Dec 27 2014 12:15pm

She’s Just Not That Into Him from Carr and Sumners

A Summer in Sonoma by Robyn CarrThe holidays are almost over and against all odds you've survived the stress—of  attempting to buy everyone the perfect gift; of spring cleaning in the winter because of  visiting relatives; of trying to cook perfect meals; and even fighting crowds on December 26. No matter how organized you are, stress is almost always a visitor during the holiday season. But another caller to the season is a lovely one —the vibrant, lively and effervescent force of anticipation. You watched in joy as young children anxiously (and adorably) awaited Santa’s visit. Older kid tried to be more nonchalant about the whole thing, but you observed not quite hidden signs they had fallen to anticipation's spell.  And even if gift wasn't high on your list, there was and is the anticipation of wonderful times with family and friends. Collegians have return home for their holiday vacation and grandparents have come to visit. And there is the celebration of closing out one year and ushering in the new. During this time of year, we plan and anticipate and dream of our own personal Hallmark moments.

We all are well aware that writers of all mediums know the value of anticipation. We’ve been tortured by a glimpse of a smile here—a lingering glance there in our favorite television programs and books. We finish watching one show impatient for what’s next, or we close one book to immediately search out the release date and couple of the next book (which some authors consider classified information!).

But creating anticipation within a book is much more difficult. In romance books it hinges on the meeting of the hero and heroine, and then the buildup to the first sex scene which can be early, mid-book, or even later.

Why the first sex scene? Because most of us assume that sex equates to couple-hood. In most cases, readers take this as an implied promise from the author that these two people are a couple, and the particulars will be worked out through the rest of the story. I’ve read only a few books, where a “hookup” didn’t mean that.

Couples typically either have sex early in the book through a one-night stand, or mutually decide that they not interested in a relationship but just want no-strings sex.

Now, I understand that for many readers that is exactly what they’re looking for—give me the good stuff, and give me lots of it. But in this scenario, the author sacrifices some anticipation for torturous angst as she now has to throw roadblocks in the way.

Part of my enjoyment in reading romance is the buildup, like evaluating a package under the tree: what could be that size? Does it rattle? Is that gift wrapping from my favorite shop? So I’m more apt to enjoy books where the sex is mid-book or later especially when an author uses certain techniques.

Megan Mulry just talked about the adversarial relationship in her post “Getting Off on the Wrong Foot: Meet-Not-Cutes in Romance Novels from Yates, Neville, and More,” which is a great anticipation builder. My favorite is when the couple engage, not so much in angry words, but in witty repartee.

But hands down, my favorite way of creating anticipation and tension in romance novels is courtship—well, I call it that, but it’s more that he is smitten and she’s not, at least she thinks she’s not. It’s something you rarely see anymore. And I’m not sure why? Is it because courtship is disappearing from our dating rituals. Do people just hang out together rather than date?

We all know that courtship has an evolutionary history. Back in the cave man days, men were looking for the prettiest woman (supposedly because clear skin and bright eyes implied good health) with the best hips to birth those babies, and women were looking for the strongest man to provide and protect her, and her progeny. In the 20th century most men weren’t going to get the goodies unless they jumped through the courtship hoop because their love interests were still at home under their father’s eye.

We have evolved somewhat since then, but looks still play a big part in the selection process. In our youth, certain types of guys plenty much had us at hello. I suspect most of us fell victim to our hormones. But as we aged, we became smart women evaluating a man for his dependability, integrity and caring, along with sexual attraction. I like the thinking-woman heroine because she knows what she deserves and losers need not apply.

But that is the beauty of courtship, because she might think the hero is a loser but he has the gumption and mettle to prove her wrong. He’s sort of the antithesis of the tortured hero. The tortured hero thinks he is unworthy, and pushes away love, sometimes treating the heroine badly. The courting hero believes and acts the opposite. He thinks he does deserve her, and he is going to almost kill her with kindness to show how great a person he truly is.

Is it wrong of me to enjoy the heroine having the upper hand for a while and being treated like she is a highly desired treasure? Maybe... No, if my heroine is going to be like most women after marriage she’s going to doing the majority of housework, childcare, and kin work, meaning she’ll send out all the Christmas cards, and probably buy all the gifts, and make arrangements for holiday dinners. She deserves to be treated like a queen.

