Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Sara Stamey

by Stephanie Osborn

Sara Stamey is a new friend! Word has been getting around in certain parts of the writing community about this blog series, and Sara was one of those who stepped up to the plate and said she wanted to be involved! So you and I will be getting to know her together, through her articles on the art of storytelling. From what I can tell, I think she may be a lot like me!




  Thanks, Stephanie, for the opportunity to explore approaches to incorporating romance into stories that span all genres – and thanks to the authors of the fascinating excursions already posted.
My own novels tend to cross genres, including mainstream, science fiction, fantasy, mystery/suspense, and thriller plots, but they all include romantic subplots. As other writers in this series have noted, where would the human interest lie without relationship tangles? A lot of those tangles involve romantic attraction and/or consummation. Where I depart from Romance as a genre is that the love/sex relationship is not my main plot, but rather interwoven into other urgent story issues.  It’s another thread of tension to pull readers along – will the lovers get together despite challenges? Maybe because of my style or themes, I usually avoid a “tied up in a bow” neat ending to the romance – more gray areas and ambiguity about where this relationship might go. Because, well, that’s life!
I’ll illustrate my approach by starting with my early science fiction series from Ace/Berkley, the first novel Wild Card Run. The main plot concerns a rebellious game-designer from a restrictive home planet who is challenging the control of humanity by the Cybers, an artificial-intelligence network. (I published this back in the 1980s, and I’m actually listed in some databases as one of the first “Cyberpunk” authors along with William Gibson and others, which tickles me.) Anyway, my heroine Ruth Kurtis is forced to return to her family farm and polyandrous culture (women have multiple husbands), where she has to resist her attraction to her mother’s newest husband, a young man the daughter’s age. This underlying romantic tension helps drive the main plot of her rebellion against the Cybers, and also contributes to one of the themes of the novel, examining the impact of new technologies on human values. And of course, it never hurts to raise issues of social taboos, and the loyalty and betrayal connected with forbidden love –  perennials in storytelling.
The next two novels in the series, Win, Lose, Draw and Double Blind, explore ramifications of nontraditional romantic possibilities – sexual love between different humanoid races, and between human and machine – which seems to be a hot topic today, with the film “Her.” These elements serve to advance my larger plot speculations about the difficulty of defining humanity and identity, which again are timeless themes keeping writers and readers busy over the past centuries.
My recent novels are more mainstream, but again melding genre elements. Islands, romantic
suspense with a psychic tinge, is my closest approach to a romance formula, but again the romantic relationship has a lot of ambiguity and is not central to the mystery/suspense plot. Set in the Caribbean, where I taught scuba years ago, it concerns a young archeologist who arrives on a tropic island to research petroglyphs and solve of the mystery of her brother’s drowning on a sunken treasure ship. The romance angle concerns her chief suspect, whom she investigates while being reluctantly drawn to him despite warnings about the danger she’s courting with this volatile war veteran. The sparks fly between them, but the sexual relationship isn’t thrown in just for heat – it functions to provide clues and red herrings, as well as challenging a lot of preconceptions my heroine carries about the nature of truth and right and wrong, contributing to a larger Faustian theme. How far will she push to learn “the truth”? What happens when you get too deep a glimpse into the “dark side”? Can love help redeem you?

My upcoming metaphysical thriller The Ariadne Connection weaves together three perspectives on a near-future crisis concerning a geomagnetic reversal and a New Leprosy plague. My three main characters become entangled in various romantic subplots, from a tension-filled love triangle, to transgendered love, to traditional heterosexual love with reservations and spiritual dimensions. The main thriller plot is the focus of the novel – a young Greek scientist is christened “Saint Ariadne” when she discovers she can heal the New Leprosy by “laying on hands.” Various dangerous factions pursue her for their own agendas, and the three main characters are mostly occupied with evading pursuit while Ariadne learns to control her growing powers, which have the capability to destroy as well as heal. Love and sex under conditions of extreme uncertainty and stress are opportunities to explore dimensions of the characters, particularly Ariadne, who must weigh eternal questions: Does the end justify the means? Should you use people who love you in the service of a higher goal? Is the focus on a mission strengthened or weakened by allowing intimacy with a partner?  Do we lose ourselves when we give too much to another person? Does the joy of loving outweigh inevitable pain and loss?
I guess it’s obvious that I’m fascinated by the nuances of human behavior, the way our desires color our notions of “truth” and “good versus evil,” and I love to throw characters into stressful situations that test their mettle.  Love is always a big challenge to throw in the path of a character’s goals, as that tug of irrational attraction can really toss in a wild card. Will the relationship strengthen or weaken our characters? What will they learn about themselves that we can share? I hope my stories entertain as well as involve my readers in these enduring explorations.

