Archive | March, 2012

Video Wednesday: Fabulous Kiss and Love Scene in “Meet Joe Black”

28 Mar

I’ve got to admit, I think Brad Pitt is a terrific actor and incredibly handsome, but he hasn’t really ever made my heart flutter (is it my prejudice against blond men?  I don’t know.).  That said, I think that some of his work in the film, Meet Joe Black (1998), created a few of the most tender, romantic scenes in film.

The movie stars Anthony Hopkins as billionaire media mogul Bill Parrish who is about to celebrate his 65th birthday surrounded by his family and business associates, but who begins to suspect something is a little off. Sure enough, he’s going to die very soon, but there is a temporary reprieve in the works.  In an impassioned speech to his youngest daughter, Susan, a surgical resident who seems to be in a “neh” relationship with one of Bill’s business colleagues, he implores her to stay open and not settle in love and life.  Susan has a brief meeting with a handsome and vibrant young man, played by Pitt, but right after their meeting the young man is involved in a multi-car, and presumably fatal pile up.

But he shows up at Bill’s door.  Death, intrigued by Bill’s speech to Susan, decided to take the body of this young man and to experience life for a few days with Bill’s mentorship.  In return, Bill gets a temporary stay of execution and Death, who takes the name Joe Black, gets to feel mortal.  Part of the mortal experience is his romantic relationship with Susan, who thinks he is the man she meet in the coffee shop and is willing to jettison whats-his-face boyfriend with Brad Pitt right in front of her.  No fool she!

Naturally Death hasn’t gotten a lot of kiss time in his existence, so his first kiss fortunately lives up to the hype.  I think Pitt manages to put exactly the right combination of wonder, innocence and sensual awakening in this scene.

As the movie progresses, Susan decides to initiate a higher level of intimacy in their relationship, resulting in a scene that essentially becomes Death’s deflowering. Once again, the sweetness and wonder Pitt manages to convey regarding the sensual abandonment to the physical act of lovemaking is so incredibly sweet (and hot). This video just gives you the intro prior to the slightly more naughty bits, so you’ll have to check out the movie for the full scene (um…it’s worth it).

Gowatchit.com says Meet Joe Black is available streaming on Netflix, but I can’t find it on my subscription, so I think it’s DVD via snail mail only.  It is available on Amazon for a $2.99 rental, so that’s also a possibility.  Check it out!

Music Monday: Halo by Beyonce is the Plot of a Romance Novel

26 Mar

There are certain songs that manage to encapsulate an entire romance novel, or at the very least, a hero or heroine’s emotional journey.  “Halo“, recorded by Beyonce Knowles in 2008 as part of her I Am…Sasha Fierce album, was written and composed by Knowles, Ryan Tedder, and Evan Bogart.

A certain amount of controversy surrounded Beyonce’s recording of the song, as it was originally destined for vocalist Leona Lewis, who couldn’t record it due to other commitments. Yet another famous singer, Kelly Clarkson, was upset because she had worked with Tedder previously and felt Halo’s arrangement was much to similar to her song from him, “Already Gone,” which came out in 2009.  In an extremely classy move, after Clarkson heard “Halo” she asked her record label RCA to pull “Already Gone” since she was worried about disrespecting Beyonce, but they refused her request.

“Halo” tells the story of a person who has found an ideal love, despite having been hurt in the past and previously shuttering their emotions. (All lyrics from LyricsMode)

Remember those walls I built
Well, baby they’re tumbling down
And they didn’t even put up a fight
They didn’t even make up a sound

I found a way to let you in
But I never really had a doubt
Standing in the light of your halo
I got my angel now

It’s like I’ve been awakened
Every rule I had you breakin’
It’s the risk that I’m takin’
I ain’t never gonna shut you out

How many romance novels have you read where the hero or heroine is hit by a ton of bricks when they see their destined love?  The use of angels (fallen or otherwise) is a common trope in romance fiction, whether it refers to a love interest’s appearance or behavior in the sense of them “saving” the other main character. Further developing the “savior” concept in the lyrics:

Hit me like a ray of sun
Burning through my darkest night
You’re the only one that I want
Think I’m addicted to your light

I swore I’d never fall again
But this don’t even feel like falling
Gravity can’t forget
To pull me back to the ground again

Feels like I’ve been awakened
Every rule I had you breakin’
The risk that I’m takin’
I’m never gonna shut you out

“I swore I’d never fall again / But this don’t even feel like falling”? Brilliant lyric.  I can sense the brooding hero just feeling the rightness of this person he has just found that clicks right into his life and his soul.  Sigh.

Despite the controversy, I for one am glad to have this song in my “Love and Romance” playlist.  Enjoy!

Video Wednesday: J. J. Abrams and the Mystery Box

21 Mar

J. J. Abrams is a powerhouse of creativity.  A renaissance man, he is and has been a screenwriter, producer, actor and even a composer, and even if you don’t know his name, you do know his work (unless you’ve been living under a rock).  Current fans of the tv shows Fringe and Person of Interest know that Abrams has the ability to grip viewers and keep them waiting with bated breath for the next episode.

It’s a talent he’s always had. Fans might have been alternately elated and frustrated with the turn of the plot but they were never, ever bored. In Lost and, my personal favorite, Alias, Abrams employed not only his incredible sense of suspense-building but constantly brought the viewer along by employing a technique he calls “the mystery box”.

