Early in my career, when I was writing romance and women’s fiction, a bookseller, who I greatly admired, commented that my idea of romance was a chuck on a man’s shoulder. The other authors gathered in her store for a book signing laughed – and so did I. She was right in context of the romance genre. I was never comfortable writing love scenes or covering my ‘author lens’ with gauze. I didn’t care for characters having long involved conversations about their relationships. It never occurred to me to have brooding heroes or pining heroines. I was less interested in cupid, than I was in the arrow he shot and, I suppose, that is why I write thrillers now.
However, that does not mean I am unromantic. Why? Because in each of my books I take great care with character relationships, character’s moral core, their willingness to take chances and their curiosity about their mysterious world. To convince myself I was correct in believing these attributes to be romantic, I looked up the definition. Here you go, straight from Meriam/Webster:
Romantic: marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized.
In other words, romance for one heart might carry an emotional connotation that leads to a sexual encounter or a committed relationship. For my heart, romance is embodied in how characters react to challenge. As a thriller writer I want my reader to feel the romance of suspense, of mystery, of the idealization of a hero who will walk through fire to make things right.
I find John McClane in Die Hard, Indiana Jones in any of the Indiana Jones movies, romantic and yet you never see them in sexual situations. The focus of these movies is on action within a mysterious world. The romantic in me sighs over their heroics, my heart beats faster at their commitment to justice and the place of honor in which they put women while also treating them as equals in adventure.
Whether you are an author or are a reader, do not pigeonhole the idea of romance. If you do, you will be limiting your talent and your reading enjoyment.
This Valentine’s Day, I hope cupid brought you candies and flowers. In the next year, I wish you a different kind of romance; the kind that take you to exotic, mysterious and adventurous places in your imagination.
The unromantic romantic
USA Today and Amazon bestselling author, Rebecca Forster is the author of over 38 novels including the acclaimed The Witness Series and her new Finn O’Brien Thriller series. She is married to a Superior Court judge and is mother to two sons.
Find Rebecca here:
Twitter: @Rebecca_Forster (https://twitter.com/Rebecca_Forster)
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Beau could hardly believe it. His father was sixty years old! The girl sitting across from him in a booth at the Pleasant Hill Café looked like a teenager. A very pregnant teenager.
“Everything’s going to be okay, Missy,” Beau Reese said. “You don’t have to worry about anything from now on. I’ll make sure everything is taken care of from here on out.”
“He bought me presents,” the girl said, dabbing a Kleenex against the tears in her blue eyes. “He told me how pretty I was, how much he liked being with me. I thought he loved me.”
Fat chance of that, Beau thought. His dad had never loved anyone but himself. True, his father, a former Texas state senator, was still a handsome man, one who stayed in shape and looked twenty years younger. Didn’t make the situation any better.
“How old are you, Missy?”
At least she was over the age of consent. That was something, not much.
Beau shoved a hand through his wavy black hair and took a steadying breath. He thought of the DNA test folded up and tucked into the pocket of his shirt. He had always wanted a baby brother or sister. Now at the age of thirty five, he was finally going to have one.
Beau felt a surge of protectiveness toward the young woman carrying his father’s child.
He looked over to where she sat hunched over next to her mother on the opposite side of the pink vinyl booth. “Everybody makes mistakes, Missy. You picked the wrong guy, that’s all. Doesn’t mean you won’t have a great kid.”
For the first time since he’d arrived, Missy managed a tentative smile. “Thank you for saying that.”
Beau returned the smile. “I’m going to have a baby sister. I promise she won’t have to worry about a thing from the day she’s born into this world.” Hell, he was worth more than half a billion dollars. He would see the child had everything she ever wanted.
When Missy’s lips trembled, her mother scooted out of the booth. “I think she’s had enough for today. This is all very hard on her and I don’t want her getting overly tired.” Josie reached for her daughter’s hand. “Let’s go home, honey. You’ll feel better after a nap.”
Beau got up, too, leaned over and brushed a kiss on Missy’s cheek. “You both have my number. If you need anything, call me. Okay?”
Missy swallowed. “Okay.”
“Thank you, Beau,” Josie said. “I should have called you sooner. I should have known you’d help us.”
