Category Archives: Mine

The Regency: when men were men

One of my favourite historical details about the Regency is that men used to cry in Parliament to express their sensitivity.

But I digress. Earlier this year I entered a whole bunch of the American contests, just to get my MS out there when it still wasn’t quite ready for agent submissions. The scoresheets have been coming back in dribs and drabs and giving me a pretty good cross-section of what reader reactions might be to my novel. A few mornings ago I received this:

Your Hero, and please do not take this the wrong way but use this as constructive criticism.  At points in your story I had to re-read some paragraphs.  Example When the Dukes friends were over after whites it sounded more like a group of women talking to each other call them by pet names.  My impression at that time was that the Duke was bi-sexual, not that I have a problem with that, but this is a Historical Romance Category.  I’m not impressed with his image at all for a Hero.[Note to self: bi-sexuals ok, just not in Historical Romance.]  Although the Duke suffers Panic attacks does not make a man weak.  His character or what I’ve read of it sounds like a weak, selfish and insecure Duke who thinks he is in love with one sister who is not the Heroine.  I would focus on a better Character for this Duke. [So what you're saying is - that Really Average Character I've given him isn't working?] I would not have him thinking he is in love and I would not have him sleeping with a married women who is your Heroines sister.  I would also not have him calling other men pet names.  He needs to be a little tougher like you had him acting at Whites, when the Earl of Benruin confronted him.

You also mentioned in your synopsis how he and Kit your Heroine had sex.  They should be making Love and Sex should be with the other women who shouldn’t be her sister….[I shall have to look into this "making love".]

Confusing once again due to the amount of characters introduced in the first few chapters.  Example all the dandies sounded the same with calling each other by pet names.  Try to maybe have one dandy and one who is Mr. Serious and the other a jokester. [Then the jokester can come out with lines like, "I don't know why they call him Mr Serious. They should call him Mr Seriously Can't Tie A Cravat. Because look at his cravat." Comic gold. I see where you're going with this...] This way your characters will all have a distinctive voice. [If by distinctive you mean hilarious.] Try and match a voice to your Duke.  Make him a man most girls would fall for.  Hansom, tough looking and can melt butter when he entertains the ladies and a mouth that shots bullets when talking with a man.  Distinctive. [Hmm, my husband doesn't really look tough, so I guess that counts against him. But on the upside he's very handsome and does occasionally melt butter while entertaining me. I haven't noticed any bullets shooting from his mouth, but who knows what he gets up to when I'm not around? Manly things, I suspect.]

Okay, so it’s a bit mean to pick this apart – and the truth is that I really appreciate the time and consideration this judge put into reading my entry. Nothing obliged her to read it but her good will and desire to support aspiring authors. And the other truth is that, should this book ever see the light of day, a large chunk of readers are going to react in exactly this way to my hero.

He is not, as the judge went on to say, A Hero.

He’s slight, and effeminate. He calls other men by pet names. He has sex with them. He’s having an affair with my heroine’s sister (though he never is in love with her – I think this judge read love where there is only respect and affection). He’s so clever he tangles himself up in it, and because he has no idea how to express intimacy like a normal human being he tends to be vicious to the people he loves the most. Oh, and he wears a dress – and not only that, he wears the whole persona of a gorgeous, charismatic, powerful Georgian woman.

Actually, her statement about what girls (and here let me say, mine is definitely a novel for women) really like in a man made me feel a bit sheepish, because this happens in my book:

“Wife!”

The single word was violent as a bullet shot through the house…

That’s BenRuin speaking – the cuckolded husband of my heroine’s sister (my hero’s lover. Keeping up?). He is big and tough. He’s handsome. He comes straight from the Alpha mould.

A lot of readers are also confounded by the fact that the book starts in his POV – and through his eyes the reader sees my hero as a frippery. The readers who are confounded by it tend to be the readers who would prefer to read BenRuin’s book.

I did that on purpose. BenRuin is A Hero. Darlington is not.

