My Beautiful Boys — Writing Heroes

All writers, especially those who write in romance genres, tend to specialize in either heroines or heroes. My friend Suzanne Forster is famous for her plucky, quirky females. Not to say that she doesn’t write great guys, she does. But her women sing! With names like Kate, Trish, Augusta Featherstone and the perfect Edwina Moody, Suzanne’s heroines are the catalysts of her stories. I’ve never asked her, but i’ll bet she thinks of them first and then finds a hero to offset these great woman. 

Not me. For me it’s all about the boys. I guess that’s why i’m a m/m and menage writer. But even when i dream up m/f stories, the heroine remains a bit a of a cipher until i flesh out the hero. What does he look like? I describe him in loving detail. (When you read Genetic Attraction in February pay attention to the way i describe Roan Black when Em first meets him. Yes, a definite wet dream.) What does he do for a living? Is he tough, sensitive, gentle? Once i have him with lots of flesh on his bones, i think about the heroine or maybe the other hero or both that will best suit him. It has to be someone who can cause some sparks and has the potential for conflict, otherwise there’s no story. But it can’t be so much conflict  that it can never be resolved, after all romance has to end happily. Think of a story we all know, Pride and Prejudice. When we first meet Mr Darcy he seems so unpleasant that he’s beyond redemption. Aside from being handsome, he has very little to recommend him. For the rest of the book, Lizzie learns more and more things about Mr. Darcy that redeems him in her (and our) eyes so that we are hyperventilating at the idea they may not end up married.

Some of my favorite EROM writers create the BEST heroes. Well, as m/m writers that is their stock in trade. Take a look at the wonderful Edward in Lynn Lorenz’ Edward Unconditionally, Johnny in Jet Mykles’ Heaven, Matthew in Sloan Parker’s More and the fabulous Adin in Z.A.Maxfield’s Notturno and now, the sequel, Vigil. Each of these men is completely unique such that they stand out in your mind in a sea of heroes. And i bet they haunt the dreams of their writers. I know my boys do.

If you write, who do you see first? Hero or heroine? And when you read, is the hero or the heroine the most important in making the book memorable? Share.

Telling Mom You’re Gay

The title of this post is taken from the old expression “being gay is harder than being black. You don’t have to tell your mother you’re black.” I’m sure there are arguments on both sides, but it’s still clear that telling your parents you’re gay is a miserable moment for a lot of people. That was made very clear on this week’s episode of Project Runway. And the moment was heart-rending.

Project Runway is a favorite show of mine. This season, the finalists were cut down to four, three men (all gay) and one woman. The real killer of the show, however, is that, while all four get to design a collection for New York Fashion Week, only three actually get to show it. One of the four is eliminated in the semifinal.

One the the four finalists was Michael Costello, a young man who had taken a lot of abuse from the other contestants during the season for his lack of patterning skills but had still managed to prevail in the judge’s eyes. He gradually won over the other contestants with his warmth and sincerity and by this semi-final episode was well accepted. Michael has a young son we saw during the season, and a couple times he made references to a woman as “i would date her” so it wasn’t completely obvious if Michael was gay or straight — until the semi-final episode when Tim Gunn goes to visit the contestants and checks out their progress. In that show, the audience meets Michael’s life partner who explains that Michael’s parents have only become supportive of him since he got on the show. Prior to that they kept insisting that he leave his partner, give up fashion designing, come home to their (Italian Catholic) household, get a job and marry a woman (which he had done in the past, producing his son).

Sadly, Michael was the contestant eliminated in the semi-final (Personally, i thought it should be Gretchen but that’s not what happened). The man was devastated. He broke down in tears. Why? Because he didn’t get to show his collection? No. Because now his parents would say “I told you so” and insist that he come home. Even though he had come in fourth among thousands of applicants, they would still not consider him a winner.

I know how hard it must be for parents to give up their ideas of “how it’s supposed to be”, especially when the way it is seems to defy strongly held religious beliefs. But if God is Love, then surely these moments have a clear message. In light of The Trevor Project and all the young people who suffer because of other people’s expectations, parents and family have a special responsibility to not make their lives harder. “It gets better” should be a message all parents hold dear. And i hope Michael Costello knows that their are millions of people around the world who are very proud of him.

