Monday, July 28, 2014

Shattering genre stereotypes and taking a risk #RomanticSuspense #Romance #asmsg

One of the most annoying things I hear as a romance writer is that all of our stories are "cookie cutter".  I disagree!  Many of the stories I write and read from my favorite romantic suspense authors are far from ordinary or formula. Yes, we in the romance genre love a happy ending...but who doesn't?  Yet, as much as I resist the idea of a "formula" or a "standard rule", I knew I was taking a risk with 'Reckless Endangerment' (as an example) by writing about PTSD, human sex trafficking, and by having my hero be a partially paralyzed US marine married to a reckless reporter who can't avoid danger.

Why write a story like this, with all of its emotional drama paired with real world dangers ripped from the headlines?  Why write about a hero who's partially paralyzed...will the public accept him in the role of romantic leading man? Well, let me muse and ramble about that for a minute. 

I write the story I'm compelled to write at any given moment. 'Reckless Endangerment' was one of those stories that bled onto the page for me as a writer. There were nights when I'd finish writing and be emotionally spent.  I fell in love with these two characters with all of their humanity and courage.  I also believe that my audience is smarter than the average bear so why not deliver a story that is unique while still being a story of true love? 

Sure, it's been a risk. Human trafficking and wounded warriors are hot button topics. But in 'Dancing Barefoot,' I also stretch the boundaries of the contemporary romance genre by writing about codependency amidst children of addicts. How on earth can any of these still be entertaining and deliver the qualities of romance? Because love always prevails and emotion fuels all good plots. 

Let's look at 'Reckless Endangerment' again. Michael is a hero, a wounded marine, trying to figure life out as a civilian with scars both physical and mental. He's not sure about being married, feels he'll be a burden to his wife whose career is in fast forward momentum. That's real—this happens in life. People have doubts and can be brought down by life's burdens, no matter how strong they've been in the past.  For me, the journey Michael goes on to heal and to get his life back is authentic and relatable.  Perhaps it's not the 'norm' for a romance hero, but he's still sexy, smart, loveable, and romantic which are very real elements for any leading man. 

As for the love story between the Hope and Michael, anyone who's ever been in love knows that sometimes it's a battle to keep it going instead of taking the easy way out.  Hope is a fighter—she fights for the victims of her human trafficking story and for the love of her life.  She's not one to surrender—but she's also vulnerable, which is a true reflection of many amazing women I know in real life. 

In 'Dancing Barefoot', Jessica feels trapped by the expectations of others and by an obligation to family. Who hasn't ever felt that way? It's a story about letting go of what works--of the status quo--and risking it all for a dream. 


At the root of all fiction is truth. 'Kiss Me Slowly' may be about diamond smuggling, but it's also about forgiving the past and second chances. 'Riptide' is born from my own experience with a stalker! Fiction, no matter the genre, often works as a vehicle to present real world problems in a way that isn't…well…boring or preachy. And, hey, if you can throw in sexy men and a heart stopping romance, then why not break free of those boundaries? 


I enjoy writing stories that feel 'real' to me, as if I could meet these people in life and end up being friends with them.  Romance novels, to me, are all about love triumphing over adversity—if that's "cookie cutter", well, so be it.  I love a happy ending, especially when I've fallen head over heels for the characters. 

