A Wonkomance Interview with Bonnie Dee

Hi there, I’m Amber Skye, writer of erotica. This is my first post here at Wonkomance, and I thought a lot about how to set the tone for my appearances here. Should I talk about my projects? Should I write up a short wonka-erotic story for your voyeuristic pleasure? Well, maybe later. But I’m a reader, first, foremost and for always. I decided that if I really wanted to celebrate Wonkomance with you, I should start with what I love to read.

So I thought of Bonnie Dee. To me, she is the quintessential Wonkaromance author, if there is such a thing in a sub-sub-sub-genre devoted to the strange. Her characters and plots are all kinds of daring and off-kilter, as well as deliciously sexy and heartwrenchingly sweet. And she graciously agreed to do an interview with me, so without further ado…

The first book of yours I read was Finding Home, the story of a 17-year-old male prostitute living on the streets. He may take the cake for most original romance hero I’ve ever read, but he’s completely hero-worthy – sweet, strong and even sexy. Were you worried about reader reception to an underage (among other unconventional things) hero? What has reader reaction been like for him and this story?

Yes, my writing partner and I were worried about the age difference and made it closer than we’d originally intended (the heroine is 23). The only way we felt we could make it less objectionable was to show how unformed Megan is and how mature a young man who’s had to take care of himself for most of his life could be. Lauren Baker and I were friends in a fanfic writing community and Finding Home was our joint effort to try to create something with an eye toward publication. We didn’t know at the time what was expected by the romance community. We just wrote what we thought was interesting and sexy. (Bear in mind, we’d been writing fanfic for The OC and definitely had the character of Ryan Atwood entrenched in our minds.)

Completely in love with our unconventional story, we attempted to land an agent or publisher and were rejected time and again. Then we learned about e-publishing. This was 2005, long before Oprah’s endorsement of the Kindle made “e-book” a common term. Imagine coming in on the leading edge of something that would turn out to be so huge. It’s been an exciting time for writers.

I wouldn’t say Finding Home set the romance reading community ablaze with excitement, but most who’ve read it have been moved by it. What more could one ask for from a debut writing effort?

In Butterfly Unpinned, our heroine is the 24/7 BDSM slave. Her owner, who happens to own a few other slaves, hires a Navajo woodworker, our hero, to build him custom bookshelves. What I love about Butterfly Unpinned is the juxtaposition of a somewhat stereotypical alpha/gamma character as the antagonist to the gentle, sensitive guy as the hero. The contrast is probably strongest in their finances, where the antagonist is incredibly wealthy, we see this in his lavish mansion, his parties, his slaves, whereas the hero is poor as dirt. Can you talk a little bit about how you came up with these two characters and what, if anything, you were trying to say with them?

Let me put my brain in the Wayback Machine and see if I can remember. I recall reading a forum about BDSM and knowing very little about it at the time. The germ of an idea was born of a misused slave being rescued by a hero who restores her sense of self. Knowing little about BDSM, I found a co-writer, Laura Bacchi, who was much more familiar with the scene to supply what I lacked. As for whether we were trying to “say” anything with the financial disparity between hero and villain…well, basically I love Cinderfellas. I was never attracted to romances with wealthy heroes such as Greek tycoons or billionaire financiers. I’ve always preferred regular guys or poor guys, sweaty, hardworking guys, guys with blue collar backgrounds. Don’t know why that is exactly. They’re just way sexier to me. Because one of Butterfly’s many issues is agoraphobia, I thought her perfect match would be someone who was raised in wide open spaces and could introduce her to them, teach her to find pleasure there—thus Native American Bryan. And as far as the “villain” Gary goes, he was just there to serve a purpose, someone for Butterfly to escape from.

I hear a lot of romance readers and reviewers clamoring for different settings in historicals, more varied races and more appearance of disabilities. We want variety. I know you’ve got A Hearing Heart, which features a deaf hero in 1902 Nebraska, a Chinese heroine in 1870 San Francisco, Bone Deep with a tattooed hero from a carnival freak show in 1946 Connecticut, all in your backlist. It’s like you’re the perfect answer to all those requests. Are you trying to diversify the historical offerings, or do the ideas just come to that way? How has reception been to this diversity?

