Friday, August 31, 2007


"Your friends will help you move. Your real friends will help you move the body." ~ unknown

I was contemplating the nature of friendship, lately, and thought I'd share some thoughts. Now, let me preface this by saying I don't make friends easily. Don't get me wrong; I'm very friendly, and have plenty of friendly acquaintances, but in terms of me and other women bonding and forming a girl posse and such, it happens about as fast as stalagmites grow upward. Which is to say, not that fast. And yet, I have a girl posse of mostly writer friends who can make me smile on the worst PMS day of my life by knowing just the right thing to say to talk me down off the ledge. They know me, are more than familiar with my weirdness, know I can be calm most of the time until I go off like a AK-47 on the last person to get on my nerves (and occasionally, it is them, and they forgive me anyway), and they love and accept me for who I am. Even better, they help me maintain perspective on my problems and foibles, by pointing out that as bad as a situation might feel at the moment, it doesn't mean we can't laugh about it.

They "get" me. Every woman needs someone who "gets" them, and I have friends who know how to make sympathetic noises at the right time. "That jerk!" they'll growl when someone does me wrong, or "What were they thinking? You deserve better than that!" they'll explode in solidarity when I get mistreated by someone in authority over my life. One of my girlfriends is a font of enthusiasm, even offering the occasional White Girl Rap to cheer us all up. Another is the one who thinks everything I do is absolutely fabulous, no matter what. Yet another is the one I share my private heartaches with, and another is the one to whom I go for advice, and who is always, always right. And of course, they are all fabulous encouragers, lifters up—sort of like virtual bras for the soul. Okay, as weird as that image may be, I mean it from the heart of my bottom.

The most amazing thing about these women is that, for the most part, our friendship exists solely because of the internet. We stay in touch every day, shooting e-mails back and forth or communicating in our Yahoo group loops to the point where it almost feels like they aren't (most of them) halfway across the country in another time zone. As I said, most of them are writers, and writers write. Even for the ones who live nearby, most of us would rather send an e-mail than pick up the phone or do coffee together. And, when I do get the chance to see them, we pick right up where we left off, no interruptions. They've been there for me on the highest days, when I'm on top of the mountain, and the lowest days on the canyon floor--and everything in between.

So, ladies, thanks for all you do. You know who you are, and if you ever need help moving the body—I'll be there.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Please don't call it a "bodice ripper"

I had an e-mail conversation with a relative the other day that frankly had me gnashing my teeth. My relative is a wonderful person who happens to prefer not to read the romance genre. I have absolutely no problem with that--to each her own. However, during the course of our e-mails, she referred to romances as "bodice rippers," and said they were books she felt did not have complex characters or descriptive language.

Everyone is entitled to her opinion, but these two phrases side-by-side, unfortunately, were enough to make me see red. I'm sure she didn't intend to send my blood pressure into the stratosphere; however, to have my life's dream dismissed so easily by someone I care about was upsetting, to say the least.

But that's not why I hate the term "bodice ripper," which is what this post is really about.

What I pointed out to her, and what I find myself wanting to point out to every lazy reporter who uses this term in their faintly condescending pieces on the romance genre instead of actually doing research, is that nobody has written a "bodice ripper" in about 20 years. The very use of those words reveals ignorance about the genre. Romance is all grown up, and even if one wants to criticize it, one should at least get the terms right. That phrase is considered derogatory amongst romance writers these days for the implication that heroines of today enjoy having their bodices ripped, i.e., being submissive objects in the dominating male approach to mating and sex--in other words, being raped. Modern romance readers today would never put up with that sort of thing, thank goodness.

In today's romances, the woman is in charge of her love life. I know they are in mine. If someone who hasn't read a romance novel in twenty years wants to see just how far romance has come, I can recommend some intelligent, thought provoking books with deep characters and great descriptive language that would be right up their alley. Try Susan Elizabeth Phillips Ain't She Sweet? for contemporary romance with some of the most complex, multi-layered characters in romance, including a heroine right out of The Last Picture Show, but all grown up.

Or JD Robb's ...In Death series (start with number one) for a glimpse into the future of police work and an uncompromising cop who always gets her man. Or Shane Bolks The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Men I've Dated, for a hilarious look at love and Star Wars from a "chick-lit" point of view (a la Bridget Jones' Diary). Or Deanne Gist's Inspirational (Christian) romances set in Colonial American times. Or Brenda Scott Royce's hilarious sex-free romp Monkey Love, about a stand-up comedienne learning to love and respect herself, or along those same lines Kathleen Bacus's Calamity Jayne series, about a "dumb" underachieving blond who makes good.

