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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.

Sarah F. is a literary critic, a college professor, and an avid reader of romance -- and is thrilled that these are no longer mutually exclusive. Her academic specialization is Romantic-era British women novelists, especially Jane Austen, but she is contributing to the exciting re-visioning of academic criticism of popular romance fiction. Sarah is a contributor to the academic blog about romance, Teach Me Tonight, the winner of the 2008-2009 RWA Academic Research Grant, and the founder and President of the International Association of the Study of Popular Romance (IASPR). Sarah mainly reviews BDSM romance and gay male romance and hopes to be able to beat her TBR pile into submission when she has time to think. Sarah teaches at Fayetteville State University, NC.

17 Comments

  1. roslynholcomb
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 14:38:52

    I’m always interested in reading reviews of other rock star books. Of course, I didn’t know that books about rock stars were verboten until I’d already written mine. Anyone know why they’re supposedly literary death? I’m particularly interested as I plan to write another one.

  2. JulieLeto
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 16:51:25

    Roslyn, the story I’ve heard is that deep down, readers don’t believe that a rock star hero (or heroine) can be monogamous. However, one of my favorite category books ever was JO, a Superromance written by Tracy Hughes. The hero was a rock star named E.Z. and the heroine was a fire-cracker. If anyone could keep that man in line, it was her.

    In real life, you rarely see long-time rock ‘n roll marriages that aren’t beleaguered by infidelity. The only one I can think of is Jon Bon Jovi…and I’m not even sure about him. His media persona is one that is very faithful to his wife, but who knows?

    It’s the same thing with actors, by the way. And yet, it doesn’t seem to affect NASCAR drivers…hmmm….

  3. Kay Sisk
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 18:03:26

    Roslyn, I didn’t know they were verboten either until I’d written one. That, alas, did not keep me from writing 5 more, plus one about a Latin singer. They’re all published by Wings ePress.

    Joan/SarahF, Creston Mapes is a male writer who’s written about rock stars in a Christian series, The Rock Star Chronicles, first book Dark Star. I enjoyed it very much.

  4. Ann Somerville
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 18:59:13

    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.

    The absence or presence of a penis is no predictor of quality or ability, as I said repeatedly in the thread in the post that would not die.

    I can recommend a romance by a real gay man which I think you really might enjoy:
    Almost like being in love by Steve Kluger (link to my review, with all the purchase info)

    My friend and co-reviewer, Paul Bens, recently reviewed a YA story by Steve Berman, Vintage, which he liked a lot. I haven’t read it, but having just reviewed an anthology by Mr Berman, I can guarantee the man can really write.

    However, if you just want a quality read, can I recommend K.A. Mitchell? I’ve just recently discovered her writing (she’s a fellow Samhain author) and I am in love with it. Proof, if any were needed, that a woman can write a damn good, convincing gay love story without sap or cliches. Kit Zheng also manages this.

    I’d love to see more gay romance being reviewed on DA – it’s frustrating to see you land on this turkey when there really are so many good, strong stories coming out.

  5. Joan/SarahF
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 19:47:42

    I’ve requested Mitchell’s Collision Course for review–haven’t heard back yet, but hopefully I’ll get it. :) It looked great.

    Thanks so much for the recs. Looking forward to them.

  6. K. Z. Snow
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 20:11:30

    I quite like that poem.

  7. roslynholcomb
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 22:45:51

    Roslyn, the story I've heard is that deep down, readers don't believe that a rock star hero (or heroine) can be monogamous.

    Amazing. We believe that pirates and werewolves can be monogamous, but not rock stars? How bizarre.

  8. GrowlyCub
    Dec 02, 2008 @ 22:55:08

    Well, I don’t know how many werewolves and/or pirates others have met in RL, but unless one never watches TV or sees the tabloids at the grocery store checkout counter, one cannot but notice that many rock stars do not prize fidelity.

  9. karmelrio
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 12:48:27

    I also loved “Jo;” it’s on my keeper shelf. (Though I still have to laugh at the character name “E.Z.”)

