Remind me, why am I invested in this romance novel?

If I have to be reminded why I’m invested in a lead character in a romance novel, that writer has lost me.  My first inclination is to slam the book shut and never open it again, because nothing says sloppy to me (well, jarring point of view shifts are also in this category) like a hero or heroine who does something out of character.  Yes, we want our lead characters to be flawed, otherwise we don’t identify, but when the “heroine” (and those quotes are deliberate) screams at her housekeeper, mistreats a waiter at a restaurant, or snubs her nose at the Macy’s sales clerk, she’s unredeemable.

Maybe I’ve bought into the universal call for random acts of kindness, but allowing a hero or heroine to be unkind will pull me out of the story.  I’m not advocating wimpy characters here.  I want the good guys and gals to have backbone and spunk, but if they give me that nouveau riche “I’m better than you” crap, I know there’s a serious character flaw that cannot be corrected.  I’d also have to wonder about the writer.  Maybe she’s trying to convey sophistication, but in my world, well-brought-up ladies and gentlemen know that seven degrees of separation is not a stretch.

I recently finished a story by a passable author whose heroine called her intended’s former girlfriend a slut about 50 too many times.   She literally shouted it from the rooftops.  I’d have been much more impressed with her integrity if she’d kept her mouth shut.  A secondary character in this book, while at a newsstand with the heroine, reamed out the newsboy for handing her a soggy paper.  She went way overboard.  The heroine should have put her arm around her friend and spirited her away, but that didn’t happen.  She just impassively watched the exchange.  I guess she was still thinking about the slut.

Early in my writing career, I received a rejection letter from a publisher who was kind enough (there’s that word kind again) to point out the flaws in my story.  Number one, she said, was that my characters were one-dimensional.  She pointed me to Charlotte Dillon’s excellent character chart (www.charlottedillon.com), and I fleshed out my characters.  That manuscript is now Delora’s Necklace, my Mayan time travel novel that was published in January 2009.

Sure, it’s a lot more work to do character charts, but it saves time and anguish in the long run.  I don’t have to guess how my characters will behave in any given situation because I know them inside out.  I know their past hurts, their family background, their educational level, their favorite color, and what two items they’d take to a desert island.  I know whether they were popular or geeky in high school and whether they obsess about anything.  I know their deepest secrets, and though I may not reveal everything I know about my characters in the story, the richness of what I know comes through without words.

Susan Blexrud’s paranormal romance, The Gettysburg Vampire, will debut November 5 from Crimson Romance.

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When Your Muse Mutates…

Attn:  I’m tagging this post as EYE CANDY.

My muse has been known to mutate.  It’s not his fault.  I take complete responsibility.  I get the kernel of a story in my head, and then I begin to ponder physical traits for my hero.  I rarely start with more than an amalgam of gorgeousness in mind.  Tall, of course.  Usually dark, but not always.  Broad shouldered and narrow hipped (I like swimmer’s bodies).  The eyes are a shade of blue, running from pale through electric (I reserve green eyes for my heroines).

I can chug along at the beginning of a story with this vague notion of my hero while I’m elbowing him in the ribs and generally getting to know him.  But sometimes I hit a snag.  I lose the excitement.  I need a nudge.

I begin a reconnaissance mission.

The first place I look is movies and TV.  Who is currently floating my boat in the celebrity arena?

While I was writing The Gettysburg Vampire (which will debut November 5 from Crimson Romance), I was heavy into The Tudors on Netflix.  And, woo doggies, I did like me some Henry Cavill.

He served me very well for quite a few chapters, and then I decided that he wasn’t dark enough (emotionally).  The better I became acquainted with my hero, the more tortured he became.  My muse needed to be more mysterious and brooding.

I began another quest.

My friend, Rachel (who’s English), asked if I’d ever seen the BBC series, North and South?  I wondered why the BBC would be doing a story about the Civil War, but she said that this was about England in the Industrial Revolution and the differences between the industrial north and the agricultural south.  Hmm.  Okay.   Turns out this wasn’t really about a story line, it was about the male lead, Richard Armitage.  Wowzers.

Yes, he was a perfect Malcolm McClellan, Ph.D.–college professor, Union cavalry officer…and vampire.

And then I saw Michael Fassbender in Jane Eyre, and when I needed an extra oomph of pure angst, I inserted him into a scene.  I’m big into five o’clock shadow.

And occasionally, I’d need a man in uniform.  Here’s James McAvoy as a Union officer.

How about you?  Does your muse ever mutate?

Meet the Lady in Red – An Interview with Susan Blexrud

I’m Susan Blexrud, and I write as Susan Blexrud.  If I’d given it more thought, I’d have come up with a classy moniker, but no, I had to throw myself out there, warts and all.

