Know how it was just Easter and you just ate all those chocolate Easter eggs?
Perhaps you may still be hunting for chocolate Easter eggs, or maybe now you’re after calorie-free Easter eggs to make up for all the chocolate you ate, and if you are, let me tell you the In Service series is chock-full of calorie-free Easter eggs. CHOCK FULL.
And by “Easter eggs,” I mean Easter eggs of the meta kind, and by meta I mean the inside jokes, little nods to spy fiction and film, to well-known characters, to familiar tropes and cliches that run across the spy and romance genre. If you look, you can find them. Some are obvious. Some aren’t. Some are buried. Some are very, very subtle. Some are a running wink to a good-natured battle I have with a shallow-reading librarian friend namedVassiliki. Some show a connection between characters in Forever in Your Service and one of my earlier books, another seasoned romance, one not many have read.
Yeah, I mean the one I wrote for part of my doctoral work, the one that has a 50-ish peanut-butter-loving nuclear physicist heroine who’s solving a mystery with a local hot detective, while carrying out work as an FBI mole, the one with the cover that makes me shudder, the one that, at my publisher’s request, I had to change the title of to something that’s, well, um… well… kind of a joke in itself that, like eating too much chocolate, which proves not all Easter eggs are a smart choice.
March 12, 2015: Time Magazine’s Sarah Begley discusses How the Romantic Comedy for Senior Citizens Became Film’s Hippest Genre.The Time piece states, “that these stories are usually more grounded in the real world than many of their younger counterparts,” and that movies that show the diverse experiences of senior citizens is a good thing, both for the viewers who recognize themselves in the aging faces of Bill Nighy and Judi Dench in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and for younger audiences who can learn to see the elderly as the multifaceted people they are.”
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and its sequel do well to present mature-age in a romantic comedy, yet the really awesome thing would be to have Rom Coms for the over 40 crowd where sex IS a regular part of the narrative, where older adult sexual intimacy is shown as healthy, rather than a punchline. That is, there are no jokes about erectile dysfunction, Viagra or anything that views ageing as a running gag (as was the case with ‘old’ buddies Michael Douglas-Robert DeNiro meeting up in the movie Last Vegas) or a disease. Sexual intimacy lasts longer (no Viagra joke intended) than a few decades, and if we are mature enough (and I mean mature in the ‘we are all adults here’ way) to show BDSM relationships (even toned down ones) and explicit sex scenes on screen, then aren’t we also adult enough to view accurate portrayals of mature sexuality on screen as well?
Now, if we could translate ‘film’s hippest next genre’ to fiction, particularly to romance fiction, then we could about a real trend worth applause.
PORTRRAIT PAINTING / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA
But wait. Is the mature-aged romance novel a trend? On 8 March 2015, in a piece titled Forget Bridget Jones, divorce comedy is the new romantic fiction, Hannah Furness of The Telegraph reports that Man Booker Prize Nominee David Nicholls, believes that stories of unconventional families and romance in older age are likely to become more common to reflect “huge cultural change.
In the words of Matthew McConaughey ”Well, all right, all right, all right, all riiiiight! In fact, Nicholls says that he wrote a protagonist to defy the stereotypes of middle-aged men in love. Well, gee, that sounds familiar, only I write about middle-aged women in love.
I bet you’re ALL so desperate to know about a day in my writing life. Hands up. Who thinks cookies and coffee play a part? Hop on over to the RWAus blogand see more and find out if you’re right.
Let’s give a good coffee fuelled morning to Sandra Antonelli, whose book Driving in Neutral is out now!
In one or two sentences, please tell us what genre you write in and what made you decide that particular one is your calling. I write contemporary, smart-assed romantic comedy for grown ups who aren’t really very grown up at all, which is due to my smartassed nature. Although, I do have a dark side…
I’ve been waiting to do this post. I mean REALLY waiting. I wasn’t sure how long it would be before someone made mention of a lead character’s less-than-stellar behavior in Driving in Neutralonce it was published.
I’ve been waiting because this book has a history, and not just a 75 days long blog series on fear history. Yes, kids, I spent 75 days focused on phobias. As a lead-in to the release of Driving in Neutral, the romcom I call my ‘love story about claustrophobia,’ guests dropped by to talk about their fears. For 75 days.
