'Happy For Now' Blog

There's no happily every after here.  Depending on my mood, HFN is slang for 'Hell F*#%ing No'  ... or ... 'Happy For Now.'

As a student of philosophy, I see things in terms of points and counterpoints.  I play devil's advocate, especially when everyone disagrees with me.  I try to look at things both ways -- this morning she seemed unbending and willful, but this afternoon she's stalwart and gutsy.  I try not to be hypocritical yet wackiness always rules the day:

 "Follies and Nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them as often as I can."   -Jane Austen

 

Why Tell This Controversial Story?

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Book Talk at To Be Continued … Bookstore in Metuchen

First I want to thank you all for coming to hear me talk a little about LOVE and CANDY by Elizabeth Famous

Love and Candy is not a sweet and wholesome love story.  It's been called edgy and too real and raw … but I call it Jane Eyre romance mixed with the teenaged angst of the Catcher in the Rye.

The main character, Samantha Montclare is a studious high school freshman who falls for a total player named Delaney (Troy).  He is the star of her high school soccer team, who doesn't believe in dating one person at a time.  [if he tried, he'd end up a cheater like his dad … so it's better never to try 'a relationship' because he can't maintain it.]   At the same time Samantha is struggling with her unexpected (out of character) obsessive desire for Delaney (before Delaney, she had no interest in any of the guys in her classes), she's learns a secret about her parentage that rocks her to the core.

This story is "out and out" drama:  about the agonies of being a romantic young woman growing up in the midst of contemporary culture (including casual sex or hooking up, sexual harassment in schools, bullying and taunts as you walk down the street or in the halls at school) and struggling with obsessive desire for Delaney. 

Considering my background is in classical philosophy, it makes sense that I might be accused of corrupting the youth – as Socrates was.  Love and Candy has what might be considered young characters for an explicit love story (dealing with "grown up" topics).  Teens falling in love in not actually unheard of.  The greatest love story in western literature includes teens and sex – and, no, I'm not talking about Twilight – I'm talking about a pair of star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet.  

Given the fact that putting teenagers in this kind of story might be controversial, I thought I'd list of four reasons I used a teenaged protagonist:

1) I wrote an early draft when I was younger, close to a teenager

2) A high schooler provides me with a realistic, inexperience girl, unworldly like Jane Eyre – an ingénue.  – wasn't going to take the easy way out and write a story about a 23 year old college grade living a large metropolitan area who's a total innocent – we're talking a ten year old here (as in Fifty Shades of Grey).  

Why did I want my protagonist to be an innocent girl?  To portray her as overpowered by her interactions with a charismatic, older guy (as obsessive, overwrought and hypersensitive).  She latches onto him with an intensity for which a serious amount of hormones are required …  like in teenagers.  I wanted to write about feelings which she will never matched in the whole course of her life … first love … powerful feelings with maximum dramatic impact … maximum crisis and vulnerability and conflict in the story.  

3) High school provides for a hierarchical subculture so I can mimic the social barriers between upper and lower class in Pride and Prejudice.  Great social divide keeping the hero and heroine apart:  Samantha is looking up at him as unattainable to Samantha (out of her league) and he is looking down on her as not good enough to hang out with him and the popular crowd.

4) She goes through a child's identity crisis involving her parentage – and her parents' past and the secret scandal involving her paternity is a major subplot in the story.  This requires a young person, on the cusp of adulthood, transitioning to adulthood, who's vulnerable to such a disclosure in a way that an adult wouldn't be.  A teen will feel a disruption to her sense of stability that an adult might not feel … it's a profound experience for a teenager.  She questions everything about herself:  

LOVE and CANDY creates maximum drama by using a sixteen year old experiencing firsts and questioning everything about herself.

Given her age and the fact that she's dealing with adult issues and adult situations but without having reached full adulthood [I'm not going to list them.  Just leave you hanging as a teaser.  Peaking your interest so you have to read the book to find out.] …

When making the decision to publish this story (not just continue to keep it for only myself to read) I was aware that this book had the potential to stir up controversy.  I thought I'd be called out about for the topics addressed in the novel some issues (like date rape, birth control) definitely not suitable for some younger teens, at least according to their parents.

My seventy-something dad told me the story was good but too racy to show anybody he knows back in the rural farming community where he lives.  But my whole life I've felt compelled to do things my own way, so I went for it. Wanting to share the story that I was so obsessed with.  