Or Colleen Thompson's book Head On, which takes a ripped from the headlines story of a drunk teen crashing his car and killing three cheerleaders, only it looks at what happens to the survivors and family fifteen years later. If one is a fan of shorter reads with fewer subplots, try Lynne Marshall's terrific medical romances (they're hard to get in the US, as they are published by Harlequin Mills & Boon in the UK, but can be found on their website and are well worth the effort), or try the new paranormal line from Harlequin Silhouette called Nocturne, with authors like Linda Howard and Linda Winstead Jones taking a turn. I could go on, but that's enough to start.

I happen to know many of the women who write romance--the industry is a small business, and sooner or later everyone meets at the National conference or is introduced on a Yahoo Groups loop to just about everyone else--and they are some of the sharpest, funniest, intelligent, interesting, capable people I know. Many romance writers have advanced degrees in law, history, science, English, French, Art History and other fields. Some of them are entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, nurses, and some of them are stay at home moms. And some of them, lo and behold, are men. I know one woman romance writer who is a Harvard graduate, and another from Yale, and there are many who are professors. I have met one who writes "aviation romance" and is a pilot for a major airline, and another who is a former Lt Col in the USAF, one who is a former sheriff, and several who are cops.

Most of them have worked for years to learn their craft while holding down full-time jobs and/or raising families, all the while perfecting each word until they create a story that leaps over the heaps of trash being submitted to publishing houses today to be the one in ten thousand submissions that makes it into a book store. And not a one of them writes passive women who enjoy having their bodices ripped, any more than they themselves would (excuse the reflexive pronoun).

While quality and tastes vary in every genre, from thrillers to mysteries to spy novels to horror to literary fiction, whatever a reader's interests are, she (and more increasingly, he) will find a book in the romance genre she will enjoy, written mainly for women by women, and will know that no matter how troubled the characters are, no matter how difficult the relationships get, or how deep a hole they dig for themselves, good will always triumph over evil, the bad guys will get punished, faith will be restored, and love will conquer all. I see nothing wrong with that.

Just don't call them bodice rippers.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: "Finally, the truth."

Those are the first words spoken after the big "plot reveal" in one of the final chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I only just finished reading my copy, and I won't give anything away here, but suffice it to say that JK Rowling has rewarded the patience of Potter followers everywhere. My gosh, what a ripping good tale. I sat up at night with my feet on the sofa, turning pages, unable to stop, swinging between astonishment, disbelief, and "ah, of course." With this book, Rowling has taken Harry on the ultimate Hero's Journey, and given us a fitting ending to an epic tale that children and adults will talk about--and perhaps debate--for years to come. Along the way, she dealt with nearly every character introduced throughout the series--some, tragically, some happily, some dropping in just to say hello.

What a ride it has been! I started reading the series a few years ago when one of my children expressed an interest in reading the first book. I didn't know much about the book at the time, but I thought it prudent to read through it a bit before I let my kid do so. Imagine my surprise when I found I couldn't put it down. In fact, I avidly sought out the other books in the series, and broke my rule of buying hardback for the last two books because I couldn't wait to read them. (I have nothing against authors who sell in hardback--I just don't have the greenbacks to afford it, so I generally wait until they come out in...paperback.)

Isn't it the dream of every author to craft an enduring tale that captivates audiences everywhere? To be the one to write the story other people will write books about for years? While I was in the bookstore the other day, browsing the children's aisles for good research books (great place to get books that explain difficult concepts easily), I saw an entire rack of books about the Potter phenomena--books devoted to guesses about what Rowling will write, how Potter's story will end, and not to mention the puzzles, word games, role plays, computer games, etc....

I often wonder, though, the pressure that this sort of attention puts on the author who has written a story others take ownership of. We, the public, are highly invested in what happens to Harry, and woe to she who does not comply with our expectations. I think I admire Rowling not just for her ability to write such fantastical stories into which we all can disappear, emerging hours later scattered with dragon dust and dreaming of wizards, but to keep writing those stories, despite the pressure to produce more, and faster, and better, and different, all the while keeping it the same. Hats off to Harry, ladies and gentlemen, and hats off to JK Rowling.