Tag: Her One and Only

Why Not Love?

At a recent writer’s workshop, we spent a lot of time discussing the topic of what drives a story?  What makes the reader turn the page?  Answer: the character’s goal.  Cinderella wants to go to the ball.   Scarlet O’Hara wants to save Tara.  Lady Mary wants to secure the inheritance of Downton Abbey.  And so the story begins.  Will Cinderella get to the ball?  Can Scarlet save her home?  Will Lady Mary secure the family inheritance, even if it means marrying a solicitor?

Catch the crook, send the murderer to jail, win the war, build the skyscraper.  These are all big, concrete goals on which to build a story.  A  character may fall in love along the way, but the story does not start with that goal.  Even Mrs. Bennet who makes no bones about her desire to find husbands for her daughters, preferably husbands of standing and wealth, never suggests her daughters might fall in love.

In Western Historicals, like I write, the heroine is usually too busy building a home, making a living and keeping herself safe to have much time for looking for love.  Since these are romance novels, the reader knows the heroine will fall in love, but it’s not the driver of the story.  Our heroine might want to win a spelling bee, or sew a quilt or build a house.  Small, concrete, measurable goals.  There may be layers to these goals.  She may want to win the spelling bee in order to get a scholarship, so that she can attend law school, so that she can prosecute slum landlords, because her mother died when a railing  went unrepaired.  In this case, a small personal goal carries  a large, public benefit.  Great story premise.  It could be written as women’s fiction, literary fiction or mystery.  If it is written as a romance,  our heroine better find true love along the way, but we don’t start the story by saying the heroine wants to find love, so she’ll go to law school and, by the way, she has to win the spelling bee first.

The closest I’ve seen is  Maggie Osborne’s Silver Lining.  The heroine is asked what she wants and she answers, “a baby.”  Not a husband, not to fall in love, but a baby.

So, why is the greatest of human emotions,  considered too frivolous to be the driver of a story? Perhaps because that’s the way it is in real life too.  We teach our children to be achievers, to build careers, to be good people, but does a mother ever say to her daughter,  “Never mind all that stuff.  You can fail at school.  You can never have a job.  I don’t care.  Just find your true love.”  No, we train for, practice for and strive for career, money, power, and a nice car.  Love, the most important factor in life, is supposed to be a by-product.

For all that romances are denigrated as formulaic, I believe they are harder to write than other genres.  The writer of a mystery novel can fulfil the premise of the genre by solving the crime.  She may choose to develop sub-plots around a love interest, or a family feud, or saving the environment, but these are subplots, not necessary to the genre expectation.

In a romance, we must find true love for the hero and heroine, but we have to do it as an aside.   The writer of romance needs at least two plots in every book, the external goal and the love story.  The writer of inspirational romance needs three — the initial goal, the love story, and the God story.  Not an easy assignment.

So, what do you think, dear readers?  Have you ever read a book where the heroine’s stated goal is to find true love?  Would you be interested in a heroine who devoted her life to finding a soul-mate?

Please share your thoughts in  the comments below.

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Dogs and Writers

Writing at a coffee shop the other day — one of my favourite activities — I glanced out the window at the collection of dogs tied up outside while their owners were inside.  Without exception, the dogs were worried. How could I tell?  Dogs don’t have the same facial expressions as humans.  They can’t frown or smile as we do, yet I had no trouble reading their emotions.  Right in front of my eyes, was an object lesson on body language.

To indicate their distress, the dogs strained to the end of the leash, eyes fixed on the door through which their particular human had disappeared.  Sometimes they ran in a little circle before resuming the tense pull toward the door.  They shifted their feet.  They glanced over a shoulder, then back to the door.  When a well-meaning passer-by stopped to pat them, they’d give a half-hearted lick to the friendly hand or a single tail-wag, but their concentration never wavered from the door.