I first heard about the mystery box when I stumbled across Abrams’ TED Talk (embedded below).  In it, he presents a sealed box of magic tricks, purchased for him by his grandfather when Abrams was a child.

Never having opened it, Abrams uses the mystery of what is in the box as inspiration in his work. “So there’s this thing with mystery boxes that I started feeling compelled. Then there’s the thing of mystery in terms of imagination – the withholding of information. You know, doing that intentionally is much more engaging.” Witholding information, answering the question, and then posing the next question, is something every good writer does.  Remember the first time you read The Hunger Games?  That book should have come with a warning “Don’t plan on doing anything else while reading this” because you couldn’t put it down.  Suzanne Collins was trained as a screenwriter and it shows in her ability to keep us turning the page, even if it is 3 am, and the alarm is going to go off in three hours.

As writers, we must all think of employing a similar device to keep our work moving.  Not just from a mechanical perspective, but for something bigger.  To Abrams, the mystery box:

“represents infinite possibility. It represents hope. It represents potential. And what I love about this box, and what I realize I sort of do in whatever it is that I do, is I find myself drawn to infinite possibility, that sense of potential.And I realize that mystery is the catalyst for imagination. Now, it’s not the most ground-breaking idea, but when I started to think that maybe there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge, I started getting interested in this.”

The presentation is about 20 minutes and it’s FABULOUS – Abrams is funny and uses examples from famous movies and television shows to help illustrate his ideas about how writers can use good writing and principles like the mystery box to keep people interested.  You won’t be sorry you watched it!

The Ultimate Alpha Males: Midnight series by Lisa Marie Rice

20 Mar

I stumbled across a Lisa Marie Rice recommendation as one of the “similar reads” links on Goodreads.  For a long time I didn’t take the plunge into reading her Midnight trilogy for a couple of reasons.  First, the covers are unattractive and extremely confusing (just look at them!). It makes me weep to think of all the mediocre romance novels out there with amazing covers that dupe the reader into buying them and these are just the opposite. I can barely figure out what is happening on the cover of Midnight Run and Midnight Angel.  Why the sundial/clock thingy?  Is it because of the midnight part of the title? (FYI, clocks and time are not that important in the plot.) Second, a few reviewers emphasized that, in the case of the first book of the Trilogy, Midnight Man, that the protagonist was a major Alpha male.  I mean major, as in uber-controlling, and they were concerned that some people would not like the book if that kind of character put them off.

Having read hundreds of romance novels over the course of my life, I have to say that while I love a strong male character, I guess the phrase “Alpha Male” still carries a caveman connotation, or at least the type of a relationship that your BFF in high school would slip you one of those special pamphlets from the nurse’s office.

In the hands of a good writer, the Alpha Male is nothing to fear.  Lisa Marie Rice crafts her male characters from a similar stamp – yes, they are bad-ass, usually ex-Special Forces warriors, who expect to control every situation.  Yikes! This could potentially be a disaster of epic anti-feminist proportions, but in Lisa’s hands she uses the vacillating point of view to show us what is going on inside the minds of our heroes.  Let’s hear what she has to say about them.

“My men are brave and smart and built. And boy do they love their women! Their women are much more interesting than new weaponry, sports cars, and even plasma TVs in their eyes, and the fascination will last their entire lifetimes, I promise. It’s sex, of course, but also a whole lot more. My heroes genuinely like and admire their women, though in the beginning this is sometimes obscured by blinding lust. Once that first sharp edge of desire is over and they settle down a little—and that will take several years and a kid or two—they’re so bonded with their women that they couldn’t live without them.” (from her website)

It’s this utter fascination with the heroine that shines through and makes us go “awwww” even if they are killing a bad guy (to protect the heroine, natch).  Lisa Marie Rice shows their lust and fascination with a woman who evokes feelings they have never felt before, as well as their utter commitment to keeping this newfound special person utterly safe.  The heroines might not be able to kill a person with their bare hands 30 different ways, but they are not TSTL (too stupid to live) either, instead possessing intelligence and resourcefulness as well as bravery.  Yes, they rely on the hero for his skill set and look to him for comfort, but lots of women do that with their best friend or their mom and manage not to accuse them of being too alpha, right?

Former SEAL John Huntingdon is known for being a deadly Black Ops commander who can see in the dark (hence his nickname, Midnight Man) but now he is simply looking for a new space for the thriving security company he built when he left the service. Elegant blond beauty, Suzanne Barron, enjoys running her interior design business out of the renovated factory she inherited, but her new tenant is not going to be discussing shades of teal anytime soon.

John is startled by the blaze of lust he feels for Suzanne and possessing her (and upgrading her building’s crappy security) becomes his new mission. The dangerous aura surrounding John is not exactly what Suzanne’s life has prepared her for, and after their first date turns into hot sex against the brick wall in her buildings hallway (have icy cold drink ready when reading), Suzanne doesn’t know how to handle the intensity of their relationship.  While trying to make sense of what is happening between them, she unknowingly witnesses a murder and has a hit taken out on her. As she and John escape to the mountains, lust and attraction turn into something deeper, but with a killer on the loose, they might lose each other forever.