In a recent podcast, Dan Savage gave this advice to a young bisexual dude: Be confident in your sexuality and the ladies will flock to you to get some of that. (More or less.) I agree. I find the idea of a bisexual man really hot. And I get that some women don’t.

I’ve always known that as a fairly queer book (there’s a tertiary gay romance, too, that’s boiling away in the background) My Lady Untamed won’t be for everyone. But when I only knew that theoretically, I kind of couldn’t imagine how anyone would not just fall for Darlington completely. To me he’s heaven. So it’s great to have proof and be able to put a shape to how some people will read it.

But it also solidifies for me that the kinds of heroes I fall for aren’t what the judge described. And that’s really why I start my novel with BenRuin. He’s the old guard. He’s A Romance Hero. I wanted him to see and dismiss my hero, because my hero is something else.

In the most recent Dear Bitches Smart Authors podcast, Sarah Wendell, Molly O’Keefe and Stephanie Doyle talk about the women who are pushing historical romance to its limits: Cecelia Grant, Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran. They’re writing complex characters and redefining what sex is in romance. They are, without hesitation, the authors I aspire to stand beside.

the mother-daughter sex talk

When my older brother was fourteen and about to go on his first ever date, my parents sat him down and told him some things about respecting girls and always using condoms. The reason I know this is that my sister and I, in the next room, scrambled to the ends of our beds and listened in, trying not to giggle too loud.

Maybe a year or two later we were having a garage sale and my older sister lifted one of the books and hid it in her jumper. When Mum found it, the punishment was this: My sister had to sit and read the whole thing aloud. It was a “how babies are made” book, complete with illustrations.

The illustration of the woman giving birth showed her on her back, and I remember Mum saying, “Well that’s not completely accurate – you can give birth in all kinds of positions such as squatting or on all fours.” Like my sister wasn’t dying of embarrassment.

Mum used to give pre-natal classes and was wonderfully straightforward about those crazy, foreign, dizzying sex-related things.

I understood the mechanics, but until I read the incest-sex in Sleeping Dogs I hadn’t realised sex wasn’t a single act of penetration but something that happened over time. Until the first of my friends saw a real life penis at fifteen and drew the rest of us a diagram, I didn’t realise an erection didn’t stick straight out from the body. (I guess that kind of erection is easier to illustrate for the purposes of where babies come from.)

There were things I didn’t know, but I was happy to discover them slowly over time for myself. I felt prepared enough.

Yesterday I wrote a mother-daughter sex talk into my teen romance, and it ended up turning into a feminist manifesto. This is what I’d want to say to a daughter if I had the guts. It probably doesn’t quite fit into a scene in a light-hearted novel, though.

Did you suffer the sex talk? Did it make a difference? Have you had to give one?

Here’s Lexie suffering though:

Mum sat on the end of the bed, and wouldn’t look Lexie in the eye.

Oh no. Oh no!

Lexie buried her face in the pillow. “Please, please tell me this isn’t a sex talk.”

Mum cleared her throat. “You and Jerome seem serious, love. I don’t think I’d realised just how serious until I saw you together today.”

Well, at least there was irrefutable proof she was a hell of an actress.

“I am eighteen years old,” she groaned. “I know what goes where. Seriously, you don’t have to do this.”

“Trust me, I’m not enjoying it any more than—”

“Then don’t do it. I beg, I implore you.”

“Love, Jerome isn’t like the boys you go to parties with back home.”

No kidding.

“I just need to know you’re prepared.”

Lexie stuffed her face deeper into the pillow, and really wouldn’t have been surprised if her blush turned it red. “This is, like, child torture.”

Mum made an annoyed noise. “I can get Mum up here to give you the lecture instead, if you like.”

Lexie gasped and her head shot up. “You wouldn’t dare.”

Mum just raised an eyebrow and Lexie was forced to give in to her superior tactics. “Okay. Give me the talk. Wait – can you tweet it at me? 140 characters or less?”

Mum rolled her eyes and blushed a bit and looked really awkward again.

