Hello good morning and welcome to another addition to our new series “Inspirations and Influences” in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their …..well, Inspirations and Influences. The cool thing is that the writers are given free reign so they can go wild and write anything they want. It can be about their new book, series or about their career as a whole.
Today,we have the pleasure to give the floor to Julie James, writer of fabulous contemporary romance novels.
Her latest release, Practice Makes Perfect (reviewed here) is a best-seller and is getting tons of positive reviews. Here is what Julie James has to say about writing it:
Inspirations and Influences: Julie James
First, let me start by thanking Ana and Thea for the invitation to guest-blog here today. I’m happy to talk about some of the things that have influenced and inspired my writing, so let’s get right down to it.
Well, okay, maybe not necessarily Cary Grant per se (although back in the day he certainly wasn’t somebody a girl would’ve thrown out of bed for eating crackers), more the films of Cary Grant, and others of that genre.
I’m a huge movie buff. Up until about ten years ago, however, my appreciation had been limited essentially to contemporary films. That all changed when I stumbled across the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest American Movies of all time. At the time, I had seen maybe twenty movies on the list. I made it my mission to see all of them. (Confession time: I still haven’t gotten around to The Jazz Singer or Birth of a Nation, but I will one day, I swear.)
Not all the movies on the list were necessarily hits for me (ahem—The Best Years of Our Lives—booorrringg) [cut to Julie James’s father picking up the phone to lecture her on the supposed “genius” of this film], but one of the best things about the list was that it introduced me to the black & white romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s. You know the movies I’m talking about—the ones full of back-and-forth sparring between a heroine and hero who don’t seem to like each other very much (at first), but we know from the get-go that underneath there’s an incredible mental, emotional, and physical attraction.
Those older romantic comedies certainly have influenced my writing. I’m a big fan of all that banter. Why do I love back-and-forth interplay between the heroine and hero? Because to me, it signifies that they “get” each other, and that they see each other as equals. More important than what is being said, often, is what’s being said between the lines. There often isn’t a lot of sentimentality or mushiness in these movies. How can there be, when half the time the heroine and hero can’t even admit to themselves how they feel, let alone to each other?
But that’s the fun part: we, as the readers or viewers, get to watch as that attraction builds and builds, waiting for that moment when it’s going to rise to a boil and spill over uncontrollably. Without the sentimentality and the instant declarations of love, every word exchanged—every look, even—becomes that much more important. As an example, take a look at this photo from a scene in one of my favorite black & white rom/coms, His Girl Friday:
Doesn’t the look between these two speak volumes? Or how about this, from The Philadelphia Story:
Even though, in both scenes, the characters are disagreeing about something on the surface, we can tell there’s a whole lot more going on. It’s the way they’re completely focused on one another. Let’s be honest, is there anything sexier than a man who literally can’t take his eyes off the heroine, try as he might to fight that?
In my books, as in these films, the main characters are often resistant to their attraction, and try their hardest to hide that attraction even after its existence can’t be denied. But we know it’s there. Here’s an example from Practice Makes Perfect:
“So I saw your name in the Chicago Lawyer,” J.D. led in.
Payton smiled. “40 To Watch Under 40,” she said, referencing the article’s title and proud of her inclusion in its distinction.
“40 Women To Watch Under 40,” J.D. emphasized. “Tell me, Payton— is there a reason your gender finds it necessary to be so separatist? Afraid of a little competition from the opposite sex, perhaps?”
Payton tried not to laugh as she tossed her hair back over her shoulders. Hardly.
“If my gender hesitates to compete with yours, J.D., it’s only because we’re afraid to lower ourselves to your level,” she replied sweetly.
J.D. casually leaned against the door and folded his arms across his chest. After eight years, Payton recognized this gesture well— it meant he was about to begin another one of his condescending little lectures. She gave it 95% odds that he’d begin with one of his pompously rhetorical questions that he had absolutely no intention of letting her answer.
“Let me ask you this…” he began.
“…how do you think it would go over if the magazine ran an article called “40 Men To Watch Under 40?” He wagged a finger in her face, answering for her. “You and your little feminista friends would call that discrimination. But then isn’t that, per se, discrimination? Shouldn’t we men be entitled to our lists too?”
J.D. held the door open for her and grandly gestured for her to enter. As she passed by him, Payton noted that Ben wasn’t in his office yet, so she took a seat in front of his desk. As J.D. sat in the chair next to her, she turned to him, coolly unperturbed.
“I find it very interesting when a man, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, sitting next to me in an Armani suit, has the nerve to claim that he is somehow the victim of discrimination.”
J.D. opened his mouth to jump in, but Payton cut him off with a finger. Index, not middle. She was a lady after all.
“Notwithstanding that fact,” she continued, “I submit that you men do have your so-called ‘lists.’ Several at this firm, in fact. They’re called the Executive Committee, the Management Committee, the Compensation Committee, the firm’s golfing club, the intramural basketball team—“
“You want to be on the basketball team?” J.D. interrupted, his blue eyes crinkling in amusement at this.
“It’s illustrative,” Payton said, sitting back in her chair defensively.