“I’ll have my assistant send you a check right away. You’ll have money to take care of expenses and buy the things you need. After that, I’ll have a draft sent to Missy every month.”
Josie’s eyes teared up. “I didn’t know how I was going to manage the bills all by myself. Thank you again, Beau.”
He just nodded. “Keep me up to date on her condition.”
“I will,” Josie said.
Beau watched the women head for the door, the bell ringing as Josie shoved it open and she and Missy walked out of the café.
Leaving money on the table for his coffee, he followed the women out the door, his temper slowing climbing toward the boiling point, as it had been after he’d first received Josie’s call.
His father should be the one handling Missy’s pregnancy. He’d had months to step up and do the right thing. Beau figured he never would.
As he crossed the sidewalk and opened the door of his dark blue Ferrari, his temper cranked up another notch. By the time the car was roaring along the road to his father’s house, his fury was simmering, bubbling just below the surface.
Unconsciously his foot pressed harder on the gas, urging the car down the two-lane road at well over eighty miles an hour. With too many tickets in Howler County already, he forced himself to slow down.
Making the turn into Country Club Estates, he jammed on the brakes and the car slid to a stop in front of the house. The white, two-story home he’d been raised in oozed Southern charm, the row of columns out front mimicking an old-style plantation.
Climbing out of the Ferrari, one of his favorite vehicles, he pounded up the front steps and crossed the porch. The housekeeper had Mondays and Tuesdays off so he used his key to let himself into the entry.
On this chilly, end-of-January day, the ceiling fans, usually rotating throughout the five-thousand square-foot residence, hadn’t been turned on, leaving the interior strangely silent, the air oddly dense. The ticking of the ornate grandfather clock in the living room seemed louder than it usually did.
“Dad! It’s Beau! Where are you?” When he didn’t get an answer, he strode down the hall toward the study. He had phoned his father on the way over. Though he’d done his best to keep the anger out of his voice, he wasn’t sure he had succeeded. Maybe his father had left to avoid him.
“Dad!” Still no answer. Beau continued down the hall, his footsteps echoing in the quiet. As he reached the study, he noticed the door standing slightly ajar. Steeling himself for the confrontation ahead, he clamped down on his temper, rapped firmly, then shoved the door open.
His father wasn’t sitting at the big rosewood desk or in his favorite overstuffed chair next to the fireplace. Beau started to turn away when an odd gurgling sound sent the hairs up on the back of his neck.
“Dad!” At the opposite end of the desk, Beau spotted a prone figure lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. “Dad!” His father’s eyes were closed, his face as gray as ash. The handle of a letter opener protruded from the middle of his chest.
Beau raced to his father’s side. “Dad!” Blood oozed from the wound in his chest and streamed onto the hardwood floor. He had to stop the bleeding and he had to do it now!
He hesitated, praying he wouldn’t make it worse, then with no other option, grabbed the handle of the letter opener, jerked it out, gripped the front of his dad’s white shirt and ripped it open.
“Oh, my God! What are you–”
Beau glanced up. “Call 9-1-1! Hurry, he’s been stabbed! Hurry!”
The woman, a shapely brunette named Cassidy Jones, his father’s recently hired personal assistant, didn’t pause, just pulled her cell out of her pocket and hurriedly punched in the number. He heard her rattle off the address, give the dispatcher the name of the victim and said he had been stabbed.
Beau’s hand shook as he checked for a pulse, found none. The wound was catastrophic, a stab wound straight to the heart. No way could his father survive it.
Cassidy ended the call, ran over and knelt on the floor beside him.
“Here, use this to seal the hole.” She seemed amazingly in control as she handed him a credit card then ran to the wet bar and grabbed a towel, folded it into a pad, rushed back and handed it over. Beau pressed the towel over the credit card on top of the hole, all the while knowing his father was already dead or within moments of dying.
He checked again for a pulse. Shook his head, feeling an unexpected rush of grief. “His heart isn’t beating. Whoever stabbed him knew exactly where to bury the blade.” And compressions would only make it worse.
Cassidy reached down to check for herself, pressing her fingers in exactly the right spot on the side of his father’s neck. She had to know it was hopeless, just as he did, must have known Stewart Reese was dead.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Beau studied his father’s face. Pain had turned his usually handsome features haggard and slack, nothing like the athletic older man who kept himself so fit and trim.
