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NOT-SO-GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Today's guest is the author Lee Rowan, well known for her fascinating historical Royal Navy Series and many other books and stories, including a delightful short in the I Do anthology last year, and a forthcoming story in its eagerly awaited follow-up volume, to be released in February 2010.



Excerpt from her Blurb (more at her website): The stories I write are usually--not always--about two men, which may seem odd subject matter for a woman who's married to another woman. But I write the sort of stories I want to read. While many girls were dreaming of wedding dresses and wondering what they'd name their children, I was dreaming of running away to sea or riding across the prairie, and wondering what I'd name my horse. I was intrigued by how people lived before cars, TV, modern medicine, and excited by stories of adventure.
Love, honor, courage... those aren't male qualities or female qualities. They're the very best human qualities, and I think we all have the capacity to experience them, no matter how different we may be when it comes to sex, age, color, or any of the other tiny subcategories. We are all human, and we all have dreams.
I'd like to share some of mine, and so I write.




Her post queries the expectations placed - or potentially placed - on an author, and discusses the joys and surprises of inspiration.
N.B. all the pic choices are mine :).



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I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, ever since I received a letter asking what sort of books I was writing. It was from a reader looking for a safe read, asking whether I was going to meet her expectations. Now, given the cost of books I can understand her not wanting to buy something that she wasn't going to like—but she wasn't just asking about the books I've written; she wanted to know whether I was ever going to write a threesome, or a ménage.

EVER? How would I know? Fifteen years ago, I would not have thought I'd ever write m/m!



I don't know about anyone else, but for someone to indicate that I had better not do something is about the best way I can think of to make me think about doing it. And asking a writer whether she is ever going to explore any particular idea, with the implication of 'if you might ever write a threesome, I don't want to read any of your books…' I'm sorry, that just doesn't make sense to me. Sometimes a new idea is uncomfortable, sometimes it just doesn't work—but sometimes a new idea gives a new insight and makes the reader's world a more interesting place.

It's also possible to like some of a writer's books and not others. I like Heyer's Regency romances, but find her mysteries incredibly tedious. Should I therefore pitch The Foundling out the window? I'd be the only loser.

I've thought about what I wrote back to this reader, and here are my thoughts on the issue:

I'm a big fan of happy endings, though I think 'happy' in real life doesn't mean unalloyed bliss 24/7; anybody that happy is either on drugs or in another reality. I don't see myself ever actively considering polyamory, either—I think that making an authentic relationship work, establishing real intimacy with one other person, is about as much as one can hope to accomplish. I do have a friend who's been in a group marriage for almost 30 years, but while that's fine for her, it isn't what I think of as 'happily ever after.' And I certainly don't think a gay couple needs a woman to "complete" them, any more than my wife and I would need a man. We're two complete human beings already, and love is a matter of the heart and mind, not the wedding tackle. I don't think that multiple bodies in a bed automatically make for a better, hotter, or more interesting story, though it could be a fun fantasy and there's no harm in it. Most of my heroes (and heroines, I do write some het romance) reflect my own attitudes, and my stories will usually run along those lines.



But, realistically, a reader has to understand that it is impossible for a writer to guarantee that no, she will never, ever write any particular situation. It's like demanding that a cook who seldom uses oregano promise that she will never use that ingredient. That would make for some mighty dull spaghetti sauce. One big no-no of the Romance genre is for either partner to have sex with someone else after s/he has fallen in love with the One True Partner. If I'd followed that rule, Ransom would never have worked as a story. It's an unusual situation… but it still breaks that rule, at least technically.

Sometimes breaking rules makes a better story. One of the most memorable episodes of MASH, the one that made me aware of some of my own blind spots, was the one where BJ Hunnicutt, a good man, devoted husband, and adoring father, let his healer's compassion tip him over the edge while comforting an old friend who had received a "Dear Jane" letter. He slipped, he fell—and he grew from the lesson.