Not trying to diversify, I just wrote what interested me—and that’s poor guys struggling to survive against great odds and falling in love with women social light years above them (except for Captive Bride in which those roles are reversed). Bone Deep is another early work of mine. I was watching Red Dragon (Hannibal Lecter movie) and found Ralph Fiennes full body tattoo and heart-wrenching loneliness extremely sexy. Fantasizing about a tattooed man, I thought the story needed to be set at a time when there would still traveling carnivals and a lonely war widow would be a good counterpart to the hero so that helped determine the time period—though I suppose I could’ve gone post WWI rather than II.

I returned to my favorite theme of the outsider with the character of Jim [from A Hearing Heart], a deaf man in a time when many might assume deaf meant stupid. Guess I kind of duplicated the war widow idea when I had the new schoolteacher in town arriving with her own baggage of a fiancé who died before they could be married. It was a great challenge to write their exchanges when only one character can speak and the other must speak volumes with his eyes alone.

Man, I’m just a sucker for super lonely people finding each other, because I went for the same thing again in Captive Bride. Storekeeper Alan is a Civil War vet and Huiann is a Chinese woman who thinks she’s coming to America as a bride but is really to be sold into prostitution. This time there are cultural differences and language barriers to overcome as well. One of my favorite scenes is when the couple tells their deepest fears and secrets to each other because they can unburden without fear of being understood. And despite the fact that neither knows what the other is saying, their pain is completely shared at that moment.

Looking at your backlist, I’m struck by how prolific you are, as well as how versatile. You have over 40 books across contemporary, historical, paranormal, M/M. And even within those genres, the settings and characters vary greatly. How does your breadth of subject matter factor into your branding?

Branding, hah! That’s an issue all right. I know I’d be farther along than I am if I’d chosen one genre and stuck with it. People like to know what to expect from an author but I get quickly bored and want to shift to something new and shiny. This eclectic style of writing is what I do and so I came up with a tagline that hopefully explains what ties all these varied works together: Passionate, intimate relationships.

Through all this diversity, you’re a romance writer. Give us one piece of advice about love.

In real life I think it’s mostly about perseverance and entering a relationship with reasonable expectations. Life ain’t no romance novel. That’s why we read them. In real life, you’ll have an imperfect partner. You’ll get bored with him, angry with him, infuriated by him, but you don’t give up. I’ve been married twenty-seven years and it was worth working through any annoying times to have a partner who I can comfortably grow old with, someone with whom I have shared jokes and memories, someone who knows my quirks, habits and weirdnesses and doesn’t mind.

A Wonkomance is a romance that is a bit off-kilter, whether that’s a beta hero with a unique job, a quirky heroine or an unusual setting. What is the favorite Wonkomance that you’ve written? Also, what is the favorite Wonkomance that you’ve read?

Honestly, all of the ones you’ve mentioned are among my favorite of my books. I’d add one more to the list. The Gentleman and the Rogue is one of my historical collaborations with Summer Devon. I absolutely adore Jem, the clever, smart-mouthed street boy (think Artful Dodger) who seduces a depressed lord from the edge of suicide and rekindles his joy in life.

I enjoyed Butterfly Tattoo by Deirdre Knight. Rather than try to encapsulate the story, here’s the blurb from Amazon: Michael Warner has been drifting in a numb haze since the death of his lover, who was killed by a drunk driver. As the anniversary of the wreck approaches, Michael’s grief grows more suffocating. Yet he must find a way through the maze of pain and secrets to live for their troubled young daughter. Out of the darkness comes a voice, a lifeline he never expected to find—Rebecca O’Neill, a development executive in the studio where he works as an electrician. Rebecca, a former celebrity left scarred from a crazed fan’s attack, has retreated from the limelight, certain no man can ever get past her disfigurement. The instant sparks between her and Michael come as a complete surprise—and so does her almost mystical bond with his daughter. For the first time, all three feel compelled to examine their scars in the light of love. But trust is hard to come by, especially when you’re not sure what to believe when you look in the mirror. The scars? Or the truth?

