Seven things Pretty Woman taught us about the romance genre… despite how much we hated it

prettwomanErin and I resolutely did not start this thing where we watch romantic comedies to try to get a better understanding of our genre to skewer or make fun of movies.  While things about Bridget Jones’s Diary didn’t work for us, that film was an exercise in glorious perfection compared to Pretty Woman.

To be blunt.  We hated Pretty Woman. A lot. (Also we both love silver foxes and still don’t get the Richard Gere thing).

We disliked Pretty Woman not just for reasons of politics, feminism, and realism (I’m a former sex worker, odds were this movie was going to fall down for me fast).  We also weren’t sold on the characters; felt that the story started too early; and that the b-plot, while eventually useful, involved a lot of boring stuff.

There were things we liked.  The hotel manager character was compelling in his treatment of Vivian. (Why couldn’t he have been our hero?) We thought the inclusion of safer sex was great. And now at least we know where the ubiquitous billionaire trope originated. Hint: Not E. L. James.

So despite our strong negative feelings, here are seven things we learned about this genre from Pretty Woman:

1. Safer sex.  It exists.  And you can write it. And you can write it in a way than is more interesting than an obligatory sentence about a condom existing. It can be a character moment.

2. Sex can be awkward and silly and sweet, and that can work.  See the bathtub scene. Real people are awkward and it makes them easier to connect to.  Sometimes, that can even be hot.

3. Let characters’ backstories unfurl.  You don’t need to tell us everything at once.

4. Everyone loves a transformation. Too bad Pretty Woman treats the heroine like a feral child.

5. Everyone loves an underdog.

6. Romances are about being chosen.  Reading romance is about gaining access not just to those physical and emotional feelings but to the world they take place in.

7. The class and social experience differences that can be difficult in actual relationships are a real turn on to lots of readers in fiction.  But it’s a fine line between writing that in a way that’s compelling and lovely and writing that in a way that’s just offensive and peculiar.

We haven’t decided what our next movie will be.  But we hope it doesn’t go as badly as this!

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RainbowCon: Come Meet Us in Tampa!

RainbowConIn less than one month, Erin and I will be in Tampa for RainbowCon running from Thursday July 16 – Sunday July 19th. We’ll be in the dealers room with paperbacks of Starling, DovesPhoenixBest Gay Romance 2015, Bitten by Moonlight, and possibly some non-fiction pop-culture books I have essays in (it really depends on the logistics of book stock and airplanes which is a little intense).

We’ll also be on the following panels:

Thursday, 2pm: Collaborations in Writing (Erin)
Thursday, 3pm: LGBTQ on Stage (Racheline)
Thursday, 4pm: Author Reading (Erin)

Friday, 1pm: Author Reading (Racheline)
Friday, 1pm: Crossing Genres in Fiction (Erin)
Friday, 3pm: Writing Bad Guys (Racheline)
Friday, 10pm: Naughty Bedtime Stories Reading (Racheline)

Saturday, 11am: Author signing (Racheline)
Saturday, 4pm: Author signing (Erin)
Saturday, 5pm: Making Safe Sex Sexy (Racheline)
Saturday, 10pm: Naughty Bedtime Stories Reading (Erin)

The dealers room will be open from and you’ll be able to find one or both of us (or one of our partners who are also along for the ride) there during these times:
Thursday: 1:00pm – 6:00pm
Friday: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am – 6:00pm
Sunday: 10:00am – 4:00 pm

To attend RainbowCon panels and readings you have to register for the con.  Both full weekend and one-day passes are available.  The dealers room, however, is open to the public, so feel free to drop by if you’re in the area!

If you’ve got specific passages you’d like us to read, or specific issues you’d like us to tackle on our panels, or you’re just around and want to grab a coffee, give us a shout!

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Poll – what should the two queer chicks watch/subject themselves to next?

