Tag Archives: romance

Short fiction – Lucky Chance

I haven’t written much lately. But I did write this. It’s for you. For free. And it won’t cost much of your time.

kitten held in human handsChristie stepped aside as a few more laughing workers bounced down the steps into the freedom of a Friday night. She looked at her phone and checked the time. Quarter past. It wasn’t like Darren to be late. Maybe she should call him.

She’d found his number and was about to press ‘call’ when he appeared, glowering. “Sorry,” he said, clattering down the steps. “Hanson went on and on and on.”

Christie knew what that was like. The boss in full spate was hard to shut up.

Darren grasped Christie’s arm. “Let’s go. I don’t want to be late for this party. There might be a job opportunity in it for me.”

Christie fell into step beside him, hurrying along the footpath. Stopped by the traffic lights Darren dithered, bouncing on his heels as the cars went by, throwing up a fine spray from the wet road.

A tiny wail caught Christie’s attention. “That sounded like a kitten.” She gazed around. Nothing but wet pavement. But there it was again, somewhere low down. Staring around she spotted a storm water drain, still gurgling with the last of the shower’s runoff. Crouched down she peered between the bars of the grid and made out a bundle in the corner, the light reflecting from huge eyes. “We’ve got to get it out.”

“What are you talking about?” Darren grated. “We have to go.”

“It’s a kitten. It’s trapped. It’ll drown.”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s just a bloody cat. Thousands of the things are put down every day.”

Christie stared up at his scowling face. He wasn’t quite so cute and handsome from this angle. Heartless bastard. “Go. I might see you later.”

“Sure.” He stormed off across the road. Ignoring the fading thud of boots, Christie pulled at the bars.

“What’s up?”

Christie peered up at the man standing beside her. Pete, the senior software engineer where she worked, a nice enough guy, but quiet, a bit stand-offish. His hair flopped into his face as usual. Just as well he wore glasses. “There’s a kitten trapped down here.” As she spoke the tiny creature meowed again.

Frowning, Pete pushed his hair aside and crouched beside her, inspecting the grille. “If I can get my fingers under here…” He reached between the bars and heaved. Once. Twice. With a squelch the grid lifted and slid aside. Together they peered down into the darkness, while the kitten yowled again, its voice barely audible above the drip of water and the sound of passing cars. The pit was deep, Christie judged deeper than she was tall.

Pete stood. “I’ll go. You’ll get dirty.”

Before Pete could climb into the pit Christie grabbed his leg. “I’ll go. I’m lighter than you. I won’t be able to pull you up.”

He chewed his lip for a moment, then nodded. “Get yourself over. I’ll lower you down.”

Holding her wrists he lowered her until her feet sank into ooze that made her flesh crawl. The kitten crouched in the corner, all wet fur and huge, frightened eyes. Her heart melting, Christie picked up the tiny body, cradling it in both hands. Poor little thing, wet and trembling. She wondered how long it had been there.

“Hand it up here, Christie.” Pete’s face was a dark oval, silhouetted against the evening sky.

She placed the kitten into his waiting hands.

“Poor little puss,” he murmured as he put the little creature in his jacket pocket. That done, he reached down for her hands and dragged her, muddy and bedraggled, out of the drain. “Okay?” he asked as he steadied her with a hand on her hip.

She nodded. “Kitten?”

Pete lifted the kitten out of his pocket, stroking its head with one finger. She could hear the purr from here. The look on the man’s face hit Christie right in the heart.

“I think you’re one life down, little fella, one very lucky little cat.” The grin on his face morphed into something else she couldn’t quite pick. “Do you mind if I keep him?” he asked. “I mean, if you want him…”

Grinning, she blinked away the incipient tears. “No. I’d like to, but I can’t.” She’d been afraid he was going to suggest the council pound.

Pete looked her up and down, making her aware of her damp, filthy clothes. “Um… I can give you a lift home. If you don’t mind stopping at the supermarket so I can pick up some kitty litter and food?”

Pete had lovely blue eyes behind his glasses. Wiping her nose with her grubby hand, she said, “We’d better stop at the pizza joint, too. Looks like I won’t be going out to dinner, after all.”

“I’m a good cook. If pasta and a salad would suit?”

“I’d like that. Then I can help you clean up Lucky.”

