Tag Archives: Michael Matthews Bongamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Valentine’s Day


 

For this was on seynt Volantynys day, whan euery bryd comyth to chese his make.

-Geoffrey Chaucer

It is said that Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love in a poem by Chaucer in 1382 entitled Parlement of Foules. It was written to honor the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. To clarify what Geoffrey had written here it is in modern English.

“For this was sent on Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

According to some, the reference to birds in England mating on Volantyny’s day would indicate that the event was not in mid-February, but more likely May. Regardless, Valentines is a holiday that has since been considered a descendent of the Middle Ages tradition of courtly love. For generations would-be suitors have attempted to win the favor of maidens with gifts of flowers, sweets, and jewelry.

My experience with Valentine’s Day has been varied throughout my life. I recall in elementary school my parents would purchase a box of Valentine’s cards and then while perched in the dinning room I would studiously address each to a member of my class. Then on the appointed day hand them out to everyone and in turn receive a card. The gathered collection would be carried home and kept for a day or so before being discarded. The whole exercise made little since to me.

In the forth grade however, I broke rank and did not follow the traditional routine. As I sat scribbling names on the backs of mass-produced cards one of the illustrations caught my eye. The image depicted a girl puckering to kiss a boy who had presented her with a heart shaped box and all at once the whole business of Valentines came into focus. The cupids, the hearts, and the flowers— it was about boys and girls!

What a revelation for an eight year old. After peering at all the illustrations I confirmed my theory and made a command decision; I opted not to give cards to the other boys in my class. Once I had gave the matter some thought it seemed silly to present cards to boys that were decorated with hearts and read will you be my Valentine. It also changed the importance of giving them to the girls; it implied a desire to be around them. Even at that age I found the concept to my liking.

Throughout the remainder of my school career I used the holiday to communicate my interest in the girls I liked. Using my creative talents I would hand craft elaborate cards with individualized messages for dozens of girls. Even after graduating from high school I made use of this tactic on a few occasions with mostly good results. It was with great pride that I figured out how to use the holiday to my advantage and make a positive impression on as many women as possible. I thought I understood the point of the holiday.

Later in life, once I was married, my fondness for Valentine’s Day waned. No longer did I have someone new to swoon and the effort of hand making a card, buying gifts and so on felt like a nuisance. Don’t judge me too harshly; bare in mind that all my life I had used the holiday to win over girlfriends and my wife was the first woman I ever celebrated more than one Valentine’s Day with. I didn’t know how to act.

However, years pass and life changes. Since my wife and I have an empty nest here at home we’ve been forced to redefine our live style. With no child to care for, fewer obligations, and more time to do what we want, I have discovered that once again she is the most important part of my life. We have a wonderful home, horses to tend to, and all the little things that make us happy. I want to share the dividends of my good fortunes with her and Valentine’s Day is an apt day for it.

So, while I no longer use this day as an opportunity to impress a few girls, Valentine’s Day instead has transformed into a day to show how grateful I am to have one fantastic woman in which to build a life with, toast our accomplishments and plan for the future. My wife, Denise, is my closest friend and my greatest conquest. There is no one in this world more perfect for me and after forty-one years I truly comprehend the holiday.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: How strong is too strong?


She stood face to face with the man who killed her father, the man who had enslaved her, the same man who now threatened the one she loved. The situation was impossible but Annabel didn’t blink. For years she had hunted this monster, hardened her soul in fires of strife and nothing was going to shake her.

The man laughed with wicked delight and held the knife to her beloved Simon’s throat.

“Give it up, woman. You can’t win!” He said.

 Annabel smirked.

“Neither can you.”

With a blur of motion she drew her pistol that was tucked away behind the small of her back.

This is an example of an unshakable character, a strong heroine who knows no fear, who doesn’t hesitate at the critical moment. She knows her mission and has the confidence to see it through.

Or is it too much?

Would it be more suspenseful if she held doubt about taking action when Simon was obviously at risk? Perhaps if the mysterious man instilled fear in her due to their past that would make her facing him more heroic, overcoming her fear to act rather than not suffering from it.

In short, how strong should a heroine be?

Recently a friend of mine, who was encouraged to hear of my desire to write a full-fledged romance story, issued this warning. Don’t make the lead heroine too strong. If she is absolutely independent than why does she need a man at all?

Mind you this friend of mine is both a writer and a woman, so it’s not a chauvinistic comment. But I have also been criticized that I’ve written characters who are too weak willed and prone to mundane faults. Now I have to balance these two concepts and develop a character who reflects a respectable blend of strength and vulnerability, but a heroine who I will enjoy writing.

You perhaps are asking yourself why am I so hung up on taking all this advice to heart and not simply writing what I feel like writing. Normally I would, however the point of this exercise is to write a romance story and such stories have their own rules. The two pieces of advice that I’ve chosen to follow both come from sources I respect. As a result, I will do my best to create a story and characters that follow the parameters of the romance genre.