Sorrow slid through him, making his chest clamp down. Or maybe it was sadness for the kind of man his father was, the kind who had wound up the victim of a killer.
“Just hold on,” Cassidy said to him. “The ambulance should be here any minute.”
His mind went blank until the sound of a siren sliced into his conscious. Cassidy hurried off to let the EMTs into the house and a few moments later they appeared in the study.
“You need to give us some room, Mr. Reese,” one of them said gently, a skinny kid who looked like he knew what he was doing.
Beau backed away and Cassidy followed. He felt her eyes on him, assessing him with speculation–or was it suspicion?
It didn’t take long for the EMTs to have his father loaded onto a gurney and rolling down the hall, back outside to the ambulance. Beau strode along behind them, Cassidy trailing in his wake.
It occurred to him that she could be the killer. But somehow the timing seemed wrong and her reaction seemed genuine. The thought slid away.
As he climbed into the ambulance and sat down beside his dad, he flicked a last glance at the house. If Cassidy Jones hadn’t done it, who had? Had the killer still been inside when Beau arrived? How had he escaped? What was his motive?
The ambulance roared down the road, sirens wailing, blowing through intersections, weaving in and out between cars, careening around corners. All the way to the hospital Beau held his father’s hand. It was the closest he had ever felt to his dad.
The ambulance turned again and Pleasant Hill Memorial loomed ahead. The vehicle slammed to a stop in front of the emergency entrance and the back doors banged open.
After what seemed an eternity but was only a very few minutes, Beau’s father, Stewart Beaumont Reese, was pronounced Dead On Arrival.
Beau’s throat closed up. There were times as a boy he had wished his father dead, but that had been years ago.
Now his dad was gone and Beau wanted answers. He vowed whatever it took, for no matter how long, he wouldn’t stop until he found the man who had murdered his father.
Happy Valentine’s Day. And if you’re flying solo, Happy Galentine’s Day.
Let’s do a little replay. I wrote this blog post back in 2015 and thought the subject was worth revisiting. Enjoy the month.
I want to talk about the preconceived notions people have about Christian, Inspirational or Faith based books. When someone hears a story has one of the three aforementioned tones, they immediately shut down thinking the story is going to be sweeter than cotton candy dipped in chocolate and covered with gum drops.
There’s CIF [Christian, Inspirational, Faith] fiction that falls into that description and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s written extremely well and packs a message for the reader. However, it’s the misconception that all CIF books are like that which provokes a closed mind to experiencing some really great stories. [I swear I’m not preaching.]
When I decided to start writing, I’d dabbled a little in high school and college. Even so far as to writing a couple of plays. I found them later and felt they’d be a good base for a barbecue fire. When I read them again, I realized, although they were poorly written, they had a few things in common. The characters were all Christians but in real life situations. Let me explain. In a lot of CIF books, the story centers around the church with conflict between the pastor, the board, the choir director, pastor’s family and some evil person not affiliated with the church. There’s nothing wrong with those books. I’ve read a few and like them, however, they weren’t the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.
I have always loved God, fashion and cute guys. I liked “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Bergdorf Blondes,” “Elements of Style” and “The Debutante Divorcee.” These were characters I could relate to. The books are filled with the most incredible fashion and very handsome men. The only thing they didn’t have was a faith based theme. It was reading these books that it occurred to me, why not write a book with similar content, but add a little CIF to it.
My first attempt at writing a book sounded very much like ChickLit. I was fine with it until my beta readers ripped it to shreds. After a lot of re-writes, I finally had a book I was pleased with. Problem was, it wasn’t considered acceptable. Why not? Response, Christians don’t act like that, Christians don’t care about designer clothes, Christians are happy being upper middle class at best, Christians don’t get challenged, tempted, have racy dreams or wicked thoughts, Christians only have sex for procreation and on special occasions. And there is no way a Christian would get divorced, commit adultery, fornicate, swear, drink wine or dance.
Needless to say, I was stunned at the comments because I know a lot of Christians that have experienced and or faced a few of those things. So I set out to write books for “my people.”
