L is for (Books About) Love #atozchallenge

For A to Z 2018, my theme is Books About ____. If you’re stopping by from your own A to Z blog, feel free to leave a link. If you need help with how to do that, you can look here.

If you’re someone looking to read a lot of great blogs, here’s the link for the A to Z challenge.

A lot of people might be surprised by this admission, but I’m actually a romantic. While romance isn’t my preferred genre, I do prefer that there be some sort of romance happening in any book I read. I enjoy watching love unfold during the course of a story. I have many books I love that could fit this category, so here are just a few.

The Host, by Stephanie Meyer (science fiction): I know lots of people who hated this book, even separately from the fact that this is also the author of Twilight. But I stand by it. Wanderer is an alien who inhabits the body of Melanie, but Melanie doesn’t go away like she’s supposed to. Instead, Wanderer and Melanie share Melanie’s body, and they eventually develop a friendship. Through Melanie’s memories, Wanderer grows to love Melanie’s brother and fall for her boyfriend. This is a fascinating book that explores the nature of love.

Six Months, Three Days, by Charlie Jane Anders (science fiction novelette): Doug and Judy can both see the future. She sees every possible future and he sees only one. They’re both right, every time, and they agree that in six months, three days, their relationship will end. They date and fall in love anyway. It’s a powerful book about how much we enjoy the process of being in love, so much so that even if we’re guaranteed heartache, we do it anyway.

Frankenstein, by Dean Koontz (Book 1: Prodigal Son) (science fiction/ fantasy/ horror): This series of five books continues the Frankenstein legend many years later. Only Deucalion, formerly Frankenstein’s monster, is now one of the good guys trying to help two cops stop Dr. Frankenstein from continuing his work. Carson and Michael are partners who work together but don’t want to admit their feelings. Over the course of five books, their feelings for one another deepen and grow while fighting off bad guys. A misunderstood monster, love, and genetic engineering… that’s pretty much a guaranteed win in my book.

What are your favorite books about love?

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How Querying is Like Online Dating

Back in 2000, I met my husband through an online dating service. Back then, people didn’t admit that they met their significant others online. I never saw the big deal. Was it really classier to say, “We met when he spilled his Miller Lite on me”?

I was lucky enough to have my husband be the first person I met in real life, though he had a different experience. He has many, many stories to tell about bad dates, and I have other friends with stories too.

All this to say that I know about online dating.

I also know about querying because I’ve been doing a lot of it. So, here we go…

Writing The Intro

Writing the intro online is nerve-wracking. Do I include my love of cats right away, or does that make me seem like a crazy cat lady? Should I talk about the scar on my chin where my best friend hit me with a golf club (true story… it was an accident), or leave that for a second date? The query letter is the same way. I really, really want to put in the subplot and some interesting parts, but the query is meant to get an agent interested. It’s a teaser. And with both, I can’t and shouldn’t include everything or it’s overwhelming.

Finding A Match

So I have the query letter (or my intro), and next, I need to find a match. Online, I put in my interests and some facts about me, and then an algorithm shows me who might be a good fit. For queries, I scour manuscript wishlist or query tracker or #mswl or a number of other websites. I find an agent who likes YA and horror or thrillers, and then I look closer. Does this agent like the same kinds of books I do? Does that agent seem approachable? I look at the photo of him or her and wonder, “Is this the kind of person I could really talk to?”

The Match

Once I find someone who might be a good fit, I take my basic query letter and personalize it based on what I know about the agent. Or maybe not. Some of them say they prefer just the pitch. Some want something signaling I’ve done my homework. Some don’t specify a preference, so I’m left to guess what they might want. When I pitch (or respond to someone’s profile), there’s that balance of how much to be myself and how much to be formal and distant. Query letters should be professional, but agents also say that if you can include voice in the query letter, it’s helpful. So, I have to be two things at the same time, and really, I’d rather be reading. But no success story ever started with, “And then I decided not to follow through.” So BOOM, I hit send!

