Tour de Front Row

Tour de Front Row

Year of Romance: Pride and Prejudice

I could think of nothing more fitting than reading Pride and Prejudice as the first book of my Year of Romance, the year I finally figure these romance novels out and how I can write one better. But when I did some quick research, I discovered there is something more fitting: January 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication. Like every great love story, it was meant to be.

It wasn’t meant to be when I was in school. We did Jane Eyre in grade 9, but I remember picking up Pride and Prejudice off the same classics rack at the library. I didn’t finish it.

In university, it was assigned as a compare/contrast with Bridget Jones’s Diary. We read them concurrently—not the whole books, but specific chapters which highlighted the connection between the two books. I read what was assigned, which means I didn’t finish it.

There’s a lot wrong with doing an English degree. The worst of it is slogging through books because you have to. (The worst of the worst is reading Frankenstein three semesters in a row because professor don’t talk to each other.) But the same way I couldn’t write a novel until I was ready to write a novel, I couldn’t read Pride and Prejudice until I was ready to read Pride and Prejudice.

I was ready this time. It grabbed me, and I wanted to read it. I wanted to know what makes it great. Because I want to make my books great, too.

This year is about figuring out how to write the kinds of books people want to read, not just me. I’ve started to tell people that I write books about normal people with boring lives, and then they fall in love. I don’t write about dragons or wizards, spies or hunters, aliens or pilots. A happy everyday life is about all the fantasy I can handle right now.

Mixed in with my History of Romance Novels syllabus, I’m reading recent contemporary books, too. The ones which look interesting at my local library, which basically means the ones with modern typography and are also often about women who bake.

After I finished Pride and Prejudice, I tried to read Fool For Love by Beth Ciotta. Right away, I didn’t like the heroine. I didn’t like the way she defined herself by the failure of her recent break-up, instead of the victory of her recent graduation from culinary school. She whined about leaving New York for a small town, she whined about the job handed to her, she whined about cupcakes. (Speaking of which, can we be done with cupcakes now?)

But none of this means our heroine deserves to grabbed and kissed against her will in a vulnerable and half-dressed moment. This is the first kiss from the two we know are destined to fall in love by the book’s end. This is where I stopped.

Perhaps it was the abrupt change from Austen’s Regency era discretion to Ciotta’s casually explicit language, but there were moments in Fool For Love which made me feel like a prude. I wonder if, like cable television did for network, Fifty Shades has made it OK for romance novels to drop random descriptions of hard cocks into the narrative. When characters are sitting in restaurants and eating dinner.

I want to read the dirty parts as much as the next girl. But there’s a way to write it that doesn’t make me feel like I accidentally changed the channel.

When I put down Fool For Love, I picked up How Sweet It Is by Sophie Gunn. Our heroine is a single mother, living in her run-down childhood home and working at the local diner. Our hero, a man passing through town, trying to escape the worst day of his life: a car accident, which killed someone.

There’s a lot going on here, with a missing bag of money, a mysterious white cat, a long-lost father, sibling rivalry, and accidental pregnancies. None of it really went together, but it all carries me along to the happy ending.

But I didn’t care whether our heroine and our hero got their happy ending. I didn’t hate Lizzie and Tay, but I didn’t like them either, and that’s the bigger fault. Characters can lead boring lives, but you have to give the reader something they can hold on to, something in them a reader can love.

Lizzie is a good mom. Tay is a remorseful person. That probably works for someone else, but it didn’t work for me. What I realised, though, is that it’s not a bug, it’s a feature. There are hundreds of romance novels published every year, which means there are hundreds of characters. By the law of large numbers, one of them will be exactly what you want. Every romance novel is another blind date.

This is also why it appears to be so easy to publish in the romance genre. The market demands more stories, more characters, more voices.

It’s my first lesson of my Year of Romance: the reader has to care about these people. It’s not an interesting story with social commentary. It’s a love story. You can throw as many fancy balls, overly-frosted cupcakes, and bags of money at the plot, but romance isn’t built on plot. It’s built on character. Two characters, actually, that a reader can love and root for and want to invite into their lives. So make them good.

How to win the Tour de France (with seven other guys)

The greatest trick Lance Armstrong ever pulled was convincing America he won the Tour de France by himself. Nobody wins the Tour by themselves, even the guys who do it clean.

In just a few days, the 2013 cycling season starts in Australia with a multi-day stage race called Tour Down Under (a lot of races are called Tour [Blank]. You’ll get used to it.) A lot of teams are already there, riding the roads, doing recon, acclimatizing to the insane heat. Only one rider is said to be the winner, but teams race together.

A professional cycling team has anywhere from 20-30 riders on its roster. But not everyone rides every race. You don’t send a climber to a one-day Classic. You don’t send a time trialist up a mountain. The seven-man teams in Australia will consist of a leader, a sprinter, a lead-out man, a climber, a rookie, and a couple of domestiques.

(Longer multi-day races also include a time trial, which means the team also includes a time trial specialist. Tour Down Under is only six stages, not quite enough time, but it’s also in Australia, while most teams are based in Europe. A time trial means a whole other set of bikes for the team, and can you imagine the shipping costs?)

The leader of a team races for the general classification. He is racing to win. The GC guy has to be an all-around rider. He has to be great on the flats, in the mountains, able to stay at the front of the peloton, and kill a time trial, if he has to. He’s the quarterback of the team, too, calling the play from on the road.

A GC rider can be flashy like Lance Armstrong or Alberto Contador, the centre of attention. Or riding under the radar, like Cadel Evans or Ryder Hesjedal, blowing past the field and winning because no one was paying attention. Every team wants to win, but the kind of GC rider they choose says everything about how they want to win.

