…but this picture inspired the entire Christmas at the Meadowlark series. I knew I wanted to do a series about foster children, and that vague notion hung around in the back of my head for years until I saw this picture of Lee Byung Hun. Immediately I knew that he was Butch, MIA love of Sugar Baby’s life. Lisa and I started brainstorming and the story came together rapidly after that.
It’s funny how these things sometimes happen. It can be a photo, visiting somewhere or even a meal and you just know you’ve got to write a story. It’s one of the most amazing (and sometimes annoying) aspects of being a writer.
And no, this is never a good plan. I am working on the latest Pussycat Death Squad book, Pussycat in Peril. Astaria, whom you might remember from the first Pussycat Death Squad book is in a green card marriage with Kaeden, a Egyptian-American Marine. Kaeden has had feelings for Astaria almost from the beginning, but he doesn’t want her to be with him because she feels beholden, so he’s waiting until she gets citizenship before he speaks up. Then, she returns to her home country to rescue her family and disappears. In the middle of a revolution. A revolution that has cut the entire country off from the rest of the world. And of course, our hero has to go find her. This book is so much fun, especially in light of current events.
The other book I’m working on is Love Me Some Him. This is the long-promised book about Dare from Dark Star. Well, it starts soon after events in the Lion in Russia, so yes, Dare shows up at Tonya and Nate’s wedding with a black eye from being sucker punched by Leo in that story. And well, things go downhill from there. These two have got the Hillbilly Mafia, the Department and at least one prison gang hot on their tail. Chances of survival don’t look good.
Oh, and that big ass gun up there? That’s a British made Lapua Magnum .50 caliber rifle. With a confirmed kill from nearly 3000 yards, it’s favored by snipers everywhere and by Astaria, heroine of Pussycat in Peril and an accomplished sniper in her own right. She’s been known to keep it hidden under her burqa.
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.