Sunday, April 29, 2007

Notes on writing Vampire romances from Romantic Times conference

I participated in several panels at Romantic Times, and wrote handouts for them. Since the conference is over, I thought I'd share them here. Here's my notes on “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" That was a panel dealing with the question of whether there's a vampire fiction glut. Hope you find it interesting!

By the way, my book PASSIONATE INK, A GUIDE TO WRITING EROTIC ROMANCE is available from Amazon. Check it out.

1.) There are an awful lot of vampires novels out on the shelves, and you’re right to be concerned about the question of whether there’s a glut. Remember it’s going to take at least six months to write your book, and then more months to get it into the hands of an editor who may buy it. Then another year after that for the book to hit the stores. The craze may have passed by then.
A.) However, editors are still acquiring vampire and paranormal romance, so there’s still a window of opportunity. The question is, how do you make your book stand out?

2.) First, make sure you really want to write a vampire romance. Never mind whether it’s hot or not, since it may not be hot by the time you get it published. Do you absolutely love vampires and vampire romances? If not, find something else to write about, something you DO love. A passion for the idea is the key to making a book memorable.

3.) Think about how you can make your vampire novel different.
A.) What is the one thing about vampires that is key to the concept? It’s not coffins or a fear of crosses, because you can get rid of those things and still have a perfectly good vampire novel.
i). A vampire must feed on something another person has in order to sustain his life. It doesn’t have to be blood. It could be psychic energy or sex or chi or dreams. But he feeds on something, and that’s the one thing about vampires you have to keep. The rest you can change – and should change, if you want to make the book fresh and different.
B.) Think through how this idea works. Why does the hero need to do this? How did he become a vampire? Maybe he’s not 400 years old – maybe he’s only been a vampire a week, and he’s got to figure out how to survive.
C.) What is his weakness? The more powerful the character is, the more he needs a weakness. Classical vampires have a lot of weaknesses – garlic, crosses, mirrors, running water, etc. You must come up with a paranormal weakness that puts your guy in danger. Otherwise the reader is not going to worry about his safety, and if she’s not worried, she’s going to get bored.

4.) Think about your mortal character, whether hero or heroine. What does he or she want? Why would he or she have anything to do with your vampire? What is it about your vampire that he or she can fall in love with?
A.) Your mortal must be more than a match for your vampire on some level – while looking as if he or she is vulnerable. If all the power is with your vampire, you don’t have a good conflict, and without a good conflict, you’ve got no story.

5.) In a vampire romance as in every other kind, you need an internal conflict, an external conflict, and a romantic conflict.
A) The internal conflict is the thing inside the character that he or she is struggling with. In the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the vampire struggled with guilt over the crimes he committed as the demonic Angelus.
B.) The external conflict is what’s going on outside the character that is threatening him physically – usually caused by the villain who wants to kill him.
C.) The romantic conflict is the thing that is keeping the hero and heroine from their happy ending. It must be powerful enough that the reader has no idea how you’re going to resolve it.
D. All these conflicts intensify as the book goes on, growing worse and worse to make the reader more fearful for your hero and heroine. Keep complicating things!

6.) Remember than in a romance, love makes your characters’ lives more difficult, not less. It’s only in the climax that love enables the hero and heroine to overcome their internal and romantic conflicts. Whatever they learn in the process allows them to overcome the external conflict with the villain – and get to that all important Happily Ever After.

For more, check out Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Angela Knight, ISBN-10: 1596323906 or ISBN-13: 978-1596323902. Angela’s website is

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where Have All the Balls Gone?

Having bored you with endless nattering about my weight loss long enough, I'm going to now talk about erotic romance again.

My current fangirl crush is JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood. I love those damn books. I've read all four of them three times, and I scarf them like chocolate every time one of them shows up in the store. I think I've figured out what it is about them that just fascinates me -- and by implication, what's wrong with mainstream romance, and why paranormal has suddenly become so hot.

First, JR has giant brass balls. Really. Who else would create a misogynist hero who hates his own penis, like Zsadist, or a hero with a crush on another guy, like Vishous's stealthy love for Butch? Now, this is the kind of thing that could easily make a reader throw a book across the room, but Ward pulls it off. All her guys are so damned sexy, tortured and generally fascinating, you love them BECAUSE they're weird. And part of the appeal is "What the HELL will she do next?" I have no idea, but I desperately want to find out.

Speaking as somebody who's been reading romance since she was 17, it's damned difficult for me to find a writer who consistently surprises me. That's because so few of us romance writers have any balls. And I'm including myself in that category.

In these politically correct times, I think writers feel heroes have to be so damned NICE. They can be sexy, yeah, but they can't be really nasty anymore. Otherwise, God forbid, you might offend somebody.

It wasn't always that way. When I was reading romance during the bad old days of the 1980s, we had all those bodice ripper bastard heroes. I loved those books. I remember reading one, STORMFIRE, over and over again, and crying. Now, that guy was a real bastard. He broke the heroine's ribs, raped her, and left her in a dungeon until she was half-starved. In retrospect, I have no idea why I found him so hypnotic. Probably because he might have been a prick, but at least he was interesting. You didn't know what he was going to do next. There was nothing heroic about him whatsoever, but he was fascinating.

