A (Virtual) Spooky Reading

EarthBoundRetroRocket2

Binge on Books is doing a month-long Sounds Like Halloween celebration of scary stories, and I recorded myself reading the mission sequence from Earth Bound for it. It’s more suspenseful than spooky–and obviously very spoiler-y if you haven’t read the book!–but you can listen to it here.

Also, I talked to Rachel Kramer Bussel from Salon for an article on resistance romance. A lot of my favorite authors are quoted and are name checked, so it was incredibly cool to be included.

Finally, I started an author newsletter. I promise I won’t send too many of these, but if you want to keep up with my new releases and sales, you can sign up here.

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Project Announcement: Rogue Desire

Back in April, I outlined a book on Twitter. Well, not really a book, more of a plot bunny about two people admitting they were in love against the backdrop of a global crisis and a debate about the Twenty-fifth Amendment.

It festered, and I started emailing and direct messaging with friends who had their own resistance romance ideas. All of that turned into Rogue Desire, which is releasing next week. You can see the cover over on the Happily Ever After blog at USA Today. I have the blurb and preorder links below the fold.

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VOTE

If you’re in the United States and you can, please vote. As I said in the afterward to Party Lines, Michael and Lydia–probably my personal favorite couple from any of my books–would want you to. If you’re not certain where your precinct is or what’s on your ballot, Google will help you (search “where is my polling place” or “who is on my ballot”). Yay, democracy, y’all!

ETA: oh, and if you need a distraction, A Midnight Clear will only be free for another week. Joe Reynolds would be happy to keep you company while you sit up late waiting for election results.

Authenticity in Romance; or, The Land of 10,000 Dukes

What follows is a random collection of jet-lag fueled thoughts meaning it’s even more random than normal. You’ve been warned.

Yesterday, Kaetrin wrote an essay on Dear Author about the problem of accumulation. She explores how the overrepresentation of certain kinds of people in romance shapes the genre by pushing writers toward certain tropes. There are by a factor of a thousand to one more dukes in romance than there were/are in real life, but if you’re writing, discoverability is a real issue–so do you choose to write the millionth duke romance or do you write a romance set in a Shaker community in antebellum America? Probably the duke.

(Aside: I desperately want to read a Shaker romance. Why are we so obsessed with the Amish? I mean, other than the fact that Shakers were celibate. And this leads to me asking for an asexual romance. Has anyone read either?)

It’s not an apolitical question. In the land of 10,000 dukes, lots of people are unrepresented or unrepresentable–and that matters in terms of who is being written out of history and for whose story seems to have subjectivity in the present. As Kate Sherwood pointed out in the comments, there’s a magnifying effect because readers and writers learn through their reading. They learn the tropes, thus making certain ideas de rigueur, but I think they also probably learn the worlds too.

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I’m Writing About That?

A vague and random series of thoughts, for which I apologize in advance.

I was emailing with someone this morning about the final book in my series about political staffers, The Easy Part, and I realized that the series is about me. It’s not about me in the sense that any of the heroines is based on me; nothing that happens in the books happened to me. But it is about my experience as an older Millennial coming to political consciousness in the late 90s.

I’ve written before about how many of my early memories are political, but I think I’ve also been working through the later stuff. What does it mean to come to political consciousness during the age of Clinton? To vote for the first time in the election of 2000? (Which is both why I always vote and why I’m deeply cynical about the process.) To fall for a candidate–either George Bush or Barack Obama–and then to watch him either fail to implement the vision he articulated during the campaign at all or to seriously compromise his values?

I don’t think Millennials are unique in this regard. Surely younger Baby Boomers who voted for the first time in the late 1960s, witnessed Vietnam and then Watergate followed by the cynical 1970s had a parallel development among other generations. But the blend of hope and cynicism in all of The Easy Part novels and the looking for personal and professional compromise that occurs in all of those books feels of this moment to me in a way that I didn’t realize until now.

I don’t mean to be pretentious about my work at all. But now that I’ve finished a series and am starting to plan another one, I can see what I’m writing about in a way I couldn’t before.

A Fine Romance Friday: Dave

Leading up to the release of my contemporary political romance novel, Special Interests (which will be out on Monday!), I want to use fine romance Friday to feature some of my favorite on-screen political romances. Today’s selection is Dave.

Ivan Reitman’s 1993 romantic comedy is cinematic wish fulfillment–for who amongst us has not watched the political process and said, “I could do better than that”? And in tonight’s fine romance, Dave Kovic gets his shot.