So over the last two days Racheline and I watched Bridget Jones’s Diary and Love, Actually. We had way too much fun in the process, and while we (tragically) can’t watch a rom com every night, we are planning to make this a regular feature. Thanks to y’all, and everyone on Twitter and Facebook, we now have a to-watch list that’s 60 movies long and growing. So:

1) Help it grow! Got suggestions? Or just want to watch us freak out about something? Drop it in the comments. Or on Twitter. Anywhere really.

2) Help us pick! We took 6 movies off the list at (somewhat) random and put them in the poll below. We won’t promise that the winner is the movie we’re definitely going to watch next, but we will takes votes into account when next we’re putting off edits and scrolling through Netflix.

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11 things Love Actually taught us about the romance genre (or, romance can be kind of creepy, but you can mitigate that with cute kids and adorable dogs)

loveLove Actually is one of my favorite movies, although until tonight I hadn’t seen it in years; Erin, meanwhile, had never seen it before.  So we decided to tackle it much like we tackled Bridget Jones’s Diary yesterday (are we procrastinating other tasks? Maybe). So what did this jigsaw puzzle of a film teach us about the romance genre?

1. If you write something filled with pop-culture references, it will get dated. That’s actually okay.

Love Actually  is intensely a testament to the moment it was made.  We open with a 9/11 reference and then we’re bombarded with the awkward of cell phones and national leaders with sex lives you might actually care about.  But over a decade after it was made, the film is still satisfying, and some of the dated stuff adds to its charm.  This thing where writers update their contemporary novels to keep them current — well, Love Actually makes us question how necessary that is.

2. Just because your story has more diversity than the average story, doesn’t mean it’s diverse enough.

London isn’t that white (and, for that matter, neither is Marseilles — but we’ll come back to that).  And while the film could have been less diverse, it really, really needed to be more diverse.  Not for any political agenda, but because sad white people aren’t actually that interesting.

Also, while it was super cool that Liam Neeson’s character doesn’t assume the gender of the person his kid is in love with, the film completely lacks for any LGBTQ love story in a way that’s actually kind of awkward.  London’s not only not that white, it’s also not that straight.

And the fat girl stuff was ludicrous and unnecessary.  Let’s have BBW heroines, and let’s be realistic about some stuff that BBWs face, let’s give these women heroes who love them (and don’t fetishize them) just the way they are, and let’s move on.

3. Creating a rich tapestry of characters is fantastic, but don’t be surprised when your reader can’t remember all their names.

Note how I don’t mention any of the character names here? That’s because I can’t remember 90% of them.  Erin and I know this is a struggle for some of our readers with some of our books, and Love Actually reminded us that we have a threshold for that too.  Sometimes, stuff is just too complicated.

4. Details really matter. Until they don’t.

Love Actually gives you just enough details about real things and charms you along the way, that you don’t really care when the details are all wrong.

Porn movies don’t use stand-ins; I’m sure everything about the Prime Minister’s everything was off; and if someone could please explain to me what was up with the Portuguese girl and the Marseilles airport and everything involving locations and language in the Sad Writer is Sad plot, I’d be really grateful (my shoddy memory had dumped all of that into Italy and so I was massively confused).

But honestly, while I can pick at those things, and Erin is completely like “why was everyone on the same plane at the end?” the truth is, I don’t actually care. Tell enough truths, and I’ll happily play along with your lies.

5. Know your tropes. 

This film is tropetastic.  From American girls swooning for British accents to the secretary swept off her feat by the powerful boss to the guy in love with his best friend’s wife, Love Actually tells stories we know.  And it doesn’t feel over-done, it feels like seeing an old friend.  Tropes are not the enemy, but they are a challenge.  Do them right, and you’re writing a love letter to our very genre.

6. In a huge cast of characters everyone doesn’t necessarily get an HEA.

But they should get closure. Love Actually mostly succeeds at that, but not entirely. (The point of failure, which is compelling, because I am curious about their process going forward is in the plot line with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman.  Frankly, her performance owns this movie).

7. In popular media there’s a fine, fine line between really romantic and totally creepy.

We know this because we are living in the age of 50 Shades of Gray, but Love Actually is also filled with stuff that would be troubling in real life — a public marriage proposal to someone you’ve barely communicated with while her entire community pressures her into saying yes?  Or the dude with the cue cards swearing he’s expressing his love “without agenda or expectation?”

