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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Today's Special - - Cathy Maxwell


When New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell joined us in April she shared her thoughts about the imperfect characters - specifically heroines - that readers love to hate. Cathy returns today with part two of that discussion: the creation of those imperfect heroines, what readers expect of their fictional heroines and whether authors are fulfilling those expectations.

So, without further delay, let me turn the blog over to Cathy. Take it away!





Rant Part II:  Great Expectations

            Last month, I talked about writing characters readers hate.  Or love to hate.  Or need to be redeemed before a reader likes him or her.  Take your pick. I promised I would write about the experience of writing that type of character, and here I am.

Background—In the first book of the “Brides of Wishmore” series, THE BRIDE SAYS NO, I introduced Lady Tara Davidson, a headstrong, young, immature woman who doesn’t know what she wants but has a deep sense it isn’t the marriage planned for her. 

            I thought she was sympathetic.  WRONG.  Columns were written about how much readers disliked her.  I think she reminded readers of that girl for whom life is too easy.  Opportunities land in her lap because of the arrangement of her face or the curves of her body.  I wrote her that way because her growth beyond being shallow was important to the conflict.

            Fortunately, Tara’s story, THE BRIDE SAYS MAYBE, came out the following month.  If it had been six months later, who knows if anyone would have cared? Yes, I was nervous that readers might not be interested in Tara.  So was my publisher. 

            No worries. The book outsold the first one. It flew off the shelves.

             That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a thing or two to consider—


1     Readers are forgiving. They are also demanding. My loyal readers expected me to redeem Tara and in a manner they valued.  New readers were attracted to that wonderful cover and, from their comments, apparently like seeing a young woman, who deserves a comeuppance, receive it.  However, many readers who were with me on the first book were very clear in their emails that they trusted I’d get Tara’s act together. Part of the reason they read the second was to see if I could.  They also liked the “Beast of Aberfeldy.”  In this case, Breccan was definitely a saving grace.

      I like character growth.  I’m not a fan of the perfect heroine, as a writer or a reader.  The perfect heroine makes for drab stories and in Romance we do fight the predictable.  The journey is what makes the tale.  Years ago, I heard Laura Kinsale ask, “When did Princess Diana become interesting?”  It wasn’t when she was doing what was expected.  However, there are limits and that leads me to my next point.

       The reader has gotta be honored. I want to create full-bodied, fleshed out characters and it is possible, even dangerously probable, I can go too far for genre fiction.  There is a line.  I am not demeaning Romance with this statement. However, every commercial genre has strong reader expectations. In other words, there is a pact we writers have with those who plunk down hard-earned money on a book and woe to the writer who ignores it.   I got whopped when I wrote LYON’S BRIDE, the first book of the “Chattan Curse” series.  There was a strong reader reaction to the ending. However, over the span of the trilogy, I found readers were willing to go with me on the story.  In fact, these have been some of my best selling books.  I didn’t anticipate the reaction on the “Brides of Wishmore.” Again, it worked out very well for me, but I also understand I’m treading a line. I must mull over this a bit.

            Was that a rant?  Maybe not.  The truth is, you read this blog because you are a fan of Romance.  You care.  That is why I can talk this way with you.

            By the way, Romance readers are across-the-board readers.  They like good stories.  We will read anything—literary, mystery, science fiction, young adult—just give us a good story with wonderful characters.  However, Romance captures our imaginations.  A great Romance rings true deep in my soul.

            And I am interested in what you think.  So how about it—can a writer push the genre boundaries too hard?  Are we not pushing hard enough?  What rings true in your reader soul?

~Cathy Maxwell

What happens when a bride says maybe?

She'd once been the toast of London, but now scandal has brought her down. Still, pretty, petted Lady Tara Davidson can't believe her new fate. She had wanted to marry for love . . . but her profligate father has promised her hand to none other than Breccan Campbell, the "Beast of Aberfeldy" and laird of the valley's most despised clan! Well, Tara may have to marry him, but Breccan can't make her love him—can he?

What happens when the groom insists?

Breccan Campbell is nobody's fool. He knows that Tara is trouble. Yet he's determined to reform the Campbell name even if it means forging an alliance with the arrogant beauty. There's no doubt that Tara is a challenge, and Breccan loves nothing more. For he's vowed to thoroughly seduce Tara—and make her his in more than name alone.




Visit Cathy's website at http://www.cathymaxwell.com/.  Connect with her online at Facebook and Twitter.  

35 comments:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed "The Bride Says No" and "The Bride Says Maybe." Now, I cannot wait until I can read "The Groom Says Yes." This first two books are delightful and I know the third book will be fabulous as well. Please note that my next comments are NOT made at author Cathy Maxwell in any way. Her books are terrific!