The premise: non-profit director and all around good guy Dave Kovic (Kevin Kline) bears a striking resemblance to the sitting president, Bill Mitchell (also Kevin Kline). So much so that when Mitchell wants to conduct a sordid affair, the Secret Service enlists Kovic to help cover it up by making a public appearance in place of the president. But when Mitchell suffers a stroke during said affair, his staff (Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn) decide to use Dave as a puppet in order to enact their own agenda.

This set up bears more than surpassing resemblance to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and, as in that film, Dave just won’t stick to the script: he keeps having warm, funny interactions with people, he gets an accountant friend to help him “fix” the federal budget, and he falls for the first lady (Sigourney Weaver).

I find it more than a little sad that most of the older film and television representations of American politics are hopeful (Mr. Smith, The American President, Dave, The West Wing): while some people act in bad faith in all of these cases, the overarching message is that good things can happen in government. Newer representations (Scandal, House of Cards, Veep) seem much more skeptical. (And some older versions are as well, see Advise and Consent or All the King’s Men.) It’s a small sample size, so I don’t want to draw too many conclusions, but I don’t think we’re nearly as hopeful today about politics as we were when Dave was produced.

Skepticism and idealism come and go. I’ve written before about trying to balance a realistic take on the system with one that doesn’t make us feel disempowered. But the well-earned contempt that Americans have for their government makes me sad.

But I digress!

Dave is a funny, clever film and a hopeful, sweet romance–and you can’t really wish for more than that.

The Problem with Politics

I hate electoral politics and think politicians and staffers are all creeps. Should I read Special Interests?

I’ve written before about politics in romance novels, about how I think all romance novels are political but some politics announce themselves while others hide in plain sight. So if you read romance, I would say you’re already reading political books.

But…the politics in Special Interests aren’t hidden, not even a little. The hero, Parker, is a senior aide to an important senator; the heroine, Millie, works for a construction union. The book revolves around a budget negotiation. It is very much about the American political process–good, bad, and indifferent.

Further, it’s partisan. Millie and Parker are both liberal Democrats, though being members of the same party doesn’t help them. They argue about politics and their different orientations toward the political process, and what these differences mean about their personalities, are at the heart of the conflict in the book.

Despite all that, I don’t think it’s a partisan book. There are characters in the book who are “bad” (broadly speaking) who agree with our hero and heroine politically. There are characters in the book who are “good” (again broadly speaking) who are conservative. I don’t want to spoil the end of the budget subplot, but it isn’t achieved at anyone’s expense. It isn’t about demonizing or lionizing either party.

The next book in the series isn’t partisan at all and is in general less overtly political. The third book is going to feature a cross-party romance. Things worked out the way they did in Special Interests because it felt like the truest representation of the characters and the place, not because I have any sort of agenda. Most importantly, I don’t think that one’s enjoyment of the book is contingent on agreeing with the characters.

So should you read the book if you think Washington is a cesspool of corruption? Only you can answer that. If anything to do with laws and politics raises your blood pressure, probably not. (Though in light of all the discussion about online reviewing and author backlash, let me say that if you don’t like the book–either because of politics or anything else–I totally support your right to review it honestly however and wherever you want. Reviews are for readers not writers. While bad reviews are unpleasant, I’ll live and I won’t harass you about it. Promise.)

But if you want a (I hope!) witty, sexy, honest portrait of young DC staffers trying to make the federal budget and love work, I think Special Interests is for you.

A Fine Romance Friday: The American President

In the weeks before the release of my political romance Special Interests, I want to use fine romance Friday to feature some of my favorite on-screen political romances. Today, I consider The American President.

Rob Reiner’s 1995 romantic comedy The American President is one of my all-time favorite movies. And when you read Special Interests (because you’re going to read it, right?), this devotion will show. It is very clearly writer Aaron Sorkin’s warm-up for his television series, The West Wing, but in some ways, the film works better. The extent to which The American President colored my vision of how the American government works, my interest in the political process, and my decision to move to Washington right after college can’t be overstated. And it is more than surpassing embarrassing. I made a very serious life decision because, in part, I liked a movie.

The only point in my favor is that the movie in question does hold up.

Given its popularity on cable TV, I think the odds are good that you’ve seen it, but if not: the widowed Democratic president (Michael Douglas) meets and then pursues a feisty environmental lobbyist (Annette Bening), much to the horror of his staff (including Michael J. Fox, Martin Sheen, and Anna Deavere Smith) and the glee of his Republican opponent (Richard Dreyfuss).

The romance in the film plays out against the backdrop of an election in which two of the major issues are a proposed ban on assault weapons and a limit on carbon emissions (for those playing along at home, there’s been no movement on either of those issues since the mid-90s and arguably regression; but let’s not get distracted).

