Friday, 31 January 2014

Day Nine of #TemptedToWrite

Day Nine:  Describe the Moment They Thought It was All Over...

There has to be just the right amount of heartbreak at this point.  And in some ways, this is the real test of a romance novel.

If you're genuinely upset when things go wrong; if you want to shout and scream and just shake the characters into making up, then you know the author's done a good job.

This is the moment that has to ring true more than any other.  Anyone can can imagine a decent Happy Ever After - they're the bread and butter of category romance, after all - but to write heartbreak you really need to be able to write.  It's got to tug at your heartstrings and make the reader ache, remembering the loss of their first love, or the guy who dumped them at uni.

But if you pull it off...

Example Number One:  Shweta and Nikhil in Shoma Narayanan's The One She Was Warned About

The rest of the day was hell for her.  Unable to cry, she paced the room, replaying the things Nikhil had said over and over in her head.  What he'd said had revealed a lot about the way he thought of her.  Perhaps there were excuses that could be made for him - she was in no frame of mind to make them.  All she could think was that she'd been right all along when she'd believed he didn't love her.
What makes this moment stand out? Proposals don't make everything okay.  There's more for them to talk about than just marriage, and it takes a very strong person to realise this and initiate discussion.  Shweta is a strong and sassy woman, whose decision to break it off makes him realise how much he needs her.

Example Number Two:  Oliver and Audrey in Nikki Logan's His Until Midnight

"Well, I'm done doubting myself."  She poked his chest.  "I'm awesome.  And clever.  And pretty.  And loyal."  Every poke an accusation.  "And the best friend a person could have.  I would have been fierce and proud by your side and someone you could face life with, head-on.  But that honour is going to go to someone else and I'm not going to be able to find him while you're still in my life."
She let her expressive hands drop by her sides.  As dead as she felt.  "So this is it, Oliver.   After eight years.  No more card games, no more conversations, no more long, lazy lunches that you can cling to in lieu of a real relationship with a real woman."  Her shoulders shuddered up and then dropped.  "No more Christmas.  If I'm not in your life then I'm out of it.  You don't get to have it both ways."  She settled her bag more firmly between them.  "Please don't email me.  Or call.  Don't send me a birthday card.  Don't invite me to your wedding with whichever Tiffany you find next."
Fortunately, she'd used up all her tears coming across the causeway.  Oliver wasn't so lucky and the glitter of those hazel eyes just about broke her heart anew.
What makes this moment stand out?  His Until Midnight is probably in my top three Modern Tempted books, and it's this moment that makes it.  Their hearts are properly broken.  Both of them.  And there's no quick fix to that.  Logan does a fantastic job of making us fall in love with her characters, only to delay that HEA in order to reveal so much about how the both of them feel.  Oliver doesn't say no because he doesn't love - that's precisely the reason why he's determined to walk away.  Amazing.

Catherine Lemesle's moment was my favourite #TemptedToWrite answer:

Everything was finished. 
It was the end of a beautiful love story. The most beautiful in the world. And, yet, he thought, it would not change the world. Just his life. He kept his eyes open, lying on the bed that had so many stories to tell. The bed didn't forget her perfume and her memory too. Christopher George was the richest man in the country, yet he knew he was the most miserable. 
For her part, Angelina did not sleep a wink. She was in the kitchen, but something seemed strange to her. Something had changed, but she did not know what. Suddenly, she realized and she doubled over with pain. She would never feel the smell of coffee anymore. She used to drink only tea. She had bought a coffee machine just for him.
What makes this moment stand out? I really like the fact that we see it from the point of view of both characters - Angeline and Christopher.  And I adore the way it scans - there's fantastic use of short sentences that capture the heartbreak brilliantly.  And I love that thing about the coffee machine.  Well done!!

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Day Eight of #TemptedToWrite

Day Eight:  What are Their Thoughts the Morning After the Night Before?

Sex in Mills & Boon books, and in Modern Tempted books in particular, is only there to further the plot.  It makes sense, within modern books, to have a modern attitude to sex, but here sex always causes some kind of conflict.