The Wait

Luckily, as far as I know, agents have no weird rule about playing it cool and not responding to a query letter right away. I’ve gotten responses as quickly as hours later, and as slow as months later. Some agents never respond. This is a weird time. There’s all that possibility that maybe I’ll find THE ONE. Each time I send a query letter off, it’s a mix of excitement and nervousness. Will this agent (or potential date) like this first impression of me?

The Response

The response is always a moment where I don’t know how to feel. Most positive and negative responses start with “Thank you,” so I never know from the opening if it’s going to be, “I liked it, send pages,” or “Not for me.” The worst is probably no response, when I really, really thought an agent was THE ONE because they specifically said they wanted books that channeled Christopher Pike, and then nothing? I really thought we could have had a connection. Did the agent think my query was too long/ too short/ not enough voice/ a stupid premise? It’s like wondering if your potential date didn’t like the fact that you mentioned you hate red velvet cake.

Friend Zoning

In dating terms, this is when you think someone is cool, but you just want to hang out with them and not date them. Sometimes this is mutual, and sometimes not. I’ve had a few responses from agents who read my manuscript and gave a list of specific things they loved about it, BUT ultimately just didn’t connect to it. This confused me at first, until I realized that it’s like falling in love. Sometimes the chemistry is there, and sometimes it isn’t. We can’t make chemistry happen. I’ve read perfectly well-executed books that I hated and my friends loved. And they’ve read lovely books that I adored and they just didn’t. So I get it. And I appreciate the honesty up front that it wasn’t love. Because I want an agent who’s as enthusiastic about my book as I am.

Everyone’s Journey Is Different

Some people find true love on their first date, and some have to go through hundreds of horrible dates before they find THE ONE. Some people go through lots of perfectly okay dates that don’t go anywhere, and some people think they’ve found a connection, but then don’t. I know fellow writers who seemed to find their agents easily and some who went through hundreds of queries before they found a match. I’ve read stories of authors who thought they found THE ONE, only to later realize it wasn’t a good fit. But I truly believe that in any endeavor: love, writing, getting published, it’s about persevering, to keep trying, to believe that it will happen. Success and happiness aren’t easy, and they probably shouldn’t be. Because every step of the path teaches something wonderful, and I’m soaking up all that learning. Someday I’ll look back at every agent who rejected me, every agent who friend zoned me, and I’ll know that it had to happen exactly that way.

Did I miss any steps in the query/ love process? Do you agree or disagree that it feels like this?

The 10 Worst Couples in Fiction

There are some pairings that just shouldn’t happen. Sometimes the pairing is so bad that it’s good. And sometimes it’s just… horrible.

