If she could read his mind, love – A romance writer’s take on POV

GeminiThe biggest news in romance writing the past month or so has been the publication of Grey, author E.L. James’ follow-up to her wildly successful Fifty Shades trilogy, written from the point of view of her problematic hero, Christian Grey. When I heard this book was coming out, my first thought was, “Jeebus Krispies, you mean those first three books were all written from the POV of that dippy Ana girl?” My second thought was a suspicion that a lot of the reviews have borne out – that seen from inside his own head without Ana’s romantic projections to diffuse the light, our boy Christian is at worst a dangerous sociopath and at best just kind of an ass. Sales queen Stephanie Meyer ran into a similar problem when she thought to rewrite her Twilight series from the POV of her vampire hero, Edward – that project was so unsuccessful that it never made it to publication. A copy leaked on the internet, and the response was so hateful, she pulled the plug.

Generally speaking, romances are written to engage the tastes and instincts of the female psyche in a relationship – they know what girls like, and they give it. A lot of smart people will tell you this is why these books from the man’s side of the bed just don’t work–they can’t work because men don’t think like women want them to think about love connections; therefore, any attempt to portray the inner life of a dude in love is going to either be unrealistic or unromantic. To which I say, bullshit. It’s perfectly possible and highly desirable to show the male point of view in a female-male romance. You just have to let your guy be a guy–and a guy worth wanting. I totally understand writers who don’t want to risk it–they don’t want to write a woman with a penis or expose the hero they love to the scrutiny of readers who might not understand him the way they do. And it’s perfectly possible to write a great book entirely from one point of view; some books need that. But at some point, the romance reader needs to know how the hero feels, which means the writer has to either show him feeling it or have him say it or both. And if he’s been the strong silent type through the whole book then suddenly pops out with a love sonnet that would make Lord Byron blush, it’s going to play fake; as a reader, I’m not going to believe him. (This is where that whole ridiculous romance cliche of, “Okay, yeah, he slayed the dragon, saved my ranch, and made me orgasm four times in three minutes, but he’s never said he looooooves me!!!!!’ came from, heaven save us.) It’s much better, I think, if she’s not keeping us in the thoughts of her heroine for some other good reason, for a writer to give us at least a peek inside the poor boy’s head or heart as we go along–we need to see him falling in love at the same pace as the heroine, just not necessarily the same way. Basically, let the poor guy be a person. You know guys, right? Write one you could love not as you think every woman would want him to be but as you know he is and trust your reader to fall in love with him. Odds are good she will.

kingspossessionThree of the books we’ve got coming out this month from Little Red Hen Romance give a nicely broad spectrum on this topic. In The King’s Possession (Chapter 2 of her For the Love of the King series), Delilah Dove stays entirely in the point of view of her heroine, Catriona, a former mistress of Louis XIV who is attempting to teach his twin brother, Phillipe, to impersonate the king and hopefully replace him. And of course, in the process of doing so, she falls ever more deeply in love. Cat and Phillipe are an interesting reversal of the usual historical couple–he’s the wise, loving innocent and she’s the damaged rake. By keeping the story in her point of view and letting her discover that Phillipe really is as wonderful as he seems gives the reader a journey that a mixed point of view couldn’t.

AnnabelNew hen Malinda Mockingbird starts a new steampunk series, The Clockwork MacGuffin, July 17 with Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf. Annabel is a scientist turned schoolmarm who finds a gravely injured airship captain, Nick, and brings him back to almost too much health–he’s half werewolf and not entirely in his right mind when she wakes him. While most of the action in this first installment takes place from Annabel’s point of view, Nick’s perspective is presented, and seeing him come back from animal to intelligent charmer is what makes us–and Annabel–fall so hard for him.

But my favorite new story this month also presents the most interesting point of view challenge. The lovers in Gemini, a sci fi romance by Sonja Sparrow, have been bio-engineered as a symbiotic couple, created to fight as dual assassins and to be entirely interdependent emotionally as well as physically–they don’t so much love one another as need one another to survive. When the story begins, Kaia is rescuing her beloved Xander from a frozen prison, so we see the action from her perspective. But once he’s awake, their thoughts become one–they can literally see through one another’s eyes. For us mere earthbound lovers, that sounds a lot scarier than any killer robot, but these two make it work beautifully–it’s a gorgeous romance right in the center of some genuine hard sci fi world building.

The King’s Possession and Gemini are both available right now from Amazon–and they’ll be free all through the holiday weekend, so snag your copy now. Miss Annabel Lee and the Clockwork Wolf will be out July 17 and free the weekend of July 17-19.