He had a lovely smile. “Lucky it is.”

Introducing Nya Rawlyns’s latest, “Timber Lake”

Timber LakeProlific genre-bending author Nya Rawlyns has a new release out in the ebook stores.

Timber Lake

Michael Brooks is a loner, and with good reason. A short fuse and a tendency to shoot from the hip, sometimes quite literally, mean he’s all the company he’s got most of the time, and he likes it that way just fine. It suits his job as Warden for Wyoming’s Fish and Game Department.

Being alone sounds good to the researcher for the USDA Forest Service, Dr. Seamus Rydell, especially since it means time away from the pressures to follow his family’s political traditions. He’ll need a guide to Timber Lake to set up his testing equipment, and who better than a Warden whose boss needs him out of sight for a while?

They’re just doing their jobs, until both men get derailed by a lust threatening to light up the night sky and by egos big enough to fill the wilderness.

When a psychopathic poacher intrudes, Michael’s past rises up and the present twists out of shape around a sick mind. As the future for both men fills with darkness, it is all too clear no one will come back from Timber Lake unscathed.

Timber Lake is a standalone suspense/thriller taking place against the magnificent backdrop of the Snowy Range in southern Wyoming. 

This second book in Rawlyns’s Snowy Range series (I wrote about the first one here) introduces a few new characters and an absolutely murderous villain. At its heart, Timber Lake is a romance as two men with very different pasts engage in games of one upmanship, interspersed with scenes of affection they don’t seem to be able to avoid. Over time, respect and understanding builds between Michael and Seamus as they battle with the elements in the unpredictable mountains. I liked both men, both strong in their own way, both confronting themselves as well as each other. The sex scenes are sensual, rather than blow-by-blow – which suited me perfectly.

I loved the scenes in the mountains with the tortuous trails, the trees, the water, the weather. And the animals. I especially liked Seamus’s mule. When the psychopathic poacher appears the story builds into a climax which had my flesh crawling. A suspense/thriller it is indeed.

As usual, the writing is expressive, filled with details about horses, mules, and mountains as well as men. The secondary characters, the two ladies in particular, are sharply drawn, three dimensional people with their own story. All in all it’s a satisfying story that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Tch. I don’t think Rawlyns is able to write just a SIMPLE romance. She keeps have to mix it all up with nail-biting plots.

Buy the book at Amazon: ARe/OmniLit : B&N: Kobo: Apple:

Science fiction romance – caught between a rock and a hard place

Talking about what constitutes ‘romance’ seems to be a bit like climbing over the fence into the lions’ compound knowing they haven’t been fed for a while. But I have to say I find the debate a little bit perplexing when it comes to the genre I mostly write – science fiction romance.

couple on the beach silhouetteOn the one hand, the born-again romance readers insist that without a HEA (happily ever after ending, for those not in the know) or at the very least a HFN (Happy For Now) then the story doesn’t qualify as ‘romance’. On the other hand there’s more than a suggestion from the science fiction fraternity (I use the word deliberately) that all that soppy love stuff doesn’t belong in science fiction.canstockphoto19778842

I’m not really a romance reader and I’d be the first to say that my stories are SF action/adventure with a strong romance arc. Mostly. I think. And we get back to the old question of genre.

Back in the very recent past we didn’t have a science fiction romance genre. You had a choice: science fiction or romance. So you took your chances. Have your book panned by the hard-line SFers who didn’t want any of the smulchy squishy stuff, or have your book panned by the romance die-hards who protested your story wasn’t a romance because it wasn’t the raison d’etre of the plot.

Let’s consider my latest effort, Crisis at Validor, because… just because.

Is it a romance?Picture of cover for Crisis at Validor

I’ve included the Romance Writers of America definition of romance.

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.

  • A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
  • An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction. Click here to better understand the subgenres within romance.

So that’s what the RWA had to say. Let’s get back to Crisis at Validor.

Is it a love story? Yes. Two people who had been in ‘love’ in their teens meet up and find the ember still glows

Is it the main plot arc? I believe you can tell this by asking the question – if you take out the romance would you still have a story? And the answer to that (IMO) is also yes. (But the romance raises the stakes for both parties)

So it’s not a romance, it just has a romantic arc with a couple of non-specific squishy scenes. I think.