Both of those scenes only work (and work fantastically) because we’re at the movies. In the first one the girl says yes and had been learning English so was clearly thinking the same things as her British dude; in the second one the guy gives himself a talk to let go and stop chasing.  So both those scenes manage to err on the right side of a fine, gorgeous line.  Try it in your writing, but don’t try this at home.

8. Keep an eye on your patterns.

Love Actually is often criticized for how it handles power dynamics and class issues. While not a problem we felt with the film, it was certainly one we could see.  If you tend to write certain types of stories over and over again, it’s worth being mindful of what you may inadvertently be saying with that persistence.

9. Farce still rules the day.

We suspect this will be a bullet point in any romance film worth our time.

10. Everyone deserves a victory march.

Sure, that’s harder to do without a soundtrack, but that feeling that Love Actually gives you when people finally get the thing they’ve been afraid to go for it romance gold. Absolute objective in terms of what we want to put on the page.

11. Never work with kids or dogs.  Actually, always work with kids and dogs.

That thing about never is an old acting cliche, but in writing romances always work with kids and dogs.  They’re sweet, they’re truthful, and they present opportunities to be reminded of why the adult characters deserve happiness too.

Now since our Bridget Jones post, we’ve gotten dozens of suggestions for which RomComs we should watch next to see what they have to say about writing romance.  So we’re going to keep this series up.  But with several novels, novellas, and shorts in progress, and a release schedule that has been positively terrifying, we can’t do this nightly.

So here’s what we can do:

Tomorrow, we’re going to post a poll of the films that have been suggested to us, and then you lot can vote on what we should enjoy (or subject ourselves to) next in a quest to understand what makes romance entertainment tick.  We’ll take the films that get the most votes under the heaviest advisement (look, we can’t promise we’ll watch the winner right off, mainly because there’s only so much Hugh Grant we can take). Then, once a week watch one and tell you what we learned from it about creating Happily Ever Afters.

Sound like a plan?  Good, then make sure you come back to vote.

Meanwhile, we’re still taking suggestions in the comments and on Twitter.

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Nine things Bridget Jones’s Diary taught us about the romance genre (or, two queer romance writers, one really heterosexual romantic comedy — what could possibly go wrong?)

bridget-joness-posterErin and I each just watched Bridget Jones’s Diary for the first time.  We’re romance writers; it’s kind of a moral obligation.  And we found it by turns baffling, delightful, and weirdly instructive.

So here are nine things Bridget Jones’s Diary just taught us about the romance genre, and our relationship to it.

1. The hero is there to reassure the heroine that she’s awesome just the way she is.  He’s also there to be enough of a fool that the heroine has to find more bravery and gumption than she’s had before.

This, we sort of love.  And it’s easily extensible to LGBTQ romance.  It’s definitely something lurking in our stories.  But wow, neither of us could stand Bridget’s fear of singleness.  She lamented about being single all 32 years of her life; I’m fairly sure that wasn’t a crisis for her when she was four, or ten, or hopefully even 18.  We love that romance is about characters looking at their fears and overcoming them; but we’re less enthused by what this film, at least, says female fears are.

2. Romances should remind us of ourselves at our worst, and also at our best.

This film did that for me in spades.  When this film came out I was 29, ending a mess of a long-term and very muddled relationship, and out of my damn mind.  If I had seen this then, I absolutely would have recognized my then immediate circumstances in it, and then lamented that all the misunderstandings of the relationship I was ending weren’t going to work out in a set of adorable, happily every afters with a surprise, you get Colin Firth! at the end (more on him later).

Which makes Erin and I wonder — romance as a genre is about fantasy, and about feeling good, but isn’t it also a little bit about pressing our thumbs into the romantic bruises we already have?

3. Heterosexuality seems kind of weird and stressful when you take a step back.

Erin and I are both queer authors.  We’re also both bisexual.  She’s partnered to a man; I’m partnered to a woman; and we both spent most of this film emailing each other about how weird it felt to be touristing in the land of straight people.  There was so much status being derived from partners and women trying to out woman each other and men trying to out man each other, and it kind of didn’t make sense to us, except when it did.