An excerpt of 'Reckless Endangerment'…


“You’re a selfish bastard.”  She shoved her hands through her hair and counted silently to twenty.  “Say what you want, I don’t care because I’d rather fight with you than mourn you. I’d rather you hate me than feel nothing.”
“I do hate you.”
Blowing a strand of hair from her face, she grabbed the ouzo bottle, opened it and slammed cabinet doors looking for a glass.
“I know you’re lying,” she said.
“Get the hell out of here,” he yelled.
“Where are your goddamn glasses?” she asked between clenched teeth.
“How would I know?  I’ve been here less than six hours.”  
“Who needs a glass, right?”  She took a long swig of the liquor. The alcohol burned her throat but felt damn good. She took another swig before meeting his gaze. 
“Is that how you’re dealing with your guilt?  Drinking it away?” he asked.
She held the bottle out toward him.  “Want a taste?”
He looked at her through narrowed eyes, muscle working overtime in his jaw.
“C’mon, babe, look at it this way…maybe a taste will kill you,” she said. 
For the first time since entering the room, a flicker of humor shot through his eyes.  With a shrug, he grabbed the bottle and drank without breaking eye contact. 
“I’m still alive,” he said.
“Sorry to disappoint you…again.”  Needing to touch him, she reached for the scar that zigzagged across his forehead.
He flinched away from her touch.
“You need to leave. You don’t owe me anything,” he said without looking at her face.
She caught her lower lip between her teeth and studied his bent head before answering.  “This isn’t about owing you anything.”
He met her gaze then, annoyance flashing in the brown depths.  But there was something else there, too...pain so intense she took a step back.
“What is wrong with you?” he asked. “Just because I’m in this chair doesn’t mean that you can bully me.”
“Am I bullying you?” She grinned at the idea of bullying him.  He’d always been the badass Marine with more arrogance than necessary.  Her independence clashed with his attitude more often than not, but that had been a good thing.  Maybe—just maybe—he'd missed it.  “I brought you fast food and alcohol.  We even had a fight.  I think you like that I’m here.  I’m livening things up.  You looked pretty bored when I walked in.”
He grabbed her hand before she could snag another fry.  He squeezed her fingers so hard she thought her bones would snap.  “Look at me.  I’m not the man you married.  I’m not even a Marine anymore.  Look at me.”
She only saw the man she loved who stared back with desperation in his eyes. She saw his hair thicker and longer than she’d ever seen it before and liked it. She saw his teeth sink into his lower lip and wanted them sinking into her skin. She only saw Michael. 
“You’re still the sexiest man on the planet,” she said.
“You’re delusional.”  He dropped her hand as if the mere touch of her skin sickened him.
“Maybe I am.”
“What are you getting out of this?”
“A headache.”
“I can’t. I'm changed.  We’ll never be able to be like we were.”  He looked at his legs.  “Not like how you remember me anyway. I’m different now.”
“So am I.  We’re all different.”
“It’s more than that and you know it.  You and me...sex...there will be...expectations.”
“I see, so I should pretend you don’t exist because you feel awkward about sex? You must not think much of me, Colonel.”  She bit out his rank between clenched teeth. 
“When I see you that’s what I want, are you satisfied now?  Right now I would like to throw you up against that counter, rip those jeans from you and fuck you.  I remember how we were together.  That’s what I want.  I can’t do that.  Do you hear me?  I can’t have what I want and seeing you is torture for me.  I can’t have you.”
Silence quaked in the room.

She put both of her hands on his knees, conscious that he couldn’t feel her touch. “You keep talking about what you’ve lost, but you haven’t lost me.  Don’t you see that?  You may not be a Marine anymore and you may not be able to walk anymore, but you have me.  I love you.  I need you.  Can’t that be enough? And you have your son. What about him? He needs you, too.  You haven’t lost him.” 
“I wish you hadn’t come here.”
“Too bad, I’m here. Deal with it.”  She moved onto his lap and moved her hands over his shoulders. “What’s the problem?”
“Stop this,” he whispered.
“You want me to kiss you. You want to kiss me back.”  She could see it in his eyes, the need, the desire, the question.  “Is that what you want, Michael?”
“What would that prove?”
“Does it have to prove something?  Can’t a kiss be a kiss?”
“No.”
“Typical man.”  She leaned within a fraction of his lips.  “Don’t you remember high school?  Don’t you remember when a kiss meant everything?”
In a sudden move, he grabbed the back of her head and ground his lips against hers.  She knew the intensity was meant to shock her so she matched it with her own.  She sat on his lap and plunged her tongue into the recesses of his mouth until he moaned.  His free hand squeezed her breast through the thin material of her blouse but, instead of hurting, it ignited her blood.
The Michael she knew still lived inside this man.  She felt him in the warmth of his mouth, the strength of his hands on her body, the restrained power of his touch.  
She couldn’t stop touching him, hands moved through his hair, over his face, along his shoulders. Alive. Here. She fought back a Hallelujah.

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