Introduction to an Old Character

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

The Pink Heart Society’s May newsletter discusses romance fiction with older heroines, and asks, as I do, if the romance genre thinks love has an age limit. The newsletter features interviews with Dee Ernst, Amanda Ward, Liz Flaherty, Morgan Malone and the Pink Heart Society’s (PHS) editor, Trish Wylie—all romance authors who place women of certain age front and centre of romance. It’s exciting to know I am not alone in being passionate in my desire to stamp out ageism and sexism.

Why is it exciting?

An Introduction (for you newbies)

Hi, I’m Sandra Antonelli. I write older romance heroines—silver foxy women over 40 as the lead characters, not as secondary characters, and not as protagonists in Women’s Fiction, but as the romantic leads. I represent this demographic of women and demographic of romance readers who want female heroines with all my heart, and I am passionate about continuing to do so.

If this is your first time reading one of my posts, and you don’t know, mature-aged romance heroines are my soapbox. Check out the Mature Content Stockpile tab for just how much soapboxing I do. There are many reports in the media discussing sexism and ageism in Hollywood, but there’s very little media dialogue on ageism and sexism in romance fiction. Strange, because there is such a parallel in the way women of a certain age are pigeon-holed in stereotyped roles (cougar, granny, witch, crazy cat lady) or rendered nearly invisible in both forms of entertainment. This really chaps my hide.

Years ago, before Harlequin’s NEXT line, which touted stories about women with a little more life experience, I went looking for older romance heroines and found next to nothing. So, I decided to write my own, thinking the world would catch up. I kept writing older protagonists in romance, and, like Liz Flaherty mentions in the PHS newsletter, I got curious about why there were only a handful to be found. I did a master’s degree and then a PhD on the subject to try to get to the core. The masters uncovered the demographic of reader looking for older romance heroines, the PhD examined why the demographic is overlooked. And in the mix of all that academic stuff, I kept on writing romance with older heroines AND heroes because no way was I going to be like Hollywood and let the hero be an older Bruce Willis-type while the heroine was 25 to 35-something. My books were published by Escape, a division of Harlequin Enterprises in ebook format—because ebooks are a little more open to taking a chance on something with a niche market, or outside the norm.

I have four books that sit outside the romance heroine age norm: A Basic Renovation, For Your Eyes Only, Driving in Neutral, and Next to You, as well as short stories Your Sterling Service, and Niagara Falls at Café Nixin the anthology It All Happened at Café Nix. I have more on the way. You can find links to all my books here.

Knowing that there are other books outside the norm besides my own, that I’m not the only one writing older romance heroines, that Dee Ernst, Amanda Ward, Liz Flaherty, Morgan Malone, Karen Booth, Josie Kerr, Maggie Wells, Natasha Moore, and the Seasoned Romance Facebook page with over 600 members of authors (and readers) are also writing heroines with life experience and–gasp–wrinkles shows that older equals OH HELL YES!

Can You Predict the Future?

Yeah, you guessed it! I’ll write romance, blog, tweet, post on Facebook, and do academic-type stuff on women of a certain age in romance, and I’ll keep on championing  until we’re not a stereotype of age, a niche market, or a trend.

I applaud you ballsy authors who, like me, want to show the entire world, not just the romance world or Hollywood, that foxy doesn’t end at forty.

That’s My Job

book-2The other day, over coffee in a café with a writer friend who lives around the corner from me, the topic turned from our writing to the great mystery of promotion and the elusive magical unicorn that leads readers to your books. We discussed when your new book comes out strong, gets well-reviewed, and then…slips into something like a zombie-like state where sales shuffle along, taking an occasional bite here and there. My friend and I wondered how much promo can you do for yourself, how can you market your work and get it noticed, get it ‘discovered’ without being annoying or spending a fuckton of money by hiring a marketing & PR firm.

Fun fact: Did you know fuckton is a now a standard unit of measurement?