That conflict could be internal (a character might become more confused about their feelings and whether they're in love or in lust); or it might be external (they could discover that that guy they slept with, is their brother's best friend, or a best friend's ex).
But in order for this to happen, the sex beforehand has to be fairly extraordinary and some kind of buzz of this needs to leak into the next morning, whether through thoughts, feelings or the ultimate wake-up call...  ;)

Example Number One:  Victoria and Liam in Natalie Anderson’s The Right Mr Wrong

When she'd been with him, it had been as if the rest of the world could crumble around them.  Such a cliche.  He'd been her escape.  But he'd also been her prison.  In the end she'd needed to be free of that too.  The intensity still frightened her. 

He stepped back, looking oddly pale under the dim light from the bedside table.  "You regret it."

"I think..."  She hesitated again.  "Yes."
What makes this stand out? Natalie Anderson doesn't mess about.  Her characters have fierce reactions to what's happened the next day; reactions that have serious repercussions for the future of their relationship.  That's the external conflict.  And the internal conflict is written about there so beautifully - Victoria just doesn't know how to love without trapping herself.  But she deserves that HEA, as does Liam...

Example Number Two:  Ella and Chase in Jackie Braun's After the Party

Sex complicated things.  Chase had never been in a relationship with a woman when it hadn't.  So he was a little surprised that after a few hours of indulging in the mind-blowing variety with Ella, she hopped up from the bed - they'd eventually made it out of the dining room - and announced that she had to be going.

No clinging.  No covert glances.  No asking when he would call or even if.  The only question she posed was, "Any idea where I left my panties?"

Like he was supposed to remember something like that.  Hell, Chase figured he was doing pretty well to recall his own name in the afterglow of some of the best sex he'd ever had.
What makes this stand out?  Ella doesn't just surprise us, she surprises Chase!  It's always good to note that not all romance heroines are the same and, despite the sensitive side of Ella that we've come to love during the novel, she's still incredibly practical.  Braun makes us question what we expected Ella to do in the first place.

My personal favourite response was ML Smith's, as I'm a massive fan of a decent wake-up call:

Katrina cautiously opened one bleary eye and surveyed the plush hotel suite. Other than Alex's rhythmical breathing, it was eerily quiet.
Squeezing her eyes shut again, she reviewed recent events. She had broken two of her cardinal sins. 1) Thou shall not sleep with your boss. 2) Thou shall not fall in love with your boss. A wave of nausea swept quickly through her making her face flush. She silently eased her petite, buck naked body out of the king-size bed to make her way to the bathroom. Her feet hit the thick carpet just as Alex's lips brushed her freckled shoulder.
"Good morning Kat. Did you sleep well?" he whispered as he trailed delicious kisses across her sensitive skin.
"Good thanks. You?" she mumbled before she sprinted towards the bathroom door. Alex heard the door shut with a soft click. Moments later the shower started running. He lay back on the dishevelled bed and let out an exasperated breath. What the hell was that about?
What makes this move stand out?  I think it's the way that she manages to capture the sensuality of the night before, in Kat and Alex's responses to each other in the morning.  Also, you really get a sense of Kat's voice - well done!

Cecilia Tan: On Kink-Positive Writing and BDSM

Today I'm joined by Cecilia Tan, whose book Slow Seduction was released on the 26th January.  The second in the Struck by Lightening trilogy , it looks at BDSM relationships and how - when consensual - they can be incredibly affirming.  50 Shades of Grey, as great as it was in making BDSM accessible, still portrays BDSM as something strange, something to be 'cured' (Christian Gray gives up his Red Room).  I asked Cecilia what she thought and what she was trying to accomplish within SbL:

I've been writing erotica and romance with BDSM themes going all the way back to my first book, 1992's Telepaths Don't Need Safewords. For years that meant I was well-known within the BDSM community but largely unknown to the mainstream because the big publishers found BDSM in fiction too "controversial" or too "difficult" to handle. All too often, their objections amounted to fears that either BDSM was actually harmful to women or that they would be criticized for publishing material that OTHERS believed was harmful to women. Any strike against a manuscript can be enough to convince an editor to move on to a safer acquisition. In short, my fiction was considered too hot to handle. 

