Welcome to the GayRomLit 2017 Blog Tour! We’re so pleased to have Featured Author Alex Miska joining us today as our guest in the countdown to the big event. Whether you’re attending or not, I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Alex a bit better!
TROPE-TASTIC STORIES READERS ADORE
AND THE ROMANCE HEROES WHO HATE THEM
In mid-October, a spectacular segment of the romance community will gather together in Denver for the GayRomLit (GRL) convention. I am actually going to emerge from my little house in the woods and meet strangers and online friends and, yes, fangirl more than a bit. It will be overwhelming, but I can’t wait.
As I was polishing off my third book, I hesitantly joined a large community of M/M romance writers. They are a kind, hilarious, welcoming group. I have made so many friends and, over the past few months, learned so very much. All the advice, all my experiences as a reader and a writer, and all the market trends I’ve noted in my obsessive spreadsheet have distilled into two basic facts.
The first is that romances are literary comfort food.
They’re a momentary escape and they make us feel good. We see a cover, skim a blurb, and form distinct expectations for the direction in which the story will lead. In other words, we as readers love Tropes.
This isn’t about plebeian tastes and stale stories. It’s about satisfying a craving. If I expect a nice, juicy bacon cheeseburger and fries and instead get steak and garlic whipped potatoes… sure, it’s similar and probably a culinary step up, but it isn’t what I ordered.
Therefore, anything I write better have some kickass Trope-itude. Tropes are just patterns of behavior that tend to occur in books and real life. They can be taken in so very many directions, but each trope has certain requirements.
Consider a marriage-of-convenience/fake-boyfriend story. It doesn’t work unless the characters have to play a role and show affection and intimacy in public, because that gives the characters a taste of what a relationship together could be. Once the heroes get that taste, they’ll wish it could be real. And, of course, the climax of the story will be the decisive moment when the ruse ends and they have to decide where to go from there.
Each trope’s requirements are simple and pretty flexible, which is why a good story winds up blending a few tropes together. After all, each character has a life and a backstory that affects how the relationship progresses. Maybe one of those men is a billionaire. Maybe he was rescued by a firefighter when his charity BBQ got out of control. Maybe it was love at first sight and they needed an excuse to go for it. All those possible tropes are what makes the story interesting, but each also adds to the list of mandatory elements.
This is where a writer like myself begins to go astray. So many restrictions! Are all those trope elements REALLY mandatory? Probably not, but there has to be at least one primary trope for which all the bullet points are solidly present. And I need to hit them and hit them HARD. (Oh yeah, baby, so hard. You like that, don’t you?)
If I skip those essential elements, the reader is left still craving a book to scratch that itch for a fireman who gets engaged to the billionaire in order to save a puppy orphanage.
So there’s a sticky note attached to my monitor that says, “comfort food, comfort food, comfort food.”
And that brings me to my second essential fact. Tropes are just fun window dressing. In romance, the characters are the true story.
They are the flesh and the soul of a romance. The only difference between my fake-relationship book and someone else’s is the characters – who they are and how they handle the situations in which they find themselves. My heroes are what will capture readers’ hearts and get them to friend me on Facebook, join my newsletter, and read more of my books.
Whenever I start a new story, I have a mental sketch of my characters and choose a trope or three. Then I really get to know my heroes. I want to know all about them: their dreams, their favorite desserts, that one humiliating moment involving a hair dryer and cargo shorts… And when I’m done chatting with my men, I think I know what the story will be.
I’m always wrong.
Without fail, as these heroes come to life they decide my carefully planned scenes don’t work for them. They have a panic attack during foreplay, say I love you waaaaaay too early, or break up with each other before their story even gets written. No matter how much I beg, my heroes refuse to cooperate. It’s their book now and they’re holding it hostage until I give in to their demands.
Maybe I should set aside the tropes and reader expectations. Maybe I should listen to my gut and give in to my characters’ hissy fits. But is it really a quality romance if the readers don’t leave feeling satisfied? And look at the data! The Fireman’s Fake Marriage To The Puppy’s Billionaire soared to the top of the charts!
So as I sit here writing yet another story and planning for future titles, I’m trying to decide between writing what I want to write and “selling out” by writing trope-tastic fluff.
The answer is pretty simple: I need to do both.
Building a basic outline based on the tropes will satisfy the readers’ hunger for their literary comfort food. The cover, title, and blurb will advertise those tropes and capture reader attention. The happiest of happily-ever-afters will leave readers feeling warm and fuzzy. The characters will do the rest. So I’m letting go and trusting my heroes to fill in all those blank spaces in the beat sheet.
It’s easier said than done, and I constantly doubt my direction and question my decisions. Then I talk to other writers. They are supportive and understanding but offer brutal honesty, and they hope I will do the same for them. We shore up each other’s confidence and help each other find their way through this roller coaster of writing and publishing. Which is why I’m looking forward to the GRL convention in October. It will be readers and writers, camaraderie and education. I will have fun and learn so much.
Then I’ll talk to my characters and desperately hope they’ll listen to reason.
About the Author
Alex Miska is the author of lighthearted contemporary M/M romance, including the Moore Romance series, and has recently started writing Young Adult-friendly LGBT fiction under the name Annika March. Her pet-loving, quirky, intelligent men have a habit of falling in love at first sight, but it still takes them a while to figure out how to get from “Hello” to “Happily Ever After.” She has a rich cast of secondary characters and does her best to balance serious issues out with warmth, familial & furry love, and humor. A certifiable math geek, Alex is a former special educator and disability rights advocate. She lives nestled in the woods just north of NYC, the doting parent of a preternaturally-happy, fluffy, white dog and his somewhat gloomy older brother, as well as the solicitous servant of two highly-opinionated Siamese cats.
About GayRomLit Retreat
GayRomLit is an annual retreat that brings together the people who create and celebrate LGBT romance for a one-of-a-kind, must-attend gathering of dynamic, informal, and diverse fun.
Each year, the retreat rotates to a new city and hosts tons of events from raucous parties to mellow tête á têtes while still maintaining a spirit of familiarity. GRL is the place to connect with old friends, find family you didn’t know you had, and meet with both newly published and established authors in the gay romance genre.
This year’s retreat will be held in Denver, Colorado on October 19-22, 2017 at the Denver Marriott Tech Center.
For more information or to register, please visit Our Website.