The two of us talked and talked — and didn’t come up with any answers, had no suggestions to make, and we went back to sitting side by side drinking coffee, wearing headphones and writing. Because that’s what we do. We meet,we write, and drink coffee.

book1Like my friend, I’ve followed the advice I’ve been given, done blog tours, sent my books out for reviews, peddled my publications on Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad, Pinterest, in newspapers and local magazines, and radio, on my website, on other’s websites. I’ve gone to conferences, presented workshops and papers, and my books continue shuffling along. What I can say is that, while we spent quite some time discussing what to do, I don’t worry about my books doing a zombie shuffle. I set my focus on writing books. I write because THAT’S MY JOB.

I will be totally honest. I don’t write to make money. You may call bullshit on this, but  I have a great life and I do not define myself as a human being by the amount of dough my books do or do not bring in. As a pragmatist, I know this business is a crapshoot, that there are a shit-ton (slightly smaller than a fuckton) of writers and books out there, and very, very, very few make any real sort of money from the work. Making lotsa money would be nice and I’ll admit that royalties are kinda awesome, mostly because they keep me able to sit in a café, drink coffee and write, but as pleased as hell as I am when someone reads my work and buys me another cup of coffee, I do not write my books FOR anyone other than myself. I’m my own audience. And I know what I like

I started writing because I couldn’t find what I wanted to read, which, by now, all of you probably know that’s stories with women over 40 as the lead. Some of you out there happen to like what I like, and like what I write, and that’s totally bitchin’! Thank you for buying me coffee!

While my next two books continue my placing a 40+ woman as the heroine, they are a sligantonellicoverssmallht departure from my usual romance snark, and I still wrote them for myself first. I also wrote them for my friend Elle because she shares my love of coffee and the Bond movie Quantum of Solace. Cult status, coffee money, and Elle aside, what I’m pondering again today is this:

  1. How soon is too soon to market and promote a new book? If I begin this Friday, as I had planned to last week, will it be overkill of the fuckton of promotion?
  2. Is it too early for promo, considering that one of the books has garnered a little interest, but no publishing deal—yet.
  3. Is it too early for promo if I indie publish it and become a hybrid author, and if so see question 1?
  4. Is it possible to overfeed the elusive unicorn and kill it before it has a chance to become a zombie book?

The point of all this is that I am a writer. I am not schooled in marketing or promotion—I don’t even know if there’s a difference between marketing and promo. I am a writer and a coffee drinker.

Maybe one of you could mull this over and get back to me while I’ll carry on writing to please myself, drinking coffee, because contemplating the path to ultimate promomojo sure does get in the way of my job.

Next to You and An Introvert on Book Release Day

NextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022It’s BOOK RELEASE DAY for Next to You

This is the point where there are a choice of ways for me to react. Let’s examine them and break them down.

I could have a Book Launch Brunch, except… As much as I LOVE the breakfast-lunch amalgam that allows others to imbibe and relax with alcohol whilst I get hyped-up on caffeine, I’m an introvert who hates parties where there are more than six people, and no one, except me, would get up and boogie to the Partridge Family’s I Woke Up In Love This Morning from William Murphy’s Bubblegum pop classics playlist if there’s hollandaise, coffee, and booze.

I could be obsessive and check my sales rank on Amazon, today and tomorrow because it’s July 25th here in Australia, but not yet in the UK or North America. However, Amazon boggles my mind and means nothing much at all to me, except for the fact that I’ll eventually get a royalty statement showing that I made enough money from selling a few copies of Next to You to allow me to buy three to ten cups of coffee.Antonellicoffe

Those three-to ten cups of coffee—OH WHAT JOY!!

It’s a proud moment and I’d like to burst into my favourite local café and shout COFFEE FOR EVERYONE, which, for me is the equivalent of popping a cork on something, tossing confetti and SQUEEEING and stuff…except that introvert, more-than-six people thing again, and I SQUEE better on paper. So I’m gonna go to my favourite local café and continue writing my new book at my favourite table in the corner, and have 2 cups of coffee that, thanks to my readers, my royalties have allowed me to buy. And coffee OH WHAT JOY!

