Ruthie’s Reality: On First Impressions and Sex in Hammocks + Giveaway
Ruthie’s Reality: On First Impressions and Sex in Hammocks
Welcome back to my reality, everyone! The status of my reality is Unknown, since I woke up and wandered out to the living room to find a blanket and what is obviously a puke bowl (empty, but strategically positioned just in case) next to one chair. I don’t know who’s sick or how sick, because the rest of the household is asleep, but it doesn’t look good.
In my new work-in-progress, the hero and heroine are reuniting as friends after they’ve broken up and haven’t seen each other or communicated for several months. The opening scene is an interesting challenge, because these characters are steeped in all these observations of the familiar — what it feels like when you know someone’s body, their personality, all these mundane aspects of their behavior and their scent, likes and dislikes, but you’re not with them anymore. It’s an interesting writing challenge to try to get those feelings onto the page.
I’ve also been doing edits on later episodes of Roman Holiday, which begins serializing in a few weeks, and I remember that when I wrote the first episode, I was struggling with almost the exact opposite challenge: how do you describe the initial attraction between two strangers who dislike each other before they even meet? What does attraction look like when it’s layered over with misunderstanding, animosity, and grief? And how do I make it play nice with conventional romance expectations, which demand that attraction be manifested immediately between the hero and heroine?
The driver’s door opened, and black dress shoes appeared beneath gray slacks. The black top of his head crested the door, then disappeared as he ducked down to reach into the car—probably retrieving his hooded cape and sickle, just to complete the look.
But no. When he emerged from behind the door, his evil was far more subtle than she’d expected. The closer he walked, the more this rich Miami land developer looked like television’s version of a bad guy: tall, dark, expensive, beautifully proportioned, and—she had to admit—way more handsome than people were supposed to be in real life.
Ashley liked a handsome man as much as the next girl, but the ones who really got her going always had endearingly imperfect teeth, bad haircuts, unfortunate facial hair—some flaw that made them approachable. She picked the sort of guys who were game to go surfing on a whim or try out sex in a hammock even if they risked ending up in the dirt, slightly bruised and laughing.
Whereas this man—no way did he own a hammock. He was too perfect, his handsomeness nothing less than a loaded weapon aimed at the world. She imagined him bleaching his teeth so white that he purposefully blinded people when he smiled. You’d be gazing at his face, mesmerized by those teeth—which she couldn’t even see right now, but she knew just how they’d look, their contrast to the deep brown of his skin both surprising and delicious—and then you’d blink and he’d be gone, and so would your wallet and your house.
Possibly he’d leave you the hammock.
What I like about this passage is the way attraction is embedded in denial. Ashley is noticing Roman, from the first appearance of his feet, but all of the ways in which his attraction is valued are negative. His clothes make him look like the Grim Reaper. He’s not real, as fake as a TV character. His beauty is a weapon. His teeth are probably too white.
Ashley’s attraction to this man is dangerous — not just in the ordinary way that it might risk hurt feelings, but in the sense that he’s her enemy, and he has the ability to take the things he wants most away from her. And because it’s dangerous, she weaponizes it, and she also compares Roman unfavorably to the sort of imperfect (and safe) people she considers herself to be really attracted to.
This feels real to me, but I wonder how it feels to you. Sometimes, I’ll admit, I side-eye stories where attraction is manifested right away. What about you? Do you like these immediate sizing-up moments? Do you have to know the hero and heroine find each other attractive in order to be pulled into the story, or are you willing sometimes to wait for that fuse to light — and how long? Have you ever been attracted to your enemy? Tell me all the things. On Friday morning, I’ll choose three commenters to receive an advance copy of the first episode of Roman Holiday, which is called Chained.