Recently, though, publishers proved how out of step this cautious approach put them when a BDSM-themed book series from a tiny publisher exploded across the English-speaking world: I'm talking about 50 Shades of Grey, which was then repackaged by larger houses and became one of the best-selling English language books of all time. Scrambling to catch up to the tastes of millions of readers, the publishers have leaped into the fray with dozens of books trading on the themes in 50 Shades of Grey, including BDSM, mysterious billionaires, and naive heroines. Which means, at last, a publisher did NOT tell me that BDSM is too much for readers and instead encouraged me to explore that territory! The result is the Struck by Lightning series: Slow Surrender which came out in 2013, Slow Seduction which launched on January 26 2014 and Slow Satisfaction, due out in August 2014. 

Knowing I was writing explicitly for an audience that had very likely read 50 Shades of Grey but had never read any of my other work, I set out to make this series familiar but with a few important distinctions. Some of the differences are obvious but minor: Ana in "50" is a college student, my Karina is a grad student. Others I baked in as major distinctions: Christian Grey has his Red Room of Pain, my James has no "dungeon." The entire world is his playground and anything within his reach could become a sex toy. 

One of the major contrasts I tried to make is that as the leading couple falls more and more deeply in love, the BDSM doesn't lose intensity: it gains it! That's more true to the experience many real life couples have with BDSM. As their trust and knowledge of each other grows, they can push the envelope of what they explore through bondage or spanking or role-playing, whatever parts of the BDSM spectrum they are employing. 

Another is that the dynamic in Slow Surrender is not built merely around the sub "letting" the dom do things to her. In "50" I often felt that Ana was too passive for my taste. Not surprisingly, that's also one of the main criticisms of Twilight, which "50" started out fanfic of, and one of the criticisms I see pointed at many romances which DON'T even have a BDSM element. Can you imagine if contemporary romances portrayed sex as something the heroine was merely supposed to "endure" for the sake of the hero's passions? Lie back and think of England? No, books these days tend to portray sex as something the heroine enjoys, and loves, needs, and wants with the hero. Well, BDSM is sex. The heroine in my BDSM novels enjoys, loves, needs, and wants it every bit as much as the hero does. The fact that he's the one doing the tying up and she's the one who gets tied up doesn't change that.  

James engages Karina, giving her choices, and constantly reinforcing that she is the one who makes the choice to play with him. Her consent is never taken for granted. There's a way in which his anonymity and secrecy work to Karina's advantage at first: if at any point she decides she doesn't want to play these sex games anymore, all she has to do is walk away. Once she becomes more emotionally invested, though, that dynamic changes and she demands more--and gets it. 

Another way to look at it is with the phrase "it takes two to tango." BDSM is commonly referred to as "power exchange." That word "exchange" gets forgotten sometimes, when people imagine that it means the sub gives up all the power and the dom keeps it all. The dom may be the one who leads in the ballroom dance, but both dance partners have to be participating or they'll fall flat. And BDSM is often like the tango, where the power flows back and forth, as each partner takes cues from the other. I sometimes describe BDSM as "improvisational sex." Instead of following one specific "script" that goes from kiss to intercourse, many possibilities branch out. For a fiction writer that's exciting, too, because it gives me so much to play with and so many ways to arouse and entice the reader. 

My hope is that as Karina learns how much power she has in the relationship, far more than she realizes at first, readers will learn how empowering BDSM dynamics in a relationship can be.

Go check out the first book in the trilogy, Slow Surrender, and explore for yourself kink-positive writing!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Day Seven of #TemptedToWrite

Day Seven:  It's Valentine's Day - What Do They Do?

Valentine's Day.  That one day in the year that fills people with dread and/or joy.

But Valentine's Day isn't the only event/occasion that merits a Modern Tempted novel.  Weddings, Christmas, even a birthday can all be really good ways of bringing your character together or causing more conflict.

I like to see books and plotlines that take me somewhere I'm not expecting - it's Valentine's Day but the couple break up; it's Christmas, but she hates the holidays - so jazz up your occasions and do something unexpected!

Example Number One:  Cassie and Tuck in Amy AndrewsGirl Least Likely to Marry

Cassie crossed her arms and waited for their frivolity to wane.  She could not entertain such unscientific mumbo-jumbo.  Love was a fiction perpetuated by romance novels and Hollywood.