I’m really, really incredibly happy to have William Murphy and Caroline finally meet and have you meet them. Thank you for sharing this moment with me and, well, if you happen to stop by and see me at my favourite café, know that I am truly enjoying the coffee you bought me when you bought my book. 

The F*ckable Silver Fox Romance Heroine And Me

If you have a psyche of a sensitive nature, one that detests off-colour language, you may want to look away now because I’m about to drop some f-bombs.

By now you’ve probably seen it, Amy Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day. If you haven’t here’s a link to it.  Go watch it now.

If you don’t want to watch it, in a nutshell, the skit addresses the ageist and oh-so-sexist double standard in Hollywood. You know the ageist double standard I mean, don’t you? It’s that thing when an actress reaches an age grannyand is suddenly put out to pasture, or only offered stereotyped roles like mother, cougar, knitting grandma, and crazy hag cat lady, because they’ve crossed The Line of 40 and are no longer considered ‘fuckable’— or bankable. It’s that thing that doesn’t happen to men in Hollywood.

It also that thing that doesn’t happen to heroes in Romance Fiction.

In Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day, Amy and her pals, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette point out a woman’s ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date in Hollywood, the enduring stereotyped roles available to an actress of a certain age, and how their male counterparts fail to suffer the same fate when they cross The Line of 40. You see, Silver Foxes, like George Clooney, are welcome in Hollywood as much as they are in romance novels. And in romance novels silver fox heroes are a hot and sought after hero.

Like in Hollywood the silver fox romance hero is usually paired with a younger woman. Like in Hollywood the silver fox moniker applies only to men. There are those of us who are tired of this ageist and sexist double standard. There are those of us tired of being told, ‘Sorry, you’re over 40 and no one wants to fuck you onscreen or in the pages of a romance novel.‘ To that I say, bullshit, there ARE people who want to see thosCGAHe movies and read those books. There are those of us who have money we would spend to see those movies and read those books because there are those of us who think that, who know that, being over 40 doesn’t mean you’re done with love or sex or romance.  There are those of us (in spite of how much we love Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade) who’d like to see the silver foxy hero paired with a woman his own age. There are those of us who want to change things, who want silver fox to apply to women who have crossed The Line of 40.

Yes, I’m one of those who wants to change this because, goddamn it, I’m over 40 and I’m a silver fox, not a dumpy middle-aged hausfrau who’s dead from the waist down, and I’m tired of seeing women like me left out of movies and books. I’m so over seeing Daniel Craig’s late 40s SPECTRE James Bond get paired up with the then 20-something Lea Seydoux instead of 50-something Monica Bellucci.

Pardon my momentary rant. I still haven’t recovered from the missed opportunity of Bond getting the RIGHT GIRL.

I write romance fiction with silver foxy men AND silver foxy women. Yeah, no, I’m not going to call her a silver vixen because cougar is already pejorative enough and there isn’t a male equivalent besides ‘dirty old man,’ which is something more perverted than a screen hero paired with a woman half his age—which keeps getting rammed down society’s throat Antonelli coveras normal.

Sorry…sorry, ranting again. Bond should have been with Bellucci.

There are those of us who believe we need a new normal, those of us who believe that if we saw silver foxy women on a regular basis, in advertising, on the big screen, on TV, in print that the double standard that keeps women over 40 trapped by stereotypes of age might change. That’s what I am doing, changing what I see by presenting real women in romance fiction who are not trapped by a stereotype of age, who are not cougars, grannies, or crazy cat ladies. In fact, I’m going against the Hollywood image completely.NextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022

My books, all of them, feature pairs of silver foxes in romance fiction, something we are lead to believe is a younger woman’s tale, which we know in real life is bullshit.

