When Opposites Attract
A few years ago, a friend of mine who was moving across the country decided to get rid of some books, and when she said, “Who wants these romance novels?” I obviously raised my hand. What I got from her were two huge sacks of category romances from the seventies and eighties. And they are so great! I’m not joking! It’s a bonanza of tropes and alpha males and covers with bad feathered hair. And, look, I love trope-y books, I can’t deny it. Give me your secret babies, your rakish dukes, your confirmed-bachelor billionaires.
One of my favorite tropes is opposites attract. Two people from disparate backgrounds coming together to find love is like one flavor of book catnip for me… booknip, if you will. It’s a key part of the hook for the book. One of my favorite books from the bag my friend gave me is from 1982, a book about a fashionable reporter—a woman who does not own shoes that do not have heels—who ends up on a scientific expedition ship in the Arctic to write a story. The hero is the ship’s captain, a gruff, no-nonsense military man. The appeal of a book like this one is that sense you get when you pick it up of, “That could never work… but, wait, it totally could and I want to know how.” (Incidentally, the book is called Arctic Enemy, but there are disappointingly no abominable snowmen to be found. This book also has the distinction of featuring one of the least sexy settings I’ve ever encountered in a book. Everyone wears heavy parkas the whole time because it’s so cold.)
So I had that in mind when I sat down to write The Stars that Tremble, an opposites-attract romance that came out last fall. It started with this idea I had about an opera singer who had lost his voice. Then I thought, “Who is the least likely person for him to end up with? What about… a construction worker.” Then I was off to the races. The great thing for me is that when I explain this premise to like-minded readers, their faces light up. I love when that happens.
In The Stars that Tremble, my construction worker, Mike, is blue collar in the way romance heroes are blue collar, insofar as he didn’t go to college and he works with his hands, but he owns his own business. He and Gio, the opera singer, are as different as possible. Mike grew up in Brooklyn, Gio in Italy. Mike has humble, working-class origins, Gio is the son of an opera prima donna. Mike likes pizza and beer, Gio likes fancy French fare and wine. And so on… you get it. You may be wondering if they have enough in common on which to build a relationship—and they do. Some parts of the human experience are universal, and they have past experiences that bind them together.
When I sat down to write The Silence of the Stars featuring Mike’s best friend Sandy, I wanted to take some of those same themes—class, art, opposites attracting—and apply them to Sandy’s story. Sandy works for Mike at his home renovation company. He’s an army vet who served for over a decade before a medical discharge. He wants a traditional home with a spouse and a kids. Enter Everett, a professional violinist who now works as the orchestra director at an elite music school. He comes from an upper class family and both of his parents have been college professors. So here we’ve got the Upper West Side vs. South Brooklyn, college vs. the army, high class vs. blue collar, classical vs. rock. And yet.
Actually, the most enjoyable part of writing both books was working out where these characters found common ground and how that became the foundation for their relationships. In The Stars that Tremble, Mike and Gio are able to relate to each other because both have experienced profound losses (Mike his husband and Gio his voice). In The Silence of the Stars, it’s a little trickier, because Sandy and Everett’s similarities are not quite so explicit. In the beginning of the novel, they’re both just really hot for each other, but as the story goes on, each man is drawn to what is different about the other. They do have some things in common… but you’ll have to read the book to find out what those things are.
Do you have any booknip tropes?