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Love in Proof: A Year of Reading Romance Series

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Within science lies the possibility of discovering a concrete truth, of a shared understanding of certainty. There is no he said, she said. There are no opposing sides of the story wherein flawed facts and hidden agendas diverge into disagreement and disaffection. Any differences concerning the theory are eventually worked out via experiment, observation, repeated trial and error. Eventually, logic, evidence and proof prevail, even if it takes years and years to work out the contradictions or conundrums. Tests are created and themselves tested under different conditions and circumstances until all variables are eliminated and the results reached become incontrovertible.

In the science of romance novels, the central theory is that love always triumphs over hate, greed, corruption, envy, selfishness and a whole plethora of other negative human impulses. Love heals, love soothes, love strengthens us, brings us together, staves off loneliness and pain, makes us good. Usually—during a normal year in which opinions and feelings are not considered facts—a stand-alone well-written, well-crafted romance convinces and satisfies all on its own. This past year though, I needed more. I’d lost important-to-me people at the end of 2015, and increasingly as 2016 progressed month by month, and people believed anything–ANYTHING–much of my faith in America’s goodness was shaken (I’ve often been cynical about politics, but rarely about people).

So for me, to stay grounded, 2016 became a year spent reading series. In romance series, even the weaker books hold their draw because, in spite of sometimes less interesting characters or less balanced plots, the stories test and complete some larger claim that starts in the first book: that everyone can find love. Reading a full, long series creates a sense of wholeness and completion for this reader, especially in a real world that feels upended and uncertain. Series don’t just offer readers one happy-ever-after couple, they give us three, or six, or twelve individual pieces of the jigsaw puzzle sliding neatly into place, interlocking to create a perfect world of love’s reach and power. No one gets left out or ignored. It’s a beautiful version of what reality could be, one that offers connection if we just reach for it, risk it.

If every sibling in a large fictional family gets their happy-ever-after, then the world created is a better place. If even the bitter, angry cousin’s heart is softened by love and acceptance, then everyone can be brought to the light, right? Everyone can be redeemed with love. No one needs to suffer if they accept the love the universe has for them. The tension in a romance depends on this resistance and ultimate capitulation to the promise of love. In a romance series, the message of one book is amplified, confirmed, reconfirmed over and over like scientific trial and error. Sure, the sister got her HEA, but what about the wild brother? Look, the next book tells his journey to an HEA! Like the crime and detective novel series in which the lead protagonist solves mystery after mystery building a world in which crimes are always solved, the repeated coupling of different individuals into marriages and long term relationships in a romance series sets up a preponderance of evidence that loneliness and isolation will eventually be replaced with the rewarding, interconnected bonds of love.

I’ve been reading series for years, but this year, only a small portion of my reading consisted of stand-a-lone novels. Looking over my Goodreads list, I clearly gravitated towards series. I started new ones, read the backlists of older ones, finished others I’d started in 2014 or 2015. Even as I write this, I’m midpoint in a couple of new series that will carry me forward into 2017.

Series have always hooked me. Give me a family of five siblings, or a trio of loner cousins, or a group of friends turned loyal self-made family for life, and I’ll want to read about how each finds love. If the author can seduce me into one story, I’ll commit to the whole set, with rare exceptions. Below, I’ve loosely grouped the series I’ve read, or continue to read, in 2016, and what has compelled me to stick with them.

(A, B, C, D, E, F—an alphabetical list, not a grade.)

A is for Awesome Athletes

Although I don’t watch much televised sports these days, I was once a devoted hockey fan. Plus, athletes represent a form of physical perfection that doesn’t exist for 90% of the population. Like most movie-watching audiences, I like my actors to be attractive, and I appreciate when a book’s hero is particularly fit. Also, playing sports reminds us that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The important thing is to keep playing. These guys persevere and overcome setbacks with a kind of doggedness one can’t help but admire, so if I’m looking for a little perseverance in the face of defeat, I pick up a sports-related story.

  1. Kristen Callihan’s Game On Series—Frankly, I’m not a big fan of NA. I prefer third person narration over first person narration 95% of the time. The writer really has to nail characterization and those characters must be ruthlessly honest with themselves for it to work. But this. This. This series. Fantastic. Go read it if you haven’t. Goodreads lists two more books as yet unpublished. I mind-will Callihan to write them NOW.
  2. Lynda Aicher Power Play Series—After stumbling across Callihan’s series, I wanted more athletes. I’d read other Aicher stories and mostly enjoyed them, so I picked her sports series up. I loved it. Because the whole series was published, and only had three books, I read them all within a week. Very satisfying.
  3. Jaci Burton’s Play-by-Play Series—I’m still working through these (in my defense, there are a lot of them, and I’ve been reading them out of order). They vary a bit in their ability to satisfy me. Burton is a highly competent writer, but sometimes her writing comes across a little bit paint-by-number perfect, i.e. stiff. Though the books aren’t messy enough to tap into my deep psyche, they do ground themselves in the pro sports world in a satisfying way and her heroines are gutsy and strong.

B is for Best Bad Boys

When I read pompous articles about how romance fantasies teach women to see love and relationships through rose-colored glasses, I get cranky. Clearly, these clueless critics have never studied Aristotle nor understand the term or value of literary catharsis. Like most women, I’ve sampled the reality of the bad boyfriend in my 20s and moved on, despite reading romance novels. In fact, romance novels safely indulge my secret desire to love a dangerous man. It certainly doesn’t mean I want to be in a real relationship with a bad boy. Still, ever since I fell for Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights at age 17, bad boys with their intense, violent emotions have always enthralled my imagination. Just like men like to read spy and war novels and imagine living dangerously without actually risking their real lives, I like to read love stories with dangerous lovers. After finishing one of these books, I cuddle up on the couch with my intelligent and protective beta good-boy husband. Favorite bad boy books this year:

  1. Tami Hoag’s Lucky’s Lady (Doucet series)—This title is her last romance before she moved into writing mystery, so I haven’t read the rest of the series, but it was my favorite bad boy book of the year because one, bad boy Lucky, and two, it’s set in a top fantasy location for me, the dangerous swamps of Louisiana. I like my danger doubled. A bad boy hero and poisonous snakes? Sign me up.
  2. Sophie Jordan’s Devils Rock series—I rated both the first and second prison-based novels a damned happy five stars. Naturally, I’ve pre-ordered the third and anticipate its release with bated breath. Just 37 days away…and no one has to worry if I’ll be writing inmates letters in real life. No. Just no.
  3. Julianna Keyes’ Time Served–Gritty, dark, emotional stories and characters…somehow without being angsty. I’m not good with angsty. Got enough angst to deal with in the real world. Love her writing and her characters. This third book was just as good as the first two, in a loosely linked series.
  4. Joanna Wylde’s Reapers MC series—I can’t imagine passing up one of these biker antiheroes’ stories. I read the first novel four times in one week in 2013, and I reread it again in 2014 and 2015 (definitely triggering something in my deep psyche). I pre-order them as soon as they become available. I’ve also read the offshoot Silver Valley book too. Every book rates a 4 or a 5.
  5. Megan Crane’s Devil’s Keepers MC series and her Edge post-apocalyptic series both deliver delicious bad boys aplenty. I got turned onto her writing after reading a multi-author bad boy biker series, Deacons of Bourbon Street, which I loved as well. No surprise that Devil’s Keepers and Deacons are both set in Louisiana. Did I mention before that I LOVE the geographical setting of the deep South, the swamps and New Orleans? My education in feminist literature made me a passionate reader of Kate Chopin. The Awakening and her women-empowering short stories like “The Storm” are regular rereads for me. I also watched Gone with the Wind over and over as a child. (See my take on the Edge books under the letter F.)
  6. One last novel deserves mention on the light side of the MC spectrum: Show Me the Honey by Cathryn Cade thoroughly entertained and pleased me. The hero is a biker, but, a relatively nice one. Menage is the trope in the second book, not a favorite of mine, but I’ll probably read it in 2017.

C is for Classic Titled Gents

While it’s harder to seek nostalgia in one’s fiction during a year in which America seems to be drowning in a sticky, sour, unpleasant batch of it, these stories reinforce the idea that love prevails, no matter the external, limiting conditions of a highly stratified society. It’s strangely reassuring that even if society regresses…we’ll still have love.

  1. Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn Saga series—This set of books was fantastic and I can’t believe I didn’t read them sooner. Balogh is a master of characterization, as are other favorite historical writers like Jeffries and Kleypas, noted below. I gave four of the six stories a solid five stars. So much wonderful.
  2. Lisa Kleypas’ The Ravenels series signals her return to historical romance. Her other historical series remain some of my favorites and I periodically reread her Wallflowers series. I’ve read the first two novels in this new spin-off series and rated them five stars each, and can’t wait to read book three. Some of my friends like her contemporaries, but I think her best work and characters are set in the past.
  3. Sabrina Jeffries’ Sinful Suitors series—Another master of characterization and carefully, cleverly plotted romances, Jeffries never seems to put out a dud. This series stands strong with the rest of her work.
  4. Lorraine Heath’s The Hellions of Havisham series—I’ve just finished the first novel, and starting the second today after I finishing writing and plotting a novella. The third is just out too, so I’ll probably be reading this series into 2017. The first book was satisfying with strong characterization.
  5. Five is for the series I didn’t get to, but are highly rated and at the top of my TBR list—Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series and Joanna Shupe’s The Knickerbocker Club. I have all the books downloaded onto my Kindle from Amazon except for the last of each book in the series. Soon, soon.

D is for Deserving Good Boys

When the world seems to be waxing blindly over the idea of returning to the gender rigid 1950s, we need stories about level-headed, intelligent men to help us fight against the backlash on women’s equality. While there are plenty of a-hole modern protagonists in contemporary romance fiction who treat women as objects, there’s an equal and reassuring number of decent, liberated protagonists looking for smart, capable and kind partners as their future wives. Maybe even partners who makes more money than they do. Or tough female bosses who take charge. Shocker! If you want to live in the current century of fiction, you’ll go for these books in which men can still be utterly masculine and the women sensually feminine, even with their university degrees, higher incomes, and important careers. No weak egos on display here.

  1. Christina Lauren’s Beautiful Bastard and Wild Seasons series—Not much to say about these two popular, contemporary series, except, if you haven’t read them, WHAT? Get to it. Now. Wonderful characters and charming plots.
  2. Kate Meader’s Hot in Chicago series—Firefighters. Enough said, right? Stories based on a group of guys who were foster brothers? No one deserves a HEA more than a foster kid. No one. Another strength of this series is its gender diversity, including a strong female firefighter and a homosexual firefighter, in addition to the regular hetero guys.
  3. Shannon Stacey’s Boston Fire series—Okay. I like firefighters. What can I say? They rush into burning buildings when others are rushing out. They are trained to save lives. Firefighter is just a synonym for hero. The added benefit—set in Boston. After New Orleans, this city is my total catnip for American story locations. If I could live long enough, I’d add at least a year of life in the Big Easy and another in Beantown.
  4. Lauren Layne’s New York’s Finest series, and her The Wedding Belles series, her Sex, Love and Stiletto series, and her Oxford series—The first pairs nicely with Meader’s and Stacey’s firefighter series, as it focuses on cops, the other modern urban hero. The other three series center around sharp, intelligent journalists and, obviously, wedding planners. Once you’ve run compulsively through Christina Lauren’s books, Layne’s backlist is the next stop. With good writing, unique storylines, she makes sure all her characters get their liberated HEAs.
  5. Anne Calhoun’s Alpha Ops series—In addition to cops and firefighters, I also read stories starring heroic soldiers. Calhoun writes strong, satisfying love stories. She also writes great sex scenes. So if you’re looking from something a little darker, a little sexier, without reducing the female characters to a set of tits and long legs, Calhoun’s your author.

E is for Excellent Small Town Romances

Small town romances are generally nostalgic, but not these. There’s a strong, contemporary, challenging edge to these series that make their relevance extend beyond old-fashioned ideals. Even people living out of the limelight in quiet communities can be smart, sharp-witted, tolerant and forward-thinking. These series will challenge anyone’s stereotypes about small town inhabitants.