Author bio:
Sara Stamey’s extended travels in out-of-the-way corners of the globe include treasure hunting and teaching scuba in the Caribbean and Honduras, operating a nuclear reactor, and owning a farm in Southern Chile. Now resettled in her native Northwest Washington, she teaches creative writing at Western Washington University and offers editing services as a “book doctor.” She shares her Squalicum Creek backyard with wild critters and her cats, dog, and very tall husband Thor.
Her romantic suspense novel Islands is described by reviewers as “an intellectual thriller” and "a superior suspense novel….a stomping vivid ride.” A new eBook edition will be released by Book View Café on May 6.


Yep, I had a feeling I was gonna like this lady.

Be sure to check out her books, folks! They're worth looking into!

And we'll have her back soon to tell us about her upcoming book release!

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Herika R. Raymer

by Stephanie Osborn

Today's guest is Herika Raymer. Herika is a very talented writer of short stories and comes by it naturally -- her father is the gifted H. David Blalock. She is also an excellent editor. She, her father, and I are all members of Imagicopter, an arts group specializing in printed media (writing, art, etc.) who help promote each other, schedule group booksignings, etc.

Interestingly, she follows along quite well in the footsteps of our previous two guest bloggers in discussing the history of romance in literature -- and how originally "romance" did NOT equate to "love story," but rather to "fantastical tale."



"Where does ROMANCE fit as an element of modern storytelling?"

Romance has been a part of storytelling since The Beginning.

Yet, what is 'romance'? If you look it up, it begins as fanciful tales in Medieval times, mostly associated with chivalry and the heroic exploits of knights. These romances began as adventure stories. Mainly, romance dealt with stories that "lack basis in fact" or were "emotional" according to the dictionaries -- and most people would say that love is the most illogical aspect of life there is. It cannot be measured, it cannot be explained; it simply is the state of being when one individual cares for another more than they do for themselves. Platonic, familial, or romantic -- each form of love exists and is shown in behavior. So, remarkable and fanciful tales were woven around acts supposedly declared as motivated by love, and thus romance and love became synonymous.

In most instances romance was presented as an attraction between two people in defiance of tradition or culture, such as the tragic tales of Romeo and Juliet, as well as Paris and Helen of Troy. To counteract this destructive image, enter the heroic tales of devotion unending, such as the retelling of Aragorn and Arwen from Lord Of The Rings and Odysseus and Penelope of The Odyssey. Yet the sweet telling of adoration and companionship, as shown in the stories of Sam and Rose from The Hobbit or Ellie and Carl from Up, should not be overlooked. Nor the surprisingly loyal relationships despite what could be considered non-traditional arrangements, as shown in the exploits of the lovable Mike Callahan and his delectable Lady Sally McGee in Spider Robinson's tales, or the incredible pairing of F'lar and Lessa on Pern, or even the arrangement between Hades and Persephone [Greek mythology]. Finally, romance is also affection unrequited, as with Lancelot and Elaine of Corbenic [Arthurian legend] as well as Mary Callahan Fin and Jake Stonebender [also Spider Robinson]. Their attraction was more than lust, more than desire; it was a yearning to be together despite the odds. To share a lifetime together, and a presentation of a loathing to see their lives without the other individual. Each of these couples, despite flaws, showed a willingness to join their lives, share joy, brave adversity, celebrate successes, endure hardship, offer comfort, work through problems, and, most of all, to remain loyal to their partners. Granted no relationship is perfect, but the fact these couples were determined to honor their commitment is remarkable.

So what place does romance, a concept originally meant as adventure and later came to envelop the fanciful aspect of love, have in modern storytelling? Simple: it provides motivation. Much as it did in religious, Medieval, pioneer, Victorian, and previous eras' storytelling.

Though -- and this is just my opinion -- is it possible that romance is giving way once more to lust and obsession? Perhaps it is just me, but the stories of Zeus and the other Olympian gods spiriting around "taking" women and fathering bastard children was not romantic, it was infuriating; and the same holds true for the goddesses seducing men. These are not tales of romance but conquests, of a satiation of primal lust and obsession. These have their place, naturally -- it gave the children the motivation they needed to become either heroes or villains in their own rights. However, it seems to me that more and more stories are reverting more to, "Hey, let's get it on," rather than, "Stay with me."