It ticks me off when I hear people say no one will read books about Christians [or people of other religious beliefs] in real life situations. I want to read about “my people” dating, regretting, marrying, divorcing, falling in love, wearing designer clothes, traveling and being pursued by wealthy men. I don’t want my heroine to be naive and deceived by an evil protagonist whose only objective is to steal her virginity or corrupt her. What about the sexy, fun Christian girl who works hard and falls for her boss, or divorces her cheating husband or who used to be a little slutty and is now in love with God struggling not to slip back into her old ways. These are great stories and if they’re written well, you can take the CIF elements out and they’ll still be great stories.
My next book is a take on Sex And The City. It’s five successful women all searching for love while wearing amazing clothes. I hear you saying that’s not possible because that book was all about sex. Not really, the core of that book was friendship. Sex was just one of the supporting characters, much like the clothes, men and New York.
I think it’s a little more challenging to write a CIF book because you have to determine how far is too far. Although I want my books to have a little heat, I’m very careful about crossing the line. I want my kissing scenes to be as passionate as those found in traditional romance. Although most of my characters are Christians, I don’t want their passion or desire to be watered down. I have chosen to share my characters thoughts. If my heroine finds the protagonist hot, she’s going to say so. And if he’s having a lustful thought, I want you to read it. These little nuances make the characters feel real…just like in traditional romance.
So back to the original question, IS THERE A DIFFERENCE? Not really, just different levels of intensity.
Debra Dixon has published with major publishers, written ten books, contributed to twelve anthologies, and served as Vice President of RWA, and her popular GMC:Goal, Motivation, and Conflict workshop spawned a book that has become a how-to bible for writers.
These days, she’s better known as Publisher for BelleBooks and its imprint Bell Bridge Books, which tackles a broad spectrum of genres in both print and ebook formats. A 2011 company highlight was holding the # 1 spot on the full Paid Kindle list for more than two weeks. Their titles have been picked up in translation and by major New York publishers in subrights deals for mass market paperback, book club, audio and large print. The company has published work from NYT’s bestselling authors: Anne Bishop, Susan Addison Allen, Deborah Smith, Sharon Sala, Sabrina Jeffries, Sandra Hill, Jill Marie Landis, and Jill Barnett. As well as USA Today bestseller Kalayna Price.
Debra lives in the South with her husband and son. When she’s not working in publishing or Corporate America, she moonlights as an award-winning quilter. The current home-remodeling-project-that-will-not-end began because Debra thought it would be nice to have a quilt studio for her art.
Jann: We’re starting February out with a bang!! The phenomenal Debra Dixon, is here with us today.
Jann: Let’s take a look back. How long had you been writing before you published your first romance Tall, Dark and Lonesome? Why the romance genre?
Debra: I had written all of my life, but seriously submitting fantasy for a few years before switching to the romance genre. I read romance as well as many other genres, and I’d met someone at a dog show of all things who was going through her page proofs. I thought, ‘Gee, an everyday real person is published in romance. Maybe I should try that.’ I joined RWA, one of the few professional writing groups that allowed unpublished authors to join. Shortly after that I found an agent. Carin Rafferty came to my city and founded the River City Romance Writers. That was my signal to really invest in romance because I had a support group and an agent! I went to conferences and the rest is history or some small dark corner of history.
Jann: In 1996 you published GMC: Goal, Motivation and Conflict. This phenomenal book is on my bookshelf and is mentioned in the majority of writing workshops I’ve attended. I’ve been privileged to hear two of your workshops based on this book. What was the motivation for you to write this book (no pun intended)?
Debra: I gave this workshop at my local chapter in a much abbreviated format when I was still an unpublished author. They’d told me they needed me to come speak about plot. Then I had to figure out the “how” of plot for me. Those writers told people, and I started getting requests for the workshop. Then a very tiny company who specialized in books for writers came to me and badgered me to write a book. I kept telling them, “No one is going to buy this book. I don’t think this is a good idea for your investment.” Well, they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They were very clear that they wanted the book to be almost a conversation. They absolutely did not want the book to be stuffy, ponderous or pedantic. I had to revise to get the tone right, but I’m so happy now that they had a clear vision for the kind of book that GMC should be.