  1. Penny Reid’s Winston Brothers series—Beards and more beards. Gosh, who’d have thought a series set in backwoods Tennessee about a family of six fierce, hairy-faced brothers would rise to such excellent escapism? Reid delivers characters who are warm, unique and loveable. The only problem with this series is that the first three books have been released and now I’m waiting for the rest. Impatiently. Gimme Gimme Gimme.
  2. Victoria Dahls’ Jackson, Jackson Girls Night Out and Tumble Creek series—These books have been out for a couple of years, and I don’t know why I was late discovering them. They are like potato chips to my endless craving for salty food. Light, but not too light, they deliver crisp characterization and believable relationships of true love.
  3. Olivia Dade’s Lovestruck Librarians series—Good girl librarians gone rogue? Talk about catnip. Not as strong as some of the other series on the 2016 reading list, nonetheless, I’ve pre-ordered the next book. So there’s that. Guess I like quirky librarians, multi-cultural casts and quaint locations.
  4. Jaci Burton’s Hope series—I actually like this series better than the Play-by-Play books. The setting is authentic and well-drawn. Recommended.

F is for Fantastic Futuristic Stories

I’ve had some of my serious ideals about life on this Earth punctured and deflated during the past year. Sometimes, I’d happily escape into the universe somewhere else to start up a new civilization. I started this post talking about science and its drive to understand the truths of the universe—truths based on facts not feelings. I conclude by looking at science fiction romances that helped me escape the online vitriol that razed a lot of what was once good will. Some of the series are gritty (The Edge) and others are a bit silly (Ice Planet Barbarians), but I enjoyed them all.

  1. Megan Crane’s The Edge Series—Crane’s anti-heroes are the ultimate bad boys of the post-apocalyptic earth. Essentially a cross between ancient Vikings, modern gangsters and alpha elite warriors, these guys make their own rules about sex, male/female relationships and war. And they’re smart. The first two books in the series were amazing, and I have the third waiting at the top of my TBR stack.
  2. Anna Hackett’s Phoenix Adventures series—I’m not very far into this series yet, but it has a lot of stories and I plan to work my way through them all. I’ve read other books by Hackett and she’s a great SFR writer. I loved the energy of Among Galactic Ruins. If you like the concept of action adventure in a futuristic, alien setting, this is one of the series to start. At the time of writing this 2016 reading wrap-up, the first book, Among Galactic Ruins has been perma-free on Amazon.
  3. Lolita Lopez’s Grabbed series—This set of stories is an older SFR erotic series and I’m afraid I might not get to read the whole set, a case of series interruptus. These are books that were published with a now defunct publisher, and while the first three have been rereleased by the author, there’s no sign of the others appearing. I’ve stalked the web for information about the out-of-publication titles, but can’t find much. Insert sad face.
  4. Ruby Dixon’s Ice Planet Barbarians series—I consumed the first books in this series last year, and slowed down with them in 2016, when several of the released stories were more about life after the romance rather than stories about a new romance. I tend to avoid continuations of stories that don’t include a new couple falling in love. After all, that’s my expectation—that they will stay in love, no further evidence needed. Maybe some readers like the follow-up proof though, so I still recommend the series as a whole.
  5. Juniper Leigh’s Alien Survivor series only released the first book in 2016, but I loved it. Waiting for more.

Perhaps you too felt the need to string together multiple books in multiple plots of multiple HEAs to survive the year? I anticipate that 2017 is going to require even more extended series reading. Send me a message if you have a series that’s a must-read. I’m always looking for more HEAs.

Wishing you Happy Reading in 2017!

Selene

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The Perfect Cross-Over Genre: Science Fiction Romance

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Reason and science vs. passion and feelings. Do they have to always be at odds, or can they work in harmony? In fiction, they partner up to produce immensely satisfying reads, especially in the Science Fiction Romance genre, or SFR. SFR is the ideal mating of two minds, the logical and the emotional and if you’re not reading it, you should be.

Lots of readers think of science fiction as a male-driven, male-dominated genre, cold and serious, while they think of romance as a female-driven, female-dominated genre, warm and, well, not serious, even frivolous (which is not true, but fodder for another post). In fact, women have been reading and writing science fiction, also called speculative fiction, since it first arose. Mary Shelley’s dark tale of Dr. Frankenstein is considered by many scholars to be the first true science fiction novel. SF is a genre arguably invented by a woman. Plenty of female authors have followed in Shelley’s footsteps to create some of the best and most important literature of the Western world. (For a list of great SF lit written by women in English, just do a Google search. Lists abound on the web, but you can start with this excellent one: The 23 Best Science Fiction Books by Female Authors.)

Unfortunately, a characteristic of great SF stories is that they rarely end in an HEA, or happily-ever-after, on the relationship front, a cheerless outcome if there ever was one. Frankly, SF can be a bit depressing to read if human relationships are your special interest. SF is thought-provoking, intellectually compelling, but, often, emotionally detached. It’s a bit of a downer when the protagonist saves the world, but is then stranded alone, set off from society and its inhabitants in the end? The protagonist might sacrifice everything for civilization (using science or outwitting it), but s/he won’t get his or her own reward. Heck, the love interest may not even survive the adventure—setting up one of the oldest martyr fantasies—a near-ultimate sacrifice that makes the SF protagonist a true hero. What’s more tragic than dying for one’s cause? Choosing some “greater” good over one’s soul mate. Today, despite many of the protagonists in women authors’ SF stories being female, they also don’t seem to win on the relationship front any more frequently than their male counterparts.

Consequently, when reading traditional SF, if you like the science, but you also seek happy-ever-afters for your characters, your logical brain gets fed, but your emotional one is left to starve.

Don’t despair. Even more popular than SF, best-selling HEA-driven romance (also invented by a female author, Jane Austen) blasts to the rescue. Romance, a genre dependent on comedy rather than tragedy, has a huge following of voracious readers. The subcategories are extensive, including historical, inspirational, paranormal, fantasy, erotic, and, fortuitously, science fiction. The SFR genre expands daily as more titles are added to the growing list of entertaining books. (To see a list of where to dive in, check out this previous blog post.) Upcoming films like Passengers, Ghost in the Shell and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets represent that growing entanglement between SF and romance in the wider culture (Comics have long commingled the two types of stories).

Essentially, authors who crave the merging of science with the heart have created science fiction romance, or SFR, to please both sides of the brain. SFR takes the best parts of space opera stories (sexy heroine + sexy hero + adventure in a technologically rich world) and builds a new blended subgenre for readers featuring both science fiction and romance. This post proposes a short list of why everyone who loves either SF or Romance should be reading SFR.

  1. Strong, smart female protagonists. Technology is a gender equalizing force. Women don’t need men to protect them when they are cyborgs or armed with advanced weapons. Why is this important? Gender inequality is still an issue in contemporary society, but often dismissed or treated as if it’s already a resolved deal. (It’s not.) The best SFR stories present the reader with an already gender equal world (yay) or often directly address that gender inequality with characters who evolve to become less biased through the events of the story. Generally, in SFR, the female protagonist is so clever or kick-ass that anyone, including the male love interest, has to face the truth: women are powerhouses who can take care of themselves.
  2. Forward-thinking, open-minded male protagonists. This is really just another take on reason number one. People born and raised in a sexist society are always susceptible to falling back on prejudiced ideas about men and women’s roles, especially in crisis situations. In an alternate world, set in the future, for example, it’s possible the characters have been shaped by cultures that have moved beyond these outdated ideals. Plus, men who are attracted to strong, smart women are already liberated from ideas about traditional male and female roles. Or, if they are still somewhat sexist because they are bigger and stronger, they are drawn to, respect and appreciate the female heroine regardless, and therefore, they are completely okay with being rescued by her should the occasion arise, which, in SFR, often does. It’s empowering for women to read such stories, and I suspect, for men, a bit of a relief to read. After all, who doesn’t want their life partner to put everything on the line just for them, regardless of their gender? (And, hey, if you really prefer the alpha male as protector, those SFRs abound too. Search out alien abduction and alien brides stories to start. And really, is there anything sexier than a huge, violent, withdrawn warrior softening up for the love of an intelligent female?)
  3. Human connection: enforced time together. SFRs are not solitary journeys; they are generally collaborative and communal stories. And what makes two people fall in love? Tension from time spent together plays a huge role, obviously. Getting stuck on a spaceship or on a remote planet, pitted against outside forces, teamed up to win against seemingly superior forces? There is no better set up for passion, trust-building and loyalty, essential components of committed sexual love. A heroine and a hero who save each other both physically and emotionally are bound to endure over time. They’ve already experienced the worst, all that’s left is to enjoy the best. Together. It’s the us-against-the-world model of what many happy relationships base themselves. Plus, truly admirable heroes and heroines are happy to share the spot light. Winning as a team is the best defense against the lonely impostor syndrome that takes the shine right off every triumphant success.
  4. Adventure. Science fiction is predicated on the idea that technological changes change us, possibly destroying our humanity, our capacity for compassion. In SFR, the characters are caught up in a world that has either turned darker due to scientific advances or a world that needs science to help defend it against some natural or external adversary. Therefore, the protagonists are living in a world with inbuilt agency, including a meaningful, active role for the female. There is no time to waste playing the helpless maiden. Both the heroine and the hero either need to survive and rescue themselves, or they need to join forces to rescue others against enemies that are using technology to control people or hording it for their own advantage. Lives are on the line. The characteristics that make the hero and heroine human(oid)—courage, superior wits, ingenuity, perseverance, adaptability, cooperation—are tested and strengthened. The resulting stories are fast-paced and exciting. Better yet, since the heroine is one of the central characters, the rules about who can be in charge and calling the shots is not limited to those with penises. In fact, the message in SFR argues that only as an equal team, that values every member and his or her individual talents and skills, can we overcome the challenges we face. Heroes and heroines are stronger together.
  5. Alien sex. Okay, this is admittedly the kinky and possibly more thrilling aspect of SFR. It’s intriguing to read about enhanced sexual experiences. Face it, in the real world, women have a tougher time reaching completion during sexual intercourse than men do, so what better lovemaking scenario could exist than between a woman with a male human (or not-so-human, but still of superior intelligence) partner whose biological makeup is sure to please. One of my favorite stories has the alien male protagonist endowed with both a naturally large, vibrating penis and an additional appendage above it that sucks on the human woman’s clitoris during sex. It’s like taking the best erotic fantasy with a male lover and altering his body to serve a woman’s specific needs, which takes us back to reason number one concerning why one should read SFR. Strong, confident female protagonists desire satisfaction, male protagonists seek to provide it, and in this increasingly popular genre, they both get what they need, even after the adventure ends.

Check out the SFR anthology, Baby, It’s Cold in Space for a sampling of new SFR stories. Available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also in Paperback.

SFRMABS Baby its Cold cover

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Aliens and Love for the Winter Holidays

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I love imaginatively entering worlds where humans stretch the limits and means of technology, and technology stretches the limit of what it means to be human.

The rising popularity of science fiction stories in television and film has influenced the romance fiction genre as well. I am thrilled to be a fan and author of Science Fiction Romance (SFR). Some of my favorite love stories have been set on worlds millions of light years away and thousands of years from contemporary Earth.

I caught the SF space opera bug in my youth, watching the Star Wars films and television shows like Star Trek and its various incarnations, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Discovery, Enterprise and The Next Generation. Over the years, I’ve watched most of the major movies and the popular tv series in the science fiction realm. And whether the stories feature in light-hearted cartoons like The Jetsons or trend towards the dark and serious like Battlestar Galactica, I love imaginatively entering worlds where humans stretch the limits and means of technology, and technology stretches the limit of what it means to be human. There’s something magical about science and all its seemingly unlimited possibilities, and the way it keeps challenging our sense of self–sort of the way falling and staying in love does.

When I decided to write romance back in 2010, the first several stories I wrote were SFRs. That’s why I’m so excited to be on the brink of releasing a couple of these efforts in the next few months.

The first is a novella, Light Up the Dark, that is part of an exciting anthology, Baby, It’s Cold in Space. That opportunity has morphed into networking with some wonderful SFR writers and we’ve even launched a website, SFR Shooting Stars with hopes that the anthology’s success might propel us into even more joint writing ventures. My novel StarDaemon will release early in the new year also.

If you’re intrigued enough to investigate SFR, and you’re waiting for our spectacular anthology to release, let me recommend some fantastic authors and books to read in the meantime. First, and foremost, I highly recommend Linnea Sinclair’s books, especially the two-novel set, Gabriel’s Ghost and Shades of Dark. I think Gabriel will forever rank as one of my favorite book boyfriends of all time. After you’ve devoured all of Sinclair’s SFR titles, I recommend moving on next to C. J. Barry’s “Unforgettable” series, of which there are four digital titles available, Unearthed, Unmasked, Unleashed and Unraveled.

