As Seen In Meg Benjamin’s Head

Meet Meg Benjamin

My newest book for Samhain, Brand New Me (released December 7), takes place largely in a bar owned by the hero. I know just what that bar looks like because it’s based on a restaurant/bar the hubs and I used to frequent in the Hill Country. I also know just what Docia Toleffson’s bookstore looks like as well as the converted barn where she lives with Cal Toleffson. I know all of these places because, of course, I created them and did my best to describe them to my readers. Coming up with mental images of my settings when I write is usually no problem. I write about places like the Hill Country that I know pretty well, so I’ve got a lot of possibilities to choose from.

But what happens when I’m reading somebody else’s book and I have to picture their settings in my mind? I blush to admit it, but it doesn’t matter how well the author describes the place—the mental images I usually end up with are most frequently based on places that are already cluttering up my brain.

Take apartments, for example. The first apartment I ever saw belonged to my grandmother in Wichita, Kansas. Oddly enough, even now when I read a book that’s set in an apartment, my mental image is frequently based on that rather cramped old lady space. Alternatively, it may be the first apartment the hubs and I lived in when we were grad students in Seattle. All the Stephanie Plum novels have taken place there for some reason, which is sort of difficult because it was a lot further off the ground floor than Stephanie’s place in Janet Evanovich’s novels.
Stories set in houses frequently end up in the house where I grew up. Grand dining halls in regency historicals often shrink down to the table for eight and the built-in china cabinet where my mother used to keep her Fiesta ware.

School rooms are relatively easy—they tend to be in one of the places where I taught. Urban settings sometimes draw on cities where I spent some time: Seattle or Philadelphia or San Antonio, for example. But sometimes they get reduced down to Wichita, which has occasionally subbed in my brain for Los Angeles or New York City.

Let me say here that this tendency of my mind to supply familiar settings has nothing to do with the ability of individual authors to describe their settings. The author may do her job quite skillfully, and I love a meticulous description as much as anybody, but my mind is still going to go straight to a setting I recognize as the story progresses.

I have no idea why my mind works this way, or if it’s just me. I’d guess it’s because I’m too busy following the story to take the time to manufacture a totally new mental image to go along with whatever the author is trying to describe. Classic mysteries, with their meticulous descriptions of the locked room where the murder took place, used to drive me crazy because I could never really picture the action as happening anywhere but my standard settings, and in a lot of books by people like John Dickson Carr, the solution to the mystery depended on having a solid mental image of the room where the murder took place.

So hey, you guys who are really great at descriptions, I appreciate the hell out of what you’re trying to do. But the sad fact is, as far as my reader’s imagination is concerned, your story takes place in my granny’s apartment.

So am I the only one who does this? Does everybody else build a new mental image for each book? Or do you find your brain returning to those same old familiar places time after time?

Long Time Gone
by Meg Benjamin

A future with the woman of his dreams is within his grasp…if the past will stay that way.

Konigsburg, Book 4

Erik Toleffson wasn’t looking to become Chief of Police. He’s got enough trouble trying to rebuild his relationship with his three brothers who, until just recently, ran the other way when he approached. He’s not the bully they grew up with, but bad memories are tough to overcome.

Morgan Barrett is as worn out as a vat full of crushed grape skins. She never planned to run Cedar Creek Winery, but there’s no one else to shoulder the load as her father recovers from an injury. All she needs is a little sleep. Just a five-minute nap in the booth at the Dew Drop Inn…if that guy across the bar would stop staring at her as if putting her head down on the table is a crime.

After Morgan yawns in Erik’s face, there’s nowhere to go but up. With time, though, their relationship warms like a perfectly blended Bordeaux. Until the shady mayor digs into Erik’s past and dredges up information that could drive a permanent wedge between him and his brothers—and sour any chance of a future with Morgan.
Warning: Contains hot sex with mango sherbet, crooked politicians, yuppie bikers, Bored Ducks, and a Maine Coon Cat with attitude.

Buy it at My Bookstore and More and other ebook retailers.

More about Meg

Meg Benjamin is the author of the Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing. Book #4, Long Time Gone, was a Romantic Times Top Pick for Contemporary, and book #5, Brand New Me, will be released by Samhain on December 7. Meg lives in Colorado with her DH and two rather large Maine coon kitties (well, partly anyway).

Meg’s Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com. You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), MySpace (myspace.com/megbenjamin), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1). Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at meg @ megbenjamin.com.

Meg Benjamin on H.E.L.P.