Now close to a 1000 readers (although only a small percentage leave feedback, comments, ratings or reviews) I was surprised that I got very few comments about what I thought would be controversial (one review did say if brought up issues to discuss with your kids but couldn't be recommended for teens).

I expected comments about the age of the characters but instead I got complaints like, Why would she get back together with him after he treats her so poorly? They quoted him and complained about particular things he did:  she should have dumped his ass when he didn't talk to her at school when he was hanging with his senior friends.  This story is upsetting and unsettling: I was thinking about the way he did X at the end and it bummed me out for days.  I couldn't stop thinking about your book.

I loved these complaints.  They were talking about my characters like they were real people, like I thought of them as alive in my head.  [Love and Candy is a character driven story:  I can't force that characters to behave a certain way; I can only put them in a setting and see what they do – even though they were initially my creation.  Like Frankenstein, THEY'RE ALIVE.]

But as feedback kept flooding in I clearly got a sense that some readers felt that "The book would be improved if you made him a nicer guy."  You write well and you'd get 5 stars if he wasn't such a jerk to her.  

Huh?  This confounded me.

That's like telling me to take away the drama of the story:  the conflicts that take 300 pages for Samantha to deal with.  Without Delaney's flaws (arrogance, lack of commitment) and her judgmental attitudes, malleability, naivety, it's a twenty page story about nice people falling in love  ... this would not be provocative or memorable.  I want to write about extreme emotions.  Genuine, authentic human emotions.  Why would I want to write about nice, well-adjusted people falling in love … as if such people existed?   

When they said, "I was so upset with what he put her through."  That's what I was going for:  drama.  And the seemed to be rejecting it.

Didn't want to cheat and create drama by leaving the realm of realism and by using external obstacles instead of internal character flaws that the characters need to mitigate or changed in order to find happiness (a character arch that involves overcoming these character flaws and the obstacles they cause and changing in the process):   

Checking out the Bestsellers in my genre and category, one had two nice people kept apart by his cancer:  they struggled with his illness and the possibility that he might die. Finally, as the end of the story, the author throws in a ghost who comes to cure his cancer and they live happily ever after.  Sure the author throws in a façade of a bad reputation:  In the first few chapters of the book we hear about how he's a troublemaking frat boy who sleeps around, but he stops dead in his tracks when he meets her and wants to take things slow.  These are really good kids:  Look at me I'm Sandra Dee!  As Jane Austen said "pictures of perfection make me cross and wicked."

o [In a novel I loved, two 18 year olds and the author build up amazing chemistry and I was so rooting for them and in the end he becomes successful in a rock band and she strikes out and lives on her own, but then there's this cop out:  a few sentences at the end explaining that they agreed to put off any physical relationship for a few years.] 

o Or like another current bestseller where the heroine meets this guy she likes then discovers on the first day of school that he's her drama teacher and this external obstacles is all that really keeps them apart.

Contrived, misdirection, manufactured drama, Like two sweethearts separated by world war:  when the Treaty of Paris is signed, all their problems disappear.  In LOVE and CANDY the drama is based on internal qualities, involving character and personality, creating conflict and keeping them apart.  In Greek tragedy your own faults lead to your downfall – it wasn't the size of the invading army but the warriors selfishness that lead to his army's defeat.  (In a love story, your own faults cause you to have to struggle to build a solid, healthy relationship with long term potential.)

As part of the complaints about Delaney doesn’t treat Samantha well enough (complaints about the characters being overly flawed), was this anti-feminist gem:  he's using her.  Sure she seems to like being with him but she's giving herself away with nothing in return (no commitment from him). He's using her for sex.  

o The implication being that she can't really enjoy their initial fling:  commitment-free (casual sex) is bad for women, especially teens.  She can't really want that.  Sex outside a loving, stable relationship is not good for young women; a virtuous woman doesn't fool around based on lust (That's shameful!)  Indulging in a superficial attraction is wrong … unhealthy, couldn't possibly be something she enjoyed as an end its itself, something that she chooses for her happiness, makes her happy, wants.  (assumes traditional concept of what a virtuous young women who only have sex as a means to something else:  stability, family …