It’s the look that gives it away—when J.D.’s eyes crinkle in amusement—that’s the moment we know what’s really going on: He’s enjoying this. Those might be fighting words coming out of his mouth, but underneath them, J.D. is that boy at the playground who pulls the girl’s pigtail because he can’t figure out how else to get her attention.
One thing I like about dialogue-driven stories, be they books or movies, is the way the tone of the exchanges between the heroine and hero evolves as their attraction to each other grows stronger. Compare the above scene between Payton and J.D. (from Chapter 2), to one that occurs a bit later on, but before the characters have first kissed:
“You know, as apologies go, this one could use a ton of improvement,” she told him. “Is there more?”
“Not really,” he shrugged matter-of-factly. “Well, except that I was thinking… you know, I don’t want to win by default either. So maybe we could call a truce.”
“A truce?” Payton asked. “That’s very magnanimous of you, considering the next play is mine. What do I get out of this?”
J.D. took a step closer to her. “Hmm. How about the satisfaction of being the better person?”
Payton paused, highly intrigued by this. “You would admit to that?”
J.D.’s eyes crinkled in a slight grin as he took another step closer. “In this context, Ms. Kendall, yes.”
Payton considered the terms of his proposal. Higher stakes for her there could not be.
“Alright,” she agreed. “A truce.”
She had to tilt her head back to meet J.D.’s gaze, they were suddenly standing that close. Uh-oh, she thought, this is how it all started last time. She felt that familiar rush and thought about stepping back, but heaven help her if she ever gave an inch to J.D. Jameson.
“I suppose now I owe you,” J.D.’s voice had turned softer.
Payton shook her head. “No, you really don’t.”
He nodded, yes. “I read the transcript.”
“You said that already.”
“You were amazing, Payton,” he murmured, his voice husky.
Goddamn if that wasn’t just about the sexiest thing she had ever heard.
True, they’re still arguing, at least at the beginning of the exchange, but the tone has changed and become more flirtatious. Now compare that with the next scene between the two of them, merely a couple days later:
She heard a voice, low in her ear.
“You don’t have to say it out loud, I already know what you’re thinking.”
She looked over her shoulder to see J.D. standing next her. “You think you know me so well.”
“Then what am I thinking now?” Payton asked coyly. Wait—was she… flirting? No. Yes. To be determined.
“You’re thinking that out of all the brunches in the city, you had to pick the same one as me,” J.D. said.
Payton couldn’t help but smile at that. “Close. I was thinking that if I knew we were going to pick the same brunch, I would’ve had that third mimosa before our parents met.”
J.D. turned in the direction of their parents and eyed the scene with amusement. “There’s always the bar off the lobby.”
J.D. studied her for a moment. “Actually, I was thinking I might have to sneak off to the bar myself.”
Now it was Payton’s turn to study him. Was that an invitation? Hard to tell.
“That does sound tempting,” Payton said, figuring that answer worked either way.
“Tempting,” J.D. repeated.
His gaze fell to her lips.
Sure, they’re still dancing around the issue—their mutual attraction—but as Payton and J.D. each take tiny steps, being careful to gauge the reaction of the other, their dialogue and thoughts start to be less guarded and become more sexual. Which is one of the reasons I love banter between a heroine and hero—it’s essentially foreplay. And the more heated the banter, the hotter I think the couple is going to be in bed when they finally get there.
Aside from the back-and-forth banter, there are other ways that older romantic comedies have influenced my writing. Some of these influences are subtle, as in the naming of characters. For the hero of Practice Makes Perfect, J.D. Jameson, I purposely chose a first name comprised of initials as a nod to the similarly initial-named hero in The Philadelphia Story, C.K. Dexter Haven. Further, a supporting character, Chase Bellamy, was named as a joke of sorts stemming from Billy Mernit’s book, “Writing the Romantic Comedy,” where he coins the phrase, “The Bellamy,” as he describes it:
“a term—useful to screenwriters and students of the genre, at least—to describe the Other Guy, the one who doesn’t get the girl in a rom-com, the Mr. Wrong… I dubbed him the Bellamy, in honor of the actor Ralph Bellamy, who embodied the paradigm for this hapless role in such watershed screwballs as The Awful Truth and His Girl Friday.”
Other ways I’ve been influenced and inspired by these films are more overt. For example, in my upcoming book, an entire scene is a direct homage to another of my favorite rom/coms, It Happened One Night. I won’t give away which scene in the movie I pay tribute to, although I know Ana has a few guesses…
Speaking of Ana, and Thea, I think I’ve babbled on long enough here… But I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. Also, I’m curious to know—any fans of the black & white romantic comedies out there? What are your favorites, and why? Or for those of you who prefer the contemporary rom/coms, tell us about a good one you’ve seen recently and why it worked for you. A random commenter will receive a signed copy of Practice Makes Perfect—I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Now for the contest: comments are open as of now and contest will run till Sunday noon Central. We will pick a random reader using random.org and post the winner in our Sunday stash. Good luck.
This is it folks. A big thank you to Julie James for the amazing piece and insight into her work.