Up to that point, I'd been of the "dump the cheating bastard, no excuses!" mindset. That story showed me how a basically good person could make such a mistake—BJ was exactly the sort of man I'd have been happy to marry, and had I been his wife, I would never have divorced him on the basis of that one slip. That's not to say that guys who cheat, deliberately and repeatedly, are worth hanging on to, only that there can be extenuating circumstances. I'm monogamous myself—I can get all the vicarious variety I want from reading and writing—but if my wife were to be in a similar situation…? I know her. I trust her. And if a rare circumstance were such that she could help ease a good friend's pain by sharing intimacy… no, that would not injure me, or take anything away from what we have, because I know it would have to be an extraordinary situation and not likely to become an ongoing difficulty. Actually, I don't think she'd ever do it; we're both more likely to offer a crying shoulder and a cup of tea. But love is not a garotte. Absolute control is, to me, to me, the antithesis of love and trust.



I personally think three humans to a bed is one too many. And yet … there are writers whose work I admire and enjoy, such as Spider Robinson, who write very moving and convincing stories about people who can and do physically love more than one person at a time. Two-partner monogamy is not, after all, the only functional pattern for a love relationship -- it's simply the one we are most familiar with.

Setting absolute demands makes me uneasy, no matter what the specifics may be. I don't see a lot of difference between the readers who demand that a Real Romance is One Man and One Woman from Courtship to Marriage till Death Do Them Part and those who demand that an M/M couple must be totally monogamous, without either ever making a mistake, must be together 4-e-vah… Yes, that's preferable. Great, if it happens. But not inevitable.

This insistence on formula reminds me of a fanfic list I was in some years ago, where in order to "protect" everyone, some of the moderators decided to tell writers the specific language they had to use to request feedback and the specific language readers had to use to give it. I warned them that wouldn't work, and was dumped as a moderator for not parroting the party line. But it didn't work. It couldn't work. Rigidity destroys creativity. The list was moribund within months of the rules being imposed. Nobody wanted to say anything, for fear of breaking The Rules. The Rules had become more important than the stories.

Same-sex romance, by its very nature, defies formula. Yes, a mystery requires a solution, science-fiction (real SF) requires extrapolation on known reality based on what we know and what we think might be, and a romance requires a happy ending. But just as my happy marriage is somewhat different from my het sister's, one character's happy ending might be slightly different from another's.



I think it is very likely that I will have at least one hero, somewhere along the line, enter a marriage of convenience. Not for Teh Sexay, not because ménage is apparently a current hot seller—but because, in the era in which most of my stories are set, any man of a certain class who was not married was considered an oddity, and marriage created safety. For me, a realistic happy ending is more important than following a formula. However... that does not necessarily mean menage or even unfaithfulness; it means that the hero trusts a woman with his secret and she is content to accept his name and protection without the expectation of a sexual relationship, or even with limited sexual contact solely intended to give them a child. In the era before birth control, before women's rights, even before turkey basters ... that is not as improbable as it might sound.

I might even write an Alternate Universe vignette where two of my characters share a bit of affection with another character. In fact, I probably will, just out of sheer cussedness. You can do anything with a good AU without affecting the main storyline in the least--bless whatever physicist came up with the idea.

Now, I'm kind of on the fence here. As a writer I don't want to be told what I can do, but as a reader I don't like an unpleasant shock any more than anyone else. Yes, of course I have often been disappointed when a storyline went in a direction I didn't like. It's kind of a given that if I like a TV character, s/he will die before the series ends. I remember one weird year where three mystery series I was reading gunned down the heroines' steady boyfriends … and only one survived. Why, I don't know. Maybe some publisher decided that a woman with a stable relationship wasn't interesting enough. Maybe each author thought she was being daring, that risking life and limb wasn't enough angst when the heroine had a manly shoulder to cry on. Who knows? I stopped reading two of the series because I thought it was weak writing and I was weary of desperate, lovelorn detectives. I think it's far more challenging, and realistic, to write the ups and downs of a continuing relationship than to have the romance-of-the-week who conveniently disappears before the next adventure. Whether or not I would keep reading or watching a creator's work would depend on whether the writer was substituting a body count for an interesting story. I've stopped watching Torchwood for just that reason… you can only kill off so much of an ensemble before there's nothing left.



