05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Realism, PCism, and Surrealism

by M. L. Buchman
My pal and all around amazing author Sarah A. Hoyt just wrote a piece entitled The Publishing Business is in Crisis. I won't argue with Sarah (for one thing I'd probably lose, for another, I'm not sure that I disagree). But there's a few items deep down in her article that really caught my attention on an entirely different subject.

She points out two small examples to make points that collided for me to open up insights into something I have long been contemplating in my own writing. (Holy wow is that a messy sentence, but you get the idea.) (pardon my paraphrasing):
1. (While discussing mysteries): The extreme realism that has moved into fiction is really irritating. For that "I read the news."
2. (While discussing romances): The extreme emphasis on PCness has taken historical romances and turned them into Politically Correct stories in which every woman of the ton is a closet suffragette or a corporate maven of the 1700s.

In both my Night Stalkers series about the women and men of the U.S. Army's 160th helicopter regiment and Firehawks series about the women and men of heli-aviation wilderness firefighting, I work very hard to be realistic. But I also work to strike a balance for the reason I'm telling these tales is still a love story that is the main point of my books. This balance is something I pay attention to all the time while I'm writing.

Curiously, my writing habits and my reading habits have both been making a slow shift lately. Some of which is already evident, some of which will not be evident until next year. (Fear not fans, the Night Stalkers and Firehawks will fly onward.) This is a subtle rather than a drastic change, but one I have been contemplating for some time. What I am looking at doing is: "Avoiding the Surreal."

To me, the "Surreal" is when the story lost the reason I picked it up in the first place. When tale-telling becomes so realistic and PCistic that we lose the joy that made us pick up a romance. For I too have started up books and found the same reactions that Sara discusses above.

What drew us to read in this genre in the beginning? Was it great story or great realism? Was it love, romance, passion, or was it politically aware characters who bear twenty-first century sensibilities and mores even if they were rakes and wantons? Was it great adventure or accurate recounting of events? I recently read a romance in which the road trip was more important to the author (i.e. way more detailed) than the characters. I should say I started it, I didn't finish it.

I try to step aside from my own writing and ponder it sometimes as if from the outside. One thing I know for a fact, there is no worse judge of my own writing than me. This is true of every writer. Beginners think, "Wow! This is great stuff I'm writing." (Uh, sorry, probably not.) Seasoned pros have learned that when they think, "This is such crap that it's embarrassing," that they're probably on the right track. (That's what a trusted first reader is for, a reality check on the storytelling.) So I have to look through the eyes of others. My latest Pure Heat was 4-1/2 stars and Top Pick in Romantic Times. It garnered a starred review and Top 10 Romance of Spring 2014 in Publisher's Weekly. Great reviews came in from Booklist, Fresh Fiction, and many cool notes from fans. (Thank you all, btw.)

So, uh, I guess I'm on track.

Still I find I must worry at the boundaries of the Surreal, like a puppy who won't let a squeaky toy lie until the squeaker has been excised (whoever thought up squeaky toys must really despise parents and dog owners). I write fictional heroes doing heroic tasks that pale beside what our soldiers and firefighters are doing out in real life. The Night Stalkers of the 160th and the wilderness firefighters who face the monster of wildfire share a daunting dedication and the more I learn of both groups, the more they astonish me. It is hard not to gush about the amazing people I have discovered in my research.

But I try to tread lightly for I have a story to tell.
A love story.


Sarah Raplee said...

Interesting post, Matt!

As a Romantic Suspense author, I agree that too much detail derails the romance in some books. Although my stories are dark, I use humor to lighten them and avoid most gory details or too much police procedure.

I think the PCness in Regency Romances is a trend that, like all trends, will pass. The first couple of PC heroines were a fresh idea; the following hoards are old hat. There are still writers like Delle Jacobs (His Majesty, the Prince of Toads) and Collette Cameron (Highlander's Hope)who write characters closer to the norms of the day.

Maggie Lynch said...

Matt, Your books are always interesting. I think the key is the balance you mention between reality and the story. If the book is set in contemporary times (or near future) I think that the reader must believe that enough of it is realistic in order to identify with the characters and the situation.

However, once that reality is established, a romance reader expects the situation to be resolved and for the story to end happily ever after no matter what. And that is where the story takes over.

Matt does a good job of that balance.

M. L. Buchman said...

Sarah, I agree there are still some, but it's just odd to me. I really enjoy historicals, but I don't have one tiny bone of historical voice in my writing (I've tried, I really don't). For that I am almost relieved as there are too many options there that tempt me.

Thanks Maggie. I do work very hard at dodging the surreal. And thankfully my first reader (read as my awesome spouse), has a powerful radar on that particular topic. But still I find it makes for an interesting aspect of the dance of fitcion.

Judith Ashley said...

Totally agree with Sarah Hoyt. If I want that much realism I can watch or read the news. I don't even do movies because seeing blood and guts spattered all over a wall which can be "real" doesn't add anything to my life and I do not find it "entertaining". Still puzzled why anyone does.

All good stories, IMHO, have balance between plot, characters, setting, etc. Yes, a character driven story may have more emphasis on the characters but if there is no plot or place?

Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Matt.