When the longed for human finally returned some dogs stood on their hind legs, some shook their heads so vigourously their ears flew out like wings.  Tongues administered doggie kisses everywhere.   Canines ran a happy circle about the owner’s legs.  Tails wagged fast and furious.    Shoulders relaxed, heads up, eyes glued to the human, the dog’s body language told the story of a long (maybe three minutes) wait, a presage of disaster and a final resolution of intense joy.

When I returned to my editing, I kept a sharp eye out for overuse of common body language in my prose.  My characters smile, frown and sometimes run their hands through their hair.  Pretty unimaginative!  As I worked, I considered the lesson from the dogs.  Perhaps my anxious heroine should shift her weight frequently, look toward the object of desire, then away, then back again.  Perhaps my happy hero should sprawl in a chair, relaxed and content while he gazes at the heroine.  Perhaps a child could lean against his mother’s knees in utter joy.

In The Man for Her, I used a dog as a foil for one of the characters and to propel the story at a critical point.  In an early draft of the book, I had the dog get old and sick.  Lottie shot him to end his pain.  I used that scene to show her strength of character.  When a beta reader read it she was horrified.  How could I kill the dog?!!  She loved the dog.  She didn’t care that I wrote fiction.  Save the dog was her vehement advice. In the end, I didn’t kill the dog.  I couldn’t bring myself to inflict that sorrow on my readers.

But sometimes life is cruel.  In that same book I make reference to the Remittance Men, young, well-born, well-educated English gentlemen, who emigrated by the boatload to the colonies of the British Empire.  Between 1875 and 1900, 45,000 of these ‘gentlemen’ came to Canada.  The emigrants were generally younger sons who, for various economic and social causes, suddenly found themselves superfluous  at home.  They eagerly flocked to the Canadian west, convinced they could continue to live the life of an English squire, owning hundreds of acres, a stable full of fine horses, and a pack of dogs.  As a group, these men were ill-suited and ill-prepared for the rigours of earning a living in Canada’s west, where they were expected to do the work themselves and not rely on servants and tenants.  Most of them failed.  Instead of an income from their labour, they relied on an allowance from home.

With some exceptions, the majority  were misfits in a land of hard-working farmers, miners and loggers.  The remittance man, so named for his oft repeated promise to pay his tab “when the remittance comes in,” gained a reputation for running up debts, drinking to excess, and looking down his nose at his “colonial” neighbours.  In short, the term “remittance man” was a label of scorn.

For all the disappointment of their new lives, most of these gentlemen remained true to their ideals of sportsmanship, fair play, public duty and patriotism.  When the call for volunteers came at the start of WWI, remittance men flocked to the recruiting offices, ready to defend the mother country.  In a sad post script to a sad interlude, they had to dispose of their animals before marching off to war.   There is a story of one group of men who arranged with their fellows to lessen the pain.  The last act of a man going off to war, was to ride to his neighbour’s home and, in friendship, shoot the dogs.

Looking at the eager faces of the dogs outside my coffee shop, I can well believe the story.  Even in kindness it would be impossible to draw a gun on your own dog.  Even more unthinkable to abandon it.  For all their faults, I feel a pang of sympathy for the unloved remittance man.

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New Venture

Whew!  I’ve done it.  I’ve got back the rights to my earlier books published by Kensington and have made them available as e-books. “The Man for Her Her One and Only” are now available at Amazon.

This has been another learning experience for me.  Previously I self-published a collection of short stories, “The Man Who Loved Christmas” but in that case I used a pre-made cover. This time I worked with Dawn Charles at Bookgraphics to create entirely new covers for these two books.  I love them.  And what a sense of power getting to make all those decisions.  With a print book, the publisher gives you a cover and that’s it.  Like it or lump it!

Both of these books contain a few extras.  There is an historical tidbit about Remittance Men in The Man for Her  and one about crossing rivers in a basket in Her One and Only.  Each book also contains an excerpt from the other.

I’m thrilled to see these books getting another life in digital form.  I’m very fond of the characters in these stories and was sorry to see them disappear from bookstores.  Now readers around the world have a chance to visit Prospect, British Columbia and come to know Lottie and Sean; Emma and Grey, not to mention the host of supporting characters.

The books are available here.

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