Thursday, November 21, 2013

No Gentle Love

From time to time I pick up a romance of the overwrought bodice-ripper variety. They’re guilty pleasures, the literary version of cotton candy. I don’t have to think and I know I’m not going to feel anything but amusement, so I settle down to enjoy the ride.

In the case of Rebecca Brandewyne’s No Gentle Love, the book was even better than I expected, but then one scene (which I’ll mention later on) completely derailed it. First, though, the characters. All you need to know about them is:

He’s arrogant, jealous, violent; an earl, a ship’s captain and a highwayman; incredibly handsome, incredibly talented, incredibly rich; capable of killing any man and seducing any woman. Oh, and he’s determined never to love. No reason for this is ever given,

She’s innocent, naive, incredibly beautiful, incredibly feisty, incredibly spineless and capable of attracting any man within fifty feet of her without doing a thing.

And does this book have it all!

  • Forced marriage due to I-want-grandchildren-damnit ancestor’s will stipulation
  • At least two insane villains who lust after the heroine
  • A miscarriage due to a suspicious fall down stairs
  • Amnesia
  • Suicide
  • Murder
  • Two jealous ex-mistresses of the zero
  • A trip to an African village, complete with tribal chieftain who lusts after the heroine
  • A trip to exotic India, complete with a Maharajah who lusts after the heroine
  • A trip to the mysterious Orient, complete with foot-binding, fortune-telling Chinese. But none of them lusted after the heroine. Maybe they thought they were in a different book.
  • And rape on every other page.
    I expected the zero of this novel to repeatedly rape the heroine, because hey, the book was published in 1980 and I’ve read Brandewyne before. But wow. He also slaps her several times, bites her and forces her to perform oral sex on him:

    …he forced her head down. He groaned with pleasure as her swollen lips closed over his heated pride.

    Described in the purplest of prose, their relationship proceeds in a predictable cycle throughout various international locations:

    • They are separated
    • She believes that he’s dead or that she’ll never see him again
    • She is either raped by another man or allows another man to seduce her (yet never feels the world-shattering ecstasy that she knows only in his arms)
    • They are reunited
    • He’s furious that she would allow another man to touch her
    • He rapes her while she sobs, shrieks or scratches at him, but of course it feels amazing
    • Rinse and repeat
    The crowning moment of hilarity, for me, was when the heroine was tied up by one of the insane lecherous villains with her hands behind her back. While the villain was gloating in front of her (probably twirling his mustache as he wished the railroad had been invented so he could tie her to the tracks), her puppy got behind her and chewed through the ropes around her wrists.

    And this was an ordinary puppy, mind you, which had never done anything similar before. I felt like I’d wandered into a Tintin comic by mistake.

    I would be able to recommend this novel wholeheartedly for any readers wanting to enjoy the silliness, except for one particular scene. Remember the black chieftain who lusted after the heroine? Well, he kidnaps her (get in line) and takes her to his village, but she escapes. The zero and his loyal men storm the village shortly after, only to be told that she’s lost in the African jungle and probably dead.

    So the zero drops to his knees screaming at the sky — as you do — while his men kill everyone in the village. After raping the women, that is. Then they walk off, and the author describes how a child who’s survived the slaughter crawls out of cover, sits among the corpses and cries. The chapter ends.

    That came close to being the most disgusting thing I’ve read in a romance novel. Though with the zero being a misogynist (he despises all women) and a classist (he sneers at a suitor of the heroine because the man is a doctor, meaning he actually has to work for a living instead of being an earl), he might as well be a racist too. So I can’t recommend this novel even for readers just looking for ridiculous, campy fun.

    Oh, and one other reason I wanted to read this book was because the zero is the captain of a ship, and I’m in love with all things nautical at the moment. Well, they’re on the high seas and there’s a terrible storm that leaves the heroine cringing in terror, but after it’s over the zero tells her everything’s fine, they just lost a mast which can be replaced. This is like coming in from a battlefield and saying, “Hi honey, I’m fine, I just had a leg chopped off. It should grow back, right? I can haz sex now?”

    Friday, November 15, 2013

    Seven things my family would say about my writing

    I don’t often talk about my family on this blog. That’s partly because I wanted to keep it more or less professionally-focused and partly because I haven’t been in touch with my extended family since I escaped to Canada. They’re all very conservative and devoutly religious, so they didn’t like what I turned out to be.

    But when I read 14 ways to tick off a writer yesterday, it reminded me of them, especially the part about asking when a book will hit the NYT bestseller list. I’m not sure my extended family is aware of the NYT bestseller list, since most of them live in rural Sri Lanka and/or don’t read any books except for the Bible, but at once I imagined what they would say if they knew about my novels.

    1. “How can you write about people having intercourse? Who would read that?”

    You can tell the mental image is of shifty-eyed men in long raincoats lining up for brown-paper-wrapped copies of the book.

    2. “I asked my dentist if he had ever heard of you but he said no.”

    3. “Have you thought of writing a book about Jesus?”

    4. “How much money have you earned? …Why is that private?”

    5. “My grandson knows how to get all these free electronic books from this website on the Internet. Such a smart boy, he doesn’t even have to pay for them! I must ask him if he has your book too.”

    6. “Why didn’t they put your Singhalese name on the cover?”

