Why the Truth Doesn’t Hurt

The Tides of BáraFirst off, some exciting news!! For all of you who have loved Louisa Gallie’s amazing cover for THE TIDES OF BÁRA (book #3 in my Sorcerous Moons fantasy romance series), you can now get *stuff* with the image from Society 6!!! I know I’m going to be doing some shopping!!

So… I’ve been brewing a bit of a rant. But it has nothing to do with politics!

I read this book that I really hated. This was particularly disappointing because it was very well written – at least the beginning was. I had high hopes for it to be a top pick. However, the bulk of the book didn’t live up to the truly stellar beginning (which happens) nor did I think it lived up  to the considerable hype (which certainly happens a lot). None of this, however, is why I hated it.

I hated it because the author went to extremes to make the story brutally heartbreaking.

Now, I’m going to caveat that, while I am a big fan of happy endings, this is not what bothered me. I’m okay with a tragic ending. I went into this book expecting a tragic – even brutally heartbreaking – ending, because I’d been warned. Even if I hadn’t hear people talking about how it broke their hearts, I would have known at the beginning because it’s clearly telegraphed. There’s even a kind of warning quote in the frontispiece that essentially says that the story will be painful because it’s the truth.

(I’m going to some lengths here not to identify the book, because that’s not my purpose here.)

So, the logic of the story is this: the ending is over-the-top tragic, with a profound betrayal. There’s insult added to injury. And then it’s excused in a way by this warning, by saying “Oh yes, this is really painful because it’s true.”

I call complete and utter bullshit on this.

Truth has nothing to do with pain.

And that ending is painful, not because it illuminates some universal truth, but because the author WANTED it to be brutally painful. It was so contrived to be heartbreaking that it made me truly angry. In romance we often talk about the unearned happy ending – when the story fails to convince the reader that the couple have a real chance at happiness. I found this tragic ending to be unearned. In Romeo and Juliet, the ending is believably tragic because of the cascade of disasters and errors. In this book… I didn’t believe the main character would go to the lengths they did. The explanation that’s tossed about is that the person is a sociopath.

Well… okay. But if the only explanation to justify that result is to describe the person as not being a normal human being, then this is hardly a truth. It’s a monstrous characterization. And the pain is nothing inherent or true – it’s simply plastered on to elicit this emotional reaction.

In brewing this rant, I planned to address the relevance of the idea that the truth hurts – so I looked up the origin of the quote. I fully expected it to be from the Bible or Shakespeare. 

Not so much!


At first I couldn’t believe it, so I got a couple of research-fiend friends (Thank you Kelly Robson and Erin Hartshorn!) to look, too, and they couldn’t find it either. Erin found a French version (il n’y a que la vérité qui blesse –  it’s only the truth that wounds) that’s attributed as a proverb, but it’s not from the biblical Proverbs. We couldn’t find “The truth hurts” anywhere except in internet memes. 

Which – do I have to say this? – don’t count as citable quotations or as universal truths.

So, let’s all get over this idea that the truth is painful, okay? You want to explore pain and betrayal, sociopathic behavior, power and the way it corrupts – sure, do that! I’m interested in those themes, too, which is in part why I wanted to read this book. But I take offense at the idea of presenting a painful story and justifying doing so as “true” to something.

Pain is no more true than pleasure. Sorrow no more true than joy.

And a tragic ending isn’t more valuable than a happy one.

Enough with this already

Why I Hate Han & Leia’s Backstory

A woman's torso, naked but for a wrap of crimson velvetToday is the release day of THE DEVIL’S DOORBELL! Very cool to see the excitement out there about it. Also, working with this group of amazing, high-caliber and professional authors has been one of the highlights of my career so far. You ladies rock!

So, I’ve been stewing on this post since I saw Star Wars: the Force Awakens. OBVIOUSLY this post will contain spoilers. You all have had six months to see the movie, so I figure any spoilerage is on you at this point *and* you’ve been warned. It does affect your experience of the movie. After all, my own mother spoiled it for me as I talked to her on the drive down to Albuquerque to see the movie with a friend – after I’d avoided spoilers for WEEKS! 