Rule one of the romance genre are strong women make the best characters.

My impression is that a strong woman has two basic characteristics; the first is she excels at something. Traditionally that something is the role of a caregiver; a woman who sees to the needs of her family, land, religion or whatever is appropriate to the setting. She is selfless and hardworking. In more modern settings this sometimes has been translated into professional success, she is the best at what she does.

The second characteristic that I’ve observed is she must also be rebellious in some fashion. Despite her devotion to her duty she goes against the grain. It could be that she performs a job normally considered man’s work, perhaps she is being pursued by a man that she doesn’t wish to marry or she wants to see the world rather than remain in one place. Whatever the form the rebelliousness takes it is this spirit that typically is the source of snarky banter between her and her love interest, while simultaneously it is the very thing that attracts them to each other.

Whatever drives her though there must be a void, something missing from her life that allows her to fall in love. Love is about vulnerability. Vulnerability, if I do say so myself, is the one thing I know how to write. Too much and you discredit the character, however not enough and you end up with heartless chick that no one likes. It is the vulnerability that defines the character, not their strengths. The vulnerability is the true motivation for their actions, their strengths are merely the vehicle those actions use.

I’m writing about this with the aim that others will find some usefulness in observing the process of an author determining the themes of his next work. As I look over what I’ve written above it sounds formulated as the various elements are analyzed. However, by understanding what elements that go into romance stories you can then include what works or exclude that which doesn’t.

Besides, I save the passion for the writing itself and dispense with it during the outlining. Passion belongs with the characters. 

Michael Matthews Bingamon

One Man’s Thoughts: Balance


What makes it so fulfilling when the hero wins the day or two people ride off together into the sunset? It is not simply the happy ending we as readers relish, but the fact that it was earned. This is done when the protagonists have sacrificed to earn their happily-ever-after through some form of a struggle. It is that sacrifice that balances the scales and makes the ending so sweet. A happy ending should always come at a price.

The author must choose with caution the form or forms this price will manifest. If the cost for a happy ending is too high then the story will be melancholy and leave the reader a bit depressed. If the cost is not sufficient then the efforts of the heroes may seem unimpressive or worse yet: uninteresting. Either way a balance between the cost of the struggle and reward must be struck.

This concept holds true for all types of stories. Depending on the setting and genre of a book dictates the level sacrifice that is required to make an ending satisfy the reader. Here are but a few as an example.

Loss of life; this is an obvious sacrifice that should be used with care. When an author manages to connect readers to his characters and then has them die it has a powerful impact. Used correctly this loss will bond the reader to the story emotionally and reward them well by the end.

Lost love; a character who has sacrificed a relationship of some kind is always a sympathetic figure. Sometimes the loss can be restored by the end or replaced by another, but losing intimate relationship of a lover, family, friend or even pet can be tragic.

Loss of station is the sort of sacrifice that works well particularly in romance. The King or Prince that advocates the throne for the woman he loves is a classic plot device. Power is always sought and the willful surrender of it is a bold gesture.

Loss of innocence is an elusive concept but also powerful to use. In story wrought with strife, even if there is no death, will frequently see characters loose their happy go lucky spirit and this loss can be profound. This is always the most notable in characters that are young women or children. Like loss of life, this sort of sacrifice should be used with care.

Loss of time; this is the default sacrifice. The time characters spend resolving the story’s situation instead of living in peace is the basic cost of any plot. In some cases this is enough and if used in conjunction with another form of loss it can satisfy the need for balance in most stories.

Good stories are about drama. To find drama there must be a struggle in which losses are suffered. Overcoming these losses is what imbues a happy ending with its uplifting affect. After all, if the situation is too easy to resolve then write the book?

Michael Matthews Bingamon

ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS : Rejection


“Your writing is great and I’ve rarely seen a manuscript so well edited. I definitely think you could get it published somewhere else.”

These are the very words used in response to a submission of mine. Despite the praise that accompanied the rejection it was still rejection. This is a subject that is sensitive among many writers for all the obvious reasons. Most tales of rejection I’ve either heard or read about come only when there is a happy ending to go along with it. Writers will confess that a manuscript of theirs was rejected numerous times until X accepted it.

This account is not of that nature.

The rejection notice I refer to was sent to me last week and I thought it would be educational for others to see first hand another writer deal with the situation. It is my intention that by doing so will allow new writers not to feel disparaged when it happens to them.

In the early part of a manuscript’s life it is all about the author. The author dreams up an idea, situation or characters to write about. The writer will inject personal life experiences and worldviews into a story that they presumably find entertaining. It goes without saying that everything in the manuscript the author believes to be a good idea, otherwise why include it?

