I’m an absolute NPR junkie and listen to it constantly. I’m also obsessed with songwriters and their uncanny ability to compose in four minutes a story that would take me thousands of words to write. The other day I was listening to a story about Allee Willis, who co-wrote “September,” one of my all time favorite songs, by the legendary Earth, Wind and Fire. As the writing process went on, she was concerned about Maurice White’s use of the nonsense phrase, “Ba-dee-ya,” and kept asking him when they were going to replace it with real words.
‘What the f- – – does ‘ba-dee-ya’ mean?’ And he essentially said, ‘Who the f- – – cares?'” she says. “I learned my greatest lesson ever in songwriting from him, which was never let the lyric get in the way of the groove.”
I think this is an important lesson for writers in every genre. Years ago when I was working on Let’s Do It Again, I got into a bit of a situation with the editors over the use of the word “slingshot” as a verb. I know slingshot is not typically used as a verb, but in this particular scene where the heroine is flipping mashed potatoes at the hero across the dinner table because he’s kissing up to her mother, the word “slingshot” evokes imagery that the word catapult does not. A slingshot is a child’s toy and I envisioned the heroine as being childish in her aggravation at the hero. Well, after it was pinged for the third time in the edits, I finally told them I was prepared to die on that hill, but slingshot stayed. IMO that is one of my funniest scenes and I’ve gotten more email about it than pretty much any other scene I’ve ever written.
What does ba-dee-ya mean? You can’t use “slingshot” as a verb. Don’t write books with rock star heroes. And the list goes on. There’s always someone who will be bogged down in the minutiae of a story, but never forget that you are the ultimate arbiter of what goes into your books. That doesn’t mean you should throw a hissy fit over the use of basic grammar or reject perfectly reasonable suggestions about continuity and such. But you’re the only person who knows the story. You are the queen of the universe in a world that you’ve created. Never, ever forget that.
This post has nothing to do with Milk & Honey, I just think that cover is delicious.
This is an issue I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Lisa and I are working on a project with a lesbian secondary character. This is actually my second story with a lesbian secondary character. In Hot for Teacher, Caja’s assistant was a lesbian and there is a minor sub story about her relationship with one of Caja’s clients. In the story I’m working on currently I originally envisioned this character as somewhat butch. But as I worked on the concept I was concerned that it might play into stereotypes, the old “Which one is the man?” foolishness, that I understand lesbians really hate. OTOH, I’ve read a couple of blog posts about the invisibility of butch lesbians in the media, and I have to agree, I can’t really recall seeing any unless it was as the butt of a joke. So Lisa and I are still going back and forth with this, and since there are actually two lesbians in the story, having one of them be butch should probably not be a problem, as long as we’re careful. Her part is small, but I think it’s pivotal part of the story. Her girlfriend isn’t butch, and she is actually a bigger part of the story. She isn’t necessarily femme either, given that’s she’s a werewolf, but I really like this character a lot. Of course, the ultimate judge will be the reader. I didn’t get any pushback from the lesbian character in Hot for Teacher, and don’t expect any from this story either, but you never know what might push folks’s buttons.
Maple Fork, Alabama is the setting for two of my novels Rock Star and Dark Star. It’s a (very) fictionalized version of my hometown, Gadsden, Alabama. Gadsden is a small, formerly industrial town in northeast Alabama in the foothills of the Appalachians. So when I call myself a hillbilly I know of what I speak. Many of the places and things I mention in both books do actually exist, at least in fictionalized form. The statue of the Confederate heroine, Emma Sansom is prominently featured on the main street of the town.
Noccalula Falls, which I changed to Amicola falls in Dark Star is also a real place, and does have an Indian maiden leaping to her death legend attached to it.
Gadsden is a wonderfully scenic place and as I describe in both stories wonderful for those who enjoy the outdoors.
People have asked me why I didn’t just set the story in Gadsden, as opposed to fictionalizing it, after all, I’ve set stories in Birmingham, Atlanta and even Huntsville without doing so. I had several reasons for doing so. For one thing Gadsden is very small. Those other cities, especially Atlanta and even Huntsville to a lesser degree, are pretty generic as far as cities go. When you’re talking about a city of 40k people it gets to be a bit more personal. I knew I was going to set several stories in Maple Fork and those secondary and background characters would play a fairly large role. so ficitionalizing it made more sense.
I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t really comment on the controversy involving the film, Django Unchained, but I do want to talk about the “damsel in distress” issue. Kerry Washington who is the female lead in the movie commented on how nice it is to have a black woman play a damsel in distress. I think this is a role many black women have longed for. Let’s face it, it’s nice to see a film where a man is willing to go to hell and back for a black woman. We get a lot of that in our romance novels. The rescue fantasy is a very strong trope and with good reason. Most of us are holding it down in one way or another. For generations, black women have been required to be superwomen whether we want to be or not. It’s nice to think that it’s possible to be taken care of simply because we are women. A courtesy other women take for granted, but which, for us is often not present.
And that’s where my Pussycats come in. I’ve mentioned before that the Pussycat books don’t sell well. The “kick ass” heroine, while hot to death with white readers, just don’t fly with black readers. I think this is another case of, “Your Blues Are Not Like Mine.” For white women, sheltered and protected whether they want to be or not, a world where a woman gets to kick a little ass is a lovely fantasy. For black women, who’ve pretty much been on our own for the most part, more ass kicking has little or no appeal. Years ago I remember a white reviewer saying that white readers who tire of TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) heroines really out to check out some black romances where the heroines seemed more capable and less damsel. I always thought that was an interesting insight into the different mindset and views of black and white readers.