    I am a romance novel reader, but I also love a good cozy mystery, biographies and some non-fiction. Historical romance is my absolute favorite. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I wish more authors would stay true to the time period especially when it comes to adding too many erotic sex scenes. I find it hard to believe that this was happening back then to the extent portrayed. I'm not a prude, but I would love to read more historical novels that concentrate more on discussion of the time period, mannerisms and events. A wonderful romance blooming is great but I just wish there was less: "Hi. You're good looking. Let's meet up in the library and have sex on the sofa."

    OK. Off my soapbox so I can put on some armor to protect myself from rocks that will certainly be thrown at me. :-)

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    1. Nobody will throw rocks at you here, Connie! I enjoy a steamy sex scene but, as Cathy said, it has to be integral to the story.

      Do you read much historical fiction? While some have a love story within the main story, the primary focus is on the historical time period as opposed to the relationship that takes center stage in historical romance.

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    2. Oops! That was me. I forgot to change hats.

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    3. I have read lots of historical fiction and enjoy it immensely. I have always loved romance books too and I guess that sometimes it's hard to differentiate between "regular" romance novels and erotic (if there is a difference.) I'm sorry if I have offended anyone. Please forgive me!! Cathy Maxwell's novels are great. My review of her latest one should be up on bookworm2bookworm today.

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  2. I don't think rocks will be thrown at you, Connie. You make a valid observation. (And thank you for your kind words about my books!) I can read any sex scene as long as it is integral to the story. I hate gratuitous anything--plot elements, personalities, chapters. To me, nothing is more worse for the genre than a book written by the numbers i.e. vampires are hot, I guess I'll throw a vampire into this story--or a duke--or how about a duke vampire. As a reader, I can tell when a writer is genuine or not.

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  3. Thank you so much for your response, Cathy! I want you to know that my comments were NOT aimed at you because I enjoyed the sex scenes in your books. They are not pages long of graphic sex. Instead, there was a lot of humor which is such a favorite of mine. Keep on doing what you do because you rock at it!!

    All the best!

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    1. Thank you, Connie. I will try and rock it. :)

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  4. I was very much in the camp of "I don't like Lady Tara" (because yes, she's too pretty and spoiled and I thought she deserved a set down). Makes you wonder about the high school lives of those reading your books, doesn't it? *LOL* HOWEVER, you're a well established author and an author whose books I've much loved in the past, so I thought, "You don't know what's going on. Surely she knows this chick isn't going to be beloved by all with this behavior." And to me, you did. Of course, you as the writer would be more sympathetic to Lady Tara. I only knew her from the sister's side and didn't see how Tara being abandoned as a kid really set her off--once I got that, I did feel for her. And of course, you did pair her up with a Beast, so again, I thought, "Good! She deserves to be taken down a notch or two!" (I had a really miserable high school experience, just in case you're wondering, so I was all about the all sacrificing older sister and wanted to shake Tara, though sure, I get it, marriage is a huge step, who wouldn't panic?)

    I also loved the Lyon's Bride series...and I too was rather upset--okay VERY--that the hero's life was still in danger. Part of me was all, "You know, hey, Cathy is pointing out that life isn't guaranteed but you love anyway--that's great, right?" but yeah, the bigger part was "There are two other books and maybe there will be more a guarantee later."

    You wrote a passionate book and got passionate responses. I don't think it gets better than that. You don't want the "meh" response--where it hit the right notes but wasn't very memorable. These books, people are going to go, "OH, I remember THIS series, everyone nearly dies" or "The little sister is a BRAT."

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    1. Ah, to be memorable! I think I was working on some sister stuff, Ms. Hellion. The person who started to get on my nerves (and I'm not the only one because it showed up in a comment on a website) was Aileen. You know that older sister "I'VE made mistakes so now I shall save yooouuuu." My sisters thought I was a know-it-all drag. I was. But what I like are characters who get in touch with their humanity. I also enjoy the character who goes too far and then realizes he or she has an uh-oh, on his or her hands. I want characters to do in fiction what I'd be afraid to do in real life.
      Thanks for the good words about both series. I appreciate them.

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    2. I was right there with you on Tara, Hellie but I also had faith that Cathy would make it right in the second book. I also agree with your take on passion. Love it or hate it, I'd much rather read a book that makes me feel!

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  5. I'm afraid I'm trailing way behind with Cathy's books, but catching up fast now. I recently read 'Lyon's Bride' which I thought was brilliant.

    A move towards the paranormal may not be 'pushing the boundaries' that hard but keeping the romance central to the plot is guaranteed to succeed when a master story teller is pulling the strings. Push the boundaries a little harder I say! The second chances theme is always a winner with me.

