The Reunion

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Come Find Me by Travis Ward

Mark and Jessica met the summer they were sixteen. It was only for six weeks, and when Mark’s father was transferred they lost touch: the families moved, email accounts were changed, both of their fathers died in combat. Not hearing from her, he felt she no longer care for him. Not hearing from him, she felt he had abandoned her.

Ten years later, Mark tracks her down. Jessica lives in Dahlonega Georgia where she operates a wildlife rescue center and cares for her niece and nephew while their widowed mother works. When they meet, the attraction is instantaneous. Unfortunately, Jessica is engaged to be married.

This is the type of romance novel that I truly enjoy reading.

The story is believable and the characters are lovable. Jessica is just the type of girl a young man would like to date; Mark is the type of young man that everyone likes. So often in romances, the guy is a “bad boy,” and I find myself wanting to tell the woman to “turn and run, run fast, run far.” Not in this book. Here, the reader is pulling for them both to be happy.

The writing is excellent. The story is set in a small city in northern Georgia and the reader has the feeling that the author has lived there and knows the city and its people well. You can easily imagine the fiddlers on the square, the houses where the people live. The dialogue is realistic. The author does not resort to dialect (I hate dialect!) but still conveys a sense of place─ I knew I was in the rural South.

The love scenes are soft and sweet, and they arise from the story. Too often, in romance novels they are the reason for the story and all else revolves around them─ when in doubt, toss in sex. In this book, the romantic scenes make sense; the story leads up to them; they advance the plot; there is more to life than romance; there is more to romance than sex. The love scenes seem real, too. There are no wild, raunchy scenes and no explicit descriptions. (I tend to laugh when authors include too many details.)

Beyond presenting a good story, the book raises questions, important questions, in this case, questions about love and marriage. Jessica loves Blake, her fiancé. He is dependable; he is smart; she enjoys his company; he will take care of her. With Blake, love does not include passion. Jessica loves Mark. He is adventurous; knowledgeable; she enjoys his company. On the other hand, she has no idea what he might want to do two months into the future. Passion is a given when she is with Mark.

Can you love two people at once? Who would make a better husband?

It’s early in the year, but I feel certain that this book will be one of my favorites.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Conflict and Story

Conflict is central to drama…we are naturally drawn to charged moments both large and small. We are not drawn to what our hero had for breakfast, unless he is on death row and it is his last meal. Alan Watt, The 90 Day Novel

 The conflict that drives a story can be an internal conflict, reflecting the interplay of the hero’s multiple wants, desires, and motives, or it can be an external conflict, resulting when the hero’s attempt to obtain something that he wants is frustrated by the actions of someone else.

Psychologists often distinguish among three types of internal conflict: approach-avoidance, approach-approach, and avoidance-avoidance.

Approach –avoidance conflict occurs when an event, a thought, or an action both attracts and repels. There is something that I want. At the same time, I do not want it

I want to invest my money because my investment may increase in value. I do not want to invest my money because my investment may fail. I want to gallop through the novel that I am reading to discover how the story ends. I want to read slowly so that I prolong my enjoyment.

In my book, The Handfasting, Katherine and Steven are engaged to be married, but they have been separated for a decade. When Steven finds her, Katherine wants to see him, wants to fall in love again, wants to pick up their romance where they left off ten years before.

But, “You don’t know anything about him,” her roommate tells her. “He was a painter when you knew him. Maybe he’s a starving artist, looking for someone to support him.”

Has he changed? Katherine wonders.  Will he be as nice, as handsome, as interesting as funny as he was before? Should I meet him for dinner? I want to see him; I’m afraid to see him.

An approach-approach conflict exists when there are multiple alternatives, and each one is attractive. I want to pursue them all, but I am able to choose only one.

I can go to the ball game or the party, but not both. I can read this book or that one, but not both, not at the same time.

Steven and Katherine meet one summer as they travel in England. They fall in love and they want to marry. They are young; Katherine is only eighteen, just out of high school. She wants to be a doctor. Years of school are ahead. Steven is an artist. He may go to graduate school. Years of school are ahead. They want to marry. They want to finish school. They cannot do both at the same time.

An avoidance-avoidance conflict arises when one has multiple options, but none is attractive. You want to avoid them all. “Pay the fine or go to jail,” the judge says.

Bill Wilson is a friend of Katherine’s family, and her mother wants Katherine to treat him nicely. Katherine despises Bill, but she does not want to disappoint her mother. Two options – neither is good.

In the central conflict that drives the story, Katherine is presented with a choice, and she has multiple options. It would be a spoiler if I were to be specific concerning the choice, but I can tell you that her decision will color all that she does for the remainder of her life. None of her alternatives is good. Avoidance-avoidance.

External conflicts are interpersonal conflicts. Two people want the same thing. Only one of them can be successful,

Steven wants to marry Katherine. He has waited for her for a decade. They are in love. Bill Wilson wants to marry Katherine. He has known her since childhood. He needs a wife and Katherine fits the bill. Only one man can have her.

Alan Watt indicates that conflict is central to our stories. He tells his readers – aspiring writers - to put their characters in relationships with other characters and see what will happen. Conflict, he writes, will ensue

Without conflict, a story lacks a driving force. It lacks interest. Where is the suspense? Where is the fear that the hero will have her plans thwarted, her hopes dashed? Where is the relief when a satisfactory ending occurs?