So, where does that leave writers like me who really enjoy writing these books? No matter what, I love my Pussycats and have at least two other novels planned. Which means I will have to double down to produce more books to compensate for the poor sales on this one.
As we all know the arrnged marriage is a common trope in romance. I’ve read stories where someone had to get married to inherit money, or were ordered to marry in a will. Recently I read an article that said you can’t compel someone to get married in a will, but damned if I can find the article. I thought it might be a post on one of the romance blogs, but no luck there, either. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? Holla.
Okay, I’ve got another one that may have an ick factor. The pretty fly for a white guy type. Yanno he’s into hip hop and has a little swagger. Speaks in AAVE. I haven’t seen them in IR romances, but see them all the time at the mall and they always seem to have a black girlfriend. I’m thinking there might be more of them in street lit. Does anybody know?
Then there’s the white guy who just seems to be down or chill with black folk. I had a friend like this in college. He didn’t try to have swagger or anything, but he preferred to hang black. If I recall, he was essentially raised by his black housekeeper and spent all his time her kids. Then he played sports and made friends mostly with black people. Would he be an icky hero? Has anyone seen him in a book?
It’s seems from my observations at least that most interracial readers prefer their “white boys white”. I’m just not sure if this reflects in real life where the pretty fly types seem to prevail, or at least the down guys. But I could be wrong. Those of you who date/mate IR what did you mainly encounter?
Some of you have commented that Dark Star is not as steamy as some of my more recent offerings. And that is true. Heat ratings are a funny thing, and I really struggle with them. I write the story as it comes to me, and some come in sexier than others. The heat level of Dark Star is probably comparable to that of Rock Star, but I didn’t do that deliberately. I enjoy sweet and spicy books, and like writing both. After all, Morning Star, another Rock Star sequel is very spicy. Super Star, the last of the the “Star” books I have planned is probably going to be hotter as well, but I haven’t started writing it yet, so you never know.
The Green Mile cured me of an almost fanatical devotion I used to have to Stephen King. The “magical negro” trope in fiction drives me insane. It’s inconceivable that an author could create these black people with wondrous powers yet they’re never seen helping any black people. Even at a time like in The Green Mile where “strange fruit” was abundant.
Historicals are my first love, and I always wanted to write one and plan to write more. My interest in the Underground Railroad meant that my first story would probably be set in that time period. Like all resistance movements the Underground Railroad was exciting and thrilling and setting a story there seemed like a no-brainer. As did the creation of the Eshu, black shape-shifters who work to free the enslaved. I was so excited when my partner, Lisa G. Riley joined me in writing these stories. We had a lot of fun creating that nebulous “something different” readers always crave.
So, if like me you’re sick of “magical negroes” check out these two stories, I promise you won’t be disappointed. These stories didn’t sell well, and I’ve always wondered why. Is it the paranormal aspect? Or the fact that they’re historicals? I know many black people have a distaste for stories from this time period, even though none of the main characters are slaves. I guess I can see that in a way. After all we like stories with HEA and how can that be under those conditions? Of course, there were stories with HEA in those times, otherwise none of us would be here. I imagine that desperate times create deep and abiding love if for no other reason than that the characters have gone through the crucible together.
Have you read either of these, and what did you think? Are you a fan of historicals? Would you like for me to write more of them? I have more Eshu story ideas, but since these didn’t do well I’m hesitant to write more. If you didn’t read them why not? Do you dislike paranormal stories? I know that some of my fans simply don’t like the paranorm, and I so get that. I used to feel the same way.
I’ve had lots of requests for an Asian hero and I’ve been kicking some ideas around mainly because of my unrequited lust for Troy Polamalu. When I mentioned this to my friend Lisa (who, btw has a smoking hot story featuring an Indian man After the Morning After) she laughed and said Samoans and Indians aren’t Asian. Of course, even though I’m geographically challenged I know that they are, but I do see her point. I suspect that for many people “Asian” is limited to Chinese, Japanese and Koreans.
So, how about it ladies? For the purpose of romance heroes what exactly is “Asian”? (And be careful here because if I can’t write a Troy story to resolve my “issues” I might have to actually have to start stalking him again, and that restraining order doesn’t expire until Valentine’s Day. And the judge might sic that perv Ben Roethslisberger on me again. Ew!)
I realized the other day that Dark Star is the first book I’ve written with flashbacks, and I’m really not sure why. Certainly reunited lovers is one of my favorite themes, but I’ve never done flashbacks before. Looking back, I think that was a problem with Try a Little Tenderness. I wrote it as essentially a two-part story because I didn’t want to tell the whole story of them meeting in flashback. That style worked for some, but didn’t work for others. I think it might have impacted the pacing.
Now with Dark Star I’m wondering if the flashbacks might be hurting the pacing as well. I don’t think the story works as well without them and there are only two, but I’m not really sure. How do y’all feel about flashbacks? Do you prefer them italicized or in regular font? Do you like them, tolerate them, or loathe them with a deadly passion? Let me know what you think.