Romance

Learning to Love Romance: Crafting a Romance Anthology for Everyone

Robot Love

Here at Classically Educated, we enjoy discussing nearly all aspects of cultural life, but attentive readers will have noticed that we have a particular soft spot for literature.  For that reason, we are delighted to present today’s guest post, Written by  Elizabeth Hirst.  Elizabeth is a writer, editor and 3D animator from Hamilton, Ontario Canada. She is a graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop, Class of ’06, and a student of life.

The latest book she has published, Love, Time, Space, Magic, can be found here (print book) and here (ebook).  We hope you enjoy Elizabeth’s insight into the creation of the book as much as we did.

It was probably around May or June of last year when I first started tossing around the idea of doing an anthology with love as the central theme. My company, Pop Seagull Publishing, does a lot of conventions, street fairs and other community events, and a large share of our sales comes from hand selling and building relationships in the community. So, when my regulars tell me something that they want, I listen. And what I had been hearing, largely from my younger and middle-aged female customers was: “Do you have any Romance?” Clearly, a large portion of my target market was looking for love stories with sci-fi and fantasy elements.

It’s no surprise that my readers would be primed for these kinds of stories, considering the success of Twilight and other paranormal romance heavy-hitters in recent years. However, Pop Seagull, while being a company devoted to its readers, is still my company, and to be honest I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy. My longer work is mostly action and adventure, and I grew up with movies like Indiana Jones, Mulan, and Star Wars as my favourites. I’m much more interested in a trip through ghoul infested woods with only a shotgun, a dog, and an unreliable reporter than I am in the mushy stuff, most of the time.

Another potential roadblock on the way to Romance success is my other key demographic: young men in technology fields. The company has seen a lot of sales and support from these guys, who tend to love action, and sci fi, and humor. There’s a lot of overlap interest-wise between my male and female customers, especially when it comes to strong female characters and emphasis on strong character development and relationships. However, when I was envisioning a traditional Romance title, complete with buff naked people cuddling on the cover and formulaic plots featuring soft-core sex scenes, I just didn’t really see my typical male customers getting on board. Also, to be honest, I just didn’t think that releasing that kind of title accurately reflected me, or my mission for Pop Seagull.

Still, based on the amount of demand I was hearing from readers, if I wanted to take Pop Seagull to the next level with a really great anthology, I knew Romance might be the way to go. But, if I wanted a book to appeal to our reader base, it couldn’t be a typical Romance book. After some thought, I decided to open up the idea of romance a bit. I asked for stories based on the theme of love, with no prescription for the ending (it didn’t have to be happy) or the type of romance (it didn’t have to be consummated, or at least not ‘on screen’). As befits our company philosophy, the characters could also be of any sexual orientation. With these guidelines solidified, I stepped out on a limb, and opened up submissions.

Dragon Lover

With all of my anthologies thus far, I have left some wiggle room in the secondary themes and general feel of the work, to leave space for the ideas coming in. As I read through the first round of submissions and picked out those that I enjoyed, I noticed that many of them were high-emotion pieces where love was a powerful force involved in shaping the characters’ lives. Often, in the stories I chose, love ended up pitting itself against other titanic forces. Once I had assembled the first three or four stories, I had a secondary theme, and a title: Love, Time, Space, Magic.

More submissions poured in, and despite my initial reservations about Romance, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the volume, quality and variety of the work sent to me. So many of the stories brought a tear to my eye. So many more impressed me by being truly romantic and sentimental while still upholding other themes in a very small amount of space. In the end, after having reservations about the quantity and quality of work I would attract, I found that I was forced to turn away work I would otherwise have bought, because we had reached the end of our budget and space. We closed three months early, and I began the most time-consuming phase of production: layout and design.

Most editors do not do their own book design, but I, like many Canadians of my generation, have far too many degrees and far too few places to use them. And so, as I entered production, I found myself grappling with the question of how to make the cover and interior design signal ‘Romance’ without telling male readers that the book was not meant for them. For better or for worse, men in our culture have been socialized to feel that if they see a Romance cover, the book will only appeal to women and dwell on themes that often don’t interest men as much. Since I’d taken great pains to buy stories that anyone can enjoy, with plenty of action, science, alternate history and great world building, it would have been a terrible waste to design a cover that warded half of my customers away right off the bat. I thought about ways to blend the heralds of romance stories with the scientific, the historical and the strange.

My first inspiration came from my day job. I work for a medical non-profit, and often see pictures of cells, anatomical drawings and other such work. I think that these images contain great beauty, and seeing them led me to the idea of using an anatomically correct heart on the cover as a way of conveying both beauty and the complication of traditional romance tropes. I also love the use of flowing script and old manuscripts, and thought that using the texture of an old parchment manuscript would also convey the fantasy and historical elements of the stories I’d chosen. Naturally, when I put these two trains of thought together, I was led to Da Vinci’s anatomical drawings. In my font, image, and texture choices, I tried to get as close to a Da Vinci manuscript as possible, while still keeping a modern flair.

