Laurie's News & Views

April 20, 1997 - Issue #24

Do We Need To Take a Chill Pill?

Celia Rivensbark is a name I've been hearing a lot of lately - she writes a humorous column for a southern newspaper and wrote two tongue-in-cheek articles that many online readers and authors felt reflected badly on the genre. Myself, I thought they were funny!. I wrote her a couple of days ago and suggested that while Chris Rock can use the "n" word, a white person can't. And while a romance reader like myself can poke fun at the genre, a non-romance reader can't.

Celia's response? "Laurie, your e-mail was the first that put it in a way I could understand and relate to. I've been writing humorous columns for eight years and the only other column to generate such venom was a column I did on Kathie Lee Gifford."

Because you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and because I like to think my columns are often funny as well, I e-mailed Celia one of my favorite columns, as well as one of my 1-heart reviews and one of my 5-heart reviews. I'm proud to say Celia enjoyed them. She has also taken up a challenge I have proposed to her and will read one or more of Susan Elizabeth Phillips', Nora Roberts', and/or LaVyrle Spencer's books. After she's read some of these authors' books, she will send me her comments and I'll print them in this column. I wish I could say when this will be, but Celia will be having a baby in several weeks and is trying to prepare for that.

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One of the main reasons I contacted Celia was because I wanted her to know that we do have senses of humor, including some of those readers who e-mailed her. The column I sent her, Issue #15, included silly sex snippets sent in by readers and some "how come" items as well.

At the very least, Celia now understands the defensiveness of romance readers and will be sharing excerpts of my column when she re-addresses the writer's group she addressed last month. And, if she likes what she reads, she might even become a romance reader! She doesn't like historical novels, so I couldn't use my usual "conversion kit" of The Bride and Castles by Julie Garwood and Velvet Bond by Catherine Archer, but I thought Phillips, Roberts, and Spencer would work as well. I'll keep you apprised of her progress.

Speaking of Conversion:

Do you have a conversion kit of your own? When you are trying to introduce a friend, co-worker or relative to the delights of romantic fiction, what do you give them to read? Whatever's the newest good one? An old favorite? Or perhaps, if you are like me, you have a small kit filled with specific books that will introduce your friend to the variety of wonderful romances available.

My kit contains second copies (my copies never leave the house) of:

  • Velvet Bond by Catherine Archer - my favorite medieval and a two-hanky read
  • The Bride by Julie Garwood - a favorite funny and a luscious love story
  • Castles by Julie Garwood - my favorite romance of them all
  • Too Deep for Tears by Kathryn Lynn Davis - my favorite book of them all

So, what do you give someone you're trying to introduce to the joys of romance? Please e-mail me here with your conversion books and/or ideas; perhaps we'll get a Special Title Listing going.

Let's Play Casting Director:

I've had a lot of fun trying to play casting director and have greatly enjoyed the input you all have provided. Here's what the delightful Susan Elizabeth Phillips had to say after I asked her to play casting director recently:

"I've only written one book with a cast already in my head and that was Glitter Baby. The moment I saw The Right Stuff, I knew Sam Shepard had to be Jake Koranda. I also wanted Muriel Hemingway to be Fleur, the Glitter Baby. I carried those actors in my head the entire time I was writing. I think having that strong physical image to hold onto made the process a bit simpler, and I've wished I ever since I could do it again. No such luck.

"However, in retrospect, here are a few bits and pieces of casting. For Kiss an Angel, let's let Alec Baldwin play Alex and Winona Ryder play Daisy. Agree?

"It Had to Be You - I've thought a younger scrubbed up Nick Nolte would be great for Dan. On second thought, I'm giving the part to Kevin Costner. Phoebe, in my mind, needs to be played by an actress not noted for sex-pot roles. In other words, I'd rather have Jodie Foster than Heather Locklear. Cast this one against type.

"Heaven, Texas - I've always said I'd never sell this book to Hollywood because I couldn't bear watching some slimy blow-dried glamour boy play my beloved Bobby Tom Denton. However, I've recently thought that if Jeff Bridges got down on his knees and begged me to play the role, I might consider letting him take a swing at it. Gracie? Hmmm. . . Maybe that darling Jerry McGuire actress whose name I can't remember? I loved her. (Her name, btw, is Renee Zellweger.)

"Nobody's Baby but Mine - If Jeff Bridges can't cut it as Bobby Tom, I'll let him play Cal Bonner. (I'm all heart.) Let's have Gwyneth Paltrow play Dr. Jane. (She'd also make a terrific Gracie.) (Note from LLB: Read a Desert Isle Keeper review of It Had to Be You.)

"Dream a Little Dream (mid-January, 1988) - Ralph Fiennes can play Gabe and Nicole Kidman can play Rachel, but only if they completely master American accents and resist playing these characters with English restraint. (Believe me, neither Gabe nor Rachel is restrained! I'm going on physical appearance with both these actors.)"

I think Susan's choices are wonderful - especially Alec Baldwin, Kevin Costner, and Jeff Bridges, Ralph Fiennes. . . .I think it's fascinating to learn that so many authors use visual media such as film to help them in their writing. But not only authors are playing the casting game. Reader Gerrie thinks Adrian Paul would be a perfect Roarke and Jamie Lee Curtis would make a fabulously feisty Eve Dallas in the J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) in Death series. Reader Selena has a real "thing" for actor Michael Wincott, whom she would cast for two Virginia Henley books - The Pirate & the Pagan and The Hawk & the Dove. She'd like to see Minnie Driver as the heroine for Pirate and the young woman who stars as Cybil's red-headed daughter from Cybil for The Hawk. And reader Andrea thinks that Jeremy Northam, bad guy from The Net and good guy from Emma, would do just fine as the lead in any Anne Stuart romance.

I've been doing a bit more thinking about casting myself. I think Janine Turner, the feisty, gamine beauty from Northern Exposure would be wonderful as the heroine from Lisa Kleypas' Then Came You. And, after having seen Gene Tierney in two wonderful old films recently, I think she would make a wonderful Lily from Elizabeth Elliott's Scoundrel. I think Tyrone Power would make an interesting choice for Remmington as Lily's hero. I can't come up with a counterpart for Janine Turner, but I think that's because of my bias against blond men - they just don't work for me like the tall, dark, handsome ones do.

So, if I haven't heard from you yet, be you romance reader or romance writer, I'd love you to play casting director. Just send your choices to me by e-mailing me here. And, if you have an actor or actress that you think would be a perfect romantic lead, but you don't have a book to match him/her up with, let me know as well. In addition to Liam Neeson/Jessica Lange, and Daniel Day-Lewis/Juliet Binoche, I think Isabel Adjani would make a fine heroine for an historical romance. If you can help me cast these actors/actresses, I'd love to hear from you!

I'm a Glommer, You're a Glommer, He's a Glommer, She's a Glommer, It's Likely that You're a Glommer Too:

It seems as though Juno's tbr mountain is still the Mt. Everest of tbr's. She informs me its number is around 3,300. Knowing that makes me feel better every time my husband walks into my study and shakes his head. My mountain feels ever-so-much-more reasonable at around 500. Most romance readers appear to glommers and packrats, but this is not true in every case.

According to Tracie, "I guess I am yet a pup still, with only a TBR bookshelf of around 1,000, but then I got a new entertainment center with real deep shelves (3 cabinets to be exact) that are now holding 5 stacks deep of 12 books each. Oooops, just counted - I have a grand total of 1,900 (wiping forehead). I need to go book shopping I think I'm missing a few!!! hehehehe. . . .and I'm not kidding either, I'll have money next week - Calgon, take me away!!!!"

Erica says, "Time on-line does cause glomming. My current gloms are Katherine Kingsley and Jo Beverley. All the on-line stuff about romantic fiction is very addictive. Fortunately I am restricted by my work schedule (I only have an email connection at work) and my lunch hour so my addiction is under control (honest). I keep some books, pass others on and my TBR pile is now down to an alpine mountain after being an alpine mountain range. It is amazing what a little time off work and away from the Internet can do (grin)."

Neophyte packrat Margie had this to say, "I have the most TBR I've ever had in my life, and it seems that the hill will become a mountain before another month goes by. Today I not only hit a bookstore for the 3rd time this week, but as I was driving I also heard a radio announcement about a fund-raising for the local SPCA...a book sale! Naturally I drove out of my way to check it out, and came home with a box full."

Rony maintains a huge library of books she's read, and used to re-read books more in the past, but now I have so much new books to read, that I don't usually re-read books. But I do keep them!" Sounds like my video library of more than 300 tapes I made from cable of old movies and television shows. Just another thing that makes my husband shake his head in a Lurch-like fashion. Another brave reader, Linda, admitted doing something I've admitted in this column in the past - sometimes I glom even before I've read a book by an author. She wrote, "I'll look for Paisley and probably glom her too even before I read the first book - All because someone said if you like Barnett, you'll like Paisley." Linda, I'm the one who said that!

After reading so many comments about the sizes of tbr piles, I've decided the cut-off point for obsessive behavior is roughly at 100 books. Muriel has joined the ranks of this illustrious group; her tbr pile is more than 100 and she says, "I can't stop buying books. Just last month I must have spent almost a $100. I buy anything time travel,Constance O'Day-Flannery was the first one I read and haven't been able to stop reading them since. Keepers are another story - I can't seem to get rid of anything. My book shelves are overflowing. I'm trying to talk my dh in to get me another one." Another sign that Muriel has crossed the line? Any time carpentry is involved, you must be a bookaholic.

While most of us are both glommers and keepers, others of us glom but are not packrats. Readers who fall into the latter category included Katarina, who wrote, "In practice I live hand-to-mouth in books, and avoid tbr piles. But if someone else wishes to fill entire rooms, I'm game. Just don't ask me to clean the place. <g>" While Linda, as mentioned above, is a glommer, she's not a keeper. She keeps "Putney, Quick, Deveraux, Barnett, McNaught, some but not all of Phillips. . . As soon as I finish a book it goes into my UBS (used book store) sack. I like to think that the person who buys my books will be a book lover too. That makes me happy." And reader Susan, who would rather spend her money on Beanie Babies than on books these days, doesn't keep any of the books she's read and doesn't re-read books. She uses the local library instead.

The Romance Reader and the various online newsgroups, listservs, and BB's have all contributed to burgeoning and obsessive bookism. According to JC, "I read my e-mail surrounded by a pile of books and read both at the same time!!" Apparently, some of this bookism is creating some testiness among spouses. Let's eavesdrop on Margie for a little while, "This weekend I hauled out 8 covered boxes so I could finally catalogue them. My dh inconveniently and unexpectedly woke up and saw just how many books I have (well, how many he thinks I have; some weren't out there). Know what he had the nerve to say? 'Why don't you turn those all in so you can start over with some other ones?' And this from a guy with over 200 CDs (I say it's more like 400 but he swears not). Needless to say it was a question not worth answering. . . I mean, some things are sacred, and my books are one of them!"

At least some of our spouses maintain their humor, mine included, although the Lurch-look thing is the equivalent of Jewish Mother guilt, let me tell you. Marilyn's tbr mountain contains some 700 titles. Her husband, upon being told the size of Juno's mountain, retorted, "Well, that should give you the inspiration to go out looking for more!" Oh boy, what he said!

The results of the Internet and glomming invariably leads to more of the same and creates a circular effect. The more you glom, the more you buy. The more time you spend online, the more you want to glom, and the more you want to buy. You glom, you buy, you talk about it, and the inevitable result is less time spent reading. I'm the first to admit that I'll be dead before I read all the unread books I have. And I'm not alone in this. Author Denee Cody wrote, "My TBR room holds my fiction, but only because my office (which was originally 2 bedrooms, but we took down a wall to make one large room) is crammed full of thousands of research books (yes, thousands, most of them hardcover) most of which I have read - which is one reason I can't get into that TBR room very often. My husband calls it the fiction annex. It used to be his office. Now he's relegated to the basement." See, there's that carpentry thing again. But Denee's obviously much farther along than Muriel was. She's way past shelves and into sheetrock!

More Authors/Books Others Love That You Don't:

This is a topic guaranteed to bring forth extensive reader response! Readers who find a favorite author being dissed get very offended while other readers feel empowered to "out" themselves on a particularly beloved book or author. A reminder to all - the purpose of this topic is not to insult any author or reader, but to both illustrate that tastes vary widely, and to give a forum for readers to 'fess up to something they haven't felt able to in another arena.

My newest author others love that I don't? May McGoldrick - those of you who read my one-heart review of this husband/wife team's latest book will know that I was bored silly during my attempts to read this book. I've already been informed by some of you that I have no taste not to appreciate the history, the panorama, and the sheer beauty of Beauty of the Mist.

Here are some other authors/books you have written me about, again, many of these are among my favorites. Some of these are hard to hear about - I have to bite my tongue and zip my lip in many cases, but here they are:

  • From Lynn: "I read Julie Garwood's book Castles and had to put it down unfinished. A few months ago, everyone was raving about her and encouraged me to try reading The Bride. I found it to be shallow, silly, contrived, and I had to force myself to get through it. There was some suspense and mystery from the beginning of the book and when I got to the part where this intrigue was dealt with, I thought it fizzled out and then she never mentioned what ultimately happened to the villain. I felt cheated by this."
  • From Deb: "I tried to get into Jill Barnett's Bewitching, read about half of it and put it down. I couldn't stand the hero. I thought he was full of himself and just too, too demanding.
  • From Katie: "I really don't like Julie Garwood; I'm not wild about Judith McNaught . . . and no matter how much any of you loves one of their books, I'm unlikely to pick it up because I don't really like either of them. So I certainly recognize my opinion is not going to sway yours."
  • From a reader who prefers to remain anonymous: "I really disliked Arnette Lamb's Highland Rogue. The hero struck me as sleazy, and the ways she depicted the heroine as 'good' were so contrived they made me nauseous. . . I also don't like Jo Beverley's books. There were a couple of hers I really really intensely disliked and I will never waste my time by reading any of her stuff again, no matter how highly recommended. And I'm one who didn't like Barnett's Bewitching. To me, the heroine came across as an incompetent idiot and the hero was a jerk. . . . ."
  • From Karen: "I almost hate to admit it, but I had a terrible time with The Windflower. . . I had to force myself to finish it. The characters were wonderful, but every time I was enjoying getting to know the hero and the heroine, another improbable 'adventure' was thrown in."
  • From Jessica: "One of the first books I ever read was Through a Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen. Ten years later she released a sequel. I managed to slog through fifty pages before I threw it into the pile. 'Lord', I thought, 'it took ten years for her to write this book, it has to be extraordinary!' Wrong - it was so tedious. After waiting so long I wanted to scream so loud!"
  • From Cindy: "I know that everyone loves Amanda Quick but I just don't think she's funny. Her stories just seem so contrived and silly. She's definitely the author I've given up on."
  • From Donna: "I really don't get Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Most of her male characters come across to me as real jerks who use women. I don't remember liking any of her female characters except the woman who helped to found the computer company. The rest were boring. I also don't understand why so many readers find humor in her writing. I've read all of her books except one and haven't laughed yet."

A bit of commentary here, if you don't mind. Occasionally The Romance Reader is accused of being mean-spirited, as is this column. I try to maintain a balance here. We partly celebrate what we love about the genre, and we sometimes illuminate the part that we wish would stay in the dark.

Not Pet Peeves:

Recently there was a thread on one of the listservs of pet peeves in romance. The peeves include silly sex, some absurd "how comes", and other things we've discussed before and will again. But I decided to start a new thread of not pet peeves. I'd like to share with you some of those things in romances that are not pet peeves, starting with my own:

  • Strong family relationships
  • Humor
  • Friendship in addition to love
  • A smattering of history without turning it into a lesson
  • Strong secondary characters
  • Good "r" rated love scenes
  • Balance between light and dark

Most, but not all, readers agree that good "R" rated love scenes are important, as is "enough history to flavor a book but not drown in it," as Marilyn wrote. Other important characteristics to readers are:

 

Intelligence and some sort of common sense
Depth of characterization
Good sense of time and place
Terrific sexual tension
Realistic dialogue
Clean writing that moves the story along
Use of dual points of view
External conflict
Internal conflict
Protectiveness of hero toward heroine
Mythic themes and archetypes
Alpha males, gamma males, or beta males
Suspense/mystery, but not so integral that it overwhelms the romance
Strong ending
Strong beginning
Shared respect (if not sooner, than later)
Shared passions (and not just in bed)

Most of the items listed above pertain directly to the characterizations rather than plot-lines. This goes back to something we've addressed many times here - if we care about the characters, we'll enjoy the romance. Some readers prefer alpha males, others prefer gamma males, and still others enjoy beta males. One thing all readers want is a man who has a strong sense of his maleness. What we want from our heroines is less easily defined and seems to vary more from reader to reader, although intelligence and ability to retain their sense of selves seems crucial.