That would be my question -- what part does LUST fit as an element in modern storytelling?

Romance has been expanded to mean to court or woo; in other words, to endeavor to gain the favor of a person. It is an effort, a discovering of what appeals to the other party and trying to find some common ground to relate on. Granted, certain stalkers take this too far, and that is where it becomes obsessive (Candace from "Phineas and Ferb," anyone?).

Lust is primal: seeing someone desirable, obtaining what you want from them -- usually physical -- and then going on your merry way to the next target. Often it can even be presented as a game, not just between men or women, but men and women. Take the movie Dangerous Liaisons for example; a bet between a man and a woman that led to disastrous consequences. I cannot see the romance in that. To be truthful, I often blame "romance stories" for this. To be more specific, I blame their language. I recall when Harlequin romances, though not very accurate in their depiction of history or even interactions between men and women, at least used alluring language to appeal to the visual senses. I recently read some modern romance and was, well, appalled at the crudity of the language. Crass language, almost painful depictions of interpersonal relations, and just a general disrespect for the atmosphere that took away from any "romantic" essence there might have been. Perhaps that is just me being old-fashioned, but I just could not see anything particularly alluring in reading those words. If anything, it made me cringe. Still, I guess it had its place. After all, even in the old tales lust was the beginning of many stories.

So both have their place in modern storytelling. Where romance is most likely more relationship-oriented, and lust more physical, both have their places in the tales that result in their presence. They provide a way to relate to the characters, to either cheer for their accomplishments or dread their triumphs. To return to the original aspect, romance gave a personal touch. It helps breathe life into the characters, helps the reader understand what is seen in the object of affection, and perhaps even follow why the character is acting the way they are.

Romance makes the character a possible mirror of who the reader is, because surely there is a bit of romance in all of us.

To quote Melinda S. Reynolds:
As far as modern story telling goes, you can have a story without romance; but you can’t have romance without a story. It doesn’t have to be the main driving force, but it does help to put the characters into perspective for the readers and understand basic motives and drives. Lust is the opposite of love. Lust is selfish, love is selfless. Lust is neither romance or love; it gives nothing and takes all.

Excellently said; I find I am in complete agreement with the use of romance as a means of allowing the reader to relate to the characters.

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by K. E. Kimbriel

by Stephanie Osborn

Katharine (K.E.) Kimbriel was introduced to me by last week's guest blogger, Barb Caffrey. Author of the Chronicles of Nuala (available through Book View Cafe) and more, Katharine is an experienced, talented writer. 


"Where does ROMANCE fit as an element of modern storytelling?"

Stephanie Osborn asked this question, and my immediate thought was “as a subtle puzzle piece.”  I know that is not the usual response to the question.  Half the fiction books published in this country every year by major New York publishers are romances, in almost every flavor you can imagine.  (That is, if by flavor you are imagining one woman and one man who end up in a HEA--Happily Ever After--or, more recently, HFN--Happy For Now--relationship.  Everything else slides in from the shadows, makes a surprise appearance, or even has a small independent publishing line somewhere else.)

Where does romance spring from?  I’m not asking in a technical sense, or a scientific sense.  We know that chemistry and biology triggers the first flush of attraction, and we can research to find out where the modern Western concept of romance began.  I always think of it as starting with Jane Austen—a woman choosing to reject offered security for the hope of at least liking and respecting her partner.  That she ended up with a man whom she also loved, who was solvent enough to support her and their children, was a bonus.  For most women, having it all was a fantasy, but a lovely dream.  We can go back further, into legend—but most of those famous lovers did not end well.

Thinking about it now, I wonder if romance novels were simply a woman’s first reach for respect and mutual affection in a relationship—to regain the ancient courtesies between the sexes, the respect for each sex’s wisdom and knowledge that still lingers in some tribal cultures.  The current tribal forms may not be at all what modern women want in relationships.  But in the past few hundreds of years in Western culture, women were mostly shut out of commerce and expected to make the home (and that was big doings before the Modern Era of electricity and convenience foods.)  All they could hope for was a marriage where their intelligence and personality was respected.  Marriage was often a financial transaction, or a melding of two families’ talents and assets.  Respect, humor, liking the person you were going to share a life with—those were traits to be desired.  Romance was the dessert, the last thing you wanted but could only dream of, because so many failed to get it.

