Saturday, March 31, 2007

Eileen the Angry

No, Eileen the furious. Eileen the outraged. Eileen the greatly disappointed.

Before I tell you why, let me preface it by giving you a bit of my history. I worked in trauma nursing for sixteen years. We were the catchment hospital for familial abuse, so I took care of endless numbers of women caught in a terrifying spiral of violence, abuse and degradation because they'd been taught that they were worthless, powerless and lucky to have the man who was crippling her and her children. So I have absolutely no objectivity about the subject. I know what an abuser looks like what he(statistically) sounds like and what the cost of his abuse is.

One of the things I've been proudest of in romance is that as a genre, we have persistently communicated the message that women have power, that women deserve to be loved, to be respected, and to have their needs and wishes fulfilled in a healthy relationship. Yes, especially in the early years, the message has occasionally been much darker. And I"ll tell you something, and I'm not being flippant. I used to stand in bookstores and watch to see who bought the kind of books that taught women that all they deserved was pain and punishment. That this was the definition of love. Universally, the women who picked up these books walked across to the self-help aisle and bought books on how to deal with abusive mates.

It makes perfect sense. If they've already been taught that this is all they deserve, this is the message they're reinforce in their romance books. Thankfully, those books were mostly weeded out. And while I can intellectually appreciate the "Taming the Beast" message of the old rape fantasies, I"m afraid that the women reading them for reinforcement, told me that the message they got was that if they just hung around long enough, their abuser would be redeemed by the love of a good woman. Usually what I saw was those good women on slabs in the morgue.

And now, the spectre of the abusive hero has reared its unspeakably ugly head again. I'm not talking about the old "he forced her when he first knew her but learned his lesson through pain and work" books. I'm talking about a book that is an abuser's lexicon. And worst of all, it came out from Avon. I guess I expected better of them. The author is new. She's very talented. Which is even more unsettling, because she does provoke emotion. It's called Claiming the Courtesan. What I'd call it is "Punishing the Helpless."

I read about fifty pages, and thought, 'no, it can't really be this bad." I checked in with All About Romance, whose reviewers I respect. I found out that it was far worse than I'd thought. The hero, a duke, has the most notorious mistress in London. She leaves. He refuses to allow that, insanely furious that she has the nerve to leave him(even though she's fulfilled her contract). He stalks her(and doesn't raise really comfortable images), kidnaps her and terrorizes her. He doesn't simply continually rape her, he forces home the message that she's worthless.

"You still don't understand, do you, Verity? And I've always considered you to be a very clever little poppet. You have no power. You have no rights. You belong to me. This isn't London. This is a forgotten little corner of a feudal domain. And I am its lord. There is nowhere to run. There's no one to help you. If I want you--and we both know that I do--I take you."

In St. Louis, we have a law that allows police who respond to domestic abuse situations to judge the real abuser by language alone, because the language of an abuser is classic and universal. What you just read would have had that man arrested and indicted. There could not be more classic abuse language.

I'm afraid, as Sandy Coleman said on All About Romance, that somebody's going to call this unfortunate work as 'edgy and cutting edge'. Not at all. It yanks us right back to the years when women were powerless and only good for subservience and obedience. And if it's all the same to you, we've worked too damn hard to climb out of that pit to go back there. Especially the thousands of women who risked their lives to save themselves and their children from the kind of situation this book glorifies. On behalf of my genre, I apologize to them all.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Two Sweetest Words in the English Language

Yes, that's right. The end. I finished my book this last weekend. I would have blogged about it Monday, except that was devoted to converting all my Wordperfect 6.2 files into Word for Windows so they could be edited at Silhouette, then copying them all, then sending the snailmail and the email versions to editors and agents.

Then the last two days I wandered around the house feeling a bit disoriented and lost, which is exactly what happens after I finish a book. I don't know where I'm supposed to be, because I"m not in my office sweating blood. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing, because I don't have a book hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles. Of course, I have the next book already hanging there. I need to start on that by the end of the week, because I want it finished within two months. But for now, I'm actually taking a bit of a breather.

How to describe the actual end of a book you've totally focused on for so long. First of all, I admit that I waste an inordinate amount of time cleaning it up and writing the last three or four pages. First, because I do not have an active brain cell in the linear logic division, and have to clean up my continuity errors(WHAT was that person's name again?) and make sure all my clues are in place for whatever happens later. Second, and the truest, I think, is because no matter how much I struggled over those characters, I've loved them enough to struggle over them in the first place. I've spent the last few months in intimate acquaintance with them. And, to be honest, The End also translates into Good Bye.

