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love is dangerous

Love is dangerous. Love threatens everything we are, threatens to break the world open.

There’s this great two-piece post by thejgatsbykid and Foz Meadows about Kylo Ren as a romantic figure; it suggests teenage girls are reading him as romantic because they’re taught to read abuse as love.

Abusive behaviour isn’t a new topic in the romance community. The first romance-only bookstore in the US doesn’t stock Fifty Shades of Grey because they think it depicts an abusive relationship.

I really liked the post about Ren because for the first time it made me think personally about how I’ve been trained to read romance. I have absolutely experienced what Meadows describes when reading intentionally abusive characters: ‘At times, I’d even feel frustrated that a particular story wasn’t doing what I’d anticipated – why wasn’t the heroine together with that guy? Why had the narrative set them up romantically, then dropped him off the board?’

I read romance first and foremost for an emotional experience. My adult life is so much steadier, emotionally, than my teenage life. I’m more focussed, more sure of where I’m going, who my affection and loyalties lie with, what my faults are. But my god, there is still an ocean of teenage longing in my soul. So: romance. I experience the beautiful, painful warmth of love and brand-new lust, without the chaos of being a teenager. It’s catharsis.

I wrote in my last post that the person having the sexual experience in romance is the reader. I also think it’s the reader who has the romantic experience.

All the discussion around the alphahole that I’ve seen has been about whether he’s abusive and whether it’s anyone’s place to police other readers’ sexual and emotional desires. But what about the alphahole as a literary function? What emotional experience does he give to readers?

Love is dangerous. It has an edge that cuts deep – it’s why it feels like nothing else on earth. The dark and dangerous romantic hero isn’t just a stand-in for a real-life boyfriend: he’s the embodiment of the emotional threat that is love.

Of course there are other ways to evoke the same experience, but when Edward and Bella head into the woods and they know he’ll either kill her or find some control, I didn’t experience that as abusive, I experienced it as true. In the moment of all-out love – not the resolved moment, but the moment when your blood is burning with it – it feels 50/50 that you’ll survive it.

The romance community is criticized all the time for giving readers unrealistic expectations of relationships. Our tired answer? We are grown-assed women who can tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

As one of those teens who absolutely learnt to read dangerous, violent characters as romantic, I don’t feel that ever informed the choices I made in reality. I stayed away from people who made me feel afraid, and was attracted to people I liked.

(Obviously that doesn’t guard against abuse in real life – all I mean is that I wasn’t looking for the patterns of abuse I read in romantic books.)

So I fell for a couple of wonderful people – and that lust and crazed adoration didn’t feel good or kind. It felt dark. It was untrod ground that took me away from my parents and my bright childhood. It stole my breath. It made the world catch on fire. My need to possess that someone made me feel violent.

What the Ren article showed me about myself was troubling, and I hope we keep having these conversations that shed light on our subconscious influences – and on the social assumptions we write into our books.

But I also don’t want to lose sight of romance as literature. We tell stories to reflect the deepest truths about ourselves. A romance hero isn’t a template for a real-life boyfriend – he’s a literary investigation into the emotion of human love.

baby hiatus

Dear regular readers (oh how I have neglected you!), and newcomers (welcome!), and random stumblers-upon-my-blog (also welcome!),

As previously discussed, I’ve been a pretty rubbish blogger this year. I’ll put it behind me, though, if you’ll be generous enough to do the same. Because right now I’m declaring myself on official maternal leave from being an Online Author Presence! I will still be an author, and still dream up worlds with lady-gliders in them (it’s really a thing, I can’t stop thinking about it), but you won’t be hearing from me for a couple of months – possibly even until next year.

If you’ve just come to my blog for the first time and want to read some amazing essays on Romance, may I recommend the guest series I hosted last year. I particularly recommend Cecilia Grant’s passionate defence of romance as a middle finger brandished in the face of existential despair, Scott Pearse’s meditation on masculinity and death, Cath Crowley’s description of moving from one book into the next… Look, just go read them all, okay?

If you’re interested in my Regency romance Untamed, you can find all the buy links on my books page. A print edition will be in Australian and NZ bookstores from 21st August – huzzah! It’s very heavy and pretty-looking, and the pages just beg you to jump right in.

It’s a bit weird to be on the other end of geo-restrictions, and I’m really sorry that readers elsewhere around the globe won’t have easy access to the print edition. You can probably source it online, but you may faint in horror at Australian book prices…

If you want to know more about Untamed – what it was like to write, how I feel about the characters, and the all-important question of who would play Darlington in the film version – here’s an interview I did with my publisher, Carol George:

And here’s me reading a short excerpt from the scene where the hero and heroine first meet:

I’ve been thrilled that so many readers are looking forward to seeing what I write next. I am too! I won’t be writing in earnest again until next year, so the book is still a little way off. But here’s a sketch of my murderous, debt-collecting heroine, if you want a sneak peek of what I’m thinking of writing.

I will be keeping an eye on blog comments, emails and twitter mentions, so if you leave me a message in one of these ways, please don’t feel you’re yelling into a void if you don’t receive a reply. Your message will be heard and appreciated!

In the meantime – happy reading, everyone!

the one about pregnancy

So I am pretty much the worst blogger ever.

Part of the reason for my craptastic blogging is, of course, that launching a book out into the world has taken a surprising amount of brain/heart/creative energy. I was not prepared! Hopefully next time I’ll be amazing and organised. I’ll have all sorts of interesting things to say. Huzzah!

The response to Untamed has been incredible. And it’s been so crazy-varied that Jessica from The Hypeless Romantic actually wrote a review of all the reviews. It’s a pretty good overview, if you’re curious how it’s been received by the wide world.

The main reason, though, is that I’ve spent the last seven months growing a human.

One thing I can say for sure about becoming pregnant (aside from the anti-blogging side effects) is it has made me appreciate that evolution is a genius and a drunk.

There’s nothing like growing a WHOLE NEW HUMAN BEING in your insides to make you consider how crazy it is that we still do this shit. I mean, surely there’s some more sophisticated way to take care of it by now? It’s so weird that my body, which for 30 years has been just me – just the way I get from here to there, just motor control and the naïve messenger of emotion – was capable all this while of turning into the perfect incubator.

Then there’s the fact that the best way to give birth is still through the vagina. Crazy evolution.

But the genius is in the 9 months. That is some evolution I can appreciate. I have been impatient at times, but there’s no question I’ve needed every minute of that time to come to terms with all the feelings and also to buy nappies.

There are so many things I didn’t realise about pregnancy until it happened to me. Some ways that knowledge might affect future books:

1)   Even for women who long to be pregnant, pregnancy can be a terrifying, confronting, ambiguous thing. There’s nothing like facing the reality of becoming a whole new entity to a whole new person to make you consider all those tiny, inconsequential details your biology has been shouting down. Like whether you even actually want a kid.

Pregnancy is the hallmark of Happy Ever After, and when previous heroines show up in other books they’re always glowing. Don’t be surprised if I write a previous heroine who’s sick, belligerent and feeling wholly terrified.

2)   It’s entirely possibly to not even start showing until well into the 20-something weeks. A heroine could conceivably hide an unplanned pregnancy for AGES.

3)   Unless she has horrible morning sickness. Morning sickness really is the worst. I felt car sick for about eight weeks straight, all nauseous in my head. I have absolutely no idea how women maintain 9-5 jobs during the first trimester – and especially how they keep their pregnancy under wraps while doing so.

(This is where the Worst Blogger Ever bit comes in. I couldn’t even hold down a Couple of Hours a Week job.)

4)   You don’t necessarily fall in love right away. Especially if you look at images of the first couple of weeks’ gestation and discover your baby is currently in the form of a ribbon of cells that will eventually become its brain and spinal cord. (For the love of god, don’t do this.)

Even when you do start to fall in love with the hard round bit you can feel through your stomach but not name, and the tiny feet that have discovered your ribs, it’s not a very straightforward kind of love. Suddenly you have twice as much to lose as you did before.

5)   Death is thoroughly unnerving because something that was here is suddenly not here. It’s so simple, and so impossible to grasp. Expecting a baby is like and unlike that. It is unlike, because I can already feel her – I already feel like I know something of who she is, because she squiggles and is still and complains and is content. It is like, because it’s impossible to understand that in two months a whole new person will exist who was not here before.

6)   The only aversions I had were to coffee and the internet. Seriously, the internet. (Again with the Bad Blogger.) The only craving I’ve had has been in the past couple of weeks and that’s for ice. Gah, now I want ice.

7)   Growing huge can be confronting. Paired with pregnancy hormones it can make you think crazy paranoid things. Not that I ever for one second had crazy paranoid thoughts about special k hanging out with less huge, less pregnant women. Oh, no. *shifty eyes* But, you know, a heroine conceivably might.

What portrayals of pregnancy, birth and motherhood make you roll your eyes when you read them or see them on TV/movies?

armour/amour

The very basis of a romance novel is this: Two people have each experienced certain things in their lives. In reaction, they have armed themselves, so that said things never happen to them again. Then love comes along, and it requires that the armour be removed just long enough for their lover to touch a finger to their skin, directly over their beating heart.

It’s a hugely romantic idea – but not unrealistic, I think. Part of loving special k is that I trust him so completely, he’s the one place I can fully set my burdens down and feel the curious tenderness of being exposed, and know that I’m not about to be hurt.

Not that this armour, these defences, are bad. They’re part of what makes people interesting, and unique. But they tend to be terrifying to let down. And, contrary to most romance out there, unless you’ve been through years of therapy, you probably couldn’t articulate exactly what those defences are.

I did a self-development course a couple of years ago, and I came to the realisation that I don’t share myself. So the challenge was to call people who are important to me and share that information with them. See the problem there?

My experience at that moment was not a thought like, “I am being emotionally challenged by the idea of sharing. I can’t do this.” It was a visceral certainty that the world would end as soon as I opened my mouth.

So every time I read a heroine thinking, “My parents died, and then my first husband was an emotionally cold bastard, so as lovely as this man is, I can’t afford to love him,” it rings false.

