Thursday, June 26, 2014

A Good Introduction to Vampire Romances

I have long resisted reading paranormal romances. While I'm a big fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and a lukewarm fan of HBO's True Blood series, I never read the Sookie Stackhouse novels, nor the many other romances featuring non-human heroes. I do not necessarily identify with the heroine in a movie or television series the way I do when I immerse myself in a romance novel. While I do not need to find Buffy's love interests personally attractive in order to enjoy the show, I feel differently about romance novels.  I have never fantasized about being with a vampire or werewolf, so I never understood the appeal of paranormal romances.

I was surprised when I first noticed the shelves filling with paranormal romances, back in the days when Borders was still around (sigh).  I assumed it was a generational thing that I could not quite appreciate, like body piercing and neck tattoos.  I assumed that the appeal of paranormal romance was in being desired for what the heroine is rather than what she does, and I thought it fulfilled a wish to vicariously be inherently special (a slayer, a fay, an especially tasty blood type).

I got a new perspective when I read Beyond Heaving Bosoms: the Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell & Candy Tan. They pointed out that, in a paranormal romance, being fed upon or changed by a vampire/werewolf/shifter serves emotionally as a secondary loss of virginity. It is an experience that the heroine has never had before that will change her life and forever bond her with the hero.

OK, so now I understand another layer of the appeal for many readers. It still doesn't especially appeal to me, but I am trying to broaden by horizons by reading other subgenres and authors. I recently finished reading Lauren Dane's Goddess with a Blade, and I enjoyed it very much.

This particular novel could be classified as urban fantasy as easily as paranormal romance. Although the growing relationship between the heroine (a hunter of rogue vampires) and the "Scion" (the ruler of Las Vegas' vampire community) is important to the plot, it's difficult to say whether it is the central plot element. There are certainly other things going on with the heroine that do not directly involve the hero.

I loved the Las Vegas setting. Clearly, Lauren Dane does as well. When the Cosmopolitan opened a few years ago, during the recession, its bars and restaurants were hugely popular with young club-goers, but the casino was virtually empty. At first, I speculated that they were drawing the pretty young things as an amenity for the older gamblers, but those gamblers never really materialized. Of course, it would make perfect sense if the place was run by vampires who wanted to lure willing young blood donors. Dane's fictional vampire casino-hotel is called Die Mitte (German for "the center"). There are no German-named casinos on the Las Vegas strip, but the Cosmopolitan's original developers defaulted on their construction loan, forcing Deutschebank to foreclose and finish the place in order to recoup some of their investment. The German bank found itself reluctantly in the casino business for a couple of years before they were able to sell the place. I laughed out loud when I saw that Dane gave her vampire casino a German name.

Perhaps I was able to enjoy this book so much because the Scion is really presented more as a CEO/politician than as a vampire. He never feeds on the heroine -- in fact, all of his feeding is done off-stage.  While the sex scenes are steamy and plentiful, they are surprisingly vanilla (and I don't mean that in a bad way).  Rowan and Clive are equal partners, not dom/sub.

I have already put the sequel in my Amazon shopping cart.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Portuguese Heartbreaker

Yes, it was frustrating to see Team USA come so close to beating Portugal, only to have Cristiano Ronaldo finally make a big play in the last minute (setting up the tying goal).

I can't hate the man for just doing his job, however, especially when he looks like this.

Not that he needs the money, but he could seriously get work in the off-season as a cover model.

Obrigado, Portugal, for giving me a reason to watch World Cup soccer.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Opening Schrodinger's Box

As long as I was the only person to see my manuscript, it was rather like Schrodinger's famous thought experiment with a cat, a box and a pellet of poison.

Until someone else read my novel, it was both a future best-seller and a permanent denizen of the slush pile. OK, the analogy is not perfect, since there are other possibilities somewhere in between best-seller and never-published. My point is that all potential futures were still theoretically possible.

Now I'm on the verge of opening Schrodinger's box, and it is both exhilarating and terrifying.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Tale of Two Conferences

In April, I attended Chicago Spring Fling. It was my very first romance writers conference, and I learned a lot. I decided I could pursue a writing career, and I joined RWA and the Wisconsin chapter shortly afterward.

In June, I attended the Write Touch Conference in Brookfield, Wis.  It was equally educational, although my experiences at the two conferences were very different.

Chicago Spring Fling was like attending a Big Ten university, with many classes to choose from, famous speakers and crowded lectures. It was easy to hide in the back of the room and be quiet. Much like when I attended UW-Madison, however, some more outgoing people made a point of saying hello and drawing me into conversations. Everyone who registered was promised exactly one pitch meeting, and I got my first choice. The meeting was very brisk, and although the agent was cordial and professional, she was not very enthusiastic about my project. To be fair, I was still learning the proper vocabulary to use to define things like genre and heat levels, and I was too nervous to come across as confident and enthusiastic myself.