In a book I read over the summer, the seeds of conflict are planted in abundance, but none matures. Never is there any question in the reader’s mind as to whether the ending will be happy, whether it will be exactly as the hero plans.

And I yawned.

Without conflict, a story is bland, like store-bought white bread or hospital food. We all want lives without conflict, and most of us manage to make it through with few serious problems. However, few of our autobiographies would be best sellers!

Without conflict, the story becomes a simple account of events, strung one after the other, without direction or purpose. Conflict makes the story.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Instant Love

I’ve just completed Katherine Lowry’s fantastic book, The Last MacKlenna. Set primarily on a horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky, the story revolves around Meredith Montgomery, owner of a winery in Napa Valley, and Elliot Fraser, who raises thoroughbred horses. They meet at a B&B in Scotland two days before Christmas, are immediately attracted to each other, and quickly fall in love. It’s a common pattern: boy meets girl; they fall in love; they fall into bed, and shortly-by Boxing Day in this case-they are on the path to happily ever after (although Meredith actually takes a bit longer to completely trust the handsome Scotsman).

I addition to being an author (The Handfasting and The Reunion) I review books for the Kindle Book Review. Many of the books I receive are Romance novels, and, as I have reviewed books over the past year, I have found that the almost “instant love” that I observed in The Last MacKlenna is really the norm.

In Dunham by Mariah Jovan, another excellent book that I recently reviewed, Celia and Elliott, privateers who prey on British ships during the American Revolution, meet in a bar on a Caribbean island. A few weeks later, following a battle with the British navy, they find their ships together in calm waters. Elliot sneaks aboard her ship, through the window of her cabin, and into her heart. Four days later, as the winds again begin to blow, they are in love.

In a third book, Until I Met You by Annette Evans, a girl and boy in their late teens meet, sleep together and decide to wed in the space of a week – and the girl’s parents are happy about the proposed marriage! While not all Romances follow this pattern – mine don’t follow it in all respects - I could cite many that do.

This instant attraction certainly moves the action along, and it leaves plenty of time to develop other elements of the plot, but is it realistic? Is love instantaneous? Is it simple chemistry? Do Cupid’s arrows pierce our hearts and cause us to swoon?

When I am not writing or reading, I am a psychology professor. (Yes, I stay busy.) When my classes discuss the topic of interpersonal attraction, one explanation I offer is reinforcement theory, a theory which suggests that love is learned. You get to know another person, spend time with him, perhaps date him, and you learn that the two of you are similar. You learn that you enjoy the same activities, that you think in similar ways, that you have similar goals in life. And you fall in love.

Learning takes time! Falling in love takes time!

Isn’t this your experience? It has certainly been mine. I might have been attracted by her blond hair and blue eyes (sorry, brunettes), but love? Even with the girl I married, falling in love took more than the long weekend in a snow storm at the top of a mountain!

If the image of love that we find in books is so unrealistic, why do authors continue to present it? Why do readers continue to buy into it?

We buy into it because we want it to be true.

We want it to be true, first, because no one really wants to delay gratification.

If you have ever spent time with children, you know that they want immediate gratification. They care nothing about rules. They care nothing for the laws of physics, the constraints imposed by reality. They want what they want, when they want it, and they want it NOW. A child may want a particular kind of candy sold only in a shop on a side street in London, eight hours away by air, but the child wants it now!

Our lives, today, are on fast-forward. We never want to wait. We use email or we text; we do not post letters. We pull into the drive-through at Starbucks; we do not wait in line. We Google for information rather thumb though a book. We click for movies on demand rather than drive to a theater. We want instant information, instant service, instant contact. We also want instant love.

We want it to be true, second, because life would be less painful if it were true. We do not enjoy the “process” of falling in love.

Who really enjoys dating? Wondering if he will call; wondering if she will answer. Trying to decipher the other person’s feelings. We panic when he flirts with another girl, when she smiles at another boy. Adults who find themselves alone after many years consider dating, and their stomachs turn. Would it not be preferable simply to lock eyes with someone across the room, and to live happily ever after?

We would so like for love to be immediate. It would be convenient; it would fit our lifestyles so well. It would be so pleasant if love could be found as rapidly as we brew coffee in a Keurig, if we could fast forward through the emotional ups and downs, if eHarmony could guarantee a perfect the match on the first try, if Cupid aimed his arrows at the boy and the girl, the man and the woman, at the same moment in time.

Some people criticize stories with instant love as examples of simple escapism. They argue that we need to confront the world as it truly is rather than wallowing in sentimentalism.

On the other hand, books exist, at least in part, to take us away from the routine activities of our lives, from “the squalor of the real world,” as they sing in Evita. Books enable us to imagine doing thing we could never do, being people we could never be, having adventures that could never happen, visiting times and places in which we do not live. We experience other people’s lives and see the world through their eyes. We are able, through the people in our books, to experience life, love, and adventure as we feel that they “should” be, as we wish they were.

We know that the easy, fall-in-love-in-two-days stories are unrealistic. But we don’t care. When we pick up a Romance, we willingly suspend our disbelief in such things, we lose ourselves in the story, and we experience, for a short time, life as we would like it to be.

And this is good.

So, choose a Romance, and lose yourself in the story. Escape for a while! Imagine yourself as one lead, your spouse or your steady as the other.

And fall in love. Or fall in love again.