"It's not love," she said frostily when the last smile had fallen beneath her uncompromising glare.  "Just because you're seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses, Reese, doesn't mean I've taken leave of my senses.  You know I don't believe in that voodoo.  It's his pheromones - that's all.  The man smells incredible..."
What makes this stand out? Amy Andrews sets her novel at a wedding, but all that happens is a hook-up which the heroine puts down to lust.  There's not even the slightest inclination on her part that it could be anything more.  I love the fact that Andrews' takes the wedding hook-up and plays with our expectations of it!

Example Number Two:  Ryder and Nadia in Ally Blake's The Dance Off

The music swelled around them, all harp chords and piano keys, and the singer's husky voice crooning about spinning round and round, moving so fast.  Nadia moved Ryder forward, and then he moved her backward, the rhythm so natural she let him.  He slid her hand an inch further around her back until her belly met his, and she let him do that too.  He tucked their arms nearer their sides, which wasn't classic dance hold, but even while it made Nadia's breath swell she didn't put a stop to it.  The rhythm had other ideas as the dance swirled around and through them, binding them together and shutting out the world.

It was bound to happen, considering the way their bodies had fitted together in that kiss.  That mind- blowing kiss...
What makes this stand out?  Nadia and Ryder also meet due to a wedding, though this time it's in the lead up to it, as Nadia's supposed to be teaching Ryder how to dance.  Blake's twist on the normal here is that the wedding itself is immaterial to the events leading up to it.  And even when the wedding happens, it's not a climax for our couple.  It's all about using events in ways that you wouldn't expect.

So, my favourite response was Donna Mee's, as she went for the unexpected:
For as many years as she cared to remember, Jackie worked on Valentine's evening as it was a big date in the charity event diary. This year in Las Vegas she had organised her biggest wildest do ever, which she told herself was all for the love of her work, but she knew it was also to keep busy on this god awful day of utterly no romance coming her way. 
However Lady Luck was smiling on her this year as she caught her first glimpse of Bailey Baxter in a sharp black three piece suit, sauntering in her direction from across the casino floor. 
Having only met a few nights before, when the hotel fire alarm rudely threw them together in the small hours of the morning, in minimal clothing, the date had been set but Jackie did not think he would really show up. But show up he had and she was reminded of his devilish good looks as the gamblers seemed to part as if directed by Moses as he came ever closer. She became aware of her open mouth and clasped it shut. Would she be able to work and have a date? Sure, she had the perfect plan to ensure this guy stuck around and got involved with the party, after all it was for charity. 
How was this date going to end? She simply hoped it would be attached to his lips.
What makes this move stand out?  She surprised me.  Everyone went for the romantic option, whereas Donna decided to start her story with V Day, as opposed to making it the pinnacle.  I like it when a book challenges my expectations!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Day Six of #TemptedToWrite

Day Six:  Who Makes the First Move?  And How?

I never really mind who makes the first move, though I am a big fan of building up the tension beforehand.  It's far more exciting for that moment to come at the height of anticipation and then for it to be one of all-consuming passion...

And I think that's what's important for me.  There's got to be some kind of passion there; passion that cannot and will not (luckily for us readers) be denied.  Modern Tempted readers like our sex hot; though that's not to say that you can't do all the build-up, and then just close the door on the actual sex if you feel more comfortable like that.

Also, if your hero's making the first move, be very aware of your heroine's reaction.  Remember, she's not a drip; she should either give as good as she gets, or be absolutely furious!  She's a strong character and shouldn't just do something without just cause.

Example Number One:  Shweta and Nikhil in Shoma Narayanan's The One She Was Warned About

Shweta glared at him.  "You just said it isn't any of your business, and I wholeheartedly agree," she said.  "Why are you so bothered about me and Siddhant, anyway?"

"Because I don't want to feel guilty when I do this," Nikhail said, bringing his head down to hers and kissing her mouth very, very gently.

Shweta stood stock-still, frozen in shock.  A kiss was the last thing she'd been expecting, but the sensation was incredible, his lips warm and teasing beneath hers.
What makes this move stand out?  Not all kisses are rip-your-clothes-off-hot immediately.  And this first move means that Nikhail and Shweta - despite their passionate interchanges - are actually rather compatible.  It's the moment when we know that this could work.

Example Number Two:  Lu and Will in Joss Wood's If You Can't Stand the Heat...