LOVE and CANDY doesn't endorse this traditional, conventional world view (as do most Young Adult Romances:  Twilight).  It's something different from the standard, approved type of teen relationship in fiction.  Samantha isn't punished for the risk she takes emotionally or physically by getting involved with him –in a lot of teen novels (popular, well written YA novels) where there's an overt message promoting abstinence message – any teen girl who had sex ends up regretting it.  Character put off on having a physical relationship until they're older.

o LOVE and CANDY couldn't be more different from what I call this preachy stuff written about and for teens:    It's about radical self-determination:  she gets to decide what to do with her body, her life.  It's anti shaming women for their sexuality.  Nobody should be judging her.

o This is a novel, an entertainment, in the grand tradition of Jane Austen and the first modern novels.  It's not a nonfiction book entitled A Teenaged Girls Guide to Dating.  But this is not relationship advice, just like Westerns don't offer good advice on how to uphold law and order.   Don't go to a Western movie expecting good examples of state building and establishment of just political institutions.

o LOVE and CANDY is unlike most teen novels her recklessness pays off in the end.  It a romantic vision in which the main characters help bring out the best in each other and help each other change:  she accepts her parents for who they really are and not the idealized version of them from her childhood and he allows himself to set a new course, not follow in his dad's footsteps.  

I like the challenge of bringing real flawed people together in my writing.  

Flawed people, like most all of us are, falling in love despite their problems:  building a relationship that brings out the best in them.  

Samantha's romantic vision that draws her to someone who might seem impossible in some lights but has something special that she falls in love with.

LOVE and CANDY is a romantic vision of what is possible through love.

Pinterest is a Goldmine for Writers

It would be great if I could travel to Rome for all my inspiration.  A trip a few years back definitely helped me write the scene in LOVE and CANDY when Samantha and her parents travel to Italy to visit Anton de' Medici on his home turf, but I can't always jet off to a place where I'd like a scene to be set.  Google 'Images' helps.  Once I googled the name of a national park and got a lot of maps of Western states, but much of what I found was only of benefit to actual visitors to the park.  I spent a lot of time and only got one or two ideas about signs along the trail for my hiking scene.  

When I first was told to open an account on Pinterest in order to increase my exposure and web presence, I had to force myself to sign up.  What do I need this for?  At first I posted too many copies of my novel's cover photo and felt embarrassed by my dull collection of pins. Then I started following a few other boards and noticed the stunning photographs of waterfalls and sunsets and bathroom fixtures popping up on my main page ... and I realized the potential.

I discovered Pinterest is not just recipes and kids clothes.  With very little effort you can find layouts for amazing interiors in contemporary homes or the face of a handsome Italian man (search using the word 'model').  I found castles for a possible regency novel, scenic beachfront locals, dresses for weddings and special occasions, and images of the rock-star lifestyle.  More than I ever thought to look for.  Subscribe to a feed such as Jane Lilly Warren's 'outdoor spaces' and you might get an idea for an entirely new scene. 

Hundreds of gorgeous photos appear with every search.  Unlike googling, no crazy crime scene photos and off putting oddities throw you completely off topic.  Try searching 'Candy' and there are no porno films.

It's a lot of beauty and all ripe for description, which I for one always need help with. I've even used Pinterest to find a smile to describe.

Once you get the hang of it, you can start organizing, creating boards for each novel, for particular characters, and for particular scenes.

How do you use Pinterest?  Please feel free to join the discussion.  I'm happy to have you mention your own books in your comments. 

 

Why did you choose such a young heroine?

An 1870 oil painting by Ford Madox Brown depicting Romeo and Juliet's famous balcony scene [From Wikipedia]

An 1870 oil painting by Ford Madox Brown depicting Romeo and Juliet's famous balcony scene [From Wikipedia]

Juliet was 16 like Samantha and her story is a classic that's survived for hundreds of years as the pinnacle of romance.  No one claims Juliet was too young to fall in love.

That being said, I agree that Samantha took a huge emotional and physical risk getting involved with Delaney. He is a troubled character, a product of hook up-culture -- arrogant and flip, gorgeous and brash -- nothing like prince charming.  He and Samantha crash into each other, sparking a chemical reaction that allows them to become something new, leaving behind all the crap young women experience in our society, including slut shaming, sexual harassment, gender roles, and homophobia.  The openness and lack of traditional boundaries of Samantha's parents make it possible for her to navigate the strong connection she feels with Delaney.

 

Check out more Happy For Now blog!  And Latest Updates.

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Mix and Match: Trending Titles for NA/YA Romances

Staring off into space as usual, I dreamed of a bookshelf full of new YA/NA romances...