Now 21st-century courtship is not the young man waiting on the porch with his hat and a flower bouquet in his hand. It’s more subtle than that. It’s the hero giving out signals of I like you, and the heroine rebuffing his invitations.

Robyn Carr used this plot device in her book A Summer in Sonoma. Gun-shy Cassie Rasmussen is courted by Walt Arneson, but really he’s not her type.

She immediately felt ridiculous. Why was she calling this biker in grave need of a decent haircut and a shave?

She had nothing in common with him. Men who had that crisp and polished look appealed to her — khakis with starched creases, even their casual shirts professionally laundered. Walt wasn’t very well put together — a tightly fitted T-shirt, denim or leather vest, jeans and that ponytail. So retro. He looked road worn. Then she thought, Well that’s perfect. There was no way she’d find herself falling for someone like him, hoping he could turn into more than a friend.

It takes some straight talk from a friend for her realize that she has a gem right in front of her:

“Cassie, you’ve been bringing around guys for ten years and sooner or later they treat you bad or disappear. You think that’s more acceptable than one who treats you like a queen but has a ponytail? Jesus. I think you’re all hung up on his image, and you ought to just get over it. What would you be doing right now if he shaved, got a haircut and had a stethoscope hanging around his neck?

Cassie’s eyes got a little round. Walt would sure look sexy with a haircut, wearing a white coat. . . “I can’t really be that shallow, can I?”

“Sounds like it,” Julie said.

Grace Grows by Shelle SumnersGrace Grows by Shelle Sumners, which I’ve mentioned several times, features hero Tyler Wilke, who is crazy about Grace Barnum. Even though she is with someone else, he can’t stay away. He writes songs for her, turns to her when he is sick, and is very upset when he discovers she’s getting married:

“Hey, by the way,” I said. “I’m getting married.”

He had been watching a red-haired woman swish down the street, but his eyes came back to me and his chewing slowed. He looked at my hand, resting on the table. At the big shiny piece of metal and mineral I was wearing. He drank some beer and wiped his mouth with his napkin. He looked at me, hard.

“Well, congratulations,” he said rather loudly.

“Um . . . thanks.”

“Um . . . you’re welcome.”

“Ty . . . aren’t you happy for me?”

“No.” He was actually glaring at me now. So much for mellow.

“Shit, Grace!” he said violently.

“What is your problem?” I spoke sharply, but really I felt like crying. “Why can’t you just be nice?”

Even after he knows that she is planning on getting married, it’s difficult for him to give up.

He shook his head at my tenacity, or his foolishness, or something. “All it was, was it’s my grandma’s eightieth birthday coming up and my parents are throwing a big party for her back home, the weekend before Thanksgiving. I’m supposed to bring someone. I had this idea that it would surprise everyone if I brought a smart woman like you with me. Not what they would expect. And it would please my grandma.

He rubbed at something on the tile with the toe of his Converse, then smiled ruefully. “I’m sorry, Grace. I was totally thinking of how I might use you to make me look good. I thought better of it the next day. That’s why I didn’t call.”

You know, after writing down these scenes I'm realizing maybe it is not just because the heroine has the upper hand that I like courtship; maybe it’s a combination of things like the hero’s immediate vulnerability, his willingness to be open about his emotions. As readers, we don’t have to wait until the last chapter for the hero to declare his love. You know it there, from almost the very beginning.

What do you think? Is this a favorite plot device of yours? If so, do you have a favorite courtship story?

To find out more about each book mentioned:

A Summer in Sonoma by Robyn Carr


Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners







Scarlettleigh, blogger

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Kareni
Thanks for a thoughtful post. I've been hearing good things about Grace Grows, so thanks for the reminder.
Lee Brewer
2. LeeB.
Very philosophical post and so true. Have read and enjoyed both books. And yes, I have favorite courtship stories but can't remember any right at the moment. Grrr!
3. Scarlettleigh
I hope I'm not duplicating my post -- but I don't see it --

@Kareni -- I really liked Grace Grows. It's not a fast pace romance, but at the end I really felt that they knew each other. I think you would like it!

@LeeB. Now if we were Laurie Gold, we would have a subject tab for courtship on our Kindle or Nook where we could index those books. That's the reason I only have two. I couldn't remember that many either. I look forward to Laurie's article later this next year. And maybe this year I will be better at putting tags on books.
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