Is it science fiction?

Is it SF? When we’re discussing speculative fiction (which we are) Orson Scott Card gives a very interesting definition of the difference between science fiction and fantasy. “If the story is set in a universe that follows the same rules as ours, it’s science fiction. If it’s set in a universe that doesn’t follow our rules, it’s fantasy.” “How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy” p22. On that definition Crisis at Validor certainly is SF.

Is it hard SF? No, it’s not. It’s space opera which the purists consider to be ‘soft’ SF. But it is SF, with non-humanoid aliens with their own politics and their own problems, space ships, inter-planetary travel and the like. There’s no magic, even if inter-planetary travel is pretty slick. If you want an explanation, see my post on planet hopping.

But I’m sure as hell certain that with that cover and that romance arc, it won’t be popular with the ‘straight’ SF community. I recently saw a request by a prominent SF writer (female) who is collecting data for a degree. She wanted the names of women who have published in science fiction since 2000. That’s fine – but she very specifically states that she doesn’t want straight science fiction romance.

And that, folks, sums it up for me. Pick your cliché

  • rock and a hard place
  • devil and the deep blue sea
  • out of the frying pan into the fire

The fact is, we have to pick a genre when we publish. I’ve opted for the soft and squishy SFR option – and I firmly believe that if you can classify Romeo and Juliet, Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago as ‘romances’ then there’s room for romance arcs that don’t necessarily end up as HEA or HFN. I’ve said before I see the SFR genre as a continuum, and I hold to that view. There’s room for all kinds of nuances on that line.

I’d love to hear your take on this debate.

Love at first sight – fact or contrived fiction?

Not so long ago a reader told me that when the main character in my Iron Admiral books, Admiral Saahren, fell in love pretty much at first sight, the character was diminished. That reader didn’t believe in love at first sight. Another reviewer said much the same thing. But I am unrepentant because I KNOW it happens. I’ve seen it and heard about it too often to not believe.

  • Two days after my brother met his new girlfriend, he brought her home to meet mum and introduced her as the woman he was going to marry.
  • A good friend told me that her father danced with a girl he met at a function, went back to his friends and said, “I’m going to marry her.”
  • A well known broadcaster was interviewed on the radio and told how he knew when he met his future wife for the first time, that he was going to marry her.
  • I’ll even throw in Michael Cain, who saw his wife-to-be on a TV commercial

But don’t take my word for it. Let me quote from Allan and Barbara Pease, in their book Why Men Want Sex and Women Need Love. ‘Scientists now agree that love at first sight is a real phenomenon.’ (p13) Why? Well, to put it into pure animal terms, because it makes sex and procreation easier and that’s a survival behaviour. It’s also more prevalent in men than in women because men use their eyes to evaluate a potential mate, while women are more inclined to look for ongoing support and nurturing. After all, if they don’t they’ll be the ones holding the baby. Literally.

So… what do you think? Do you ‘believe’ in love at first sight? Would you care to share any examples? And what do you think when love at first sight happens in a book you’re reading?

Roman: Saints and Sinners

This is a review Amazon refused to publish.

I admit it, the author is a friend, in fact we have had a business collaboration in the past. But I gain no profit from the sale of this book and I am not in direct competition with the author. I don’t write YA books – although I think this one is a cross-over. I do wonder if Amazon would have published my review if I had written a 1 star screamer. But I haven’t. If I didn’t like the book, I would have told the author so, and said why, and I would not have reviewed. You’re right not to trust all Amazon reviews. But you can trust this one.

Blurb

In a dying town, two teens marked as broken struggle with the burden of lies masquerading as truth. Not even a man of faith is strong enough to hold back the coming darkness.

  • Benedict Nowak bailed on his marriage, taking his son with him but leaving behind his five year old daughter. He had his reasons. He had no idea they’d come back to haunt him.
  • TJ had come to terms with the mother she despised, making those small concessions that made life bearable. But her mother’s death changed everything.
  • Her brother, Anton, was the parent missing in TJ’s life, until he found a calling in violence, and left his sister at the mercy of shrinks and a mother with ice in her veins.
  • Roman Rincon was the juvie rescued by Father Marcus and placed in the care of Benedict Nowak. With his records sealed, no one knew what happened that fateful night when Roman was only fourteen.
  • All Father Marcus knew was the boy had confessed to a crime not even the cops would talk about.