Now, before somebody rips me a new one, I absolutely do NOT think there is anything at all heroic about rape. Heroes should not rape heroines, any more than they should murder people or rob banks. But there's a BIG difference between committing felonies and being a six-foot-three poodle. And there are entirely too many poodle men in mainstream romance.

I tried reading a historical the other day by an author who is an auto-buy for me. Oh, God. I got through about twenty pages and realized I didn't give a rat's ass. The hero was just too frickin' GOOD. He was honest and upright and straightlaced. And borrrrrring.

The problem with poodles is they're predictable. You know they're not going to do anything really nasty, because they're Good Guys. Which, okay. But really, they shouldn't be so damned good they never say anything sexist or rude or just plain MALE. Some of these guys talk and act just like women in Hessians. No wonder I don't find them sexually attractive.

And they're not historically accurate, either. Part of the appeal of historicals is that those guys hadn't been Dr. Phill'd to death. If you so much as open your mouth and say ANYTHING stupid now, you must be publicly pilloried, then methodically spend a month flogging yourself on camera. No, I don't like racists or sexists or bigots in general, but I'm really fond of free speech. And I think people have a right to occasionally put a foot in their mouths without being proclaimed Asshole for the Ages.

Be honest, now. Haven't you ever said anything you KNEW was stupid, insensitive or just plain ignorant? I have. I'm a Southerner, after all. We've built an entire culture out of being assholes. I work really hard against my asshole tendencies, but I sometimes I miss. After all, I'm human, and being politically correct is hard work.

That's why I love JR. She's not afraid to let her heroes be assholes. And really, there's not a man alive who hasn't been an ass at one time or other. That's part of why we love them. They're annoying, they're infuriating, they make you want to smack them, but they're GUYS, and that's what guys do. And every woman knows it.

I think that's why readers have fallen in love with paranormals. Vampires and werewolves, after all, are not expected to be politically correct. They get to bite people, grow hair, and run wild in the woods. They don't have to wear bows, paint their toenails pink and sit in your lap gazing at you adoringly. You have to chase them -- or maybe run from them -- and that makes them a lot more interesting to be around.

So I think for my next novella, I'm going to try writing a bastard.

It should be fun.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

For the curious...

Here's my BEFORE picture.

The Big 100!!!!

I'm definitely doing the dance of joy now, folks. Today I've officially lost 100 pounds since Aug. 29. When I got out of the hospital, I weighed 316 pounds. Today I weigh 216. I feel about twenty years younger, and I'm told I look it too.

I'm thinking back on what I've learned the last eight months since I started this journey.

I remember how scared out of my mind I was the weekend before the surgery. I basically melted down as I imagined every possible nightmare scenario. I was afraid I'd have complications -- perhaps even die. I was afraid my writing would suffer. (My editor says she thinks I'm actually better now than I was before the surgery.)

I was afraid the depression I've struggled with at various points of my life would be made worse by my new diet. I was afraid it wouldn't work -- that I'd pay out this huge sum of money only to end up regaining the weight.

I was afraid, period.

In retrospect, it was very similar to when my son was born. I was afraid of the pain, but I was more afraid of the way my life would change in ways I couldn't anticipate. But like the birth of my child, I now believe everything I went through was worth it.

I had reason to be afraid. Gastric bypass surgery is dangerous, especially if you don't do what your surgeon tells you to do, or if you don't choose the right doctor. I'm happy to say I did choose the right man -- Dr. Paul Ross, who had performed more than 300 gastric bypass procedures. If you're contemplating gastric bypass, I must stress how crucial it is to get a surgeon who's done at least 100 Gastric Bypass surgeries. Studies have shown that's the point when the complications go way down.

However, I will say that for all people talk about how dangerous it is to have gastric bypass surgery, it's far more dangerous to weigh 316 pounds. And a hell of a lot more miserable, too. I remember what it was like hauling my bulk out of a car, or getting on an airplane and having to ask for seatbelt extenders, or being afraid I was going to have a heart attack when I had to run catch a plane. I remember how my knees hurt when I'd have to get off the toilet. I remember the constant humiliation of being morbidly obese. One time I was riding with my girlfriend in her car, and her seatbelt wouldn't fit. I panicked. I hate riding without a seatbelt, but I was too freaking fat.

Another time I had been assigned to do a story about riding in a 60-year-old B-17 Bomber. They showed me to a seat in the plane's nose -- a rickety thing with a tiny seatbelt made for an 18 year old boy. I almost didn't get the belt to fit, and I was so humiliated. I was afraid I'd have to get off the plane.

And I knew good and damned well I was going to die young. I was headed for diabetes and the possibility of blindness -- and how would I work as I writer then? Sudden death from a heart attack was another real risk.

