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Victoria Dahl | Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

January 19, 2009
Victoria Dahl
Victoria Dahl

When my agent first asked me to write a straight contemporary romance, I was taken aback. “Me? But I don’t write contemporary.” At that point I was published in historical romance (To Tempt a Scotsman) and distinctly unpublished in paranormal (a vampire trilogy you are unlikely to ever see). My agent was unconcerned. “Your paranormals are sexy and funny and contemporary. I just want you to try it without the vampires.”

Lords of Desire
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Without vampires? Was she kidding?

I find it remarkably easy to come up with story ideas. Paranormals are no problem. There are vampires, for goodness sake. And werewolves. And maybe even sexy superpowers. Conflict? Well, how easy would it be for you to date if you had fangs? There are built-in complications galore!

Historicals are even simpler. You can do anything to these people. The heroine can be compromised. She can be held captive by a cruel stepfather. She can be kidnapped by a vengeful pirate. Forced into a marriage of convenience. By God, she can be hidden away in the tower of a dark castle for ten years!

And the heroes? They can be dukes or privateers or highwaymen. They might be unstoppably rich, but they can also be knocking on the door of debtors’ prison, and the reader won’t necessarily have any preconceived notions about what it means to have gotten yourself into debt in the nineteenth century.

But with modern characters it’s a bit more sticky. What kind of woman would allow her stepfather to control her life? What kind of hero would find himself $100,000 in debt? That’s not sexy. That’s just real life. And if the heroine is kidnapped, there would be police and SWAT teams and the FBI involved, so you’d have to set it up very carefully if you want the hero to be the actual hero, you know?

Coming up with a contemporary romance idea scared the hell out of me. I like my heroines to be strong, but I want the hero to give his strength as well. I want her to be kick-ass, but not in a secret agent kind of way. And I want her to have issues without being a hot mess. In other words, I want her to be able to solve her own problems. So what to do with the hero?

My first idea was a reunion story. Girl moves back to hometown and stumbles upon her old crush. I decided that she was a roaming kind of gal. She moved from place to place, buying old houses and fixing them up. Real estate flipping! That’s sexy, right? (Clearly, this was an idea born before the economic downturn.) So in my first story idea, the heroine just happened to buy a house next to the hero, a guy she’d gone to school with. He’s a nerd, but he’s a sexy nerd, and her bedroom window looks right down into his shower. She spends her nights fantasizing about him. They start a hot affair, but she’s moving on in a few months, blah, blah, blah.

My agent said she didn’t think the story had enough plot to fill a whole book. My critique partner agreed. I was defeated. This had taken me a whole month to come up with, when an idea usually takes me a week! I dropped it. I had historicals to write. I was busy.

Talk Me Down
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But then I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The spying heroine kept popping into my head. Her constant fantasies about the hero, her childhood crush… I had to find a way to make it work. This was the start of Talk Me Down.

Six painful weeks later, I had a story. It’s a little different from what I started out with, but it definitely fills a whole book. In Talk Me Down the heroine, Molly, moves back to her small hometown because she inherited a house. And she doesn’t flip houses, she writes erotica. (Waaay, sexier, huh?) And her fantasies about the hero are constant and very hot, but they are not based on current spying (he’s a police officer, after all, and I don’t want her to be arrested).  No, Molly’s fantasies are based on one very startling encounter with the hero during their teenage years. An encounter that still makes the hero blush after all these years.

I did manage to use the “spying through her bedroom window” idea though. Throughout the story of Talk Me Down, the heroine is working on her next erotic romance. It’s the story of a Victorian woman who moves into a house next to a sheriff in a Wild-West town. And she has a perfect view of his bed from her bedroom window…

I hope you’ll check out Talk Me Down! The hero is strong, the heroine is independent, she’s definitely got issues, but she’s kind of kick-ass in her own special way. There are no vampires or dukes or pirates… but after all that hard work coming up with the story idea, it turned out to be the easiest writing I’ve ever done. Let’s hope it’s easy reading, as well!

Victoria Dahl

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