Bear with me. I’ll get to the history bit soon.
The 75 Days Series should have highlighted that I like writing about fear. I like using fear as the key to hindering or unraveling a relationship, but I also like that a character eventually triumphs over fear, after all, I write romance where love triumphs over all. Love is a scary thing. Love can make a person feel vulnerable. Love can make a person act impulsively, and do dumb things. Love is primitive, emotional. People may be unable to filter their actions because love has jacked up their hormonal system. Everything is overloaded. So, let’s backtrack to the bit about vulnerability because like love, fear has a similar effect on a person. Fear is primitive, emotional. A person may be unable to filter their actions because fear has jacked up their hormonal system. In both cases, the amygdala, the centre of emotional behaviour, is doing all the work, while the pre-fontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates behavior, that is, the part of the brain that tells you what is right and what is wrong, is sort of on hold.
Fear can make people act in ways that seem out of character, can make a good person do something bad. When it comes to a character pushing the boundaries of behavior, what crosses the line between an acceptable response and a reprehensible response to fear? Is retribution ever justifiable, or understandable within a character’s behaviour? Or is revenge always just plain wrong? This is what I wanted to explore.
Lead characters in romance fiction are often held to a higher standard of behavior; they are perceived by many readers to be a ‘better’ form of a human being, one who frequently rises above petty or malicious behavior. As a result of this, when a romance hero or heroine acts in a primitive way, when impulsivity gets the better of them and these good people do bad things, some readers will protest and deem that character to be unlikable, un-heroic, and unworthy of being a romantic lead. Other readers don’t care.
I wasn’t sure which lead character would push the boundary for some readers, since both the hero and heroine in Driving in Neutral behave quite badly. Getting trapped in an elevator brings out the worst in claustrophobic Maxwell. He raves and verbally abuses Olivia, the woman trapped with him. His reaction is completely childish and base. He is overwhelmed by his fear, is unable to filter, and works from a primitive space. He’s all amygdala function.
When Olivia’s fear surfaces she, too, is in amygdala overdrive. So jacked up is her response to her fear she misbehaves. Terribly. There are 4 reasons for misbehaving: attention, power, inadequacy, revenge.
Olivia feels aggrieved, exposed, and acts impulsively, which, at that moment when it all spins out of control, is her best way of coping with being vulnerable. Her reaction is completely childish, and base. What she does to Emerson is cruel, and, just as he feels remorse for abusing her, she feels remorse for her behaviour…eventually, once her hormonal system is back at a normal operating level.
Now the history bit. A while back, I entered Driving in Neutral in a writing contest. A judge took issue with Emerson Maxwell’s verbal abuse of Olivia, particularly with name-calling. I was scolded with, “A hero would never call a heroine names.” In case you’re wondering, those names were ‘wet rodent’ and ‘waterlogged hamster.’ Not exactly ear-scorching or profane, but I knew, based on that reaction, that Maxwell and my writing had crossed the line for that reader-judge.
What I want to know is this: Does the context for a character’s bad behaviour matter to you, or is bad behaviour always a no-go zone for romance leads, because romance heroes and heroines must maintain that ‘better’ form?
Fear can make a person act in ways that seem out of character, can make a good person do something bad. When it comes to a romance hero or heroine pushing the boundaries of behavior, what, to you, crosses the line between an acceptable response and a reprehensible behaviour? Is retribution ever justifiable, or understandable within the circumstances of a character’s behaviour? Or is name-calling and revenge always just plain wrong?
So what do I think, where do I stand on all this behaving badly stuff? My friend Swell, a longtime romance reader, sums up how I feel about lead characters behaving badly in a romance novel. Swell says that if the “reaction is realistic and a part of the character, and the reaction is used to complete the relationship between the hero and heroine, then I will feel that the response was appropriate for the character.” Amen sister.
That squeal you heard up in the Northern Hemisphere, yeah, that was me.
My September release, For Your Eyes Only got a double whammy recommendation this morning!
First, I was Loved by the Librarian aka, The Shallow Reader. Then that same librarian loved me more and gave me a shout out on a list of Best Books of 2013 for 702 ABC Sydneyradio!
