Saturday, July 05, 2008

Writer Wannabes, Take Note!
It's that time of year again, thanks to Stella Cameron!


DIALOGUE CAN SAY IT ALL...This year's Scarlet Boa Contest gives you an opportunity to strut your characters' verbal stuff. Put that action into words and let us hear a gem from your story.
From ten finalists, one winner will be voted on by readers to receive the coveted Scarlet Boa and Award Certificate, and three more writers will each receive an Honorable Mention. One lucky reader/voter, chosen at random on August 17 during a live Writerspace chat, will also be the winner of a boa--color, a surprise!
a. Write a scene in dialogue between two characters.
b. You may use dialogue tags.
c. Use 1,000 words or less.
d. You may submit more than one entry.
The Scarlet Boa contest is open to published and non-published authors alike. Submit your entry (500-1000 words).

Important dates:
July 10 thru August 1: Submissions accepted
August 5: Submissions posted online
August 5-12: Voting (first round)
August 13: Finalists announced
August 13 thru August 16: Voting (2nd round)
August 17: Winner announced in a LIVE chat at Writerspace at 10p EST!
(Note: DIALOGUE CAN SAY IT ALL above is a link to the contest.)

Sunday, June 22, 2008


For those of you who aren’t familiar with the romance genre (like, say, all the guys on the blog), here are some definitions to consider, if you wish, in the BET ME discussion. They should help you to figure out, for example, why Pride and Prejudice is a romance novel and Gone with the Wind isn’t.

1. From the Romance Writers of America website:

Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse. Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there's a romance novel waiting for you!Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending.
A Central Love Story — In a romance novel, the main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the relationship conflict is the main focus of the story.
An Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending — Romance novels are based on the idea of an innate emotional justice—the notion that good people in the world are rewarded and evil people are punished. In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.Once the central love story and optimistic-ending criteria are met, a romance novel can be set anywhere and involve any number of plot elements. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction.

2. In A Natural History of the Romance Novel, scholar Pamela Regis offers a slightly more elaborate structural definition of the romance novel. Writes Regis:

The romance novel is a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines. All romance novels contain eight narrative elements:
A definition of society, always corrupt, that the romance novel will reform;

The meeting between the heroine and hero;

An account of their attraction for each other;

The barrier between them;

The point of ritual death (i.e., when all seems lost and they will never get together);

The recognition that fells the barrier (new information or the like);

The declaration of the heroine and hero that they love each other;

Their betrothal.

As Regis writes elsewhere, in a post to the RomanceScholar listserv, "These can occur in any order, each can be doubled or multiplied almost endlessly, each can occur 'off' and be reported rather than dramatized."

3. Here is a link to Teach Me Tonight, academics blogging on romance, in which Eric Selinger summarizes and glosses what Northrop Frye had to say on the subject:

When Frye talks about “romance,” he is thinking primarily of medieval romance and its near relatives: the likes of the Arthurian legends, The Faerie Queene, and William Morris. (I would add in Tolkien.) In his theory, each mode has six elements, and three of them overlap with the next genre before and after. Romance overlaps with myth and fantasy on one side, and comedy on the other. He also considers it an aristocratic genre, which explains why the heroines of historical romance novels always wind up married to dukes and earls and the heroines of Harlequin Romances get billionaires and sheikhs. If one examines the definitions of the romance novel, most of them fit Frye’s framework very nicely.
4. And finally, here is a comment from Mercedes Lackey, who writes fantasy which usually contains a romance element, from the preface to her latest novel The Snow Queen, one of a fairy-tale themed series published by Luna, the fantasy/SF line of Harlequin Books. She is talking about fairy tales and fantasy, but her remarks apply equally aptly to romance novels. After commenting on the fact that the past year had not been a good one for her, with an assortment of losses and injuries, she continues:

Soldiering on, the one thing I kept telling myself was that in all of this, I would get affirmations that people needed fantasy. When their lives were horrible, they always had a happily-ever-after to curl up with and make the world go away for a while. Heaven knows I certainly did. And I would hear that over and over from others—sitting in hospital waiting rooms or in hospital beds themselves, hiding in their bedrooms, finding a spot in the dorm where they could get away from roommates, in between job interviews…they would tell me they read to get away.

