Friday, December 7, 2007

I Need a Romance that Satisfies

On the eHarlequin boards earlier this week we were talking about satisfying romances. In my opinion, (This is my blog, do I even need to say “in my opinion?” It’s pretty much a given, right?) it's harder for me to be satisfied by a romance than by literary fiction.

I read a lot. All the time. I'm one of those reading-and-walking people who are always bumping into stop signs. Luckily I work at a college and the sidewalks are kept up so I haven't broken an ankle. Yet.

I read a lot of literary fiction, some fantasy, and, of course, romance. (Thrillers give me nightmares and mysteries make me feel stupid.)

I'm much more willing to keep reading literary fiction even if the book isn't working for me on some level. For example, I’ve been satisfied by great writing without much plot. (See Ford, Richard. The Sportswriter.) I’ve been satisfied by great characters even when they aren’t people I’d ever want to meet. (See Bukowski, Charles. Factotum.) I’ve been utterly satisfied for reasons I’ll never understand because most of the book was incomprehensible to me. (See McCarthy, Cormac. Suttree.)

But if a romance is going to satisfy me, it has to have each and every one of the following things:

  1. A hero I can imagine falling in love with. He’s got to be vulnerable and heroic. (Yes, at the same time.) Bonus if he has dark hair.

  2. A heroine I can imagine wanting to have as a friend. She’s got to be vulnerable and heroic. (Yes, at the same time.) Bonus if she's got some curves.

  3. Dialogue that surprises me and makes me laugh. (Hi. Hi. How are you? Good. Good. What’s for dinner? Noooooooo!)

  4. Believable people in believable situations that are fantastic enough to give the book tension.

  5. Villains who are deliciously evil and get their just desserts served up by the good guys.

  6. Tons of romance. Romantic gestures, slow dancing, quirky, just right wish-fulfillment.

  7. Love scenes I can read without skimming. (Interpret that any way you like.)

  8. Double-bonus points if the ending makes me cry.

That’s probably not even all I need to be satisfied by a romance. That's a minimum.

Hard to please, aren't I? There's a second list of things that ruin a romance for me: alpha men, pregnant heroines, shape shifters, to name three. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of these, they’re just not my romantic cup of tea. (In literary fiction I’d have no problems reading about any of them.)

It comes down to reader expectations. When I read literary fiction I expect the author to hold my attention and show me something. I’m not fussy about the details. With romance fiction, however, I’m expecting a fairly specific emotional journey. If a romance isn’t emotionally satisfying, what’s the point of reading it? The plot?

And now, if you’ve stuck it out this far, what do you need from a romance? What would make you throw the book across the room?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pandora, Bad Taste, and Romance

Pandora is an online radio service. You tell it some songs or artists you like and then it creates a radio station for you based on your taste. It matches songs based on their musical qualities, as opposed to Amazon where the matches are based on what you buy.

Dear, I bought that poker book for my brother-in-law. I do not like poker books. It's been two years now, can't we just forget the whole poker purchase and move on?

Ahem. Sorry.

I started a Pandora station and I was so excited. Until it kept playing Waylon Jennings. Yeah. That's right. I don't have anything against Waylon Jennings, per se. I was just surprised. And dismayed. I called my friend and she pointed out that I was feeling offended by my own taste.

Hmph. I should say, I called my former friend...

Luckily you can persuade Pandora to stop playing Waylon Jennings an artist by giving the thumbs down. My station is now better educated and plays just the kinds of music I love. My husband is appalled by my station--both by the songs it plays and by the fact that I've gathered these artists that so clearly don't get along all into one place.

I love my husband but he's a little stuck up about music. Which brings me to my point. In my upcoming book, His Secret Past, I've allowed Anna, the heroine, to share my taste in music. Lucky girl! The hero, Mason, is a musician, and he's horrified by some of her choices. (In one scene, "Annie's Song" by John Denver sends Mason over the edge.)