Pardon me whilst I jump up and down and make high pitched noises o’ glee. I am honoured to have been included and so pleased that The Shallow Reader Librarian Vassiliki liked For Your Eyes Only, the novel I wrote as part of the PhD I submitted for examination yesterday.
It’s not hard to tell that I love Los Alamos. The little town is not simply the birthplace of the atomic bomb, home to a national nuclear research laboratory, and the prettiest place I have ever set eyes upon (see how lovely it is?), but curious, hungry bears also adore the place. I mean they REALLY love the town, and they’re not shy about showing it.
Take this moment from A Basic Renovation:
“Current lore is the Guaje monster perished in the Cerro Grande Fire.” Dominic had one more bite of pie before his eye caught the movement. For a second, with all the talk of mythical creatures, he thought his imagination was pulling a fast one. But what he saw didn’t look anything like an incarnation of the Chupacapra, Guaje Monster or Sasquatch. “Lesley,” he half-choked on pie filling stuck at the back of his mouth, “get in the truck.” She started laughing. “Geeze, do you know what try hard means?” Dominic dropped the pie, grabbed the back of her shirt, hauled her up, and dragged her towards the old Chevy. “Hey! You’re pulling my hair!” she squealed. Then she caught sight of the dark lumbering hulk moving towards the blanket. “Holy—” Luckily, she’d left the passenger side wide open. He shoved her up into the cab, leaping in after, slamming the door, and finished her exclamation, “Shit!” Lesley’s heart was doing a great impression of a locomotive. Out of breath, she stared through the windshield and settled behind the wheel, pulling the light switch on the dash. Dual spotlights appeared on the star of the show. She snickered. “You know that old question about a bear in the woods? I guess they like cemeteries too.”
Trust me here. From the forest, to downtown, to the ‘suburbs’, Bears dig Los Alamos. The cemetery scene in A Basic Renovation sprang from my imagination because of the time my mother looked out the window and found a bear sitting under the apricot tree in the back yard, gorging himself on ripe fruit. That moment went like this: My mother looked at the bear and the bear looked at my mother — and went on chowing down on apricots and spitting out the pits. A little while later, after Mr Bear (all bears are boys and hence the Mr) ate all the choice, ripe apricots, the bear went over a stone wall and into the neighbour’s back yard to have a swim in their goldfish pond.
Mr Bear came out out of Barrancas Canyon and ripped the screen off the open window of a pretty brick house. Then Mr Bear made his way into the kitchen and proceeded to check out what he could have for lunch. Oops, I forgot to mention the homeowner was in the house when the bear dropped by for lunch. It’s possible she never would have known she had an unexpected guest, but Ms Homeowner had the same idea about checking out what she could make for lunch and she found the bear “hunched over the kitchen island.” Of course, Ms Homeowner went one way and Mr Bear went the other — just like Dominic and Lesley did when they headed for the ‘safety’ of Dom’s old pickup truck.
When Mr Bear Comes For Lunch was all over, New Mexico Fish and Game Official, Blake Swanson, advised Ms Homeowner to lock all her windows and doors because, it seems, bears can pry open partially open windows and doors with ease, which was something Dominic and Lesley were rather worried about once they were inside the truck and the Mr Bear came a-knockin’.
What I love best about this Bear and his Lunch story is that wonderful Los Alamos Police Officers responded to the ‘Bear Call.’ That cop there on the fat left, in the blue striped shirt, could be John Tilbook from my newest Los Alamos love story, For Your Eyes Only — and can I just say, hubba hubba Officer Blue Stripes. The coolest thing about the fine police officers is that, although you see them with scary-looking weapons, they arrived on the scene with the intention of scaring off the bear with a paintball gun. However, by the the time they got there, Mr Bear had made his way out of the house to dine on the fine garbage he found in the bins he knocked over further down the street, which I suppose was a better choice on fattening up for his long winter’s nap.
The stolen classified information in For Your Eyes Only was based on actual events in Los Alamos. And this after Mr Bear Comes For Lunch drama, I’m quite happy to know that the bear in A Basic Renovation isn’t such far fetched fiction.
The photos here are by Greg Kendall/ladailypost.com and Hari Viswanathan. Thanks for the awesome pics!