I’ll confess. I have one little tiny historically debatable detail in my latest release, Fool for Love. It’s a little something one of my beta-readers and fellow historical romance writers, Angela Quarles, pointed out to me. In the 19th century men’s shirts only buttoned halfway down. Like this: Continue reading
A couple of weekends ago, I was down in The Bahamas. It was cold and rainy, so what did I do? I turned on the TV. What should be playing but the final scene of Dirty Dancing. Of course I was riveted (in spite of it being the TV version where they put the credits over all the cool dancing). As I watched with a sigh, I realized that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Johnny Castle and Baby for inspiring me with a love, no, a longing to write Romance.
Yes, Dirty Dancing is one of the reasons I became a Romance writer.
Dirty Dancing came out in 1987. I was in 7th grade, and I was not allowed to see it. My mom, who was sweet and gentle and conservative and divorced under heartbreaking circumstances (my dad cheated and left us) didn’t want me going anywhere near this reportedly steamy film about an inappropriate relationship. I was a good girl too and I didn’t see it. … Until it came out on video. My mom may have been conservative, but she wasn’t dictatorial. We watched it together.
I remember the scandal of that love scene between Johnny and Baby in Johnny’s cabin. I can still hear my classmates talking about it. “Did you see that??? He kissed her neck!” “And oh my gosh, she touched his butt!” I can still remember the pre-adolescent fascination – delighted or disturbed depending on which classmate you asked – over the sheer sexiness of the whole scene! And I’m not gonna lie. Thirteen year old Merry’s socks were knocked off! I must have watched that scene, the Sylvia & Mickey scene, and every dance scene in the movie about a million times … and we didn’t even own the tape! But believe you me, that was one of the first VHS tapes and then DVDs that I bought.
The funny thing is, by today’s standards that epic love scene – the first I ever remember seeing – is really tame. There’s hardly any skin, there’s no deep-throat snogging, and for the five seconds that you see them in bed there is no realistic forward and backward movement. Today’s thirteen year old girls probably watch it and say “Psht! Whatever!” (which is a whole other kind of problem).
But in all honesty, that’s still one of the hottest love scenes on film as far as I’m concerned. The heat and chemistry between those two is amazing. All the nudity and realistic motion and face-sucking is right there in their eyes. As they dance you can see them both smoldering on the inside. Every look sizzles. And she touches his butt! Oh my gosh, does she! Never have two people on screen so obviously wanted to rip each other’s clothes off and do naughty things so blatantly.
THAT is what Romance is all about. Sure, I like the graphic love scenes, both reading and writing them. But what really toasts my crackers is the build-up, the slow burn, the dirty dancing. When you can capture a thousand emotions and a hundred thousand years of human wanting in a single touch, you know you’re in the presence of greatness. It isn’t about the horizontal hokey-pokey, it’s about discovery and instinct, about need and acceptance. It’s about finding your soul-mate.
I have a distinct memory of smiling at the screen as the credits rolled that first time watching Dirty Dancing and happily saying, “And they meet up again wherever they both live and get married and live happily ever after.” To which my mom replied, “I sure hope so,” in ominous undertones.
Of course, that begs the question, Did Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman get married and live happily ever after?
Of course thirteen year old Merry was certain they did. No question. Then I got older and wiser and started to think about it more. Would they? I mean, they come from completely opposite worlds. Could Johnny handle the pressure and perfection of an upper-class life (and let me tell you, he doesn’t look that Jewish to me). Would Baby be content to compromise her dreams to fit Johnny’s into her life? She wants to join the Peace Corp. I would assume Johnny wants to do something with dance. Is there a middle ground to those two things? Jaded late-twenties Merry began to think things wouldn’t turn out so great.
It had actually been years since I’d seen Dirty Dancing when I found myself catching that last scene in the Bahamas. So once I got home I found a copy of the movie and watched it in full again. Yep, still an awesome flick! Still one of my favorites. I know it by heart and can tell you what order the songs will play in. The moves of the dance routines are like comfortable muscle memories from years past.
But what does late-thirties Merry think about Johnny & Baby’s chances?
You know, I think they just might be able to make it. I do! Baby may be super young (eighteen seems like a child to me now), but Johnny wasn’t all that old either. Both of them were bound to go through a lot of changes before they settled on what they really wanted to do with the rest of their lives. I think there is a strong chance that Baby’s dad might just concede that his daughter is a good judge of character and do something to help Johnny get enough of a job doing what he wants to support Baby.
Granted, it was 1963 and they would have gotten married or broken off entirely. But I think there is a strong chance Johnny would have put his dreams on hold to support Baby’s. They would have gone into the Peace Corp together for a while. It would have been good for Johnny to see more of the world and to have a chance to help people even less unfortunate than him. The thing is, you can’t stay in the Peace Corp indefinitely. At some point you have to leave and get another job. That’s when they would have gone back to real life … and opened a dance studio.
See what I mean? All those years ago Dirty Dancing got me thinking like a Romance writer. We’ve definitely got to have a Happily Ever After, but how we get it and where it goes is what the story is all about.
So there you have it. My love of Dirty Dancing will go on and on as long as I can imagine Romance. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there either.
You know what they say. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And that couldn’t be more true than when it comes to what attracts us in the opposite sex. What one of us sees as a super-hot guy, another will turn her nose up at and say “Eew.” I’m pretty sure that guys have similar reactions to girls. But let’s face it, ladies. We like looking at them just as much as they like looking at us, and we’re just as picky.
However, as a Romance writer, I have a responsibility to my readers to make sure I provide a full spectrum of yum. I love looking at the covers of Romance novels, in all their silly, sexy glory, and I’m continually tickled over what other women think is hot.
