Eight things Hamilton taught us about writing romance

hamiltonstarDespite still being in the U.K. and having a creepy run in with the fae (pro-tip, if you’re near Avebury and a sign says to please close the iron gate, close the iron gate), Erin has now listened to all of the Hamilton cast album, and we’re both a little bit obsessed.  Really, who isn’t?

But we’re obsessed not just because Lin-Manuel Miranda’s new show is astounding, important craft and ridiculously enjoyable; we’re obsessed because it’s also a romance. Now, sure, it may not technically look like a romance on its surface because a romance, according to the RWA, requires a central love story and an optimistic ending (spoiler alert: Hamilton dies in a duel).

But Hamilton really, really is a romance.  And it’s part of what makes the show work. Hamilton at core is a love story — amongst friends, with ambition, touched by destiny, full of self-sacrifice, and with several relationships that persevere despite human flaws, nearly Shakespearean tragedy, and a number of logistical agonies.

So while lots of people have written — quite rightly — think pieces on how Hamilton teaches us what musical theater can be (truly, the significance of this work cannot be overstated; I’ve been listening to it on repeat for days and I continue to find its technical achievement shocking).  Consider this listicle a bit of a think piece on what Hamilton teaches us about the romance form.

1. The shape of the story matters desperately.  One of the elements of Hamilton that I’ve found most emotionally satisfying and also the most emotionally difficult to confront is how thoroughly it wraps up every single plot line. This has left me emotionally satisfied but also filled with frustration at life that has not been adapted to a narrative form, where we don’t always get closure, redemption, or even a final song about fifty-years of good labors in the face of grief.

2. The tension between career and love doesn’t have to be something we view as gendered. A lot of us write stories that contain this element.  It’s a central struggle in our Love in Los Angeles series, and it’s a central struggle in the contemporary British monarchy project we’re working on.  I think it’s easy to feel nervous when we engage these narratives, especially for our heroines, when our culture is still obsessed with judging women no matter how they engage with this struggle.  Hamilton reminds us that this struggle is innately human, not gendered, and reminds us we’re allowed to write this type of dilemma for characters of any gender.

3. Conventional relationship structures are not required. There’s a song in Hamilton the Internet has begun referring to as “Alex you just turned down a threesome, what are you doing?” Rather amazingly, the show devotes a lot of time, all of it lovely, to the fact that Hamilton was both in love with his wife and engaged in a romantic friendship (largely long-distance and with a ton of unresolved sexual tension as the show presents it) with her sister. And the sisters were perfectly aware of it, and fiercely protective and supportive of each other.  Love can look like a lot of things.  And you can write the love story you want.

4. Women are more interesting as allies than as rivals. Hamilton is very much a musical about rivalry, but where it often has opportunity to showcase rivalry between women, it chooses not to.  The sisters support each other, and when Hamilton cheats on his wife with a third-party, that unite to be angry at him, not her.

5. Cheating may be one of the romance genre’s great controversies, but it can work for some stories.  Yes, some people don’t want to read that.  Yes, sometimes cheating plots can feel easy and overdone.  But when cheating is a symptom of other issues and addressed as such on the larger landscape of a plot (as it is in Hamilton), it can be truthful, compelling, and serve to grow  the characters and their relationships.

6. Don’t be afraid to be earnest.  Erin and I write fairly gritty romances most of the time.  But soulmates? Loves that aren’t like any other love? Those happen. And they make great stories.  And if you can write them with specificity and in a way that’s relatable, don’t be afraid to.  This is something we’ve just figured out how to do, and Hamilton has really reinforced that for us.

7. There are lots of types of love.  We say this in all our posts like this, but romances that also feature other forms of great passion help to elevate the central romance further. The love of friends, the passions of ambition matter too, and writing a central romance doesn’t mean leaving out this key structural elements of a life.

8. #WeNeedDiverseRomance. Hamilton utilizes hip hop and multi-ethnic casting to tell its story.  And it does this despite — and in direct response to — the founding fathers being a bunch of douchey white guys who tended to own slaves (seriously, this show takes Jefferson to task). So when you’re casting the romance you’re writing or looking for a new book to read, Hamilton should be a reminder to let yourself think more broadly about what heroes and heroines can and should look like. We all have internalized expectations, and for a lot of us (especially, but not exclusively, if we’re white and/or straight) those expectations can come from some pretty toxic parts of our culture. Those expectations can be where we start, but why on earth should they be where we end?