Okay, so I admit it, I switched out Meg’s title – it should be Meg Benjamin on P.L.H.E. But doesn’t it read better as H.E.L.P.?  Sorry, Meg …

Meg and I had our first release the same day back in January. Meg’s latest book, Be My Baby, the third book in her Konigsburg series releases next Tuesday. So I’m thrilled to have her back on my blog, talking about …

What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love, and Happy Endings?

The biggest, most frequent complaint against romances that I’ve gotten from non-romance readers (other than all the sex scenes, of course) boils down to this: romances have happy endings. Always. No matter how much angst the hero and heroine of the romance endure in the story, they’ll end up together and it’ll be happily ever after. And this, we’re told, is a Bad Thing.

As to why this is a Bad Thing, well, opinions vary. “It’s unrealistic” (and, of course, all other forms of popular fiction rigidly adhere to realism). “It’s simple-minded” (so apparently only misery is intellectually pure). “It leads to expectations that can’t be fulfilled” (and all readers of romance get their life lessons from fiction).

The only one of these complaints that seems to have any real validity, as far as I’m concerned, is the idea that the required happy ending is limiting to an author. But while it’s true that we romance writers can’t violate this convention, most romance heroes and heroines still go through a lot of anguish to get there. Even writers like me who do comedy still have to work in a Big Black Moment somewhere along the way. And some comic writers, like, say, Susan Elizabeth Phillips or Loretta Chase, can make those moments pretty black indeed.

So what’s really behind this extreme aversion to happy endings, particularly from non-romance readers? I’m going out on a limb here and saying it’s related to the way “happy ending” is defined, or rather the way one of my favorite genders defines it. Because the biggest complainers about the happy ending rule, in my experience, are male. And the problem seems to be what they consider “happy.”

Let’s take an example here—Casablanca, the great forties movie. Now I’m really fond of Casablanca (in fact, I’ve managed to work references to it into several things I’ve written), but there’s no way I’d see it as having a really happy ending since Rick and Ilsa can’t possibly end up together. That can’t actually happen without getting rid of Victor, and without Victor there’s no beating the Nazis. So both Rick and Ilsa have to be noble and have that lovely, heartbreaking scene at the airport.

However, in my experience some men argue that that the ending of Casablanca is completely satisfying, happy in fact. Rick and Ilsa get a chance to work out their differences (and have one last roll in the hay), Rick renews his belief in heroism, and Rick and Louis head off to fight the Nazis while Ilsa heads off to America to raise money with Victor.

Although I have a lot of “yes, but’s” here, I can also see how, from a guy’s point of view, this constitutes the ideal happy ending. Rick gets to have sex with Ilsa, and then gets to leave her without any commitment to come back later and try to have a life together. Instead, he gets to go off and shoot bad guys while she’s not longer around to complicate things. Bliss!

So, okay, women (who make up the vast majority of romance readers) like to believe that it’s possible to have a long-term committed romantic relationship. And we like books that back us up. Men seem to prefer books where the hero gets to have a lot of sex, but doesn’t end up tied down to anybody in the end. And if you’re not sure about this, check out the numerous mysteries and thrillers written by male authors where the hero is always having bittersweet, short-term relationships with women who either die or take off.  Women readers may not find this kind of ending particularly satisfying, but I’d argue a lot of men think it’s pretty neat.

Potato, potahto. Happy endings can be defined however you want them to be. Just don’t tell me the books I read are simple-minded because the hero and heroine end up together rather than heading off to troll for the next sex partner. If you can manage to do that, I promise I’ll refrain from even mentioning the words Peter Pan Complex in connection with happy endings that are hopelessly male.

Be My Baby
by Meg Benjamin

There’s no room in her life for love. Love has other ideas…

Konigsburg, Texas, Book 3

If Jessamyn Carroll had only herself to consider, staying in Pennsylvania after her husband’s death would have been a no-brainer. Her vindictive in-laws’ efforts to get their hooks into her infant son, however, force her to flee to a new home. Konigsburg, Texas.

Peace…at least for now. She’s even found a way to make some extra money, looking after sexy accountant Lars Toleffson’s precocious two-year-old daughter. She finds it easy—too easy—to let his protective presence lull her into thinking she and her son are safe at last.

Lars, still wounded from enduring a nasty divorce from his cheating ex-wife, tries to fight his attraction to the mysterious, beautiful widow. But when an intruder breaks into her place, and Jess comes clean about her past, all bets are off. Someone wants her baby—and wants Jess out of the picture. Permanently.