The result was this:

Love, Time, Space, Magic Cover

I don’t think anyone would call this cover un-romantic, but there are still no airbrushed cuddling models or Fabio-esque guys with hair flowing in the wind. It appeals to both the emotional and the historical/scientific in its influences, and just generally catches the eye.

I first started on this anthology looking to better serve my core customer base, but through the challenges that ensued, and the wonderful work that I found to publish, I ended up with something that I really enjoyed working on. I think that Love, Time, Space, Magic is truly a Romance anthology for any gender, and diverse sexual orientations, and that makes it a thing of beauty. Through working on this book, I feel that I, and the contributing authors, have shown that Romance doesn’t have to fit a narrow conception of the genre, or a gendered concept of love, and I couldn’t be prouder to bring that message to the world.

To be or not to be… all in – a reflection on the fragility and importance of beginnings in relationships

Scarlett

Scarlett still ranks as the author of our most popular guest post (logical, considering it was about why it sucks to be single, female and smart!, which seems to be a popular topic among many of our readers!), so we are delighted to welcome her back!  Today, she continues to explore the joys and pitfalls of modern love in her own inimitable and realistic way…

Red Umbrella Love

Tale as old as time: boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl likes boy, they start dating, they enjoy their time together, they start liking each other even more, but after a few dates one of them becomes distant. Nine times out of ten, this ends in a premature breakup, and that, for me, is a shame. Maybe it’s my engineering background speaking, but don’t you hate it when an opportunity goes to waste?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that when it comes to relationships not all people you meet will stay in your life, and that’s all right. Sometimes there is something about the other person we just do not like, and that is strong enough for us to decide we don’t want them in our lives. However, what is a shame is that sometimes we dismiss people or people dismiss us before actually knowing if something better can come along between us, if we can evolve, if we can move past our differences.

Lovers Fight

Let me put it this way, there’s a line from Matrix Reloaded that I simply adore: “You do not truly know someone until you fight them” (says Seraph, when Neo meets him, looking for the Oracle). This is so overridingly true! If you think about all the people you know and love today, and you look back in time, certainly, in more than one case, you will have gone through conflict and overcame it, and that made your relationship and your connection even stronger.

My point is that relationships involve a process, and when we are in the beginning, we don’t truly know who we are with. Actually, the first time we hit a difference or a conflict with other people is the first opportunity we have to understand more deeply who they are, and at the same time learn a bit more about ourselves.

Now going back to couples, being in a relationship is sometimes hard, as is being single. No relationship situation you choose to live in life will be 100% painless (or 100% painful for that matter). You just have to ask yourself what kind of pain you are willing to put up with to have a happy life. Of course, the painful moments would have to be a small price to pay in exchange for all the great things tagged along with your choice.

Having said that, why is it so hard for so many people to deal with conflict? Moreover, why is it that the moment we start feeling intensely for someone else, so many people feel compelled to run away? I will not attach this pattern to either men or women, because I have seen it happen in both genders, almost equally.

As the years go by, every time I see a couple in harmony together I say to myself: this is one of life’s miracles, there are and will always be people who manage to find each other, overcome their fears, and selfishness and decide to continue their lives’ journey together. Of course, I am simplifying and generalizing, not all couples are healthy, not all couples are happy, and not all couples are selfless and loving to each other. You cannot really tell what is going on in the intimacy of a couple. However, the point I want to make here is about the beginning part where they decide to be a couple, and keep dating and so on.

This part of a relationship is so fragile that the smallest fracture in your train of thought or feeling can generate in either part the decision / reaction to stop seeing the other person. When I become aware of this fragility is when I appreciate even more deeply the miracle of overcoming it and staying together.

Footsteps in the sand

To know if someone is the right person for you or not is very personal, there is not one right answer. Moreover, I would be inclined to say that the answers lie within each person, so the journey to know who is right for you has to start with an inner journey. That is where I think the problem begins. How many people actually embark in this inner journey nowadays? First, let us define this so-called inner journey: to get to know yourself to the point of seeing yourself for who you are, with the fewest distortions possible, which means getting in touch with the less obvious parts of your inner self. Second, I would include in this journey the following experiences:

  • To admit your dark side, acknowledge your low points and your weaknesses and forgive yourself, because after all, we are only human and we are entitled to a dark side (i.e., acknowledging the times you were either selfish, or mean, or manipulative, or envious, etc.).
  • To hit your deepest self and connect with the fundamental questions of your life, i.e. how do you want to live your life, what are your ultimate goals or what do you want to leave behind when you die.
  • For some people it could also involve the vocational or development journey: what is my calling, what makes me feel that I am contributing to this world, and at the same time I am expanding my full potential.
  • To heal wounds from the past: to let go of resentment for people who hurt you, to overcome losses and to forgive (people who hurt you in particular, and life in general for the situations you had to go through).