Releasing at Samhain in January 2012 is another Dee/Devon m/m historical, The Psychic and the Sleuth. Both Summer and I were intrigued by the spiritualism movement and the fascination for psychic phenomenon in the late Victorian time period. One hero is a con man with a psychic bent, the other is a police inspector intent on exposing him. Together they solve a murder case and, naturally, have a passionate affair.

In April we have a contemporary coming out at Carina, Serious Play. The hero is an ex-con struggling to get by. He’s hired by a woman who owns a bar. The couple fights their inappropriate simmering attraction until it boils over. Our editor says the story makes her cry in certain spots, so that must be good, right?

For more about my backlist, go to http://bonniedee.com. Readers can join my yahoo group to be notified of new releases. Find me on FB and Twitter. I’ll friend you, but I swear I never use either of those accounts. I’m a very bad social networker. Thanks for having me at Wonkomance. I appreciate your exploration of the quirkier side of the romance and will definitely keep the site bookmarked for reading recommendations. I’m always looking for something different from the standard fare.

Bonnie Dee

Thank you, Bonnie, for that amazing interview. I love every little bit of it, especially your love advice, but in all honesty, my favorite quote is, “Branding, hah!” But, more importantly, thank you for the wonktastical backlist from which we may all glom for our wonkomance pleasure!

Posted in Interviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

A Little Wilder, Please

Scene: A young woman enters the plain room where the meeting is held, obviously nervous. She carries with her an oversized purse and adjusts her glasses on her nose as she cautiously makes her way toward the circle of folding chairs. She takes the only empty seat, lifting her hand in tentative greeting to the other members of the support group. 

Hey. Hi. Um…my name is Edie. What else am I supposed to say? Oh, yeah. My name’s Edie, and I am a prude.

[She looks around.] Should I…just keep talking? Okay. Sure. I can do that. I’m really good at talking.

So, like I said, I’m a prude. Which sounds an awful lot like “prune,” and that just makes me think of wrinkly old ladies who wear a lot of purple.

I mean, I love purple—my shirt is purple, see?—but I’m not old. Or wrinkly. I’m only twenty-five. My generation has a lot of issues, but one thing we sure don’t have a problem with is sex. We love sex. Sex is awesome. We have it with all sorts of people in all these different ways, and there are toys for everyone and videos of us banging on the Internet and, like, nothing is taboo. Nothing. I feel so desensitized to it, though. All the sex. I can read about anything, talk about anything—ménages, exhibitionism, BDSM, whatever—and only think, “Meh.”

And still, I’m actively seeking out sex.

Wait, no. That’s not what I meant. Hold on— [She rummages in her bag, which covers her entire lap, until she pulls out a thin, black tablet device.] This. This is what I mean. I’m reading romances, and the best romances have sex in them, right?

But the thing is, for me it’s not about the bedroom acrobatics or the who-can-put-what-where-before-the-other-cries-when. Me and my generation, we’re immune to that sort of stuff, probably from watching too much porn. So the sex in these romances needs to be totally off the charts to grab my interest, because I’ve seen it (and maybe done it) all, right?

No. Just…no. Which is why I’m here. [She adjusts her glasses again.]

I’m here because the first romance I recognized as such was that between Laura Ingalls and Almanzo Wilder in These Happy Golden Years. The Little House books are staple literature, especially for a Midwestern girl like me. I was probably around six or seven when I first read THGY, and the stories spanning Laura and Almanzo’s courtship—starting peripherally in The Long Winter and culminating with The First Four Years—are the only books in the series I’ve reread. More than once. Because those books give me a case of the happy sighs.

