Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Linda Kage, Boat Rocker

I am a passive person. I may have my own personal beliefs and opinions, but I’ve never felt the need to climb onto some soap box and push my thoughts and feelings onto other people. In fact, it usually doesn’t matter to me what others believe or how they feel about certain topics. I’m sure they have a good reason to believe and feel the way they do, whether I personally agree with them or not.

I do not rock the boat. I avoid confrontations if at all possible, even sometimes when I shouldn’t. And being forced into a verbal debate is the epitome of hell for me, a fact which delights my husband to no end. A silver-tongued devil, that man can talk his way into winning any “discussion” we have, a fact which irritates me to no end.

I’m not good with immediate responses. I need a few days to think about my comeback, time to delete and erase, revise and edit until I create something eloquent and brilliant enough to satisfy myself. That’s why I prefer to write fiction. I can take all the time I need so my characters can deliver their immediate, witty comeback lines.

But for some reason, my stories tend to splash up some massive waves, making the readers in my boat-novel all kinds of jostled. I’m not quite certain how I do it. To me, I’m just writing a story. My characters need some sort of problem/conflict to overcome, so I throw a few obstacles in their paths, obstacles I think will be realistic enough. Maybe they’re too realistic though. Maybe they’re too controversial.

And eww. Controversial is a four-letter word to me.

So why, oh why, do I keep coming up with story ideas that have notorious topics?

Here’s an example. The story I just finished writing is about a man whose past has come back to haunt him. He was raped by one of his mother’s ex-boyfriends when he was twelve, and it’s time he finally has to deal with the trauma.

I thought it was a good internal conflict for my hero. But the rejection letter that came from submitting that story said their publishing house preferred to avoid such touchy issues.


Another example is the story that just came out this month. When my critique group found out my hero was an alcoholic, they flipped out, telling me no one would want to read about an alcoholic hero. I personally didn’t think he was such a bad guy. He called his grandma once a week, saved the heroine from the life she hated, and even loved his mother. The only reason he drowned himself in liquor was because his first wife had killed herself ten-years before and he felt guilty for not being able to save her.

Here I thought I was writing a fun, but emotional, romance about this lovely woman coming into a troubled man’s life and helping him through his problems, a kind-of inspirational tale to show readers that it is possible to get past tragedy.

But, nope. I was told no way, no how. Eventually, I gave in and softened the alcoholism aspect of my story. And now it’s finally here, and I’m chewing my nails off, worried every reader who opens my book is going to throw it out the window because the hero has a little drinking problem.

And now I gotta know (the curiosity is killing me), what do you think? Is my story going to bomb because of the touchy subject matter? And don't worry, I won't be offended by your answer. Remember, I know your opinion is your opinion and you're entirely entitled to it!!

Here’s a little excerpt if you need more on which to base your opinion.

Hot Commodity
By Linda Kage
Champagne Books
Available: November 2010
Contemporary Romance


By nine that evening, Olivia and Cameron arrived in Kansas City. She had one travel bag with her, full of all the possessions she had left in the world. She followed her new husband up the front walk into his sprawling mansion and stopped just inside the doorway, her fingers clutched around her suitcase handle.

Cameron tossed his keys on an end table and tugged a cell phone from his pocket.

"I have to make a quick call," he said, glancing her way even as he moved toward a doorway leading to another room. "This will only take a minute."

Olivia swallowed, wondering who he had to talk to so urgently. Probably some girlfriend, advising her not to come over tonight.

Jealousy thickened in her lungs, making it hard to breathe, making her follow him to the doorway and peek in.

With his back to her, he paced the sitting room. After a moment of holding his phone to his ear, he finally spoke. "Hello…? Grandma?"

Grandma? Olivia mouthed the word, her eyebrows puckering in confusion. He was in a hurry to call his grandmother? No way. It must be some kind of code language. Grandma was probably short for Hey, baby, can’t talk right now. Super secret spy stuff going on.

Olivia rolled her eyes.

"It’s Cameron," he said and, after a moment, lifted his voice, repeating, "It’s Cameron."

Okay, so maybe his girlfriend was hard of hearing. Either that or he really was talking to an elderly deaf woman.

A smile was clear in his voice when he added, "Yeah, it’s Sunday already. I can’t talk long though, I have a guest...What’s that? Oh, don’t you even worry about it, Grandma. I love calling you. No bother at all...Yes. Uh huh." After a second of listening, he threw back his head and laughed. "You naughty old woman, you. You’re going to ruin my innocent ears if you keep that up."

Curious, Olivia found herself moving forward to listen openly. He was really talking to his grandmother, wasn’t he?

How bizarre.

"No, wait! Don’t hang up yet. I wanted to tell you…"

Holding her breath, she wondered if he was going to announce his marriage or something. God, she hoped not. He’d give poor Grandma a heart attack.

"I have another spoon for you to put in your collection. What? Oh, this one’s from Chicago...Yeah, I know I already brought you one from Chicago, but that was in honor of the Sears Tower. This one is for the city in general… Oh, that’ll do then, will it?" he murmured, like he was repeating what she’d just said. Turning so Olivia could see his face, he grinned and added, "Good. I was worried you’d shove it back in my face." Though he didn’t sound worried.

