Tab A, slot B

If you remember, about 100 years ago in blog time, Eugene got lambasted all over the bloggernacle for his book, Angel Falling Softly, for various crimes from “not very spiritual” to “sacrilege” to calls for his excommunication or at the very least, pulling his temple recommend. Eugene’s tab did not fit into the proper slot.

A while back, I came across a blog I keep a little eye on and had commented just to clarify a point. Yesterday I noticed that “Anonymous” had chastised me for acknowledging that my book is filthy (it is) and for dropping the F-bomb in the first line of the story. The chastisement was something along the lines of, “You call that quality Mormon fiction”?

::gallic shrug::

Well, A) “quality” was used in terms of how well the book is designed by the publisher and how well it is constructed by Lightning Source and B) I don’t consider it Mormon fiction.

People have different tastes. Nice, sweet, nearly conflict-less LDS fiction wasn’t cutting the mustard for me with regard to sparkle and (dare I say it?) lust (which doesn’t have to be consummated, but could we acknowledge its existence?). Fiction by Mormon authors out in the wild might be my brand of wild but it’s short on philosophy and faith. Genre romance of any stripe, inspirational to erotica, suffers the same lack of one for the other, so it’s not us. It’s a general lack of crossover between faith and sex.

Slot B47c&&2kd existed, but there was no correlating Tab A47c&&2kd to put in it.

I, Random Reader, wanted my slot filled. I’ve been wanting it filled for a long time. And it remained empty, growing cobwebs. I wasn’t writing it, either, because I wanted to “get” published and you don’t “get” published with a mixture like that.

So I said, “Fuck it. I’ll write what I want.”

As far as I know, I only have 1 (count ’em, ONE) LDS reader who’s managed to get past the first page. That’s okay, too. I probably made a mistake in vaguely hoping I could find a small audience amongst my own who, like me, wanted something titillating and faith-affirming (er, maybe) at the same time. Or, at the very least, not anti.

What I didn’t expect was the positive reaction from non-members who found my portrayal of us as human and extremely fallible, struggling with matters of faith and sexuality, as sympathetic and relatable—and who found the addition of faith to these people’s lives just another layer of their personalities.

Eh, don’t get me wrong. Plenty of people haven’t liked it also, for various reasons including the politics and my prose style and the fact that my characters aren’t, well, very likable at times. But…I don’t like everybody else’s books, either, so no harm, no foul. Regardless of all that, though, who liked it, who didn’t, why or whatever, the fact of the matter was that for this consumer, the market had an empty slot. So I carved out my own tab. And lo and behold! I’m not the only one who liked the shape and size of that tab.

All the foregoing is to say that this past weekend, I was blessed to brainstorm projects with two religious types (one protestant, one Catholic and independent of each other) who also like the s(t)eamier side of genre romance. It doesn’t hurt that I love these two writers’ work already, but these two projects are so outside their creators’ norms AND they are outside of, well, everybody’s norms. And I love them for it. I would never have thought of these two ideas, but these ladies did and their tab fit my slot.

Now, ladies, hurry up and finish those things. I know this publisher, see…

Still alive!

I’m here, I promise!

Got some fairly big projects in the works, some related to publishing, some not, and I need to really concentrate on those. It’s a concession to my ADD, which likes the time to focus on a project, to tunnel right through it, and does not like to rotate through projects on a schedule. Honestly, I get more done that way.

Also, I’m working on my last piece in the cross-blog series David Nygren of The Urban Elitist and I are doing on monetizing fiction, then I need to concentrate on putting up some pieces for Publetariat.

I’m also working on the next book in the Dunham series, Stay, which is taking on proportions I didn’t plan for. Sometimes my imaginary friends are very persuasive, which is to say, they won’t leave me the hell alone. Stay is a little more genre romance-y than The Proviso, and a lot less heavy on the religion. I’m aiming to release it on Valentine’s Day, 2010.

Tune in tomorrow. Same Bat-channel, same Bat-time.

The problem of genre: “Grit Romance”?

Labels are terribly useful to the majority of human beings. I find them useful insofar as I understand the definition of the label used, although this is usually a 50/50 proposition for me. As a method of efficient inventory control and meeting customer expectations, genre labels simply can’t be beat. The publisher knows which buyer to go to and the bookseller knows where to shelve it.

question-mark-715902But lately, there’s been a lot of cross- and mis-labeling going on inside genre fiction, leading readers to scratch their heads and wonder, “This isn’t X. Why did they put it on X shelf?”

Science fiction with romantic elements or a science fiction romance or a romance with a science fiction backdrop?

Fantasy, ditto above permutations.

Paranormal, ditto above permutations.

Speculative fiction/steampunk/cyberpunk, ditto above permutations.

Suspense, ditto above permutations.

Erotic! and ditto above permutations.

Mystery, ditto above permutations.

Spy, ditto above permutations.

Whatever other genres I missed, ditto above permutations.

A reader may or may not be willing to go along with the story regardless what it is and where it takes them (that’s the kind of reader I am), but some buy books specifically on spine label, cover cues, and back blurb so that they can get exactly (or pretty close to it) what they want.