Then more people began to marry for love—for better or worse.  But did they understand each other?  I think women learned to understand their men, to try and keep a home their husbands wanted to return to, a refuge for their men.  But too often the men had no clue what was going on in the heads of the women.

A thesis was once written proposing that women read romances—pure romance, not the newer stories escalating in sexuality—because it is a story where a man becomes obsessed with a woman and is spending all his free time trying to figure out how to understand her, please her, win her.  I suspect that the root of romance lies in understanding The Other—the other sex.  Or if they do not completely understand the other person, they still unconditionally accept them.

I don’t write pure romance, I write fantasy, science fiction, and mystery.  I am interested in putting people into unusual or challenging situations and watching them work their way back out to their new life.  But there is always a romantic thread in my stories, because whether people plan on it or not, romance happens.  Sometimes one of two people thinks, “hummm…” and starts working at it, like my young would-be rebels in Hidden Fires.  Sometimes two people look at each other simultaneously and think “Why did I never notice this person in this way?”  as the protagonists of my short story “Feather of the Phoenix” do.  And sometimes people are working together, surviving together, laughing together, and along the way they realize that something new is growing between them, even as they are saving their corner of the universe, as in Fires of Nuala.

Sometimes there are challenges to the relationship, or temptations.  Some fans want to see Alfreda and Shaw from my Night Calls series finally make a match of it.  Shaw and Allie are only young teens, and they have skills that demand training—they aren’t the kind of people who will fall willy-nilly in love.  But if they awaken to it, after challenges, and others who attempt to lure them in other directions (for if they are both worth winning, they are worth winning by others) then they will fight the world to stay together.

But getting there can be subtle—until the moment it is everything.  I think I write romantic subplots for those of us who position ourselves in things we love in life, and hope to be surprised by love.  Just like in a romance!


Well said, Katharine! Romance can fit well and surprisingly easily into almost any genre, because in real life, it just...happens.

-Stephanie Osborn

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Release: An Elfy on the Loose, by Barb Caffrey!

by Stephanie Osborn

Today is the official release date (and book bomb) for Barb Caffrey's new novel, An Elfy on the Loose! Barb is something of my protege, and when I read the original manuscript (which became An Elfy on the Loose and its sequel), I knew we had to get this into print. So I paid it forward; just as Travis Taylor helped me get published by submitting to publishers he knew, so I did for Barb. And here we are today, and I'm almost as proud as she is! I'm going to quote the review I posted at Amazon, and every word of it is truth:

This book has almost everything: fantasy, mystery, romance, suspense, thriller, paranormal, you name it -- and that sounds like it would be a hodgepodge, doesn't it? But it isn't. Everything flows together beautifully, leaving a fascinating story that will keep you on the edge of your seat! I highly recommend it, and since I don't usually write book reviews, that's saying a good bit!

What I didn't know was how Barb came to write the book in the first place, so I asked her to tell me in her guest blog for today!

"On the Writing of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE"
by Barb Caffrey

