and Leo were unique and exceptional, and perfect together after they’d grown through their problems. Though their uniqueness does make them less stereotypical (so to speak), I liked them the more for it. I wanted to eat Leo up when he showed up all skinny and tired, and I wanted to hug and help Bryony when she was exhausted but determined to keep helping tend injuries.
    They felt real to me. So, brava. 🙂 And many congratulations on another RITA nomination for HAN!

    BTW, that video? HILARIOUS. SB Sarah posted it on her site a few weeks ago and I hooted through the whole thing.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed the interview. It took me a few hours to get my thoughts together so I thought, I must inflict this on the general public. 🙂

      And yeah, the video is so old by now, but it’s still fun.

  2. “They felt real to me.” Yes.

    Your comment about Leo being the nurturer is great. He’s the Lloyd Dobler of an earlier age, ready to love and support his mate if only she will let him (and I’ve told you before how much I relate to Bryony’s insular approach to life).

    You wore your dress backwards? And the lights were teetering on furniture? I never would have guessed – the end results were so professional-looking, and the line delivery perfect.

  3. I read the Q&A about your approach to critiquing and had a question. When you’ve torn apart previous books and re-written them is there any scene or dialogue that was cut that could make it into a different book? Was the discarded material actually bad or was it a case where it didn’t work in this story, but might work in another?

    • Wow, this is a great question.

      I remember so well, when the first draft of PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS was sent off to spend five years in a corner, I said to myself, hmm, dialogue is specific to each couple but love scenes can be reused–I’ll switch the names and nobody will know. But it never happened. Love scenes , in the end, are just as specific to the couple and non-interchangeable.

      So I guess if it doesn’t work in one story, it won’t work anywhere. 🙂

      But I have pulled out metaphors and turns of phrases from under-the-bed manuscripts, those that struck me enough to remember, in any case.

  4. What a great, in-depth interview! You don’t see these kinds of questions every day. I would love to read Ms. Verronneau’s thesis too.

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