Will placed his hands on her hips, pulled her towards him...and his mouth had barely brushed hers when the office door opened and Kelby bounced inside.
What makes this move stand out?  Unlike most first moves, this occurs midway through the book, and even then it's interrupted.  Joss Wood builds the tension between the characters by having them fall for each other slowly and rather cautiously - they're both incredibly attracted to each other, and that attraction can't help but grow as their story progresses.

And as for my favourite, it has to go to Jane Madison-Jones:
Stella threw herself at Todd. Threw herself. She thought he wanted her. Thought he was waiting for her in his room that night, all those years ago. She was so excited. She’d had a crush on him forever and finally he’d noticed she wasn’t a kid anymore. She was wearing the sexy negligee he’d given her for Christmas. That and an enormous smile. Her dreams were finally coming true. 
It turned out he’d actually given her a Sponge Bob t-shirt and although he was happy to be thanked for the gift, he hadn’t been expecting sexual favours from his best friend’s little sister. So he turned her down, which he did regret later, but she never knew that. She only knew that rejection was agony, the humiliation was awful but mistrusting your own judgement was worst of all. 
So what was she doing now, five years later, making her second first move on Todd? Was she nuts?
What makes this move stand out?  I like the fact that this isn't just a standard move - Firstly, it's a flashback, and secondly it fully explains the couples dynamic in the present.  Plus I'm dying to know what happens when she makes her second first move...  Will Todd cave like we want him to?

Day Five of #TemptedToWrite

Day Five:  How Do They Meet and What Are Their First Impressions of Each Other?

Ah yes, the meet-cute.

The key moment in a romance novel, the one where we know who are our hero and heroine for definite.  Of course, we may see their first moments in retrospective (they may have known each other for years; gone to school together; been family friends) or we may see those first few moments through the eyes of our protagonists.

This isn't to say that all meet-cutes are the same.  Some characters are brought by some disaster, whilst are simply a chance meeting. 

Example Number One:  Zoe and Dan in Lucy King's The Reunion Lie

In fact, he didn't notice anything about her at all until she was standing right in front of him, stopping him in his tracks and flashing him a dazzling smile, and then it was pretty impossible not to notice her.
Dan didn't have a chance to mutter an 'excuse me' and step to one side.  He didn't have time to wonder why she was standing so close not why her smile was so bright.  He didn't even have a chance to check her out properly.
All he got was a fleeting impression of blonde hair, dark eyes and an overall sense of attractiveness before she flung her arms around his neck, plastered herself against him and gave him the kind of kiss that he'd have considered more appropriate if they were naked and in private.
What makes this meeting stand out? The first time Dan meets Zoe, shefull on kisses him - using him as a fake boyfriend.  It's a brilliant move on the part of Lucy King, as it immediately puts both characters out of their comfort zone and means that they react to the situation instinctively, as opposed to slowly getting to know each other.

Example Number Two:  Caitlin and James in Natalie Anderson's Whose Bed Is It Anyway?

Two seconds later he stood at the foot of the bed, rubbing his raw eyes.  But they weren't deceiving him.  The bed was made up all right.  A big, brand-new bed with acres of soft-looking white coverings.  He felt the thick pile of a luxurious rug under his bare feet.  He was certain that if he looked his bathroom would be gleaming and perfect.  But there was something else gleaming and perfect:  a woman.  A beautiful woman was curled up asleep right in the middle of his huge bed.
She'd left the blinds open so the city lights gave the room a pale glow.  It made her arm and face luminescent.  Her long blonde hair was spread enticingly in a swathe over the pillow.  A golden beauty in his bed.  Goldilocks herself.
What makes his meeting stand out?  The last thing either Caitlin or James expected was to find that the place they were supposed to be staying in was occupied by someone else.  This throwing together of two people is a classic meet-cute, but Natalie Anderson gives it a twist by having them contest over a bed.  It adds a sexual frisson to the meeting that can't be ignored.

