Tag Archives: romance novels

A Winning Trilogy: Sex, Love, and Romance

For anyone who has read the romance genre, the trilogy of love, sex and romance is a given.  While you can have the love and romance without the sex, the sex isn’t going to happen unless the love and romance are included.  How sex is handled is as varied as the types of romance novels on the market and runs a gamut from relatively tame to explicit.  Regardless of whether one is reading a Harlequin Romance or something a bit more intense, the hero and heroine are not hopping in and out of bed with multiple partners, and while he may have a significant amount of expertise in lovemaking, she typically has none or only minimal experience.  Some romance novels follow a formulaic progression of how the couple’s encounters will unfold, but I find this approach – unless the author is really, really skilled – to be boring.  I much prefer novels that track a more realistic progression of a relationship, regardless of how the author chooses to describe the events.

The old school romance writers are masters of the euphemism.  Body parts are given terminology that doesn’t offend (or, in some cases, make any sense when taken out of context), oral sex never happens, and forget any of the more interesting positions contained in the Karma Sutra.  At the other end of the spectrum are more edgy novels that could make a porn star blush.

As a romance writer, there is going to be a certain amount of sex in my novels.  What I sometimes struggle with is how much is too much and whether am I treading too close to the line of erotica or worse.  When I write, I let the context of the story dictate how the sexual side of the story evolves and how explicit the scenes should be.  The other issue I have is how far to depart from the traditional role of the female as having limited sexual knowledge or experience.  The archetype of the innocent heroine doesn’t always play true in novels set during the present time, especially when more modern heroines are in their later 20s, 30s, and even 40s.  It is not at all unusual in today’s society for the female to be as experienced, if not more, than her partner.  So, how does this fit into the traditional parameters of a romance novel?

In my first novel, “A Love Out of Time,” I tried to stay close to the elements of a mainstream romance with respect to the relationship between Alden and Olivia.  Given the different time periods these characters come from, 1877 for Alden and 2006 for Olivia, I gave her a bit more experience than the traditional unmarried single female of the Victorian era.  That said; she could still count the number of sexual partners on one hand and the way I described the scenes was tame enough that I have no issue with friends and family reading the book.  The second novel in this series has gone in a decidedly more edgy direction.  Several of the scenes my husband has read over my shoulder have had him giving me a speculative look, but thus far he hasn’t asked me any questions he doesn’t want to hear the answer to.  Edgy or not, the one element I plan to keep in my writing is, if my hero and heroine aren’t already in a committed relationship, they will be shortly after they get horizontal.

Some friends of mine from high school were teasing me the other day about how it was inevitable that I would end up writing romance.  They reminded me of an incident from high school that landed me in detention for the better part of two weeks and resulted in some highly uncomfortable parental conferences with the school administration.  Two other highly imaginative friends and I had decided around Valentine’s Day to write racy love letters for our classmates to give to their boyfriends.  (To give the context, we were attending a Catholic girl’s school run by nuns.  The boy’s school was a block away and run by Benedictine priests.)  Needless to say, the letters were a hit and we were making a fair amount of lunch money off of them.  Then the letters came to the attention of the headmistress, a nun with no sense of humor who would have been quite at home in the court of Queen Victoria.  It was only a matter of time before someone gave us up to the “inquisition,” but fate served me up as the sole author when a partially written letter slipped out of the pile of papers in my locker as the headmistress walked past.  Sometimes I have the world’s worst luck and this was one of those times.

In any event, I guess you could say I learned early that sex, love, and romance is a winning combination for a writer.

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead reviews books for Crystal Reviews (www.crystalreviews.com) and writes paranormal romance. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.


Filed under books, life, Mairead Wapole, writing

In Praise of Romance

Can a man write a romance novel?

I remember one of my college English professors talking of wanting to “pick up a little spare change” as a graduate student.  He decided to write short stories using a female pseudonym and submit them to women’s magazines (this was back in the early 60’s, when magazines published a lot more short fiction).  His comeuppance was almost immediate: several editors sent him personal rejection letters, telling him to stop trying to write as a woman.

His words came back to me in the summer of 2007 while I was competing in the Gather.com romance novel contest.  The first chapter of my novel Lacey Took a Holiday was getting a lot of kind feedback, much of it from other authors and almost all of them women.  Then Starr Toth, the fine romance author whose story Lie to Me took second place in the contest, read and commented on my entry: “This feels like a mainstream novel with romantic elements, rather than a straight romance.”  Busted!  Starr had figured out in one brief chapter that the book wasn’t a “true” romance.  “Oh, she’s just prejudiced because I’m a guy,” I thought.  This was just an insidious prejudice against men writing romances, I assured myself,.