Jann: With your writing career in full swing, you decided to open a small press with seven other authors—and BellBooks, Inc. was founded in 1999. Since then Bell Bridge Books and ImaJinn Books joined the family. In this constantly changing world of publication, what bits of wisdom can you share with today’s writers—both published and unpublished.
Debra: I’m so sorry to trot out the obvious, but “write.” Write a lot. Keep writing, improving. Building an audience is great, but if you can’t feed that audience they’ll wander off and forget you. I can’t say how many books to write a year because every writer has a different ability to output and writing a 150k word fantasy takes a little more time than a 70k word mystery, etc. But writers should think long term and plan to put out books as frequently as they can write a GOOD book. We see most successful authors today have found a way to engage with their readers in an authentic way through a variety of social media. And then read. Read a lot. Most of all I’d say there is no ONE path. Every writer has a different idea of what success looks like. Enjoying the process is always good advice. Don’t be afraid to carve out your own path that looks quite different from someone else’s.
Jann: Do you see writing another romance in the future?
Debra: I occasionally fantasize about writing the most awesome Regency historical <g> or other project, but the reality is that I have authors who are counting on me to do my job and put their books first. So, I don’t think I’m going to find the time to write anything in the near future.
Jann: As a Publisher, public speaker, and a writer your schedule must be full. Do you have time to travel? Would you share some of your favorite travel adventures.
Debra: Not much time to travel for pleasure! We do take the occasional road trip. Hubby loves to drive, and I’m fortunate to be able to read, knit, and play on the iPad in the car! My favorite story about traveling to speak, is one time before cell phones were ubiquitous. When I landed in a foreign country, no one was there to pick me up. (My designated handler was stuck in a horrible 2-hour long traffic jam unbeknownst to me or anyone else.) When I called the hotel to check on a shuttle, they didn’t have the event on their schedule. (The group had changed the venue and never told me.) So there I was—marooned in a foreign land (Canada). Okay, so they spoke English, but it was pretty funny trying to figure out where to go or what to do. I finally tracked people down at the restaurant after managing to sweet talk the phone number for the old Workshop Chairman out of the cancelled hotel. She was no longer a member of the chapter, but she gave me some phone numbers. Then those numbers led to the restaurant. They were amazed I could find them. So was I. LOL! Thank heavens for the rental car place that let me tie up their phone!
Jann: Do you have a bucket list of future destinations?
Debra: I’d like to go back to Australia and New Zealand. Maybe spend a month in Italy just eating cheese, olives, and bread! My uncle does adventure vacations to unbelievable places in the world, and every time we get a chance to sit with him and go through his slides of a trip, it’s almost like we’ve been there! He’s even been to base camp at Everest. I’m not sure I want to adventure vacation and climb mountains. I really like the traditional “sleep late, what are we eating tonight?” vacations!
Jann: Do you still find the time to quilt? Do you have any pictures you can share?
Debra: Yes, quilting is my stress relief! I quilt every day, even if it’s only ten minutes. Sometimes it’s handwork, sometimes it’s working on the machine or designing the next quilt. Never ask a quilter if they have pictures…you’ll be there all day. But I’ll limit to applique, a pieced quilt, and a bag I made to carry around my knitting.
The applique quilt with the vase of flowers is one I’m working on hand quilting now. This is an original quilt design with the exception of the vase and flowers. Those are adapted from the line drawing of another quilter—Sandra Leichner.
Next is a pieced sampler (teal & brown) that I finished sewing the binding on when my husband was in the hospital. (Yep, I even took quilting to the hospital.) And for those who really are curious, here’s a link to a little photo tour of my quilt studio.
Jann: Thanks Debra for being here with us on A Slice of Orange and sharing bits of wisdom and your lovely quilting.
Jann Ryan grew up with the smell of orange blossoms in Orange County in sunny Southern California, where she has lived her entire life and dreamed up stories since she was a young girl. Never an avid reader, she was in her thirties when she picked up her first romance quite by accident. She fell in love with happily ever after and has been reading romances ever since.
Wanting to put pen to paper, Jann joined of Romance Writers of America®. Currently, she is working on a romantic suspense series set in Stellar Bay, a fictitious town along the California central coast to fulfill her publishing dream. Jann is also a member of Writing Something Romantic critique group.