Most teams bring along a rookie rider who might ride GC in the future. Young, but good at everything. This is how he gets the experience you need to win. Fostering new talent in this way has become such an important part of the sport, race organisers began awarding a jersey to the best young rider.

There are a lot of wins to go around in cycling. Climbers have their own prize, a polka-dotted jersey, which makes them the easiest rider to pick out of the group. There aren’t as many or as gruelling mountains in Australia as in the Alps, but climbing mountains on a bike is an integral part of the sport. It’s a point of pride for the climbers and necessary survival for the sprinters.

Sprinters go for the win at the end of every stage, forget about the end of the race. But a sprinter in cycling isn’t the same as a sprinter on the track. Before he even gets to the 100m line, he has to survive the four hours in the saddle, in the wind, in the mountains. Then, after he’s exhausted, a final burst of speed is needed to get him across the finish line.

That’s what a sprinter does on a bike. He, more explicitly than any other rider, is helped across the line by his lead-out man. The lead-out is a sprinter in his own right, but here, plays a supporting role. He rides at the front of the group, allowing the sprinter to draft as long as possible, then the lead-out gets out of the way.

The lead-out man is really a specific kind of domestique. From the French word for servant, domestiques are every rider who helps another rider to the finish. They ferry water bottles from the team car at the back, through the peloton of more than a hundred riders, all the way to the front where the team is riding. They wait for you when you need a nature break. They give you their own bike when yours breaks down.

A rider with a specific skill might find his job done before the race is over. Fabian Cancellara is a time trialist who often takes the first stage win at the Tour de France, rides in the yellow leader’s jersey for a few days, but when the race moves into the mountains, he becomes a domestique.

Jens Voigt wins Classics, the one-day races on mostly flat roads. Which doesn’t make him seem like the kind of rider a team wants on their team for three weeks in the mountains. Jens Voigt is a super-domestique. I think they invented the name just for him. At 41, he’ll be riding his 16th Tour de France this year. There’s no doubt in my mind his team will take him.

He’s a big guy who can ride forever without complaining. Put him at the front of the peloton for hours, and he’ll take the wind for everyone. Jens does the hard riding so his guys don’t have to. He also does it with the best attitude, the best sense of humour, and the best sense of morals in the peloton.

A few hundred words ago, I wrote that the general classification rider was the leader of his team, the quarterback. When the quarterback is someone like Lance Armstrong, the whole team suffers. Sure, they won a few races, but ask George Hincapie, ask Levi Leipheimer, ask Christian Vande Velde if Lance still invites them to his Superbowl party.

Someone like Jens, like Cadel, like Ryder, lifts their teams higher on their own victories. When confronted with praise, they point it elsewhere. Cycling is a team sport first, because no one can get through those long days and mountains alone. You need the guy to ride draft, and the one who brings you a bottle, and the other, your partner, to lead you out to fly across the finish line.

Even Lance figured out you can’t win alone. Except he picked doctors and bullies, instead of riders and domestiques. He picked the wrong kind of team.

So, why is it so hard to meet someone in Vancouver? Is it geography? Is it part of the city’s identity that the dating scene is as tricky to negotiate as its landscape, divided by waterways and forbidding mountains?

Is it the way the city is spread out and shuts down early, its denizens more likely to rise at dawn to pound up the North Shore mountains on their bikes before work than lie in and roll over for a little good morning sex?

Denise Ryan, Vancouver’s dating scene: Why is it so hard to score?

OMG this is a real thing? This isn’t just me?

I am an incredibly shy person, who struggles to make the first move, but in Halifax, I actually got a few dates through OKCupid. Here, I can’t even get a response.

YouTube – Something Was Missing (CanucksTV)

I can’t find the credit on this video–writer, performer, or even video editor. But I won’t be surprised to discover this poem, the opening salvo in the Canucks’s apology campaign, was written by Shane Koyczan (you remember him as the poet in the 2010 Olympics Opening Ceremonies). It has his rhymes and his cadence, even if it’s not his voice.

It’s familiar. It hits me right where I live. Hockey isn’t about contracts and salary caps and sticks on the ice. It’s about what this game means to this city.

And you breathe this city in

From Kitsilano to the Drive

You still feel alive

You are alive

But something’s different

Just a touch out of place

Something was missing

But it’s back

I’m having a bad writing week. Right now, I’m clicking randomly through the internet. Then I read a post that started, “Ideas are precious,” and I wanted to punch someone in the nose.

So, back to writing then.

Thursday

You’ll get to know this, but I don’t talk about my books while I’m writing them. Maybe I’ll tell you the names (Aaron and Zach), and I’ll drop a hint of what it’s about (still untitled, so I’m calling it The Hockey Novella), but I won’t tell you the story here because I’m busy telling the story there. Even when I’m not busy.

This week hasn’t gone so well. The goal is 10k by Sunday, but today is Thursday, and my Scrivener word count is sitting at a sad 4323. It has a nice symmetry to it, but I need a lot more words in not many days.

Things were going so well. I have written, in the past six months, a novel where a boy and a girl fall in love, but aren’t together until after the book is over, a novella where two boys have a one night stand that could be something more, a novella where a couple work out the next level of their relationship, half a novel where a boy has to apologise and get his boyfriend back (and actually call him his boyfriend this time), and now a novella where exes consider getting back together.

There is no formula to the writing or the plot. If I had a formula, maybe writing wouldn’t be so hard. But then I wouldn’t be writing what I want to write. That’s worth the work.

everyone's opinion is valid. especially mine.: What *Roderick on the Line* means to me

everyone’s opinion is valid. especially mine.: What *Roderick on the Line* means to me