The selection from you all was of a ridiculously high quality, but my favourite was Daphne O's, for a flashback meet-cute:
Elsa literally ran into Jack one fateful day on campus, back in their college days. She was running late for a meeting and crashed right into him from around a corner. Papers flying around everywhere. She utters a series of apologies to him and curses at the same time about her things as he reaches out a hand to help her up.
Stunned by this blur of a woman and papers Jack reaches out to help up the poor girl who sounded like she landed pretty hard on her rear after crashing into him. While starting to pull her up he catches a full glimpse of her and accidentally lets her go.
Down she lands on the ground again. Appalled, she shoots him a bitter and angry glare, realizes the time, then quickly scoops up her things, and was gone again in seconds uttering a final 'Thanks but no thanks.' He was always smooth with women, but that, he didn't know what "that" was. She thought he was a rude playboy. He thought she was gorgeous but pretentious.
Until they kept running into each other everywhere, and in almost everything they did. Six years later brings us to the present date.
What makes this meeting stand out?  I love the fact that nothing happens straight away.  They see each other, register each other but the timing's not right.  I especially love the fact that Jack's so taken by her that he accidentally drops her to the ground!!  And then there's that caveat:  "until they kept running into each other everywhere, and in almost everything they did..."  Tell me more!  I want more!!  Good job Daphne.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Day Four of #TemptedToWrite

Day Four:  What Does Your Heroine Think about Love and Why?

Heroines are different from heroes (not the least because of the whole gender thing), but also because they are usually the gateway into the story for the reader.  A heroine has to be more than just complex - we have to be able to understand her.

Her stance on love has to have a reason; if she's anti-romance, there needs to be a good reason why, and if she's all hearts and puppies and "yay love!", there needs to be a reason for this also.

So what makes the Modern Tempted heroine's approach to love different?
For me, the key thing is that she doesn't need love or man in order to be happy.  It sure makes everything a hell of a lot better, but she's sassy enough to stand on her own two feet, and she has a career that fulfills her, or at least is working on a dream that'll end up that way.

And in some ways that's what makes her so much more easier to relate to.

Example Number One:  Gina in Heidi Rice's Maid of Dishonour

She couldn't tell him that.  Would never tell him that.  Because it would mean revealing something she had decided a long time ago he had never really been a part of.  The pregnancy had been an accident, a biological blip, that had ended almost as soon as it had begun - and forced her to re-evaluate who she was and what she was.  But she'd come out the other side.  She hadn't thought about it in years.  And if she could get away from him, she wouldn't have to think about it now.
What makes Gina stand out?  The fact that she has to renegotiate a past linked to her hero, that he has no idea about, means that her reactions seem to him to be erratic at times.  What makes it particularly interesting for us is that we know the truth.  Heidi Rice reveals to us what happened in the past and we can see what's happening now - even if Gina can't!

Example Number Two:  Ellie in Joss Wood's If You Can't Stand the Heat...

Hearing water running in the basin, Ellie abruptly sat down.  She was instantly catapulted back in time to when she'd spent a holiday with Mitchell and his mother - her grandmother Ginger - in London when she was fourteen.  He'd run to Bosnia to do a 'quick report' and had come back in an ambulance plane, shot in the thight.  He'd lost a lot of blood and spent a couple of days in the ICU.
It wasn't her favourite holiday memory. 
What makes Ellie stand out? everyone's parents impact on them in one way or another, but Ellie's disfunctional relationship with her father, and the way it colours her view of love and life, gets in between her and her feelings Jack.  Wood manages to create a complex character whose fears we can understand and empathise with.

And as for my favourite, it has to go to Jenny Roman, for her character of Pippa:
If you asked Pippa Coulthard if she believed in true love, she’d probably wrinkle her nose, and then make a joke or change the subject. 

She’s not sure if she’s ever been in love; proper, all-consuming love. 

Yes, she’d once thought she had been – with her ex, Ross, a lad she’d known since school days. But a few months ago, their long on-off relationship finally fizzled to permanently off, and since then – despite plenty of offers – she's decided to devote herself to her career. 

She’s told herself she’s in no hurry to find a man. After Ross’s thoughtlessness, she’s happy to wait for that special someone - warm, patient and caring. But as she’s about to find out, you can’t make up rules about love – not with Leo Montgomery around.
What makes Pippa stand out? For me, Pippa encapsulates the Modern Tempted heroine.  She's confident, got a career and isn't particularly fussed about falling in love - if she even believes it.  And that's what makes us root for her all the more.  We want her to fall in love with Leo, and we want her to fall in love hard!