Take Bachelor Number One, for example:
Hot, eh? Nice chest, wicked little glint in his eyes? Think he’s got what it takes?
*shrugs* He’s okay. Not really my type. He’s a little too young for my tastes and he looks like he might be mean to me.
What about Bachelor Number Two:
Does he get your blood pumping? Want to take him out and see what he can do? Love the bad-boy look?
Me? Eew. No. Not at all. SO not my type. He probably owns a truck or a motorcycle. Yeck! You can keep him!
Alright then, what about Bachelor Number Three:
Now we’re talking! Smooth, suave, sophisticated. Wearing a suit and a smile, just the way I like them! This guy is totally my type. He looks like he could have a good time and talk about art or academia at the same time. And who knows what other “talents” he has.
But you might think he’s as boring as paint. Maybe you think he’s uptight or that he could have douchey tendencies. To each his own.
How about something completely different, like Bachelor Number Four:
Ah! Now there’s a guy who looks like he could have fun AND build a geodesic dome! Maybe he plays the guitar or dreams of helping children in Africa. Maybe he’s your type.
I could probably be friends with this guy, but I wouldn’t date him. I cringe at dreads (sorry Alaina!). But he could be the man of your dreams.
See, that’s the thing about types. We all have a different one. I feel like the Romance world is packed full of Bachelors Number One and Two. Occasionally you find Bachelor Number Three in there. But has anyone ever read a Romance with Bachelor Number Four? Maybe there should be more of them out there. Number Four is definitely someone’s type somewhere. Ah, but does that woman read Romance? Would a book with good old Number Four as the hero sell? I dunno.
So what do you think? Which bachelor above is the biggest eye-candy for you? Who would you love your Romance novel hero to look like?
Switching gears entirely from the last book…. Seduced by a Pirate, by Eloisa James! You’ve gotta love a title like that. I broke my teeth in the romance world by reading pirate romance novels, so this was a blast from the past for me. Except that I don’t remember the characters in the novels back then being quite like this.
First off, Seduced by a Pirate was a novella. Now, I’m not as familiar with the novella format, but it seems to be growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. A lot of authors, like Eloisa James, are putting out novellas in e-format only as a companion to a larger novel. Seduced by a Pirate is the companion novella to The Ugly Duchess. I think this is sort of a cool idea, and in fact it’s made me want to write a few novellas for my Noble Hearts series to cover some of the events that happen after The Courageous Heart ends.
But I digress.
Novellas are, as I understand it, 40,000 words or less. Whoa. That’s actually a huge challenge for someone who writes the way I do. The trick to a novella is to dilute all of the action of a full plot into a compact story. That includes the full character arc and all of the backstory. I get the impression that people think novellas are easier to write than novels, but actually, I think they must be harder. There are so many balls to keep in the air in a short period of time.
Eloisa James handles the balls expertly. Yes I said that. In particular, she incorporates some pretty complex backstory into the action of the present. In fact, the backstory is the plot motivator, you could say. But she doesn’t ever just spill it all out on the page. She weaves it into the misunderstandings of the present.
Here’s what I mean….
Our hero, Griffin, the notorious pirate captain of the Flying Poppy, a ship he named after his wife, returns to land after 14 years to hang up his pirate hat because he’s been injured and knows he’d be dead in six months if he kept pirating. So he goes home to his wife, who he hasn’t seen since their wedding night. Why hasn’t he seen her since their wedding night? Because that night he, a skinny and nervous lad of 17, was freaked the heck out by his older and more sophisticated wife of 20 who tore off her own clothes and bid him to “have at!”. 17-year old Griffin did not rise to the challenge and jumped out the window to flee in terror. He went to the local pub and got ragingly drunk … and was pressed into service on the sea. Not only has he not been home in 14 years, he doesn’t even remember his wife’s name correctly. It’s Phoebe, not Poppy. Oh, and when he arrives home his wife has three children.
Phoebe was devastated when her young groom ditched her on her wedding night. She believed that he didn’t want to be married to her because she was middle-class (though rich) and he was a lord. For 14 years she’s been receiving the monetary results of his piracy, but believes he doesn’t want anything to do with her. She suffered alone for 7 years, then put her big-girl panties on and made a life for herself. Yes, she has three children, but I don’t want to give away how she got them, because that’s one of the big questions at the heart of the novella.
So right out of the gate you have two people who already have a connection, the problems are laid out in simple elegance, and all that’s left is to untangle the knot. Of course, Griffin isn’t a skinny, nervous 17-year old anymore, and Phoebe takes one look at him, and he takes one look at her, and out pops the insta-lust. Usually I roll my eyes at insta-lust, but Eloisa sets it up perfectly with just enough detail about the character of these two people to make it credible. And as you would expect, the course of true lust never does run smooth.
I think the key to writing an effective novella and making things like insta-lust and heavy backstory – things that usually drag a novel down – work is to set things up just so. Every detail has to fit perfectly and serve a purpose. Novellas, like a Regency virgin, have to be tight. (Sorry, I had to)
I’d actually be interested to hear from anyone who has written novellas or who likes to read them particularly to hear your take on the form. Like I said, I have two novellas in mind that take place after The Courageous Heart that I’d like to write, and a few that take place in between books in my forthcoming A Duke and A Pirate series.
Next up, an actual paper-bound book that a friend from church gave me, Welcome to Temptation, by Jennifer Cruise. Yes, a fellow parishioner gave me a book called Welcome to Temptation to read. It’s a progressive church.