Thursday, October 17, 2013

Wrong Turn?

This is the week the Harlequin contest was supposed to pick its 50 semifinalists. It’s Thursday already and I haven’t heard back, so I think it’s safe to say my entry didn’t make the cut. I’m actually relieved. Even as I was writing it I knew it wasn’t a Harlequin book. It’s a paranormal romance, yeah, but written my way, not theirs. (Example: the Hero and Sidekick Guy are holding a séance. They’re trying to contact a male spirit, but a female spirit appears. “This ancestor of yours,” Hero says, “he wasn’t a cross-dresser, was he?” Lines like that won’t be appearing in a Harlequin category novel any time in this century.)

There’s another problem right there: Sidekick Guy. He’s a friend of both Hero and Heroine. That’s acceptable by itself, but he’s in quite a few scenes with the two of them. For this to be a standard Harlequin plot, it helps if the guy and girl are thrown together BY THEMSELVES so they have to rely on each other, without pesky friends or relatives or law enforcement personnel or people who could help them solve their problems getting in the way. Oh, great. Now I figure out the Harlequin formula.

Then there’s the matter of sex scenes. The hero’s possessed by a demon, which means no privacy for our couple in the sack. Threesomes aren’t something Harlequin’s category books are ready to deal with yet. The demon does get exorcized by the end, so I could have had the happy couple go out with a bang, so to speak. Otherwise this would of necessity have ended up a sexless relationship, and I wasn’t aiming for an inspirational. But hey, just think of the romantic tension!

I suspect what got me cut was my characterization of Humphrey the dingo/demon. It might have been seen as stereotypical and offensive by the editors. These books are the backbone of Harlequin’s publishing empire, and no place for non-PC characters. Man, am I glad I made that female ghost Irish instead of black. Not that it mattered in the end.

Then, of course, there’s the biggest problem of all. Even though a romance happens in the book, I’m not entirely sure it’s a romance novel.

This is something I deal with every time I write a book. I come up with characters, throw shit at ‘em, and see how the story turns out. Half the time I forget to add the sex because I get caught up in the plot, and have to shoehorn in the sexy stuff during the second draft. The story’s supposed to be about two people falling in love. I think Belonging was the only book of mine that actually did that. The rest of them have some kind of mystery or adventure plot going on, and the romance happens as an afterthought.

I didn’t go into romance for the money. Good thing, because I haven’t made much yet. I switched over from science fiction because I like reading romances and I started getting ideas. I never objected to romance in anything I read. It wasn’t the superheroics that kept me coming back to the X-Men and the Avengers month after month; it was the soap-opera elements. Paranormal romance gave me the best of everything. Who wouldn’t go for that?

The trouble for me is a biggie: while I don’t mind reading sex scenes—bring ‘em on, the hotter the better—I find it hard to write them. Like fight scenes, sex scenes stop the story. I want to get back to the action, and not that action, either. This is why I could never have written Twilight. My Bella would have spent the book rooting out the secrets of the vampires instead of falling in love with one. Wish I’d thought of The Hunger Games, though. It’s an action book with a romance tacked on. Right up my alley.

It occurs to me I might be working in the wrong genre.

Like I said, out of maybe seven books I’ve only written one real romance. The rest are mysteries, adventures and comedies with romances pinned to their tails. That’s no surprise. Since I have trouble writing the sex scenes, I’m going to avoid them. When you’re trying to write M/M erotica, it gets kind of counterproductive.

Maybe I should switch again. Try an actual mystery novel. Or a fast-paced adventure. Or a paranormal mystery where the leads are attracted to each other but don’t necessarily get it on until after the story’s over. Or, given my love of dialogue, maybe I should be writing scripts.

But I do like writing romance, and I do have ideas, and for once there’s actually a market for something I have an interest in. With all the e-publishers springing up out there, the kind of books I write are bound to find a home somewhere. Just not at Harlequin. I couldn’t write to the formula. My way’s a lot more fun.

Maybe I should have sent them the other story. It had a guy and a girl on the run from bad guys, and they spend the bulk of the book with only each other for company. Except it wasn’t paranormal, it was more science fantasy (alien energy beings). And over half the book’s told from the guy’s point of view. And the woman has superpowers so she doesn’t need protecting. And she dies on page one. Then gets better. Oh yeah, and both of them are thieves and not necessarily very nice people. Especially the woman, who was a total bitch before she died. At least there’s sex, though I skipped writing that in the draft.

Only one thing to do: read all the erotica I can get my hands on and practice writing steamy sex. Oh yeah, I love this job.


Savanna Kougar said...

Yeah, I was wondering about the Harlequin thing... I don't see where they've listed the 50 finalists... or maybe they weren't going to do that... since I didn't enter to win, no biggie... just curious.

I'm in the same boat, my entry would NOT have turned out to be Harlequin-acceptable.

I did get some feedback that might be helpful. The two ladies who commented couldn't understand why Keira would be worried about a Sheriff... the question I ask is: are they living in the real world given all the imposters and bad cops out there? Regardless, I'll have to bring that out more.

I've always written paranormal/sci fi/otherworld romance with action, suspense and/or mystery. I've always been frustrated by the lack of romance in those genres. You know the Western where the hero rides off into the sunset.

Savanna Kougar said...

Oh, okay, I just checked their site. They're going to list the 50 finalists on October 21. I don't know if they're requesting the full manuscript before that date or after.

Savanna Kougar said...

From what they're saying they would be requesting the full manuscript so readers can vote on the top ten.

Pat C. said...

According to the timetable on the Contest Rules page, this week they're contacting the top 50 entry writers to sub their full manuscripts. The editors will read those, pick the best 10, and post the 10 for reader voting in early November.

Personally, I think "Heroes and Heartache" is going to win. I didn't read too many chapters but that one stood out. Bet it makes it into the top 10.

Savanna Kougar said...

Hmmm... I read a few chapters, but not that one. I'll have to check it out.