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Saturday, February 14, 2015

Blog Launch and Guest Post by New Author Hilaria Alexander

We are so excited to welcome you to the Must Read Romances blog launch!! We are celebrating Valentine's Day with a real treat:  a peek into the thought process behind creating fresh and meaningful characters in author Hilaria Alexander's writing and an excerpt from her well-reviewed debut novel, Prude.  

Sexy, Sassy, and Smart: Strong Female Characters in Modern Romance

Romance novels have always been something I looked at with skepticism. But romance novels as our grandmothers and mothers knew them have come a long way! In the last few years, I found myself more and more attracted to the genre. I can say without any shame that I don't think there's anything better than a good, lighthearted story with an interesting plot and great characters. After a long day balancing a million different things, it's the best remedy.  
I love New Adult, but as I entered the second half of my thirties, I noticed that, from time to time, it's not as easy for me to connect with characters in their early twenties. Usually, the characters spend the whole time chasing each other or fighting, and you hardly see them together as a "couple". There's so much heartbreak, so much angst. Sometime it's worth the pain, other times I just can't take it, I’m too tired.

 I do enjoy Contemporary Romance, but whenever I try to find a novel where the characters are in their thirties, most of them are still a little too cheesy and a bit old-fashioned. I think I was in a book rut when I had the idea for my first novel: I wanted a good romance story that was fun, sexy enough, with very little angst and interesting characters. I wanted the characters to be closer to my age and have a functional relationship.  

 I can't remember if I always wanted the female protagonist to be a writer, but I kept thinking about how certain genres of books had changed so much in the last few years, especially young adult. I thought for sure, there had to be out there a writer who was asked to "spice up" their young adult stories. I kept reading about how authors were rejected or dropped by publishing companies and then ended up being extremely successful through self-publishing.  So that's where the main character originated from. I thought it would suit more the character if the female protagonist to have a little bit of an old-fashioned name, one that wasn't too easy to turn into a nickname. 

There always seem to be a huge disparity between the two main characters in a romance novel. Somehow the female character always feels like she is not good enough for him. Well, that gets boring quickly. I thought Prudence had to have some insecurities (because all women do), but that she shouldn’t dwell on it too much. I wanted her and her love interest to be equals, to be partners, working together toward something.

 Prudence Clearwater is a young adult writer and at the beginning of the book, her life is kind of a mess: she’s been flat out told that her writing is too safe and not hot enough and she needs to spice it up a bit. She didn’t like the sound of that, and she decided to leave her publishing company on the spot. 

When Ben Hallstrom, a handsome book agent with a passion for surfing, shows up at a book signing wanting to be Prudence’s new agent, she is diffident, even more so because he seems to be so adamant about it. In the following passage, they meet on the beach the day after he made her a business proposition.

*18+ content

I don’t even remember packing a swimsuit, but I do find one in my bag.

I stare at Rebecca and Anya, but they are still in a deep, deep sleep. The beach is right across the street. I don’t have any sunscreen, but it’s still early enough where I won’t get sunburned. I get dressed, grab my sunglasses, water, phone, headphones and a hotel towel to put in my bag and step out.

It’s only nine in the morning, and since most of the Hamptons’ weekenders were out partying last night, the streets are pretty quiet. The air is crisp and almost a little too chilly right now for my taste, but I do need some sun, so I lay down and plan to be here until it’s time for us to check out.

I left the ladies a note, I’m sure they will be sleeping for at least a couple more hours. I put my headphones on and start listening to the music, closing my eyes. An hour or more goes by and I feel the sun is getting warmer, but it still feels good on my skin. It’s so bright that I can’t see anything through my sunglasses.

I forgot what it felt like to be on a beach. I make a mental note to do this more often. Suddenly, I feel a shadow over me. At first I dismiss it as a cloud, but I jump sitting up when I feel droplets of water fall on me and find myself face to face with Ben. He is mouthing something to me but I can’t hear him. I take the earbuds out and say,

“What? What are you doing here?”

Then my eyes take him in and I register what’s going on. He was surfing. He is kneeling in front of me with his wetsuit around his waist, and the board on the sand next to him. I really see him. Blue eyes shimmering in the sunlight, wet hair dripping water, lightly tanned arms and chest, and an amused, playful look on his face. God Bless America. And Sweden. And the Atlantic Ocean in between. I’m so glad I’m wearing my sunglasses, because I’m pretty sure my eyes are about to pop out of my head. I have to remind myself to make sure my mouth isn’t hanging open and that I’m not drooling. Dammit. F***ing f***ity f***.

Apparently, this is what a dry spell will do to you; make you lose your f***ing mind at the sight of a handsome guy.

“I was saying, some of my friends were getting quite distracted because of a brunette over here, moving her hips pretty seductively. She looked like someone I knew, so I had to come see for myself. What are you doing here Snow White?”

Snow White? Ha-ha, very funny. Be cool, be cool, be cool.