    7. “You know, my friend’s boss’s cousin’s daughter-in-law is a doctor.”

    Monday, November 11, 2013

    Starting with a bang

    When I first started reading romance, which was back in the good old days of the early nineties, I picked up a novel where the hero and heroine had sex in the first chapter.

    I don’t mean they met, felt this fierce instant attraction and gave into it. I mean the book started with a sex scene in media res. It was incredibly off-putting, because rather than being caught up in their story I felt like a voyeur watching two complete strangers get it on.

    The best part, though, was that they didn’t know each other’s real names and wore masks all through the ordeal (well, it was an ordeal for me), but at the end of the chapter they parted sadly because the heroine was married.

    And even though I was a newcomer to romance, I knew right away that the man was the heroine’s husband, because otherwise we’d get into the ickiness of adultery. So that ruined what little suspense there was for me. Plus, it made me wonder just how obtuse the heroine was, since even after having sex with her husband in a later scene where he said the same words Masked Lover did during sex, she never once suspected they were the same man. He had to fill in the blanks for her on the last page.

    The entire experience must have affected me more profoundly than I realized, because every romance I’ve written since then has had the hero and heroine having sex only after they’ve gotten to know each other to some extent. Of course, in most of my stories, the main characters start out with good reason not to trust each other. And I’m not writing erotic romance where the sex needs to start early and happen often.

    The other thing about starting off with sex is that I like a high level of smoldering will-they-or-won’t-they tension. And if they have, then something needs to separate them or prevent them from proceeding to the happy ending. I know there’s going to be an HEA, but as long as it’s not blindingly obvious from the first chapter on, I can enjoy the story. So for all those reasons, I didn’t think I’d ever have a sex scene before, oh, chapter five or so.

    But while I was toying with plans for a new book, I came up with a idea that demanded sex at the start. I liked it so much that I wrote the scene right away and then came up with a story for what happened next.

    To make it work for me, though, the characters had all their clothes on at the start, just before they met each other, and I spent a paragraph or two on what they hoped to get out of the encounter. Very different things, hence the conflict. And what drove them apart at the end of that scene wasn’t something they could overcome easily.

    Starting with sex also sets the tone for the rest of the book. It’ll seem odd if there’s a sex scene at the start (even if there’s coitus interruptus, which I used) but that’s followed by a long stretch with nothing steamy. If you begin with a lightning attraction and people acting on it, you’ll need to be consistent in your (implied) promise to the reader — even if it’s clear that the book isn’t erotica or an erotic romance. I had to think of ways the characters could get together again during the course of the story. That’s not going to be easy for them, given that they both ended up on a warship sailing into dangerous waters and hammocks, IMO, were never meant for sexytimes.

    So this isn’t going to be easy for me either.

    But it’s good for me to try a change from what I usually do, and the chemistry between the characters is drawing me in. I think I could pull this off, and it will be fun to try.

    Friday, November 1, 2013

    Five infamous plagiarists

    1. Q. R. Markham

    He made a splash with his debut novel, Assassin of Secrets, but it turned out the book was a patchwork of plagiarism, with sentences stolen from multiple other authors.

    Seems like it would have been easier to write your own book than to try to cobble dozens of snippets from other people into one coherent whole, but then again, the New Yorker described Markham as an “addict” to plagiarism. Even a blog post he wrote wasn’t entirely original.

    2. Kaavya Viswanathan

    Half a million dollars for a two-book deal before she had graduated from college. Too bad the first book contained so many passages similar to another author’s work.

    The plagiarism, Visvanathan said, was “unintentional and unconscious." Hope she checked her term papers carefully for any other innocent, automatic instances of copying.

    3. Janet Dailey

    Janet Dailey, who plagiarized Nora Roberts, bounced back from the lawsuit that followed. The two books which she admitted contained stolen material were pulled, but she has dozens more published. She blamed a psychological disorder for her crime.

    4. Cassie Edwards

    This is the one I think of as “Savage Plagiarism”.

    In 2008, Cassie Edwards, author of multiple Native American romances with titles like Savage Joy and Savage Devotion, was found to have plagiarized multiple authors—she was pretty indiscriminate, since she copied fiction, non-fiction and poetry. All in complete innocence, of course.

    In a January interview, Edwards admitted that she "takes" material from other works, but said she didn't know she was supposed to credit her sources.

    Signet severed its relationship with her and if she's had any other novels published after that year, it hasn't been under her name.

    5. Shey Stahl

    Plagiarising a Twilight fanfic may not land you in legal trouble, because fanfic authors doesn’t hold any copyrights on their work, but it can still make your name mud. As of today, Shey Stahl’s books are unavailable on Amazon. I checked one to be on the safe side, and a one-star review claimed that book had copied the reviewer’s fanfic, a different one than the Twilight fic (then again, most plagiarizers don’t limit themselves to just the one host source). Her website is down for maintenance, her Facebook page is gone, her Twitter feed is private.

    I’m sure she can and will try again under a pseudonym, but again it makes me wonder why anyone would go through all this. Especially when they’re reaching an audience of millions who read widely and who can use software to check words in seconds.

    Oh, plagiarizers can get away with it for a little while. All these authors did. But the house of cards inevitably comes down in the end—and the longer they’ve done it and the more successful they are by then, the harder they’re going to fall.