Ultimately, Hamilton is also a love letter to the act of writing and how we can save ourselves — and others — by recording our stories, our desires, and our fears.  Huge chunks of Hamilton‘s lyrics address this, and every writer should consider the show’s truly profound call to urgency.

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What’s next: Tremontaine, and more….

With The Hart and the HoundErin and I have now completed our last joint release of 2015.  With two novels, two novellas, two novelettes, and four short stories, 2015 has been completely exhausting. And now, we finally get to get back to writing!

So what’s next?



On October 28, Serial Box Publishing launches Tremontainea 13-episode prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint. Like all Serial Box projects, Tremontaine is designed to be “HBO for readers.”  Written by a writer’s room (Ellen Kushner, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Patty Bryant, Paul Witcover and myself), a new episode will be released each week in print and audio.

Tremontaine focuses on a Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; her husband’s dangerous affair with a handsome scholar; a Foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius on the brink of revolution. When long-buried lies threaten to come to light, betrayal and treachery know no bounds with stakes this high. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling wit and political intrigue.

Episode 6 was co-written by Patty Bryant and myself. I have also served as the producer of this project, which basically means I wear an ugly yellow hat and herd cats (*winks* at people who know me from Glee fandom — actually the hat is gorgeous and knit by one of our friends).

Meanwhile, Erin and I are working on a number of projects we hope to have in your hands in 2016 and 2017.  These include:

Cardinal, book 4 in the Love in Los Angeles series, will take Alex to Iceland, Indiana, and Italy as he struggles to make peace with the family he grew up with and the family he’s chosen.

Tempest, book 3 in the Love’s Labours series, will have John and Michael revisiting to the eerie Virginia forest that hosts The Theater in the Woods for a summer season filled with skeletons, archaeologists, and a film star trying to restart his career by returning to the stage. 

A Perfect Princess (working title), is a contemporary M/F romance about the British monarchy and the dissolution of empire. When Amelia, a Northern earl’s daughter who is just trying to finish university, crashes into the heir to the throne at the races, she discovers that one of the hazards of arranging your own marriage is falling in love.

An as yet untitled romance set in London and Spain about nosy neighbors, becoming a grandparent, and the formation of a poly triad (M/M/F).  There are so many things in this story we’re excited about, very much including its 48-year-old heroine.

An untitled M/F romance about two publishing executives on a month-long road trip in Italy who discover an unsettling truth about their relationship after a haunting encounter with the magic of the Mediterranean.

An untitled M/M spy novel set in Washington DC. Because love’s a lot less scary when someone’s trying to kill you.

Thank you for all your support and enthusiasm.  We promise we’ll have more for your to read soon!

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Release Day: The Hart and the Hound

exchangeofpowerThe Hart and the Hound

When Henry, a deer shifter and lead stag of his herd, encounters Davey, a wounded beta dog shifter from a dangerous pack, they form an unlikely alliance to protect their people and each other from Davey’s ex, the pack’s ill-tempered alpha.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Hart-Hound/dp/B015FFY5VE

All Romance: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-thehartandthehound-1890326-148.html

Torquere: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=96&products_id=4499


“Killing Gareth isn’t going to make things better, you know. Not necessarily. It might make things much worse,” Davey says. He stands in front of the window, looking out at bare trees and the gray evening sky. Henry comes to stand next to him. “And I don’t want to be responsible for that. And not just ‘cause he’s my pack leader or was or whatever. I just… I don’t want us to kill anyone.”

“It’s not actually at the top of my list of things to do either. But he’s killing on our land, won’t speak with me as a man, and has me keeping you effectively under house arrest. This can’t get much worse and still be a situation I can get us neatly out of.”

“I know,” Davey says, “I know.” His voice is slightly frantic, eyes darting forth as if looking for options he either can’t fathom or has never been allowed to have. “I just… I feel like I’m foundering,” he says.

His tone is gutting, as is the seconds he takes to find that one word to sum up how lost he surely must feel.

“Is that why you sat at my feet all evening?”