Dorothy L. Sayers used to say that mystery stories were the only moral fiction of the modern world—because in a mystery, you were guaranteed to see that the bad got punished, the good got rewarded and in the end all was made right.

I’d like to think that fantasy does the same thing. It reminds us that
this is how it should be; and maybe if we all put our minds to it a little more, this is how it will be. The good will be rewarded. The bad will be punished. Sins will be forgiven.

And they will live happily ever after.

While this blog is intended primarily for those intending to participate in the Bet Me discussion on Evil Editor’s blog, anyone is welcome to comment.

Monday, February 11, 2008

HEA? No Way, José!

I have been spending a lot of time lately on blogs and forums for romance novels, and I find it often mentioned, as we all no doubt have already noticed, that they frequently take their themes from fairy tales--Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast being probably the most frequent inspirations. But it is my theory that there are three stories which, as given, CANNOT POSSIBLY have a Happy Ever After ending. I intend to discuss them, and you can, too. In order to keep people reading, I'm going to do it as a series.

1. Rumpelstiltskin

We all know the story, but here's a refresher, with helpful notes:
Whether the instigator of the spinning challenge is a boastful miller, a boastful miller's daughter, or an embarrassed miller lying about his lazy daughter's domestic skills, the rest of the setup is the same: the king puts her in ever-larger rooms full of straw, telling her to spin gold or die; the little man helps her, demanding her first-born as payment; she marries the king, the little man demands the baby, the name-guessing game, and the end of Rumpelstiltskin. A regular fairy tale, right?

No. Consider that from the very beginning, the king threatens her with death, not because she's done something wrong but if she can't do something that no one else can do, either. And he marries her only because of the gold, not for love or her virtue or her beauty or any similar traditional fairy-tale motive.

This is NOT the recipe for Happy-Ever-After. She must be scared spitless of him. Even after marriage, she must dread the moment when he says, "Darling, we're running short of gold again...." Even in the version where she's lazy, she'd have to be dead stupid not to see that it's NOT good to be the Queen when the King is a homicidal miser.

I have seen a few versions in which there is a believable happy ending. Vivian Vande Velde has a whole volume of Rumpelstiltskin stories with various takes on the tale. The happy endings I've seen all, without exception, involve changing the premises of the story in some way. The most common is to have the Rumpelstiltskin figure turn out to be an elven prince in disguise, or a magician of some sort, and the girl dumps the King and goes off with him instead. In a few, she just runs off before she can be forced to marry the King. Sometimes it turns out he was under an evil spell and didn't want to kill her at all. And in one of Vande Velde's, the test was made up by the king to scare off females pursuing him and never intended to be used at all.

The only bridegroom I can think of that's worse than this is Scheherazade's, who is already a serial killer by the time she marries him.

I have a definite bias towards stories with a moral, where virtue is rewarded and evil soundly punished--or at least reformed. There is no moral here at all--the girl does nothing to deserve to become Queen, and the King is not reformed or in any way made to feel that his death threats were wrong. In many fairy tales there is a fairy or animal helper, who rewards the protagonist for his or her kindness in rescuing or in some other way helping it--the bird caught in a snare, the ants whose anthill is about to be flooded, and so on. Sometimes they simply appear because of her goodness, or because of some supernatural protector, like the animals in the various versions of Cinderella. The moral here is that goodness is rewarded by goodness. Rumpelstiltskin is not a kindly helper but has his own agenda: getting hold of the baby prince. And the Queen, once she knows she'll win the guessing game, toys with him by guessing wrong at first. Rumpelstiltskin/Tom Tit Tot is often interpreted as a demonic creature, not a real dwarf in the sense of an earth elemental type or a different species, like Snow White's dwarves. Nobody in this story comes off well, and the baby will probably grow up to be Jack the Ripper, like Prince Albert Victor.

