As usual, my excuse isn’t as good. Hopefully few of you are in this position, but you know how when you’re unemployed, time quickly loses any meaning it ever had? I pulled yesterday off my Word-of-the-Day calendar and suddenly it was MARCH TWELFTH. When you have little to do in general and nothing to do at a particular day and time, days just slip through your fingers like water – I’ve been proud of myself all day for going to the grocery store. At this rate, I’ll look in the mirror “next week” and the man looking back at me will be seventy. I’ve also been working on writing up some of my zanier childhood antics to submit to some non-fiction writing contests, so we’ll see if those get believed.
Now, re: unemployment, I’ve had a zany money-making scheme, but I’m having trouble pulling it off: I’m trying to write a romance novel. Harlequin accepts submissions, and one of the imprints they’re developing is especially naughty historical novellas. The little blurb on their website emphasizes that writers for this series are encouraged to take creative license, for example, time travel and the supernatural. This is one of my quainter prejudices, but I absolutely hate time travel as a plot device. There are a lot of things I hate about it, but I’ll just provide a bulletted shortlist:
- I’m just going to say it. If I went back in time and met myself, I’d try to have sex with me. I know what I want, I’d never get better feedback, and it’s not a sin because it’s with someone I truly love. This might be a fringe attitude, but I’ve never seen a movie where it even crossed a character’s mind.
- So, UH-OH, the dragon gets out or whatever, so you have to go back in time and buy a better padlock. So you do that. So then you go back to the future, your present. And since you went back in time and prevented the problem, you were never prodded into going back in time in the first place. So you don’t. And the dragon gets out. So you go back in time and buy a better padlock, and you keep bouncing in this boring little loop forever, right? That’s how cause and effect works, right?
- This doesn’t really require time travel, but sometimes IT TURNS OUT THEY’RE ON EARTH. This trick is literally as old as the Bible: “…and then the Whore of Babylon (GET IT? IT’S ROME!) rode in on the great beast (KNOCK KNOCK WHO’S THERE THE ANTICHRIST THE ANTICHRIST WHO ROME AGAIN LOL)
So I won’t be using time travel. I also don’t think I can do the supernatural any more. Meg’s and my forthcoming book, It Seemed Like a Good Idea…, is like, chock-a-block with ghosts. I don’t know if the looming deadline had made us hyper-aware of our mortality or what, but we could not stop with the ghost jokes. We very nearly went overboard with homosexual ghost jokes, ultimately restraining ourselves to about three, along with a treatment for a new sitcom called Oops! She’s a Lesbian Ghost, for which I have written a theme song. Predictably, it cribs heavily from the theme from Ellen’s sitcom. So I feel I need a ghost break, especially if (xX FINGERS CROSSED Xx) someone gets interested in Oops! She’s a Lesbian Ghost.
I’m going to throw this tangent in: if you write for Harlequin’s modern-day African-American series and two unmarried characters are about to Do It, YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THEY ARE USING CONTRACEPTION/SAFE SEX AND THIS IS IN CAPITAL LETTERS ON THE WEBSITE. “Cherie laughed as she tossed back her hair and drained her champagne flute. She tossed the glass carelessly aside before crossing the bearskin rug to Derek’s waiting, muscular arms. The crackling fire reflected her own desires as she pressed herself against his powerful chest, looked up at him, and coyly whispered, ‘According to my gynecologist, my IUD should be almost completely effective against pregnancy, but no method is guaranteed, and it will not protect me from HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.’” Aren’t romance novels supposed to be an escape? This sounds like the kind of erotic dream I would have: depressingly accurate, right down to the awkward trip to Walgreens for more rubbers.
Since I have a master’s in medieval European history (which I laminated and use as a placemat,) I’m going to stick to what I know and write about dead white people. I wrote myself a neat little setup: the Roman Empire is in its twilight, the barbarians are at the gates, and speaking of battering rams… My first problem was that I wanted my “hero” to be one of the Goths that joined the Roman army, but I didn’t know any Gothic names. Google sure does: Bloodmoon, Spyder, Moonlight, Expiria, Decasia, Skorpyon Onyxx… As usual, I don’t know what’s more disturbing, someone who wants to give their child a “goth” name or someone who needs help thinking one up. I finally found a list of gothic names, hat tip to the Society of Creative Anachronism, and picked one. I got another two paragraphs in before I realized I didn’t know what ancient Romans wore, so off to Wikipedia again. Now I know perfectly well what they wore, but not how they got it off. Women wore tunic-like things secured by shoulder brooches, so should her husband… reach over and unpin them, probably sticking himself in the process, and allow the tube of cloth to slide down her body and puddle on the floor? It’s not sexy, but it’s efficient. (That last sentence may yet be the title of my biopic.)
The getting-the-clothes-off problem led me to an even greater problem: How on earth am I going to write about sex without joking about it? For all my talk, sex makes me deeply uncomfortable. I can talk about it if I’m kidding, I can even do it if I crack jokes fast enough, but describing it seriously? Enticingly?
“As she realized the absurdity of what she was doing, Livia avoided eye contact and tried to make a joke about Ron Paul.”
“Thorismund reached for her, his eyes burning with lust, then abruptly lost confidence and beeped her nose instead.”
“As their passion mounted, Thorismund kept an eye on the digital alarm clock, because sometimes lasting too long is as bad as not lasting long enough, especially if someone has to work in the morning.”
“When their joy was complete, they fell back among the tangled sheets exhausted, both trying to cover themselves casually with the sheets so as not to look like a prude.”
“Afterward, Livia used the restroom, then very quietly brushed her teeth, just in case.”
“Between the heat of Livia’s body and that of the summer sun outside, Thorismund became overheated and had to go have the dry heaves.”
You see where this is going. My erotic sense is less “the magic of love-making” and more “maybe I can get to third base with that guy from a neighboring high school.” The only real fun I’ve had on this project so far is trying to come up with a pseudonym, since somehow I doubt “The Glory of His Touch by the author of The Misanthrope’s Guide to Life” is winning ad copy. I’m leaning toward Octavia St. Something or Gwendolen de Something, although I may give up all the fancy and write them as Pam Jenkins. I feel like I could trust a Pam Jenkins, don’t you?