To discuss how I wrote AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE – much less why I wrote it in the first place – I need to discuss the most important person who's ever been in my life: My [late] husband, Michael B. Caffrey. Because without him, AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE – much less the entirety of the Elfyverse – would not exist.
Michael was a much more assured writer than I was when I met him back in 2001, as he'd written two full novels and was working on another one. (I've managed to extract two stories from his first novel, and those stories,  A Dark and Stormy Night and On Westmount Station, are available at Amazon as e-books.) Michael also was an accomplished editor, and was probably the best person I could've been around as I started to seriously write fiction.
However, when we married in 2002, the novel I was working on wasn't AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE. I had no idea that I was about to write AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, either, nor that I'd write more than 240,000 words in the space of about thirteen months.
So what happened to jog loose the story of Bruno the Elfy and Sarah, his Human companion and friend? And why did I listen back in September of 2002 when Bruno popped up and said, "Hey, over here! I have a story to tell?"
Back then, Michael and I had just gotten back to San Francisco, California, which had been his home for many years, from a lengthy honeymoon visit with my family. And I'd read an anthology about Elves where the anthologist said something to the effect of, "These Elves aren't your normal Elfie-welfie stuff, either." While the name of that anthology didn't stick, the thought of what, pray tell, "Elfie-welfie stuff" might be apparently did, as it wasn't three hours after I closed the book that Bruno appeared.
When a character appears, fully formed, it's best to listen to what he has to say. But all I knew, when I started writing, were three things: Bruno liked to wear black – when his race, the Elfys, mostly loved bright colors. He was the equivalent of a teenager. And he did not like to rhyme, even if all the other Elfys did.
Even so, that was enough for me to start writing what I then called "The Elfy Story." I wrote the first six parts or so – less than chapters, about a thousand words per part – alone. Michael took a hand when I got to the seventh part because I had some sort of problem I couldn't immediately solve, and he got intrigued. Then he figured this story had legs, and he wanted to help me figure out where it went.
What did he do, exactly? Well, I have an Elfy Lexicon in the Bilre language – Bilre being what the Elfys speak, of course – and I wouldn't have that without Michael's help. He also helped me hash out how the Elfys are governed, and what their society is like. Trade is a must, and whoever Trades with all the other races can be a very wealthy and powerful person, but knowledge, too, is essential – because if you don't know what's likely to be important to each species, how could you possibly relate? (Or Trade, either?)
In figuring all of that out, we decided that the Elfyverse must be a true multiverse, where the various races tend to have worlds (or levels) of their own. And each race is different; for example, I knew from the beginning that Elfys were a type of shorter Elf (no Elfy is taller than four feet, two inches unless he or she is of mixed blood), but didn't have the same set of strengths and weaknesses as the Elfs (never Elves, as if you call them that in the Elfyverse, the Elfs will charcoal you for your presumption). And I knew that we had at least three races involved – Elfs, Elfys, and Humans. But as time went on, I knew the Dwarves were present (as they built air-cars), as were the Trolls, and maybe even the Ogres...
Still, world building aside, why should anyone care about Bruno just because he's an Elfy and from a magical society? You'd think that someone who has magic, and a lot of it, would be too hard to root for, right?
Not in Bruno's case. He's an orphan, a ward of the state, and because of a past traumatic brain injury, he doesn't remember everything he should. Further, most of what he's been told about himself is wrong. Worse yet, the Elfy High Council is so afraid of Bruno's potential magical power that they've intentionally mistrained him before sending him off to the Human Realm (our Earth), intending to maroon him there forever.
Despite all this, Bruno never completely loses his sense of humor, which appealed to me. He refuses to give up – it's just not in him – and that, too, appealed to me. So I kept writing...and my husband kept editing.
As I wrote, I learned that Bruno had landed in a house that was haunted. And where he mostly couldn't do magic. And where he only had one friend: the strange Human girl Sarah, with whom he had to make common cause due to her loathsome parents (as one of my friends put it, "Sarah's parents are straight out of reality TV"). They're in a bad situation, but it quickly gets worse when Bruno's mentor Roberto tries to rescue them, but instead ends up getting captured himself by Sarah's terrible parents. Who are themselves in thrall to a Dark Elf, who's up to no good...and then, of course, they fall in love, and everything gets better in a weird way because that's what love does, despite everything else going to the Hells in a handbasket.
With all of that going on, Bruno and Sarah realize they have to gather allies. But how can they? Bruno's new to the whole Human Realm (our Earth), while Sarah's been told her whole life that she's unimportant and way too young to be bothered with. And they need both Elfy and Human allies, which isn't going to be easy...

But somehow, some way, they will do it – or die trying.
With this huge, complex plot, I could've easily gotten lost. Fortunately for me, Michael was there every step of the way. He told me when I'd get frustrated, "Don't worry. The story will come." Or he'd tell me jokes in a similar way Bruno tries to do with Sarah from time to time in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE (where do you think I got that from, hm?). Or he'd help me draw diagrams when I tried to figure out why the Elfy High Council did anything at, he edited what I wrote, gave me excellent advice, and heavily edited nearly all of Dennis the Dark Elf's dialogue to make it even nastier and more hissable.
What more could anyone ever ask from her spouse than that?
So, in closing, if you enjoyed any part of AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, please remember my husband Michael. Without his presence in my life – without his understanding, patience, and love – this novel would not exist. Because I'd not have known enough about love to write it.

And there's her story, and it's delightful and wonderfully romantic. And so is her book! I urge you to purchase An Elfy on the Loose for your Nook or Kindle right away! Like I said, we're book-bombing her today anyway, so what better time to buy, than to help a new author? Go forth and read!