The second book of the trilogy brings up an innovative technique employed by Lisa Marie Rice.  Unlike most trilogies where the books are clearly chronological, Lisa builds in deliberate overlap to her stories.  So Midnight Run actually happens a little before and then during the events in Midnight Man.

Claire Parks is a good friend to Suzanne and is grateful to her for decorating the interior of her adorable new Portland house.  After a long illness and tragedy in her childhood, Claire wants to grab life with two hands, which is what she has in mind when she heads out to a sketchy club with a new friend.

Lieutenant Tyler “Bud” Morrison is undercover at a club known for drugs and illicit activity and is startled to see a beautiful princess stranded by her companion and left to the wolves.  Stepping in, he rescues her and takes her home, an act that sizzles with attraction and leads to an amazing night (weekend, really) of sex and companionship.  Claire thinks Bud is a wonderful lumberjack or carpenter (since he’s helping her around the house and good with his hands *mrrrrooowww*), not realizing he is a police officer.

But when her wealthy father stops by, Claire discovers that the gorgeous man who has rocked her world is actually the police officer who rescued her from a kidnapper when she was a young, sick teenager.  Bud gets no argument from Claire’s father about their relationship (her father admires Bud and his integrity), but instead he gets an earful about Claire’s delicacy and past health issues.  Rather than being her passionate lover, he proposes and proceeds to treat her like delicate crystal.  Can’t he see that he will lose her if he won’t let her be his equal?

Midnight Angel is my FAVORITE of the whole series, largely because I could eat the hero up with a spoon.  Former SEAL Douglas Kowalski is a big, scarred beast of a man, one who usually sends elegant ladies running, but he secretly loves all things beautiful, especially music.

When his former commander and present-day security partner John Huntingdon insists that he accompany John and his wife, Suzanne, to a jewelry exhibit at the museum, he grudgingly makes the sacrifice.  Suzanne designed the display cases and her friend Claire Parks and her family’s foundation arranged the exhibit, but it still seems like torture until he catches sight of the stunning redheaded beauty playing the harp and singing like an angel.

Claire and Suzanne’s friend Allegra Ennis agreed to perform at this special event as a favor to them, but it’s the first time she’s performed since her father’s murder, the same event that took her sight and her memories of that traumatic event. When gunshots ring out, Allegra finds herself tucked under the stage and sheltered by the huge, rock-hard body of John Huntingdon’s partner, Douglas, a man with an amazing bass voice whose playful banter was making this evening a lot easier on her.

Douglas thinks Allegra’s beauty and incredible talent puts her into the untouchable category, but he cannot deny the wash of lust and tenderness he feels for her. When he realizes she is feeling the strong attraction between them as well, not even well placed C4 explosives would tear him from her side, especially after he realizes that the bastard who hurt her and literally got away with murder might still be after her.

There is a lot to love about this series (I actually have it in ebook form and find myself rereading them about once every couple of months). The characters are well-drawn and Lisa Marie Rice knows how to describe lust and attraction (with a hint of something more) in a way that other romance authors would do well to emulate. On an interesting note, her sex scenes are interestingly realistic (as much as this genre can be), in that she sometimes depicts the heroine being a little uncomfortable or unable to satisfy the hero at that moment, which sounds odd in an erotic (or at least scorcher) romance novel, but it actually makes the scenes more caring in the long run.

Lisa Marie Rice is a pseudonym and her bio is a fun exercise in playful fiction, with the only “true fact” she lists being that she writes looking at the Ionian Sea and facing (in the far distance) the temple where Pythagoras (the theorem guy) taught. My best guess is that this puts her probably in southern Italy or Greece facing Crotone, the place where he taught, so I’m glad she has such a beautiful place to be suitably inspired for her writing.  I would encourage her to set a book in that stunning locale, as I could easily see one of her fabulous Alpha Males meeting a beautiful heroine on assignment there.

Don’t be afraid of the alpha male.  When done right, he can be a macho protector who is a perfect match for a feisty heroine.

Music Monday: Sting Singles Made for Love

19 Mar

In high school, my best friend had a massive crush on Sting, so I actually know much more about him than the average person of my generation.  I know his real name was Gordon Sumner, that he was Catholic (this was important to us, being sentenced to Catholic school our whole lives), that he worked as a teacher (oh, the fantasies THAT inspired!), and that he lived with his girlfriend, Trudie Styler, and had children with her.  This was baffling to two teenage girls – why not marry her?  Of course, he eventually did, but not before showcasing the graphic birth of one of their children in the rockumentary, Bring on the Night, which my friend and I saw multiple times at the little movie theater in a local mall.  Since she went with me to see White Nights more than once (my crush was Mikhail Baryshnikov), it was the least I could do.  And I liked the music as well as the fact that he was a good political activist and philanthropist.

Released in 1994, “When We Dance” was one of the two new singles in the compilation album Fields of Gold: The Best of Sting, 1984-1994.  Naturally, Sting is creative and quirky, so the video seems like an sci-fi acid trip, but you can just put it on while you are doing something else and listen to how haunting the lyrics are.