The story I submitted was set in the eighties, the me decade as it was christened. The title of the manuscript was The Material Girl, which implies certain shallowness to the main character, Stephanie. Tutored by her best friend Leslie, she uses sex and flirtation as an effective weapon with the only exception being her boyfriend, an equally manipulative social tiger. It is Stephanie’s dream to find a wealthy man to carry her off into the sunset and she’s convinced herself that her boyfriend maybe that man.

Armed with colorful characters determined to get what they want, and viable circumstances in an appropriate setting for such selfish behavior, I began to write. With plenty of eighties references to slang, music and fashion along with steamy sexual exploits, I was satisfied with my concept. As a bonus when Stephanie and Leslie discover the error of their ways they stumble across unanticipated happy endings. Once the manuscript was completed I went over it a number of times until it was ready to send off.

Submitting a manuscript is a transfer of power. Now it is up to the publisher to determine the fate of the work. I imagine this cannot be an easy task by any means. There are plenty of factors to consider and here is some of what I was told.

“Your heroines are terrible people and I’m not sure that they’re redeemable.”

This must reference to the lengths Stephanie and Leslie are willing to go in order to get their way. The one specific point that was mentioned was Stephanie takes back her boyfriend after he cheats on her. The guy is charming and caught her off guard, but even as Stephanie forgives him she acknowledges to herself that it’s a bad idea. This situation was included so that the second love interest could save the day.

Forgive me. I’m off subject. Submissions are about the publisher, not the author.

The publisher felt that while this might be realistic, it isn’t something that their readers would want to see a heroine do. They referred to Stephanie as TSTL— To Stupid To Live. Though plenty of people of make these sorts of decisions and do survive, perhaps a more accurate acronym would be To Stupid To Like. Either way it spelled doom for the manuscript. No matter my reasoning for character’s behavior it wasn’t something the publisher was interested in.

What now?

Since the publisher took the time to inform me of the reasons my manuscript was rejected I should learn from their criticisms rather than rationalizing my decisions. I need to take the opportunity to become a better writer.

The take away on this was the need to develop characters who are more virtuous. Instead of heroines that create their own obstacles they should instead be the solution. These would be characters that the readers can empathize with and root for. I believe I’d benefit from the use of more external threats rather than internal conflict.

Reflecting on these thoughts I see now that much of my writing is similar to the The Material Girl. I have a cast of teenagers in my book Savage Worlds that all make emotional decisions that are not always the best ones. In Who’s the Boss my lead man has a serious lapse in judgment, but I have noticed that the rules for men are different in this genre. In short, for me to be successful at romance/erotica I’ll have to push beyond my usual tendencies.

I have decided to step back to wrap up a fantasy project I’m working on and then take another stab at this genre. It is my intention to unravel the mysteries of romantic character development and then write a story that doesn’t only fit in the category but surpasses expectations of those in the e publishing industry. With a serious effort and applying what I’ve learned from this I am determined to submit an acceptable manuscript.

Michael Matthews Bingamon

One Man’s thoughts: Emotional Tempo


Tears of joy streamed from her ocean blue eyes when he embraced her. She had not dared entertain the hope of survival much less the notion of their being reunited. They joined hands and her heart raced as he led her toward the rescue plane. The darkness of the harrowing events over the past three days vanished before the light of their love, never again would they be apart and the happiness that was to define the remainder of their lives could at last begin.

 What a terrific conclusion to a story that would make! Though written with clichés the passage is one that everyone can identify, a happy ending. But what creates a happy ending, a terrifying horror tale, a heartbreaking story, or nail-biting thriller? While description, plot and dialogue are all important elements to any book it all ties together with emotional tempo.

Being a movie buff I first made this observation about films before I applied it to novels. When a strong emotional tempo is conveyed in each scene it imbues the movie with a gravity that pulls the viewer in. With books of course it is equally important to establish a mood for every scene or chapter. This invisible force is what appeals to the reader and gives relevance to the action.

The emotion portrayed does not always have to be extreme and it is not a requirement to fill every page with elation, rage, love or sorrow. In fact, constant bombardment of strong outburst causes the characters to seem unstable and undermines their believability. Often the emotional tempo should be subtle. Perhaps a character simply feels gloomy because of the persistent rain or jealous over something minor such as not having the biggest office at work. Whatever the emotional tempo though, it should be reflected in the characters words and actions.

This concept might sound painfully obvious to some of you, after all romance is all about emotion. But my first endeavor into writing was science fiction and it is easy for any writer to overlook establishing a mood and become lost in their setting, focus too much on the physical action or be infatuated with their own plot. In my book Savage Worlds for example I have a chapter where the male lead, Jaron, is soliciting a proposition to protect the new girl in school from the other students. However instead of instilling a sense of chivalry as Jaron intends the mood of the scene depicts the awkward distrust between them. 

