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Heroes and Heroines

Romance novels and fake Hollywood

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I'm in the wrong writing field. Despite my best efforts, I haven't been able to use the following words in a story: pulsating, throbbing, heaving, thrusting and mammaries. On Saturday, I attended a Carolina Romance Writers' workshop for a chance to use this formally forbidden diction. (Hmmm ... Forbidden Diction -- that sounds like the perfect title for my romance novel. Now I just needed to acquire the necessary skills to write it.) The workshop featured lectures from two established romance authors and promised audience participation, so as a tune-up, I practiced some characterization exercises beforehand:

Moira was a supple 67 with short, cropped white hair and a penchant for word games. And Conan preferred subservience in a mate and found the women of the Eastern Bloc to possess a pleasant combination of meekness and cowardice.

OK, maybe I needed some help.

Romance fiction is big business, generating $1.2 billion in annual sales, claiming 39.3 percent of the fiction marketplace and incorporating a countless number of nauseating pastels in Thomas Kinkade-esque title-page art. As you might expect, romance novels are primarily written by women for women. In the crowd of roughly 50 Carolina Romance Writers, only two were men.

One of them, Harold Lowery, has published more than 40 titles in 20 years under the pen name Leigh Greenwood. He chose the unisex name Leigh, he said, because selling books under a distinctively male name would have been much harder. Harold did not know of any other successful male romance writers, except for a few men who write as teams with their wives. As far as the actual writing, it's a disadvantage to have a Y-chromosome, he said. "It's hard to put into words. The nuances of romance are feminine. Women are more emotion oriented and men are more about action."

Julie Woodcock, a much-published erotica author, chose the pen name Angela Knight for a couple of reasons: Her real surname was a little too smutty, and living in conservative Statesville, she had to be careful who knew what she did for a living. Julie is assuming a third name for her next two books, Bodice Rippers and Night Bites, because the content is more erotic than material she wants her other fake name associated with.

A standard romance novel has three sex scenes, says Knight; in erotica there's more. Julie's books average ten sex scenes and more explicit language.

Writing a sex scene isn't as easy as it may seem. After 40 books, Harold struggles to keep the sex fresh. "The sex scenes are very difficult because, let's face it, sex is pretty much done the same way. It's hard to make each couple approach it differently."

The first speaker at the workshop, Lauren Wittig, talked for an hour about marketing romance books, which did me little good since I had yet to write a page of Forbidden Diction. Wittig admitted to being a slut -- a promotional bookmark slut, that is -- and talked about doing all sorts of shameless promotion including everything but threatening people to buy her books. Her best advice to the group was, "You can do workshops like I'm doing. All you people now know who I am."

The second speaker, Leanne Banks, lectured about establishing a strong hero and heroine. She asked the audience to give examples of relationships that could occur despite their forbidden nature. "A priest and a single woman," "a woman from the 21st century and a man from the 17th" were a couple of the answers.

"A reporter and a vampire." Julie Woodcock said.

"I would think anybody and a vampire," Leanne Banks responded.

"The reporter wants to report and the vampire wants to not be reported on," said Woodcock.

(I'll keep that in mind.)

Speaking of heroes and heroines, I attended Oscar Night at the Omni on Sunday, an event for posh Charlotteans who wanted to pretend they were actually at the Academy Awards. There was even a red carpet for Charlotte celebrities to strut down. The problem with a red carpet event for Charlotte celebrities is that, well, we don't really have celebrities. In Hollywood, the stars don't have to explain who they are and why they are important, although the anonymity afforded Charlotte celebs another opportunity to accessorize should they have chosen to don designer nametags.

"What are they going to do? Have a parade of the news anchors?" a friend of mine questioned when I told her about the event. The red carpet was slightly more than a news anchor parade. A few professional athletes, whose giant tuxes made my suit look like Prom Night Ken's formal attire, showed up. After spending an hour watching no-namers smile and wave, I began to fantasize that real panthers would replace the football players to spice up the dull procession. Red carpets are just too safe.

To make the red carpet event seem more real, event organizers had a youth group volunteer as adoring fans so they weren't forced to solve the age-old riddle, if a person walks down a red carpet and no one sees them, are they still important? Celebrity look-alikes were hired for the runway, including a drag-queen Joan Rivers (who made three bad sexually suggestive jokes a minute), a gay cowboy (who made a couple tasteless passes at guys as they walked down the carpet), Marilyn Monroe (who was a last minute fill-in; she said the only other time she ever dressed up as Marilyn was at her friend's son's bar mitzvah), and a vampire Kate Beckinsale.

Here is my interview with the vampire (taking into account Hardcock's warning):

Me: Do you feel guilty killing humans?

Vampire: No. I hate humans.

Me: Do you hate other vampires?

Vampire: Some of them. There are some asshole vampires.

Me: Are there a lot of vampires in Charlotte?

Vampire: Not as many as New Orleans.

Me: Why New Orleans?

Vampire: Because it's dark, dirty and disgusting. The scum of the earth live in New Orleans.

Me: That's not really politically correct right now.

Inside the Omni, I had a pleasant conversation with Panther Mike Rucker about crazy Charlotte fans, and later in the evening I watched Emeka Okafor eat chocolate-covered strawberries. To raise money for the Charlotte Symphony, a $10,000 mink coat was raffled away. They let me try on the heavy pelt. I was expecting to feel moral revulsion, but instead the coat made me feel pretty.

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