Someone commented on Anna's bad taste and I had to explain...she doesn't have bad taste, she has common taste. If it's poppy and singable and tells a little story, she's there. An awful lot of women at the Harlequin ball last summer were singing along to "Living on a Prayer" by that great Jersey rocker, Bon Jovi, so I suspect Anna has plenty of company.

Anyone have a secret pleasure, a song that's embarrassing to admit you love?

I'll throw "I got you, Babe" by Sonny and Cher out there on the table. NOTHING could be worse than that. Right? Right?


P.S. If Waylon Jennings (or his mom) should stop by, sorry. Nothing personal, buddy. In fact, the theme song from The Dukes of Hazzard? That was awesome. Yeehaw!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Contest Winners

Well, I'd pretend I put names in a hat to pick a contest winner, but that would have to be an awfully small hat...

Patricia, Ellen, Rita, Sam, Carrie-- if you'd like a signed copy of "Wanted Man," send me your contact info. My email is ellen (at) ellenhartman (dot) com.

Thanks for stopping by. I'm taking my kiddos for haircuts and then straight to the bookstore to spend my coupon on some nice big books!


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Calling All Big Books: It's a Contest!

A friend went to see Salman Rushdie speak at Cornell last week. She mentioned that he advised the writers in the audience to write shorter books. According to Mr. Rushdie, you get paid the same amount of money for shorter books and can write more of them.

To this I say, "Whah!"

I love long books. Long, good books. Long, deliciously written good books with characters I can really care about. I'm looking at you, Miss Scarlet O'Hara.

I don't need to go into the reasons for this. A quick, top of the list survey would include "lazy" and "cheap." Those aren't the only reasons, though, I swear. I like to settle in and enjoy a time and place and people. My astrological sign might be a factor in this--we Aquarians prefer a few special people rather than hordes of acquaintances. Huh. Anyway!!

Recommend a long book! Who knows a good one? I'm rereading a favorite right now but I have a coupon for Borders burning a hole in my pocket. I'll send a copy of my mid-sized book Wanted Man to the person with the best recommendation.

Feel free to include the length of the book in either pages or inches high!

P.S. This is my first author contest. Somebody better make a comment so I don't have to give my book to myself. (Dad, no aliases! Time for your baby to sink or swim alone in this cutthroat world.)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Two Ladies

I went away with my friend, Stephanie, to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania. Why do people go to Wellsboro? To visit the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania, of course. (Yes, there is SO such a thing. Didn't I just say I went there?) As a matter of fact, I heard the other canyon is changing it's name to the Grand Canyon of Arizona to cut down on the confusion.


I didn't go to Wellsboro to see the GCOP, partly because I'd already Been There, Done That. (It was my second honeymoon. What can I say? We went all out...)

I went to Wellsboro because the hotel was $50 a night. Sweet.

Stephanie and I had no agenda. (Before you ask, no, we were not planning any hiking. Just because a canyon exists, you're not obliged to trudge to the bottom of it.) We were hoping to see a movie but the available options were less than inspiring so we did what any good Scranton* girls would do--we went to a bar.

We had dinner at the bar (also on the list of Things Scrantonians Do On Vacation) and talked about a million things including the fact that everyone else at the bar looked like they were related but they were actually dating. That's right. All the other people were coupled up with people who could have been their siblings. Now, I know what you're thinking, this was Northeastern Pennsylvania, so maybe they were all siblings....NO! That's not what you were thinking because that's mean.

You were thinking that people are attracted to people who are like them.

Okay. Fine. I admit to looking a little like my hubby. But the people in this bar had taken things to an extreme.

Whatever. That's not the point of the story. The point is, when we got our bill, there was a title on it that said, "2 Ladies." The server had named us and our name was "2 Ladies." Which we are. Despite being from Scranton. We may drink our beer straight from the bottle and eat dinner sitting at the bar and stay in $50 a night motels, but we are most definitely Ladies. It was nice of the server to acknowledge that.

As we were leaving, we were wondering what title the server had used for the other people:

"Could Be Siblings, but I Don't Know, He's Touching her in a Weird Way."

"Definitely Related. Cousins? Wait. Ew! Dating. Two Daters. Please Be Dating."