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Barb Caffrey

by Stephanie Osborn

Today's take on romance as a part of modern stories is rather unique, since Barb Caffrey (a new Twilight Times author, and now something of a protege of mine, as well as an excellent editor in her own right) looks at the history of romance itself, and how that factors into storytelling over the centuries. Her first book, An Elfy On The Loose, by TTB, will be out soon! (Rumor has it the release will be in June -- which seems appropriate!)



When Stephanie Osborn asked me and a number of other writers to talk about romance as an element of storytelling, I wasn't sure what to say. Sure, there's the obvious – romance has been around forever in one fashion or another, and many novelists and playwrights have written about it. Geoffrey Chaucer had an ironic and bawdy take on it with his stories of the Wife of Bath (who was married many times more than once and proud of it, too), while Shakespeare had so many different takes on romance – failed and, every so often, one that actually works – it's hard to keep track of them all.

Courtly love, though, used to take different formats than it does now. In the 13th and 14th Centuries, women were to be adored from afar and put up on pedestals. Troubadours and Trouvéres sang to court ladies, and some lost their hearts to them, no doubt...but most did absolutely nothing about it for a wide variety of reasons.

Actual marriages were usually made for business considerations – say, if two people from adjoining farming families married, land would be settled upon them from the existing family farms. Or if a prosperous merchant family trained an apprentice from a different family and that apprentice wanted to take over the family business, usually he'd have to marry in.

So how did romance as a thing actually come to be? Well, feelings and hormones aside, the lot of women from early on was probably none too good in most societies. Being bartered in marriage was by far the least of these ancient women's worries. But as our world matured and societies became more stable, there was more leisure time available – especially in the upper classes – and people started to think.

Why couldn't marriages be made where both people respected and liked each other? Why, if everything else was equal, couldn't a suitor actually romantically care about his proposed wife? Wouldn't that be beneficial to all concerned?

Slowly, societal mores changed, and as they did, storytelling changed with it. This is when we started to see tales like Chaucer's, where the older Wife of Bath tells younger, prospective brides and grooms that love is not all it's cracked up to be – but sex has its charms all the same.

So there was a two-stranded theme to romance as of that moment: Love, and sex. If you can get both at the same time, more power to you; but if you can't, sex by itself along with respect and a bit of liking beats whatever's in second place.

We see that now in contemporary romances of all descriptions, but most particularly in erotic romance. There, the sexual act is much more of a player, and the romance behind it usually doesn't signify too much (though in the best erotic romances, both are intertwined).

In other romances, love is usually shown to be a melding of sexual attraction (hormonal), liking and mutual respect. The latter two take time to engender, but once you have them, they build and build and build...

In my own work, which is relentlessly cross-genre but I suppose you could call "humorous romantic urban fantasy," that's the tactic I use. My hero and heroine in AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE, Bruno and Sarah, get to know each other during an extremely stressful period in both their lives. The more they know about each other, the more they like each other...and as both are at the right age for a romance, it's not surprising they have one. It's my own conceit that a young man of whatever species (Bruno is an Elfy, a type of shorter Elf) would worry far, far more than he is usually given credit for when it comes to romance, in order for people to laugh a bit while remembering their first attempts at dating and romance.

Personally, whenever I try to write a story without some element of romance in it, I find it much harder. Romance is part of the human condition, and whether you're in the far future (as is my late husband Michael's character Joey Maverick, hero of "A Dark and Stormy Night" and "On Westmount Station"), the not-so-distant past (as with Katharine Eliska Kimbriel's Night Calls series, set in early 19th Century Michigan), or the present-day (as with Stephanie Osborn's own Displaced Detective series or my own AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE), romance is possible because the human condition doesn't change all that much over time.

Even in stories where romance isn't part of the main theme, such as Rosemary Edghill's Bast novels about a Wiccan detective in modern-day New York (collected in BELL, BOOK AND MURDER), romance still plays an integral part. Who's dating whom and who's sleeping with who has to be factored in by Bast as she does her best to solve mysteries; who wants whom, and why, also must be considered.

Don't think that because your story doesn't contain a well-developed romantic strain that romance doesn't matter to you as a storyteller. Sometimes the absence of romance tells you more than its presence.

To sum up, the way we express things now has changed from Chaucer's or Shakespeare's time. Women have far more of a say in our governments, we have more say as to who we marry and when (at least in the West), we can and do own businesses and we often direct our own affairs. But our need for connection, for closeness, and for understanding has not changed.