Today, some independent publishing friends and I have been discussing our books, about how disparate our stories are, how we view ourselves in completely different genres, and how our books all have one thing in common: They are not classifiable, except by “drama.” (Well, why can’t “drama” be its own genre? Or is it? I don’t see it used anywhere.) They’re all a mix, all dark and gritty, with romance and a happily-ever-after (the one and only real requirement to be considered romance).

I don’t know how to classify The Proviso. I never did. Drama? Yeah, plenty of that. Family saga? Check. Epic? Uh, most definitely, as it takes place over the course of 5 years. But epic what? I can’t think of a book I could compare it to. Healthy doses of religion and spirituality mixed in with money and explicit sex? What? What’s anybody supposed to do with that? It’s not LDS romance/literature/fiction (defined as anything that could be sold at Deseret Book/Seagull), although I could call it Mormon fiction if a criteria of “Mormon” is that a Mormon wrote it. I call it a romance because I see myself as a romance writer.

The editors at one publishing house liked The Proviso, passed it around to get a roundtable opinion, but ultimately rejected it. “We don’t know where to put it. The religion isn’t going to go over with our erotic romance readers and the explicit sex isn’t going to go over with our inspirational readers.” That was good to know.

I know that RJ Keller, whose Waiting for Spring, got the attention of several agents, was told that she would have to extensively revise her book to be commercially viable. Most egregiously, she’d have to cut out the drug references, except…the drugs is the keystone of her plot. Hello? She finds her book marketed on all the free sites as a romance, but she does not consider herself a romance author.

Kel pointed me in the direction of Lauri Shaw, whose book, Servicing the Pole (that title’s as ballsy as using The Bewbies for my cover), had a lot of interest, but would have required extensive changes in order for it to be considered commercial. This is from Ms. Shaw’s website:

However, when professionals who were interested in selling my work insisted I’d need to make drastic changes to Servicing the Pole to make it a commercial prospect, I had to ask myself if the end justified the means. After all, these people were able to guarantee me little to nothing on the front end.

I was told that the book was too dark. That I’d have better luck catching the reader’s fancy if I made the story into something upbeat. The suggestion I took the most issue with, though, was that I ought to transform Emily into a more ‘likeable’ character. To do so would have been to change virtually every theme in this story.

I’m proud of the story I’ve written. It’s a story I can stand behind.

Servicing the Pole also has a happily-ever-after (or at least a happily-for-now), but I don’t know how Ms. Shaw labels herself as a writer, as I have not spoken with her.

Note: Our books are all dark, gritty, nasty, twisted, with a happily-ever-after. That is what’s genre-busting about them.

You can call ’em drama or epics or family sagas, or whatever you want.

Kel calls ’em “gritty romance.”

Gritty romance.

I like it.

The role of urban fantasy…

…and the kick-ass heroine.

Came across an interesting article by Jennifer de Guzman about the female audience need for a female superhero. Well, you know, I followed the links to the XY asshole type who said, “No, you really don’t.” Then I went to Jezebel’s post. Read them all, then come back. Josh Tyler (who knows what women want) posts:

Catching bad guys is not a common female fantasy.

Hey, you know, lemme go back in time to my 7-year-old self and tell Little Miss Batgirl that. (Notwithstanding BatGIRL opens up a whole host of other topics and is problematic in itself.) He further digs his hole:

Men are interested in imagining themselves as ass-kicking heroes. Women are interested in movies about relationships and romance and love.

Now, this discussion falls under the two of my pet topics: The definition of feminism and the gatekeepers, the gatekeepers in this case being filmmakers. And I gotta say, I can think of only one filmmaker who does the female superhero well (albeit not in WonderWomanish garb): Quentin Tarantino. And he made a lot of money exploiting the hell out of her. What does he know that Josh Tyler doesn’t?

Better yet, what does genre romance know that Tyler doesn’t? This is where the genre romance gatekeepers have stepped up to the plate and it’s where women will find their superheroes, albeit it not in graphix or on celluloid.

It’s the kick-ass heroine in urban fantasy. They don’t have a Batgirl or Wonder Woman outfit. They don’t have a golden lasso or an invisible plane. Sometimes they don’t come from a mysterious Other World. They have leather. They have a tramp stamp. They have guns or cross bows or daggers or swords or a combination. They prowl the streets looking for wrongs to right and bad guys who need an ass-whoopin’. Yes, yes, I hear Buffy’s name being screamed from the rooftops, but she’s not part of this discussion because…

…most of these setups (unfortunately) involve otherworldly paranormal goo-drooling and blood-drinking types, and, quite frankly, I get tired of the endless fighting of the supernatural. How ’bout some human baddies? (This is one reason I love Beatrix Kiddo just so damned much.)

