Historical Wonktastical: Courtney Milan, OMG, Courtney Milan (#1)

As I mentioned when last I wonked here, Courtney Milan‘s historicals feature a number of wonktastic folks (heroes in particular) so it was difficult to choose. But in the end I had to go for Ned Carhart of Trial by Desire. Because really, what’s wonkier than a hero trying to cope with manic-depression long before a diagnosis existed for such a condition (much less medication)?

Lest you fear, tipping the hand and revealing Ned’s problem here isn’t a spoiler (even the author says so!). We actually meet him in an earlier book, Proof by Seduction, and it’s pretty clear from the get-go that he has some psychological issues. In the first chapter of that earlier book we learn that he’s been seeing a fortune-teller for two years, a relationship that begins with his asking her, “Is there any reason I shouldn’t kill myself?” The woman (a fabulous and not unwonky heroine in her own right) becomes, in effect, his therapist. She gives him hope, bolsters him through suicidal depression, and by the end of the book Ned is in a better place mentally than he has been for some time.

But by the opening of Trial by Desire, Ned is in dire emotional straits once more, and ends up leaving his wife of only a few months (not the fortune-teller, by the way) to hare off to China for three years…to prove himself. And to get himself under control. This is a big thing with him, throughout the book, as we’ll learn.

When he finally comes back to England and attempts to resume some sort of relationship with his estranged wife Kate, Ned’s on the verge of a manic period; we learn his coping strategy is to exhaust himself with physical activity unbecoming a man of his social station (in this case, pitching hay):

Over the past few years he’d learned he could contain the restiveness, his simple inability to just stop. All he had to do was channel that excess energy into physical tasks. The more mundane, the more repetitive, the greater the strain on his muscles, the better it worked. 

Ned’s strategy isn’t just a response to his manic phases, though. He’s storing up nuts of energy for his next inevitable emotional winter, and part of the character arc we don’t see first-hand—because it happens during the three-year period when he’s in China, alone—involves his learning the need to do this, the hard way. For him, control issues are a good thing, something he’s struggled to learn, and to use to his advantage.

[…] his muscles burned and he wanted nothing more than to set down the pitchfork and leave the work to the men Plum would undoubtedly send.

But he didn’t. Because not only did this bleed off all that extra intensity, this was good practice. while there were days like today, when he felt vigorous and invincible, there also came times when he wanted nothing more than to simply come to a halt. 

Those were the poles of his life: too much energy, almost uncontainable, followed by too little. When the next pole came riding ’round, he’d be ready for it again.

For now, though, he pitched hay.

The fact that it makes him extra muscular and hawt is just gravy (although kudos to Ms. Milan for that gravy, because I do dislike a historical hero who’s built like a gym rat for no good reason anyone can see). What I particularly like about this scene only 50 some-odd pages into the book is the clever way it foreshadows the problem with Ned and intimacy. This is a guy, we can already tell, who is all about control, and about denying himself. Sleeping in a cold room so he doesn’t get too soft. The fact that this also means denying his wife and leaving her to sleep alone is incidental.

At this point you may be thinking that’s a common enough trope. The Wounded Hero, who can’t allow himself to love, finally breaking free from his icy shell and living Happily Ever After because of the Right Woman? Nuh-uh. Because, and this is why it’s wonk, Ms. Milan does not pull this punch. Ned’s condition isn’t going to be cured by love, because that isn’t how manic-depression works. And I adore her for that. I adore her for the fact that in the epilogue, set six months after the last chapter of the book, we learn that Ned has already been through some more manic times and at least one month of depression, and those aren’t fun times, and the couple has had to deal with that.

On Courtney Milan’s website, she discusses this book’s WIP code name, “Dragon Slayer,” and offers a quote that, for me, sums up what makes Ned such a different kind of hero:

“In the stories,” he said, his voice a dark rasp against her skin, “in the stories, the heroine always slays the dragon and lops off his head. The villagers rejoice and build a bonfire, and darkness never again falls on the land.”

She could feel his hands at her side, warm and powerful against the heat of her skin.

“But those,” Ned continued, “are only fairy stories. In reality…”

He smiled at her in the mirror, a lopsided smile. There was something faintly wicked about that expression, as if he were about to impart to her a great secret, one that had been closely-guarded by a centuries-old society. She swayed unwittingly against him.

“In reality,” he whispered, “the dragons never die, and the big sword-wielding buffoons in unwieldy armor cannot slay them. Real heroes tame their dragons.”

