Dear Author

REVIEW: The Curtis Reincarnation by Zathyn Priest

Dear Mr. Priest,

Ever since I read somewhere that rock stars were supposedly unacceptable in Romancelandia, I’ve been fascinated by the concept and read them whenever one pops up (nothing like telling me something’s “not done” to make me want to do it!).   In The Curtis Reincarnation, Tyler Curtis is the young (“not yet one-and-twenty” as Elizabeth Bennet would say), insanely talented, goth bad boy of pop rock.   Everyone loves him and he apparently hates everyone, sneering and swearing and acting like a spoiled asshole, with rumors of destroyed hotel rooms and a groupie-a-night policy.   The total bad boy-ness hooked me, of course.

Additionally, there’s your author page.   After the recent discussion about authors of gay male fiction “presenting” themselves online as male when they might not be, I was intrigued to find a novel written by someone definitely presenting as male, complete with yummy pictures (something the potentially non-male “male” authors definitely DON’T provide). I hasten to add that I’m not naive enough to believe everything I see or read on the internet, but I definitely thought it was worth a shot. So, I thought to myself, let’s see if I can tell that it’s been written by a man.   Because I’m in Jane’s camp:   I really don’t read that much (any?) fiction written by men, as far as I can tell.

For what it’s worth, I couldn’t tell the difference.     There was no way to tell whether this was written by a male or a female writer.   But it WAS, unfortunately, written by a not very good writer.

Tyler Curtis, pseudonym of Alec Tyler, is, literally, a genius, a musical prodigy.   However, after the devastating death of his father, he signs with an unscrupulous manager who realizes that Tyler’s pure gold and manipulates Tyler’s image, look, and sound to catapult him to the top of rock world.   In the very small world of romance rock stars, the unscrupulous-manager-as-villain has really been done to death, and, I hate to say this, but you write the manager with no finesse whatsoever.   He is evil incarnate–while he’s not gay (slightly difficult as a signifier for evil in a gay male romance) or a sadist, he does physically abuse and isolate Tyler in the more than two years of their relationship.   He’s fat, compared with a bull-dog, has piggy eyes, and sleeps with Tyler’s groupies.   A little more subtlety would be both appreciated and more realistic.

The meet-cute between our heroes happens when Jordan Braxton’s sister wants to be Tyler’s nightly groupie and drags her brother to one of Tyler’s concerts after winning tickets from a radio station.   Rather than hooking up with the sister, however, Tyler accidentally meets and connects with Jordan, because, despite the female-groupie-a-night rumors, Tyler is actually both gay and extremely innocent.   The two fall pretty much instantly in love and the rest of the novel involves them slowly advancing their relationship through no emotional obstacles whatsoever, and figuring out how to get Tyler away from his manager.

If there were a clue to me that the novel were written by a man, it would be that there is no emotional conflict between the heroes.   They meet, they are attracted, they figure out the other is also gay, they fall in love, they have sex, and they fall more in love.   But this lack of internal conflict is as much a symptom of a novice romance writer as it is of a male romance writer.   As I’ve discovered during conversations with my non-romance reading students, someone who is not very conversant with the romance genre conventions doesn’t understand that the power of the romance plot lies in the conflict between the main characters, rather than in external, plot-based conflict.   While the external plot is compelling in this novel, it’s not as engaging as an emotional conflict between the characters could have been.

Other novice writer mistakes:

  1. Backstory info-dumping. Argh. You don’t actually have to reveal the entire backstory you’ve worked out for the characters.
  2. Falling victim to the misconception that writing about characters cracking each other up into wordless, breathless mirth is NOT the same as writing a truly funny book.   Hint: if the characters are incapacitated with giggles and the reader is rolling her eyes, what you wrote is not actually funny.   This happened time and again in the book and it was wearing.
  3. Believing that telling the reader that a character is undergoing a complete personality transformation is as good as showing it.   Believing this means that your reader does NOT suspend her DISbelief about the realism of the treatment Tyler has been subject to. Because if he is as abused and lacking in confidence as you claim, one night of sweet conversation and a few kisses from a sympathetic boyfriend should not be enough to cause him to completely overthrow almost three years of abuse to outsmart his manager.
  4. Closing the door on the first full-on penetration sexual encounter.   WTF?!

I did like Tyler/Alec’s disability and how you dealt with it.   It worked very well with Tyler’s motivations and emotional issues.   I also thought your description of Tyler’s emotional breakdown was brilliantly done and the most achingly realistic thing in the novel.   And I think the one poem/song you have Tyler sing is stunningly beautiful. In part:

Force me into moaning, coerce me into sin.
Catch me while I’m sighing then begin it all again.
Cool me off with holy wine, keep it purely righteous.
Then steam me up with hellfire and make it sacrilegious.

I know this love, this feeling, these contradictions. Gorgeous. Thank you for that, at least.

But while the external plot was interesting and the romance between Tyler and Jordan was sweet, the saccharine endings went on and on, piling on apparent epilogue after epilogue, and, overall, the writing was NOT compelling.   While I read the whole thing and I’m still thinking about Tyler and his life, the story could have been so much more skillfully executed.   I think I look forward to reading you again…in five years, when you’ve learned a few more things about writing romance well.   C-

-Joan/Sarah F.

This book can be bought as an ebook from Torquere Press.