Whether you're talking about a romance between a traditional male-female couple, a same-sex romance or a romance between two aliens we can barely comprehend, romance still matters and must be taken into account regardless of genre.

So long live romance! And may we continue to see it in all its various forms as long as stories are told.


Excellently said! And a nice historical brief on romance through the ages, both in story and in real life. I look forward to posting a blog about Barb's new book, An Elfy On The Loose, when it's released!

-Stephanie Osborn

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Elements of Modern Storytelling: Romance, A Guest Blog by Aaron Paul Lazar

by Stephanie Osborn

Continuing our theme of romance as an element of modern stories, today's guest blog is by Aaron Paul Lazar, an award-winning author with Twilight Times Books



When I started writing mysteries back in 1997, I never considered including a “romantic element” in my books.

Funny thing is, I realize now, in hindsight, that every one of my books is supremely romantic.

Crazy, huh? So many things happen beneath the scenes when I create, I find much of it is instinctual, borne of reading so many books in my lifetime. And it’s an interesting process to analyze.

When I started writing Double Forte’ after I lost my father to cancer, I began the series with Gus LeGarde mourning his long time soul mate, Elsbeth, who died four years before the series opens. Although deceased, she is an important, dynamic character who appears in flashbacks, memories, and prequels within the ten book series. After all, her picture stays up on that bedroom mantle in the silver frame, and Gus still stops to kiss his fingertips and press them to her silver halide image whenever he passes.

In early drafts, Gus threw himself into caring for his huge family, lavishing affection on his grandson and beloved dog, growing sumptuous gardens, and trying to numb his pain by staying busy. At first, I was content to let him suffer. I didn’t intend to let him off the hook. But my wife doggedly convinced me Gus needed a love interest, so I invented Camille Coté, the lady to whom he proposed by the end of book 1, is engaged to in book 2, and marries by book 3.

I realized in hindsight that her instincts were on target.

Without even thinking about it (I’m embarrassed to say, LOL), I subsequently introduced a strong unrequited love theme in the first book, dispersed among all the villains and mysteries that kept the cast running through woods and over the hills and fields of the Genesee Valley. I’m very glad I listened to her, because Gus and Camille have become the bedrock to the foundation of future books, and they also provide a bit of light sexual tension and humor to glue the scenes together. This is a relatively “wholesome” series, however, so there isn’t too much steam to burn up the pages. (Unlike The Seacrest, where I let myself “go.” Heh. )

It seems to have worked for this series, and within the rest of the books, additional characters’ love stories have evolved, such as Gus’s daughter, secretary, best friend, and plenty of featured characters like Kip Sterling and Bella Mae Dubois, in Lady Blues: forget-me-not.

Since then, I’ve written two more mystery series with plenty of love themes, (including lesbian love in Moore Mysteries and serious unrequited love in Tall Pines Mysteries), one pure old-fashioned love story (The Seacrest), and a thriller.

Of course, one expects love within the romance. It’s a given.

But in a thriller?

Yep. Almost all thrillers have plenty of high-paced action and danger and tension…but they always have a romantic element as well, where a couple is either in pre-love sexual tension or running side by side to save their lives, and ultimately fall for each other. In this new book, Devil’s Lake, which might also be categorized as a psychological thriller, there is lots of potential for a love story to evolve and possibly continue into a series of its own. Portia Lamont is damaged goods after having been kidnapped and held for four years by a monster, but her childhood friend and neighbor, Boone, is there for her and is one solid, dependable guy. I think I’ll let them get together in the end.

Think about it. How boring would stories be without some kind of relationship like that going on?

The same goes for sci-fi, fantasy, and other forms of fiction. Very often, we find a satisfying sub-theme of love, lost love, or unrequited love. The amount of time spent painting the relationship depends on the genre, of course.

In romantic suspense, it’s at least half the story. The other half is how the damsel in distress gets away from the bad guys, right?

In a sci-fiction story, it might take up a much smaller proportion of the book, so that all the cool scientific elements get fair time to play. But it’s frequently still there.

After all, love makes the world go ‘round, right?


I like Aaron's point of view on this! He's much like me in that he is distilling what he writes from what he has read over many years. And in that he finds it an interesting way to help support the story. I daresay that he would consider it an excellent shorthand for fleshing out certain aspects of the characters involved, as well.

-Stephanie Osborn