Monday, January 22, 2007


What makes a great romance novel? No matter how carefully we examine, analyze and deconstruct it, it’s always ultimately a matter of opinion. I know it when I smile as I read, and the passage isn’t remotely funny…it’s just well-written and I am firmly in the author's world. I’m reluctant to finish the book and leave that world. But what works for me might not work for you. And here is where I need your help.

I have two completed manuscripts, both sort of fairy-tale based. Currently they’re operating under the titles By Midnight and Waking Beauty (They used to be Bride by Midnight and Bride by Chance, but I kept thinking Bride of Chucky.). I’ve sent out half-a-dozen queries and was not surprised to see the self-addressed, stamped envelopes come back to my mailbox. One rejection letter had a nice hand-written note---I had been in the “maybe” pile for several months, but ultimately wasn’t loved enough.

I believe I may have done the unforgivable in BOTH books---my heroes are unfaithful to my heroines. For good reasons, so the devilish, dark-haired dummies think. Talk about a Big Misunderstanding and possibly a Big Mistake for the Author. I don’t know why my characters stumbled into the beds of women from their past---it just seemed right at the time to make them so wrong. I do so love a good grovel scene. And I wanted to give my characters something important to overcome, although I would personally eviscerate my own husband should he stray. I know he’s going to read this. Hi, honey.

So, what do you think? Have I broken the ultimate romance taboo? If (When. WHEN!) I finish Third-Rate Romance (in this corner, weighing in as of this morning at 70,230 words), should I go back and smarten up those bad boys and give them something else altogether to bring them to their knees? I’m willing to slice and dice!

Have you ever had to chuck a huge chunk of your book? Say something encouraging to me.


terrio said...

Something encouraging. Hmmmmm. How about Maggie, you are a fantastic writer. Does that help? And I mean it, you are so ahead of the game on this stuff. I'm not sure about changing your stories but I might have a bit of trouble reading about the redemption of a hero that I could not forgive. And I might lose respect for a heroine that forgives him too easily. But that's just my own past talking.

Since I don't have enough of a WIP to even call a chunk, I can't answer that one. But I think it would be hard to do. Maybe holding onto something just for the sake of holding on could hold you back. So I say, chuck it if it's the only way to move the story forward and get it to where it needs to be.

That is my totally worhtless opinion anyway...LOL!

Tiffany Clare said...

I couldn't handle a hero cheating. No way around it. I would look at it if you've been rejected and maybe write another conflict. If that is the only thing holding them back from being published...hey it's worth a shot!

What else don't I like in a romane novel? well the only other thing I can think of is the TSTL hero's or heroines...but that's it for now.

nearhere said...

Maggie, I don't know what my opinion is worth but I love big grovel scenes and am not put off by the hero cheating on the heroine assuming this takes place towards the begining of the book. As an ardent fan of Harlequin Presents the cheating hero (or usually presumed to have cheated hero) is a common device and one that I particularly enjoy. I like it when the hero really has done something wrong or the heroine thinks the hero has dome something wrong so that the grovel is all the more juicy. I think timing is everything with cheating heroes.

I'm with Tiff on the TSTL heroines. But it's not just TSTL that gets to me - it's more the goody, goody perfect heroine.

John Robinson said...

Geez, can't you all develop a li'l Hillary attitude. Forgive the rapscallion.

Tessa Dare said...

Well, Maggie, I will echo Terrio's encouragement - you are a fantastic writer! One little round of queries is nothing. It's just a matter of time before you're published, I'm certain.

As for your plots, I am no expert whatsoever. I am a complete dummy. Which is why I often rely on the advice of the book, Writing a Romance Novel for Dummies - and for what it's worth, that book says the hero should not stray (once he and the heroine have hooked up, of course - before then, the more lovers he's had, the better).

And I can sorta see why. In the best sorts of romance novels (and any book you write is bound to be the best sort), I come to think of the heroine as a friend, and I love imagining her living truly HEA with her hero. I believe it 100%. If my own, real-life friend came to me and said she'd met this terrific guy, and he'd had this little lapse, but he'd groveled brilliantly and they worked through it, and now she was over-the-moon for him and swore they would live HEA - I would have a hard time believing it 100%. Once the guy's cheated, it's so hard to believe he won't do it again - ten years down the line, when the heroine's copper curls turn silver and her svelte waistline has plumped up from bearing him six children.