I’m a married mom with two grown children.  Son, Chris, 25, lives in Manhattan, where he works for an energy conservation network.  Daughter, Allison, 22, is training to be a pharmaceutical technician.  I have a Chihuahua named Baby and a cockatiel named Romeo.  I live in the glorious mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, or as I like to call it, heaven on earth.  Other than writing, I’m a bird watcher, quilter, Zumba and Yoga enthusiast, and avid reader.  I lead a monthly book club, “All Romance ALL THE TIME,” at Malaprop’s Bookstore in downtown Asheville.  A few of my favorite authors are Adriana Trigiani, Elizabeth Berg, and Sherry Thomas.

What’s your secret passion?

I have no secret passions.  In other words, my passions are pretty public.  I’m passionate about personal freedom and inclusiveness.

Tell us one thing about yourself you’d never change.

I’d never change being thin because Weight Watchers changed my life.  In the final analysis, being thin feels better than chocolate cake tastes, though sometimes it’s a struggle.   What I might change is my hair color, which at my age isn’t prematurely gray.  I’ve thought about adding some purple streaks, but so far, I’m chicken.  What do you think?  Should I do it?

If you didn’t live where you do, where would you live? Why?

I ADORE where I live, but if I couldn’t be in Asheville, I’d probably live in Charleston, South Carolina, or Lexington, Virginia, or Bath, England.  Any of those places would be great backdrops for a writer.  I love Charleston for its location on the bay, its carriage rides, and its great food.  Lexington was the home of Stonewall Jackson, and he’s my favorite Civil War character.  He’s also a vampire in my book.  Bath would be the perfect place to pen a Regency novel, with its Roman ruins and lovely pastoral setting.

Do you write about where you live or where you’d like to live?

I’m inspired by the places I visit.  I never would have written The Gettysburg Vampire if I hadn’t spent two nights in Gettysburg in August 2010.  As I roamed the Gettysburg National Cemetery, I could feel the conflict of those three fateful days in 1863, and I knew I had to write about it.

My first book, Love Fang, and well as my WIP, His Fantasy Maid, both take place in Orlando, Florida, where I grew up.

Why do you write romance novels?

What else would a hopeless romantic do with her time?

What one thing from your book did you take from personal experience?

Like Abby Potter, I was a Goody-Two Shoes…until I wasn’t.

The best part about my writing life is:  setting my own schedule.

The worst part about my writing life is:  maintaining the discipline to set my own schedule.

Give us a hint about what the next book’s like.

I’m editing a chick-lit contemporary about a doctor (she’s in her first year of residency) who has funded her medical education by working as a fantasy maid.  She cleans houses in a bikini or French maid outfit, client’s choice.

And here’s the blurb for The Gettysburg Vampire, plus an excerpt.

BLURB

Students at Gettysburg College know the legend of the Stonewall Jackson, a Civil War ghost train.  For this year’s winter holiday play, Theatre Professor Abby Potter has dramatized the popular tale using a little artistic license.  She’s added a vampire.  But she has one big problem—finding a decent thespian for the leading role.  She bristles at the suggestion that Malcolm McClellan, a history professor at the college and a renowned Civil War re-enactor, would be ideal for the part.  She’s avoided the brooding, mysterious man for years.  But it may be perfect casting.

EXCERPT

Malcolm leaned back in his chair. His heartbeat thrummed, which was odd. It typically beat so slowly that any doctor would have declared him dead. Of course, dead he was. Feeling the beat of his heart was disquieting, yet exciting. He stared at the door Abby had just closed and listened to her footsteps fade down the hall. Humans wouldn’t have heard the soft pad of her boots on carpet, but he had no problem detecting each step. Her stomping helped. He pinched the bridge of his nose.

Had he remembered her? How could he forget?

She’d always sat in the front row of his class, glued to him with those soulful hazel eyes. Other coeds regarded him lustfully, but she hung on his words. She seemed genuinely interested in what he was trying to convey, not simply entranced by his veneer. He knew she was special, which is why he’d avoided her. The last thing he needed was human entanglement. Once she left the college after her graduation, he thought he was safe from her allure. He could still see her blowing those golden blonde bangs out of her eyes as she labored over a quiz. He’d repressed the image of her pert nose, peachy skin, and bouncy breasts. But damn if she didn’t come back to Gettysburg to teach, and inadvertently, to haunt him.

And now he had no choice; he had to rescue her. He’d been unable to save Sarah those many years ago, when duty to country trumped family, but he could keep Abby out of harm’s way. She’d probably go to that Goth club decked out like a fang-banger with no idea of the danger she was in. So, there’d be no compartmentalizing this time. He’d have to see her again. And then what? Act in her play? He could feel his resolve melting like the November snow. For the first time since Sarah died, he considered the prospect of companionship…and passion.