My latest release, Next to You, features a pair of silver foxes. It’s about a Bubblegum pop loving albino man named William Murphy and his new neighbor, Caroline, a woman who’s trying to grab life by the balls.  Next to You  comes on on Monday.

Pop Goes the Culture Breakfast At Tiffany’s Club

writingSometimes I get together with my writerly-type friends and we talk about writing advice we’ve been given. You non-writerly types have probably heard the cliché “write what you know.” There’s also the gem “write the book you want to read.”

I admit there are times adhere to one or both of those little pearls of ‘wisdom’ without noticing–until someone points it out to me. For instance, pop culture, I’m full of it, and so are my books. My novels are chock full of pop culture references to songs, TV shows, movies, books, public and fictional figures.  The characters I write, William Murphy from Next to You in particular, are all jam-packed and bursting wiNextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022th pop culture goodness. I write books that way because that’s what I know.

Of course I didn’t realise this was what I did until my publisher said I was “The smart-talking, quip-cracking, pop-culture addicted author” that I really noticed my books are chock-full of pop culture references.

It seems I can’t help myself. I cram pop culture into my books because pop culture is sorta ingrained in my life.  I bet it’s ingrained in your life too. Pop culture is familiar, everyday. Some see it as superficial, consumerist, and silly, but it’s the mainstream and has been since the last part of the 20th century. Pop culture has an impact, whether you want it to or not.

The interesting thing about pop culture is how it crosses generations. Things that were hot and popular in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s–from rock and roll, Elvis, Leave it to Beaver, The Beatles, John Lennon, Hippies, Woodstock, Vietnam, I Dream of Jeannie, Watergate, The Brady Bunch, Charlie’s Angles, Punk, Disco, “Greed is Good,” Thatcherism, The Simpsons, Reaganism, Grunge, multiculturalism, Tiananmen Square and on and on, have had a cultural impact. Those people, moments, movements, TV shows and music have become part of western culture daily life, instantly recognisable, even if one wasn’t alive when those things came into being.

I’m from a generation sliver between Baby Boomers and GenX, a generation that someone, way back in 2004, referred to as ‘Cuspers.’ I don’t quite identify with either generation (See here and here for more on Cuspers), but being in between two generations means I am privy the pop cultural influences of both, and perhaps this is why William Murphy enjoys TV shows Baby Boomers watched AND has such an unshakable love for 60s and 70s Bubblegum pop music. This is what I know.

TigerbeatThe sad thing of it is, that no matter how I wrote about what I knew, no matter that I wrote a book I wanted to read, I couldn’t figure out a way to make Will a fan of reading Tiger Beat magazine.

Next to You is available for pre-order now and hits stores on 25 July!

I Can See Clearly Now: Next to You and How Come You Did That?

Here’s the question I’ve been asked the most about my upcoming release Next to You:

“Why an a hero with albinism, Sandra?”LittleWill

My answer? Contact lenses and an old friend.

I wear hard contact lenses and I have a very fair-skinned dear friend who wore an eye patch when he was a kid. That’s him over there.

Yeah, yeah, how cute and all, but what’s that kid got to do with a hero with albinism?

Know how what you see isn’t always what you get, and how looks are deceiving, and that love is blind? I’m myopic (near sighted or shortsighted if you prefer). I also have astigmatism plus, being middle aged, presbyopia. Soft contacts won’t correct my crappy vision. A soft lens won’t sit properly because my astigmatism is too severe. Glasses don’t even give me great distance acuity. Rigid contacts, however, correct my vision quite nicely. Fortunately, rigid gas permeable contacts are a special order item that last a long time, Unfortunately they’re not cheap. The thing is, NextToYou_V1_Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022twelve years ago, when I wrote Next to You, which was then titled A Simple Overexposure (if you read the book you’ll pick where I got that title), I needed new contacts, and it was getting difficult to find an optometrist to fit them and keep the cost under $400.