Now Jess has a live-in bodyguard, whether she wants him or not. Except she does want him—and he wants her. Yet negotiating a future together will have to overcome a lot of roadblocks: babies, puppies, the entire, meddling Toleffson family—and a kidnapper.

Warning: Contains Konigsburg craziness, creepy in-laws, a conniving two-year-old, a lovelorn accountant, a sleep-deprived Web developer, and lots of hot holiday sex.

Be My Baby releases from Samhain Publishing on Tuesday, December 8th.

Meg Benjamin writes about South Texas, although she recently moved to Colorado. Her comic romances are set in the Texas Hill Country in the mythical town of Konigsburg. When she isn’t writing, Meg spends her time listening to Americana music, drinking Colorado and Texas wine, and keeping track of her far-flung family. She recently retired from twenty years of teaching writing, Web design, and desktop publishing. Meg’s Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com. You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), MySpace (myspace.com/megbenjamin), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1). Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at meg@megbenjamin.com.

I’m giving away an e-copy of Meg’s Be My Baby (you’ll have to wait until next Tuesday for its release before I send it to you though).  Leave a comment about your favorite on-screen couple who haven’t had their happy ending (yet, or maybe they have according to a guy), or your favorite in-print couple and why you want them to have a happy ending. Or not. 

Meg Benjamin: Slayer of the TSTL heroine

Ever gone to a party and no one showed up? That’s what happened to today’s guest blogger and I. We were told there was a chat we were supposed to be representing Samhain at way back in … January I think it was. Except we were the only ones there. No moderator showed up, no other authors, no readers … just us. Yup, even though I was buried under three foot of snow I could hear the crickets chirping. (Turned out someone gave us the wrong date and we were a week ahead of schedule.)

It wasn’t that bad because it gave me some time to get to know another (then) brand-new-to-Samhain author, Meg Benjamin. We’ve both had our first books release since then – my Private Property, and Meg’s Venus in Blue Jeans.

What I learned from Meg that night is that she’s a Texas girl and so she’s set her book in Texas hill country, in the fictional Konigsburg, Texas. We chatted a while, and we’ve kept in touch over the past six months. Meg’s sold a second book Wedding Bell Blues that will be released on July 21st. Her third, Be My Baby, releases in December. (she puts me to shame!)

Who knew you could find the love of your life at the wedding from hell…

Konigsburg, Book 2

Janie Dupree will do anything to make sure her best friend has the wedding of her dreams, even if it means relinquishing what every bridesmaid covets and never gets—the perfect maid-of-honor dress. Problem is, family drama as tangled as a clump of Texas prickly pear cactus threatens to send the skittish bride hopping aboard the elopement express.

Janie could use a hand, but the best man’s “help” is only making things worse.

Pete Toleffson just wants to get through his brother’s wedding and get back to his county attorney job in Des Moines. He never expected to be the engineer on a wedding train that’s derailing straight toward hell. Janie’s the kind of girl he’d like to get close to—but her self-induced role as “Miss Fix-It” is as infuriating as it is adorable.

If they can just fend off meddling parents, vindictive in-laws, spiteful ex-boyfriends, and a greyhound named Olive long enough to achieve matrimonial lift-off, maybe they can admit they’re head-over-heels in love.

Warning: Contains hot steamy sex, wedding-based cussing, drunken revelry, dart assaults, Momzillas, and the most beautiful bridesmaid dress ever.

(I love those Samhain warnings! I wish I could write them as well as Meg does.) But while writing these cussing sessions and drunken revelry, Meg’s discovered that there’s certain things she expects from her heroines. From all heroines. So say hi howdy to Meg Benjamin …

***

I just finished a thriller that made me want to throw my e-reader across the room. It’s part of a long-running series by an author I like (thus I’m not going to identify either author or book). However, at the climax of this particular book, the heroine has to make a decision about whether to go alone to a rendezvous with another character. Now although the author tries to make the clues fairly unobtrusive, only a really dim reader will not have figured out by that point that this particular character is actually the villain. Only a really dim reader, I should add, and the heroine, who’s still clueless. The heroine spends a few moments wondering if she should call her boyfriend the cop, but ultimately she decides he’d be too “protective,” and so she waltzes into the villain’s lair, still totally unaware that she’s walking into a trap.

Once I’d finished grinding my teeth, I flipped through the chapter in which the heroine is almost—but not quite—killed off, muttering imprecations. Because, you see, the only way the heroine could get into that situation is by being an idiot. Even if she hasn’t figured out that the villain is the villain, she knows something nasty is out there. Although the villain has specified no police, there’s no reason to think her boyfriend the cop couldn’t follow her without being detected. And her reason for not contacting her boyfriend is so flimsy that it defies logic. So the normally logical, intelligent heroine suddenly behaves like an idiot for the sole purpose of putting herself in jeopardy. That, my friends, is lousy plotting!