I still think about Almanzo Wilder all the time. Well, not all the time, obviously. [She laughs, awkwardly.] But that love story is so sweet and real, and I could totally see him falling in love with her and her with him and it was awesome!

Almanzo Wilder, surprising wonk hottie extraordinaire.

[She realizes she’s gotten too excited, her voice climbing in pitch and volume. Clearing her throat, she sinks a little in her seat.]

Anyway, the point is, Almanzo Wilder, if he were a romance hero written by a modern author today, would be so incredibly wonky. No, really. He’s a farmer living and working with his brother—named Royal, of all things—and even though he’s all short and quiet and loner-like, he goes and saves the whole town from starvation by risking life and limb in a blizzard to get food and stuff from some weird guy who’s got food to sell but lives far away. And then he starts chauffeuring this chick back and forth and they talk about his farm and his vehicle, and there are calling cards involved, and stilted flirtation, and lots of awkward silences, and then BAM! the serious romancing starts.

[She is too excited again. Not that she cares.] I’m just gonna put this out there: I think they probably had good sex. Yeah. I said it. I think Laura and Manly—which is an awesomely wonky nickname, right?—had good sex. It wasn’t in those pages, but there’s subtext there, and that subtext is like, “He was manly all the time. Heh.”

…But you’re wondering what this has to do with me being a prude. (I told you I was good at talking.) It’s simple. Now, as an adult, I want to read about the fictionalized Almanzo Wilders and know that they find good love and good lovin’ with women who embrace the fact that these men are a little different.

The sex itself doesn’t need to be the different part. That good sex I think Almanzo and Laura had? I bet a lot of it was missionary. And I bet it rocked their worlds.

Maybe I’ve seen too much raunchiness on the web, and so I don’t look at threesomes and immediately think, “Ooh, sexytimes, they are a-happenin’!” And there are all those positions that look like I would need ten years of yoga flexibility training to master; it’s not hot for me to read about things I can’t possibly-maybe-someday-fingers-crossed do. …I’m looking at you, balancing-on-a-motorcycle sex.

I like normal, good ol’ fashioned, Almanzo Wilder sex. In my books, in my head, et cetera. Where the man can be a titch off but the romancing is always spot-on.

Anyway, yeah. [She shrugs, sliding her e-reader back into her purse.] I’m Edie. I know just about everything there is to know about sex, but I’m a prude. And that’s my wonky little secret.

So. [She looks around the room, eyebrow arched.] Who’s next?

End scene.

Posted in Life & Wonk | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Historical Wonktastical!

Hi there! Welcome to a semi-regular feature here on Wonkomance, Historical Wonktasticals. Contemporary angst is all good and well, and I love a good modern romance as much as the next reader. But a barrel of wonk, set well before the characters even knew the psychobabble terms to define whatever the fuck was wrong with their addled brains? Oooooh yeah. Gimme some of that!

To kick things off, I can’t think of a better, stranger book to showcase than Eloisa James’ The Duke is Mine. From the first chapter of this fresh take on “The Princess and the Pea”, I was in wonko heaven, and the freak just kept on coming in the best possible ways.

The wonkiness starts with a zaftig heroine who actually is a zaftig heroine, not just unfashionably “curvy” where other girls are slender reeds, or a girl with an embarrassment of riches in the bosom region but a normal figure otherwise. Not, in other words, that chick on the cover of the book (although the cover is pretty awesomesauce). No, Olivia is a big plump girl all around, and also a girl who sucks big time at doing all the duchessy things she’s been trained for all her life. Mostly because she’s given to saying stuff like this (to her sister, about a possible rival named Althea, and another character named Cecily Bumtrinket):

“I think it sounds like some sort of odd digestive. Drink Althea for your bowels! Lady Cecily would love it. Do you suppose, Georgie, that her ladyship is perfectly unconscious of how odd it is for a woman with the surname Bumtrinket to be constantly talking about her digestion?”