Olivia must’ve breathed aloud because his eyes snapped her way. They both froze.

"I have to go, Grandma," he said into the phone. "Yes, I’ll call next Sunday. I love you too. Bye." Never taking his eyes off Olivia, he snapped the phone closed.

He and Olivia took a few seconds to stare at each other, both leery.

"That…" he cleared his throat, looking suddenly rueful. "That was my grandmother. She’s been a widow for a few years now and gets lonely. So, I, uh, I make sure to call every so often."

Olivia wondered what kind of man this was who took time out of his life to call a lonely old woman every week, just to flirt with her. Her chest felt very tight.

Cameron glanced away, looking awkward, as if he were embarrassed. "Anyway," he murmured under his breath. "Who needs a drink?" He didn’t look at her again as he strolled to a nearby shelf lined with books.

He’d barely talked to her the entire day, and Olivia was fast learning she’d married herself a moody man. He could go from one extreme to the next. One moment, he was grinning and cracking jokes like a comedian. The next, he was quiet and withdrawn, wrapped up in some inner demon that made her wonder what could put that haunted look in his eyes.

Olivia figured the mood swings were why he was so successful. Growing up with Vivian as her mother, she’d met dozens of millionaires and discovered they all possessed quirky personalities. It must be a trait common among the insane masterminds. Next thing she knew, Cameron Banks would probably pull a Van Gogh and cut off his ear or something.

She had to admit, however, even at his nastiest, he had an innate kindness. He could never in a hundred years be what Vivian was. His sour side didn’t seem to come naturally. It was like he forced himself to be rude, as if some emotional struggle was taking place in him, making him guilty about every smile he revealed, so he had to counter it with a snarl.

Apprehension attacked every nerve ending she possessed. Everything felt new and foreign. She was a long way from California, hundreds and hundreds of miles from the only home she’d ever known.

Ignoring her, Cameron rummaged through the books on the shelf until he came to one thick dictionary. But he didn’t seem interested in reading. Instead, he tugged it out of his way and reached into the open gap to extract a glass decanter filled with amber liquid.

Olivia rolled her eyes. Letting go of her suitcase handle, she strode toward him and jerked the container from his hand as soon as he’d taken his first swig.

"Don’t drink that!"

Wiping a drip that dribbled down his chin, he frowned. "Why not?"

Yeah, why not?

"Because…" Olivia sighed in irritation. She didn’t want him to think she was actually worried about him. She had a feeling he’d make fun of her if she showed him any tenderness. But, honestly, she didn’t want him to suffer any more. Despite how easily he could get her back up—not to mention how easily he got her back down on a bed—she was in his debt. He’d successfully removed her from Vivian’s life. The kind of gratitude that act inspired made her want to save him from himself.

"Horrible things happen to me every time you drink," she said, instead of revealing her compassion. "First, I ended up marrying just the man I wanted to avoid. Then, the next time I ran into you while you were drunk, my mother found out about everything and I lost the only home I’ve ever known. And now, I’m stuck here, clear across the country, doing God knows what with my life. I’m telling you, Bud, that’s not a very good track record."

"Maybe it’s just plain old me that’s bad luck for you," he suggested with a careless shrug.

He reached out to take the bottle from her but she held it away from him.

"You didn’t drink a drop all the way here from the hotel this morning," she said primly. "And no pianos have fallen on me yet, so I’ve concluded it’s the alcohol. Besides, I thought you were a recovering—"

"Yeah, yeah," he snapped. "I know." Cameron switched his scowl from the bottle to her. But as soon as their gazes meshed, he blew out a breath and closed his eyes. "Sorry," he said as he rubbed at his forehead. "You’re right. I’ve been imbibing more than I should lately. I’ll stop."

When he opened his eyes, his irritation was gone. He gave her a sudden seductive grin. "So, if I’m not allowed to drink, you’re going to keep my mind occupied on other matters, right?"


Victoria Roder said...

Hi Linda,
I like a hero with flaws. Gives them room to grow. Makes them more real. Keep rockin' the boat.

Amber Skyze said...

Personally I could believe in your hero. I love those taboo issues, because they're real. Someone is living them. Kudos for rocking the boat.

Linda Kage said...

Thank you for your opinions, Victoria and Amber. It's a relief to know at least two people won't mind my hero!!! I have to admit, I like those realistic flawed heroes too and watching them straighten their lives back out.

Carol Kilgore said...

I think it's good to rock the boat. As long as it fits the story. I enjoyed this excerpt.

Linda Kage said...

What a great answer, Carol. Depending on the situation in a story, certain issues might not fit so well.

Lydia Kang said...

Being safe in your writing could make for a boring story. I don't think we need to "exploit" touchy subjects just for the sake of drama, but rendering those subjects in the context of a fully formed character is something totally different.
Good for you!

Linda Kage said...

What another awesome response. Thanks, Lydia.

Ashley Barnard said...

From another anti-conflict person with my own alcoholic hero, I applaud you for taking risks in fiction!! You can't make everyone happy when you write. So make YOU happy, and then others will certainly follow.