There are two lessons I’ve learned about writing emotional tempo. First is that the emotion doesn’t have to match the character’s mental state—a sad sequence that involves the heroic death of someone who doesn’t regret their circumstances may be acceptable to the character, however it can be gut wrenching for the rest of us. Second, it makes no difference what type of story it is the emotional tempo is vital. Books about murder mysteries, magic weilding dragons, rocket ships or real world historical events mean nothing without sentiment from the people in them. In the end, whatever the subject, it is human drama that entices us.

So what’s the take away of all this? Whenever writing don’t allow emotional tempo to be an afterthought. It should be a part of the concept and used for affect, steering the reader to experience what the writer desires them to. When outlining a story determine two aspects of each scene: which character will give the most intriguing point of view and what the emotional tempo will be. These two decisions will color the phrasing used in dialogue and what details to exploit for description. When done well it will provoke a strong response from the reader as they are led on a roller coaster of ups and downs, taking them exactly where the writer wants.
—-
Author of Savage Worlds available on amazon and Who’s the Boss? on Breathless Press.com

Michael Matthews Bingamon

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One Man’s Thoughts: Men v Women


‘A beefy caveman totes his trusty club over one shoulder while he drags an unconscious woman by the hair through the dregs’ in many ways sums up the nature of romantic relationships. For the caveman, he has proven himself worthy to the female with his prowess in her capture and presumably has a lair in which he can provide shelter and food for his new-found love. If the caveman is successful he will have many offspring from several such headache-induced seductions. While this is a distasteful method for finding romance there is an acceptance of this scenario as being the fundamental social building blocks from which we have evolved. The result being that the confrontational relationship between men and women does make for bountiful sexual tension and thus good romance.

Allow me to first assure everyone that no anthropological evidence exists that early man engaged in the practice of clubbing women to acquire them as mates. The notion of such behavior is traced to stories written sometime in the eighteen eighties. However, the popularity and acceptance of the idea that men ‘hunted’ women in prehistoric society is telling as to our own perceptions of the dynamics between the sexes. What is it that attracts us to the juicy story about the pirate who captures a noblewoman and falls for her, a wounded cowboy tended to by a gentle Indian woman that doesn’t trust him, or perhaps the small town preacher’s daughter who discovers her boyfriend is a blood-sucking vampire? All of these are ripe with conflict and would make appealing plots.

In telling an enticing tale of the heart there are two basic forms of conflict, social dominance and physical dominance. Social dominance serves as both hook and obstacle for the would be couple. The difference in social standing can be anything, a wealthy industrialist and animal rights activist, royalty and commoner, people from different nations or cultures, but in the end it is this difference that electrifies the situation into an engaging story and makes the characters memorable. The unique situation that divides them is what constitutes the satisfaction of their coming together.

The second form of conflict is physical. This is the more delicate to handle, however takes the drama to a higher level. The kidnapped woman is the most familiar incarnation of physical dominance. The reader may know that the abductor, who is behaving as an antagonist, has no intention of harming the damsel in distress, but it is her fear and uncertainty that acts to entertain the audience. The physical threat can also be less menacing and may appear as withheld assistance. The brave woodsman who refuses to guide a noblewoman through a forest fraught with danger unless she deigns to grant him a kiss, or the nurse that mends a fugitive’s gunshot wound only if he reveals why he wishes to return to his parent’s graves before turning himself in to the police are examples of such physical dominance.

These dynamics are the focus of my writing and it was the exploration of such relationships in my first book that made me aware of my fascination with this aspect of human interaction. Somewhere between the need to control members of the opposite sex and submit to them is the balance that defines love for each of us. Reading and writing about this journey to discover that balance among characters allows us to live that experience in ways we would not be able to on our own. In short, romance is drama and drama is conflict.

Michael Matthews Bongamon

Tomorrow is the big day!


A History of Romance is open to visitors tomorrow. Please come by and see what we have in store for you. Be sure to check out the contest, and the new blogs. Have fun looking around the site.
April Dawn

Welcome Michael Matthews Bingamon to our ranks.


Michael Matthews Bingamon was born 1968 in Illinois. Both his mother and grandmother were avid writers and creative writing was a fond hobby of his starting around the third grade. After graduating high school Michael wandered across the country for a couple of years and lived in New York, California, and northern Michigan before returning to Illinois.
In 2002 Michael turned his childhood hobby into a passion and wrote a science fiction novel entitled Savage Worlds that was a combination survival story and coming of age tale for a group of teenagers stranded on a harsh planet. It was published in January of 09 and he has since wrote a short story for Breathless Press called Who’s the Boss? while trying his hand at fantasy as well.
Michael is married to Denise and they have a wonderful son, Christopher, who is a United States Marine. Michael and Denise enjoy the movies and horseback riding.

Visit his website.