Of course, Sting has been the voice of true love for a while (and no, I am NOT talking about “Every Breath You Take” which is a total stalker song.  Ew.).  Much more jaunty and upbeat, yet still romantic, “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” from The Police album, Ghost in the Machine, is more of a crush song, letting the listener in to a world of infatuation.  Sting actually wrote this song in 1976, but it wasn’t a big hit until its inclusion on this album in 1981.  I can still see my friend and I bouncing around the living room with MTV showing this video in the background.  It’s a typical early video (it has that “gee, what should we do in front of the camera?” quality which haunted early MTV airwaves) but it still appeared that the band was having a good time.  I adored Stewart Copeland (I’ve always had a thing for drummers).

If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” was released in the year before “When We Dance” on his album, Ten Summoner’s Tales which came out in 1993. I always picture this song as the internal voice of a battered hero who has given his heart to a heroine after years of pain.  The video is almost as weird as “When We Dance” (maybe working through some Catholic issues here) but just shut your eyes and listen to the fabulous lyrics.

Enjoy your Monday!

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day: The Best Irish Trilogy – the Gallaghers of Ardmore by Nora Roberts

17 Mar

It’s St. Patrick’s Day, and it’s only natural that a romance reader’s fancy turns to thoughts of Ireland, specifically the spell the Emerald Isle casts on the romances set on its green shores.  When I hear “Irish romance” without a doubt my thoughts go to the best Irish romance trilogy EVER, Nora Roberts‘ The Gallaghers of Ardmore.

Originally published in 1999 and 2000 (thus earning it the label of “classic romance” for this blog), this was one of Roberts’ forays into adding a paranormal element into her plot.  I like recommending the book for people who are leery about paranormal, because it’s only a minor plot element, so it doesn’t put readers off, simply adding a tint of myth.  The Irish setting (and so many books set in Ireland do describe the environment, especially of rural or small village life as “magical”) also helps suspend disbelief and the faerie king provides a good foil for our heroes and heroines, prodding them to action because of his personal agenda, and berating them when it looks like they are going to louse everything up.  But I digress.

In Jewels of the Sun, American psychology professor Frances Jude Murray has left a painful divorce behind in Chicago, deciding to do a little research in the Irish cottage in the seaside town of Ardmore. She quickly discovers her grandmother’s cottage harbors a locally famous ghost, a sad, beautiful woman, Lady Gwen, who fell in love with Carrick, the Faerie prince. Desperate for her to run away with him, he attempted to bribe her on three occasions with diamonds, pearls, and sapphires, but each time she refused because he didn’t think to offer her his love. Gwen went on to marry and have children, but her soul still pines for him as he does for her. They are both trapped away from one another until three couples profess their true love to one another, accepting the gift they are being offered in the other person’s love and affection.

Aidan Gallagher runs his family’s tavern in Ardmore and while he did plenty of roaming (ahem) in his youth, he is content to provide food, drink and Irish music to his neighbors and the tourists of Ardmore. When this reserved beauty from America with family ties to the town enters his tavern, his body and mind go on full alert. Jude knows that she is not the type of woman to have a fling, but Aidan’s Irish charm and sexy body make this an ideal time to throw caution to the wind. They both enter into the relationship only to discover much more about themselves they thought possible, including the recognition that this passion for one another could indicate a deep and abiding love if they are willing to take the chance.

In a world of reformed man-whores, Aidan is a breath of fresh air.  It’s not that he wasn’t a little wild in his youth, but he doesn’t take an intimate relationship lightly and it’s clear he cares for Jude from the start.  Jude finds not only sexual satisfaction in Aidan but a warm friendship, friendship that extends to his brother Sean and sister Darcy and their family friends the O’Toole’s, particularly Darcy’s good friend, Brenna.  The classic repressed good girl, Jude has been living her life for other people, and it takes a good deal of bravery to cast that habit aside and begin to live for herself and what she wants.  The tavern scenes are particularly rich, and the hot scene of Jude modeling her new underwear set for Aidan at closing is quite a standout!

In Tears of the Moon, the redheaded tomboy spitfire Brenna O’Toole admits to herself that she has loved dreamy musician Shawn Gallagher from afar forever, but she’s never had the guts to show him.  Confident in her sexuality, she nevertheless has some self-esteem issues in the idea that she’s not a girly girl type to attract the men in droves.

This combination makes the two of them a clash of personalities (the central focus of the plot) as Brenna often makes quick decisions based on what she thinks is right, rather than coaxing others into her way of thinking. Her family life is both poignant and laugh out loud funny, and the way she uses the family handiman business to constantly be in the haunted cottage (now occupied by Shawn) is adorable.  Artistic Shawn needs a kick in the pants to stop hiding his talent and move past just being the cook in the Gallagher tavern and Brenna’s force of nature personality and gorgeous body have taken over his dreams, day or otherwise.

As in any good trilogy, not only do we have the window into Brenna and Shawn’s minds, but we get to see Aidan and Jude as a married couple providing secondary character depth and goodness.  This book really is more about two very different people showing each other that they can have more than just a physical relationship, but that it’s not necessarily going to come easy while they figure out how to work with each other rather than accidentally hurt their partner.  The standout scene has to be Brenna kissing Shawn for the first time “just to show him what he might be missing” in the front yard of the cottage.