If you love these two authors’ stories and want to continue (which I think you will), be sure and read Jane’s Warlord by Angela Knight. She writes a lot of SFR, so her other titles are well worth following up on too. If you like sexy, look into SFR erotica titles by Laurann Dohner, Ruby Dixon, and Claire Kent. If more action and less sex appeals to you, check out the titles of Anna Hackett, Veronica Scott, and S. E. Smith. Actually, the fun part about starting to read the SFR genre, if it’s new to you, is to click through Amazon’s author pages (see their “Customers Also Bought Items By…” links) and discover just how many great writers are out there writing SFR.

Just don’t forget to click on Baby, It’s Cold in Space and preorder it so you have it on your device for leisure reading over the winter break and holidays.

(Other SF television shows I’ve loved: Babylon 5, Caprica, Firefly, Farscape, Fringe, Orphan Black, Stargate (especially Universe), and Torchwood, as well as the Superhero/SF shows like Agent Carter.)

 

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A Grain of Sand in a Sandstorm

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Being a writer and being an author are two different things. In general, we tend to think of a writer as simply someone who writes; whereas an author is a writer who has published his or her writing. People can be writers for long periods of their lives without becoming authors. In fact, most writers I know have spent years, if not decades, writing without publishing a single book.

But all that writing doesn’t prepare an experienced writer for tackling the role of author. One can master writing and fail at publishing. Which sucks, frankly. All those years of practice (and avid reading) have probably made the writer a damned decent writer, one worth reading. Unfortunately, becoming an author was probably the primary driving force of all that writing practice and study. The writer has been at it for ten, twenty, thirty years, without any external reward, a reward only delivered upon becoming the author of a publication.

Why so many years as writers, but not authors? Well, a lot of the work is reading. Book after book, after book. That takes time. Then, at the start we write for ourselves. We are our own first readers. Which is fine when we’re not publishing yet. Even moving from writing for one’s self to writing for a broader audience is an adjustment. I suppose some writers start out writing for a broader audience, but I think that many of us follow the path from avid reader and lover of stories, to making tentative forays into writing by taking a college class here or there, slowly gaining some sense of the rightness in the act, and then persisting, maybe earning a degree in writing, or investing a lot of personal time reading writing reference books and studying the art of writing on our own. Either way, the writer works long and hard at the craft before he or she ever reaches out to a larger audience, approaches a publisher, or attempts to indie publish. I often see in an author’s bio blurb that he or she started writing at eight or ten, or as a teenager. Sometimes, the author is in his or her forties or fifties when they finally publish. That’s a lot of years of reading and writing practice before leaping into the role of published author. Considering the complexity of writing well, that’s probably a good thing.

Regardless, when even the most practiced writer takes the leap into publishing, it’s a blind move. Writers submit their work to publishers, or hire independent editors and cover artists, and self-publish. We’ve seen the results…some good, some bad. Through one route or another, though, their writing gets turned into a book, which is put out into the world for consumers. In other words, a grain of sand gets tossed into a raging desert sand storm.

If one is lucky, which 99.9% of us are not, a publisher decides to invest whole hog into the book and prints and distributes it worldwide. It becomes Harry Potter, or Twilight, or 50 Shades of Grey. It may or may not be well-written, but it is published, and marketed ad infinitum. And, the writer makes the leap into being an author without any trouble.

If that’s you, this blog post is not for you.

This post is for the rest of us, wandering with deflated confidence at the lack of progress our book(s) have made in getting readers’ attention. We knew we were nobodies as writers, but we had hoped we’d achieve a little somebody-ness after publication. We’d all seen the movie. We built it, but they did not come.

I now have five grains of sand out swirling among the millions of sand storm books. Five books that are no more visible against the onslaught than having one piece of sand was, and I’m starting to think that even when I have 10 or 20 or 30 grains of sand out there, my books will maintain their status quo of invisibility. I clearly need to do more than produce books, though I continue to write and improve my craft (a couple projects will be out by year’s end). What I need to do is apply the kind of study of craft to my publishing career as I do to my writing career. Still, I can’t help but feel that I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.

I know it’s not like this for everyone. We even know those authors who have mastered promotion, but not writing, right? Their writing may be tepid at best, confusing and illogical at worst. Rife with dangling modifiers and abandoned plot points, their stories are products of enthusiasm rather than skill. Yet, the authors are successful despite the fact that they don’t read much and haven’t studied the craft. They are authors who want to be Michelangelo without learning to draw first, the master chef without learning to sauté, the gold medalist without learning the rules of the sport. They are fulfilling their fantasies too, just not one based on reverence for the art of writing well. Despite all the problems with their work, they sometimes have far more publishing success than practiced writers do, while practiced writers watch from the sidelines with not a little stunned amazement. Still, if we have taught ourselves to write well—not an easy feat—then we should be able to learn how to promote our books successfully as well.

Sounds doable, but if you’re a serious introvert like me, if your stomach over cooks into curdled eggs at the thought of telling someone about your books with the hope they might want to read them, then, learning to write well suddenly becomes a breeze. After all, writing practice is perfect for the introvert since it involves reading a lot (solitary activity) with writing a lot (also solitary activity). Being a writer doesn’t require us to speak to people. But being an author does. And speaking to people is a challenge for introverts.

Selling yourself, your writing, your books is not easy for us shy types. I can promote books others write, but when it comes to my own books, I feel like I’ve entered a nightmare universe where I’ve become a multi-level marketing sales person selling overpriced dish soap to reluctant, resentful friends and family. This is not the dream that drove my passion for writing.

I spent decades studying the craft of writing, but I only began to study the industry and what it means to be an author after I got published. Crazy, right? About the only thing I know I did right was carefully chose a pen name that I still love. Then, I was told to set up social media accounts, so I did. Solicit reviews? Did that too. I connected with some fabulous, genuine reviewers out there—and when you find then, treasure them!—but I also suffered the sting of so-called reviews by self-absorbed, posturing bloggers who couldn’t even get the facts of my books accurate in their reviews and who had more fun trashing my work for their own self-gratification and amusement, than seriously reading and critiquing it. So yeah. Not bitter. Moving on. Ads on review sites? Put the books up for free or on sale on a regular basis? Thousands of my ebooks have been downloaded. Along with millions of other free books. So, effective? My follow-up sales numbers say no. I’ve discovered that getting one’s books downloaded and actually read are two totally different events.

I’ve tried all of these promotional strategies, and my books and my author persona might be a slightly larger grain-cluster of sand, at times, than when I started, but they are still indistinguishable from most of the other grains of sand blowing around in the giant dust devil of book publishing. Plus, soliciting for reviews and mentioning my books on social media remains a nausea-producing event. So it’s been a bit of a nonstarter for me. I was really beginning to wonder whether I should just publish and not promote at all. Sort of like throwing pennies (my books) into a wishing well (Amazon) and hoping my wish would come true, that I’d pick up some readers by sheer chance.

Then at RWA 2016 this past week, I was fortunate enough to attend Damon Suede and Heidi Cullinan’s session on developing a promotional plan that fits different types of writers, even shy, introverted ones like me who love writing but hate promoting. To think that I might be able to forge my own promotional path to some level of author success is exciting. So, I’m going to sacrifice a bit of my precious writing time to engage in their “game” system to formally develop my special brand and my best route to promotional success. My books and my dream for sincerely interested readers are worth it. Maybe in a year or two, I will be a big enough grain of sand to get noticed.

Not surprisingly, I’ve turned my own blog post into an ad for some other authors’ book rather than my own, but I simply don’t mind promoting other people’s work if it’s good. The promotional book for artists is called Your A Game: Winning Promo for Genre Fiction. The authors, Suede and Cullinan, have a website with resources too, if you can’t swing the book just now. Go to your-A-game.com. Maybe, with the perfect brand and promo plan, we’ll find each other’s books in the storm.

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36th Annual RWA Con, 2016: San Diego, CA

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One of the professional highlights of being a romance writer is attending the annual Romance Writers of America conference in the summer. A thousand writers descend on one location to share their passion for writing and reading stories that are uplifting and redemptive. Due to my summer schedule, I don’t get to attend every year, but this year’s event takes place in nearby San Diego on the waterfront, an easy drive from where I live so I’m going, flip flops and beach wear, high heels and evening wear both packed for a good time.

For those unfamiliar with the RWA organization and its conference, the week-long event combines the public (author signings) with the professional (awards ceremonies, agent and editor meetings, and lots of workshops on the art of good writing and the business of selling books). I’ll get to talk shop with colleagues, meet up in person with online friends and critique partners, browse upcoming trends, listen to some of my idols talk craft, and, afterwards, return to my writing cave inspired to push forward on my own WIPs, hopefully with some added knowledge about what makes a good romance great.

The Gathering

Welcome to the Hotel California

Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)

Such a lovely face

They livin’ it up at the Hotel California

                                                The Eagles

Last year, I joined a few online chapters in the categories of romance that I write (contemporary, paranormal, Gothic, SFR). As a member of the subgenre Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal (FFP) chapter, I’m also looking forward to The Gathering, a special event to honor the Prism award winners and to celebrate reading and writing romance stories set in other universes, other worlds, other times, and other realities. This year’s Gathering theme is “Hotel California” because the conference is being held in the Golden State, but also as a nod to nearby Hollywood’s history of producing memorable fantasy, paranormal and futuristic stories and characters on screen, and, finally in memory of the incomparable Glenn Frey, co-writer of the haunting hit song “Hotel California,” who unfortunately passed away earlier this year in January.

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Many writers attend the FFP event in theme-related costumes and this year, with the history of Hollywood filmmaking and television to draw on, the fashion parade should be fantastic. We’ll see lots of Hollywood monsters, fantasy creatures and futuristic rebels wandering the halls of the hotel. I’m putting together a costume to appear as Morticia of The Addams Family. She’s witty, clever and forward-thinking. I fondly remember watching reruns of the classic 1960s television show when I was a child. As a girl, I admired the witch mother, played by Carolyn Jones. Consequently, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather dress up as than her. If you’re attending the Thursday night affair too, look for me in a long black gown, long straight hair and white face makeup.

I’ll be posting pics to FB during that week (July 12–16, 2016), so keep tabs on my timeline for the latest buzz and trends in romance fiction.

Cheers,

Selene

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Writing Complex Characters Using Myers-Briggs

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A few years ago, when I started writing romance, I picked up a paranormal series to study. In addition to engaging world-building, the heroine in the first book—witty and feisty—delighted me. She exhibited qualities that made me care about her and the story. I quickly consumed the second title, then started the third.

Unfortunately, while reading the third book, I realized that this third heroine spoke and thought in exactly the same way as the heroines in the previous books. They had different names and distinct physical attributes—one had brown hair, one red, one blonde—and different backgrounds—one came from poverty, one from wealth, one wasn’t even human—yet they reacted and sounded identical to each other in their respective books, even to the degree that they shared the same dialogue. I didn’t read the fourth book in the series, because…what was the point? I’d essentially seen the same character, in various physical disguises, fall in love several times over. An otherwise decent series of books was marred by a lack of varied and deep character development.

Fiction writing guides offer basic questionnaires useful at helping a writer flesh out aspects of both the physical and psychological attributes of a given character. Sometimes though, just answering the prompts can result in superficial character outlines that camouflage an underlying lack of difference between one character and another, until we see those characters speak and act inside a story. These questionnaires survey a character’s appearance and personal history, but are limited in exploring his inherent personality. People’s personalities derive from both genetics and environment. Lots of good-looking brunettes grow up poor with limited education, but they definitely don’t share the same personalities. So how do writers create characters with unique personalities? One way is to study what psychologists know.

I use personality theory to build different characters and their relationships within a single work of fiction. It addresses both a character’s personality as it’s shaped by the outside world and by biology. Personality theory, specifically the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (based originally on the work of Carl Jung), and its descriptors provide writers an ample supply of individual traits to draw upon in developing unique characters. Think of a painter mixing the primary colors of red, yellow and blue into creating first the complementary colors of orange, green and purple, and then using those to create the tertiary colors, mixing again and again, until one has thousands of colors.

In the case of personality theory, Myers-Briggs begins with four opposing sets of traits:

  • extrovert vs. introvert,
  • intuitive vs. sensor,
  • feeler vs. thinker, and
  • perceiver vs. judger.