    I absolutely love reading romances where either the hero or heroine is a musician, and I don’t agree with the premise that rock star heroes/heroines can’t be monogamous. I DO think that it takes a really skilled writer to pull it off in a convincing manner.

  10. Emmy
    Dec 03, 2008 @ 19:18:25

    I don’t know that the monogamous rock star thing can’t be written and go over well.

    Jet Mykles has her yaoi inspired Heaven Sent series over at Loose Id that I quite liked, as do Anne Cain and Barb Sheridan, although their series is a bit more angsty.

    I agree about Curtis going on and on and frickin ON. I could have happily ended it several chapters before the author did, but I thought the story was a passable first attempt at writing. Or, I hope that was the first attempt. Hadn’t heard of Priest before that.

    Incidentally, slide over to his blog and congratulate him on his engagement to fellow Torquere author Mychael Black. Although one lives in Texas and the other in Australia and I’m fairly sure they haven’t actually met in real live. Still…young love *sigh*

  11. Joan/SarahF
    Dec 04, 2008 @ 15:17:04

    Engaged, yes, but not, I don’t think to Mychael Black, unless Myc has way more pseudonyms than I knew about. Myc just broke up with someone else, according to HIS blog. But then, I obviously don’t know everything. ;)

  12. Joan/SarahF
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 13:01:11

    Alrighty, then. For the record: I’ve been corrected. Way more pseudonyms, indeed. :) Isn’t life fascinating.

  13. Emmy
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 13:25:17

    I’m guessing you missed their Torquere Social posting day where they announced their engagement to all the readers and had a wedding planning session and stuffs. Myc apparently threw out his starter wife of 7 years and got engaged to Zathyn, all in the same week. Oh well. Things happen, apparently.

  14. Joan/SarahF
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 13:39:07

    I’ve got to sign up for that LJ. Thanks!

  15. MD
    Dec 05, 2008 @ 13:56:03

    My friend and co-reviewer, Paul Bens, recently reviewed a YA story by Steve Berman, Vintage, which he liked a lot. I haven't read it, but having just reviewed an anthology by Mr Berman, I can guarantee the man can really write.

    I second that. I’ve immensely enjoyed the works of both these writers. I hope Dear Author will take a look and review them, too.

  16. Paul Bens
    Dec 06, 2008 @ 13:02:31

    My friend and co-reviewer, Paul Bens, recently reviewed a YA story by Steve Berman, Vintage, which he liked a lot. I haven't read it, but having just reviewed an anthology by Mr Berman, I can guarantee the man can really write.

    Most definitely can recommend Vintage. Steve Berman can most definitely write.

    Kit Zheng also manages this.

    Amen. Kit’s Checkpoint is one of my favorite reads this year. It’s short…nine whole pages…but she packs alot into it. And I’ll throw anything by Lee Benoit into the mix. She writes great stuff.

    I'd love to see more gay romance being reviewed on DA – it's frustrating to see you land on this turkey when there really are so many good, strong stories coming out.

    Boy this is so true. It’s so interesting that the bad ones seem to get the readers, but the good stories out there go almost unnoticed.

    alling 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.

    Oh lord, I cannot tell you howw much this annoys me in a book. So many writers write these banter scenes that just go on and on and on ad naseum. And it’s not funny. It’s not charming. It’s annoying and after a while you almost get embarrassed for the author.

    I'm guessing you missed their Torquere Social posting day where they announced their engagement to all the readers and had a wedding planning session and stuffs. Myc apparently threw out his starter wife of 7 years and got engaged to Zathyn, all in the same week. Oh well. Things happen, apparently.

    This fascinates me (especially after having read the LJ post). Ah, the behind the scenes drama. As long as she’s happy.

    ROCK STAR BOOKS: Not really a romance, so much as a story of manipulative people who can’t escape from one another, Blake Fraina’s King of Cats: A Life in Five Novellas is an excellent (and realistic) portrait of a rock star

  17. Steve Berman
    Dec 10, 2008 @ 08:27:57

    I’m flattered by all the kind words about my writing. Flattered to blushing.

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