But the curse for Carrick and Lady Gwen doesn’t get broken unless three couples are successful and the last Gallagher is going to be a tough nut to crack. Stunning Darcy brings men to their knees on a regular basis, a fact of which she is all too aware, but she struggles to find a man she can have an equal reaction to, particularly when she has convinced herself that she wants a rich man who can give her the travel and material goods she’s missed growing up in a working class household.  In Heart of the Sea, the Gallagher family tavern has entered into a partnership with American developer Trevor Magee, whose family has painful ties to the town of Ardmore.  Trevor and Darcy’s attraction is instant and should come with a “highly combustible” warning, but there are naturally complications.

Trevor doesn’t just look for thriving restaurant and taverns to purchase, his many companies also find musical acts and the Gallaghers, especially talented vocalist and musician Darcy, are solid gold.  When they commence their relationship, Darcy and Trevor begin to wonder how much of it is business with a little something extra and how much of it is something more?

This is the hardest of the three books for me to warm up to, mostly because while Darcy is a good friend and great sister, I find her focus on finding a rich man distasteful.  Trevor is a handsome, tortured character who saves the book for me, and it’s probably telling that the standout scene is not one between the couple, but rather the part of the book where Trevor is trapped with Jude during a storm and ends up helping her deliver her and Aidan’s daughter.

This trilogy lives in my ereader so I can have it wherever I go and it’s a rare year where I don’t reread the books a few times just to sigh over the Irish setting and enjoy the supernatural quality of love.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

On the Importance of Archetypes: Jayne Ann Krentz’s Perspective on Romance Fiction

16 Mar

I vaguely remembered English course discussions (mind-numbing ones) centering on whether or not (insert protagonist name here) embodied the archetype of (hero, villain, trickster, etc.). Invariably some ass-kisser would bring in the Jungian archetypes (she had clearly taken a 200 level psychology class and wanted to show it) and I would start doodling in my notebook while the conversation took on the quality of Charlie Brown‘s teacher “wah-wah-WAH-wah…”.

So who the hell cares about archetypes anyway?  Well, it turns out writers should care, because a study of archetypes can offer tremendous insight into the characters we try to flesh out in mere words.  Sometimes books and writer’s guides call them simply archetypes, but there are other versions that exist like personality types, enneagrams, and zodiac signs which can all prove to be the brain jumper cable we require to see our character as a three dimensional person and transmit that understanding to our reader.

But before we go further, what exactly is an archetype?  At it’s most basic, an archetype is “a very typical example of a certain person or thing” usually seen as a general label that invokes immediate understanding in the listener or reader (like when someone calls your character a “player” in contemporary romance or a “rogue” or “rake” in historical romance).(New Oxford American Dictionary)

The psychology piece takes it a step deeper as Jungian psychology believes in archetypes as “a primitive mental image inherited from the earliest human ancestors, and supposed to be present in the collective unconscious.” (New Oxford American Dictionary) In this school of thought, the idea reigns that we have embedded in our cultural psyche ideas of “the hero” or the “wise old woman.” Jung and some other psychologists believe tarot cards to be an example of people channeling the idea of archetypes and creatively using them to understand their world and their future.  This is really rather helpful for writers, since it means that we can spin variations of this theme but often merely have to invoke this archetype in the minds of our reader with a few broad strokes and the reader’s brain will automatically categorize the character accordingly.

When entering into a “literary” discussion of the romance genre, it helps to get an intellectual heavyweight on your side.  Jayne Ann Krentz, known to her fans under either her actual name or one of her many pseudonyms – Amanda Quick or Jayne Castle, are two popular ones – is an award winning author who is able to encapsulate the key points of romance in language that ties critics in knots.  Try telling the following to the next brandy-swilling snootypants who attempts to suck the fun out of you.

“The thing is, romance novels, like the other genres of popular fiction, descend from a different storytelling tradition — the heroic tradition. They feature the ancient heroic virtues: honor, courage, determination and the healing power of love. Most modern literary critics are stuck in a time warp that dates back to the middle of the twentieth century when the only fiction that was considered GOOD fiction was that which was heavily influenced by existentialism, various social agendas and psychological theory.” (Source: interview with Jayne Ann Krentz)

Krentz knows what she’s talking about.  Not only did she get her bachelor’s degree in history and her master’s in library science (whoo-hooo!! fellow librarian!!), but she worked for years in academic libraries.  Add in her thirty plus years of being a published author and you have someone who REALLY has given a lot of thought to the genre.  (For an even clearer view, take a look at the collection she edited, Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance.)

Archetypes have definitely been a piece of this thought process.  In a recent interview given to the Popular Romance Project (SUCH a good site with one amazing video interview after another, like Jayne’s, and well-written guest articles, be sure to check it out), she paints with a few words why we love romance so much. It’s (thankfully) not about existential post-modernism or the deeper symbolism regarding the parrot on page 73, but instead about a story that is about two people on a journey, facing their problems with characteristics we can all admire. “[T]he hero and the heroine overcome their problems not with social engineering and not with psychology, but with core heroic virtues and they’re always the same. It’s courage, determination, a sense of honor, integrity, and the ability to love, and that’s at the core of all our heroic archetypes.”  Can you even think of a hero that didn’t have, at his or her core personality, these values?  Of course you can’t, because we wouldn’t love him or her as a reader.