(Also, I seem to have gotten quite worked up writing this post, so the F-bombs are flying. Be warned.)

Anyway, The Force Awakens (TFA) opens many years after The Return of the Jedi finishes. Luke has disappeared to parts unknown, Han and Leia consummated their love affair long enough to birth and raise (for an unspecified period of time) their son, Kylo Ren. He’s an emo dude who ran off at some point to take up Darth Vader’s megalomaniacal legacy. Because of some vague disagreement over their bad boy son, Han and Leia broke up and have lived apart for *years*. She’s been key in the ongoing rebellion leadership (which is super-cool; more of this, please; yes yes yes) and Han went off to … I dunno. Scavenge around the galaxy with Chewie? That part wasn’t terribly clear to me.)

I should caveat here that I am decidedly NOT a follower of the Star Wars overall canon. I’ve never read any of the books written around the franchise, or anything else. I’ve seen all the movies, but that’s it. I’m aware that people write about and discuss all kinds of story threads not in the movies, but I don’t know anything about them. 

ANYWAY… this seriously stuck in my craw. Yes, it’s a great moment when the movie’s central heroine and hero run into Han and Chewie, and it’s a lovely moment of reunion when Han and Leia see each other again, but is it worth this backstory of their long separation?


No no no.

And you know why this annoys me so greatly?

Two reasons: because it’s facile storytelling and because it transmits SFF’s contempt for romance.

Allow me to unpack a little. 

Why have Han and Leia be long-separated at the beginning of the movie? To add conflict. I can’t think of another reason. (Enlighten me if you have one.) To me this reads as screenwriting shorthand: separate the lovers so that you can have the tension of their old differences and the simmer of sexual tension renewed. Because Hollywood thinks you can’t have an established love affair AND sexual tension. 

Also I think Hollywood believes that long-term relationships can’t last happily, which is part of their contempt for romance. In most movies with romance, the focus is entirely on the establishment of the early relationship – as with Han and Leia in Episodes IV-VI – and rarely on a long-term relationship. When a movie IS about later in the relationship, it’s nearly always about trouble. Conflict, doncha know. 

So, I suspect the screenwriters didn’t give much thought to the possibility of having Han and Leia having been together all those intervening years. They just tossed out that, oh no! They separated acrimoniously because their son was a shit head. Because this does in so many marriages, right? 

That annoyed me, too. Han and Leia are both strong-minded people who’ve endured great losses in their lives and emerged scarred but victorious. And we’re to believe they could not preserve their great passion for each other, that their love and loyalty that survived the worst pressures simply crumbled because they couldn’t agree on their grown son doing stupid, disappointing things?

Talk about undercutting two truly great characters. Which brings me around to the contempt for romance.

I could be wrong, but I doubt it occurred to anyone working on the movie how this change in trajectory affects our long-held feelings for Han and Leia. All these many years since Return of the Jedi, I’ve had them in my heart living Happily Ever After. Sure, fighting the Empire and various scourges of civilization, but TOGETHER. Side by side. Heroic partners in life. Enjoying at least that much joy, which is the WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF TRIUMPHING OVER AN EVIL EMPIRE IN THE FIRST PLACE.

*deep breath*

Did I mention this annoyed me?

Basically this movie told us that there is no happiness. Even Han and Leia don’t get to have it.

Worst of all, Han dies, so they’ll never be together again. Even though they reconcile (and it IS a lovely scene), there’s not even a kiss. He dies. Leia soldiers bravely on, alone. (She’s an older woman now, so she wouldn’t be interested in having sex again anyway.)

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to pieces that it looks like Carrie Fisher will be back to play Leia in perhaps an even greater role as a general in the rebellion in the next movies. (Which I wonder if the movie folks had planned on before they saw the *overwhelming* “Fuck-Yeah, General Leia” response.) However, I Am Not Pleased that she seems to be relegated to crone status. 

But, hey, it’s SFF action/adventure and who cares about mushy stuff beyond the occasional dirty-hands, smexy kiss?

Oh yeah. We do. 

And you know what? We can have both. Let’s get out there and write those damn stories. 

Sneaking Up on the End

I’m nearly done with Platinum, my follow-up to Sapphire.