While we're on the subject of archetypal males, it seems the perfect time to remind you that I'm looking for your submissions of your favorite heroes in each of the three categories - alpha, beta, and gamma. To start things off, here are my choices:

  • Alpha hero: Nicholas Blackthorne from A Rose at Midnight by Anne Stuart
  • Beta hero: Tie between -
    • Clayton Holland from Always to Remember by Lorraine Heath
    • Matt Richards from Irresistible by Catherine Hart
  • Gamma hero: Colin from Castles by Julie Garwood

So, what are your choices for these three types of heroes? Please e-mail me here.

If you have any additional not pet peeves, I'd like to hear about them. Same goes for actual pet peeves, which I'll be addressing soon. Please e-mail me here with your comments.

Fox Paws & Other Pet Peeves, Et Al:

Over the past several weeks, I've been gathering your comments, as well as thinking about my own positions, on topics such as pet peeves, especially my oft-repeated pet peeve of the hero/heroine who are stuck in "I hate you, now let's make passionate love" mode. Which brings me to a topic I first discussed in the last issue of this column - conflict and what exactly is external conflict.

According to Brenda, "the conflict is external if the hero/heroine don't have a love/hate relationship. If they get along throughout the book without a big misunderstanding. They may have problems with the relationship, but keep going forward."

Reader Rony said that she sees books of external conflicts as, "those as that the love affair is fluent, and not stopped because of the hero or heroine, and the conflict is external of the couple. What I mean by fluent is: boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, and the conflict is external. Unlike boy meets girl, they fall in love, there is a break, and then they get back together. The essence is that the love story is fluent, there is no break in it. . . good examples would be Julie Garwood's Saving Grace, Jayne Ann Krentz's Absolutely, Positively."

Karen wrote that she "would divide the books into three categories instead of just two. One would be what I consider an external conflict - i.e. the hero and heroine are deeply in love, but she's just been captured by pirates, or is being chased by villains, etc. A lot of romantic suspense books fall in this category. The next category would be 'inter' conflict - the hero and heroine get along, but there's some personal reason keeping them apart. Putney's Silk & Shadows is a good example, since the real conflict is the hero and heroine's different views on life, as you described. Thunder & Roses is another example by Putney. My third category would be 'intra' conflict - the hero and heroine don't get along for some reason. Yes, these aren't very good names, but I hope you get the idea.

"Of course, most books have more than one. Amanda Quick's books, for example. There's usually some external conflict - the hero and heroine are searching for buried treasure, or are being chased by someone or other. But the hero also has a problem within himself - he's afraid of commitment. Jayne Ann Krentz's Trust Me is also a good example of this type of conflict - the hero adores the heroine, but he's afraid to open himself up to love her."

I'm inclined to agree with Karen on this one, and, unless I hear otherwise, I'm going to create a conflict list for her first two designations - fully external conflict, and inter conflict. Please let me know if you approve of these designations; I won't be doing an intra conflict list because it seems most romances fall in this category. E-mail me here with your comments and submissions so we can get this Special Title Listing going.

Special Title Listings:

After having received a beautiful card from a friend visiting the Highlands awhile ago, I started working on a Special Title Listing specifically for Scots romances. That list, as well as a listing of family romances, are also in the works, and your input would be appreciated. I won't be posting any of the lists online at The Archives of Laurie Likes Books until they are farther along, although the family listing is nearly ready. To add your favorites to any of the the lists mentioned here, or any of the lists I maintain, please e-mail me here.

Some More Silly Sex:

To wrap up this issue of Laurie's News & Views, I just have to share some more silly sex snippets I've been collecting. Enjoy!

Jeanne wrote me about Linda Lael Miller's Knights and the description of the heroine's, ahem, private parts: "He tongued her with one long, lapping stroke, and she uttered a lusty shout, setting her heels into his shoulders and raising herself to him, a chalice of flesh." As Jeanne added, "His cup runneth over, I guess. (I keep thinking how wide the mouth of a chalice is, though, and it kinda spoils the mental image I have of the recently deflowered Gloriana.)"

Diane once read a romance where the hero's eyes "were glued to her nipples", creating a lovely picture in her mind's eye. In another romance, "He put his hands in his pockets to get a hold of himself."

Because the Silly Sex feature has been so popular over the past year, I'd like to solicit original entries. Please e-mail me a paragraph that's the silliest you can devise and we'll vote on them. I hope that sounds as fun to you as it does to me! Send your entries to me here.

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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