I'm not saying it can't happen - HEA after infidelity - in real-life or fiction. But to be completely honest, as an author you've set yourself a hard task, making me buy into that HEA 100%.

But even if you decide you want to revise, if you wrote the whole novel with that conflict in mind - will it work to just drop-and-drag another conflict into its place?

Janga said...

Maggie, you are a terrific writer, and I fully believe that I will be buying your books one day.

I am reluctant to say something will not work in a romance because there is always an author who proves me wrong. Like many readers, just the thought of an unfaithful hero makes me cringe. However, Marilyn Pappano has an adulterous hero in Some Enchanted Season, a book I love, so I know the strategy can work. I do think a writer who chooses to burden either the hero or heroine with infidelity has set herself a formidable challenge, but I also believe that you are up to any challenge.

Lindsey said...

Maggie, you rock - you have such a fresh and funny voice that I know you're going to find success. And the Maybe pile is a great start!

I'm subversive, and I love authors who dare to bend and break rules, so I'm okay with a cheating hero in theory. In reality, I think it's probably very hard to pull off and keep him likable. Maybe it's a plot to save for a later book? Not because you aren't capable of doing it well, but because it might be a little easier to sell to editors and readers once you have a following.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

I want to thank you all for your thoughtful responses...and I wasn't asking for praise, just if you'd been successful at hacking away at something and putting it back together (but the praise was very nice!). I think I might be able to use Nearhere's idea of the "presumed to have cheated hero" in one of them if I do some judicious pruning (sorry, that's conjuring up a castration scenario for me. Must get head out of gutter). Anyway, thank you lots! I'll let you know what happens when I get back to them.

CM said...

Here's the thing. There is a dictum in the romance world that once the hero meets the heroine, he can't sleep with anyone else. That, I think, is silly.

And then there's the question of being unfaithful to the heroine.

In my mind, sleeping with other girls after he's met her isn't being unfaithful to her. To be unfaithful in the first place, there must be faith to keep. And so what I want to know before judging this at all is whether you're talking about violating the former edict--in which case I say go for broke--or if you're talking about having him break trust with her.

I'd find the second really, really hard to swallow. And the only way I'd accept it is if there was a damned good reason (Either M.J. Putney or Jo Beverly does this in one of her earlier books, but he has a damned good reason--national security.) In any event, if he's cheating because he just wants to get laid, I don't think I could handle it.

Maggie Robinson/Margaret Rowe said...

Oh, I'm in agreement. The trust issue is huge, and both h/h are at fault. In one, she has given him every reason to believe that she is unfaithful, and he reluctantly follows suit with a scheming evil woman from his past (who's also the mother of the child he never knew he had. God, describing this makes me want to gag. I just realized it's kind of a secret baby plot.). In the other, he completely misconstrues her past and takes up with his old flame. These guys suffer for these sins, believe me, but the heroines are not completely blameless. Thanks for the input, CM. I think I'd rather try to break the "rule" than bend it.

CM said...

Maggie, that might not be impossible. His motivations here are important. There are some things I think I can understand, and that I think couples could work out of--the "preemptive affair" (I thought you were going to have an affair, so I did it first), or trying to make the other person hurt as badly as he was hurt--because they ultimately stem from the love the couple has. No matter how twisted that love has become. You can believe that there's love there, that maybe they can untwist it.

There are others that just won't work. Like, "I thought I could get away with it, and now I'm really really sorry (that I got caught)." If it's driven by selfishness and lust, it's hard to swallow.

It sounds like you're doing the former. I think a lot of people can relate to that, and rules be damned. If you can make it work, go for it.

Anonymous said...

I dont mind if the hero cheats for whatever reason but I am a old dinosaur reader who remembers when it was the norm. I do think that there are a LOT of romance readers who just wont stand for it so maybe having TWO novels which has that happening might be too extreme?

The JoBev novel that CM was referring to was An Arranged marriage. One of my favorite romances of all time -- The Painted Lady by Lucia Grahame has the hero seeking mistresses after the heroine physically repudiates him in forceful terms and there was one Livejournaler who mentioned how she HATED the book because of it. She wouldn't even acknowledge the writing itself which is as good as you will find in a romance novel.

lacey kaye said...

I'm not crazy about it, myself, but it doesn't make an automatic wall-banger for me. Unless they've already been happily married. I don't think I could stomach it then.

lacey kaye said...

Oh, I've sliced. And it's ALWAYS, ALWAYS better for it, and I always love it more. Enough?