Popular fiction employs archetypes as much as literary fiction or sweeping Greek epics do, because they are essential to our understanding of story.  Noting that no one seems to ask what need popular fiction fills in our mind and heart, Jayne has a theory.  “…I’ve, over the years, sort of evolved a Jayne’s theory of popular fiction evolution, which is that it wouldn’t survive unless it served a real purpose for the survivability of our culture; and I believe that it’s in popular fiction that we preserve our society’s—our culture’s—core values.”  If those core values are about love and caring, about courage and integrity, then I am incredibly glad that I live in a society that recognizes their importance.

One of the other criticisms I hear of popular fiction is how “unrealistic” it is. Conversely the opposite is praise for literary fiction (which never gets called popular fiction no matter how popular it gets) which is often touted for being gritty and realistic. But Jayne Krentz has a rebuttal for this negative perspective.

“It is not the task of popular fiction to be realistic. It may feel realistic upon occasion…. Popular fiction encapsulates and reinforces many of our most fundamental cultural values. Romance is among the most enduring because it addresses the values of family and human emotional bonds.” (Interview)

Is this the reason women in particular value romance so much?  Because we are geared to value those emotional bonds between people, particularly those of love and passion? The “realistic” thing always makes me cranky.  No Harry Potter is not realistic, or a girl falling in love with a vampire, or a guy who dresses in black and protects Gotham City with his ginormous wealth and infinite array of gadgetry. Are they stories people love to read?  Hell, yeah, and the characters are all archetypes at their core.

With this in mind, understanding archetypes is an important tool in the writer repertoire. There are plenty of books for writers out there that deal with character development, but one that might help is a book by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters.  I have so many post it notes in this book, it looks like a pink paper porcupine!  After a brief discussion of archetypes and their importance, Victoria Schmidt goes into several female and male archetypes, discussing their overall character traits, their flaws and positive qualities, how other characters view them, and, for many of the archetypes seen as positive, how they could become villainous.

Supporting characters are also given their own mini-archetypes and it’s impressive how as you read, you can’t help but think of characters of books you loved.  The last part of the book is spent outlining the feminine and masculine journey our characters/archetypes might take.  It really gets the brain juices flowing!

So for writers or would-be writers of popular fiction, don’t underestimate the power of archetypes to help your character development and plot brainstorming. Remember popular fiction is worthy of respect and admiration for the same celebration of human values that literary fiction possesses. By learning about the commonalities between them, we can appreciate all fiction and what it teaches us about being our best selves.  Enjoy!

Video Wednesday: Fabulous Love Scene from The Last of the Mohicans

14 Mar

It’s amazing that a book that I absolutely HATED in high school (sorry, James Fenimore Cooper) would result in a movie I can literally watch over and over again.  While Cooper is not going to win any RITA award for his romance between Hawkeye and Cora Munro (and the much less elaborated upon love between young Uncas and Cora’s sister, Alice), the 1992 movie adaptation (which owed its plotline and deviations from the novel to the fact that it is based more on the 1936 movie than Cooper’s original work), directed by Michael Mann, was deemed instantly swoon-worthy by people all over the globe who were drawn to Daniel Day Lewis‘ depiction of this literary character.

Cooper spent numerous (and I mean numerous) pages elaborating upon what would become known in American literature as the “noble savage” ideal, a concept rather nauseating in today’s day and age, but was publishing gold back in his day.  Another interesting twist is Cooper’s understanding of how and why his couples work or don’t work.  Hawkeye, a white man raised as a Mohican and known by the moniker the various Indian tribes of the area have given him rather than his given white name, Nathaniel Bumppo, would have been deemed unacceptable and ruined for polite society, but he is an ideal match for Cora Munro, who is the daughter of Colonel Munro and a mixed race woman from the West Indies who Munro married.  Also suitable for her would be Uncas and she actually dies with him in the book during the final fight of the novel, with his father inferring at the funeral that she was his chosen bride in eternity.  Because of Cora’s heritage, her chances of a good marriage are actually severely limited (despite her suitor in the form of Duncan Heyward in the movie, in the book he pursues Alice) so the love match between her and Hawkeye is ideal on all levels, particularly as a match to her adventurous personality.  Keep in mind that if you do decide to read the book, you can usually get it for free since it’s in the public domain.

I guess we should all thank Cooper for giving us a “meh” book that has somehow managed to be such an excellent inspiration for some tremendous love stories.  One of the most outstanding spinoffs has to be Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati.  In this epic, Elizabeth Middleton. a 29-year-old spinster, travels from England to upstate New York in 1792.  Her domineering father plans on pressuring her to marry the local physician, but she finds herself drawn to Nathaniel Bonner, son of (wait for it) Hawkeye. [I don't know if she did this for copyright reasons, but she renames Hawkeye "Daniel Bonner" and then gives the name Nathaniel to his son, but its still the same family.]  Nathaniel considers his ties to the Mahican nation strong - Chingachgook is his grandfather and his dead wife was a Mahican woman, but there is tremendous tension between the Bonner family and Elizabeth’s father.