I talk about my sexuality as a choice, even though born this way language is fashionable these days and is true for many many people.  This movie exemplified why I like the language of choice.  Being any of these people struck me as terrifying, even if every time I find Colin Firth wildly attractive I suddenly realize me and straight women actually have something in common.  (P.S., to re-queer this up a little, Renee Zellweger’s assets in this movie are amazing).

4. Every romance needs a cheering section.

How great were Bridget’s friends?  Heroes and heroines need people on their side, even if they’re too wrapped up in their drama to see that.  Erin and I want all the romances we read and watch and write to be filled with more awesome friendships.  While we’re celebrating love, we should celebrate many types of it.

5. What even is a Happily Ever After?

By some definitions Bridget Jones’s Diary only has a Happy for Now ending.  After all, there’s no wedding, and apparently it has a sequel (not sure we’re actually brave enough to face that).

So what even is an HEA? Is it a wedding?  I hear from lots of people it’s a wedding. In LGBTQ romance, that still feels weird.  Our people can’t get married everywhere, and our cultural feelings about marriage are complex.  If we’re writing LGBTQ romance for an audience that’s inclusive of LGBTQ readers, then a wedding isn’t the right HEA for every story.  Here, and with great caution because I know how important HEAs are to readers, I think Bridget Jones’s Diary tells us that maybe we should expand our definition of what an HEA is.

6. Love is the most important thing.

In Bridget Jones’s Diary the guy gives up his swank job in New York for the weirdo girl in London.  And it’s romantic as hell.  But for Erin and I, who relentlessly write romances about ambitious people, the question becomes how much sacrifice has to be made to satisfy the reader?  And if two people are perfect for each other, how much of themselves or their other desires should they really be giving up?

7. You don’t need a villain, but you do need a cad.

Bad guys in romances don’t have to be evil.  Just callous.  These stories aren’t about good triumphing over evil, but the emotionally present triumphing over the fearful and uncaring.  No mustache twirling needed.

8. Farce is your friend.

The ridiculous misunderstanding is a staple of the romance genre.  And while sometimes that can get irksome and frustrating (and it did for both of us regarding this film), that structural device is great for pacing your story.

9. You need a killer last line.

That’s it.  There’s no other observation to make here.  For everything about this film that didn’t resonate for one or both of us, we were both totally head over heels for the last two lines of this film. Sexy, perfect, and clever.

Now, we want to hear from you.  What did this ridiculous film teach you about our genre? And what romance should we engage with next in our ongoing quest to understand the ins-and-outs of the stories we tell and how they do and don’t fit into the romance genre?

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Panels! Readings! Giveaways! – RWA NYC Romance Festival

romancefestivalTomorrow, I’ll be taking part in RWA-NYC’s annual Romance Festival at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in upper Manhattan.

The day will include readings, panels, giveaways, and music.  The event is free, although tours of the historic house are $5, and the mansion is graciously welcoming historic costumers to come dressed up for the event (which will include Regency, contemporary, and paranormal romance writers. We expect a significant presence of multicultural and LGBTQ romance writers as well).

I’ll be doing a reading (I haven’t decided from what book yet, so let me know if you have desires) and also vending at the event.  I’ll have copies of StarlingDoves, Best Gay Romance 2015, and Bitten by Moonlight on hand. If you’d like me to bring any of my non-fiction titles, please let me know in advance.

The Morris-Jumel Mansion is located at 65 Jumel Terrace (btwn W. 160th & 162nd Streets), NYC and the event will take place on June 20, 2015 from 1-4:30pm.

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Phoenix now available in paperback!

phoenixThe paperback is now in stock at Amazon.com US, and should appear on the international site and with other retailers shortly.  Thank you for your patience and enthusiasm!

http://www.amazon.com/Phoenix/dp/1610409272

Posted in books, gay lit, Love in Los Angeles, New release news, Phoenix, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment