Monday, December 26, 2011

On Romance Reading and Writing


I spent the week before Christmas on vacation in Providence, RI. Before hopping on that Amtrak train, I hit Barnes & Noble to stock up on a genre I'm further studying: romance novels.

It's a not-so-hidden secret that I'm a fan, and I've attempted to write one before, though half heartedly. This fall, I made major steps in that direction. I have 40-something pages of my first real shot at a novel almost done (the photo includes pages that are part of that manuscript), and I'll be submitting a sample from that book to a competition in January. I have a pen name picked out, too, but I don't know if I'll use it. More on that in another post.

While I've read romances and I'm a member of RWA, I've stuck to a few authors whose work I know I'll love, so for vacation, I went judging books by their covers, honing in on contemporary romance whose authors had hit the New York Times bestseller's list: Only His
by Susan Mallery and Coming Home
by Maria Stewart.

What I learned:

1. Both of these books are parts of larger series, and include more primary and sub characters that I'd ever seen in other types of fiction, even other types of romantic fiction. This makes sense from a sales point of view. If you get a reader hooked into the Fools Gold series or the Chesapeake Diaries, then they'll keep buying books in that series. So in my book, I've upgraded two of the minor characters to have slightly larger roles, and when I pitch this book to agents, I'll be marketing it as part of a series.

2. Geography is big. Both series are very tied to locations. The ties to that place is another factor in the book. I already had that (two guesses as to where the book is based haha), so I'm good there.

3. Willing suspension of disbelief. In Only His, the hero's company is building a casino. The mayor says that no one objected. Oh PLEASE. But it's not an important plot point because the book is focused on the people. The people!

4. This isn't quite what I want to write. I get the idea of multiple characters for series, but both books were a little bit too cluttered for me. I think Nora Roberts has handled this well - the heroine of the next book might be a prior book, but the hero rarely is. And the backstory of that minor character is only hinted at until she gets her whole book.

It's a good start, and a less than painful way to have conducted research while on vacation.

And if it sounds like I'm taking a very pragmatic, structured and studied entry into writing these kinds of books - well, I am. Why not!

So if you read romances, too, who are your favorites?

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Monday, December 5, 2011

On bad books

I was in New York this weekend on a two-day writing retreat, and brought a book I'd expected to review for Guyspeed.com along with me (I stayed in Red Bank, NJ, which meant I had some down time on the train to and from New York). But the book was so rotten that I emailed my editor and said I just couldn't do it - and this is a site that will list things that they hate.

Could I have done that for this book? Yes. I didn't, though, because I hadn't read the whole thing. Two chapters was enough. In order to do a proper "I hate it" review, I'd have to read the whole thing (yes, I have ethics!), and I didn't want to subject myself to that.

Two reasons why the book was bad:

1. It was written by someone who said they were an 'expert' on the topic, though she'd only been doing it for four years. Sorry, writer. Four years does not make you an expert on something as multi-level and complicated like this, especially when you write about the people who taught you - people who have decades of experience.
2. The writing sucked. Too many adjectives. Too many adverbs. Writing about details that did not matter - and then repeating them (lots of cigars and whiskey on the same page, explained the same way).

I should have guessed something was up when I saw that the book had an unusually large font. Bad Jen, bad. Her bio also touted that she'd written for X, Y and Z women's magazines. I should have known better on that front too. That means nothing, really.

I wasn't at a loss for reading, though. Beth Ciotta's Jinxed is a free ebook (for a limited time). I downloaded the Kindle app for my iPhone, got the book (all while sitting at a diner counter), and had to it read all weekend.

First time I ever "got" the convenience of an eReader. I don't know if I'll make the full on plunge because I'm very comfortable with reading on my iPhone. But maybe.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Let's talk about Eloisa James

I've been doing some book review for this site, which is very fun. I've also been plowing through two tomes on personal finance, which is not very fun. And then there's holiday and family stress, and I decided I needed a break.

This year, those kind of reading/mental breaks have been spent with Eloisa James.

Eloisa James is the pen name for Mary Bly, a Shakespeare professor at Fordham. I interviewed her back in 2009 for a story I wrote on the real lives of romance writers. I'd never read her books before, but included her because of her fun story, and because she lived in New Jersey. She was incredibly friendly and smart - a great interviewee. I read one of her books for the story, and enjoyed it, which surprised me because she writes historical fiction. Most of her books take place mostly in the Regency time period (1811-1820).

Historical romances were never really my thing, probably because my first experiences with these books were sneaking reads from the big tower of romance novels at the Camden County Library in the early 1990s. Most of those books are what Smart Bitches call Old Skool where the hero was such an asshole that he sometimes raped the heroine.

But the book I read - A Duke of Her Own
- and the novels thereafter - were really smart. No simpering heroines. These women usually said "eff you" to trends of the time period, and there's always some female character - whether the main one or someone in the supporting cast - who actually enjoy sex. Big different from ye olde historic romances of yore.

In When Beauty Tamed the Beast, which I just finished, Linnet Thynne is a beauty who is "ruined" because she flirted with the Prince. That in itself isn't so bad. But she showed up in public in a dress that made her look pregnant, so of course, everyone in the ton assumed she was a giant hussy, and since she was below the Prince in rank and he couldn't marry her, her father decides that she's worthless.

Until he meets with the father of Piers Yelverton, an earl she's told was harmed in a childhood accident and can't have children. So Linnet's father cooks up a plan to marry her off to Piers so that he'll have an heir, even if it's not his - and remember now that Linnet isn't even pregnant. He's also a surgeon and, apparently, not very nice. Hence the beast.

Linnet sees this to her advantage. She can get married (which she HAD to do in that time period) without having to sleep with her husband. Her mom slept around, so she figured she can too if she wants.

See? Not so typical.

Sure, there's some sex, but it's not the focus of the book, and it's more about two really different and stubborn people, and I learn something about a time period that I didn't know much about. And no one was raped. Take THAT Old Skool romances.

This doesn't mean I've given up on Nora Roberts. No way. But I'm up to date on most of her books (the ones I want to read - I don't like the books she writes as J.D. Robb). I bought a bunch of James book during the Borders going out of business sale. So whenever I need that break? There's a treat waiting for me in my library.

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