I have to say that a lot of people liked Lacey, including the Second Wind Publishing people, and I guess the book had enough good stuff in it to make it into print (although I still get comments that the book is not really a romance).  The great thing about the Gather contest and being published along with other romance authors is that I have been give the opportunity to learn a lot about romance—books, I mean.  In fact, I think I’m on firm footing when I say I’ve learned things about romance novels that most guys never understand.  So here are some of the really important things I’ve learned about romance novels:

Fine romance novels are quality works of literature.  Well-written romance is the prose equivalent of fine poetry.  Face it, Jane Austen was a romance author.  If she were living today, some dippy reviewer would be criticizing her for trying to make social commentary in romance novels.  For sheer descriptive power and lyrical beauty that simultaneously deals with the consequences of human actions, you owe it to yourself to read Dellani Oakes captivating Indian Summer or Sherrie Hansen’s poignant Night and Day.  Oakes story deals with Florida in the 18th century, while Hansen’s is a post-modern story of a love affair that starts on the internet—but the social consciousness is a gripping element in each.

In ways other fiction genres cannot match, well-written romance captures and suborns a setting and makes it a compelling servant of the story being told.  How I wish more people would read Juliet Waldron’s magnificent Hand Me Down BrideIt captures precisely what rural life was like in the days immediately following the Civil War (and her characterizations are perfect).  Suzette Vaughn does double duty in her Badeaux Knights.  She depicts small town, Generation X life along the sleepy Gulf Coast, while giving a wonderfully detailed account of Renaissance enactors.  Stormy Weather, Sherrie Hansen’s heartland romance, absolutely captures the essence of a Midwestern small town—gossip and all.

Romance has a unique ability to make the supernatural and the spiritual plausible and accessible.  It’s probably impossible to find two more disparate examples of this than Amy De Trempe’s Loving Lydia and Mairead Walpole’s A Love Out of Time.  De Trempe blends 17th century Catholicism and passionate human love into a tale that is as full of aching and longing as it is of faith.  Walpole takes an equally ancient set of religious beliefs—that are also startlingly contemporary—and twines them into a marvelously intricate story of lovers and a group of sisters who are, well, more than human.  The charming, devilish romance Nora’s Soul, by Margay Leah Justice, manages to spin two tales simultaneously: while a beautiful human couple find themselves drawn inexorably back to their childhood love, a pair of angels vie for a young woman’s soul.  Janette Rochelle Lewie and Suzette Vaughn in very different ways take on the pantheon of the ancient gods.  Lewie skillfully unpacks an ancient myth in a steamy, modern way in Sonya Recovered.  Vaughn, in Mortals, Gods and a Muse, does a magnificent job of demonstrating for modern readers the ancient conceit of what happens when the gods start messing with your love life.

A well-written romance can be every bit as thrilling and suspenseful as the best crime novel—and a lot more emotive.  Safe Harbor, Sherilyn Winrose’s first novel, is a tremendously intense, breathtaking roller coaster that just incidentally is really all about a sweet, compelling love story of a young woman and man trying to right wrongs.  Life and death, virtue and vice, love and deceit all hang in the balance in both of Claire Collins first two novels—that in truth are remarkably distinct.  In Fate and Destiny—a Gather contest semi-finalist—Collins wows readers with a tale at turns frightening, heart-warming and hilarious.  Her second novel, Images of Betrayal, seems to be a paranormal thriller, yet turns on profound psychological insights, all the while describing pure first love.

The truest, grandest form of romance novels, the regency, is among the most exacting and rewarding types of literature.  Back in the days of my ignorance, I referred to these as “lords and ladies books.”  I had no idea the level of historical and geographical knowledge it takes to write these novels.  I had mentioned Amy De Trempe above and I should note that, like Loving Lydia, her second regency title, Pure is the Heart, is seamless in its accuracy—and delightful in the poignant story it tells.  Tart, funny and ultimately joyful is the best way to describe Lucy Balch’s romp of a regency novel Love Trumps Logic (and, brother, she’s right about that!).  Then there is Jerrica Knight-Catania’s first offering, a tender novel of justice and duty (here we are back at Jane Austen again) called A Gentleman Never Tells.

How very distinct from one another these titles are.  Indeed about the only thing they have in common is that they were all written by outstanding women authors.  It’s more than a little ironic that my first published novel falls into the genre of romance.  At least my romance colleagues at Second Wind are kind and accepting.  Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to try a second romance novel—just to prove that a man can do it.  —Lazarus Barnhill, author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People

Check out the Second Wind Romance Sampler. It includes the first chapters of all these romances, and it’s free! Click here: to get your free download.


Filed under books, fiction, Lazarus Barnhill, life, writing

Day in the Life Method of Writing Historical Novels

One of the things that bothers me about many historical novels I begin to read is that they aren’t.

Plain and simple, if you check a couple of histories and a costume book or two, and you have some talent in story-spinning, you can, perhaps, write convincingly about a love affair in fancy dress. The fact is, however, you won’t come anywhere close to writing a genuine historical novel, and you’ve probably made a hundred mistakes in detail that tick off people who picked up your book because they “love that period.”

Writing “Mozart’s Wife” took years, as I’d set out to reconstruct the life and experiences of a real person, one married to a famous man. As soon as you say the word “Mozart,” you raise expectations. People know a lot about the life of this cultural hero, although, in the way of things “Her Story” has pretty much vanished. I had my work cut out if I wanted to give the story credibility for both history and classical music loving readers.