But… sometimes it is appropriate or necessary to kill off a character. I've had to do it with minor ones a few times, though my primary characters have a remarkable combination of good genes and uncanny luck. (Will and Davy are definitely going to have long, happy lives because I don't kill off my favorites.) I won't write stuff that turns my own stomach—no abuse of animals to show how bad a baddie is, no rape-is-fun, no sexual abuse of kids… but when it comes to the possibilities of human relationships, I cannot and will not limit myself to writing one particular formula for the rest of my life.

And, honestly— What sensible writer would? Writing is about exploring the "what if?" When you start locking down your imagination, the stories suffer. Creativity is a lot like a butterfly. It changes and evolves… and if you put it in a jar and screw down the lid, it will suffocate and die.

~~Lee Rowan~~


No menages in my current books, listed at My Website or the GLBT Wiki.
You can click on the Sail Away title at the wiki for a free short story that will be in the anthology when it's re-released.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

AND JUST FOR FUN...!!

Today's Quote:
"A New Year's resolution is something that goes in one year and out the other."

Today's Daft Google Searches for 'Clare London':
"Clare Tough | 5'5 Girl In A 5'10 World" So, so true...:)




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Follow this month with Clare (look at the goodies so far...):

Jan 08 : Jessewave shares her love of bright, shiny guys but wonders - tongue in cheek - where the less shiny ones are!
Jan 09 : Anne Cain shares her books and some of her fabulous art - and also encourages us to show and tell!
Jan 10 : My latest release Upwardly Mobile is out at Amber Quill today.



Jan 01 : The New Year is ushered in with the release of the Immortal Fire anthology IN PRINT.
Jan 02 : author Chrissy Munder wonders whether following current affairs in our writing is delightful or just dates us.
Jan 03 : author Madeleine Urban describes how her characters hijacked her brain...a willing victim!
Jan 04 : author Theda Black describes how her writing has been influenced by everything from a bionic penis to the power of Pan.
Jan 05 : author Josh Lanyon shares some exceedingly good books with us and asks about *your* recent reads.
Jan 06 : author K. Z. Snow questions what all the fuss is about authors 'making shit up'.
Jan 07 : Josie aka 1more_sickpuppy compares her life and friends online and off.


Want to grab a day to pimp, pose or pontificate? Email me at clarelondon11 @ hotmail.com and I'll happily find you a space ♥

NOTE: pictures credited where known, others may be used without direct permission, please contact me with any queries/concerns.

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Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
becky_black
Jan. 11th, 2010 11:10 am (UTC)
Fascinating read!

Never say never is definitely a good guideline. I've never even read a menage story (well not on purpose!) and until recently couldn't really imagine myself writing one. Then a few weeks ago BAM! Menage bunny attack! I can't say for sure I'll ever get around to writing it. But the idea is there, so it's obviously not inconvceivable to me.
lee_rowan
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
The funny thing about all this was that I don't really believe polyamory works very well for most people. But realistically, most gay men aren't monogamous when they're young and randy (neither are most het men, come to that). Folks jumped on Alex Beecroft and Erastes for writing romances where the guys had other affairs (False Colors and Transgressions) but I thought that (while some of the characters' mistakes made me wince) the situations were more believable than characters with a psychological chastity belt. (Though one of my own characters, Will Marshall, does have that quirk. He's a minister's son, has always been 'gay for you' about Davy, though he wouldn't express it that way, and when he found another man attractive it scared the hell out of him.
becky_black
Jan. 11th, 2010 08:20 pm (UTC)
I suppose the key thing is "most people" as opposed to "these individual people that I'm writing about now." It's like the difference between statistics and actual reality.
lee_rowan
Jan. 11th, 2010 09:07 pm (UTC)
Almost any scenario can be believable if the writer can believe it and bring the reader along. And, as I said, I do know one group family that's now well into planning for retirement. But most of the 'menage' I've seen appears to be more a straight-girl fantasy, as much of the m/f/f is really a guy who wants two women. (I know a guy who had that arrangement. He was exhausted, and the dynamic mostly worked out to F/F/m-sleeping-in-the-guest-bedroom.) Most of my protagonsts are, like me, happy to have one partner who means the world to them.
jordan_c_price
Jan. 11th, 2010 01:31 pm (UTC)
"I don't know about anyone else, but for someone to indicate that I had better not do something is about the best way I can think of to make me think about doing it."