  1. Dexter and Rita, Darkly Dreaming Dexter (the book, not the show): In the books, Dexter is a much darker, but also more comedic character. He’s heavily influenced by his Dark Passenger, a force that encourages him to kill, and that isn’t satisfied when Dexter has periods where he doesn’t. In the books, Rita is a mere convenience for him so that he can appear normal. He likes her kids though, because for some reason, he can connect with children. In the first book, he says he picked her because she was damaged, so that they could pretend to be normal together. It added something wonderful to the books, and though he was using her, it also felt like she was getting stability and comfort out of the relationship too.
  2. Archie and Gretchen, Heartsick: He’s a detective, she’s a murderer. When he falls in love with her, she also falls in love with him, in her sick and twisted way. For 10 days she tortures him, leaving him addicted to pain pills. Then she turns herself in. But even prison doesn’t release her hold on him…
  3. Cathy and Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights: Show of hands… who hates this book? In Twilight, this is Bella Swan’s favorite book, and she said she loves it because”I think it’s something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart — not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end…” I’m sorry, but selfishness and evil is not a romantic pairing in my mind. He wasn’t even an interesting kind of evil…
  4. Romeo and Juliet: Teen suicide is not romantic. Especially because most teens already think everything is forever and dramatic. I’m not saying it’s not a good play, because it is. But to have their names become synonymous with romance? No.
  5. Clarice and Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal: Spoiler alert if you haven’t read Hannibal. The movie ending is waaaay different from the book. (The book was 100 million billion times better.) Okay, I warned you. It was obvious there was some chemistry in Silence of the Lambs. Not necessarily sexual, but a definite connection. In Hannibal, it’s years later, Clarice has had an unremarkable career at the FBI, and Hannibal Lecter escaped. He starts sending her love notes and gifts, talking about how unappreciated she is. And at the end, he captures her and brainwashes her into loving him and traveling with him. It’s creepy, but ultimately powerful. She was drawn to him, and the brainwashing can’t explain all of their connection. I loved this ending. Maybe it’s not love… but it’s definitely something.
  6. Bella and Edward, Twilight, etc.: I really enjoyed Twilight. Honest. I thought it was a fantastic read. I don’t think it was a fantastic book; that’s a different story. Their relationship is everything I warn couples about. Possessive? Check. Controlling? Check. Follows you around? Check. Secretive? Check. Might snap and want to kill you to drain you of your delicious blood? Check. So why do bad couples make for such fun love stories? (Sometimes.)
  7.  Skylar and Walt, Breaking Bad: I hated Skylar. Detested her. Wanted her to go very far away. I think that reason is that she couldn’t make up her mind about anything and blamed everyone else. If she had left Walt when she found out he was cooking meth, I would have totally been on her side. If she went all badass and decided to become his partner, but hadn’t whined and bitched about it, I would have loved it. But she did whine and bitch and jump in a pool in a creepy, quasi-suicidal way, and I hated her for it. Many times, I figure that bad characters are good for a show, but she served no purpose in my mind. In other news, I loved the on again off again bromance between Walt and Jesse, and was sad when they became estranged and never really made up.
  8. Mickey and Mallory, Natural Born Killers: I’m pretty sure that murdering your way across the country and wanting to be famous for it falls under the heading of “toxic relationships.” Yet it was interesting, because like Clarice and Lecter, their relationship was founded in some legit chemistry. It was a fantastic movie, and everything about their relationship was so bad that it was good.
  9. Anakin and Padme, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, The Clone Wars: Usually I pretend these movies don’t exist, so I hesitated even including them, but the list couldn’t possibly be complete without them. Speaking of chemistry, they had none. There was nothing believable about this paring. I love Natalie Portman, so it probably wasn’t her fault, but everything about this was terrible. Anakin was not a believable pre-Darth Vadar. I never really wondered what happened to Luke & Leia’s mother, and after these movies, I’m still pretending that I don’t know. If, by some miracle, you’ve never watched these, don’t. Don’t do that to yourself.
  10. Rick and Lori, The Walking Dead (the graphic novel & the show): Ah, Lori. Another universally hated character. She had no idea what she wanted. And I realize that many of us don’t, and that could be a way of connecting to her as a character, but it didn’t work. Because she was all over the place. She yelled at Rick that he had to get rid of Shane, and then when he did, she acted like he’d done something wrong. I really don’t begrudge her affair with Shane because I believe she thought Rick was dead. In the middle of a zombie apocalypse, it’s understandable that you’d want to connect with someone else. But that was the last thing she did that I understood. She was always letting her young son run off in the middle of the apocalypse and saying the wrong thing to everyone. And it wasn’t like she was just awkward and said the wrong thing the way most of us sometimes do; no, she just had a complete lack of empathy toward everyone because she was a self-centered person. Okay… rant over. (I could go on and on. If you hate Lori and want to talk about how much you hate Lori, email me.)

I know there are bad couples out there that I’m totally missing. Tell me what couples you hate or love to hate!

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My 18 Favorite Couples in Fiction

I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. First off, the sea of pink starting the day after Christmas annoys me. Second, restaurants are always crowded. Third, I prefer incidental romance, like when my husband snaps a picture of something he knows I’ll like, or when he helps me fold laundry without being asked.

That being said, the approach of V-day does make me think about romance. I love romance novels and movies. And I’m totally a shipper! I call out my choices and stick to them. (I still think Twilight would have been better if Bella ended up with Jacob… Team Jacob forever!)