In many ways, this has been a more difficult story to write than Sapphire was. All these years, I’ve heard writers talk about how each new book is a different challenge, some easy, some harder. I suppose that has something to do with art, with the creative process. If it’s not different every time, then we’re likely not growing and challenging ourselves.

And each world, each set of characters brings their own unique set of problems to the mix. It’s as if I’m their therapist. They walk into my office, dump their issues on my desk and stand back, waiting for me to sort it out for them. No one’s path is the same.

A writer friend recently told me she can knock out a novella in two to three weeks. I admit I felt a surge of envy at the remark. Theoretically, I could, too. A novella is around 26,000 to 40,000 words. At 1,500 words per day, you could hit 31,500 words in three weeks. Totally doable. And, when I started Platinum on February 1, I thought I would have it done in a month. I was totally on track to do that, when I inexplicably slowed to a crawl around the end of the third act. I figure this novella will come out around 34,000 words, and I hit a snag around 26K.

Not writer’s block – I was still writing. But the scene wasn’t right. I wrote past it and circled back. Something was wrong. Something missing or not following the correct path. My characters refused to march politely to their happily-ever-after, even though I know how they get there. I had to sneak around them, change the interactions, find exactly what needed to happen so they can see their way past the thorny problems.

What’s funny is, this happened with The Middle Princess, too. And not with any stories I’ve written before this. So I don’t know if this is my new thing or what. Regardless, it’s clear that I need to add extra time onto the end of my estimates, for the big ending slow-down.

Now I know why therapists like to just give their patients Lithium  and call it good.

Would be so much easier.

Does a Book Deal = Happily Ever After?

Everyone likes a happy ending. Even the people who think the traditional Happily Ever After (or HEA as the romance-world calls it) is trite, still love it when the hero or heroine triumphs, when good defeats evil, when they finally blow up the Death Star.

It’s just human nature.

It’s also tempting for writers to view signing with an agent or getting that Book Deal as the HEA. After all, we labor for years, querying to silence, receiving rejections, going back to the drawing board and trying again. When someone signs with an agent, there is much cause for celebration. When Carina offered to buy my novel, I confess I cried tears of relief and joy. The moment was a culmination of so much effort. But is it really a happily ever after?

Those of us familiar with romance tropes know that, for a very long time, every romance novel culminated either with an engagement or a wedding. The exception to this was the Marriage of Convenience story, where the wedding takes place early on, emotional obstacles must be overcome and the story resolves with declarations of true love. However, that’s still usually very early on in the marriage. This kind of thinking was largely a product of the times. Happiness was found in commitment, which meant marriage. Now there’s more flexibility. Finding love is enough. Many romance books end in very satisfying HFNs – Happy for Now. As society has discovered: marriage isn’t necessarily the answer.

The other problem with this trope of ending with the wedding is, though we all loved the idea that they’d ride off into the sunset and lead deliriously perfect lives, we all also know that the wedding is really just the beginning of the story.

It’s the first step on a long, often difficult, road that you’ll walk the rest of your life, if you’re lucky.

You see where I’m going with this.

Signing with that agent or getting that Book Deal is just the beginning. Basically you’ve gotten the job you applied for. Someone is willing to invest in you being a Writer. Hooray! Now the real work begins. And not the glamorous honeymoon stuff, either. It’s the dividing the chores and staying up all night to soothe the colicky baby. It’s the fighting over money and in-laws and the temperature of the bedroom. It’s worrying that maybe you’re not as attractive as you used to be and wondering about that sexy new assistant. It’s about dealing with health issues, tax audits and job layoffs.

It’s not that marriage is always about the difficulties. But it’s not skipping down the beach hand-in-hand, either. (Except maybe on vacation.)

Having a writing career is like having any career. There’s the day to day work, the highs and lows. The struggles and the moments of sweet triumph.

So celebrate that book deal. Enjoy the validation of an agent representing you.

Just remember that, after the honeymoon, that’s when the story really begins.

Real Passion

It’s been retro week on Facebook.

What, you didn’t know??

