UPDATE 12/16: Three winners have been chosen in WunderkindPR's twitter contest, but keep hope alive, there's still more to give away! Keep checking out the Newsarama Twitter stream each evening for new #DarkOfDreams tweets to RT and enter the drawings. Make sure you're following @Newsarama so we can DM you if you're the winner. WunderkindPR still has 3 prize packs, plus the big grand prize of a Kindle to give you just for daring to read some romance with Marjorie Liu and In Dark of Dreams.Original Story: Relationships in the X-Men family of comic books are often compared to soap operas. After all, you have deaths and resurrections, you have hook-ups and break-ups, even telepathic infidelity! Perhaps it’s natural, then, for someone who makes their name in writing supernatural romance novels to shift over to these superhuman jumbles of hormones and heartbreak.
That’s what Marjorie M. Liu did. After writing an X-Men novel (which came after several of her own creations), she came into the world of X-Men comics. Now, she tells the monthly tales of two progeny of one of the most popular characters in the world, Wolverine. With co-writer Daniel Way and artist Giuseppe Camuncoli, Liu chronicles the story of Wolverine’s son, Daken. In him, we see a character who oozes and uses sexuality in his daily life and interactions with the rest of the Marvel Universe. With artist Will Conrad, she handles X-23, Wolverine’s clone “daughter,” who was forced to grow up too quickly, and in many ways is at once underdeveloped and overdeveloped.
But Newsarama readers know that already. Now, Marjorie Liu has a challenge for you. She DARES you to read a romance novel. Specifically, one of her own, which she still writes as another regular career. To help with that, she answered some questions to fill us in on why preconceptions about romance novels may be more wrong than right, and how they can be quite similar to the comic books you know and love.
Oh, and a contest! Wunderkind PR is running a little giveaway to help promote this “Dare to read Romance,” in conjunction with Marjorie Liu and Harper Collins. Starting tonight Dec 8, 2010 at 8pm EST, watch for a tweet on @Newsarama (click to follow us on Twitter) with a quote and the hashtag #DarkofDreams, referencing the title of Liu’s newest novel. Retweet that, and you’re entered into the random drawing to win goodies. Prizes include signed copies of In the Dark of Dreams, signed X-23, Dark Wolverine, and Black Widow comics, gift certificates to Barnes & Noble and Amazon, and finally a grand prize of an Amazon Kindle e-book reader! Watch each night for the quote from the novel, coupled with #DarkofDreams, and every other day Wunderkind’s latest winner will be announced and contacted!
But before we get to that, we need to know just why comic book readers should be interested in these books anyway. We turn to Liu for the answer.
Newsarama: The average, every day Dark Wolverine fan probably doesn’t know you have your own secret identity as a romance novelist. How do your two lives co-exist?
Marjorie Liu: My two (or three, or four, I have quite a few) lives actually exist quite seamlessly. It's not something I ever think about, and I'd hardly call writing romance novels something worth shelving under my 'secret identity.' I love writing romance, along with science fiction and fantasy -- and my books usually meld all three, to some degree.
It just so happens, however, that I also write comics. And I love that, too. At the end of the day, it's all storytelling.
Nrama: Is this hidden other life the real reason Daken and Bullseye shared that special moment?
Liu: Ha! There's nothing hidden about it! And I can't credit being a romance novelist as the reason that Daken and Bullseye kissed. That moment was the result of many months of innuendo and playfulness (on our parts, as writers), and when I was writing that fight scene, it just suddenly seemed like time. And a good way of shutting Bullseye up. Daken likes to be in control, and he'll take that control any way he can.
I will say, however, that as a writer, I'm not afraid of playing with intimacy. There are many different ways to express intimacy -- a look, a touch -- and I think it enriches the characters and stories when you create those moments, and then build on them.
Nrama: You’re a successful writer in each career- what is it about each side, the romance novels and the action filled comics, that makes you stick to both? What itch does one scratch that the other doesn’t?
Liu: Have you ever read one of my novels? They're way more action-filled than the comics I write. I don't write fight scenes in comics all that well. I think they're a waste of space, unless they can move a story forward in some compelling fashion. You've only got twenty-two pages to work with. Why throw that away on a set of meaningless punches?
