Monday, September 28, 2009

Avoiding Romance

The library talk is over, and people were there! There was even someone I didn't already know! Someday maybe I'll get to the point of standing room only or having to hand out wristbands, but for now, I'll take someone showing up. Now I can crawl back into my cave for the rest of the year and focus on the writing part of things. Crawl may be the operative word, as I did a fair amount of bending and pulling or lifting this weekend and am now really feeling it. Saturday I was pulling up the evil alien vines on my patio, which meant bending and pulling, and then Sunday I helped at the watermelon booth at the church festival, which meant bending and lifting watermelons. I thought I had thighs of steel from the ballet, but this apparently used muscles that aren't used in ballet. I have some more vines to deal with, but I may wait until Wednesday or I might not be able to dance Tuesday night.

On the up side, we had WAY more watermelons than we needed, so I got to bring one home. Yummy.

I'm having a little trouble getting started in this new book because one of the early scenes is turning out to be very tricky, and it's the kind of thing where if I don't get the tone just right here, it will throw the whole book off. One of the trickier aspects of it is that I'm trying to write the first meeting of the main male and female characters, and there can be no sexual tension there. The challenge is that I think we're pretty much conditioned to read the first meeting of the main male and female characters in a way that we see it as the start of a potential romance. At least, people seem to read my books that way. Maybe it's because I have a past as a romance author and the Enchanted, Inc. series was published as chick lit, but based on the comments I've received from editors on some other stuff I've written, if the main character meets a person of the opposite sex early in a book I write, and if the viewpoint character shows any sign of any attraction to that person, or if there's any conflict between those characters, the editor will say that it's too romancey for them as a fantasy publisher (and meanwhile the romance publishers are saying it's not a romance at all).

So maybe I'm a little oversensitive and paranoid about the subject. But it would also diminish the characters somewhat if they were thinking about sex or romance in the circumstances in which they meet. It's like the way a lot of romantic suspense books bug me. Yeah, her grandmother has been taken hostage by the bad guys and she has 24 hours to meet their demands or her grandma dies, but she still manages to notice how well the ex-special forces guy helping her fills out his jeans. And he may have gone through something similar in the past, only he wasn't able to save his grandma, leaving him haunted and angst-ridden, and this is his chance to atone by saving someone else's grandma, but he still manages to notice and fantasize about the woman's breasts. And then even though they're down to the wire and the bad guys are right behind them, they stop to have athletic sex along the way. Grandma can wait another half hour, right? I find myself shouting at the book, "You people have your priorities out of whack! Save Grandma first!"

What's difficult is that the first meeting is being seen through the eyes of a man who is very observant, inquisitive and suspicious by nature, so he's going to mentally size up the woman, and it's hard to go through a physical description and a mental catalog of observed traits while making it very clear that he's just being an observer and isn't finding all these things about her very appealing. She certainly intrigues him because she's kind of strange and he wants to figure out what her deal is, but he's not thinking in romantic terms at all about her in this scene.

But it's really, really hard to write in such a way as to make it clear that there really isn't any sexual tension or interest in an assessment of the other character. It has to remain perfectly neutral. I can't even go with initial dislike, since as anyone who's who's ever watched TV, seen a movie or read a book knows, dislike is a sure sign of attraction. I also can't go with an easy comfort level that indicates they aren't aware of each other in that way since they've just met and the circumstances of their meeting are awkward. I'm trying to establish what will turn out to be a team without making it look like the start of a romantic relationship (not that it will never go there. It just isn't at all in this part of the story. Which is not a romance novel.).

I wonder if all authors get that "Whoa, there's a relationship in this book, so we can't publish it as a fantasy" thing or if it's just people who have a reputation for romance, however undeserved. Yes, there's a developing relationship in my existing series, and that seems to be the aspect of the books that really hooks people, but it took two books to get to the first kiss, and it didn't follow any of the romance genre rules.

I think I've come up with an idea that will keep it from feeling like a romance meet-cute and that will raise the other tension levels in the scene, so if I get a chance to write today (funny how the phone tends to ring as soon as I sit down to write -- in case anyone who knows my phone number is reading this, I'm working from 2 to 6, so if the phone rings during that time, it better involve blood or death in a situation that I need to or can do something about, and telemarketers will be zapped with a mental death ray) I may be able to get past this scene and onto the book.

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