Part of her inheritance is a parcel of land the Mahicans want to repurchase because of a long-standing claim on it, but physician Richard wants Elizabeth for the power he would gain owning that piece of the wilderness.  That Nathaniel and Elizabeth fall in love is just another complication but one that shakes them both to their foundations.  This is the best book of the series, but the other books in the series include (in order) Dawn on a Distant Shore, Lake in the Clouds, Fire Along the Sky, Queen of Swords, and the final book in the series, The Endless Forest, which takes the reader up to 1824 with this family that never seems to catch a break with all the trouble they encounter.  You must, must, MUST read them in order, because one of Donati strengths is painting rich, multidimensional characters and there are a lot of them that ebb and flow in prominence in the various novels.

Back to today’s video Wednesday clip.  I think the reason this kiss scene works so well is due to the shadow but largely due to the acting of Madeleine Stowe (and I bet there were a LOT of women who would have been happy to take her place here).  Her look of passion and tenderness as she and Hawkeye finally give into the need to touch each other as well as her ragged breathing ramp this sensual moment from smoldering to scorching.  The video is a little dark, but you’ll be able to see all the good parts, I promise.  Enjoy!

Series Review: The Sullivan Series by Bella Andre

13 Mar

I stumbled across Bella Andre last year purely by accident.  I was reading an article last June about successful self-published romance authors and her name popped up.  Coincidentally it was right after she had released her first book of the Sullivan series, The Look of Love.  Be warned, these books are only available as ebooks, so print only romance readers are bound to go unsatisfied.  Maybe this is the push you need to get one of those cheapy Kindles finally?

With over 3600 Twitter followers, Bella Andre is someone who clearly understands the digital world, hence her success.  Already an established print romance novelist, she had books that weren’t being picked up that she wanted to get out there.  Starting with Amazon’s platform she got them up in ebook format, but realized if she marketed to the other ebook websites like Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, etc., she’d reach a larger audience.  Finding the interface accessible, she forged ahead, selling a thousand titles a day, and retaining a much larger chunk of the proceeds than with a traditional publisher.  Sounds like a savvy, experienced author knew just how to play the self-publishing game!

Bella confesses that she feels one of the key features of her success was the introduction of the Nook Color since it showcases her beautiful covers (and my Kindle iPad app agrees with that).  We know that everyone judges a book by a cover and I was no exception.  I was looking for a romance novel for under $5 that I could download that instant, and when I read all the great reviews for Bella and her books on my Goodreads account, I made the plunge.  She is, hands down, one of the best values in the romance novel world.  I can honestly say that I would pay a lot more for these books (but please don’t raise the price!) but I’m intensely grateful to never have to budget for them.

The first book begins on a rainy night on a road near the Napa Valley vineyard owned by Marcus Sullivan.  His brother, world renowned photographer Chase Sullivan, is driving back to the vineyard when he spots a broken down car driven by a despondent Chloe Peterson.  Spotting the bruise she’s sporting, he realizes this ravishing beauty not only outshines the models which surround him but she is also in serious trouble.

Chloe takes one look at gorgeous Chase and knows she’s in trouble.  Her abusive ex had caught up with her and she’s beginning to despair of ever being free of him.  Yet this handsome man looming over her in the night inspires trust rather than fear.  When he brings her back to the beautiful vineyard where he is having a fashion shoot, she finds herself opening up her body and her heart.  Oh, and the balcony and bathtub scenes. *Mrrrrrooowwww*

Chase is determined to have both those things and Andre’s talented writing breathes life into these two characters from the very first page.  The Sullivans are a family of eight children and their lovely mother who lost their father at an early age.  Each of the kids are distinct individuals and intensely devoted to family.  We’ve got a nice selection of upscale glamour (Smith is a movie star, Chase the noted photographer, Lori the renowned choreographer), a workaholic (Marcus the oldest and the vineyard owner), and the sexy professions (Gabe is a firefighter, Zach a mechanic, and Sophie the librarian).  [Okay, I know that's seven, and I'm pretty sure there's a younger sister I'm not thinking of right now, but she hasn't been the in the stories so much. So sue me!  I'm sure her story will be great, too.]

You end up wanting to just BE a Sullivan!  In the first book, Marcus comes across as a little uptight, mostly due to the references to his cranky, be-yotch girlfriend in San Francisco, but you realize he’s wrestling with something bigger.  The second book, From This Moment On, picks up with Marcus finding out about said girlfriend cheating on him.  He realizes he hasn’t had feelings for her, well, forever, but is wrestling with the fact that he’s so remote and can’t open up to someone.  Is it because of his dad dying so young and leaving Marcus as the male head of the family with all the responsibility?  He decides to blow off steam and head to the nearest club to see if he can indulge in some casual sex and get his mind off his troubles.

Enter Nicola, one of the hottest performers, who is running from a relationship that should carry a scorched earth warning.  Her ex got her name in the tabloids by releasing a video with the two of them…well, you can imagine.  She decides to leave her penthouse hotel suite and head out to a club to see if she can get a little of her self-esteem back.  When she and Marcus catch sight of each other, they quickly leave the club and adjourn to his brother’s empty apartment where…she falls asleep, dead on her feet from her grueling work schedule.

And so begins an incredibly hot, tender romance.  Marcus and Nicola see something in each other, recognizing that they have a deep connection and can see beyond the surface – what everyone else sees – to each person’s real self.  The part at the end of the book where Marcus follows her concerts. *Sigh*  So romantic.

