Today we welcome author Kennedy Ryan to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Kennedy's When You Are Mine, the first book in the Bennett series, is a story of forbidden love—namely, when a woman realizes she's falling in love with her fiance's best friend! Kennedy is here to talk about breaking the rules of romance, and why she likes to read rulebreaker authors. Thanks, Kennedy!
When I decided to seriously pursue publishing my novel When You Are Mine, I didn’t have an English or a creative writing degree. Or an MFA. My degree was in journalism, and I knew nothing about trade fiction, but I’d been reading romance since the seventh grade. That should count for something, right? What was there left to learn really? Based on contest feedback I received, a lot.
“You’re breaking too many rules. This isn’t a romance.”
But I had two people in love! I had a happily ever after…eventually. I had hot, steamy moments. How was my book not a romance with all those elements present? Turns out when you read between the lines, or rather between the rules, there’s something much more insidious than rules at work.
As a reader, I want a delicate balance between accommodating what would more accurately be termed “conventions,” rather than rules, and becoming so predictable I could practically write the novel myself after chapter one. A few years ago, I found myself in a reader rut. I wanted to be surprised. I wanted to grapple. I wanted to be discomfited. A few trends, in the hands of some gifted writers, have done those things for me.
1. (In Joan Crawford/Mommy Dearest Voice) “No Cliff…hangers!”
There is quite a bit of vitriol surrounding the becoming-more-common cliffhanger. And I get it. I’m not crazy about them either, but sometimes there is a read so good, you wouldn’t have missed it, even if you have to wait for the happily ever after.
Several books lately have left me dangling over a cliff, but were so good, it was well worth the wait. Gail McHugh’s Collide and Karina Halle’s Shooting Scars both wind you up, spin you around, touch your heart, rip it out, then start all over again. And on the last page, there is no bow. No neat HEA, but the journey is worth it, and the promise of more good storytelling will bring you back for part deux.
There are a few things that seem to relieve the sting some for readers.
- Tell us when the next installment is coming. (Bonus points if it’s soon, like within four months or so)
- Once the date is established, for the love of all that is holy, don’t move once, twice, thrice…
- If you can, include a little bit of the next installment to remind us it is just over for now, and the next part is underway.
Some people will just never accept cliffhangers. Some refuse to read any of a series until it is complete, and maybe not even then. If a writer grips me with her words, characters and storyline, makes the ride worth my while, leaves me wanting more, and promises it will be worth the wait, I will follow her anywhere. Yes, even over a cliff!
2. Heroines Behaving Badly
“Your heroine is not behaving heroically, so she is not likeable.”
Readers usually have high expectations for heroines. Are we still in the times where we expect their great flaw to be, I don’t know, stubbornness? A new batch of heroines has delighted me with their fallibility. Lily Calloway from Krista & Becca Ritchie’s book Addicted is one such heroine. She’s a sex addict, and we meet her in the THROES of her addiction, not in recovery. Porn, one-night stands, multiples—the whole she-bang. (Bad pun alert!) And our hero, an alcoholic himself, enables her behavior. Got any warm fuzzies yet? It is a truly amazing book that I would have missed had I given up on a heroine in the process of finding her way.
Or Karina Halle’s Ellie Watt, a con artist who swindles for a living and who hits both points of her love triangle, if you know what I mean (eyebrow wiggle). Or Laurelin Paige’s Alayna Wither, a former stalker in therapy for her obsessive love disorder. These are not your mama’s heroines. They make their mistakes. They bear their crosses. And if we let them, they teach us their hard-won lessons.
This is a biggie! Cheaters get no passes in real life, people! But in a story…at the nimble fingers of a skilled writer…ain’t no angst like that forbidden love angst. Look no further than Dr. Zhivago, Anna Karenina, and one of my favorites, Age of Innocence. It’s the touch-me-not train wreck we can’t look away from. (Sorry, Anna Karenina. Too soon?) And there are some modern writers in the romance genre doing this carefully…and beautifully. Shining/tarnished examples are Karina Halle’s Love, In English, Mia Asher’s Arsen, and Tarryn Fisher’s Love Me With Lies series. If you shun these and many more because of the c-word (not THAT one, gutter girl!), then it will be your loss.
Thank goodness for the writers I’ve referenced, and so many more. Their rule-breaking, trope-bending, wild-ride stories breathe life into the genre. Am I saying every romance novel needs cheating, or cliffhangers or cross-to-the-other-side-of-the-street heroines? No, but allowing them, including them, is good for romance.
I want to be jarred. Jolt me. Grip me. Challenge my convictions. Submerge me so deeply and sympathetically into that character's point of view that I wrestle with the moral dilemmas they face. That even if I wouldn't make their choices, I ache for them. Even if, when at a crossroads, they take a path I wouldn't choose, make me want to follow them down that path. Even if it's a slippery slope.
Make me love those complex, shades-of-gray, flawed characters…the way somebody loves me with my flaws and imperfections. Will you do it voluntarily? Or do I have to make it a rule?
Learn more about or order a copy of When You Are Mine by Kennedy Ryan, available now:
There were several signs that Kennedy Ryan would be a writer, but making up stories with a mop as her long-haired heroine while the other kids played kick ball may have been the most telling. After graduating with her journalism degree from UNC-Chapel Hill (GO, HEELS!), she found various means of gainful employment having absolutely nothing to do with said degree, but knew she would circle back to writing, in some form or fashion. After years of working and writing for non-profit organizations, she finally returned to her first love - telling stories. Her debut novel, When You Are Mine, the first of The Bennetts trilogy, releases through Grand Central's Forever Yours imprint in June 2014.
In an alternative universe and under her government name, Tina Dula is wife to Sam, mom to Myles, and a friend to those living with autism through her foundation Myles-A-Part.