What Makes a Fantasy Even Better?

Research.

Yeah, that’s right.  Reality makes fantasy better, in my opinion.  I know that a lot of readers don’t agree.  A lot of popular romances feature, say, a football player, or a rock star, and other than naming the profession, there’s no more discussion about it.  Nothing about what it’s like to play a football game, or what’s involved in a sound check, or how it feels to mesh with other musicans onstage or how to write or rewrite a song or…well, anything.  The book goes straight to the romance plot and doesn’t look back.

And I accept that a lot of people don’t want me to give them my reality.  They have fertile imaginations, and that imagination fills in their idea of what a rock star is, or a football player, or a fireman, or a cowboy.  And their favorite author is smart enough to stand back, and not get in the way of that.

But that’s not for me.  When I wrote “Given the Circumstances,” I wanted to make damn sure I got it right – not only the sports, but the rules and regulations that governed the players.  In fact, it was my research into NCAA rules about eligibility and transfers and “countable athletically related activities” that actually changed the direction of the plot.  And I even made sure those were the rules in place in 2008 when the action takes place, not the rules in place today.

So why do I do it?  Sometimes it actually helps your sales if you don’t put all that into the book. Why go to all that trouble, say, for “Apollo’s Curse”?  Why comb through endless tourist photos of Venetian hotels on travel review sites to find the right one for Dane?  Why spend hours dropping that little Google Maps man on half the streets and canals of Venice, pushing him around Google Street View to figure out where I’d locate Jackson’s building, to find the right dead end for Dane to walk down to hit the Grand Canal, to see where the vaporetto actually stopped, to locate the restaurant and the canal that runs into it that feature in the big finale?  Why read books and watch endless crappy home videos on YouTube of Greek vacations to create the island of Kryptos, when I could just make it up?  Why do what I’m doing now, immersing myself in stacks of books on 1920s Hollywood for one book, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire for another?  Why don’t I just write a book about Rocky the Rock Star that cleverly skips over his rehearsals, performances, auditions, recording sessions, and anything else that would require research?

Because that’s not enough for me.  As a writer, I respectfully defer to other writers’ choices not to do that, especially when they take those choices all the way to the bank.  But as a reader, I get angry.  As a reader I shout, “You cheated!”

For me, the romance isn’t real unless the guys are real.  If I don’t believe they are real people, in at least potentially real situations, I don’t care whether they fall in love or not.  I don’t care what happens to them.  And making their worlds come alive is what makes them come alive.

I made a big mistake in “The Worst Best Luck,” because I made Matt a car mechanic, and I know fuck all about cars.  And I couldn’t learn from a book.  Or I was too impatient to get that book done to learn about it.  And I didn’t really want to anyway because how cars work isn’t that interesting to me.  And it was winter and I suck in winter and shouldn’t publish books in winter other than something light and funny like Rob and Sol – hell, even for Rob and Saul I read enough about magical history to put in real things like the Lemegeton and the history of occultism in America and the Horologium Achaz Hydrographicum.

And it showed in “Worst Best Luck.”  I just kind of bullshitted around the car mechanic parts.  And it was a weak book in some other ways as well.  I’m sorry!  I screwed up.  I won’t do it again.  There are some good scenes in that book, but I’m thinking of pulling it down, unshelving it, putting the good parts away for another day.  We’ll see.  I’m trying not to be too impulsive 🙂  I thought about making it free, but then everyone would read that as their first Brad Vance book, and I don’t want that.

If that kind of book isn’t enough for me as a reader, it’s not enough for me as a writer.  I’d die of boredom writing the same book over and over.  I like research – it’s fun to learn about things I knew nothing about, especially when it’s history, places and times and people who are brand new to me – it’s like discovering a whole new world.  Yeah, I get reviews that say, “I like romances about athletes but this had too much about sports in it.”  That’s life!

I really do think that one day this M/M genre will blow up big.  Like 50 Shades blow up!  We’ll all wake up one day and the media will be pooping itself because some M/M book went viral and is selling like hotcakes, how did this happen, they’ll say, we had no idea this was out there – just like they always do, always on the trailing edge, waiting for the big easy story to come along and write itself.

I want it to be my book that does that.  I know I have a big audience, out there, somewhere.  I know I’m getting better and better with each book, as I learn more and more about my craft.  I’m not changing anything about the direction I’m headed.  So, cross your fingers with me and let’s hope it pays off some day.

1 Comment on What Makes a Fantasy Even Better?

  1. I don’t think romance readers don’t want to be informed. I think it’s just we don’t want to be lectured. I consider myself a very realistic person and I love to learn something new with each book that I read but I hate when a bunch of facts are dumped on me when they don’t help the plot or they don’t bring anything important to my understanding of the characters. And there are a lot of authors doing that. Yes, you have to do your research but not all of it will go into the actual book. Some of it is important only to you so you can outline your characters. And some of that research does need to be shared with the reader. So how do you know what to keep to yourself and what to share? I think that is the question a lot of authors should be asking to themselves.

    It’s true many of us read romance books to escape reality sometimes so maybe we pay attention only to the chemistry between the characters. But believe me when I tell you that a good background story makes the difference, it shows. If you are a romance reader you know it does. You could be writing exciting stories with no background at all and I’m sure they would be awesome. But you can’t. I suppose you want to write the kind of sories you’d like to read. But we’ re not you. Will you settle for less as a writer? I’m guessing the answer is no. Are you willing to write for those readers that don’t want to think too much?

    I do like a good background on the characters but I will settle for less if their inner worlds, their thinking and the dialogues are interesting and allow me to get to know them better even if I don’t have the facts about their lives.

    I have only read your short stories (I love them) and none of your longer ones. By the way, there is a review on amazon on Given the circumstances ( I think it’s the one with the college athletes) that contains what I consider a spoiler. And now I can’t read it! Isn’t there a way to I don’t know, erase it from the face of the earth?

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