In the small coal mining town of Montville, two teens whose lives have been shattered beyond repair must find a way to cope … with school, with each other, with growing up marked as broken in a town dying under the weight of secrets and lies. Warned off having anything to do with Roman, TJ is all too willing to agree, except for one little thing. The young man lives in the apartment above her father’s car repair business so avoiding him might be a problem.

As for Roman, he will take his secret to the grave, no matter what the cost.

Review

This book starts off with a fairly routine YA premise – a sixteen year old girl (TJ) finding herself dumped on her estranged father when the mother she despises dies. Coming from a wealthy, upmarket life style and a private school, she’s faced with a new life in an impoverished, dying mining town where Latinos do what they can to survive. The longed-for college sporting scholarship is no longer an option in a school which doesn’t (can’t) support women’s sport. TJ’s brother, Tony, the only person who cares about her, the closest to a father she has ever known, is a serving soldier due to return to active service, leaving her to cope on her own. Before he goes, he makes her promise to keep away from Roman, a young man working for her father.

It’s obvious TJ isn’t going to keep away from Roman. But many things about this novel are not obvious. TJ’s father, Ben, has his own demons tormenting him with deep levels of guilt at not taking in his daughter when he and his wife divorced. TJ’s deceased mother is an invisible participant, sitting on the sidelines, mocking TJ and Ben. Ben’s cousin, Marcus, is a Roman Catholic priest who delves into ancient scrolls. Tony’s girlfriend, Marsha, is a scarred veteran of the Iraq war.

And then there’s Roman. He’s described as a seventeen year old juvenile delinquent who is sent to live with Ben as a form of rehabilitation. From the outset it’s obvious he is dark and dangerous. But how dangerous? And who to? He arrived in Montville not long after a series of mysterious events that are still spoken about in whispers, accused of bashing a man near to death.

In a way this is the usual YA coming of age story, but it is so much more. There’s a thread of dark fantasy – or call it myth – which begins as a hint, then coalesces in the latter part of the book and brings it to a thumping, heart-stopping climax. It’s a book about love, acceptance, sacrifice and redemption on many different levels.

The characters are all well-developed, real people with pasts and futures and reasons. Only the mother’s motives are not crystal clear. But then, that’s life, isn’t it, and she is dead.

The writing is sensual and evocative. You spend a lot of time absorbing atmosphere, feeling events. This is no skim read. You have to pay attention or you’ll miss things. Perhaps that is my only criticism. I occasionally lost my place as it were, since the narrative might skip from the present to a past conversation or reminiscence in the character’s head. The description is rich and real. I particularly liked the detail. You can see the town, the garage, the metal stairs up to Roman’s apartment. The author talks about motorcycles, a dying Pennsylvania town, living on a mountain road in the woods and coal mining, just to name a few, with authority which lends authenticity.

I really enjoyed this book. My YA days are far behind me and it would be sad to imagine that this is just a story for ‘teens’. It’s not. I give it *****.

PS. I LOVE the cover, designed by fellow author (and friend) Poppet. It truly suits the story

PPS. The book was written as a serial, a couple of chapters a week. I dips me lid. I could not possibly write a book in that way, especially as the writer just… goes with the flow without elaborate planning. Kudos.

 

 

The sexy side of time travel

Catherine’s Palace St Petersburg

Time travel has been a popular topic in fiction for a very long … well… time. All of us could come up with a heap of examples, starting with HG Wells’ Time Machine and including the Back to the Future trilogy, episodes from Star Trek etc etc etc. It seems to be very common in the Scottish Highlander romance mythos, Regency… you name it.

Sure, it’s fun to read about it, but would you really want to do it? Especially the romance bit.

Tell you what, you can have my seat. No, really. Yes, miss out on the dishy Highlander, naked except for his kilt, rippling abs bared to the world.

Don’t look at me like that. I have my reasons.

Modern baths

Unless you’re talking about heathen countries like Japan, bathing wasn’t a big deal in the middle ages. You’d find very few bathrooms (meant as a place to bathe, not a toilet) in European palaces, let alone a more common house. I LOVE my morning shower, folks. With hot water.

