Bride By Contract is a multi-cultural romance novel in the "billionaire" genre (made popular by Fifty Shades of Grey). It's interesting to see the many sub-genres within Billionaire Romance; most of them are crossovers with other romance and erotica genres, with paranormal/shapeshifter being the most dominant (ha!) that I've seen lately. Bride By Contract is much more down-to-earth and contemporary, which shifts (ha!) the "magic" away from paranormal or supernatural powers, focusing instead on the "magic" of love, which I think should always be the most powerful force in any romance novel. Many romance stories are, in my opinion, actually horror novels with romantic aspects; that is to say, the "magic" that controls the fictional world is something supernatural. (Magic in its many forms is the core component of all Speculative Fiction; in Fantasy, it's an arcane power; in Horror, it's supernatural power; in Science Fiction, it's futuristic science or technology; in Romance, it's love; one could argue that in Erotica, it's lust).
The main character is Liana Turner, a highly organized executive assistant to wealthy GQ-like men's magazine publisher Jackson Turner. Jackson earned his own wealth, which is in the millions of dollars, but his father George made a billion-plus fortune as a successful businessman and investor. Now retired, George lives in a comfortable but not extravagant home on a large parcel of land out in the countryside. He will not leave his fortune to Jackson unless Jackson gets married and has a child. Though Jackson doesn't really need the money to support his lifestyle, he desperately wants it. Unfortunately, he doesn't want to ever get married or have children; he likes his single playboy life where he has his choice of models to have sex with, and doesn't get bogged down by emotional attachments.
So he creates a devious plan to get the inheritance money while still maintaining his lifestyle: He will hire someone to pretend to be his fiancee, claim that she is pregnant, and visit his father's country home to announce this news and hopefully obtain access to his father's fortune. That's where Liana comes in. She's mature (but not old), dependable, organized, and attractive in a vastly different way than the majority of the magazine's staff, which is composed of a legion of fashion models and a creepy old man or two. George Fisher would never believe that one of Jackson's insecure model girlfriends would marry Jackson for anything other than money, which makes Liana -- of ordinary shape and middle-class roots -- the perfect fake fiancee. So he offers her a contract to pretend to be his fiancee for a short while, offering a large sum of money in return. If you suspect that things might go sideways at this point, you're right, and that's the real fun of this story.
The book is written in third-person limited, so the narration takes on the emotions and intentions of the character who has focus. Other than that, I kept it low and somewhat slow (for me, anyway, not like.... those.... narrators...... who..... inexplicably.... speak..... like..... this....). I like this style for most romance and erotica novels because it feels a little more intimate, not like I'm reading a book to you, but like I'm leaning in a little and telling you a story in the corner of a half-empty cafe.
It is barely mentioned in the book that Liana is black, while Jackson is white. There's no racism directed at her, but she feels insecure about not being as thin or tall or pretty as the fashion models she works with at the magazine. And here lie dragons: Do I make Liana "sound black" or not? If I do, is that stereotyping? If I don't, is that whitewashing? To answer this question honestly, I had to ask myself what it really means to "sound black," a subject which I had to think about in depth for Horace Hampton / Jerry Auburn in Deathwish World.
- When you hear someone on the radio or a voiceover in a cartoon or video game, can you tell when a black actor is behind that voice? Mmm... sometimes yes, sometimes no.
- Did Darth Vader "sound black?" Not to me he didn't.
- Does someone from Kenya "sound black?" No, they sound like they grew up speaking Swahili.
- Is there a distinct vocal quality specific to race, as far as that word might describe how large groups of people are physically different? No, I don't think so.
However, there are regional dialects and sub-cultural dialects within American English, and those dialects consciously communicate an identity (where you're from, what your level of education is, what you do for a living, whether you are single or married, your sexuality, your religious beliefs, and whether or not you culturally identify with a particular racial community). People can switch these language signals on and off at will, and frequently do so unconsciously when changing contexts; in linguistics, this is known as code switching.
So I decided that Liana should have a very mild urban accent, which is what I think people mean when they say that someone "sounds black," even though anyone who grew up in a big city that doesn't have its own distinctive accent can have an urban accent, regardless of race. However, as a general rule, the more educated someone is (formally or not), the less of a regional or subcultural accent they have in culturally-neutral contexts (and the better at code-switching they become). This applies across all people, places, and cultures. When Liana is talking to her parents, she code-switches and sounds a little more "urban." When she's at work, she sounds more "suburban" or consciously culturally neutral, or what some people would refer to as "white."
Anyway, for Jackson I used the voice I developed for Grant in The Hero, but made it less heroic and a little more consciously seductive.
For George, I used a more contemporary version of the voice I developed for Baron von Dracheburg in The Hero.
Jackson's best friend Martin was modeled after Owen Wilson.
Bride By Contract explores a lot of fascinating themes, such as the meaning of wealth, how people define success in different ways, and the generational chasm between Baby Boomers and Millennials when it comes to defining maturity and responsibility. If you're into billionaire romance stories, or the multi-cultural relationship aspect intrigues you at all, I think you'll enjoy this audiobook.