Same Love – a guest post by Audra North

Today on Wonkomance, we are joined by the fabulous Audra North, a frequent twitterer and wonko commenter when she isn’t working on her own wonky writing. Here she waxes thoughtful about Macklemore, and flattering about Wonkomance. And y’all, she even has footnotes. Footnotes. Guh.

Without further ado, take it away, Audra!

I wanted to see a post on Wonkomance about “Same Love” by Macklemore because this song is exactly the kind of “Hey hey. Let’s stop for a minute and think about the kind of messages we really want to send” kind of work that makes this blog exceptional.  And now I am actually writing the post, and that makes me feel fluttery with nerves and joy both, so if I end up vomiting all over this virtual stage…I’m sorry.  I’ll pay the dry cleaning bill.

Usually, I have music on only because it is necessary background noise, tunes and lyrics that have been demanded in strident voices by my children, impatient to sing along with to chirpy happy rhyming words that they understand at a visceral level, which is really why they love those songs.  Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.  I’m three years old and I wonder about you.  But my adult mind, so full already of appointments and to-dos and everything else that goes along with managing so many lives, usually tunes it all out.

Until one morning, almost by accident, I found myself alone in the car, driving somewhere in a silence so unfamiliar that I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned on the radio and tuned out the music so I could hear myself think.

And then “Same Love” came on.

And then, I really listened.  And I found myself thinking, in the words of another Macklemore song, “This is fucking awesome.”[1]

As soon as it ended, I wanted to immediately hear it again, not just because the beat is easy on my soul and the dulcet sound of Mary Lambert’s voice singing the melody stuck in my mind.  It was because, after only a couple of verses, this song made me sit up and pay attention to its message.  One part rap, one part melody, all parts message.  We are all human.  Gay men and women are human.  Love is love.

Gripping the steering wheel hard so that I wouldn’t veer off the road as I blinked away tears, I already knew that this song had become my own twinkling star, the one with a message that I can understand at a visceral level.

In a Studio360 interview about “Same Love,” Macklemore says, “[Misogyny and homophobia] are the two acceptable means of oppression in hip-hop culture. It’s 2012. There needs to be some accountability.”[2]  And in “Same Love,” Macklemore challenges that oppression in a way that impressed and awed me and won me over so hard: he uses a hero story.  Wonkomance is, after all, primarily a blog for romance work, which is exactly why I thought of it when I heard “Same Love.”  There is love, there is a hero, and there is an arc (two, in fact! – or so I’ll argue).

The song begins with an extended organ chord that might be a prelude to a hymn.  In a way, that’s exactly what this song is.  It is an anthem that calls us all to pay homage to something so simple that, all too often, we have tuned it out like so many nursery rhymes.  Of course, that something is love.  And then Macklemore starts rapping, explaining how, as a child, he had once gone crying to his mother, upset at the thought that he might be gay because “’I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.”

In the next verse, his mother assures him that he isn’t gay.  Assures, reassures.  Either way, it paints a picture of homosexuality as something we need to be comforted against.  But within a couple more lines, it is clear that his view has changed.  Macklemore the narrator, the songwriter.  He speaks out against the condemnation of homosexuals.  He speaks out for gay marriage. He is the first hero of this story.

But it is the other hero in this song that makes the message so poignant.  Throughout, Macklemore presents scenes of fear, of isolation, of hatred that gay men and women face.  He reminds us that this is the kind of wrongful discrimination that we, as individuals and as a nation, have enacted on other groups, as well.  And in the blending of the personal with the historical, the emotions with the facts, Macklemore turns us, the listeners, into the heroes of the struggle for equality.  Soon, we are living his words.  He hands us our flaws.  He hands us our battle.  And by song’s end, he has imbued us with the love we need to overcome our prejudices and change things for the better – the arc we must carry forward to its rightful completion.

“Strip away the fear.  Underneath it’s all the same love.”

Cast away our unfounded, hate-fueling fear and we’ll get to our Happily Ever After.  We can be the heroes of this story.  If we just listen.

*As a side note, the “Same Love” video ( adds a whole extra dimension or two or fifty to the song.  But no matter what, it’s about love.

Audra North fell in love with romance at age thirteen and spent the next twenty years reading as many romance novels as she could.  Even now, after having read over one thousand romance novels, Audra still can’t resist the lure of a happily ever after, and her collection continues to grow.  She lives near Boston with her husband, three young children, and a lot of books.  Her debut contemporary novella, STRANDED IN SANTIAGO, releases in Autumn 2013 from Entangled Publishing.  Visit her website at or find her (way too frequently) on Twitter @AudraNorth.