The Write Touch Conference was like attending a small liberal arts college. The class sizes were smaller, and there was only one track. There were high-quality instructors who were able to interact more with attendees. The registration form asked us to rank our top three choices for pitch meetings, and I assumed I might get one of those if the slots weren't all full (I registered shortly before the deadline). Instead, I got three pitch meetings, and all three resulted in a request for a full or partial manuscript. One of my meetings was the last in a particular editor's block, and she was kind enough to spend a little extra time critiquing my pitch letter (I asked her to do so when she invited me to ask any questions I might have of her).

They offered different ways of learning and processing a lot of new information, and I came away from both conferences far more knowledgeable than I was before I attended.  In future years, Write Touch will be alternating years with Chicago Spring Fling. That makes a lot of sense, and I'm sure there will be some terrific synergies when people don't have to split their time and travel budgets. However, I'm very glad I had the opportunity to attend both conferences this year, when I needed a crash course in the business of romance novels.

Monday, June 16, 2014

If New Wave Songs Were Romance Novels

While driving home from the WisRWA Conference (which was fabulous; more on that later this week), I had my Sirius radio on 1st Wave, which seemed appropriate on a weekend when we celebrated the 30th anniversary of WisRWA.

About halfway home, they played one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Animotion's Obsession, which also seemed amazingly appropriate for a weekend focusing on romance novels. The official video even brings to mind old-school historical romances, with exotic settings, fantastic costumes and cheesy covers.

For the rest of the drive home, I made a game of thinking about what kind of romance novel each song I heard would be. Some of them did not quite work, but most lent themselves rather well to one particular genre or another:

  • Iggy Pop's Lust for Life would be a M/M erotic romance, complete with threesomes and BDSM.
  • The Cars' You're All I've Got Tonight would be a contemporary second-chance romance.
  • Alphaville's Forever Young would be a either a new adult or a paranormal romance (or a NAPR).
  • The Cure's Hot Hot Hot makes me think of urban fantasy for some reason.
  • The Human League's Fascination would be a new adult erotic romance.

I'm going to have trouble listening to 80s music now without playing this game in my head.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Looking Forward to the Write Touch Conference

I am rather excited about the WisRWA 2014 Write Touch Conference coming up this weekend. This will be my second writers' conference, and I hope to take away a great deal of useful information. I also hope to meet some fellow writers (perhaps at the gourmet dessert reception -- writers love chocolate).

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Learning to Pitch

No, I'm not talking about baseball. I decided several months ago that the time had come for me to buckle down and finish my novel. Then, around the beginning of the year, I started researching what to do with it. I started with the excellent Romance Writers of America website. I looked around for upcoming workshops that were within driving distance. I was fortunate that Chicago Spring Fling was held this year. In addition to the opportunity to hear from one of my favorite romance authors, Mary Balogh, the event was filled with educational workshops and offered those who registered a pitch appointment with one of the several agents and editors in attendance. There was also a Pitch Perfect Master Class offered by author Carrie Lofty.

In preparation for the event, I realized that I had to create a pitch letter. What, exactly, is that supposed to look like? I had no clue. Thanks to the Internet, I found this useful article. So, at least I was able to come up with something. Of course, after taking Carrie Lofty's class, I realized that I should scrap it and start over. I didn't realize that an "elevator pitch" should not contain the same elements as a cover blurb.

I also learned the importance of defining the genre. There are a wide spectrum of genres under (and just outside) the romance umbrella, some of which were new to me. I had never heard of "new adult" before. I did not know the difference between "women's fiction" and "romance". I was aware of paranormal romance but did not know about the increasingly popular urban fantasy genre. I was also unaware that m/m romances were now being published and marketed to women.

Then I had my pitch meeting with an agent. She was very kind and patient. I was very anxious and struggled to describe my book. She asked me about the heat level, and I did not know how to describe it. I cited some published authors with a similar heat level but lacked knowledge of the appropriate technical jargon. Thanks to All About Romance, I now know what terms to use.

I have never been good at self-promotion, or selling anything. I am shy by nature. I always felt uncomfortable selling Girl Scout cookies or band candy (and my parents weren't willing to take order forms to work and solicit their co-workers). I am also terrible at first impressions. I tend to reveal myself slowly.

I realized I had done the same with my characters, which is a problem in a novel. Most readers decide early on whether they like the main characters or not, and that first impression will influence their perception of the rest of the book.

Now I have been revising. I am working on more showing as well as telling and cutting some of the backstory. I know who my characters are and what motivates them, but readers will only know what I tell them.