So I truly believe having the surgery, paying out all that money -- because my insurance didn't pick up a dime of it -- was worth it. It has probably added 10 or 15 years to my life. It's definitely made my life more worth living. And studies of those who've had the surgery confirm that.

But I won't kid you -- there have been times it wasn't fun. The first three months right after the surgery seemed endless. I was so damned weak there were times that just walking across the floor almost laid me out. My voice quavered as if I were eighty. I'd almost faint in the grocery store or the mall.

And adjusting to the tiny quantities of food was really hard at first. Here I was, used to eating anything and everything I wanted, whenever I wanted. That first couple of weeks, just watching TV was torture because of all the food commercials.

We coined a new phrase for the Food Network programs we used to love. I call them Food Porn, because you're watching all this decadent activity you can't do.

It's true what they said -- food is an addiction. And not being able to get your fix can be unbelievably frustrating. There were times I'd sit down and cry because I felt so weak and sick. Recently I went to a meeting of my gastric bypass group, and there was this poor girl there who kept crying. "When will I be able to eat?" She kept throwing up all the time. We assured her it would get better. And it has.

Right after the surgery, I couldn't eat salads or raw vegetables, beef, pork, or fruit, or anything with seeds. Rice was out. Sugar was off the menu, and still is. I had to give up caffeine. The only thing I could eat was scrambled eggs, soup, sugar-free Jello and sugar-free popsicles. If I even thought about transgressing, my body made me pay. I'd end up bent over a toilet, yarking.

I spent a lot of time that first four months yarking. When I ended up with a stricture -- scar tissue around the opening from my stomach to my intestines -- every time I ate for about a week, I'd throw up. But worse was the horrible pain as I waited and prayed to throw up. Once I did, the pain and sickness would abate. I finally had a minor procedure to open the scar tissue, and that problem went away. It was the only real complication I've had.

Since then, my stomach has healed, and my diet is a lot more varied. I can eat just about anything now -- salads, vegetables, beef, fruit, even the chicken that for a while there made me sick as a dog.

You may be thinking, Man, I'd love to lose the weight, but aren't you hungry? No, oddly enough, I'm not. I can remember diets pre-surgery that drove me nuts with hunger -- with little to show for it -- but hunger isn't a big problem anymore. Cravings sometimes are, especially at certain times of the month or when stress is especially great. I sometimes sneak a tiny piece of chocolate or a bite of brownie, which I can get away with without dumping syndrome. But if I try to eat anymore than that, I get pretty sick. That's good, because sweets have always been my downfall.

I've learned my willpower is a hell of a lot better than I always thought it was. If there are real, immediate consequences to doing something stupid, you don't do the stupid thing. Before the surgery, and a waiter asked, "Would you like the creme brulee?" I'd think -- "I really shouldn't -- I'm already the size of a horse...Oh, what the hell." Now I grimace and say, "No." 'Cause the momentary pleasure is not worth ninety minutes of being sick as a dog.

The weight loss has been phenomenal. I remember one week post-op, when I lost 20 pounds. Good God. Even after that, there were days when I'd lose a pound a day. I'm not kidding.

Now, recently, there was a month where I didn't lose a single pound. My grandmother was in the hospital, and I was having to stay with her to spell my poor mom every day for three weeks. My grandma has severe Alzheimer's, and half the time she doesn't know who I am. That's bad enough, but she'd shattered her arm -- for the third time since October -- and she kept trying to take off the bandages and get out of bed. The woman is 89, and if she fell, which was likely because of the drugs, she'd break a hip. So I spent hours at the hospital trying to keep her in the bed and in her cast. Not to mention trying to get her to eat, because she looked like the victim of a Nazi concentration camp.

All that was bad enough, but there was a while there she kept trying to attack the nursing staff and my mother and father. One time a nurse was trying to get a blood sample, and I saw my grandmother cranking up her foot trying to kick the woman in the back of the head. Good grief! I had to pounce on her to keep her from doing it, too.

This is the kind of high stress situation that drives morbidly obese people to eat like little pigs. I came about as close as it's possible for a gastric bypass patient to get. I even hit KFC one day, despite the fact that the thought of fried chicken makes me sick. And yes, I ended up nauseated and guilt-ridden. I won't be doing that again. It's just not worth it.

But Grandma is back in her nursing home recovering now. I've finished my latest novella, and made friends with Lean Cuisine. Those little 250 cal Lean Cuisines are now about the perfect size for me. Back in the day, I'd have to eat two of them.

I've lost four pounds in the last week. People compliment me all the time. My husband is beside himself with joy. He loves playing with my newly thin fingers and my collar bones and the shoulders he hasn't seen in years.

I've still got 66 pounds to lose, but I know I can do it. I also know the real challenge will come when the weight is finally off, and I have to adjust to maintaining. But I've learned important lessons, and I'm better equipped to deal with my eating addiction.

Gastric bypass is not magic. You still have to have to learn the self-control not to do stupid stuff, and sometimes it's not easy. But I've learned that every time I say no to something self-destructive, I get a little stronger. And that's not a bad lesson to learn.