"I Give Up. Man and Woman. Maybe Together. How the Hell Should I Know?"

I think the server was probably glad my friend and I are just straightforward Ladies, you know?

*Scranton, Pennsylvania is my much-maligned home town. More information here.

Quiz: Guess which one I visited yesterday.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Romancing Green Bay

Rick Reilly wrote an essay for Sports Illustrated about season tickets for the Green Bay Packers. I'm not a fan of Green Bay in particular or the NFL in general,* but the essay made me cry. I'm a sucker, I know. Packers fans, man. They are true romantics.

Evidence? Oh, yeah, I've got evidence. Here are the top three.

1. I love you all day, every day, no matter what, even when you suck: You can't buy a single game ticket for the Packers. It's the whole season or nothing. Not so bad, right? Except it's Green Bay. Football is a winter sport. Lambeau Field is outdoors. Season tickets for this team sounds like a bigger commitment than 'til death do us part. At least if you're married you can snuggle your honey indoors in the winter.

2. I love you now and forever: If you put your name on the Packers Season Ticket Wait List, (What? They capitalize it on their site.) you can have your tickets after the 74,000 people on the list in front of you. By the time you get your tickets, you'll be old. The entire team playing now will be retired. Some kid who's not even born yet will be the quarterback. With all the unknowns between now and 74,000 season tickets from now, people still sign up. They just know. In real life, not Packer Fan World, this would mean we'd marry our kindergarten crushes. Or actually, we'd sign a paper stating that we will marry our kindergarten crushes, but then wait about 35 years to actually do it.

3. I love you so much you're protected in my will: Yes, that's right, Packers Fans, there is a right way and a wrong way to bequeath your tickets. Do it wrong and one of those 74,000 fans on The Packers Season Ticket Wait List might just get your tickets. Gasp! Who can have your tickets when you die? "Blood" relatives, but only out to the first cousin level. (All you once-removeds are out of luck.) See for yourself: Here Be Legalese. So. How many Packers Fans do you think enter into marriages of convenience? (Follow up: How long before I use this storyline in a novel? Not as long as you might like. In other words, dibs!)

(** Obligatory disclaimer: I'm not not a fan because there's anything wrong with Green Bay or the NFL. I just prefer the Steelers if I have to pick a football team and baseball if I'm picking a sport. I'm sure the Packers are lovely and their fans seem wonderful and the NFL has very nice uniforms. Everyone happy? Good.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Who's That on the Cover of My Book?

A funny thing happens when you tell someone you've written a romance novel. (Well, any number of funny things can happen, but we're only talking about one right now.)

Scenario 1: Tell it to a Woman
Me: I just turned in my newest novel, His Secret Past.
Woman: Really, what's it about?
Conversation ensues.

Scenario 2: Tell it to a Man
Me: I just turned in my newest novel, His Secret Past.
Man: Am I on the cover?

Before you ask, no, I don't hang out with men who should logically be expecting to grace the cover of a romance. They're nice enough looking, but I think if you can model for a living, you probably do model for a living. (Full disclosure: I write technical documentation for a living. You do the math.)

That's beside the point anyway. If they want to be cover models, by all means, they should go for it. The thing I think is funny is it's always the men who make this joke. Never the women. Not once.

I, of course, have many theories about this. Some are not very kind. I won't list them here since I have absolutely no reason to think any of them are true. Even though we all know some of them have got to be at least sorta right.

Now that you know about this phenomenon, try this fun mental exercise. Next time you're talking to the men in your life, cousins, co-workers, mail carriers, whoever, know that each and every one of them is fully capable of imagining himself starring on a romance novel cover. Hee. Every. One. I swear.

To help with the visual, here's Wanted Man and Sexiest Man Alive by my good friend, Diana:


Begin at the Beginning: A Haiku

Introductions. Eek.
First lines. Opening scenes. Boo.
At least this is quick.

(Yeah. I thought the blog needed an introductory post and then it seemed so fraught that I chickened out.)

Ellen Hartman, romance novelist. Pleased to meet you.