The third book, Can’t Help Falling in Love, leaves the wealthier Sullivans behind and focuses on sexy firefighter, Gabe, who is literally in the middle of battling an apartment fire, to make his way to a woman and child trapped behind a wall of flame.  It’s Megan Harris, who is busy shielding her young daughter in their bathtub, praying help comes in time. Gabe injures himself in the process, but manages to save both their lives and when she and her adorable little daughter go to thank their savior, the sparks that fly could easily cause another inferno.

But rather than elation, Megan and Gabe both feel a kind of panic.  Megan is a widow whose husband was an adrenaline junkie so she’s had her fill of men who have potentially fatal jobs and now she has a little girl to worry about hurting with a relationship that doesn’t last.  Gabe is beside himself – he falls for Megan’s daughter as hard as for her stunning mother, but he had a previous hook-up/relationship with a woman he had saved and she went Swimfan on him in a big way.  Watching the two of them work through their issues and recognize how important they are to each other is a sensual, occasionally painful joy.

Which brings us to the most recent Sullivan novel, I Only Have Eyes for You, just released February 21st.  Librarian Sophie is twin to choreographer Lori, and their respective nicknames Nice and Naughty, describe how the family sees their personalities.  In previous novels, we’ve gotten the sense of how Sophie has feelings for Jake McCann, her brother Zach’s good friend and someone the family calls “the ninth Sullivan”.

This story opens at Chase and Chloe’s wedding, which Sophie has organized.  She’s decided that no matter what (including the warnings from her twin, Lori) she is going to make Jake notice her, and her clingy pink bridesmaid’s gown and movie star hair and makeup have him picking his jaw off the floor.

Jake has actually loved Sophie from a distance since they were both little, but his crappy home life (abandoned by his mother and raised by an abusive alcoholic father) and academic shortcomings have him believing he’s not good enough for her.  Yet seeing her at the wedding and thinking of her with someone else make him mental.  Even though he knows he’s wrong for her, when she throws herself at him, he catches her with open arms, only to have the best night of both of their lives.

But the following morning, he steers clear of her like she has the plague, despite knowing that he’s hurting her, thinking it’s for the best.  Until two and a half months later when Sophie has an announcement which will change both their lives – if they let it.

Jake and Sophie are both fabulous characters and I love the way Bella Andre weaves in the previous characters seamlessly but not intrusively.  The focus is always on the couple involved but the enthusiastic reader still finds themselves wrapped in Sullivan love and affection while not feeling like the other characters are living some kind of epilogue in the middle of the current novel.  It’s a skill I wish other authors would master.

Consider the value in these books.  At $4.99 for each book, $20 for the series, you get four terrific novels about a family you simply can’t get enough of.  No editing errors, fabulous characters, and fresh, sensual plots with heart-wrenching love – this is undoubtedly one of the best values for the money.  If you have an ereader of any kind, I would strongly encourage you to give this series a chance.  You’ll be happy you did!

Music Monday: Kissing Music

12 Mar

“This Kiss” by Faith Hill has always been a favorite of mine.  Released in 1998, it was number one of the Country charts and reached number three in adult contemporary proving how often country is really categorized as “crossover” since it can have a wide appeal.  “This Kiss” was written by Beth Nielson Chapman (a songwriter powerhouse – take a look at her link to see how many hits she’s written) along with Robin Lerner and Annie Roboff and the song was actually incorporated into the soundtrack of the movie, Practical Magic (a forgettable movie starring the nevertheless talented Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman).  Book note: Practical Magic is based on the book of the same name by Alice Hoffman, and I’ve yet to read a book of hers I didn’t enjoy, since she’s big on magic and strong female characters.  You might want to check it out.

“Just a Kiss” by Lady Antebellum does a great job suspending the listener in that moment of total potential when you have a first kiss with someone you are falling in love with.  Band member Charles Kelley said that he drew upon his first kiss with wife Cassie McConnell when all of the members sat down to write this.  I’m guessing their marriage is awesome.

“Kiss Me” by Sixpence None the Richer, which people always said was a Christian band, but I think they might have been a regular rock/pop band in which the band members were simply open about their personal faith.  This song is a teen movie and tv show powerhouse, appearing in the movies She’s All ThatNot Another Teen Movie and TV shows like Dawson’s Creek,  The Young and the RestlessDays of our Lives, and my personal favorite, 7th Heaven (before those horrible twins starting talking – they were the moment the show jumped the shark).

“History in the Making” by Darius Rucker is a totally brilliant love song written by Rucker along with Clay Mills (who has written songs for Diamond Rio and Trisha Yearwood) and Frank Rogers (a known producer and session musician who has written songs with good friend Brad Paisley as well as big name country stars like Kenny Rogers).  Rucker is well-known as the former lead singer and musician for Hootie and the Blowfish, who later struck out on his own as a rock solo artist before transitioning from rock to country music.  He is, astonishingly, only the second African American to ever win an award from the Country Music Association (I mean, I know there aren’t a lot of black people in country music, but seriously?) and the first to win for Best New Artist.  I have always thought his voice was amazing, but the lyrics to this song resonate with love.

There’s your music Monday – I know it’s a little heavy on country music, but can I help it that country music does such a great job writing about love?

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