I just can’t even. Later there’s this whole deal where she’s supposed to be impressing the Duke and his mother, and instead she and another guest at the house party sit around making up elaborately vulgar insults. Meanwhile, the hero is supposed to be wooing Olivia’s very duchessy sister Georgiana, but they end up having a conversation about the best way to study whether light is made up of rays or particles, and never get to the woo.

I had to wonder if the author wasn't inspired by this, as well as the original tale...

Hero wonk? Check! If Tarquin (or Quin, as he’s called) were a modern guy, he’d probably be flirting with an Asperger’s diagnosis…but he certainly wouldn’t be flirting with girls, because he hasn’t a clue. In his own words, he’s “not good at…interpreting complex statements.” This includes pretty much anything that involves feelings, as well as the dirty limericks that Olivia sometimes busts out with. Quin freely admits he’s baffled by normal human interaction; he rarely laughs or even smiles, and prefers to spend his time working on obscure mathematical theorems and other uber-nerdy pastimes. His first wife, Evangeline, cheated on him big-time, so this time around he’s agreed to let his mother pick him a new duchess. After all, his mother is a dowager duchess and the author of a well-known tract on etiquette. She should know what to look for, right? It just makes sense. Because he’s a bit like Spock.

Fooked-up families? Oh sweet jumping Jeebus on a pogo stick, yes. They mean well…but Olivia’s parents are so set on her becoming a duchess that they engage her to a ducal heir practically out of the cradle. And when that heir seems bent to go to war, they agree to an early formal betrothal and then some to secure the deal. Nudge nudge, wink wink. Caveat? Well, yes. Olivia’s intended, Rupert, is a bit of a special case. He suffered oxygen deprivation during birth, and as a result he isn’t all one might expect in a marquess and future duke. His wife will have to run the ducal estate one day, while she isn’t busy bearing an heir. His father tells Olivia (when she’s fifteen) that she has what he’s looking for in a daughter-in-law: brains and hips.

Rupert’s the kind of character I’ve never seen in a historical, and rarely in any novel. Ms. James does a masterful job of making him not only sympathetic, but even a hero in his own right by the book’s end. In chapter five there’s a scene between Rupert and Olivia that I can’t describe here (spoilers, kinda). But it is one of the most awful, painful, poignant, lovely things I’ve read in years, and by the end of it if you don’t admire Olivia you’re just not human, because the scene makes it clear she is one hell of a nice girl. Not Mary-Sue nice, not Cinderella nice. Just a decent human being. It is sort of a sex scene, but certainly not like a sex scene you’ve ever read in a romance. Ever.

As for the relationship between Quin and Olivia, here’s an interesting switch: they actually have one. And it is freaking adorable. They’re horny, sure, but they also genuinely like one another and you can see the friendship forming along with the romance. They talk openly (it’s the only way either of them knows how to be), acknowledging the difficulties they’re likely to face as a couple. From the middle of the book on, they’re already pretty deeply involved in nerdy lust and affection, and the rest of the plot really hinges on how they can arrange to be together given that she’s already betrothed to Rupert and he’s supposed to be marrying her sister. They’re working together on this problem, and it isn’t particularly angsty or melodramatic between them, except for the externals that they can’t control. But oh, the inherent wonk, with a hero who first declares his feelings thusly:

“I’m saying that I care about you. Embarrassingly, I seem to care about you more than I did Evangeline. It may be that I am mad.” He paused, considering. “I don’t perceive any other signs of mental weakness, though, so I am inclined to simply acknowledge this as a human weakness. I am reluctant to label it a failing.”

I love you too, Quin. I love you too.

P.S. Even the dog in this story is wonky. Adorable plot moppet? I think not. Little Lucy, Rupert’s dog, is a “very small, rather battered-looking dog” with a rat-like tail and flea-bitten ears. Rupert found her abandoned in an alley. She’s maybe not 100% housetrained. But she’s very sweet.

Next time on Historical Wonktasticals: Courtney Milan. I haven’t even decided which book yet, because she has so many wonktastic heros to choose from!

Posted in Historical Wonktastical | 9 Comments