So, going back to my initial point, if you meet someone and you like that someone, and you start sharing time, experiences and intimacy with that someone, eventually you will encounter conflict and/or vulnerability for either or both. That is exactly when we start having the wide variety of reactions we usually see, the extremes being some people choose to stay and work it out, and learn and grow through the process, while some people choose to run away and go somewhere where they can feel safer, less exposed, back to comfort zone – being alone again or meeting someone new.

I believe that if we truly want to experience a deep and meaningful relationship, we need to take a leap of faith and face the fear of feeling vulnerable. If you are familiar with the movie “Must love dogs”, there’s a scene where John Cusack is on a first date with Diane Lane, and he suggests skipping all the nonsense and small talk of a typical first date and spill their guts to each other. I confess I liked that idea, inverting the process and start by telling each other our low points, our fears, our dark side. Only when we know who we are, we can feel comfortable enough to share it with someone else of our choice, and when we are true to ourselves and others we have more authentic and meaningful human experiences. Therefore, being genuine will increase our chances of finding someone who will love and accept us for who we truly are, dark side included, for as long as it lasts. That way the difficult moments that relationships sometimes bring will make sense, because we will be on our way to something significant: a deep connection with another human being. I have always been fond of Saint Exupery’s definition of being “domesticated” in his Little Prince. As the Fox beautifully describes it, when we are domesticated “we stop being one person just like the next person, to someone else”.

Unfortunately, not every person we meet will be in agreement with these concepts. Some people will not want to be all in. And it’s alright, not everyone has to be an all in kind of person. We only need to understand and respect the differences we have on this fundamental perspective, and avoid the unnecessary conflict of expecting an all in relationship with people who are not up for it.

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10 Reasons Why It Sucks to Be Single, Female and Smart

Note: today’s post is an important milestone for Classically Educated.  It marks the first time that we have a guest columnist on the blog, and I must say that Scarlett has done an amazing job in the face of that pressure.  She definitely fits the definition of a global citizen and polymath, and yet, her vision of the world is so different from mine.  I hope you enjoy the piece as much as I did!  Scarlett will be answering comments, so feel free to chime in!

Commuters-walk-over-Londo-007

Before we begin digging into the main topic of this post, I must notify all readers that these lines are not likely to touch the heart of most men, and probably most women in their 20’s. My point of view is that of a single female, 40+, professional and single by choice… only not MY choice!

My journey up to now has been quite interesting, fun and enlightening, not to mention frustrating and sometimes sad. At this point, if I hear one more well-intended urban legend on how someone like me, at my age just magically found love around the corner and happiness ever after and everything worked out for them, I’ll run to Tibet and hide with the Dalai Lama!

I’ve had my share of relationships by now, the good, the bad and the ugly… The good were in my 20’s, the bad and the ugly in my 30’s. Now I’m facing a new decade, relationship free, with all my choices open some might say, and it sucks BIG TIME!

Let me tell you why:

1)     Most people who learn about your “condition” (being a single female I mean) for the first time will look at you and think (and even sometimes say): you must be a very difficult person, surely something is wrong with you, otherwise you wouldn’t still be single. You can get angry, fight for your right not to be misjudged, hate the person in front of you, but this is a fact: this is a very common perspective where I live, and many other places around the world.

2)     After having been of great value to your loser ex’s lives, you will at some point casually meet them on the street. You will be wearing sweatpants, no make-up, inexplicable hair, and they will be at their best: fit, tanned, looking like a million bucks, and they will be very nice to you and tell you how happy they are, married, with children and great new jobs where they have been promoted. There will be a moment where they will ask about you. Mark my words: don’t answer!! RUN!!!! Otherwise you will end up feeling even sorrier for yourself, because you will confirm to them that YOU are now the loser ex…

3)     Most of your friends are married with children, which makes it hard to have a fluent conversation, in which both parties pay undivided attention to each other for more than … 20 seconds. Here’s a transcript of a typical catch-up conversation with them. In this self-explanatory example we are describing a conversation with a female friend:

–      Friend: So tell me, what’s new with you?

–      You: Well, not so much, works is fine, a bit unstable as usual. I’m starting a new project with… (my friend is talking to her kid now)

–      Friend: Sweetie, please leave that, you’ll break it and you know how mummy will get upset… Sorry, you were saying?

–      You: I’m starting a new project with this new company, and it’s exciting because… (again talking to her kid)

–      Friend: Darling, stop chasing the cat, she is clearly not interested in playing with you, cats are not like dogs sweetie… We’ve already talked about that, remember? Sorry, you were saying?