[1] “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore, featuring Wanz

Posted in Guest Post, Writing Wonkomance | 10 Comments

Foundations of Wonk: The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope

In the Foundations of Wonk posts, I’m exploring the YA books I read as a child that influenced my views of relationships, romance, and gender, and continue to influence my writing today. My last post, about On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt, can be found here.

The Perilous Gard

Kate is not a pretty girl.

Kate has a face “like a stone wall.” She’s interested in ideas, not only because she is intelligent, but as a kind of defensive coping mechanism, because she lacks any semblance of beauty or grace. Kate is also a lady-in-waiting to the Lady Elizabeth, a woman who will one day be queen.

When Kate’s beautiful, graceful, charming sister Alicia writes Queen Mary a letter deploring the conditions under which the Lady Elizabeth lives, Kate is unfairly blamed and banished to live in a castle in the north, a place with the ominous name of The Perilous Gard.

Christopher, the younger brother of the lord of the manor, has banished himself to live in the hermit’s hut on the property as a self-punishment for an act over which he feels enormous guilt. Kate is intrigued by Christopher, and by rumours of a mysterious group of people who live “under the hill” on the manor land, people the villagers call the Fairy Folk. Soon Kate finds Christopher, and herself, captive in a land without sunlight, and with nothing but her will and her wits to save them both.

The Perilous Gard is a retelling of the Ballad of Tam Lin, which Anna Cowan wrote about in this post.

The first time I read The Perilous Gard, I was also not a pretty girl. I was in fifth grade, eleven years old, interested in boys who were not yet interested in me. “A face like a stone wall” felt like an accurate description of myself, as did the idea of a girl with few social skills and many defense mechanisms. The idea of becoming the hero of my own story, and winning over a reluctant but handsome young man due to my intelligence and daring, was incredibly appealing.

The fifth or sixth time I read The Perilous Gard, I was a teenager, and I began to notice the complexities of female power in the novel. Alicia, Kate’s sister, has traditional feminine power in her beauty and innocence. But the setting of the novel is a book full of women with other sorts of power: Queen Mary, Lady Elizabeth, the Lady in the Green who is the Queen of the Fair Folk, Kate herself. Each of these women has a complicated relationship with society and with each other.

My most recent reading of The Perilous Gard, probably for the thirtieth or fortieth time, came after the death of my father-in-law and my husband’s subsequent depression. I had always known that Kate rescues Christopher at the end of the book, but this time I saw all the ways in which Kate rescues Christopher emotionally, when he’s described as living, yet already dead. When they are both captive beneath the hill, Christopher as a prisoner to be sacrificed on All Hallow’s Eve, Kate as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of the Fair Folk, Kate comes to Christopher’s cell each night and talks to him, planning for the future, shoulder-to-shoulder in the dark, as a way to make him believe that his life is worth living, that his guilt doesn’t have to define him. She pushes and plans and drags him back into the emotional light.

The interaction between Kate and Christopher in that dungeon is the most accurate portrayal of marriage I’ve ever read. Shoulder to shoulder, in the dark, reaching out to comfort and plan, finding a reason to keep going in the sound of each others’ voices– powerful commentary for a children’s book.

A good book lasts through multiple readings; some of the most powerful books we read over and over again, finding something new in them each time. I have spent over twenty years reading The Perilous Gard. It has shaped my views of relationships and how a marriage should look, given me a realistic and beautiful example to find for myself. I’ve read other versions of the Tam Lin ballad; while I love the story, none of the other tellings of it have ever done for me what Elizabeth Marie Pope’s version does.

What are the relationships or love stories that have shaped your idea of marriage or romance? Do any of you have a book that you can pinpoint that was pivotal to your understanding of relationships? What are the foundations of your wonk?


Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 14 Comments

Choose Your Own Wonk

choose your shot coverChristine D’Abo gets my undying admiration for simply undertaking her most recent project, Choose Your Shot, her erotic-romance choose-your-own adventure story that released yesterday (8/12/13) from Carina Press. And she gets an extra humongous dose of slobbery worship from me for executing it with style. Because writing choose-your-own-anything fiction is freakin’ hard, and writing it for romance readers is even harder. And I know this for a fact, because I am an oft-quoted expert on the subject of choose-your-own-stuff, aka “hypertext,” fiction. I am totally not kidding. Here is how I achieved this weird status:

The year the Web was born, I was in college. I was dating my now-husband long distance. He was in Iowa City, Iowa, and I was in Amherst, Massachusetts. I went to visit him in January, a time of year that is beautiful in neither place. But that January in Iowa, the weather was particularly impressive in its intensity—so cold my bodily fluids froze on and in my face, so cold the sliding glass doors of my husband’s teeny tiny studio apartment froze shut and had to be wedged open with a crowbar improvised from parts of the ski rack on the roof of his car.