These traits blend to make sixteen basic types. Each trait within each type is then positioned on a scale from extreme to mild, allowing one to combine individual traits into a thousand variations, just as an artist creates thousands of colors from red, yellow and blue. A person (or character) can be slightly extroverted, moderately extroverted or extremely extroverted.

At the core, Myers-Briggs categorizes individuals as either more extroverted or more introverted, more intuitive or more sensitive, more emotional or more intellectual, and more focused on gathering data or on analyzing it. For example, someone who is an extrovert, thinker, sensor and judger is categorized ESTJ; she’s nicknamed the “guardian” and valued for her inherent sense of responsibility to do what’s right, per time-honored practices and institutions. She can also have trouble understanding why anyone would work outside the system or want to change it. A character categorized as ESTJ makes a great detective, but also a law enforcement partner who has difficulty adjusting to the individual needs of others. How do we know an ESTJ has these attributes? Fortunately, psychologists have already identified and described them in great detail, both in respect to positive and negative manifestations. Just as colors can be cool or warm, personality traits can be positive or negative. Completely good or completely evil characters are boring. Myers Briggs explains both the admirable and the shadow sides of each trait, allowing writers to create complex—flawed but still likeable—characters.

Frankly, character is key to interesting storytelling. Characters with different personality types react to situations in completely different ways, resulting in different plot outcomes. Also, while secondary characters are generally static, protagonists, with limited exceptions, need to be dynamic. Fortunately, personality types aren’t set in stone. As people mature, they tend to become less extreme in their personalities (or they don’t, which can be an interesting development for a character/plot as well). For example, an extremely extroverted character can struggle with loneliness. As the story progresses, he can learn the value of being alone with his thoughts, of developing solitary activities—leading to a satisfying character arc. Growth for a character—key to building dynamic protagonists—involves movement away from the extreme towards moderation. The beauty of the Myers-Briggs personality indicator is that it allows a writer to study and apply highly nuanced differences (and shifts) of personality to their characters in ways that drive character choices, character relationships, and ultimately, the outcome of the story.

How to use this personality trait system to develop characters with distinctly different personalities? Start by taking a free personality test online. If you are ruthlessly honest with yourself, you’ll be able to determine your type without help. If you need assistance (the questions can be challenging), seek out professional guidance. Study your own type. What are the attributes in terms of work, love, relationships? Then expand out and study other types. Create a character using a specific type, then place her in a scene to see how her type dictates what she says and does. Create a contrasting character type and place him in the scene and see how the two react to each other.

Jungian psychologists claim that people gravitate to friendships with people who share similar personality traits, while they fall in love with people who are their opposites. People who share outlooks on life make great friends. Conversely, opposites attract (or drive each other crazy) because they tend to admire the way their counterparts are accomplished in exactly the ways they are not—hence the whole coming together to form a harmonious whole. As opposites, characters can also gently push each other to grow and develop. When I select protagonists for a romance, I create characters who are opposites on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator instrument, throw them together, and then let them fall in love. The contrasting traits create lots of conflicting sparks and fireworks, ideal in romance stories, while forcing the characters to develop themselves to make the relationship work.
Further reading:

  • Type Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, Love, and Work by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen
  • Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates
  • Type Talk at Work: How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job by Otto Kroeger, Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge
  • 16 Ways to Love Your Lover by Otto Kroeger

This post of mine first appeared as a guest article on author Robyn Bachar’s Blog.

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Anticipation vs. Expectation; Or Why I Don’t Like The Trend of Trigger Warnings

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Watch out! Beware! Danger ahead!

UNCOMFORTABLE FEELINGS MAY HAPPEN!

Warning.

Warning.

Warning.

Code Red.

Do Not Enter or you might get your feelings OFFENDED!

You.

Have.

Been.

WARNED!

When I was a child, I got my books from the library’s traveling bookmobile. Choosing what to read was simple, really, because there wasn’t much to persuade me to choose one title over another. There were no pictures on the books to catch my interest. Stories were hidden under sturdy, nondescript covers in colors ranging from brown to green to maroon, and shelved simply by reading levels. There were no internal illustrations (after age 9 or 10) and only short plot descriptions inside the cover. I choose what to read by the title and a quick scan of the interior pages. I gradually became familiar with authors and genres and occasionally asked the librarian for recommendations based on what I’d read and liked previously. But that sort of inquiry was rare—as a desperately shy kid, I never spoke to strangers, even the kindly old librarians who stocked the titles and drove them out to my country school twice a month. Better to just grab something before the woman threatened me with actual conversation.

Without beautiful covers, enticing blurbs, or reader reviews to set up my expectations in advance, every book lay before me a mysterious treasure-trove of setting, characters, events yet to be experienced. Every book was undiscovered territory. Every book was both a risk and a thrill. Every book held the potential to change the world as I knew it. I had no expectations regarding story or characters or quality. I had only anticipation.

My early experiences checking out library books impacted me in two significant ways. First, this access to community library books rather than privately-owned books made it easy to transition later to digital readers. Though I eventually came to appreciate owning physical books, in part for the way they look shelved together in a room, and for their reassuring heft while gripped in one’s hand, and for the way the pages flutter smoothly at the cut edge as I pull my thumb across them, and finally for the artistry of the glossy covers, those visceral experiences have always been secondary to the more intrinsic value of the letters that lay on the inside of the book, spread across the pages unraveling like a thread winding its way into a strange, magical universe. So I first “owned” books as experience, not as material objects. Library books always have to be returned, so they’re never so much physical possessions as they’re experiential possessions. Still to this day, reading takes place in my head, not in my hands.

Second, on personal reflection, over the years, I must have read a lot of books I didn’t particularly like—books consumed and forgotten like bland vanilla wafers, or stale candy found under the bed ten months after Halloween. I don’t remember abandoning stories midpoint much during those early reading days, when my sole source of new stories was the lending library. I probably read every book available all the way to the last word on the last page, maybe even more than once. It was a long two weeks between bookmobile visits, and the check-out limit was strictly restricted to seven books. I read fast and without judgement. I couldn’t be fussy, too fastidious, too exacting. I remember once, the day after a bookmobile visit, bingeing on five Zane Grey novels in one day when I stayed home alone with cramps during middle school. I had to pace out the remaining two books in my stash for almost two weeks until the bookmobile returned. If the staff didn’t change out the selections on the shelves, sometimes the new pickings grew mighty slim. Consequently, I read two-three grade levels ahead by fourth grade and had exhausted most of the titles long before I moved on to the large city high school and the entire city library.

When someone reads like that—five books in one day—she experiences complete immersion. The reader submits to the words, to the sentences, to the story, to the control of the writer’s skill and art, to the invented world between those utilitarian, musty covers. But she also constructs the story using the words on the page. Whatever happens inside those covers, happens in the reader’s mind. And what happens can stick with surprising resilience. I didn’t just read without judgement, I read without a filter. Characters and events come to life in a way unique to each reader. That’s why readers struggle to see a favorite book made into a movie—the actors cast never match the characters created in the individual mind. And despite always reading ahead of my age level, which meant I had to have encountered “inappropriate for my age” books early on. I don’t ever remember complaining about the content of a book to a friend, a teacher or the librarian, even when it shocked me. Some people need to jump off cliffs and out of planes to feel alive; readers only need to open the cover of an unknown book to feel a thrill.

Memories of what I’ve read blur with memories of what I’ve lived. Decades after I read a single-paragraph description in a 11th grade history textbook, I am still haunted by the cold terror of being shuffled by Nazis into a gas chamber alongside German Jews; I never called out the teacher or the school district for the discomfort of making me suffer that image. Two decades after reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in college, I still recall the awkward unease and sense of violation Offred feels lying underneath the Commander while he attempts to impregnate her (me); I didn’t try to get my professor fired for assigning the book, or demand the university ban the book from the curriculum. The darkest, most shocking contents of books I’ve read just stick, and stay with me forever, and it’s no one’s fault but my own. I understand, even though I’ve never personally, physically experienced the events in the books, I’m well aware, that reading about something violent or strange can be intellectually and emotionally traumatic. Yet, I continue to read without a filter, in part because that’s how I read, and in part, because I read to be transformed from what I was into what I might be. And I don’t blame anyone, even the writer, for my transformation, for stripping away some bit of innocence, for making me know.

Now that I have so much choice in what I read, I try to remain conscious about what it is that first catches my attention on covers, in blurbs and reviews when I select which books to read. My options are a cornucopia to what I had as a child. I have more unread books in my personal library than I had access to check out in all the years I depended on that bookmobile. I access a much larger public library. I buy a lot of books. I continue to add more titles to my to-be-read (TBR) pile daily, despite reading 3-4 books a week. These books are no longer hidden behind plain wrapping. These days, I can’t ignore (nor do I want to) covers, blurbs and reviews, but I do shop for books with a heightened awareness that these shopping tools can be as detrimental as they are helpful in the process of selecting a book to read. Simply, these tools can misdirect me from the path of a great reading experience because they filter out books that I assume I won’t like, books that might change how I see the world. And that concerns me.

The old adage to not judge a book by its cover is more relevant today than ever. Covers are ads created by publishing companies or graphic artists, not writers. And if indie writers do design their own book covers…the result can be cringe-worthy. A poorly or badly designed cover can hide a fantastic book—especially when it comes to choosing inexpensive ebooks. It goes without saying that awful books can have gorgeous covers. Even blurbs prove problematic in choosing a book. Sometimes they tell too much; sometimes they don’t tell much at all; sometimes they are poorly written, even when the book itself has been carefully crafted and edited. I’ve read a lot of convoluted book descriptions in which the writer or an editor or agent tried to pack a 100,000 word story into five lines. And don’t even get me started on reviews. Many of the 5-star ravings gush like a broken water main, while the 1-star rantings usually tell us more about the reviewer’s general state of unhappiness than they do the quality of the book. Still, there’s a resulting, alarming development pertaining to the publishing industry’s response to negative reviews complaining about the content in a book. Books, especially romances, now all seem to come with warnings (like bottles of poison).

Intended for mature audience only. Sensitive material. Sex! M/F Sex! M/M Sex! F/F Sex! M/F/M Sex! F/M/F Sex! Swapping! Orgies! Spankings! Cheating! Floggings! Figging! Pegging! Anal! Oral! Humiliating Insults! Nonconsensual Intercourse! Pretend rape! Real Rape!

In my literature classes, from elementary through graduate school, I read pretty much everything I was assigned. Granted, there wasn’t the explicit sex, language and violence in books of old, as there we see today. But that’s true for all media—film, television, drama, music. My professors and the canon were the quality filter when I was a student, but that didn’t mean they eliminated tough or shocking reads. A lot of classic fiction has disturbing content, including rape, incest, violence, and murder, and it comes in varying degrees of explicitness. I don’t remember hating anything I read (with one exception in grad school in which human excrement was presented as erotic—I mean, that’s just plain unhygienic). I only remember having favorite books. I generally move past the experience of any book that doesn’t resonate for me, that bores me, that irritates me. So despite reading some pretty horrifying (at the time) things over the years, I survived and read on. In fact, reading toughens me up for a real world where all these fictional things happen.

When I was a student, I accepted that every assigned book had some merit and it was my responsibility to recognize and appreciate it. If I disagreed with the professor or another reader about a book, it was due to my critical analysis about what that book was saying overall, not in the book’s inherent value or virtue, or in whatever possibly shocking information it contained. I don’t remember thinking I’d really like Oedipus Rex better if it had turned out that Jocasta wasn’t Oedipus’ real mother. Literature reflects real human experience, and personally, I’d rather experience incest via fiction than through real life. The benefit to me as a reader (and to society as a whole) is that I understand and empathize with victims of incest without actually having to suffer personally the physical, long-lasting damage of having been involved in an incestuous relationship. The benefit to me as a reader is that I understand that incest actually exists, and that it’s damaging, instead of just trying to live out my life in a falsely-constructed Disney-sanitized world that makes me narrow-minded and indifferent to other people’s suffering. The benefit to me as a reader is that I don’t look at victims of incest (or rape, or racism, or sexism) and label them weird and/or different from me. Reading helps humanize them and their situation.

Reading works like Oedipus Rex helped prepare me for more explicitly disturbing work, like Sapphire’s Push. I am still haunted by the scenes in that raw book. They were heartbreakingly potent. I can never—nor would I want to—unread that book. Push is as much a part of my worldview as Pride and Prejudice.