Much truer to have a character simply experience the world as a place where love can never happen again. And when love begins to happen, it feels like a world breaking.

my marriage thesis

A dear friend I met during my writing course was married this weekend, under a steely, stormy sky. She asked me to say some things about marriage during the ceremony, because she and I have talked extensively about what it takes. And I’ve thought about it a lot, being a romance writer and everything.

This is what I came up with:

  • One of the most wonderful parts of marriage is the comfort and familiarity of it. But as marriage is so often a contradiction, the opposite is also true: marriage can’t flourish without allowing room to be always new and surprising. Because people are always new and surprising. Or, as I once heard it put: Remember – you aren’t marrying yourself.
  • When you’re married, I have found that love can transform from being a fuzzy feeling, to being implacable – a bedrock you can build a life on, that asks for transformation and trust and acceptance, when those things seem impossible.
  • Which is probably why I’ve found that the single most important practice in marriage is kindness.
  • The most confronting part of marriage for myself – and most people, I imagine – is the fact that you’re promising something you don’t know you can fulfil on. But if you were to vow, “I will be with you until it doesn’t work any more,” that wouldn’t be a promise – it would be a statement of fact.
  • When you commit to something beyond what you know you can do, “I will be with you always”, you are calling yourself to be great. You are creating something entirely new, where all the inconsistencies and complexities of marriage become possible.
  • There’s a line from the move Valentine’s Day: “Love is the last shocking act left on the planet.” I agree. Today you two are taking on something shocking – something worth striving for, and worth being great for.

salmon pasta

This is the dish my mother-in-law would make whenever we went round to dinner in Glasgow, because I begged her to. It has become my go-to dish for some very good reasons:

It’s quick, easy, healthy and above all DELICIOUS! (this is sounding a bit like a hokey advertisement, but I can’t help that. It’s all true.)

So given that we have to make dinner for the rest of our lives, here’s the method, in case you run out of inspiration one of these nights.

Ingredients for 2: 200g pasta; 2 capsicums (different colours makes it look nice!); 1/2 Spanish onion; 2 cloves garlic; bunch of parsley; green or red chile (medium heat, or as you like it); nice green olives (I use capers when I can’t get my hands on any, as I do here); large splosh olive oil; large knob butter; smoked salmon fillet (my mother-in-law has the luxury of buying Campbeltown salmon from the local farmer’s market. I have to make do with Coles own brand…).

Start your pasta water boiling then take a sharp knife

(I’m smirking like an eejit, cos the last attempt at this photo made me look like a psycho.)

and slice the onion. Start it cooking in the oil and butter in a pot.

Chop the capsicums (capsici?) and add them.

Let them cook for about ten minutes, till they start going soft, and the whole lot is turning into a yum-looking buttery mess. Add your chopped/minced garlic and continue to cook on a low heat.

If your pasta’s the kind that takes about 12 mins, put it in the pot now (remembering to make your water nice and salty. Then add another teaspoon).

When the pasta’s a minute away from al dente, crumble the salmon into your sauce.

Stir in the salmon and add your chopped chile. If you’re going the capers option, add them here as well. If you’re going with olives, add them after you turn the heat off.

let this lot cook while you drain the pasta, then scoop it on top of the pasta to serve. Sprinkle parsley on top, et voila!

yum factor = a million.

dishes = 1 chopping board, 1 knife, 2 pots, 2 bowls/plates, 2 forks

all the tv shows are doing it, so why can’t I?

oh wait, I can!

I hereby declare a Christmas hiatus. Till Jan or something. I feel the need to write in my journal a bit, which I don’t do when I blog.

All I want for Christmas is some self-knowledge.

Dear Diary,

Why can’t I manage to do my dishes regularly? Any insight appreciated.

Sincerely,

the accidental housewife.

another writing day

I’m not doing very well writing at the moment. Doing slightly better with my dishes – I put my mum on speaker phone tonight, and some family gossip made the process much easier to bear.

I can’t exactly employ the same tactic with writing, but I have been making at least two writing dates a week, and it’s kinda working.

Today, me and Cat had a mega-writing day with ice cream in it. It would have been morning-till-night mega, except that I had to go to choir.

I love choir.

Some really good things from the day:

Going right into Cat’s world-building for a couple of hours, just spinning ideas out, chucking them, building on them, reversing them, is an amazing creative exercise. It put me right back into what’s at the heart of writing – the excitement that a story, and the world of a story, generates.

I don’t tend to do this kind of rigorous thinking, though I’m getting much better at it, now that my characters are getting complicated enough to warrant it. I highly recommend trying it out some time: it’s the kind of creative magic that can only happen between two or more brains. That makes it a bit scary, because the ideas aren’t only in your head anymore, they’re out there for disagreement and transformation.

Cat pointed out that my hero has actually declared his intention to seduce my heroine. I had written that without realising it. It changes everything. Then we also realised that, given the Machiavel he is, he would probably actually be planning to put some other man up to doing it for him.

Which led to the thought that my hero, having had his loneliness taken advantage of by a servant as a kid, has probably never had adult/consensual sex…GASP! (Including the kind when you forget to use a condom.)

Then there was ice cream.