It’s a face paced, smart, and ultimately very funny film that wears it’s idealistic heart on its sleeve. It’s less smarmy than The West Wing, which could be terrific but also condescending and proscriptive. It has that high gloss of mainstream 90s movies, but also intelligence and soul.

As I’ve written about before, The American President uses overt, electoral politics as a metaphor for implicit, private politics. Most of us won’t ever date a president or even a politician, but many women will navigate relationships with men who have more money, higher status jobs, and myriad responsibilities. We might come to The American President for the novelty factor–the what if?–but we stay because the journey feels honest if not realistic.

Regardless, you have to love a film in which the first thing the hero hears the heroine saying is that he’s delusional and which ends at the State of the Union. Tonight, for me, it’s The American President.

A Fine Romance Friday: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

In exactly one month my political romance Special Interests will be released! Until then, I want use fine romance Friday to feature some of my favorite on-screen political romances. First up is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Frank Capra’s 1939 political confection is famous for many things: its contribution to “Hollywood’s greatest year,” its idealistic and appealing take on American patriotism, and its sequence in which the titular Mr. Smith stages a filibuster on the floor of the US Senate. But I’d offer that it’s also successful as a romance.

First the set up! The governor of an unnamed state taps Boy Ranger-leader Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart)  to fill a sudden Senate vacancy. (The state is unnamed, but I think it’s supposed to be Missouri.) In Washington, now-Senator Smith is shown the ropes by his only staffer, the tough-talking, smart, and completely cynical Saunders (Jean Arthur).

Smith falls under the spell of his state’s senior senator (Claude Rains) and his pretty, worldly daughter (Astrid Allwyn), which is precisely what the governor intended. However, Smith, who believes deeply in a fairy tale version of American governance, doesn’t follow the rules and introduces a bill to create a national boy’s camp in his state–putting him in the cross-hairs of the state’s political machine. When he won’t pull the bill, they accuse him of corruption and Smith finds himself fighting for his career.

The key to Smith’s success is Saunders. The sweet romance that develops between them is gang busters. In terms of tropes, it’s opposites-attract and workplace-set, but I like it as a very rare example of an innocent, idealistic hero paired with a tough, sardonic heroine. For all his dewy platitudes about country, Smith doesn’t know how to get things done, but Saunders does.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington might not be a terribly accurate take on government, then or now, but I do love the movie and cry during the Lincoln memorial scene every time. The 1930s footage of Washington is also terrific.

Until you can read Special Interests, this is one political romance worth a rewatch!

Stranger than Fiction

I wrote–am writing–a series of contemporary romances set in and around American politics. The first one plays out against a budget negotiation. In the third act, the clock is running low on a possible a government shutdown when…okay, you’re going to have to read the book when it releases in April (APRIL!) to find out. But it should come as no surprise that as I’ve been working through my edits, I’ve been watching current events with more than my usual level of interest.

I am a very long-standing political junkie. When I was a kid, I embraced the gamesmanship of it, the pageantry. If war is politics by other means, as von Clausewitz tells us, then elections seemed like politics by metaphor. I was obsessed.

One of my earliest memories is watching the 1988 election with my family. They coded the maps differently then. I remember watching the country slowly filling up with Republican blue and imaging a blue tide sweeping the nation. As if elections represented something real and permanent and not a choice between not-all-together different candidates, likely all rich white men okayed by party bosses. The winners, chosen by a small majority of the percentage of the enfranchised who choose to vote, likely going on to careers of no import in a system where the outcomes resolve conflicts ground out in decades prior, like the 2004 election litigating issues from circa 1972.

In college, politics stopped seeming like a game. I became involved with a number of issue-based causes, including sexual and relationship violence response and prevention, which led to the years I spent in Washington <redacted>. Then I left DC for graduate school, for a far more healthy relationship with books and nineteenth-century periodicals. And by far more healthy, I mean not at all healthy.

For me, politics is 90% cynicism and 10% fervent, irrational, glowing hope. While I listen to Americans talk about the government shutdown today, I share all of their frustrations even as I want to scream, “But we have to sleep in the bed we’ve made! We are complicit in this system!”

And if we made it, we can unmake it. We can make it better.

Against history, against empirical evidence to the contrary, I believe that. I believe we are empowered and choose not to act. I believe we can be and do better. Alone and collectively.

So while I watch the news, I’ll be dreaming up plots. Plots about the overworked, largely powerless, aides who are working on too little sleep and too much caffeine to enact dreams conjured about a Washington that doesn’t, and hasn’t ever, existed.

And none of those plots will be stranger or less realistic than what’s happening on the Hill today.

(Edited for clarity.)