Novels, however, give you more room to play. I still don't believe in writing meaningless fights, but the scope is typically larger, there are more players, and there's a higher call for action. That, and there's no age rating. I can get away with things that would never see a comic book page in a million years.
For example, one of my novels, THE LAST TWILIGHT, is set in the African Congo and deals with such issues as the rape crisis, genocide, bio-weapons, and human experimentation. Oh, and the hero is a Kenyan who can shape-shift between a cheetah and a man.
The body count is high, there's magic and science-fiction rolled into one -- and yes, a very intense romance between the hero and heroine.
Freedom to tell any story I want, with all the imaginary tools of my trade, is why I love writing novels. I love taking an idea, fleshing it out into a new world -- and going on adventures with characters who day-dream themselves into existence, and take on lives of their own. Isn't that the best part about reading a good book? That it steals you away? The writers of those books feel the same. They want to be stolen away as they write their stories.
The same holds true for comics, though the visual medium offers a different experience for the writer. You're focused on telling a story through dialogue and illustration. Again, it's only twenty-two pages long. And you don't own the characters, so you can't necessarily follow all your darker instincts when it comes to telling your story. But it's those differences that I love. I love that I'm compelled to tell a story in a different way, and that I get to play in the vast playground that is Marvel. I love these characters. I love Daken and X-23, and their messed up lives; I loved writing Black Widow as a brilliant, sexy spy; and then there's Gambit, Jubilee...
Nrama: What are the natural connections or in-roads to Romance Novels from comics, especially those featuring Marvel’s Merry Mutants?
Liu: Are you kidding? Members of the X-Men are always falling into and out of love. You've got the epic romances -- for example, between Rogue and Gambit -- and then the SUPER epic romances -- like, with Jean Grey, Scott Summers, and Wolverine. I would contend that reading about the friendships and relationships between all the X-Men is what attracts many fans of Marvel's mutants. It's a soap opera, but with powers!
And if you enjoy stories with great action, adventure, and wonderful character moments -- where heroes and heroines take control of their lives and relationships -- then you'll probably enjoy most romance novels.
Nrama: “In The Dark of Dreams” is a pretty ominous, or is it sexy, title. What’s the elevator pitch on this book?
Liu: The series itself is about a group of psychics and non-humans (gargoyles, mermen, shape-shifters, and so on) who band together to help others under the guise of working for an internationally respected detective agency. Lots of magic and mayhem.
In The Dark of Dreams is about a young girl who discovers a boy on a beach -- except, he's not human. He's one of the merfolk. When the two children meet, they form a psychic bond that allows them to communicate in dreams. Separated for many years, those dreams help each of them survive emotionally when they experience tragedy in their respective lives, but it's not until they are adults that they find one another again. And the circumstances of that meeting are unpleasant. Both are being hunted, and both hold the key to preventing a terrible catastrophe that would kill millions.
Nrama: You’re here to dare people that haven’t to read romance. What are some common hang-ups people have about the genre, and what do you say to combat those?
Liu: Where do I start? I've heard every insult imaginable. There's a real, inexplicable, hostility. And it's the people who have never read a romance novel who typically mock them -- and their readers -- the loudest.
There are so many stereotypes, and such a huge stigma. Romance novels are porn for woman! The writing is trash! Only dumb people read romance novels! If you read a romance novel, you're anti-feminist!
Honestly, I'm not sure where any of that comes from. Is it because these books are typically by and for women? Or is it the love story? You can find a strong love story in many works of fiction, not just in the romance genre -- but a similar love story in a mystery or a work of 'literature' will always be given a free pass from the mudslinging. Why is that?
Some people claim they hate romance novels because they're badly written. Well, sure -- some are. But so are a lot of popular books in any genre, and you don't see anyone trashing the whole lot just because of that.
Others claim the heroines in romance novels are weak, to which I respond, "Give me a break!" I read an interview with Laura Clawson, who wrote: "At least with the romance novels, the heroines are often much like the readers: smart, independent, attractive because they have spunk and a mind of their own—not because they're silicone-injected male fantasies." Amen to that.