  1. Elizabeth and Darcy, from Pride and Prejudice: I’m a sucker for when people think they hate each other, but then end up in love. They’re both strong characters and end up being so awkward with one another when they start to realize all the ways they were wrong. Their coming together at the end is a delightful payoff.
  2. Eve Dallas and Roarke, In Death series: Eve Dallas is a homicide detective who thinks that cops make bad life partners. Roarke is a former thief/ smuggler, now richest man on the planet. When she has to interview him for a homicide investigation, he romances her with coffee. (My kind of guy!) They dated for a few books, then got married. 58 books into the series, they still love, argue, and negotiate difficulties of two passionate people being married. Part of the reason I love this series is it’s one of the few romances that doesn’t end with “and they lived happily ever after…” There’s so much more to love.
  3. Qhuinn and Blaylock, Lover at Last, the Brotherhood of the Black Dagger (#11): The Brotherhood are vampires sworn to protect their people from the Lessening Society, evil creatures who want to destroy them. Each Black Dagger book focuses on a different couple, and I love them all. Qhuinn and Blaylock are my favorite because the title sums up my feelings… at last! All the other couples had a sense of inevitability about them. But Qhuinn and Blaylock danced around one another in the background for many books, first as friends, then they had a falling out. When they finally get together, it was a beautiful thing. Incidentally, it was the last book in the series that I read. The author was starting to focus on characters who’d been in the background before, who I didn’t care about. Maybe I’ll go back to it someday…
  4. Claire and Jamie, Outlander: I love everything about their romance. I love how they challenge and test one another. Even in book form, their chemistry lights up the page. (I have not watched the TV series) This is another couple who’s story doesn’t stop with marriage, and their devotion to one another is captivating.
  5. Bishop and Miranda, Out of the Shadows: Kay Hooper writes a special crimes book series where the investigators all have some paranormal ability. Bishop created the unit and is in charge. Throughout the series, it’s alluded to that he’s looking for someone. Well, he finally finds her when Miranda Knight, a small town cop, has to call in the FBI for a series of murders. He wronged her a long time ago, and she’s not sure she can forgive him. Something about their chemistry has always spoken to me and made this book my favorite in the series.
  6. Noah and Allie, The Notebook & The Wedding: I know some people who like romantic stories who didn’t like The Notebook, and my guess is that they only saw the movie. I liked the movie, but it loses quite a bit of the power the book had. No matter what comes between them, Noah and Allie love one another fiercely, and nothing can stop them. It’s a beautiful love story set across two books, and even death doesn’t end it.
  7. Katniss and Peeta, The Hunger Games: I was always Team Peeta. I’m a sucker for unrequited, unselfish love, and I never believed, not even for a little while, that Peeta was hunting Katniss. I love that she’s the pragmatic one, and he’s the romantic one, and that we the readers can see her slowly falling in love with him long before she realizes it. The conclusion of the trilogy, while sad, felt right.
  8. Jane & Mr. Rochester, Jane Eyre: I know there are people who hate this pairing, who think that Mr. Rochester was selfish and awful. I get it, but they’re wrong. Mr. Rochester is a passionate, proud man, and as such makes mistakes. Yes, he tries to deceive Jane about his lunatic wife, but his reasoning is sound. He doesn’t consider himself to be married, and in today’s world, he could easily get a divorce. See, if he treated the wife in the attic badly, I’d be all about “down with Rochester.” But he doesn’t. He hates her, but still takes good care of her. He deceives Jane, but never intends to hurt her. Jane is fantastic because, in an age when women were blindly submissive, she always does what she thinks is right. Her passion is a barely restrained thing, in an age where a passionate woman could get herself locked up in an insane asylum. These two perfectly complement one another.