Being such a tightwad back then, I went online to find companies that manufactured hard contacts, so I could purchase them directly—cheaper than I could from my $400 a pair optometrist. What happened during my search for cheaper is that I came across an article discussing hard contact lenses and vision correction in people with albinism. The article mentioned the use of an eye patch for amblyopia and strabismic amblyopia. Immediately, I thought of that fair-skinned, eye-patch-wearing kid up there, my dear friend, whose name happens to be Will—or The Dread Pirate Will, as he asked to be called in return for letting me use his photo in this post.

lens

maikel_nai via StoolsFair / CC BY

After some fond memories of Will, ones that involved us fake sumo wrestling and going to Monty Python film festivals, I found myself nerding out, reading more about vision conditions like strabismus and nystagmus–eye conditions people with albinism often have.

Then, I nerded out even more and began reading more and more about albinism, about the myths, the stigmatisation, and the stereotypes so often associated with the condition. In a bizarre way the stigmatisation and stereotypes reminded me of the way women of a certain age are stigmatised and stereotyped. I thought how stereotypes are, at their very root, a vision problem that can’t be corrected with contacts or an eye patch.

Suddenly, I had this image of middle-aged man with albinism; it was William Murphy, the suit-wearing, bubble-gum pop-loving hero of Next to You, and I knew there was more to this Will than meets the eye.

Five minutes after seeing Will’s image, I saw Caroline, a middle-aged, introverted, movie-loving  heroine who isn’t exactly what she seems—because what you see isn’t always what you get, looks are deceiving, and love is blind.

Kind of like me without my contacts or glasses.

 

Next to You is out 25 July. You can preorder it now, from all the usual places:

Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay All Romance

Writing a SymPathetic Villain

villainThere’s a fine line between love and hate, between madness and sanity, between a caricature and a character. It’s easy to paint a villain with broad strokes, make her or him larger than life–like the bad guy in a Bond movie.  But how does one create a villain whose villainy is a matter of circumstance, an individual who, under normal conditions, would actually be a pretty fun guy?

How does one make a character who does awful things elicit pathos in a reader?

Alice Sebold did this in her book The Lovely Bones. If you’ve never read it (or seen the film) it’s the tale of Susie, a girl who is kidnapped, raped and murder by a neighbour. The neighbour, Mr Harvey, is an utterly abhorrent, ghastly, depraved man, a serial killer, and Sebold manages to show his desperate loneliness in how he lives alone–and builds doll houses, which is creepy…and pitifully heartbreaking.

That small thing, the man alone building doll houses, was enough of an appeal to my emotions as I read the book, and, despite all that Mr Harvey had done, I remembered the loneliness that I had once experienced in my own life–and I felt pity for the man. Granted it was a fleeting sensation, but Sebold kind of blew me away with her skill as a writer.

When I wrote Alex, the villain in Next to You, I never really thought of him as a villain. CHIN NextToYou1920_1920x3022_1024I thought of him as the redheaded actor Eric Stoltz, a good-looking good guy having a really shitty year after a family tragedy and being dumped by the love of his life.

People do all sorts of less-than-intelligent things when life goes to hell. Alex walks that fine between love and hate, between madness and sanity, between wanting to do the right thing and winding up doing the wrong thing. I know what I wanted to do with Alex when I wrote him. I wanted to pull off a Sebold and show his humanity. I wanted the reader to have a little sympathy for him–in spite of his despicable actions.

Although it’s available for pre-order and on Netgalley for reviews, with the book’s release a little over a month away, it’s too early to tell whether I managed a balance between caricature and character with Alex’s reprehensible behaviour, if he comes across as simply a villain, or if he’ll elicit pathos of any kind from readers. Perhaps readers will find his desolation pathetic rather than sympathetic. However, I am hoping that someone besides me feels, for at least a fleeting moment, pity, or recognises his frail humanity.