Because life is too short to read crap

the king's tutor coverLike more than 20 million other people, I read e-books on a Kindle, and my favorite genre is romance. A quick search on Amazon for romance titles this morning yielded me 365,065 options to choose from. I know from experience that there are treasures to be found all the way up and down the charts. But the vast majority of these 365,065 e-books calling themselves romances are total, unmitigated, stinky, slimy, sloppy crap. The Wild West world of e-publishing combined with a media that continually broadcasts romance as that world’s most popular and therefore most potentially profitable genre have shaken stuff out of the bushes that would make Grace Livingston Hill say “Fuck this noise” and switch to thrillers. Well-meaning amateurs who couldn’t write their way out of a wet paper sack with a box cutter and a blowtorch have unwittingly conspired with cynical assholes who say flat out they hate romance as they write the dumbass porno to prove it. Together they’ve created a digital Bog of Eternal Stench where readers who actually love the genre can only cling to the few writers they already know they can trust and pray for daylight—and better pricing.

Life is too short to read crap. That’s the idea that inspired Little Red Hen Romance, a smallest-of-the-small-time e-book publisher that I hope will give me and readers like me a better option. The plan is to publish at least four new romance short story titles every month starting on May 1. The stories will be absolutely free for their first week of release (and only available through Amazon) then 99 cents forever thereafter (and available from B&N and iTunes, too). If things go well, we’ll do longer anthologies and maybe even full-length books, but for now, we’re trying it out with the shorties, 3000-8000 words each. But short as they are, every story will be an actual romance by a criteria that might be entirely subjective to me but that I really think a lot of readers have been missing. When I started thinking about what I wanted and wasn’t getting from new romance, I came up with a list of three things:

1 – Sparkling dialogue: Nothing kills a love connection for me faster than dull, flat, lifeless talk, and what passes for romance these days even on the bestest of bestseller lists is full of it. Before I can care about people falling in love, I have to like them; I have to want to listen to them; I have to see the sparks fly between them. Not every story has to be a laugh-a-minute romantic rollick (though there will definitely be some of that, too), but I promise, the characters in the stories from Little Red Hen will be able to carry on a conversation before they start stripping off their clothes—and after.

 2 – Tender sensuality: I love me some smut. Explicit sexuality has been a hallmark (and some would say the major selling point) for romance since the 1970s, and as a reader, I want and expect it. And I’m not squeamish about the mechanics—twosomes, threesomes, up, down and sideways, with handcuffs or without; I’ve read books that rocked my world from all of these, books that I would definitely call romance. What set them apart was the attitude of the characters getting it on toward one another, their reasons for hopping in the sack (or the haystack or the space bunk or that big ol’ hot tub full of banana puddin’) in the first place. Not every character who has sex in a Little Red Hen book will be madly in love when they start, but they’ll at least be considering it by the time they finish. The person or persons they’re sexing will have value to them as people, and their physical actions toward them will reflect that. Nobody is going to get genuinely humiliated in a LRH book (and no monster will ever “turn anybody gay” because that’s the stupidest thing I ever heard of in my life, and I work at a law firm). We in the Hen House want to turn our readers on and make their toes curl but let them still feel clean and able to look their preacher in the eye afterwards.

 3 – Heart-melting romance: This one is the most important. It’s what’s most often missing from the books I hate, and I think it’s what embarrasses the haters most about romance, far more than any kind of sexual content ever could. If a story is going to be a romance by the genre definition (not the literary, which is a whole different thing involving a much wider range of happy endings), it has to be a love story; it has to be the series of events which leads the characters into (or deeper into) love. It doesn’t have to end in marriage or a marriage proposal or a declaration of eternal devotion. But it’s got to mean more than an orgasm, a contract, or the acquisition of a business partner to pay the household expenses. It’s about people touching soul to soul, something I believe in very strongly. Otherwise, for me, it’s not a romance. Every Little Red Hen story, whether it’s historical, contemporary, paranormal, steampunk, straight, LGBT, funny, dramatic, or just plain weird will be a love story by this definition.

For more information about the press or the individual titles coming up at our launch on May 1, please drop by the website at http://lucybluecastle.wix.com/littleredhenromance or come like us on Facebook. And by all means, come hang out at our Facebook launch party on Wednesday, April 29, at 8 pm EDT—yes, we’ll mention the books, and yes, there will be preview giveaway swag, but mostly it’ll be a bunch of romance lovers chatting and snarking and having fun, and we’d love to see you there: https://www.facebook.com/events/807514879343283/