Sewerage systems

Relieving oneself is something (unlike bathing) that Humans have always had to do every day. Flushing toilets and sewers are modern inventions. Back in the day, you used a garde robe or a potty if you were flash, and if you weren’t, well you might use a latrine. If not, a bush would do. What did you do with the potty when it was full? Chucked it out on the street, what else? Remember that scene from Shakespeare in Love? Geoffrey Rush dodging out of the way of a potty full of…? It’s true.

Language

Go back more than a few hundred years and you’d have trouble understanding a word anybody said. It’s hard enough to understand a Scot today, let alone what they spoke back then.

Stink

Given the above, that’s obvious, isn’t it? But it gets better than that. You know those elaborate hairdos the ladies at Versaille wore? They were set in place with animal fat and tended to attract an assortment of insects. Apparently, scratching with a special stick was permissible. Same with the men. Rats liked to nibble on pig fat treated hair, like braids. And washing of clothes? Are you kidding me? With all those sequins and lace and ribbons? And while we’re at it, modern dentistry wasn’t top of the list, either. No tooth brushes and mouth wash back in the olden days. Halitosis was, without a doubt, King!

Water

You might well be okay drinking the water from the pristine springs of the Highlands etc but water in the cities wasn’t a great idea. See the entries on modern plumbing and sewerage systems. Take a city like Amsterdam, famous for its beautiful canals. That’s where they dumped the sewage. The canals are opened once a day to ‘flush’ the system. This still happens. And… um… they used that same water in the over one hundred breweries that made beer. Maybe the yeast and hops killed the bugs. You may have noticed that in medieval times people drank a lot of wine, beer, cider, mead. It was safer than the water.

Disease

What with all the rats, mice, bugs etc, diseases tended to be endemic in the big cities. Plague raged through London many times in Shakespeare’s day. That’s apart from the devastating Black Death which decimated Europe around 1350. Then there was cholera and dysentery and consumption.

Cold and Dark

No electric light, no gas heaters, no freezers full of food sourced from all around the world. Fires provided warmth, smoky candles light. If you could afford them. Winter was a time of deprivation, when you hoped the food you’d stored in summer would last you through the long, cold, dark. Christmas was a festival where you prayed for the return of the sun.

And the biggest factor of all? For me?

I reckon if I went back to anything earlier than about 1900, I’d die in a month. Apart from anything else, I’m violently allergic to horses.

No, thanks. I’ll stay here with my computer and make up stories of the future.

What about you?

The Rules of Romance

I’m in the throes of editing. I’ve written a good story but it needs some restructure and it needs a lot more romance. That last is a skill I have yet to properly master but I know and understand it must be done. Apparently I was quite successful in my Iron Admiral books, but not so much in Morgan’s Choice and Starheart, which are principally action-adventure stories with romance as a side dish. (See books for more info)

Many people scoff at romance. Sure, there are pot-boilers – as there are in every other genre, but it isn’t necessarily an easy genre to write well, as I have discovered. I’ve also learned there are Rules. You know me and rules, know ’em so you can break ’em. The one that really, really bothers me about romance is the one that says ‘when the hero and heroine first set eyes on each other, they shall have no eyes for anybody else’.

I kind of understand the reasoning, here. It isn’t about reality, it’s about an ideal, if you like. But it comes down to male versus female needs/wants/desires. Alan and Barbara Pease, who wrote an iconic book about body language, also wrote another book entitled “Why men want sex and women need love”. To me, the argument they give is compelling and they could easily have used ‘males’ for men and ‘females’ for women in the title because the behaviour is found in many, if not most, species. (I know some species form a monogamous relationship – but even the fabled swan mating has been shown to be not quite so monogamous as we’ve been led to believe.) Males spread their sperm around to father offspring. Females are usually shouldered with the job of raising said offspring. They need the support of a loving male to help them do so. Fair enough.

Now back to our mythical couple. It’s love at first sight. But there are problems and setbacks and she knocks him back. We have a frustrated male. Yet when I suggest he would go and find consolation in the arms of an acquaintance, friend, or hooker, this is deemed wrong. I’ll bet it’s realistic, though. Men’s urges and motivations aren’t the same as a woman’s. Is it just that (as a friend told me) women read romance to escape reality?

Any thoughts on all of this, people?