This is Ned’s challenge, his difference, his font of wonk. He knows he has a black dog, a dragon, and it will always be with him. He can never slay it (again, because love can do many things but it cannot cure mental illness). Darkness will fall upon the land, again and again. And since this is a romance, that means he and his heroine just have to learn to deal with that recurring darkness, as part of the price for the moments of HEA they’ll be able to find when Ned isn’t battling one extreme or the other. These truths, to me, don’t make Ned any less heroic; they make him more so, because the battle he fights will be a lifelong one, a baseline battle that will always be there in addition to whatever else he decides to take on. And it will be a life full of wonk.

Bonus legal nerdage: pages at the end of the book in which Milan geeks for a bit about Victorian era summary trials. Oh yeah, baby.

Read more about Trial by Desire on Courtney Milan’s website.

Read about the Silver Ribbon Campaign for the Brain; the Silver Ribbon Coalition is an advocacy group that promotes public awareness of the need for emotional, social, governmental, and research support of individuals with brain disorders and disabilities (including bipolar disorder, depression, and a host of other conditions). Note: another group that has more recently started using a silver ribbon motif is the “Trust Women” reproductive rights campaign.

Posted in Historical Wonktastical | 4 Comments

My Ideal Hero Likes Cucumbers

I debated long and hard what to write about today. And by that I mean I ate a lot of marzipan, got a headache in one side of my head, hung around in my dressing gown and watched thirteen episodes of Roseanne. Which is basically my equivalent of thinking.

And then once I was done with not being dressed and crying over the fact that Dan Connor is not a dick like every other sitcom Dad since the dawn of time, I decided I would do some talking about my favourite wonky hero.

Only then I realised: I’m supposed to talk about that somewhere else and even if I wasn’t…well…the thing is…

I don’t think there’s ever been a hero wonky enough for me. I mean sure sure, some have gotten close. I’ve got one all lined up for the little thing I’m writing on my fave wonky hero, and believe you me he’s a doozy. But as orsum as he is, he’s still missing certain things.

For example, in order to be the perfect wonky hero (to me), he has to be a submissive. Which on its own narrows the field down to about five characters – in MF fiction, at least. There’s one in a book by Joey Hill, and one in a book by Jennifer Leeland, and the start of an Emma Holly book has a totally orsum one who should definitely have had his own novel.

And that’s about it.

No really.

That’s it.

This is what I’m dealing with, here, in my search for the Perfect Wonky Hero. I’ve got less than five people to choose from. I’ve got, like, three people. And none of them are quite as wonky as I’d like them to be. I want them to be so wonky they can’t see straight. I want them to beg for things most people haven’t even heard of!

You know that sex thing, right, that no one wants to talk about? That weird, scary thing…with the implements…and the…the stuff…that’s what I want. And even worse than all of that, I want him to want all of these insane things while looking like this:

Yeah, that’s right. I’m not satisfied with a submissive hero who looks like Gollum just gave birth to him. I don’t want some pale, sickly looking thing who recently crawled out of a cave that may or may not have featured in the movie The Descent.

I want hairy. I want big. I want a big, hairy guy to feature in a story entitled “I’m So Horny I’ll Do Anything You Say”, even if the things the heroine says often include cucumbers, Marks and Spencers, crotchless panties and some guy she met online. Hell, if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander, right? I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve read that feature those very things, only with the roles reversed.

And now I’m just gagging for a guy to be the one who wears the crotchless panties, while stood in Marks and Spencers with a cucumber up his bum. Even if that exact scenario hasn’t actually occurred to any woman in any book ever, and I’m just making it up for my own perverse pleasure.

Oh, there’s no end to all the things I long for, from an erotic romance hero. Let him be daring. Let him be braver than any firefighter or Navy Seal or three hundred year old vampire.

Let him get fooked in the ass by the heroine, while begging her for more.


P.S. My latest novella, Raw Heat, comes out tomorrow! It’s got a massive, hunky werewolf who may or may not look a really lot like Armie Hammer, it’s got apocalyptic goodness, it’s got forbidden lust and love…check it out here:


And if you’ve got time, the new and v. mysterious line I’m writing for, Mischief, released a few anthologies, today. They’re packed with hot, erotic goodness, featuring (amongst others) me, Justine Elyot, Elizabeth Coldwell, Rachel Kramer Bussel…and they’re only £1.99 each. Check them out here:




Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 12 Comments

Certified Wonktastical: Long Summer Nights by Kathleen O’Reilly

Recently, I was e-mailing my Colleagues in Wonk, and I happened to mention a hero I had enjoyed. “He’s this very crabby writer who lives in a cabin in the north woods and hates people,” I told them. “And after he meets the heroine, the only sign that she’s getting to him is that he keeps killing the female character in his novel, over and over again. And then the heroine goes home to NYC, and the hero follows her and moves into the apartment above hers but doesn’t tell her, though of course she immediately figures it out.”