    I don't throw rocks but maybe a well aimed snowball might be appropriate. To quote from Lyon's Bride :
    "No woman had ever completely over powered him with desire. She was quicksilver and light. She was the stars, the moon, the sun. In this moment, she owned his entire being."

    Now that is hot!! LOL

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    1. Thank you, Quantam! (great handle)

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    2. Good to see you, Q! I love that quote from Lyon's Bride!

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  6. I have no lines that can't be crossed. Just give me those characters that I care about and you can take me anywhere you want :)

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    1. I have a few lines I'd rather the characters not cross but as long as the author gives me characters I can care about then I'll happily stretch those boundaries.

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    2. PJ, I think it depends on the book. I'm not a paranormal reader but I gobbled up FIRST GRAVE TO THE LEFT, I really enjoyed Katharine Ashe's MY LADY, MY LORD. Oh, and Jenn LeBlanc's ABSOLUTE SURRENDER was a good one, too. Really different. And there are others. Lorraine Heath can push envelopes and leave me wanting more. Anna Campbell is always interesting because of the energy she brings to her characters.

      BTW, what I haven't read a great deal of is American small town. I have a pile of books waiting for me. I've been collecting them for a Big Read. However, when one brings out three books in one year, there isn't bunches of time for reading. I'm going to change that.

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  7. Just popping in to say hello, Cathy! I'm with catslady. Have me love the characters, and I'll cross thousands of boundaries with them. I love boundary-pushing books, and I believe they've lifted our genre beautifully. -- Beckie

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    1. Hi Beckie! Always a delight to see you here...and to lose myself in one of your books! :)

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    2. Hey, Beckie! It really is about writing the story, isn't it? And giving it all you've got as a writer. That's something I learned from reading your books.

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  8. Hi Cathy! I don't think I've officially welcomed you yet. It's always a pleasure to host you here at TRD!

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    1. Thank you, PJ. It is always fun to be here.

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  9. I was forced to quickly read your new one after that discussion Cathy (of course I was going to anyway...but wanted to rush my read as soon as it came out because I didnt think she was awful and needed redeeming but wanted to see how it went) ...I loved the book, Hmmmm I loved the second one better than the first? No, well, I am not sure, I really liked them both. And as I said, I love all different kinds of characters....the whole joy of reading a genre and loving it, is all the ways writers do what they do with characters. YOU rocked it...the book was very good. and yes, I cannot wait for more. PUSH as hard as you want. I think there are intelligent readers that will bite and go for it.

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    1. Thank you, Hope. I'm glad you enjoyed Bride NO and MAYBE.

      I KNOW there are intelligent readers of Romance. I enjoy blog sites like The Romance Dish because readers care.

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  10. I lke boundaries to be pushed a bit. I don't mind sex as long as it's not the center for the entire book. The sex scenes have to be well worked into the plot -- not be the entire plot. Just give me characters and a well written story where I can escape, and I am happy.

    Love you and your books, Cathy!

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    1. Thank you, Cathy!

      BTW, have any of you read MYSTERY MAN. The sex is a big part of that plot and I loved it. Kristen Ashley did a great job turning sex into love and commitment. Delicious read. I really enjoyed the heroine.

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  11. Hi, Cathy! I love your books.

    BUT, guilty. I did not like Tara for her spoiled attitude and her name. Haha, yep, I know someone named Tara and she rubs me the wrong way. As Hellie said, we see Tara from her sister's POV, so I will give the book a try and read Tara's take on life and such.

    Thanks for being here at TRD! I love your writing for its wit and charm of the characters.

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    1. Thank you, Deb! And I know what you mean about the names. I thought I'd never get my daughters named because my husband believed character traits were transferred in names and he seemed to know a bad whatever name for every one I picked. Good memory!

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    2. Oh, names are difficult....yep, try being a teacher and naming your child. No, can't have that name, he was a little corker I had in class. Or, nope, not that name either. She was .....You get the idea, LOL!

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    3. I never thought how difficult it would be for a teacher! It was hard enough avoiding the names of my husband's old girlfriends. :-)

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  12. I don't know if I'm in the minority opinion or not, but I love Historical Romance just the way it is. I can read a beautiful Kathleen Woodiwiss novel with sweet love scenes, or another romance with lusty, sensual love scenes, and love them all! To me, it's all about the writer. A good writer to me, knows their craft, and draws the reader into the world of the story, and if they do it well, I do not care about what type of sex the characters are having, or whether the Author is crossing some genre line. The quality of the story is what matters to me. Of course, I wouldn't want too much historical detail, because I would then be reading a regular historical. I want romance, wonder love scenes, tender, romantic, sensual and sexy. I guess I love it all.

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    1. What a great post to wrap up the discussion. You nailed my feelings, Suzanne!

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