Aside: I’m not talking about kick-ass heroines whose JOB it is to be kick-ass. I’m talking about the ordinary woman pulled into extraordinary circumstances and who rises to the occasion [ahem, EILIS], or the anti-heroine who exists outside a societal structure and takes on the role of vigilante as a form of service to society (with hopes of paying restitution or redemption or at least a few cosmic brownie points) [ahem, GISELLE]. Or—better yet—a heroine who starts her journey being a milquetoast and ends up with a spine of steel [ahem, JUSTICE]. After all, we’re not born kick-ass. Life makes us or breaks us that way and the hero’s journey has never been just for men.

So here again we see that the gatekeepers (in this case, filmmakers) don’t know their audience well enough to exploit another revenue stream—but genre romance does! We’ve been subsisting on these women for decades (can you say “pirate queen”?). Clarissa Pinkola Estés even wrote a little book about the kick-ass heroine, her history, and her place in our evolutionary collective subconscious, so this?

Men are interested in imagining themselves as ass-kicking heroes. Women are interested in movies about relationships and romance and love.

He really needs to go talk to Dr. Estés or at least read her book.

Tarantino! Thurman! Thank you for The Bride. I love her. (And all of her wicked evil baddie stepsisters, too!) Now, step up to the plate and give us a female superhero only with spandex this time, ’kay? Call me!

Favorite kick-ass heroines. Who are yours?

Romance novel notes from 2008

There were the 3 Georgian historicals I liked, but thought were fairly flawed and Almost A Gentleman, the one erotic Georgian I couldn’t finish. I did, however, really enjoy The Bookseller’s Daughter and The Slightest Provocation, so I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt no matter what.

Then there are the ones on the sidebar to the right, some of which are romance.
Under My Skin by Jenny Gilliam, which I liked enough that I only stopped reading when I had to tend to various obligations, like Tax Deductions 1 and 2. And congrats to her for its sale to Amira! (A little late on that congrats, Jenny. Mea culpa.)
Catch Of The Day
by Kristan Higgins, which made me bawl and laugh and cringe in vicarious embarrassment, which was only cute/sweet because it wasn’t happening to me. Also, her Just One Of The Guys, which was good but not as heartwrenching as Catch of the Day. Her first effort, Fools Rush In (which I actually read in 2009, sorry!), I found at a thrift store for a quarter and damme if that wasn’t a bargain! All 3 books are written in first person, though Catch of the Day and Just One of the Guys are in present tense (I like!) and Fools Rush In was in past tense. (I crack myself up.) You must have a box of Kleenex for these books. I remember this author’s name. For me, that’s like saying her books are auto-buy and lo and behold! She’s got a new title, Too Good To Be True. Honestly, I think she’s more what people call “women’s fiction” because she seems to focus more on the heroine’s journey than the romance. Word of warning: Don’t glom this author.

Eva Gale’s short stories “Desperate Measures” and “Scorpion’s Orchid” (post-apoc/steampunk). Loved both, though not crazy about short story format (that’s my own failing); the short form worked better in “Scorpion’s Orchid.” And, oh, you must, must, must, must, MUST go catch Eva’s free reads. “The Seduction of Gabriel Stewart” was wonderful and part of what I want to read, as both a spiritual and sexual woman: a smooth meld of the erotic and the faithful.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Natural Born Charmer. Of course I read it straight through, but SEP’s losing her grip on me, I think. Not sure why because she’s got a book on my keeper shelf and in this one, though the heroine was an artist, she wasn’t flighty and she was quick to catch on to what was going on around her, so I was good with that.

Patti Shenberger’s The Captain’s Wench. I’m a sucker for seamen (heh) stories, but this story suffered from some logical fallacies like the fact that the heroine just accepted the strange man in her house was a ghost and bantered with him as if he were an old friend. Like there’s really nothing strange about that situation at all. It was a short story/novella, so it could’ve been a word length requirement problem.

I read The Dragon Earl, which I really enjoyed. The first chapter on the author’s website got me enough that I remembered it when I saw it at Wal-Mart.

Forbidden Shores didn’t impress me. I never felt like any of the characters actually loved each other and that the HEA (happily ever after) was forced.

The following has spoilers. Highlight the blank spaces to read.

51opq4gipvl_ss500_Last but not least, this: A Mermaid’s Kiss by Joey W. Hill. I don’t know what to say about this because I’m conflicted in so many directions, yet it’s stuck with me ever since I read it. I hesitate to do a review on it, but here I am 3 months later, still thinking about it. It’s supposed to be erotic. It’s not. The reasoning for the sex between the hero and heroine is flimsy at best, though I wasn’t any more put off by the more, ah, unusual aspects of it than I was by any of the other sex scenes, none of which were necessary to the story. (The hero and heroine have sex with her in mermaid form and her in pixie form.) I also didn’t like the fact that the heroine had so many configurations (mermaid, pixie, human). The sex just…annoyed me. Why? Because I thought this was a terribly spiritual book with underpinnings of faith (some amalgam of Christianity and goddess mythos) and a keen insight on human behavior. In a lot of ways, its underlying theme reminded me of Dogma, although in a gut-wrenching way and not a satiric way. The sex got in the way of the character development (and worldbuilding) and pulled me out the story every single time. And it wasn’t even good sex.

It took me a while to write this post and 2008 was a busy year, but the ones I forgot must not have made an impact on me.