The irony was not lost on Lexie. All this trouble, when Jerome was the last man on earth she was actually going to be having sex with.

“Um, condoms,” Mum said. “No matter what a boy – er, a man – ever says to you, no matter how convincing he sounds, you never, ever have sex with him without a condom.”

“Well, duh,” Lexie said, which just proved how embarrassed she was. She was normally much more eloquent.

“I know you think you know about condoms, but, well, sex does actually feel better without one. You’ll probably even want to try it. Don’t. Just – please, don’t. It won’t ever be worth it.”

“Okay,” Lexie mumbled. Maybe if she just went with it, it would be over quicker.

“When you’re in a long-term, committed relationship then you can start thinking about maybe not using condoms.”

Dear God, argh! She was going to kill Jerome for putting her through this for nothing.

“But the most important thing I want to tell you is far less easy.”

Something in Mum’s voice – something serious and finally unembarrassed – made Lexie look at her.

“Lexie, as a woman you’re going to feel like you need to please your partner. Like all the pleasure in sex is about being something that he desires. You’re going to think you have to make certain faces and pull certain poses and that it’s good sex if he wants you. That’s all crap. That’s the kind of sex society has told you to have in a million little ways you can’t even see. The only kind of sex you should be having is the kind that gives you pleasure.”

So, on the up side Mum had remembered about feminism. On the down side Lexie wanted. To. Die.

“And I won’t ever do anything I don’t want to,” she said in a rush. “And I should only have sex if I think he respects me. Yep. Got it. We had Sex Ed in, like, year eight. I think that just about covers it, don’t you?” She gave a giant, panicked yawn. “So, um, I’m really tired. I’ll probably just go to sleep now. I’ve got to be up at 4:30. Goodnight!”

Mum shook her head, but looked relieved, too. “One day you’ll have to do this with your kids,” she said, standing up. “Then you’ll feel sorry for your old mum.”

Lexie had never heard a more convincing reason not to have kids in her life. Good thing her prospects for having sex with anyone were nonexistent.

let her eat cake

So I have been weirdly haphazard about sharing this news, but: I sold my first book! It’s a teen romance that will be published by Hardie Grant next year. I sold it on a pitch, so I’m working away at getting it written now.

Some of the reasons there haven’t been trumpets and confetti are:

1) it’s not a book I’ve spent years slaving and doubting and delighting over (and despairing that anyone will ever think it’s worth buying) so this isn’t the SUDDEN FULFILMENT OF YEARS OF ANXIOUS DREAMS;

2) I’ve been working in a professional way for six months now, so this feels like a continuation of that (not like “because I obviously totally deserve it” – just like, I’m working professionally and here’s some paid work);

3) it’s not in the genre I want to make my career in (historical romance), so it doesn’t feel like launching my career; and

4) “the call” (or in my case “the email-and-meeting”) really does just happen in an everyday sort of way – there are no actual trumpets – so it’s all too easy to just take it in stride.

All that being said – I am incredibly excited. I sometimes just think, “I’m being paid to write fiction!” and the world is a lovely place. No more awkward pause after the “Have you had anything published?” question. Also, Hardie Grant are a wonderful publisher, and the way they view the market and their books falls exactly into line with the kind of stuff I want to write. I’d gotten the impression the age of chivalry towards authors was dead, but my meeting with my editor is proof that it’s not.

And while in my numbered list above I was trying to be as honest as possible about my feelings, and might have come across as a little ungrateful…this is the fulfilment of a lifelong dream. I’m very clear about that.

I even managed to actually celebrate the occasion. Special k took me out for cake and tea, and put these photos directly up on facebook without me realising.

A proud husband is a good thing! (And it means cake.)

The book has no title yet, but it’s about a chick called Lexie who is vain, has impeccable manners and is determined to become an actress. Her family is forced to move to the country before she can finish year 12, and she thinks she’s going to die of anonymity until she finds out a reality show is being filmed about the local golden boy. She’s pretty desperate to get in on the action. Only problem is, the first day she met him she insulted him to his face…