Most writers in the historical field aren’t going to be working on a semi-biographical novel. Many are working on the ever-popular historical romance, where the relationship of the hero and heroine is the whole ball of wax. Even in romance, however, a writer ought to be able to paint broad brush strokes of period. If you learn to do that, you can give your reader what IMHO is supreme thrill—a time travel experience.

Note that I use this phrase. I believe it sums up the reason people read historicals in the first place—not only for simple escape, but to summon the experience of a long lost world, to breathe another kind of air, to imagine yourself with another set of opportunities—or strictures. The ability to do this can take a reader out of the daily grind, and off to an astonishing Somewhere Else. Life in a medieval city would be as strange to us as any S/F journey to another planet or dimension.

First, the writer of historicals has to do some old fashioned research:

This includes library, Internet, and utilizing the popular Search Engines. A lot can be learned by lurking on historical specialty lists that you can find and join at Yahoo, etc. The best way to go is to read–a lot of history!

Primary source is best. This means letters, diaries, newspapers, novels, sales material, and so on from your chosen period. However, you aren’t in the business of reproducing the language of the period. Fact is, you won’t have many readers if you do, because most people don’t have the time/patience these days to follow the elliptical writing styles of our ancestors. Still, the sound and phrasing of those long-dead voices will begin to reverberate in your mind. Simply by osmosis, you’ll slowly begin to get a feel for the sort of dialogue that is accessible to the modern reader but doesn’t sound inappropriate (or just plain silly) coming out the mouth of your historical characters.

Other sources of inspiration and information for writers:

Try finding music in your period. Find out what they danced. Read the words of songs. As we know, popular music can tell you a great deal about wishes and aspirations. If your characters are upper class Victorians, living in NYC, there would have been opera, plays, charitable organizations to fill their time. Socializing took place on a grand but highly regimented scale. Working on my Mozart story, I had a wonderful time immersing myself in his music. These operas are not only beautiful, but also a treasure trove of information on the manners and morals of the late 18th Century. In dramatic form, you can observe the rules governing interaction between social classes, as well as the many rules governing the relations between the sexes.

Attention to detail is the new mantra—even in Hollywood. This can be achieved by devoting a day (and some paper) to a simple exercise. This will swiftly show you what you know, what you don’t know—and what needs to further study. It will also tell you something about your necessary cast of bit players.

Get up in the morning—there you are, bed, bathroom, kitchen. Maybe you also have pets, kids, a husband. Get your imagination going. Imagine a helmet or a suit of mail on hubby. It’ll help. Engage your senses. Sight, hearing, touch, and please don’t forget your sense of smell.

Take these one by one—keeping in mind your chosen time period.

Bed—What’s on it–and what’s in it? Getting dressed in the morning—“pants first, then shoes…” clothing, shoes.

Bathroom—is there such a thing? And if so, where does the water come from? Is it hot? How is the room heated? Plumbed? Do you get a bath every day or is this simply impossible given the standard of living?

Kitchen—who works there? You? Servants?

Servants are a problem to imagine for most modern folks, unless they are sufficiently well off to employ some and have first-hand experience. Do these servants live in the house w/your heroine? Who are they? If they were real, you’d be rubbing up against them all the time, and so would know a lot about their personal lives and idiosyncrasies.

Breakfast—this meal hasn’t always been the same. What would your characters be breakfasting upon? An Irish cottager eats quite differently from an English Regency Lord—or a Viking. Where did this food come from? Do hawkers bring it to the door? Do you buy it in a shop? Do you raise it yourself? How is it cooked—and with what fuel? Wood burning in the kitchen produces odor and soot, as well as that nice cheery flame. Have we got forks yet? China dishes or gourds or wooden trenchers?
And so on, through the day—at work, or at home.

Transportation, vehicles, draft animals, and who takes care of them?

Streets—what do they look like/smell? Smell looms large in our world today, but even larger 500 years ago, when you might have spent the winter sheltering your precious cattle in the house.

Work–and who goes to it. What you fill your day with if you are among the “leisured” class. What does your hero/heroine do to put clothes on their back and food on the table?  

Occupations suitable for men and for women—manners and morals varied widely between social classes—

Pastimes and pleasures.  One thing which jerks me right out of ANY story–and I often run into it–is “tea drinking” during periods when there was NO tea yet in Europe. Or potatoes. Or chocolate.  (Bummer!)    

Religious practices—this did and does still take up time during the day for many people. Are your characters devout/religious/spiritual?

And on and on: Housing, Clothing, skills, apprenticeships, spinning, weaving, raising animals, “Crafts,”Children, Pets…

 I am not saying all this is absolutely necessary in preparation, but you should hold these in mind as you begin to write. A word of warning if you take this path, you’re going to have work ahead of you, and you will definitely be taking time out from “hitting those keys” to research details you want to include or events you stumble over in the process of plotting. Things change; things remain the same, but just remember, it’s the “Reality Show” which convinces and engages that gets the big ratings.

 Juliet Waldron



Filed under writing