Friday, July 3, 2009

So My Husband Married An Ax Murderer

For some reason, I scare people.


I'm not sure exactly why, but people frequently tell me they wouldn't want to run into me in a dark alley, and they'd never want to piss me off. This may have something to do with the fact that I'm a second degree black belt, and I tend to be rather... intense about my karate.


Or it may have something to do with the fact that I have no compunction whatsoever about killing... my favorite characters, that is.


I've said it before, I am not a fan of happy endings. For one thing, I'm a horror nut, and nothing ruins a good horror story like a happy ending. The monster is supposed to win. The hero is supposed to die. The reader is supposed to be left cowering under the bed covers, wondering if he's next. I want to shock and awe people with stories that make them afraid to turn the page while simultaneously making it impossible to resist doing so. But to do that, I have to write a story that truly puts the characters at risk for bodily harm and even death. I have to give the reader serious doubt as to whether anyone will survive the story.


Why the urge to do this? Why would I want to write about horrible things happening to perfectly nice (and sometimes not-so-nice) people? Am I crazy? Mentally twisted? Psychotic? Well yeah, I'm a stay-at-home mother of two! But really, that doesn't explaim why I write about the dark side of things. What is my fascination with death?



I'm not sure if I can satisfactoraly can't answer that question. I've spent the past week wracking my brain, trying to think of something smart, or at least smart-ass, to say about it. All I can tell you is that in the past six years, I've tortured, mutilated, burned, beatened, stabbed, drowned and otherwise destroyed perfectly good characters. And I've not limited my killings to just horror stories. I can turn a sweet romance into a funeral dirge at the drop of a hat. Just ask Lisabet, she knows what I'm talking about.


The fact is, I just think it makes for better stories. At least it makes my stories better. The doubt and unpredictability of what might happen; will this character live or die tragically? As a writer, it makes me care more about the characters when I know they might not always be around. Think about it. If you knew that someday someone you loved was going to die, wouldn't you go the extra mile to be with that person, to enjoy them and appreciate them while there's still time? The threat of death is what makes life so precious, and the threat of fictional death, though not as dire, can also make readers care deeply about characters in a story.



I remember the first time I truly fell in love with a character in a story. I was reading "Little Women" by Louisa Mae Alcott. One of the sisters, Beth, had been ill for a long time, and nothing could save her. I cried my eyes out when she died. I still cry when I think about that story. Her life was so short and so tragic. She had no happy ending beyond the fact that she was with her family when she finally went. And yet, of all the thousands of characters I've read about in all the thousands of books I've read, Beth is one of the few who stays with me to this day, bringing on the fresh tears whenever I think about her.


Is there room in the world of erotica for that kind of sadness? Is this a genre that will allow tragic endings and the deaths of beloved characters? I say yes. Erotica isn't just about happy endings and steamy sex scenes. I believe it's about how sex and its related issues affect people's lives. Sometimes those effects can be damaging, or even deadly, and the stories there could potentially haunt readers for ages. That's a side of erotica I want to explore, and I for one am quite willing to kill my darlings to go there.


6 comments:

  1. Hi, Helen,

    Well, you don't *always* do your characters in! But I have to say that your most memorable stories probably are the ones with the dark endings. On the other hand, they're not completely dark. In your story about the half-man half-plant in the greenhouse (was it called "The Honey Bee"?) the hero willingly gives his life to sustain his lover's. There's a kind of justice to that, a bitter-sweetness. The hero has finally experienced what he waited for all his life - acceptance and true sexual pleasure. Giving his life seems like a fair trade.

    You can't have depth without the possibility, at least, of tragedy and loss. That's what makes writing romance so difficult. How can it _not_ be superficial when happiness is pre-ordained?

    Great post, and I love the cartoon...!

    Warmly,
    Lisabet

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  2. Helen,

    Killer post ;-)

    Seriously, you make a valid point about the inevitability of death and its deserved place as a weapon in the arsenal of the erotic fiction author.

    Best,

    Ashley

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  3. Helen,

    I completely agree with your take on why killing our characters should be permitted in romance or erotic romance. Now, would you go and discuss this with a few publishers? LOL

    Many publishers require romance to have a happy ending. It's what the readers want and expect. That's a huge market and if we're targeting them, we really do have to keep em happy or we're liable to wind up on the 'not to be read' list. That's definitely something to think about.

    Careful labeling and a heads up about books is a must, right?

    But, while reading your post, I envisioned a lovely young woman in black mourning the death of her lover. She's simply standing, looking through a window and crying. Her lover, a ghost now, is leaning towards her, his lips pursed for a kiss. Now, that could be an awesome story. Romance? Possibly not, but it'd be fun to write and possibly marketable.

    Finding the right niche. That's what we all have to do with these 'not so romantic' babies.

    A really wonderful post, Helen, thank you!

    Hugs

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  4. Great post, Helen. I was thinking "Jude" when I was reading this, and totally knew she would agree with you. LOL

    You all make good points, though. I think there should be room in this world for various kinds of stories, not just those that fit in some publisher's box.

    Have a great weekend, everyone!

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  5. Thank you everyone! I'm sorry I didn't respond earlier today, but I spent most of the morning at the beach, and the rest of the day working on killing off yet another character! I'm glad you all enjoyed the post.

    I have found there are some erotic romance publishers who will look at stories with unhappy endings and characters dying. It's just a matter of how well the story is written, they've told me. I know Logical Lust has no problem with it, since they published my short story collection and a few pieces in there end with a death. I think it's certainly worth the time to query publishers about how they'd feel about certain story lines. And of course, the market is always changing, so what a publisher may not look at now, they might take an interest in later.

    Well, I'm done killing characters for the night, so I think I will hit the hay. Tomorrow, I've got two characters to do in, and I need to rest up before I polish them off };)

    Enjoy the weekend!

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  6. In "The Reluctant Dom," the set-up from the beginning is that one of the heroes is going to die (pancreatic cancer) and the story revolves around his settling his affairs, including training his best friend to take over as his wife's Dom and Master. But it still ends with a HEA sort of ending for two of the characters despite the death. (And had a "Dallas" or "alien abduction" ending been utilized with a last-minute save, it wouldn't have worked.

    Sometimes, you HAVE to kill characters off, even when it hurts as an author to do so. To be any less true to the story is to cheat the readers, quite honestly.

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