The whole heroine-in-jeopardy plot is a true can of worms. I’ve done it myself—in Venus in Blue Jeans—and I really had to work hard to get Docia into a situation where she could legitimately be threatened. Wedding Bell Blues has less of a threat, but there’s a moment when the heroine is in danger in a parking lot, and I had to figure out how to get her there without having the hero at her elbow. Be My Baby, the third Konigsburg book (which is due out in December) has an even greater threat and again I had to spend a lot of time figuring out how a woman who already knows she’s in danger could end up in a situation where she’s in serious jeopardy.

If you’re doing the heroine-in-trouble thing, you have to come up with a plausible way for the heroine to be there in the first place, and the threat has to be substantial (there’s no real reason to send a heroine into minor jeopardy). In general, you have to come up with a plausible reason for the heroine to place herself in harm’s way without making the heroine’s choice seem idiotic. In other words, you’re trying to avoid the old “There’s a monster in the house, you stay here while I get help” plot.

Once upon a time, you could have had the hero rescue the heroine (and you still can, I guess, if the book is from the hero’s point of view). Now, well, not so much. Today’s heroine has to at least try to get herself out of the soup and that means you also need a plausible reason for the hero not to be around when she’s in danger. In Venus, I used the ever-popular lovers’ quarrel diversion, and that’s always a possibility, assuming you can do it without making either heroine or hero seem like a jerk. The hero can also be called away on real or bogus business; that is, he can be called away legitimately or called away by the villain in an attempt to separate him from the heroine. Or, most interestingly, you can have the hero come along and then be incapacitated, so that the heroine ends up rescuing him. Kathy Reichs does this in one of her best Temperance Brennan novels, Death Du Jour.

But here’s my point: if the heroine is standing outside Dracula’s castle, she’s got to have a good reason to go inside, assuming that’s what she does. Maybe she doesn’t know it’s Dracula’s castle and she needs help with something. Maybe she does know it’s Dracula’s castle and she figures, probably erroneously, that he’ll still be dozing in his coffin. Maybe she thinks someone she loves is in there and needs rescuing. Maybe she’s Buffy and has decided it’s time to take that sucker out. But what she can’t do is say, “Well, it’s Dracula’s castle all right, but I’ll be perfectly okay because nothing will happen to me.”

Or rather, she can say that, but if she does, she’s an idiot. And who wants to read about an idiot heroine?

So what do you think? What makes you buy into a heroine in jeopardy? Have you run into any really smart heroines lately (or even any idiots)?

***
Meg’s heroines are far from idiotic. Oh, and those warnings of hers I said I loved? How about this one from Venus in Blue Jeans?

A guy. A girl. A Chihuahua. Two of them will find the love of their lives.

Konigsburg, Book 1

Coming off a broken engagement to a lying charmer, all bookstore owner Docia Kent wants is a fling, not a long-term romance. And for her fabulously wealthy and fabulously nosy parents to butt out of her life for a while. The Texas Hill Country town of Konigsburg looks like the perfect place to get both. Especially when she gets a look at long, tall country vet Cal Toleffson.

Cal has other plans for Docia. One glance at the six-foot version of Botticelli’s Venus, and he knows he’s looking at the woman of his dreams. Now if he can just fend off the eccentric characters of Konigsburg long enough to convince her romance isn’t such a bad idea.

One night of mind-blowing sex isn’t the only thing that leaves them both stunned. With Docia’s bookstore under attack, Konigsburg suddenly doesn’t seem so welcoming. Once again she finds her trust tested—and is left wondering if she was ever meant to have a happily ever, after all.

Warning: Contains explicit sex, hot Texas nights, cool sarcastic friends, the world’s sweetest hero and the world’s saddest Chihuahua.

Normally I don’t put two excerpts into one post, but Meg is giving away a copy of one of her books (your choice) and I figured I’d save you some surfing … although you really should wander over to her website. You see, Meg’s a little out of sorts lately – she’s been turfed from her Texas home and has settled into a new home in Colorado (where the neighbors worry about dry spots on the lawn. *Gasp*)

But don’t forget to answer Meg’s question – What makes you buy into a heroine in jeopardy? Have you run into any really smart heroines lately (or even any idiots)?

(wondering what TSTL means? Too Stupid To Live.)