Yes, You Really Need Readers

After i submitted my book, Genetic Attraction, to a publisher the first time, they came back with suggested changes and said i should find some readers to help me. I thought “Really, do i need that?” And the answer is an emphatic YES! 

Since then, i have gone to a dear friend who also happens to be a best-selling romance author with dozens of books to her credit. Years ago, i used to read her books and now, bless her, she is returning the favor. What a difference a reader makes. Just a few words from Suzanne can change my whole viewpoint. 

My most recent book, The Scientist and the Supermodel, that i’m submitting to my publisher next, has had the same opening scene since i started it. I’ve rewritten whole chapters, but that scene stayed the same. I saw nothing wrong with it. I even had a judge in a fiction contest rave over my first couple chapters and say nothing about the first scene being a problem. Then Suzanne said, “I don’t like the hero in this scene or the other character either. It makes me not want to read the book.” Suddenly, i saw the whole thing differently. Of course, i wouldn’t like a guy that acted that way either. I knew this character already (Jake from Genetic Attraction). I knew all his good points, so it never occurred to me he was acting like a jerk in this scene. But he was and Suzanne saw it. Of course, that scene has now been rewritten and i like it so much better.

I also have other readers who are not professional writers, but have the “readers” perspective. They are also invaluable. My reader, Cindy, questioned a scene that Suzanne also questioned. One in which two brothers talk about their sexual experiences. Both readers said “wouldn’t the hero be more reluctant to open up to his younger brother?” Boy, did i change that scene fast.

So before you submit that manuscript, find some readers. Get a mix of viewpoints and strongpoints. Make one a professional writer, if you can. You’ll be amazed how it will expand your mind.

BTW, the photo above is the inspiration photo for one of my heroes. Isn’t he gorgeous!  :  )

Adam Lambert: “It Gets Better”

Two passions of mine come together –Adam Lambert and The Trevor Project. Here, the eloquent young singer tells kids who are gay and otherwise bullied for being different that “it gets better”. The comments on the video on YouTube are inspiring. Kids say that Adam makes there lives better just by being who he is. Adam, that’s “what we want from you”.  :  )

Plotter versus Pantser

Ask  fiction writers if they’re plotters or  pantsers and most  will know what you mean. Plotters, as their name implies, carefully construct the plot of their books, at least chapter by chapter and, most frequently, scene by scene. They may do this on the computer or the old-fashioned way, on index cards that can be moved around on a bulletin board. The classic plotter knows precisely where the high points of the book occur, where the climax is, what the denouement will consist of, where the sex scenes occur (if its a romance). They may describe every detail of a scene before writing it. The actual writing just inserts the dialogue and emotion.

Pantsers are another matter. These writers operate by instinct, inspiration and write from the seat-of-their-pants. I had one pantser writer tell me that she literally can’t determine anything about her story before she starts, not even the plot outline.  Now, that’s inspiration. I recently wrote a post (see below) called Talking to Your Characters and explained how you may think you know what’s going to happen in a story, but once your characters start talking to you, things happen on their own. The “pure pantser” is the extreme of this idea. It  scares the wits out of a plotter, but pantsing is very successful for many writers.

There is no right or wrong way. Choosing how to plot a book is individual to each author. I’m a mixture of plotter and pantser. I usually start with some germ of an idea and it suggests a character. I got an e-mail from a friend in London raving about the ballet and i thought wouldn’t it be fun to write a book with a male ballet dancer as the hero. (I’m writing that book now). Then i need a plot for this hero. I walk around in a fog and don’t get a lot of sleep for a few days while some story builds itself around the hero. I write (on cards) who the main characters are and what the significant plot points will be. Just high points. Two heroes meet, have a kiss, one runs, third man in the menage enters, meets dancer, other hero gets angry, comes to rescue, three hook up, etc. You get the gist. For me, knowing that i have enough plot for the general length i want the book to be is important. That’s why i map out some plot points in advance. I need to know what the conflict will be so i can introduce the seeds of that conflict right at the beginning. Who is the villain, if any? How will i get that person on stage? What research do i have to do to make my story believable? This all sounds very organized but it’s actually not. Most of it happens in my head, with only a bit ever written down.