  9. Will and Louisa, Me Before You: The first time I read this book, when I finished it, I started back over at the beginning. It spoke to me that much. Louisa never quite fits in anywhere. People are always teasing her about her clothing, the way she acts, and the things she says. Will is perpetually pissed off after the accident that left him paraplegic. At first, they don’t like one another, but as time goes on, they learn that the other one is the only one who really listens and understands. It’s beautiful and sad.
  10. Mia and Adam, If I Stay & Where She Went: Mia and Adam are brought together by their mutual love of music. Adam feels comfortable with Mia and her family in a way he’s never felt before. When a car accident kills her whole family, Mia learns about it from her coma, and realizes she has the power to stay or to go. She looks back on times with her family and with Adam as she makes her decision. I haven’t seen the movie, but the book gave me all the feels.
  11. Mulder and Scully, The X-files: I was on board for them to confess their love for one another in Season 1! But it didn’t happen that way, and the underlying tension was what made the romance great. I hated any of the rare times they dated or flirted with anyone else, but their close relationship and deep understanding of one another made me certain they were meant to be together. That’s part of the reason I’m enjoying the new series, even though it seems they’re together-but-not-quite. No one understands them the way the other does.
  12. Jim and Pam, from The Office: I didn’t even want to watch the stupid show. My husband started and thought it was funny. As often happens, he watched several episodes before something caught my attention, and then I was done. Throughout all 9 seasons, I was rooting for them, and I loved that their love story continued (and had conflict) even after they got married.
  13. Admiral Adama and Laura Roslin, Battlestar Galactica: BSG is not a romance series, and of all the romances that happen, this one is probably the most subtle. I doubt it’s making anyone else’s list, but I love it. They’re both a little older than are typically focused on for romance, but I think that’s part of what makes it great. They don’t get along at first. I don’t even think they respect one another at first. (OMG, this is just like P&P… no wonder I love it.) But slowly they start to learn how to work together, until at one point, Adama admits to his son, “I can’t live without her.” What makes that statement even more poignant is that she’s dying, and everyone knows it.
  14. Harry and Sally, When Harry Met Sally: There are so many amazing scenes in this movie, but the last scene, where Harry confesses his love on New Year’s Eve, is romance gold. They were enemies, then they were friends, then they fell in love. It seems to happen that way a lot in fiction, and I firmly believe it’s because we see ourselves in the people we hate, and overcoming that is like learning to love yourself.
  15. Prince Henry and Danielle, Ever After: I’ve always loved Cinderella stories, but I love this one best because: 1. Hello, Drew Barrymore. 2. Danielle isn’t some milquetoast heroine waiting to be rescued. Nope, she challenges Prince Henry, and he becomes a better man because of it.
  16. Han Solo and Leia, Star Wars: They hate each other until they don’t. Their relationship is volatile but based on respect. Even in the more recent movies, when they’ve been broken up, it was still obvious how much they loved one another. I liked how it showed that a broken up couple can still love one another, even if they shouldn’t be together.
  17. Kate and Luc, French Kiss: When Kate’s fiancé goes to Paris for a medical conference and meets the love of his life, Kate overcomes her fear of flying to follow him and win him back. She ends up teaming up with a French con man, Luc, who shows her why the one who left wasn’t good enough for her in the first place.
  18. Honorable mention: Rick and Daryl, The Walking Dead: I realize that they’re not a couple, but their bromance is the best. It’s not uncommon for women in books and movies to have close friendships, but we rarely see it with men. These two have such amazing chemistry that many of the best scenes are just the two of them. Seeing them go from enemies to brothers has been one of my favorite things on the show.