We were to replace our profile pics with ones from when we were younger. My problem is, I haven’t scanned in any of my old photos and the ones I used to have out are boxed up. Not from moving laziness, but on purpose. We like the clean walls of this house. And, with the way the views fill the rooms, it doesn’t look right to have too much stuff inside competing.

So I was judicious in what I’ve hung up and put out. Those old family pics from when I was a kid? Eh. In the archives.

But one of my sorority sisters has been clever enough to scan in some of our old photos and sent me some.

So now I’m cruising on nostalgia. That guy in the photo was my Great Passion. Fantastic lover, stand-up comic and alcoholic. He broke my heart twice. I have a long-standing rule of never getting back together with someone after the break-up. I firmly believe that whatever caused you to break up in the first place will still be there. He’s the only one I violated the rule for and, guess what?

I suppose sometimes you have to test your own rules, to verify the truth of them.

He’s since fallen off the face of the earth. I sometimes wonder if he’s self-destructed. There’s another one I wonder about sometimes. Another passionate and dysfunctional relationship. Must be a theme.

I remember when a counselor told my mother “we seldom marry our great passions.” Which I think is true. The men who give us the roller-coaster ride of passion are not usually the men who are good for the day-in/day-out routine of grocery shopping and alarm-setting.

While I know romance novels are about the fantasy, this aspect sometimes bothers me. When the relationship is SO turbulent, romantic and passionate, I sometimes get hung up on whether the happily-ever-after will stick. For me, I really need to believe in the reality of the story, to really enjoy the fantasy.

Funny — when I started this post, I didn’t intend to converge with Allison’s post today, though I did read it while writing this, and while chatting with her on IM. Interesting how the mind works that way. Of course, she also had to point out that she was in 6th grade when this photo was taken. Which just means she was a snot-nosed brat when I was a sophisticated young woman.

That’s the other thing I’ve learned from nostalgia: it’s easy to look back and think how young and pretty I was then. Something I didn’t know. I didn’t think I was, at all. It’s another way to bend what’s real, our perceptions of ourselves. Now I just try to appreciate how I look, since I know I’ll look back later and wonder why I worried that I was too fat or too pimply or what have you.

Maybe part of the trick is embracing reality for what it offers. David cooks dinner most nights and is a lover to me in a way only someone you’ve been with for almost twenty years can be. When I have early meetings, he brews Earl Grey for me and puts in in my favorite thermos.

It might not make for the stuff of novels, but it is truly romantic.

Houston, We Have a Plot

Yesterday’s post left our heroine (that’s me) fretting about whether her novel has a plot.

And yes, I know most writers out there would worry about this at some point before they, oh, say, finished it, polished and sent full manuscripts to agents and editors.

Hey, I follow my own path.

But here I am, coming up with a more conclusive ending at the behest of one agent and it started to niggle at me that maybe I didn’t have an actual plot arc. So I started the online plotting class on Monday, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Loglines first, now two-word descriptors and mottoes for the main characters. The latter was more fun than the former.

But I’m impatient.

I’m 70% through my revision and I have two more weeks at home before I enter a five-week cycle of business road-trip hell. I seldom get much in the way of writing done when I’m on the road. Which bites, but there it is.

I want this revision done done done before October 18. Mark your calendars.

Feeling this pressure, last night I went to Alexandra Sokoloff’s blog. She’s the very dramatic blond above. I met Alexandra at the RT Convention and caught the tail end of her workshop on The Index Card Method of viewing story structure. She’s primarily a screenwriter, so she thinks in terms of scenes and movie structure. Which, particularly for genre, can be a really useful way of approaching a novel. I didn’t see much of her workshop — it was one of those deals where I figured I know how story structure worked (ah, those blissful days of ignorance) and I only popped in because the other session I was in ended early, and there she was, talking passionately and tacking up and tearing down index cards from the carpet wall, while the next session trickled in.

But what I did hear was fascinating and I gleaned enough to get that she has the whole thing up on her blog.

So, last night I worked her method.

The good news? I have a plot! Who knew??? At least my Act I, II and Midpoint climaxes happen very nearly at the exact pages she says they should. Apparently that Liberal Arts education of mine managed to shape my consciousness enough for story arc to sink in without my knowing it. (This is, by the way, based on story arcs as in plays developed in Ancient Greece.)