“Just chillin’, man. Trying to get a beginner’s tan.”

He sits next to me and grabs my phone.

“I want to know what were you listening to…it must have been good, to get you to shake it like that!”

“Oh God!” I cover my face with my hands, and I can hear him laughing.  I glance over and he puts the buds in his ears.  He looks at the screen.

“What is this? J.Lo.? First Love, huh?”

He’s talking over the music while he’s still listening to the song. He starts making faces and mock-dancing, moving his arms and head to the music. I burst out laughing. He takes out the earbuds.

“How does a girl go from an underrated Raconteurs song to this? Your sixteen year old self would be so disappointed!” He says, recalling last night’s conversation.

“Hey!” I wave my index finger in his face, “No shitting on pop music. Everyone needs some fun, sexy pop music in their lives. It’s summer, and that right there, is the perfect summer song. It’s hot.”

“You’re right, it is hot,” he says, scanning my body with his eyes.

I suddenly feel naked. I have on a black bikini top and boyshorts bottoms that probably make me look even paler. I’m suddenly self-conscious and hope my shaving job from yesterday is not as botched as I think it is.

“You are distracting the surfers, young lady,” he says all serious, biting his lip.I lean on my right side toward him.

“Damn, it would seem that these surfers are easily distracted,” I say, seductively.

I’m surprised by how confident I feel talking to him today. I can’t help looking at his body either, just like he did with mine and am distracted by the droplets of water running down his chest. He smells like salt water.

When I meet his eyes, they are dark and serious, his jaw taut. I wonder if this is the look he uses on his prey. My heart starts beating out of control. Don’t get so worked up, I tell myself. I can’t hold his gaze so I turn towards the ocean, where his friends have gone back to surfing.

“Doesn’t this area get too busy with beachgoers to be able to surf?”

“Yeah, usually it does. But there aren’t that many people this early in the morning and it's still pretty early in the season. In a couple of weeks it would be nearly impossible.”

I lean back on my elbows and he doesn’t move from his spot.

“Now that I think about it, where are Bad Influence No. 1 and No.2? Why are you here alone?”

“Ha! That’s a good one. You know how you took me back to the hotel right around midnight? I went upstairs to the room and they were gone! Gone! They left a note saying they had gone out drinking! They came back plastered at two or three in the morning, and they decided we were all going to sleep together! I found myself in a Rebecca and Anya sandwich, with both of them snoring in my face. I had to climb out and get in one of the other beds. When I left this morning they were still completely out. As a matter of fact I have to go soon and wake them up in time for checkout.”

He shakes his head in disbelief, but he probably knows just as well as I do that when they can get away from the kids they like to party. I can’t even handle their level of partying; I’m a total lightweight in comparison. I try to keep up the light tone between us.

“You should have introduced me to your surfer friends. Since I was distracting them and all, I should apologize,” I say playfully.

“Maybe I don’t want to introduce you,” he says seriously.

Huh? What's that all about?

“It’s for your own good, honestly. They are a just a bunch of sleaze balls. Unless you are looking for that type of guy, in that case, any of them would be perfect, really,” he says, giving me a glance that makes me shiver.

“I’m not looking for anything. But you are correct, no sleaze balls please,” I say, letting out a sigh. I look away, but I feel his eyes on me.

My heart rate hasn’t slowed down and something in the way he looks at me has me completely turned on. I need to leave.

“What time is it? I have to go and wake those two up!”

“Too bad. I could have given you a surf lesson,” he says, sounding disappointed.

“Ha! I took a surf lesson once. I don’t know if I’m ready to embarrass myself in front of you like that!” I reply, getting up and picking my stuff up quickly. I put on my sleeveless, black jersey dress while he is still sitting down, never taking his eyes off me.

He gets up and as he does, my eyes roam over his beautiful body. He must be 6’2” or something. I look so short next to him, and I’m 5’6”. He is standing just a foot away from me and I can’t make myself look at him in the eye, but staring at his chest doesn’t help either, it has me flustered in all kinds of ways. I’m already acting stupid as it is. Better cut it short and avoid any kind of awkward, semi-naked hug. But when I finally look at him, I see him staring at my lips, and that makes me lose my focus entirely. He leans in closer.

What. Is. Happening? Is he going to kiss me or is he just teasing me?

“Prudence…” he says, almost whispering, but he doesn't add anything else. Run, a voice inside of me says. Run away, now.

“I got to go! Bye!” I say breaking eye contact. I grab my things and walk away.
I leave him staring at me, a puzzled look on his face, glorious in his half-nakedness.

What will happen? Will Prudence stay far, far away from Ben or will she decide that working with him it’s worth the risk of falling for him? Grab your copy of Prude and find out!

About the Author

Hilaria Alexander is the author of Prude. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband and kids. When she isn't at work, she is reading, catching up on her favorite TV shows and making up story-lines in her mind. She loves traveling and is a self-proclaimed concert addict.


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