 

Bared to a Poet: A sex romp with a twenty-something British poet laureate named Byron.

Deadly Gorgeous: A secret agent falls for his target, a diplomat who turns out to be a zombie.

Gentleman of Disaster: A former gigolo is looking for a new life in Disaster, Tennessee. 

The town of Disaster is the setting for ...

Hillbilly Hottie (Disaster #2) *Shockingly, the author of Hillbilly Hottie is accused of plagiarizing an episode of the Beverly Hillbillies, but she proves her innocence and releases ...

Losing a Dangerous Disaster (Disaster #3): A rancher in Disaster, Tennessee chooses the wrong woman, then realizes his mistake with the help of his loyal assistant named Sally.

Scarily Appealing: A ghost with six pack abs shows up on campus and helps a losing team turn things around and win the state championship.

Overwrought and Self-Assured: The heart-wrenching story of a burned-out Kurt-Cobain-like rock star.

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Sleazy: A girl with a bad reputation tries out for the New York Ballet Theater and accidentally starts dating one of the the instructors at the school.

Breezy (Sleazy #2): A frustrated Manhattan office worker heads for the high seas as a cruise director.

Cheesy (Sleazy #3): The youngest sister of a ballerina and cruise director goes to France to study cheese making and meets the owner of a local vineyard.

Loveless: The story of a guy who loves a girl named Leslie.

 

Come to think of it, some of these sound interesting.  Who am I to make fun of titles?  For my novel, LOVE and CANDY, I wanted to think up a brilliant title but kept coming back to the first scene of the story when Delaney sings Sex and Candy by Marcy's Playground to a girl licking a lollipop.  At best the title is misleading. 

The truth is, I'm feeling snarky because LOVE and CANDY is off trend a bit -- the tone is serious drama and the conversation is tense and snide, risky sex isn't regretted, there's a dominant/submissive dynamic that's not play but real life, and the main character is a brain who's not a role model.  I wrote it inside my own little world, completely unaware of the situation in publishing today.  So imagine my surprised when I started studying the titles on the best sellers list. 

Are best friends worth it?

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The humorous and loyal best friends is a staple in romance novels.  She seems to have personality but she exists solely to make the main character feel like everything she says is fascinating. 

But is she really great if she's completely unrealistic?  Who is really so outward looking? A character having the pure selflessness of a saint is especially annoying when we already have a main character who suffers from the burden of being perfect.  

Can you tell I agree with Jane Austen that "pictures of perfection make me sick and wicked"?

To me, shiny happy people can fall in love in about 20 pages.  The 300 pages only happen when the hero and heroine are kept apart by external obstacles like misunderstandings and world wars. 

In real life best friends are often a mixed bag.  Sorry to say something so unpopular, but we all have a cousin who's best friend ended up sleeping with her husband.  Many have felt the sting of being dumped by an adored 'best friend' who finds a newer, cooler bestie.  When everything goes wrong with your wedding or birthday party or prom, your so-called best friend is usually involved somehow.  You assume she'll do the right thing but ... this assumption leaves you without a ride home late at night.

The fallout of having a best friend can be so painful that you regret that you ever opened your heart so completely.  If only I'd kept things more casual. If you didn't think she would always be there for you, it wouldn't have been so devastating when she moved across the country with her boyfriend of three months. Ultimately it's too much pressure to expect so much of a friend, who has her own welfare to worry about.

I believe in life partners with whom you share your life, but my relationship with my husband is a very complicated relationship that is not all about taking and one-sided perfection.  Enormous compromises have been made -- I can't move to Paris if the opportunity arises unless this change can someone fit into his life.  We make each other better people by challenging each other -- unlike the literary best friend who is always there to kowtow to the heroine's needs and goals and quirky whims.  

  

 

Ten Pounder

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Jane Austen to be face of the Bank of England £10 note

In the background is Godmershan Park, home of Austen's brother Edward Austen Knight, who was adopted by a wealthy relative.  (I toured the estate last year on my Jane Austen pilgrimage of Hampshire and Kent:  a truly religious experience that inspired me to get my novel out there for people to read.)  

Oddly, the quote about reading is spoken by a pompous character who Austen is making fun of.  Below is an excerpt from Chapter XI of Pride and Prejudice, a great scene where Darcy and Elizabeth are clearly developing some sort of chemistry if not animosity between them.

   Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr. Darcy's progress through his book, as in reading her own; and she was perpetually either making some inquiry, or looking at his page. She could not win him, however, to any conversation; he merely answered her question, and read on. At length, quite exhausted by the attempt to be amused with her own book, which she had only chosen because it was the second volume of his, she gave a great yawn and said, ``How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! -- When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.''
   No one made any reply. She then yawned again, threw aside her book, and cast her eyes round the room in quest of some amusement; when, hearing her brother mentioning a ball to Miss Bennet, she turned suddenly towards him and said,
   ``By the bye, Charles, are you really serious in meditating a dance at Netherfield? -- I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party; I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.''
   ``If you mean Darcy,'' cried her brother, ``he may go to bed, if he chuses, before it begins -- but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing; and as soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough I shall send round my cards.''
   ``I should like balls infinitely better,'' she replied, ``if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.''
   ``Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.''
   Miss Bingley made no answer; and soon afterwards got up and walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well; -- but Darcy, at whom it was all aimed, was still inflexibly studious. In the desperation of her feelings she resolved on one effort more; and turning to Elizabeth, said,
   ``Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room. -- I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.''
   Elizabeth was surprised, but agreed to it immediately. Miss Bingley succeeded no less in the real object of her civility; Mr. Darcy looked up. He was as much awake to the novelty of attention in that quarter as Elizabeth herself could be, and unconsciously closed his book. He was directly invited to join their party, but he declined it, observing that he could imagine but two motives for their chusing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives his joining them would interfere. ``What could he mean? she was dying to know what could be his meaning'' -- and asked Elizabeth whether she could at all understand him?
   ``Not at all,'' was her answer; ``but depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it.''
   Miss Bingley, however, was incapable of disappointing Mr. Darcy in any thing, and persevered therefore in requiring an explanation of his two motives.
   ``I have not the smallest objection to explaining them,'' said he, as soon as she allowed him to speak. ``You either chuse this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking; -- if the first, I should be completely in your way; -- and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.''
   ``Oh! shocking!'' cried Miss Bingley. ``I never heard any thing so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?''
   ``Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,'' said Elizabeth. ``We can all plague and punish one another. Teaze him -- laugh at him. -- Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.''
   ``But upon my honour I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that. Teaze calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no -- I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject. Mr. Darcy may hug himself.''
   ``Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at!'' cried Elizabeth. ``That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.''
   ``Miss Bingley,'' said he, ``has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.''
   ``Certainly,'' replied Elizabeth -- ``there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. -- But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.''
   ``Perhaps that is not possible for any one. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.''
   ``Such as vanity and pride.''
   ``Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride -- where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.''
   Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile.
   ``Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume,'' said Miss Bingley; -- ``and pray what is the result?''
   ``I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise.''
   ``No'' -- said Darcy, ``I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for. -- It is I believe too little yielding -- certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. -- My good opinion once lost is lost for ever.''
   ``That is a failing indeed!'' -- cried Elizabeth. ``Implacable resentment is a shade in a character. But you have chosen your fault well. -- I really cannot laugh at it; you are safe from me.''
   ``There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.''
   ``And your defect is a propensity to hate every body.''
   ``And yours,'' he replied with a smile, ``is wilfully to misunderstand them.''
   ``Do let us have a little music,'' -- cried Miss Bingley, tired of a conversation in which she had no share. -- ``Louisa, you will not mind my waking Mr. Hurst.''
   Her sister made not the smallest objection, and the piano-forte was opened, and Darcy, after a few moments recollection, was not sorry for it. He began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention.

[Copied and pasted from The Republic of Pemberley, where you can discuss the works of Jane Austen as long as you follow the rules set up by the all-powerful central governing body know as "the committee."  I kid, I kid.]

 

-Elizabeth Famous

 

 

 

Marketing a Novel

Two months ago my ideas about how to market a novel included ...

 

**cicadas chirping**

 

It's been a challenge.

 I read an article yesterday on how to market your indie novel.  One of the pieces of advice was to set up a blog and be yourself.  Be provocative and entertaining.  If it bleeds, it leads.  If you're genuine, you can write about controversial subjects, even the publishing industry.  

This seems to fly in the face of other advice I've received:  stop challenging people and ignore your detractors.  This was rubbing me the wrong way, so I've set up a page to vent.  

 

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