I simply hate to send my lovely characters away to someone who might not love them as much as I do. I hate to forfeit the feeling of delight and discovery I've enjoyed when a surprise character shows up(in this newest book, the second of the Daughters of Myth series for Silhouette Nocturne, I was surprised when exactly halfway through the book, a little four-year-old named Lilly made a dramatic entrance, and I fell instantly, madly in love with her. Lilly has Down Syndrome. And as she appeared on the set of my book, I discovered that the world of faerie calls children with Down Syndrome their "Cherished Ones", because nothing is more beautiful to the world of faerie than pure joy; and these children will never lose theirs. In fact, they are the only children who will never be too old to see the fairies). Quite simply, I hate to say goodbye.

But that's what The End is all about. And I'll be able to visit with them in about two months when I get my copy-edit back. And, hopefully, get to talk about them when people read the book. I'll let you know when it's scheduled. Oh, and what it's titled. The title committee's in charge of this one.

Eileen\Kathleen, the evil twins

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Yes, I know I'm late posting, but I"ve spent the day with my family. We consider this one of the high holy days, and spend it together--usually at a restaurant as far removed from an Irish bar as we can get. Because, you see, we're not amateurs, and we don't see a need to mix with them.

St. Louis has a monstrous celebration: fourth largest in the country. We have two parades: one downtown that is the big public one, and one in the area we call Dogtown where the original Irish immigrants settled, put on by the Ancient Order of the Hibernians. Usually those parades are separate, because the downtown parade is always on a Saturday and the AOH parade is always on St. Patrick's Day. And yeah, they coincided this year. The AOH parade is completely family oriented--well, as much as it can be when bars are open. And all the bars and restaurants with an O in the title rent tents and pour green beer. My very favorite site in St. Louis, John D. McGurk's, actually puts up a wire cage, like Blues Brothers, to keep the crowd from falling over the traditional Irish music band that plays.

So I refuse to wear shamrock glasses or F#$# Me I'm Irish buttons or silly green wigs. I figure if you take one look at my face, you get the idea. But it's a very important day for my family. Mostly I guess because of my mom. She was Irish with a capitol I. Wept at sad music(is there any other kind?), celebrated any Irish triumph, railed against the British(she used to point out the fact that there were no trees in Ireland. "It's because the English tore them down to build warships in the 1800s", she'd say. "Couldn't they have planted them again any time in the last, oh, say, eighty years they've been an independent country?" I'd ask. She'd smack me. After all, what's the point of replanting the forests if that takes away the chance to blame the English for taking them down in the first place? Fortunately, Ireland is much more sensible than my mom. They've started replanting.

If you've read anything I've ever written, you'll see how important Ireland is to me. It infuses everything I write. My themes tend to be guilt and redemption. My heroines are usually named something like Maggie or Molly. My families are dysfunctional(have you read Angela's Ashes? I know those people. I'm related to them--fortunately, one ring out on the family tree, so they're interesting instead of devestating). I find the dynamic of the Irish character endlessly fascinating. A land of madmen and poets, Ireland is called. So true; so true. I can't tell you the times I've walked into a music pub and seen a pathetic, drooling, can't-clean-himself drunk passed out on the bar until somebody with the band says, "Tommy, lad, will you give us a song?" And suddenly, for the length of time it takes him to finish a song--maybe twelve verses of it--he lifts himself, opens his rheumy eyes, his mouth, and a sound of pure beauty pours out from him. Then, finished, he lowers his head again. Amazing.

Yeah, I go to Ireland frequently. (Here are a couple of my pictures.) I can't help it. I was just saying tonight that I missed it--especially in the spring. There are so many places on earth I want to see, but every other year, like a salmon hearing the call of the river where he was spawned, I have to return to the west coast of Ireland and sit out on a headland and write longhand in a notebook. I sit the whole evening in the music pubs, and if I'm lucky, sing the old songs(I actually have a collection a friend gave me entitled "It's not an Irish love song if nobody dies"). It's therapy. We figured I've been over thirteen times. I can't wait to get back. It's where God lives for me. It's where countless generations of ancestors call to me, and the cousins who are still there welcome me with family stories. It's where I tap into the core of creativity(more on that in a later post).

So if you'll excuse me, I"m going to put on the movies Into the West, then Matchmaker and Ryan's Daughter and sigh for the most beautiful spot on earth. In the meantime, Slainte! I hope your St. Patrick's Day was nice, be ye Irish or not.

Eileen and Kathleen, the evil twins