(I wrote this synopsis more than a year after finishing the novel, so it might be less than completely accurate, but it does suggest what aspects of the story stuck with me.)

Of course, immediately I got three or four e-mails back saying, “Oooh, WANT!” and “What’s it called?” and “I am so buying that book.” Because that’s how we roll around here — we hear about a romance novel whose hero is a melancholy hermit writer living in a cabin in the woods, and we must have him, posthaste! Edie, Del, and Serena all immediately bought up the novel in question and read it, with many exclamations of delight.

Which means that It’s official. Kathleen O’Reilly’s Long Summer Nights (Harlequin Blaze, 2010) is our first Certified Wonktastical pick.*

*Please note: At present, we completely lack criteria for choosing Certified Wonktastical books. Also, the designation carries no benefit aside from the dubious honor of our acclaim. Still, there’s that.

Here’s the (understandably less wonky than mine) official blurb:

Journalist Jennifer Dale is on assignment, pretending that miserable isolation in upstate New York is the greatest thing ever. The only bright spot? The wickedly sexy recluse across the lake, who swims in the buff. Now, “there’s” some wildlife a gal can enjoy watching over and over and over….

When Jennifer suffers a slight boating mishap, Hot Swimming Guy comes to her rescue. Turns out Aaron Barksdale is hot enough to switch her damsel’s distress into a damsel undressed. But Aaron is more than a hot summer night between the sheets — he’s also an award-winning author who disappeared from the public eye years ago. Revealing all could be the scoop of the century, but only if Jennifer’s willing to risk it all.

We asked Kathleen O’Reilly to comment on the novel, its wonk factor, and its reception, and she graciously agreed to do so. Here’s what she said:

When I wrote Aaron, there was a whole blow-up going on about JD Salinger and the publication of his love letters to this woman. The story fascinated me, the idea of an almost Howard Hughes isolationist sort of dude, who achieved this literary fame, but had to pay a hard price for it, and thus, exiled himself from the rest of civilization supposedly because “his art was everything to him” but in reality because he couldn’t deal with the pain.

As an author, it’s always fun to write writers, but when I wrote Aaron, I didn’t want a genre-writer. No pulp-fiction for me, no sir! I wanted a genuine, critically acclaimed novelist who HATED romance, romance fiction, anything remotely sugar-coated, and then, of course, make him fall in love. There’s a certain cathartic experience with being able to mock those who mock romance, so there was that completely fun aspect to the character. Yes, call me subversive, or *wonky* if you prefer.

I would like to thank everyone in the Academy…  oops, sorry.  Wrong speech. So, seriously, I think it’s awesome that y’all are dedicated to the wonks of romance.  I’m a total wonk, and love being recognized for it, so thank you everybody!  I’ve been a romance reader since way back, and I’ve seen so many of the tropes and the rules and the cliches and the Mary Sues and the Mary Bellas and the Mary Heathers and that’s not EVEN discussing the heroes. So every time I sit down to write a book, I want to bend the rules *just a little* in order to write something new.  Mainly to see if I can bend the rules and still write a good book that romance readers will love. (See earlier definition of “Kathleen as subversive”). Very passive aggressive, but yes, that’s me.  So far, I’ve been very lucky in my career. Twenty-five books and nary a Mary Bella among them.

As for the reaction I got, it was really, really nice. Every time I turn in a book, I’m thinking that I went too far, that readers will hate the characters, that yes, this is going to be the book to end my career, and then, awesomely enough, people really seem to like it (except for Midnight Resolutions, which almost everybody hated the heroine, but I can live with that one. :)). I will say that I seem to be better at writing wonky heroes than wonky heroines, but I’m working on that, and yes, doing a little horn-tooting here, I’ll have a December Blaze release in a fun anthology with Lori Wilde and Candace Havens. I’m not sure how wonky the hero will be (although any suggestions on making a wonky EMT would be fun) but the heroine has amnesia…

So there you have it! A deliberately subversive romance, received with open arms by editors and readers alike, and celebrated as a great story and a delightfully wonktastical read.

If you’re dying to scoop up your own copy — as you should be — Long Summer Nights is available directly from Harlequin, at Amazon, and via all the other usual suspects.

A question for our readers: Does this make you want to be part of a Wonk-o-mance book club as badly as it makes us want to start one? If so, how would such a club work for you, ideally? Discuss.

Posted in Certified Wonktastical | 7 Comments