“You got up.” It’s too sad to be accusatory.

“Did you even know what you were doing?”

“Of course I did.”

“Then what are you doing, Davey?”

“Waiting,” he says desperately.

Henry takes a step toward him. Then another. The whole room is suddenly made of tension and waiting. “For what?”

“For you to be what I need.”

Or, buy the full anthology this story is included in:

Exchange of Power

exchange: the act of giving or taking one thing in return for another; power: the ability or right to control people or things

In matters of the heart, what happens when there’s an exchange of power, even for just one night?

Both veteran and new authors make up the eleven stories about the power shift between Doms/subs, vampires/werewolves, teacher/apprentice, Alpha/beta, Necromancer/zombie, superhero/arch nemesis, and incubus/medium.

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Exchange-Power-Anthology/dp/B014XCLYO6

All Romance: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/product-exchangeofpoweranthology-1884321-166.html

Torquere: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=200&products_id=4489

Both the standalone version of the story and the full anthology are also available at other popular online retailers like B&N and Kobo. A print version of the anthology will be released soon.

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Events: Brooklyn Book Festival, Sunday September 20, 2015

BKBF-logo-headerWe’ll be at the 10th Annual Brooklyn Book Festival on September 20th.

You can come say hi, get books signed, and even purchase paperbacks from us (well, just Racheline, Erin is currently in the U.K. doing lots and lots of research for some upcoming projects) at the RWA-NYC booth #250 (adjacent to the court house) from 2 – 4pm.  We’ll have copies of Starling, Doves, Phoenix, Best Gay Romance 2015, Bitten by Moonlight, Plaid Nights on hand and available at a discount!

Also, be sure to stop by the RWA-NYC table throughout the day as they showcase the incredibly diversity of our chapter’s books and writers throughout the day.

The event itself runs from 10am – 6pm, rain or shine on Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza. Accessible by the 2 and 3 trains stop at Borough Hall and Clark Street; the 4, 5 and M, R stop at Court Street/Borough Hall; the A, C, F trains at Jay Street/Borough Hall; and the F, G trains at Bergen Street.

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Labor Day Weekend Sales

25% off everything at TorquereBooks.com through September 8

Need a beach read?

Use code laborday15 at TorquereBooks.com for 25% off your entire cart through September 8, 2015.

All my titles with Erin McRae (from Torquere, we have some other books elsewhere) can be found here: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=index&manufacturers_id=550

Coupon only applies to ebooks. Paperbacks available for all titles over 60,000 words can be found at Amazon, B&N, and wherever you like to buy books.

Quickest blurbs ever:

Starling Small

Starling/Doves/PhoenixEveryone wants to be famous, right? Wrong. What happens when a surly, introverted kid from Indiana accidentally becomes a star, falls in love, and then totally freaks out.

EvergreenHoliday novelette focusing on one of the secondary characters in Starling/Phoenix/Doves. This is also our story with the most adjectives: It’s a bisexual, interracial, polyamorous, holiday, Hollywood romance.

Room 1024polyamorous HFN story set at a gay leather conference.

Sample and Hold – Tomorrow, Nate’s going to come out in Rolling Stone magazine. Tonight, he just has to get through this crappy party his record label is holding to celebrate.

td-lakeeffect1400Lake EffectWhen Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Off-KilterCompSci grad student, Scottish Country Dancing. What could possibly go wrong?

Exchange of PowerAn anthology focusing on what happens when “traditional” power roles go topsy turvy. Our completely self-indulgent shifter story will also be available as a standalone novelette on September 16, but the whole antho is now available for pre-order.

30% off everything at All Romance through September 7

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for one-stop shopping, you can visit All Romance, which has both our Torquere and Dreamspinner titles on sale (note that some have starting prices that are different than on the publisher sites).

You can find our books at: https://www.allromanceebooks.com/storeSearch.html?searchBy=author&qString=Racheline+Maltese

In addition to the above titles ARe also has the following on sale from us:

LLcombo_smallMidsummer/Twelfth Night  Sure, 42-year-old John Lyonel has never been attracted to men before, but falling for 25-year-old Michael Hilliard is actually the least screwed up thing that’s happened to him in years. Even if sometimes he thinks Michael’s a changeling.