Did I miss any? Who are your favorite romantic couples, in books or TV/ movies?

First Kisses

I’m writing a special Thursday post because Miss Snark’s First Victim is featuring 15 first kisses from unpublished manuscripts to be critiqued. You can find them here. I’m #12 with an excerpt from my young adult novel, Not Dead Enough.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer at least some romance in books I read. To me, love is part of what makes life so grand, and it’s wonderful to read about people falling in love, even against the backdrop of things going horribly wrong. (Romance + horror = happy me)

The 15 excerpts are a maximum of 250 words, so they’re all quick reads. Stop by and read one or two and leave a comment. At least 15 unpublished authors would love the encouragement and/or constructive criticism!

October Reading Wrap-Up

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In October, I read a bunch of new books.  I’ve recently gotten back into the Longmire series of books, and am trying to read them all.  I love being the annoying person who points out the differences between books and movies (or, in this case, TV). I actually enjoyed everything I read last month, which is always a nice surprise.

  1.  For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn.  This was a really good self-help type book for insight into the male mind.  I picked it up because it was recommended reading on how to write men in stories better, but I see that it also applies to the men I know.
  2. I Was Here, by Gayle Forman.  I loved If I Stay, and the follow up, Where She Went, so I have no idea why I hadn’t read another book by her before this.  I went looking for fiction to read on suicide, and this was a good one.  It drew me in from the start, and did a decent job of showing the devastating effects on family and friends.
  3. You, by Caroline Kepnes.  This one was recommended by my book club.  Funny story: because of who sent it to me, and the title, I thought it was a self-help book, or something like that.  Yeah, it’s definitely not.  It’s actually a thriller about a stalker and his victim.  Brutal, fascinating, and disturbing, it’s pretty much everything I want in a book.
  4. The Shining, by Stephen King.  When I read You, I found out that The Shining has a sequel: Doctor Sleep.  Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because I had no idea.  None.  It’s been years since I read The Shining, and since it’s one of my favorite King books, I wanted to reread it and be fresh from it when I read the sequel.  It’s still one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read.
  5. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King.  I was really skeptical that a sequel could be as good as The Shining, but this one was definitely worthy.  I’m sure it could work as a standalone book, but I was glad I had just re-read The Shining, as there were a lot of references to it.
  6. Death Without Company (Longmire #2) & Kindness Goes Unpunished (Longmire #3) & Another Man’s Moccasins (Longmire #4), by Craig Johnson.  I’m a fan of crime novels, and I love the Longmire shows on Netflix.  These are quite different from the TV show, but they’re good in their own way.  Walt is a pretty similar character in both the books and the show.  I actually like Henry a bit more in the books.  He’s a more active character, and frequently involved in Walt’s escapades.
  7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black.  This is a vampire book, but not a typical one.  It’s what would happen if vampires were shown to be real, in the modern age.  One girl wakes up to a massacre that happened at a party, and it begins with her saving her ex-boyfriend (who’s been bitten), and saving a vampire who helps her.  I like books where vampires aren’t portrayed as sexy teddy bears who just happen to like blood.
  8. The Liar, by Nora Roberts.  I’m a sucker for Nora Roberts books, mostly because I know that she usually mixes romance with other things, like suspense.  This one has it all: a great love story, murder, secrets, conspiracy, and an underdog who comes out ahead.

I liked every book I read this month, and I can’t always say that.  I got most of them on my Kindle, through the library.

What did you read this month?

Judging Matters of Opinion

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Bet you never thought you’d see these two books pictured together!

I like the Walking Dead, Longmire, and Man in the High Castle.  I couldn’t care less about Game of Thrones.

I liked Twilight and 50 Shades of Gray, but I liked The Girl With All the Gifts by MR Carey and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury better.

I see judgmental articles online all the time about what it means if someone likes “trashy” books like Twilight and 50 Shades.  I also see tons of response articles with people saying they won’t apologize for their taste.

Why is this so common?  Why is it such a thing for people to pass judgement on other people’s choice of entertainment?  What in particular does it say about me as a person that I can enjoy the entire spectrum of novels, all the way from the widely criticized to the highly revered?

In my opinion, the answer is not much.

What it says about me is that I have broad tastes and that I enjoy many things.  I enjoy things, not because I’m supposed to or they’re popular (or unpopular), but simply because they entertain me.  I’m all about relishing what entertains me, unapologetically.  I don’t feel the need to hide fondness for romance, or to brag about it when I’m reading classics.  Because while one might expand my knowledge and thinking, the other is something I like.  I don’t need reasons to enjoy something, just like I don’t need to explain why, for me, mint chocolate chip will always win over vanilla.

If you see me sitting at the coffee shop, and I’m reading a book that you consider awful, think about this: yesterday, I may have been reading a classic or difficult book.  And if I am reading that “difficult book” while I’m standing in line at the grocery store, don’t assume that says anything about me.  I’m likely to also have something by Nora Roberts in my purse.

I read a lot, and I don’t judge other people for any reading habits, other than when they say, “I like to read, but I don’t have time for it.”  If you don’t like to read and don’t do it, that’s cool.  But if you claim you don’t have time, I call shenanigans.  There’s always time for what you like.

Anyway, the point is that judging people based on their taste in entertainment is silly.  And if you weren’t sneaking peeks at what I’m reading, maybe you’d have time to finish that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table for the last six months.

Not that I’m judging.  😉