Gay Book Reviews is excited to have Ariel Tachna with us today talking about the challenge of writing a category romance.
The challenge of writing a category romance
Category romances are all about the tropes, and tropes are all about meeting reader expectation. That doesn’t mean you can’t twist things a little here and there, but for the most part, if you say you’re writing a secret baby book, there has to be a secret baby. If you say you’re writing a second chance at love story, there has to be a second chance at love. For someone who likes to plot their books out ahead of time, this is heaven. There in the trope is a big chunk of plot, especially if you have a secret baby being kept a secret from someone whose goal in life has always been to be a dad, or if the person who gets that second chance at love lost the first love in a traumatic or dramatic fashion.
There’s just one problem. I’m not a plotter. I’m a total pantser. I start my books with a setting, two characters (most of the time. Sometimes I only have one. Then again, sometimes I have three or four), and a vague idea of what might keep them from immediately falling into love and living happily ever after. I say vague because at least half the time, the thing I thought was the problem isn’t the real problem at all. So I start with those three things, I open a Word file, and I write. And as I write, I discover the characters, the setting, and the real problems. Take Cherish the Land. I knew why Seth and Jason weren’t already a couple, but I had no idea that Seth had such a dangerous way of coping with stress until the first time he put his fist through a wall. The communication issues between Seth and Jason took one conversation to clear up. All of Seth’s emotional baggage that I didn’t even know as there was the real issue. If I’d been a plotter determined to stick with the admittedly vague idea I’d had going in, I would have ended up with a very different—and much poorer—book.
So you can imagine the challenge of agreeing to write a Dreamspun Desires book with the tropes of virgin, second chance at love, and stable boy, knowing that if those were going to be my tropes, then I’d have to stick with them. I’d have to write a book that stayed true to those things. The stable boy part is easy. Set the book on a horse farm. Boom. Luke is a stable boy. He was horse-crazy as a kid, mucked stalls as a way to pay for riding lessons, and never stopped. Except why would an otherwise intelligent, capable young man still be mucking out stalls for a living? Hmm…
Second chance at love isn’t too hard. Clay had a lover. He lost him. He’s grieving. So how did he lose him and how did that impact everything else? And why is Luke the one to bring him out of that? Luke’s a stable boy.
Hmmm…. Maybe the loss of the lover is all wrapped up in the horse Clay loves.
Honestly, the hardest trope of the three was figuring out why Luke was still a virgin at twenty-three without making him a pathetic figure no one wanted. He thinks of himself that way, but I didn’t want that to be real, because otherwise why would Clay fall for him?
See, this is hard. I had to actually plan these things out so I had a story that would support these tropes I had agreed to write in a way that people who love the tropes would recognize. I ended up with Unstable Stud, a story of finding love and recovering from loss… and oh yeah, horses.
Title: Unstable Stud
Author: Ariel Tachna
Release Date: April 15, 2016
Page Count: 204
Horses were his passion, until he laid eyes on his boss.
Eighteen months ago, tragedy struck Bywater Farm when a riding accident killed Clay Hunter’s lover and traumatized his prize horse, King of Hearts. Clay and King lingered in limbo, surviving but not really living, until a breath of fresh air in the form of Luke Davis, a new groom in the stud barn, revives them both.
When a fall from King’s back sends Luke to the emergency room, Clay watches the shaky foundation of their budding relationship tumble down. Can Clay really love a jockey again, or will his fear of losing another man he loves keep them apart for good?
“Ah, there you are, Luke.” Mr. Bryant, the trainer and general barn manager, came out of the stable office as Luke passed by. “I have some news for you.”
“How many times have I told you to call me Joe?”
Luke had lost count, but Joe Bryant was old enough to be his grandfather and had an air about him that commanded Luke’s respect. “I’m sorry, Joe. I’ll try to remember.”
“See that you do, because we’re about to be working together more. You just got a promotion.”
“A promotion?” Luke repeated.
“That’s right. As of five minutes ago, you are officially King’s groom. Your days spent doing nothing but mucking stalls are over.”
Luke’s ears rang a bit as he fought the light-headedness that followed the announcement. “I’m not sure what that means. I mean, I know I’ll have to care for him, but that’s hardly a full-time job. I can brush him in the morning and evening, feed him, turn him out, and still have time left over. I’m grateful, of course, but I don’t understand.”
“No, I don’t suppose you would, having only been here for the past six months,” Mr. Bryant replied. “What do you know about King’s history?”
“Just what I saw on TV,” Luke said. “You can’t work in this industry and not have seen that race.”
Mr. Bryant sighed. “The Grand National. The steeplechase to end all steeplechases, at least in England. They were the favorites to win that year. The great Nick Morris, the best steeplechase rider of our era, atop King of Hearts, the fastest, most reliable horse we’d seen in years. And best of all, they understood each other. Nick knew exactly what King was capable of, and King trusted him implicitly. If Nick pointed him at a jump, King took it. It was a match made in steeplechase heaven. And then Nick fell.”
Luke had watched the race with the same anticipation Mr. Bryant described. That anticipation had turned to horror when Morris, in the lead, had lost his seat. King had tried to come back to where he fell, to protect him, but the rush of horses over the jump right behind him had been more than he could fight. The only consolation for the family left behind had been the news that the fall had broken Morris’s neck and killed him instantly. He hadn’t felt the hooves that pounded his body to mush. King, though, hadn’t been the same since.
“But what does that have to do with me?” Luke asked, forcing his thoughts away from the memory.
“Since that day, King has let exactly two people in close proximity without going wild—Clay and me. Until today, that is.”
When Ariel Tachna was twelve years old, she discovered two things: the French language and romance novels. Those two loves have defined her ever since. By the time she finished high school, she’d written four novels, none of which anyone would want to read now, featuring a young woman who was—you guessed it—bilingual. That girl was everything Ariel wanted to be at age twelve and wasn’t.
She now lives on the outskirts of Houston with her husband (who also speaks French), her kids (who understand French even when they’re too lazy to speak it back), and their two dogs (who steadfastly refuse to answer any French commands).