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Cover reveal: Exchange of Power / “The Hart and the Hound”

exchangeofpowerOn September 16, our shifter novelette, “The Hart and the Hound” will be out as part of the Exchange of Power anthology from Torquere Press. This anthology contains both M/M and F/F stories.

Exchange: the act of giving or taking one thing in return for another. Power: the ability or right to control people or things

In matters of the heart, what happens when there’s an exchange of power, even for just one night?

Both veteran and new authors make up the eleven stories about the power shift between Doms/subs, vampires/werewolves, teacher/apprentice, Alpha/beta, Necromancer/zombie, superhero/arch nemesis, and incubus/medium.

In “The Hart and the Hound” Henry, a deer shifter and lead stag of his herd, encounters Davey, a wounded beta dog shifter from a dangerous pack. They form an unlikely alliance to protect their people and each other from Davey’s ex, the pack’s ill-tempered alpha.

You’ll be able to buy this story as either an ebook standalone, or as part of the whole anthology in ebook or paperback. Pre-order for the whole anthology ebook is now available here: http://www.torquerebooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=200&products_id=4489.

Other options for both the whole anthology and the individual story will be available later this month.

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Love in Los Angeles: Extra — Liam & Victor

extraOnce each month, Erin and I send out a newsletter talking about recent releases, sales, and upcoming appearances. We also include a free story extra. These extras are either scenes actually excised from the books late in editing, or, in most cases, back- or side- stories we’ve alluded before and wanted to flesh out for our readers, or our own amusement.

To encourage you to subscribe to the mailing list (which you can do by filling in the box at right or by going here: http://avian30.us8.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3cd584baddadbcf7b7a80ba98&id=f7f636fc9f) we don’t share those side stories outside of the mailing list until many months later.

This is first one is about the very early days of the Liam/Victor thing, set before the start of Starling.

Starling SmallThe pilot wrap party is long and ridiculous.  Victor doesn’t let masses of people into his home often, but these events are an exception — tradition and luck and thank you all at once.

Invariably, people stay over.  Someone passes out drunk in a lounger not too close to the pool.  Someone else takes a couch, and will hopefully vacate before the rest of the house wakes in the morning.  The guest bedrooms exist for a reason.  And when Victor retreats upstairs to his own room…

There usually isn’t someone in it.  But Liam has been
making eyes at him all night, and now they’re apparently going to have to have this conversation, which is more unappealing for the fact that it is late, and Victor is tired, and he hates other people in his bedroom.

It’s a strange conversation.  Because they’re both saying true things, and neither of them are reaching the other’s conclusions.  Yes, Victor thinks Liam is beautiful. That’s one of the reasons he cast him. Liam is telling him nothing he doesn’t already know, and that is not a reason Liam should be in his bedroom uninvited, And yes, Liam really wants the show to get picked up and for Victor to be his boss, and why that’s an obstacle to sexual awesome, he doesn’t understand.

That’s the thing that catches Victor off-guard.  Liam isn’t being awful, or obtuse, or pushy, or trying to get ahead by sucking dick.  He literally does not get it.  And not because of all the ways in which Victor isn’t exactly interested, but because Liam can’t thread the conversation in any way Victor thinks it’s reasonable to expect.

Neither of them are that drunk, either.

So they talk about it, and a lot of other things, for hours. Victor sits in one of the chairs by the window, and watches Liam — who doesn’t sit, but instead paces the room, from the sitting area, around the coffee table, to the bed and back, over and over — as they talk.

Liam’s strange, but not stupid.  In some ways he’s weirdly savvy. Late into it, they kiss, because Victor is tired enough for that not to seem egregious, and because he’s starting to understand — after watching Liam’s amiable pacing — that this strange young man can only figure out how to map certain things by using his body.

Victor does kick him out after, but only as far as his office down the hall with the rather excessive couch. The guest bedrooms are, unfortunately, occupied by now, and he wants to keep Liam close anyway. His filing cabinets are locked as a matter of damn course, but it still feels like an act of trust to leave Liam there with a pillow and a stack of blankets. Victor does not share his bed, with anyone, ever.  But tonight Victor is fond, and puzzled, and — if the show gets picked up — now very much owed the rest of this creature’s secrets.

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