Aristotle called this experience catharsis, the releasing of repressed psychological stress by feeling the emotions of both fear and pity for the characters while watching a play (or reading a book). Fiction about potentially shocking or unpleasant things—whether in a book, a stage play, a film, a television show, or even in music—helps us identify and control underlying, emotional impulses and drives using our mind to imagine and experience something from within the safe boundaries of story—by watching it happen to someone else whom we feel connected to, like the character. It’s hard to fully benefit from reading, if one selectively chooses in advance not to read the books that might have us facing unpleasant scenarios or situations through the experiences of the characters. That’s why warnings on books displease me. Adult romances are not marketed to children, so why the warnings? It suggests that adults are censoring the world for themselves as if they are still children.

Like most people, I read popular fiction to escape from reality. To think though, that reading for pleasure is just a fantasy escape from reality is to ignore how literature, including popular fiction, is created and how it impacts us. Even the crappiest, silliest fiction is written by writers who are raised and shaped by the culture around them. The experiences and beliefs they carry and use as the basis for the stories they tell draw from the culture in which they are raised. As readers of those stories, we either have our own life experiences and perspectives reinforced or challenged. If we only read stories that reinforce what we already think, then what is the point of reading yet more “new” stories that reinforce what we think? Reading should be about the expansion of ideas, not their reduction, even when it’s just “mindless entertainment.” It might be mindless, but it’s also influential. This phenomenon is why we should read books by people unlike ourselves—male, female, white, black, Native American, Hispanic, foreign. Without a broad perspective, our own understanding of what’s true and right is locked behind the rigid limited lines of our own life experience. Only reading things that are pleasant or in agreement with what we already think is like locking one’s mind up in a type of idea jail.

After decades now of perusing pretty covers, and blurbs, and reviews, when shopping for books, I still try to approach my choices with an open mind. But I admit I’ve been lazy lately. With increasing frequency, I have been reading romance for narrower and narrower experiences—candy for my sweet tooth, like a new release in a series by a favorite author (which is good), or a title with a favorite trope (give me a stranded-alone together on a spaceship in some galaxy far far away/in a log cabin during a blizzard/on a boat in the middle of the ocean, enemies-to-lovers story, and I’m blowing off a much-needed night of sleep for that catnip). It’s just entertainment, we say. Doesn’t count for personal development, right? But I’ve acknowledged that whether I’m reading nonfiction, literary fiction or genre fiction, I tend to immerse myself, remember? That means the world inside the book either reinforces my worldview, or modifies it, or shocks it.

If I look over my more recent book shopping habits, I have to face up to the fact that I’ve become increasingly prejudiced. As a heavy reader of romance these past five years, I’ve developed some aversions to certain types of stories. For example, I will read ménages, but I tend to read them as ending in HFNs (happy-for-now) rather than HEAs (happy-for-ever). It’s difficult enough to sustain an intimate relationship with one person; make the relationship a threesome, and I’m imagining all the unmanageable complications.

I’m not keen on romance novels with pregnant heroines either. Nothing wrong with these stories per se (they are, certainly, other readers’ catnip, which is fantastic for some talented writers who serve these tropes), but if I read a blurb telling me the contemporary heroine is pregnant with some unimportant-to-the-story guy’s baby at the start of the book but then she meets Mr. Right on page ten, I’m probably going to pass. I can’t help but obsess about the upcoming 18 years of problems. Why didn’t the heroine just end it (abortion is legal, right)? Is she forcing the biological daddy into being an unwilling daddy? How’s he going to play a role in the story and the eventual kid’s life? Every kid deserves to know their biological parents, if it’s possible, and every guy deserves a chance to know his own child. These issues distract me from enjoying the story. I can’t stop worrying about the kid and his/her biological father’s relationship. I guess that why some writers just kill off the baby daddy before the story even starts (a sort of deus ex machina at the start rather than the conclusion of the story to address these logical questions). Still, if the heroine is pregnant, it means the biological father died recently, and then how ready for a new relationship can she be, really?

Finally, as a pragmatic romantic, I’m pretty skeptical of second chance love stories between the same two characters. I’m going to need a lot of careful world-building and set-up to believe a second run at a relationship is going to end more successfully than a first run. That storyline though is the favorite trope of other readers, and a significant romance fantasy confirmed by the number of old high school sweethearts hooking up on Facebook. Personally, I tend to be relieved I’m not with my exs, rather than nostalgic about the so-called good times. If they had been so perfect for me, and me for them, then why, exactly, did our relationships fail? But that’s fodder for another post.

I tell myself that my “aversions” or reading preferences are predominantly situational. I still read just about everything out there—historical, paranormal, contemporary, western, futuristic, steampunk—if it’s romance, I read it. I read erotic to sweet. I’m open to almost any romance story set anywhere and at any time a writer can imagine. I think a lot of romance readers, who tend to be insatiable in their reading, are more open-minded and therefore more open-hearted readers to start with—after all they’ve had to overcome the “shame” of reading romance in a society that belittles the activity at every opportunity, but they still do it. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed, with the increasing frequency, that problematic trend in book blurbs and reviews of warning readers off with all the potential “triggers” they might encounter in the romance book. I get why these warnings are included in the book’s description. I’ve read 1-star reviews complaining that the reviewer never would have read the book if she’d known it would have adultery in it, or nonconsensual sex, or a ménage scenario. Still, I think it’s unfortunate that readers’ negative reviews have spurred publishers and indie writers to start labeling every book with warning declaimers that sometimes run longer that the blurb.

Hey, you might be thinking, the warnings attract readers too, those who are seeking stories with adultery, nonconsensual sex, and/or ménage scenarios. This is true. But I suspect, based on the wording in the blurb, that the information isn’t provided to attract readers; it’s provided to prevent complaints. It’s provided to protect a reader’s sensibilities or feelings. But wait, you might then exclaim, there are readers who have been traumatized by real experiences of rape and violence and we should do everything we can to protect them from reliving that trauma. Frankly, I’m not so sure about that idea. Maybe I never should have had to read about the atrocities of the Holocaust because I’m German-descent and it might make me feel shame for that part of my Western heritage (over which I had no control)? Maybe I should never have had to read a dystopian novel in which women were turned into personal whores (based on information in the Old Testament) since I’ve experienced male sexual aggression firsthand, or because the book seems to criticize Christianity and I was raised Christian, or because it’s women who become the victims in the story, and I’m a woman? Maybe I should never have read Bel Canto because I’ve been held up—rather traumatically—by gun point, as are the characters in that book?

Or maybe, the ideas, situations and events in these works are exactly why I should read them. When I taught Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex to my students at the end of last semester, some of them felt violated to have to read a story that included the idea of incest. Some of my video-playing, HBO-watching circa 2016 teenagers felt violated while reading a 2500-year-old play about two characters who’ve unwittingly committed incest, and who never appear alone together in any kind of intimate scene in the whole text. What my teenage students really felt was shock that such an event happens. Knowing that incest exists and people commit it and they are punished for it? That seems like pretty important knowledge to me. I get their shock—I felt the same shock, even after I was well aware of incest, in reading Push. And I needed to feel that shock.

We need to build walls of knowledge between our fragile psyches and the brutality, the strangeness of the world, and books are the best tools with which to construct it. We’re living in a world in which parents list their children’s happiness over all other hopes, even over integrity, resilience and inventiveness. But they aren’t understanding what it is that truly makes us happy. We’re living in a world in which people seem to expect that nothing bad is ever supposed to happen to them, and when something inevitably does, no matter how minor, they react with shock and the belief that someone else should suffer for it. We’re living in a world in which people who are victims of aggression or crime seem to remain victims forever. PTSD is real, but not everyone who experiences trauma develops it. Clinical depression is real, but surely it’s not suffered by the quarter of the entire adult population who are taking Xanax or its ilk. If 25% of Westerners are clinically depressed, how and when the heck did it happen? We seem to be living in a world in which someone discovering a cruel message on their pizza customer receipt is equally as harmed as someone getting cheated out of their life savings. There doesn’t seem to be a scale of offenses from mild to severe anymore. People seem outraged and offended by even the slightest annoyances. So, why am I surprised when we have readers who are personally offended by words on a page? Probably, because I think readers are more intelligent than the average person and should just know better.

In love and romance stories, especially, feelings and intimacy, by their very nature, present the risk of abuse and offense. Even the best people with the best intentions can hurt us, abandon us, wreck us. Every time a character goes on a date, every time s/he get married, every time s/he trusts someone, s/he risks rejection and the resulting pain. It’s hard to construct a love story that doesn’t have some kind of potential for rejection or shock, including cheating and kinks. These kinds of stories can teach us to see the world through others’ eyes and experiences. It can help us understand why someone might be ready for love, even while she’s pregnant with someone else’s child. It can help us understand why sex between three people might lead to emotional involvement and trust that can endure. It can help us see why two individuals who weren’t ready for a relationship ten years ago, now are, and that we should be open to second chances. Certainly, gay, lesbian, and mixed race romances have helped breakdown cultural barriers and beliefs about who can love whom. Fiction can legitimatize the experience of difference. Romance stories help us see how forgiveness and acceptance—I accept your kink if you accept mine—are key to deep and everlasting love. Seeing love survive, grow in shocking and unexpected places and ways can only be a positive influence on the world.

Okay, so the blinders I’ve let develop regarding what I choose to read over the last five years have started to nag at me, because these blinders are nothing more than personal prejudices about what a great romance should say about love. I’m not reading with an open mind if I’m choosing to not read certain types of stories at all, especially if I guide my reading by warning labels put up to encourage self-censorship over what I read. Book-banning continues to be a serious problem in the world. Let’s not act as our own censors while we shop for that next book. Romance readers are not children. The primary way we learn and understand what happens to other people less fortunate than or different from us is through reading, through stories. If we filter out all the stories that might shock us, might breakdown and restructure the way we see the world, might cause us to experience catharsis, then we might as well stop reading anything new. Sadly, we might not be able to recognize love in all its manifestations in the real world.

I’m committed to read against my slowly developing biases this coming year, with the intent to break them down. I’m going to read some second-chance romances. I’m going to read at least one contemporary pregnant heroine book. I’m going to skim over covers, blurbs and reviews, and especially the warnings posted for the books I choose to read and resist their call for or against a story. I’m going to read without fear. And if I encounter something shocking or “triggering” in the books as I read, I’m going to stay conscious that I’m just reading words on a page, and words cannot hurt me. I simply refuse to censor what I read based on “trigger” warnings. In fact—I may use these warnings to seek out books that will likely make me uncomfortable, but also might transform me from what I am into what I might be. I’m going to read with more anticipation, and less expectation in 2016. I hope you’ll join me.

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On a Darkling Plain: 2015 Reading Romance Retrospective

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      “It is love; love, the comfort of the human species, the preserver of the universe,

       the soul of all sentient beings, love, tender love.”

                                                                            ― Voltaire, Candide

In 2015, I continued my commitment to track my reading habits on GoodReads in order to see how much and what I actually read. Although the overall data didn’t differ significantly from 2014, I have begun to understand more about my story and style preferences. I stopped reading romance when I was eighteen, specifically when I became an English and journalism major at university; I only returned to reading romance near the end of 2010, when the pain of my mother’s death drove me toward what I thought would be mindless, escapist books. I discovered that romance had grown up and out into something far more interesting—and better written—than the oft maligned bodice-rippers of the 80s. If you peruse my favorite reads list below, you’ll see I’m still reading romance.

By and large, I read romance indiscriminatingly. I’ll read most stories as long as the writing is decent (can’t ever undo an English degree education). I transition rapidly, easily between different styles and voices—from cheerful and efficient prose to darkly introspective and lush poetry, from the subgenres contemporary to historical, erotic to speculative, western to paranormal. I tend to read impulsively and intuitively, whatever suits my mood. And I read insatiably.

So, until this past year, my main criteria for choosing a romance to read had been the writer’s competency. These last twelve months though, I became increasingly more selective with which stories I pick up to read. Living in a world where adolescent girls are kidnapped and made “child brides” by barbaric terrorists, where radicals shoot up innocent people dining at sidewalk cafes, where people in remote villages stone women to death for refusing to marry men others choose for them, and where small towns cultivate boys to become pimps who lure neighboring town’s girls into prostitution, I discovered that, yes, I can still “escape” the real world by reading romance, but I also need to use my reading to process the psychological trauma of living in a world where women are more often abused than loved by men.

Mainly, I discovered in 2015 that I crave gritty, realistic contemporary stories that reinforce the idea that the masculine half of humanity needs and craves love and intimacy too. It might surprise some non-romance readers to discover realism exists in romance, especially with the genre’s requisite HEA, but for me, the true-to-life struggles and challenges individual characters face, alone and together, make the coupled endings in rougher romances all the more intense and meaningful. Love discovered and nurtured in an unsentimental version of the world represents more than fantasy, it offers us a chance to see and believe in the selfless good humans—men in particular—are still capable of creating.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still angst-averse. Other readers can keep their soap opera dramas. I want tough characters who tough out tough situations without a lot of fanfare. Private, restrained pain resonates and moves me more than screaming and hair-pulling. Spare me high drama, which works fine in comedy, but sours quickly in serious stories, where narcissistic, whining characters more invested in being victims than survivors turn instantly exhausting for this reader. That kind of exaggerated self-importance on the part of characters in a romance might read okay in a world at peace, but never in one where thousands of women suffer far worse fates in the time it takes me to read one book. (Caveat: I don’t want explicit, predatory rape and gratuitous violence in my romances either. I get my fill of that on the news. Love and rape are the utter antithesis of each other. For me, though, dubious consent is acceptable when the protagonists are forming an authentic relationship and the writer knows what she is doing—hey, we all have our kinks).

In 2015, I wanted, needed stories that map how to live and love with grace and dignity, even as we helplessly watch tragedy unfold around us, beyond our control, every day. I want stories that reiterate Voltaire’s final analysis in Candide: “Let us cultivate our garden.” This year, I found and read stories with characters intent on cultivating their own gardens. And they were wonderful.

Some part of my soul inherently craves the shadow side of life in my fiction. By age seven, I’d discovered the original Grimm’s fairy tales, and the world shifted into focus. With their cruel indifference, stark poverty, and casual violence, Grimm’s versions read more honest to me than the pastel, sparkly Disney versions. I’d never met a soft, kindly fairy godmother; the women in my life were resilient survivors, hard women of the bitterly cold and unforgiving upper Midwest, who saved any softness for babies. Fiction is about more than escapism, it’s the telling of stories that shape our world view. Perhaps reading Joanna Wylde’s novel, Reaper’s Property, at the end of 2013 initially retriggered my desire for rougher, meaner stories. Two years ago, I read that book cover-to-cover, compulsively, the first week I had it, four times in seven days. According to my 2015 favorites reading list, my awakened need for stories that reflect the darker aspects of life have flared to a full blazing fire.

These more serious stories remind me of my favorite love poem, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold. After musing on the beauty of the night sea, which prompts the speaker’s nostalgia, then melancholy, of darker past events, he exclaims:

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Some people might not see Arnold’s poem as romantic, but for me, it speaks to the power and necessity of intimate love between two individuals in a callous, often senseless, world. The truth is that few people—beyond our parents or children, if we have them—ever really love us or need us. Finding someone to love, wholly and completely? Finding someone to love us back unconditionally? That might be the only emotional experience that makes us accept or believe in our own worth, especially if, like me, you choose not to have children and both your parents have passed on. Romantic love can transform us from just another orphaned person (in world of 7.349 billion people) into someone important to someone important to us. It allows us to anchor someone in the same way he or she anchors us. I have plenty of friends who are content, well-adjusted singles, but I find something reassuring about forging through life with a faithful partner at my side.

I imagine my preference for reality in contemporary romance is why I’m not a huge fan of billionaire or second chance (with the same lover) stories. I read them occasionally, but they rarely end up becoming memorable books to me. My truth, my worldview, is that billionaire geniuses don’t fall in love with uneducated shop girls, and gorgeous six-foot tall, six-pack men don’t date dumpy, plain-looking women, no matter how wonderful anyone tries to be. And in my experience, failed relationships rarely overcome their failures. It’s easier to start fresh with someone new. Love requires trust, and after two people have effectively destroyed that trust in the past, it’s unlikely a second go at love will satisfy either. I can appreciate that other readers embrace these types of stories for personal reasons; but when a story ignores the way I see people behave in reality, I personally disconnect, the illusion disrupted by an egregious break in my suspension of disbelief. In 2015, I needed the world-building in the fiction to be as boring, as frustrating, as difficult, as lonely as real life, and the fantasy in that fiction had to have a sharper edge to it. And so it did.

In reviewing my 2015 GoodReads list:

Favorite New Authors/Books in 2015:

Anne Calhoun’s Liberating Lacey, Uncommon Passion

Jeffe Kennedy’s Falling Under Series Going Under, Under His Touch, Under Contract

Julianna Keyes’ Time Served, Just Once, Going the Distance, In Her Defense

Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim, After Hours, Unbound, Hard Time

Lila Pace’s Begging for It, Asking for It (parts I and II of the same story)

Favorite Familiar Authors’ New Books of 2015:

Tessa Bailey’s Broke and Beautiful Series: Chase Me, Need Me, Make Me

Molly Joseph (Annabel Joseph)’s Ironclad Bodyguards Series: Pawn

Joanna Wylde’s Reapers Motorcycle Club and Silver Valley Series: Silver Bastard,

Reaper’s Fall

Also Noteworthy (and somewhat less gritty) New-to-Me Authors/Series:

Mandy Baxter’s US Marshals Series

Ruby Dixon’s Ice Barbarians Series

Julie James’ FBI/US Attorney Series

Olivia Jaymes’ Cowboy Justice Series

Christina Lauren’s Wild Seasons series

I kept my 2015 reading goal to just 100 books, the same as the previous year. As of December 25, 2015, I’ve easily doubled my goal again, at 206 titles, and I’m likely to read several more by New Year’s Eve. Since I’m a confirmed bookworm, that outcome is not really a surprise. This year, though, I didn’t record books that I reread (there weren’t that many anyway), and like last year, I didn’t record books that I didn’t like and/or didn’t finish. Still, it means that I read far more new titles and authors this year.

Stats about my reading habits, provided by GoodReads:

Total titles read as of 12/25/15: 206 (vs. 224—including 40 rereads—in 2014)

Longest title read: The Collector by Nora Roberts (752 pages)

Total pages read (as of 12/25/2016): 52,469 or the equivalent of more than 17 million words. That’s about 1,000 pages a week, or 3-4 books a week. (vs. about 50,000 pages in 2014)

As I wind up my 2015 reading experience, I am also reviewing how well I completed my 2014 goals.  After all, I tell myself, what’s the point of collecting data and running a self-analysis, if not to do something useful with the results, right?

2014 Goal 1: Try to reread fewer familiar titles by my favorite authors (though I’m sure I’ll be buying and reading their latest novels) to instead discover more new-to-me authors.

I achieved this, I think. I reread a lot fewer books this past year, allowing me time to discover some amazing new writers who are now on my must-read list.

2014 Goal 2: End 2015 having experienced a mind-blowing, transformational, FIRECRACKER! read.

Okay—this definitely happened. And it was due to taking risks on some new authors. I’ve reread McKenna’s Intermix books several times each now. I’ve also added most of these new authors’ remaining titles to my TBR pile-up. I’m not sure I can name just one title as my absolute favorite, though I’ve certainly read Willing Victim and Liberating Lacey at least three or four times each. I anticipate with true pleasure rereading all of the books on my list above. It was a collective experience with all of the books—gritty, intense romance that satisfied some dark inner corner of my psyche.

2014 Goal 3: Read more full-length nonfiction.

I wasn’t as successful with this goal, though I am currently reading several books on Native American life, especially concerning what it’s like to grow up and live on a reservation. I am drafting a contemporary romance with a Native American hero (I’m not Native American and I understand the potential backlash, but this man arose in my imagination and he wants his story, and so I am doing my best to honor who he is by doing meaningful research. I so want to give him an HEA).

2014 Goal 4: Set aside reading time needed to catch up on whole series, especially by some of my favorite authors like Sabrina Jeffries and Elizabeth Hoyt.

Both a success and a fail on this one. I did read two popular, long-running paranormal series that I’d never read before: Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound series and Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau Vampire series. I thoroughly enjoyed many of the titles in both series. But, I’m still behind on Jeffries and Hoyt, mostly because I simply didn’t read as many historical romances this year. I’m not sure why, but I think I generally read historical romances to escape the pace of modern life into a simpler (at least in terms of technology) time, and I was far too plugged into the world this year, especially politically, to escape into titled Regency England, not that all historical romances are focused on the upper class. Increasingly, historical romance novelists are telling the stories of the working class and poor. Nonetheless, I craved stories that addressed the challenges of male-female relationships as they function today.

Ultimately, 2015 was a rewarding year for reading.

Bring on 2016!

Links to the authors mentioned above:

Jennifer Ashley’s Shifters Unbound Series

Tessa Bailey’s Broke and Beautiful Series: Chase Me, Need Me, Make Me

Mandy Baxter’s US Marshals Series

Anne Calhoun’s Liberating Lacey, Uncommon Passion

Ruby Dixon’s Ice Barbarians Series

Julie James’ FBI/US Attorney Series

Olivia Jaymes’ Cowboy Justice Series

Molly Joseph (Annabel Joseph)’s Ironclad Bodyguards Series: Pawn

Jeffe Kennedy’s Falling Under Series Going Under, Under His Touch, Under Contract

Julianna Keyes’ Time Served, Just Once, Going the Distance, In Her Defense

Christina Lauren’s Wild Seasons series

Cara McKenna’s Willing Victim, After Hours, Unbound, Hard Time

Lila Pace’s Begging for It, Asking for It (parts I and II of the same story)

Lynsay Sands’ Argeneau Vampire Series

Voltaire’s Candide

Joanna Wylde’s Reapers Motorcycle Club/Silver Valley Series: Silver Bastard,

Reaper’s Fall

[I also tracked my ebook purchases on Amazon. I clearly have an addiction to one-clicking whatever suits my fancy, especially when the book is on sale. Every morning, I have my coffee and read the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books’ new post. Several days a week, it highlights interesting books on sale, and I end up picking up lots of new romances this way. SBTB introduced me to most of the new-to-me authors on my list above. Despite buying twice as many books as I can actually read, I have no regrets. In 2015, I’ve downloaded 435 books, 90% of which were on sale. (Also, of the 206 books I recorded reading on GoodReads, 70 were checked out from my county library’s digital database—so those books cost me nothing.) And that leaves a lot of unread titles ahead, but I do plan to retire someday…]

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Men and the Romance Genre, Part II: So You’re a Guy Who Wants to Write M/F Romance?

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Awesome! I mean, aside from the rare male romance career writer like Leigh Greenwood, and the small number of male authors writing M/M erotic romance, most authors writing traditionally categorized romances and erotica (including M/M) are women.

Serious roadblocks ahead, though, guys. First and foremost, let’s address the biggest elephant in the room. Men tend to suffer from overconfidence more than women do, so you might come at this prospect thinking that writing romances for a bunch of ladies will be easy. After all, you’ve written literary books, or mystery, or horror, or action, or, better yet, fantasy, so switching over to write romance, maybe an erotic paranormal, should be a piece of cake (you have actually baked a cake from scratch, right?). Unfortunately, if, like a lot of people, you see romance as more pulp than art, you’re probably not going to experience much, if any, success. This post isn’t designed to discourage you, because I do believe men can write good romance, with some conditions. But it does hope to clarify the challenges you face coming into this field.

If more men read and write romances, the genre might finally shed some of its long-suffering public scorn and abuse. But even with more male authors and public respect, I’m still not completely sure how more men will be enticed into reading romances. Male authors like Nicholas Sparks, who write angsty love stories without HEAs (thus not romances), still predominately attract young female readers. The challenges for male writers new to this genre, especially those who’ve been raised as, well, typical guys, are notable. Becoming a male writer who writes M/F romance, often from the female point-of-view, is bound to be challenging, but not insurmountable. Here’s my brief guide to doing it right. This advice presumes that you’re already a male writer who reads voraciously and has studied and practiced the craft of fiction in one or more genres for years. If you haven’t, don’t assume writing romance is the gateway to becoming a famous, successful author. The field is crowded and already has more writers producing more books than there are readers to read them. (If you’re completely new to the whole writing game, I recommend studying general fiction first. A ton of excellent books are available.)

But if you’re an experienced writer, read on for those aforementioned conditions to writing romance:

LOVER’S SOUL. If, by chance, you don’t flat out respect and love women, just stop now. Go back to writing action and spy thrillers. If you don’t consider yourself a feminist, go back to writing horror or fantasy. On the other hand, if you’re fully aware of (and unsettled by) your ongoing, socially-cultivated negative prejudices towards everything feminine, and you work actively to raise your own consciousness about gender inequality, then continue on to point number two. You have the inherent gender-blind soul necessary to write romance. Romance is about love, pure and simple. It generally transcends gender, race, and age.

HONORABLE MOTIVATION. If your top reason to write romance is to get rich, you might want to reconsider. The market is replete with experienced, talented authors, both traditional and indie-published. Seriously. Even writing the most popular-selling genre in fiction, only a small percentage of romance and erotica authors earn a living wage from their work. Sure, a handful of writers have made it big—E. L. James, for example. But don’t believe James sets the standard for most writers’ experience or for the quality of writing in the field—many professional writers in this business find her erotic romance 50 Shades of Grey series substandard on a number of levels, both in craft and its problematic content. Also, remember that James has a background in journalism, so she had experience writing and publishing before a major publisher picked up, printed and shelved her series in every book store across the world.

The writers who make a living in romance fiction write prolifically and steadily, building a backlist and a readership. It’s slow but steady work—definitely not a get-rich-quick experience (or a simple 1-2-3 trilogy to stardom). Going into it for the money is not a good reason to write romance. Maybe, you think it will make you famous, well-loved, attractive to the gals? Sorry to disappoint, but currently the general respect for romance and the writers who produce it is pretty low (even within the larger publishing industry). Frankly, you’ll gain little prestige or recognition writing these kinds of books. More likely you’ll be ridiculed and disparaged, just like the rest of us. In fact, be sure you yourself fully respect the genre and its readers. Society likes to mock romance and erotica as mommy porn and trashy fiction. Consequently, you’ll be called upon to defend your decision to write romance on a continuous basis, whether you write under an androgynous name like Greenwood or go by first name initials or use a pseudonym. If, though, you’re already a seasoned writer and you decide that you love to read romances, don’t care about money or fame, then continue to point three.

RESPECT FOR THE ART. Although the first novels ever written were called romances, today’s romance is not the early literary work of writers like Hawthorne or the Bronte sisters. Things have definitely changed. The modern romance genre has even changed dramatically since its rise to popularity in the late 70s and early 80s. If you haven’t been reading romances, then read several well-written romances each week for at least six months to a year before you start writing them. Don’t imagine that your experience as a writer of other genres has prepared you to write romance. Set a goal of reading 100 acclaimed romance novels (see recommended author list at end of post). Study the genre. Familiarize yourself with the popular tropes and teach yourself the lingo (alpha and beta heroes, HEAs, HFNs, TSTLs, the meet-cute, etc.). Read award-winning work and cringe-worthy, amateur efforts. Read across the sub-genres, historical romance to paranormal to BDSM. Figure out why some stories work and others don’t.

In essence, don’t assume that writing romances will be easy. Just as in every other genre, including literary fiction, there are far more mediocre duds written and published each year than there are stellar stories. Search out and destroy any personally cultivated arrogance you may have about how easy it’s going to be to write “trashy” novels. A surprising number of top-selling (as well as generally unknown) authors have advanced university degrees in literature, writing, and history. These writers can and do write well. If romance didn’t carry the stigma it does, some of them would be contenders for national fiction awards. Bottom line: respect the genre, study it, love it. Then, once you start writing, keep reading. When you are reading romances compulsively, you’ll know that you are imprinting them on your writer’s brain. Already surfing online for enticing romances to read? Continue on to point four. If you find yourself scoffing at the language, the style, the storylines, the tropes, please, please don’t write romances. Instead, go back to point number one.

OTHER GENDER AWARENESS. Study human nature and personality. Romance is predominantly a character-driven genre about emotions and the desire to love and be loved in return. Any knowledge you bring as an experienced writer in terms of crafting plot is great, but in the end, character triumphs in romance, and if you don’t understand why people, especially women, do what they do in intimate relationships, then inventing the most exciting external plot to carry your romance forward will do you little good. Yes, romance readers crave action, history, science, and fantasy as much as readers of other genres. But if your foregrounded story arc isn’t devoted to developing an authentic, meaningful love connection between the principal characters, your novel will fail as a romance.

The majority of readers of romance are women. Unfortunately, as a man, you have a disadvantage (just realizing this truth will make you a better writer, and person in general). First, unlike your female author counterparts, you probably haven’t been raised to take care of and attend to other people’s feelings and needs since birth. You might not have “tuned” into and paid a lot of attention to people’s motivations and fears since birth. Depending on your age, this life perspective has presented a significant relationship handicap since birth. It doesn’t mean you’re insensitive or incapable of feeling things as deeply as women. Sometimes, you feel them even more potently because you may have been taught to suppress that part of your personality. It’s just that you haven’t walked the life of a female–a female that has been raised to instinctively and continuously pay close attention to other people’s, especially men’s, feelings and actions.

As you know, women generally live under different social standards and expectations than men (significantly more restrictive ones), so they have learned to approach the world differently (while fantasizing what it would be like to be a guy as well). In short, while women and men are both human beings with feelings and challenges, they walk different paths from the minute their parents dress them in pink or in blue. Until society starts raising boys and girls to be truly equal in all ways with equal opportunities and expectations, a lot of men will come at writing romance with some blind spots. Few men ever really understand what it’s like to be slut-shamed, or threatened with rape by a stranger on the Internet, or to lose out on a work promotion because he chose not to attend the strip club show with all his male co-workers while in Atlanta on a company sales trip. If you call yourself a feminist, are in a relationship with a feminist, and raising your sons and daughters to be feminists, then you’re ahead of most men in this regard.

Try this challenge: read Anna Karenina by male author Leo Tolstoy and The Awakening by female author Kate Chopin. Both are stories in which the central character is a woman who is neither fulfilled by her marriage nor motherhood, who then has an affair, and who ultimately commits suicide. Figure out why Tolstoy’s story is clearly written from the “male gaze” (what is the theme and message of Anna Karenina?) and why Chopin’s is clearly written from the female point of view (what is the theme and message of The Awakening?). If you can’t see how vastly different these two works—one written by a man and one written by a woman–are regarding women and their relationship with men and love, then you probably aren’t ready to write M/F romance for the contemporary female romance reader. But if you totally get the difference, then go for it! Continue forward to point five.

FEMALE FICTIONAL POV. Understanding your audience is critical. Unless you’re a man planning to write M/F romances for male-only readers (a sure way to guarantee few sales in the current market), you need to expand your fictional viewpoint. At the moment, the majority of romance readers are women. Learn what women want and how they see the world, via fiction. It’s good and necessary to have real life experience with falling in love, but fictional characters live in the world of…fiction. Fiction adheres to different standards than real life. Yes, definitely, interview women and get their personal takes on love (female authors talk to their male spouses, boyfriends, and male friends to deepen their understanding of the male POV all the time); but you also need to respectfully read romances (and other genre books) written by women to see how gender is constructed and expressed within the pages of a book by women authors. Though lots of romance novels alternate point-of-view between female and male characters, the majority of readers are still women, and likely to remain so for some time. They like to have at least some of the book presented in the female POV.

Women writers have the other gender POV advantage here. From kindergarten on, female readers have overwhelmingly been required to read male-produced male-centric texts. So, in addition to developing hyperawareness of men’s feelings (Is he scowling because he’s angry with me or because he needs to eat?) as they grow up, females also master reading fiction from the male-constructed point-of-view. The majority of stories and books taught in language arts classrooms across the country and into college are written by male authors about male protagonists. Female students have to learn to read the fictional world from that POV early, often before they even learn to read it from the female POV. Females who love to read eventually seek out female-centric books by female authors to read on their own, but few male students ever make that gender reading jump. Most male readers and writers simply don’t have the life-time experience reading female-centric books that female readers and writers have had reading male-centric books.

So, not surprising, it’s less of a challenge for a woman writer to construct an authentic male perspective in fiction than it is for a male to construct an authentic female perspective. (I recommend further research in classic Feminist Literary Criticism if this concept is confusing or difficult to accept). Women writers have always been modeling their constructs of male characters based on a long history of reading male-constructed male characters. I recommend, as a male writer, that you begin constructing your female characters based on a dedicated effort of reading female-constructed female characters.

STYLE APPRECIATION. The tendency of the male-dominated traditional publishing world and academia to devalue women’s writing as plotless, flowery, and self-indulgent may have impacted your own ability to appreciate the style of writing that has evolved and thrived in the genre of romance. Some people insultingly call it purple prose (okay, some of it is excessively…purple). Really reading and appreciating romance requires the ability to appreciate different styles in voice and different purposes in storytelling.

If you’ve been academically-trained to model your writing as closely as possible to, say, Hemingway, you’re going to struggle writing romance. Dry-as-bone sentences with minimal description might suit some literary fiction, some particularly hardcore science fiction, and it definitely suits hardboiled-detective crime fiction, but it won’t work as well in romance, a genre that demands luscious, luxurious, and playful description. It’s hard to describe the hero or heroine’s appearance and personality without adjectives. It’s hard to create a sensual love scene without adverbs. Romance celebrates language in all its deeply evocative ways–by using all the parts of speech.

Ever since Strunk & White published their reductive writing bible fifty years ago, largely banning the use of most adjectives and adverbs in good writing, the West has valued spare text over descriptive text. The approach of praising one style of writing over another is a problem if you want to appeal to readers who relish details. Listen. Romance celebrates the decadent seven-layer chocolate cake, not the tasteless prepackaged energy bar with no expiration date. If you can’t expand your sentences enough to include a few descriptive words here and there, your books are going to function like an hour on the treadmill instead of a stroll through a dense and beautiful forest. You don’t have to overload your sentences with description, but you’re going to need some imagery–sound, texture, smell, taste, visuals.

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Bottom line: if you haven’t consciously worked to read as many works of fiction by female writers as by male writers (remember, society doesn’t make you do this so you have to do this on your own), it’ll take concerted effort for you to bridge that gender gap in your reading in order for it to show up in your writing. Until the number of male authors and readers in the romance genre rise significantly, if it ever does, you’re writing for female readers. Broadening and deepening your understanding of the female perspective within fiction is essential.

Good luck! As a romance author, you’ll be invited into one of the most welcoming communities of human beings I’ve ever met: romance writers.

An abreviated list of recommended authors for men (and anyone interested in writing romance) to read:

Historical Romance: Sabrina Jeffries, Elizabeth Hoyt, Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas.

Paranormal Romance: Kresley Cole, Karen Marie Moning, Gena Showalter, JR Ward.

SFR (Science Fiction Romance): CJ Barry, Angela Knight, Linnea Sinclair.

Contemporary Romance: Tessa Bailey, Julie James, Susan Mallery, Jill Shalvis.

Action-Thriller: Cherry Adair, Suzanne Brockmann, Lisa Marie Rice, Roxanne St. Claire.

Erotic Romance: Cherise Sinclair, Lorelei James, Sabrina York, Tielle St. Claire.

Finally, don’t write in isolation. The Romance Writers of America is a fantastic organization dedicated to helping writers succeed as romance writers. Go to the RWA website for more information.

 

Selene has been writing and crafting her art in romance fiction since 2012. Before that, she spent decades teaching, reading and writing literary fiction. FOLLOW her on Amazon for information about her books and new releases.

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Men and the Romance Genre, Part I: Why (More) Men Should Read and Write Romance

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The national conference of the Romance Writers of America is happening in New York City this week. Thousands of writers and readers are descending on the Big Apple, suitcases crammed full of books, promotional materials, playfully-themed gowns and to-die-for shoes. Not surprising, since this is romance, nearly all the attendees are women. The RWA conference is both a celebration of the art form and an opportunity for writers—predominately female—to discuss craft and to network. Especially with the onset of indie-publishing, it’s a world where women reign. Women organize the event; women attend it; women teach at it; women speak at it; women sell their work at it; women are, unquestionably, the experts. Unlike at other writing and book conferences for other fiction genres in recent years, women are not groped, solicited for sex, or talked over and dismissed by male attendees or male colleagues on panels. Why? Because…few men attend. And those who do, appear to inherently respect women. No one in RWA has specifically excluded male writers and readers from the event, but they are notably absent. Apparently, though, it’s the women’s fault.

In a troubling post on Amazon’s Omnivoracious blog, titled “Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo,” writer Adrian Liang published a conference-corresponding post bemoaning the lack of men attending, and by extension, writing in the genre. Some of her comments imply that the underlying reason men don’t write romance has to do with how unwelcoming women in the field are towards male writers and readers. She writes, “it occurred to me that Romance might be the last writing club that doesn’t really want to let the other sex in.” (Italics mine). Ah…what?!…big double take!

Anyone who attends a romance conference or convention, or collective romance author book-signing, can see with their own eyes that the writers in this genre aren’t men writing under female pseudonyms. Nope. They’re women writing under female pseudonyms. So yes, the romance genre—both its professional writers and the bulk of its readership—is dominated by the female half of the world. Is this good or bad? Liang makes a case that it’s bad. And despite her blithe, throw-away comment that “Anyone who reads outside the romance genre doesn’t worry about men writing female characters; plus, hundreds of years of published writing is proof enough that this is a bogus claim,” I think the long-establish canon, some 40-50 years’ worth, of Feminist Literary Criticism about the way male writers have historically constructed female characters will easily annihilate such a silly claim. Something is bogus all right, but it isn’t the respected academic analysis of the way women have been falsely and negatively portrayed in the fiction written by men since, like, forever. If not forever, at least as far back as the Classical Greek era, and a good century and a half before the novel was even invented.

It’s sort of shocking to me that someone—a woman yet—with a university degree in English managed to graduate and go on to write books, oddly oblivious to how many ways her claim (that women are the ones keeping men out of romance) is not only wrong, but blatantly sexist, outlandish and, worse, a damaging lie.  It contradicts the entire history of literature and publishing. It makes me see red. Though the term “male gaze” is more commonly used in film criticism, apparently Liang has never heard of it. And to be so clueless about how writers are themselves societal constructs constructing gender within the world of fiction? Her flippant claims in her post are actually beyond damaging—they fold neatly right into bolstering the ways in which women are continuously and historically blamed for being less than accommodating to men—like when men want to be paid more money for the same work, or when men want to be promoted over women by virtue of having a penis, or when they want to decide when and how women’s bodies will be used to for sex and to produce (or not) children.  Liang’s argument is so insidiously misogynistic and so lacking in self-awareness that I can only envision that her good intentions (being inclusive) blinded her to her own prejudices.

Before I turn you off completely as some bitter, crazed, bra-burning, man-hating feminazi of the 21st century with hairy arm pits, let me tell you that I happen to agree with Liang that men should start reading and writing romance. ( I also happen to be happily married to a man, and I shave my armpits, but consider the bra, being somewhat of a modern torture devise, optional). While Liang’s argument is generally weak and specious (and possibly constrained by some word limit on the Omnivoracious site), I think there are actually good reasons for male readers and writers to venture into the romance field.

The reasons why men don’t write (or read) romance is worthy of an academic study. But we can probably make some reasonable, educated guesses that don’t lay the blame at women’s feet. Let’s give it a try, shall we?

Historically, male authors (and characters, actually) have dominated in every other genre—mystery, horror, action-thriller, science fiction, literary, etc.—but not in romance. In fact, one might argue that romance didn’t exist much as a genre until the late 70s and early 80s when women were finally let through the sacred gates of publishing in numbers greater than a half dozen. Women writers actually helped build up this genre in the early days of the second women’s movement. It’s difficult to imagine, with women’s limited access to the traditional publishing hierarchy, that they were some kind of female Night Watchers holding the Wall as Amazonian gatekeepers repelling male penetration. Despite Liang’s misguided suppositions as to why men are rare in the field of romance fiction, it has nothing to do with women’s exclusionary and proprietary attitudes towards men reading and writing romance. Just as I am sure that the real reasons, if studied, would damningly point to underlining, enduring socially-sanctioned sexism and prejudice against women and the things they find important enough to read and write about.

Though I haven’t done specific research, I’ve had the empirical personal experience that hints to such a bias. I’ve sat through many university writing workshops in which male students dismissed female students’ relationship-focused stories as “fluffy.” Fluffy. That was one of the words I distinctly remember hearing a male writer claim about a female student writer’s story because it was character rather than plot-driven. No self-respecting writer on earth wants their work called “fluffy.” The insult is both about the text and the person who wrote it “like a girl.” I have years of workshop stories to share, if you have the time, and need addtional illustrations.

Maybe you think this kind of thing only happens when discussing amateur student work. Nope. This whole anti-women-writer-brilliance is systematic and institutionalized. Unless a student signs up for a women’s studies class or a literature course focused solely on female authors, they often don’t recognize just how women’s writing is marginalized, viewed as secondary.  I remember work by respected female authors regularly being dismissed (or ignored) as having “no story” or being “boring.” The way those outside the romance community deride every romance as a cliched repeat of all romances. Anyway, in one undergrad course devoted to Modern British literature, we spent weeks discussing Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, and, unsurprisingly, ran out of time to discuss Virginia Woolf’s complicated, challenging To the Lighthouse. Woolf was the only female author on the entire syllabus of the semester-long class; she is one of the preeminent modern stylists, and we didn’t even spend one hour discussing her work. In a graduate course I took in which we studied award-winning contemporary literature, several male students could not be convinced of the merit of Alice McDermott’s family-focused novel Charming Billy, despite the work winning the American Book Award. Any books about love, relationships and feelings in general, which were penned by women, and often focused on female characters, were frequently misread and misunderstood by the male students in my literature courses. Interestingly, when students (both male and female) struggled to understand a male-produced text, the fault typically laid with the reader; when the students didn’t understand or know how to read a female-produced text, the fault typically laid with, you guessed it, the writer. Apparently, female writers—award-winning or as yet unpublished–are easy to blame and/or dismiss.

Sort of the way Liang blames women in the romance fiction industry of being unwelcoming to male readers and writers.

Sort of the way society likes to blame women who get raped for “letting” themselves end up in the position of getting raped (wearing provocative clothing, consuming alcohol, risking solo grocery shopping expeditions, being in the company of a damned rapist!). That’s how I read Liang’s take on the issue of why men don’t write romance.

Because it certainly couldn’t be men’s faults that they don’t read or write romance.

No. It’s because the female-dominated RWA makes sure the male bathrooms at the conference get converted over for female use. How dare these women ask for sufficient bathrooms? They probably screamed and got all shrillish and bitchy so the conference managers had no recourse but to give them the bathrooms. If Liang’s reasoning is to be understood, men don’t go to RWA conferences because there’s no convenient place to pee. Women have overrun the place and therefore, made it unwelcoming.

Still, since I agree that the romance genre could actually use more male readers, and even male writers, let me share my five best reasons why men should read and write romance (and not one of the claims blames women for men’s lack of interest or participation):

AUTHENTIC MALE POV. Diversity in any genre of literature is a good thing. All writers are constructs of the society in which they are raised. Since books are one of the few ways that people can transcend their own limited world-views, reading books written by lots of types of people—men, women, African-Americans, Native-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Anglo and Ethnic-White Americans, young people, the elderly, etc.—all help readers expand personal understanding and empathy for other people’s experiences.

So, yeah. A positive thing about men reading and writing romance might be the opportunity for readers to see how men experience falling in love. Do they see the experience differently than women? What do men really want in a partnership? What makes a woman (or another man) irresistible? Are women’s perspectives on relationships in fiction universal, or just the outlandish fantasies they are often labeled as by society? Do all male stories about romantic love have to end in tragedy (cue John Green, Nicholas Sparks) or can men write stories that center on relationships that conclude with the classic romance HEA?

In addition to expanding one’s perspective, reading helps us see ourselves better too. We benefit when we connect with a character in a story, when we discover that we share his or her values or feelings. If men could read more male-constructed romances in which they identify with male characters falling in love, struggling with emotional intimacy and overcoming its challenges, then male readers could incorporate the lessons learned in that fictional journey into their own life experiences. And really, regardless of gender, who doesn’t long for rewarding, meaningful relationships in real life? Nothing is more satisfying than experiencing authentic, unconditional love with a partner. Watching it unfold successfully in fiction might help guide men’s real life choices towards finding and sustaining romance in their own lives.

MALE EGO BOOST. Men—we female romance readers and writers worship your whole macho maleness, and if you haven’t been completely sure about this, reading romances written by women should wipe out any doubt. Despite our feminist stances on important things like equal pay, career opportunities, and control over what we do with our own bodies, we aren’t really bashing you 24-7. We actually like your male aggression, especially when it’s working to protect us from danger. There’s a reason so many romances feature cops, soldiers, athletes and other men in power. In real life, we also love the way you willingly take out the trash and fix the broken washing machine, and install the new ceiling fan, and get so sexually excited you want to do it with us on the kitchen table before breakfast, and all the other ways in which you play out your clichéd male-identified stereotypes in reality. Reading romances should confirm that perspective…we love when you get all tall, dark and brooding, as long as you remain in control and use that testosterone for our mutual benefit.

BETTER SEX. The romances being written today are remarkably good sex manuals, at least from the female perspective.  And they’ll convince you that women love good sex—just in case you mistakenly thought sex was more important to men than women. Wrong! If the special woman in your life is not interested…then it might be your technique, or lack of at the root, or maybe she doesn’t read romances. Although I could offer the Spark notes version (oral, and lots of it), the variety of inventive and hot ways to engage in sex, as it’s presented in these books, can have an explosive (pun intended) impact on your sex life. Imagine the benefit of reading the same kinky, fun books with your life partner and then playing out the hottest scenes together. I promise you that if your female partner is reading some of these books, then she’s interested in having sex. In a variety of ways.

ELEVATING THE STATUS OF THE GENRE. This reason is the most important to me. When men don’t care about something, it’s never given much attention or respect. Feminists (both male and female) might resent this fact, but it’s been true since humans evolved into war-mongering tribes thousands of years ago. If men start to read and write (and value) romance fiction, the new respect romance would garner would be nearly instantaneous. We know how society fails to value female-dominated activities, sports and professions, so having more men write seriously in this genre could elevate it faster than any other change in the publishing world. Male romance writers might even increase the number of male romance readers, since studies show us that men tend to prefer to read the work of male authors. Think about the potential. Historically, when men went to work in nursing and teaching, the pay jumped dramatically. A new level of respectability gilded these professions. Balancing out the gender of writers in the field of romance and erotica can only improve its status (which is pathetically low, so it can only rise, right?). Surely men can read and write about love without the fictional relationship ending in tragic death.

SMART, SEXUALLY SAVVY WOMEN. Really. Why just hope the next woman you date/marry or become good friends with will be both intellectual and physically sensual? Stick with romance readers (and writers). These women are passionate thinkers. They aren’t afraid of ideas. Romance readers love to travel, to do new things, to explore, to savor life. They love to move, to eat, to touch, to laugh, to share. As keen readers, they are naturally empathetic, while also analytical, logical problem-solvers. As fearless readers, they know how to use their minds—and by extension, their bodies—in creative and adventurous ways. Sure, many female romance readers crave the alpha male who desires them so much that he throws her down on the bed and has his way with her. But, a lot of romance readers are also happy to switch it up and play the dominatrix. If you’re heterosexual, we’re not going to think you’re secretly swinging for the other team just because you want to give pegging a try. A surprising number of popular romances feature the beta male as hero too—the nice guy who doesn’t seem to win the girl in real life per Hollywood movies? The nice guy gets the gal inside the pages of a romance more often than not.

Readers aren’t afraid of the abstract, so they’re likely to at least talk about whatever you want to try in your relationship (and bedroom) without running, shocked, for the proverbial hills. Want to try role-playing? Heck, that’s just physically acting out the things we’ve already done in our minds anyway. And guess what, once a year, thousands of us open-minded, adventurous types meet up in one city to talk romance and sex. Forget online dating. The RWA conference would make for an excellent place to meet intelligent, kindhearted and generous women. Want to talk plotting or how to write hot sex scenes? Let’s get a drink after the session on writing accurate BDSM stories. Just remember that fiction only imitates life; while dubious consent is a popular trope in romance fiction, it doesn’t translate into reality. No means no.

Unfortunately, if you’re a male writer just getting into romance, it’s too late for you to attend this year’s RWA conference as an author, but please allow me, on behalf of all RWA writers, to extend a whole-hearted welcome to you to drop in on the massive book-signing event and pick up some amazing books to read. And you have a whole year until the next conference to educate yourself about the romance genre, read lots of romances and try your hand at writing one yourself (not as easy as you think). You can even join RWA and sign up to attend next year’s conference. Here’s the membership link: RWA. Never let it be said that we didn’t invite you.

Oh yeah. One more thing. The best reason men should read romance? Some of the best fiction being written and published today is categorized as romance.

Selene has been writing and crafting her art in romance fiction since 2012. Before that, she spent two decades teaching, reading and writing literary fiction. Follow her on Amazon for information about her books and new releases.

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