We spent hours of my January visit in the Information Arcade in the University of Iowa library, building Web pages. He had an agenda: He wanted to learn to be a Web designer so he could find a job in the burgeoning field of Web-related technology, which meant he’d be able to leave the English literature program he loathed. I had no agenda other than to keep him company. To kill time, I built a personal home page.

My page went up at a moment in time when you could still count the number of pages in the whole wide new world of the Web. I became, weirdly, a kind of pioneer, for a short time, up there with Time magazine and the other early corporate adopters, and for a few brilliant months, a large number of people listened to what I had to say.

I wrote two essays for my new page. In one, a philosophy of home pages, I explained what I believed did and didn’t belong on a home page (the same sorts of things, which people have more recently claimed do or don’t belong in blogs, or on Facebook, or on Twitter). The other was a literary theory of hypertext fiction. Hypertext fiction—fiction uses links to create choices for the reader—existed before the Web, but the Web got people excited about it again. Several people cited my theory in their academic papers. It was translated into Spanish. It’s possible that essay got more readers than anything else I’ve published since—or at the very least, attracted a more passionate group of adherents.

The main thrust of the essay was that hypertext fiction would have to find some way to overcome its biggest obstacle, lack of plot. At the time, I had a sketchy understanding of character and how it interacted with plot, so I suggested that maybe really excellent characterization could substitute for plot. What I didn’t understand yet is that classic narrative structure requires not just excellent static characterization—so-and-so is/behaves this way—but arc—characterization that moves through an ordered series of experiences toward revelation. That (I now believe) is the real challenge of any non-linear fiction—finding some way to satisfy the reader without that ordered series of either events or character growth moments.

To add to the difficulty, romance readers have an addition expectation for their narratives, happily ever after.  The instant you ask a reader to choose among paths, you as a writer lose control of your ability to make a single coherent argument about what the happily ever should be and how it might be achieved. You run a great risk of disappointing those very well-established expectations.

That’s why writing a piece of hypertext fiction for romance readers is such an act of bravery, and why Christine will enter my personal hall of fame for having ovaries of steel (although I think she would be the first to admit she didn’t complete know what she was getting into when she undertook the project).

Double Shot coverChoose Your Shot takes place in the sex club Mavericks, setting of all Christine’s Carina Press Long Shot stories, where Tegan has come to “scratch the various itches she developed.” Tegan is a switch—sometimes domme, sometimes sub—and the newly redesigned Mavericks offers her the opportunity to indulge both sides of her sexuality—and a number of other delightful kinks. Once the story is established, Christine lets readers make choices about where in the club Tegan goes—dungeon, private rooms, the St. Andrew’s Cross, bonadage bed, etc—and who she goes with.

Christine has done several very clever things to deal with the difficulties of managing story in a non-linear structure.

—She sets the book in a sex club, which, at least the way Tegan experiences it, is a non-linear adventure. The reader’s experience of choosing where to go within the story fits well with Tegan’s meanderings through the club. The book feels like a sex club, like wandering lost in corridors and stumbling on something new. Sometimes Tegan is drawn fully into an adventure, sometimes she hangs back, watching and observing—which gives the reader permission to do the same and helps cut the feeling of alienation that might otherwise come with being outside a standard narrative structure.

—Christine designed Tegan as a character so she doesn’t need to make a simple, linear discovery about herself—she wants to play, and she wants to rediscover all the aspects of her sexuality, which is part of what Christine states about her in the early part of the book.

—Christine gives Tegan mini-revelations within the whole adventure—there are junctures where the reader can explore scenes that are essentially complete stories within the story. And those mini-revelations provide mini plots and mini arcs that provide some of the satisfaction that might otherwise be lost in a book that doesn’t deliver on all of our narrative expectations.

—Christine arranged the book’s plot around a simple attraction triangle, which is easy to get a feel for even when you move back and forth in time. I went down all the paths in the book, and when I was done, I had a strong sense of the story, even though I hadn’t read it in order. I think that’s hard to do. It’s also a challenge to make either of the two main paths—the choice between heroes—feel like a happy-for-now, but because Tegan is the character she is—a switch, an explorer—we buy it.

Obviously I got a ton of cerebral enjoyment out of this story, partly because I’m a theory wonk and hypertext fiction is one of my earliest theory-wonk playgrounds, but let me just state for the record that my enjoyment of Choose Your Shot was by no means purely cerebral.  There are several scenes in this book that will enter my personal (I think this is a Ruthie term) wank book. I had the feeling, finishing up this book that you want to have from any good romance novel, of wishing I could leave my life for a bit and hang out with Tegan at Mavericks.  I wonder if she’d talk to me about hypertext literary theory while she drips hot wax on me?

Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 8 Comments