–      You: This new project…

–      Friend: What new project? Honey! Come back here now! I told you not play with that! Give it to mommy… OK, that’s better, now sit down and play with your ipad. There you go… Sorry, you were saying?

4)     At some point you will start feeling that your life has become a series of New Year’s resolutions and renewed hopes that this year will be your year, the year your life finally works out and you’ll find what you’re looking for…  Trust me there is no such thing as “YOUR YEAR when everything works out”, etc. It’s a myth, like all the already mentioned urban legends you are frequently told about happy people who finally got their lives together. My advice? Don’t expect so much from one year in your life!

5)     You will have tried everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in an attempt to open to new experiences, meet new people, expand your mind, and … eventually find your soul mate. Here’s a list of EVERYTHING, are you ready? It will take a while … :

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–      You read The Rules

–      You put The Rules into practice and played hard to get and high value woman

–      You tried online dating… more than one site… more than one year in a row.

–      You tried speed dating

–      You tried slowdating

–      You joined new social networks

–      You accepted unknown callers on Facebook

–      You searched for eligible candidates on LinkedIn and tried contacting them with some lame work related excuse

–      You accepted EVERY blind date you were offered, even though most of the times in the past you couldn’t figure out what could possibly go through your mutual friend’s mind to introduce you to that guy

–      You read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, and you found it enlightening and very true…

–      You read Eat, Pray, Love and started thinking how you could manage to get paid to travel the world, learn to enjoy life, master meditation and fall in love like she did … and then write about it and become a success!

–      You are in therapy for as long as you have memory

–      You read The Secret, and firmly believed it works

–      You’ve watched What the @$%&# do We Know” and learned about quantum physics and how your life is your entire mind’s projection…

–      You’ve explored the possibility you might actually be a lesbian in the closet

–      You’ve considered that your soul mate might just be in front of you all this time and you just haven’t realized it

–      You’ve tried having a friend with benefits on the side while you dated other guys just to reduce your anxiety during the process of meeting someone new (a brilliant concept, I believe, as it works just like eating before going to the supermarket: you make better choices and stick to the list if you go on a full tummy :-D)

–      You’ve tried celibacy for a year (or more) to focus your energies on the present, what you have, your work, your social life, your friends, etc.

–      You’ve considered that YOU are the problem and worked out a plan to improve your rough edges with your therapist

–      You’ve considered that THEY are the problem and stop worrying about changing yourself inside out to fit in with other people’s neuroses

–      You’ve recently learned about a new app called Tinder, works similar to an online dating service, but a bit simpler and on your smartphone. You are thinking about joining it …

6)     Your married friends are jealous of all the freedom you have to do as you please, so whenever you complain to them about your so-called “condition they’ll dismiss you with: “Oh honey, it’s not that great as it looks. It’s bloody hard work every single day, you completely lose your freedom, and your hobby of choice is napping when the kids are with their grandparents…” Need I state the obvious? At least you guys will have someone who will feel guilty enough to visit you when you are in a nursing home!! Jeeez …

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7)     At work you will be given harder challenges for the same pay, because you can keep up with longer hours, and being on call. After all, no one is waiting for you to come back home … (Gulp, handkerchiefs please?)

8)     There will be a very hard moment, sort of a sad penny drop moment – it might probably happen when you are about to reach 40 – when you’ll realize that the marketplace you are dealing with (aka the available options of single/ divorced/ separated members of the gender of your choice) is more of an Outlet experience, rather than a Premium / VIP experience. It will seem as if what you have available for dating are leftovers from a Season Sale… Yeah, life is so not fair, I know…

9)     You will also realize that you have a better chance of a healthy long-term relationship with a pet than with a human being. I strongly encourage you to adopt a pet, it’s great experience. Animals are simpler than humans and they are great company. Also they make you look less crazy when you talk to yourself… If this is your case, I would recommend you choose furry pets, as they tend to be more interactive than reptiles or plants.

10)  Last but not least, if you are smart, you will realize that most of your dates are not as smart as you are. Some of them will realize it and some will not. I would give more credit to the ones acknowledging their limitations, if I were you. In any case, this shouldn’t be a problem as long as you find something else where you actually have limitations (it might be hard to find, I know…) and they are more competent, and that might actually work to your advantage. For example: you are average looking, they are gorgeous; you are nearly broke, they are wealthy; you are lazy, they are hard-working and active… You might also find common grounds where you can connect, such as, you are sad and lonely, so are they!

Bottom line, you’ve probably realized by now that I’m a silver lining kind of person. So, if by any chance you see yourself reflected in more than 2 of these points (or, more precisely, facts of life) join the club! You are not alone, you are certainly as hopeless as I am, but not alone, no siree… Some people say your life begins at 40, so whatever age you are: hang in there, and keep the faith!