So, have you seen, or can you imagine, any played-straight version of Rumpelstiltskin that has a believable happy ending?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Cats Respond to the Rules

1. Gourmet cat food is not an entitlement.

Oh, yeah? Talk to the paw.

2. It's MY bed. You are not entitled to more than half of it, no matter how much you can stretch out.

All comfy flat surfaces are the property of cats. This is a law of nature and of nations. Move your feet.

3. Synchronized washing of one another's faces is cute. Synchronized hacking up of hairballs is not.

How about synchronized jumping from the top of the bureau onto the human’s bad knee? How about THAT, huh? What have you got to say to that, two-legs?

4. Wait till the human's back is turned before you lick your sister's butt.

Why? It’s a spectator sport. And we don’t understand why you won’t participate.

5. My food is not for cats. My drink is not for cats. My meds are not for cats.

Anything we can get our greedy little paws on is by definition “for cats.” Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to get hold of it, right? Law of nature again, pal.

6. Don't make nice when the cat from next door comes to the back window. He's a homosexual rapist.

He doesn’t live there any more. We now spend our time staring out the window at StalkerCat.

7. Stop being nicer to Bruce than you are to me, just because he's the one who delivers the bags of cat food.

Hey, we like guys! We like James, too. And what have YOU done for us lately?

8. Plaintive Siamese meows are just plain distracting. Please print your messages, on one side of the paper only, if you have something you must say.

Again, talk to the paw. Or read the memos we leave on the computer when you’re out of the room.

9. Stop staring at me when I'm on the john. I don't come and stare at you when you're in the litter box.

Yeah, but you’re funny-looking. And now that Aliera has learned how to lock herself in the bathroom, it’s the only entertainment going on in there.


If you don’t want the stuff any more, why SHOULDN’T we help ourselves to it? Mean old human-in-the-manger!

11. When I am trying to take a nap, or deeply asleep, it is not the time for cat rugby, feet-eating, or “I’m going to yowl at you till you toss the toy for me.”

We took a vote on this. You lost, two to one.

12. Honestly, it really IS possible to play with a toy without ripping all the feathers off it and chewing them to bits.

Sure—but this way we get more new toys.

13. I appreciate the sentiment, really I do; but it is unnecessary to deposit any more Styrofoam pellets on my bed. If I wanted to sleep among Styrofoam pellets, I’d be living in a cardboard box.

Humans have no concept of the appropriate interior décor for a household run by cats. We are doing our best to educate you.

14. You might try exerting yourself occasionally to CATCH the bug, instead of just staring at it in a bemused manner.

Only if you can guarantee that it tastes like a Sheba duck dinner.

15. If you keep making phone calls by stepping on the speakerphone button, you’re going to have to pay for them yourselves.

Hah! Little do you know that we have your AT&T credit card…and we know how to use it.

16. When you yowl for people food like chicken or cheese, and I give you some, you do NOT walk away and leave it crudding up the dish.

We’re female and have the inalienable right to change our minds about anything and everything.

17. Don't go after the people food while the people are still eating it!

But once we take it away from you, you’re not eating it anymore. So what’s the problem?

18. The yard guy and the pool guy are not your long-lost relatives and do not need to be greeted as such. They are outdoor people; you are indoor cats.

We are going to make it out there one of these days, and we’ll need allies against the other neighborhood cats. And, as we’ve said before, we like men.

19. If you’re going to make yourself comfortable on the desk in front of the monitor, LIE DOWN! I need to be able to see what I’m writing.

Shut up and pet us.

20. To quote an old cartoon, never, never, never think outside the box.

No answer—just cats rolling around on the floor laughing their asses off.