Really, though, the only way to combat stereotypes is to read a good romance novel. Some recommendations include THE IRON DUKE by Meljean Brook, LORD OF SCOUNDRELS by Loretta Chase, BET ME by Jennifer Crusie, BITTEN by Kelley Armstrong, any of the Troubleshooter series by Suzanne Brockmann, SINS OF THE HEART by Eve Silver, DRIVEN by Eve Silver, INTO THE WILDERNESS by Sara Donati, OUTLANDER by Diana Galbadon, EVERMORE by Lynn Viehl, and many more.
Go on, check one of them out. What do you have to lose?
Nrama: Thinking about this entirely stereotypically, does writing romance novels, with all their mushy and sexy scenes ever feel “strange?” (As opposed to writing about the mutant son born of his just-murdered mother who hates his father or a 90 year-old superspy from Russia who looks forever 25, or the female clone raised to be nothing but an assassin, of course...)
Liu: No. It doesn't feel strange. Why would it? Why should writing a sex scene be any stranger than (as you said) writing about a ninety year-old Russian superspy, or mutants fightings aliens, or Wolverine drinking a beer?
Most novels have sex in them. Some comics do, too. But the perception of that sex, and the novel itself, changes dramatically depending on what genre it's classified under, and how it's marketed. When sex and love are in a literary or sci-fi novel, or comic...some call it art. When the same thing is in a romance novel, many call it trash.
Take, for example, Frank Miller's HELL AND BACK. The story is about a man who falls in love with a woman. The woman is kidnapped. The man, who is the sensitive artist type, suddenly turns into A WARRIOR and kills a shit-load of people to get back his woman. They drive off into the sunset. The End.
That, friends, sounds like a romance novel to me (except for the heroine needing to be rescued...she's typically resourceful enough to take care of herself). The big difference, of course, is in the marketing of the story, where it's published -- and, more importantly, reader perception. My perception of Frank Miller's Sin City series is that at the core of each of those stories is a very real romance. All the characters, from Marv to Hartigan, are driven by love. Or some twisted version of it.
So, back to sex and perception. Here's one thing you should know about romance novels: it's not all about the sex. People typically don't read romance novels for the sex scenes. If all you want is sex, read erotica. Trust me, there's a difference.
Seriously, romance novels are all about the relationship between the hero and heroine (or hero and hero, or heroine and heroine, depending on the kind of the romance novel you're interested in). It's about watching these two people interact and conflict, and, ultimately, fall in love. It's about an emotional fantasy, rather than a sexual fantasy.
Romance novels are not about sex. They are about expressing love and friendship, and respect.
Nrama: Speaking specifically to your comic fans, why should they read your novel, “In The Dark of Dreams?”
Liu: It's unforgettable! Epic! It'll change the way you look at mermen forever!
Ha, ha. It's difficult to talk about my own work, but I'll say this much: I think comic book readers love stories about good people in bad situations, who find the strength within themselves to overcome incredible odds. That's what In The Dark of Dreams is about: two people, the hero and heroine, who are lost, hurt, lonely -- but who take hold of their own destinies in order to save the day -- and each other.
The hero, Perrin, is a merman who has been exiled to land for a crime he didn't commit. He's had a terrible life -- he's been homeless, in prison, working odd jobs just to get by, and he has no friends. His own father was the one who exiled him -- who condemned him, basically, to die.
In other words, he's got issues.
The heroine, Jenny, is in a little better shape, but not by much. She can't trust her own family, which runs a powerful organization that verges on criminal -- and the struggle for power between her relatives has cost lives, including one very dear to Jenny. She lives in near isolation, with no real home -- because home, for her, isn't something that's safe. All she's got is the sea, and her hunt for the elusive and mythical.
In other words, she's got issues.
But these are two very strong individuals -- and when they find one another, the bond between them is just as strong, and powerful. Which is a good thing, because they've got pirates and other mermen to fight, along with parasites, sea monsters, sea witches, and the ocean itself!
It's science fiction, magic, and romance -- all rolled into one.Will you take Marjorie Liu's challenge?