Then the pure pantsing comes in. I have no idea at the beginning, how i’ll get from one plot point to another until i start writing. That’s where the characters talk to me and everything just happens, seat-of-the-pantswise. As i come upon each scene i generally have to pause for awhile and figure out the best place to start to get to the action most quickly. Then i plunge. Stuff happens and i learn things i’ve always wanted to know.

I guess i’m a “plotser”. How about you?

It Takes Balls

I was visiting some favorite blogs today and ran across a great post by Ellis Carrington (see her blog on my list below) called “You Haven’t Got the Balls For It.” It’s a discussion of woman who write male/male romance. It got me thinking about why so many of the readers and writers of these gay romances are female. I had a discussion with a group of writers one evening on this very topic. One writer said “aren’t women supposed to want to identify with the female character in romance novels? How can they do that with two men?” Lynn Lorenz replied “We like to watch.” I replied “women like men and two are better.” Both answers are kind of casual and probably don’t get to the heart of the matter. And i think the heart of the matter is — well, the heart.

Romance novels are not real life. (I’m sure that’s not a shock to you.) Whether shown between a man and a woman, two men, two women, or a group of six, romance is the loveliest form of fantasy. Seldom do six gay male couples live in harmonious bliss on one ranch like in the book i’m currently reading, Shifting Sands. Not many men can have three or four orgasms in succession as characters regularly do in erotic romance novels. The first experience of sex whether for a woman or a gay man is seldom exquisite and blissful — except in romance novels. I’ve never seen a man as beautiful as my hero, Roan Black, but there he is living on my pages. And few men are as emotionally available and deeply thoughtful about love as women portray them — in m/m romance novels.

For the people who say a woman can’t write m/m romance because she’s never experienced gay sex, i’ll say no one has ever experienced what is written in our books. It’s fantasy. And that is what other woman and gay men read. The beautiful fantasy of two men, both perfectly gorgeous, who give up the world for each other. Perhaps that’s why women write m/m romance so well. Men are fascinating, sexy and mysterious creatures to us, just as we often are to them. We know what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s arms. What would it be like to be a man in a man’s embrace? What is it like for a man to surrender? What if a man felt some of what women feel? That’s what we write. A union of two worlds. And it’s a fantasy. It doesn’t take balls. It takes heart.

It Gets Better

The Trevor Project is providing a hotline and support for LGBT and questioning youth who are in despair and considering desperate options. I’ve watched many of these wonderful videos, telling young people “it gets better”, but there was something so charming about this flamboyant young man, so close in age to the people he’s talking to, i wanted to share it. Bullying is hurting all our children. Imagine how awful it must be for LGBT young people. Reach out to someone you know and perhaps we can not only make it better later, it can get better right now.

Talking to Your Characters

I tried to explain to a friend the other day what it’s like to write fiction. He’s a painter and doesn’t even read fiction much, so i was trying to communicate the feeling of sitting at the keyboard and having things just happen.

You’ve plotted the story, you have an idea where it’s going, then you start to write. Your characters begin to talk. By themselves. To each other. And you just try to keep up! They have elaborate conversations expressing thoughts and feeling you never knew were in your brain. You listen and learn. The characters reveal themselves in ways your backstory could never have predicted.
All of a sudden, the story is veering off into a place you never intended and you’re still just trying to hang on for the ride. Whooah. You have to decide if you like this new direction or want to go back to your plan. Maybe there’s a compromise? That’s usually the best way, and often assures that the story sounds fresh and spontaneous — exactly as it is.
And of course, when you finish your book and try to put the story away, the characters start calling to you. Tell my story. Don’t leave me. There’s more to resolve. That’s where sequels come from. And prequels like in my story Genetic Attraction. When i finished the book, the two men demanded to have the story of their meeting and falling in love told in its own book. Who was i to argue? The Scientist and the Supermodel is in editing before submission.
When i was in college, one of my favorite plays was “Six Characters in Search of an Author” by Luigi Pirandello. Still is, in fact. The play, as it’s name implies, tells about a group of characters who have been unresolved by a writer. They come to a playwright to finish their story. Anyone who writes fiction knows how true this idea is.
This storytelling phenomenon is also why i know that writing fiction is as much a right brain activity as it is left. That’s where all those unexpected ideas come from, welling up from our unconscious and filtering through our language centers. Or, maybe our characters just like to talk. : )