Oh, yeah — the bad news? Well I have no discernible climax in Act III. Oops. And that agent, bless her heart, said I needed a more conclusive ending. Hmmm. How about an ACTUAL ending, Jeffe?


But now I have a strategy. All this foreplay is now leading up to something.

Just wait — you’ll see.

(12 days and counting.)

Quite Continental

From Travelblog to Guestblog!

Welcome today to Candace Havens, member of FFP and author of the new release Dragons Prefer Blondes. Take it away, Candace!

One of the things I love most about romance novels is the happy endings. I like knowing that no matter how much hell the character goes through during the book, in the end he or she is going to get a happy ending.

I can guarantee you’ll get one of those with every book I write. It may not be the happy ending one might expect, but there will be one. (Smile). In my new book, Dragons Prefer Blondes, it doesn’t look like my heroine, Alex, has much chance for happiness. She’s in charge of keeping dragons from attacking Earth. It’s a tough job, but the wealthy club owner just looks at it like another day at the office.

She’s a woman who has most definitely given up on the concept of love and happily ever afters. She’s certain those things will never be a part of her life. Imagine her surprise when love smacks her upside the head and she realizes that she could possibly lose the one person who matters most to her.

Through the years I’ve had a chance to talk to Nicholas Sparks about his various books and films. While talking about “Nights in Rodanthe” I thought he explained his style very well. “I write Greek tragedies, and there are no happy endings in a Greek tragedy,” he said. “I give people a hopeful ending, but not necessarily a happy one.” As much as I adore him and his books, it hurts my heart every time I read them or watch the films.

So, while I can’t tell you the ending of Alex’s story, I can say that there is a resolution. And that while she may not get what she thought she wanted, she does end up happy. (Smile).

Don’t tell me the endings, but share some of your favorite books that had wonderful resolutions at the end.

Candace Havens

Let Me Count the Ways

“Do you love it?” they ask me.

Total strangers walk up to me in airports, at Starbucks, when they see me reading my Kindle. “Do you love it?” they all ask and I let them play with it.

Yeah, I do love it. My mom gave me a Kindle for Christmas, then was devastated that they couldn’t ship it until February 24. But it turns out that they were waiting to complete production and ship the Kindle 2, so it was fine by me. David gave me a Blackberry Storm for Christmas (this was my techno-Christmas, apparently) and I was still trying to learn that. The lament of my age group — we played Pong as kids; we used computers in high school, so it should NOT be this hard to keep up with technology. Everyone is fretting about twitter now. I tried to read a twitter page and nearly clawed my eyes out. One thing at a time, I figure.

Except the Kindle 2 was super-duper easy to get going. I had to read the user guide for a few things, but I found what I was looking for. I love that I can slip it in my purse, that I can pull it out, hit the slider and it opens to my page. Child of my era and my culture, I just love the instant gratification. I finished a book that left me craving more and instantly downloaded the next in the series. It’s light, easy to read, easy to turn the pages.

I found I had to adjust my page-turn timing. As a long-time reader, I have a rhythm of starting to turn the page while finishing the last couple of lines at the bottom. If I hit the next page button on the Kindle at the same rhythm, the page replaces before I finish the last line. But I adjusted pretty quickly to that. I do miss the feel of “having” the book, of seeing the cover image as a prelude to settling in. I read a book on the Kindle that I ended up really loving: Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. (It was her One Foot in the Grave that I immediately downloaded.) Reading her was like having paranormal romance steak after six months of nothing but Ho-Ho’s. (A side note for those interested in such things: they classify her as urban fantasy, see? that means there’s no happily ever after at the end.) Anyway, now that I feel all warm and fuzzy about Jeaniene’s books, I want to HAVE them. Even though I already do. But I don’t have the sexy cover and I didn’t know this was the “Night Huntress” series until I recommended it to someone else. That part I miss. Is it important? We’ll see. It looks like I’ll get to meet Jeaniene at the RT convention — I can hardly have her sign my Kindle. Something for Jeff Bezos to ponder.

So, if you see me in the airport or at Starbucks — Yes, I love it. And of course you can play with it.