Hi Lee! This statement fits me to a T.

It seems to me that writing is all about having choice: an author can decide where her plot will go, how her characters will act, and which words she will use to tell her story. To take away some of those choices, even for myself, sends the creative aspect of my personality into a petulant fit.

On one hand, I think it's great that the Internet has brought readers and writers so close that readers can communicate things to writers like "will you ever write a menage? Because, if so, I don't want to even start reading your work."

However, the author can then preserve her future choices by saying, "I honestly don't know, so if you want to be safe I'd recommend you stay well clear of me. Thanks for writing! Have a safe day!"

Thanks for this thought-provoking post.
lee_rowan
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:31 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's pretty much what I did say. I'm very ambivalent about the whole notion of readers telling writers what to write, though. The person who's actually doing the work and writing the story gets to decide what happens. And that can be a good thing in the long run--I'll bet a lot of us who began in fanfic started writing because we didn't like the way the story was going.)
cdn_tam
Jan. 11th, 2010 02:24 pm (UTC)
Weirdness
The reader, not you. They seriously were warning you that if you planned to do something in the future they would not buy your book now? That's just twisted, and wacky. I assume it's some kind of moral thing, if you write about something they don't agree with then you are not morally to their standards in any way therefore shunable. Niiiice.

I personally like menage stories (I mean relationships, not a threesome for fun) that are m/m/m, no f's involved but it's a personal choice. Are they realistic? Not sure, I don't personally know of anyone who is in a relationship like that and whether it's working well. I know it's not for me personally. However, if I didn't like those stories I certainly wouldn't stop reading an author I enjoyed because they wrote one or two. And yeah, for most people from ages 2 - 92, if you say "don't do X" it turns out to be the thing you want to do most ever in the whole wide world. Human brains seem to be wired that way.
lee_rowan
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Weirdness
Well, it was a case of she'd read a m/m couple that turned into menage and it spoiled the storyline for her. I appreciate her honesty, but... I'd basically just stop reading the series and leave it at whatever book I'd last enjoyed.

When it comes to 'don't do that,' if there's a good reason for the prohibition(Iodine is poisonous, don't use it to tint your lemonade), I have no problem with it. But there has to be some logical reason.
thought_ribbons
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:15 pm (UTC)
*stands up clapping* YAY!!!! I feel the same way about a lot of what you said!!!

Don't limit me-ever *nods*, or maybe you should because it makes me mad and do my best stuff when i'm mad!

Thanks for that Now i'm going to have to add you to my ever growing list of books I need to buy (not that i'm complaining!!)

Oh and you can always join the very growing Torchwood fanbase that says "Season Three... What Season Three?"
lee_rowan
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:19 pm (UTC)
As far as I'm concerned, everything on TW after the "Adam" episode is part of Adam's parasitic projection. Zombie Owen, Jack's sibling rivalry catastrophe, all of it. If I had the time to fic it, I'd write the real awakening.
thought_ribbons
Jan. 11th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
Hmmm interesting idea...

That would make a lot of people happy...

although I did hear a tasty rumor that Owen is coming back (in S. 4 which is really S.3)
kz_snow
Jan. 11th, 2010 03:50 pm (UTC)
Fabulous post, Lee. I have nothing to add; you've said it all and said it eloquently. Thank you!
lee_rowan
Jan. 11th, 2010 05:32 pm (UTC)
Thanks!
lee_rowan
Jan. 11th, 2010 06:13 pm (UTC)
Hi, Clare!

You really did have fun with the pictures, didn't you? 8-)
clarelondon
Jan. 12th, 2010 09:06 am (UTC)
*lol*
I just can't leave good text alone, can I?! I admit I do like some pics to accompany the entries - and thanks for letting me loose with them. Hope nothing offended! :)
lee_rowan
Jan. 12th, 2010 03:16 pm (UTC)
Well, nothing offended me--I thought they were a hoot. Thanks for the blogspace, and happy birthday!
clarelondon
Jan. 12th, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks! :)
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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