Laurie's News & Views

June 28, 1997 - Issue #28

News Flash:

Many of you may have heard rumors about possible copyright infringement involving Janet Dailey, author of Notorious, and Nora Roberts, author of Sweet Revenge. When I contacted Nora Roberts, she stated:

"Sweet Revenge was written in 1987. According to Ms. Dailey, Notorious was written in 1993 and 1994. Sweet Revenge was first published as an original paperback by Bantam books in December 1988. It was re-issued by Bantam in hardcover last year, and again in paperback this spring. Notorious was first published by Harper as a hardcover last year, and its paperback edition was published this spring.

"A comparison of the books resulted in the determination that several passages were too similar to be deemed coincidental.

"It has been requested that the passages in question be rewritten or cut from future editions of Notorious."

I contacted Harper Publishing and spoke with Ginger Curwen, Vice President and Director of Communications. She indicated that "certain questions have been raised and we're looking into them". She also stated that the questions were originally raised on the Internet.

I plan to contact Ms. Curwen in the future for an update and will report back with further developments on both sides.

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And Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Column:

Taking a break from being Laurie Likes Books for about a week and just being plain old Laurie, wife, mother, vacationer, really hit the spot. Even though it's so hot in Disney World that the sweat pours off your back within minutes of stepping outside, it's well worth it to step into an imaginary world for awhile.

The only "work" I did during my brief break from the online world was on the trip back, when I re-read an all-time favorite. Good thing I did, too, because the first romance I read upon my return was a disappointment. Since we've been discussing the sadness that comes upon many of us when we read a book that disappoints us, as well as talking about set-asides, I was reminded of the feeling I mentioned in my last column about looking forward to a particular book and then being frustrated and/or sad when it doesn't meet your expectations.

Before I began reviewing, if a book didn't capture my interest, I would set it aside, even though I knew I'd probably never come back to it or likely wouldn't enjoy it if I did. As a reviewer, however, I don't have that luxury, although I do occasionally set aside a book for a day or so, hoping I can grit my teeth and get through it the next time. When I picked up Kat Martin's latest, I couldn't wait to dive right in, given that I had greatly enjoyed Innocence Undone. Her newest, Nothing but Velvet, started out with a bang, but was so over the top I kept putting it down, picking it up, putting it down, picking it up, over and over again for nearly a month. I finally forced myself to finish the darn thing when I returned from Disney World.

Sometimes I get frustrated when a book turns out to be a dud, and other times I feel morose. When the author is new to me, the feeling is usually frustration. When the author is a favorite, I either experience anger if I felt she wrote the book in her sleep, or sadness if she veered off in a direction I couldn't follow. I've felt the anger with recent releases by Johanna Lindsey and Arnette Lamb. I've felt the sadness with Kimberley Cates. Some of you who wrote me experienced similar feelings. Author Jo Beverley wrote that my comments struck a chord with her.

"As a reader, I find really wonderful books rare, particularly since I became an author. We just get picky. So the ones that do work are particularly precious.

"When I have no high expectation of a book, or when one starts out okay and continues that way, I'm fine. I have a pleasant read (or not, and put it aside) and don't suffer. But when it's a book by a favorite author, and it just doesn't work for me, or when it starts brilliantly and then peters out, I grieve. I grieve for the book that might have been, the one I almost had in my grasp, and the incredible reading pleasure I was looking forward to. It's a loss of something almost real.

"I know the author has done her best, and no one can be brilliant all the time, but it hurts."

Leave it to a writer to express my feelings so eloquently!

Reader Andrea, who has completely different tastes in romance than I do, has experienced the disappointment. As with myself and probably most of you, she has always been a reader. She is "always disappointed when a book that sounds as though it should be good does not live up to my expectations. I am very saddened when a favorite author doesn't live up to her previous books. It used to be so that I would sit down with a new release by a favorite author and feel utterly confident that I would love the book. In the last year or so I am almost reluctant to start one of these books because I am afraid I am going to be disappointed. This is making for a bit of a hole in my life. Does this sound a bit obsessive?"

As I responded to Andrea, "If we're obsessive, what else is new? There are worse things to be obsessive about."

Reader Mandy has experienced both the anger and the sadness. She wrote, "This just happened recently. I was reading a book by an author I usually enjoy, but I just could not get through this one book. The heroine was a complete wimp and I wanted to slap her. I didn't even finish the book. I couldn't have cared less about what happened to the characters. The story was just too unbelievable.

Reader Jaci wrote that readers apparently are just as picky as writers. "I do feel sad when a book doesn't live up to my expectations. . . this seems to be happening more often than not recently. On a more positive note I feel very sad when I finish a very good, five heart read. I feel as if I am saying good bye to cherished friends, and sometimes I think about what will happen next to the hero/heroine. I think most readers have experienced this feeling."

Alina is like Andrea and Jaci. She can't stop reading, not in the middle of a magazine, not in the middle of a book. She feels that sadness when a book by a favorite author turns out to be a dud, but she also feels sadness when she finishes a great read. She wrote, "I cried when I finished Gone with the Wind - not just because the ending was sort of sad, just because I loved the book so much! That sad feeling is truly unique, it's sort of an antsy, empty feeling."

I've heard from other readers that same sadness when finishing a great read, but haven't experienced it myself. The great thing about a great book is that it can be read again and again. And, if you wait long enough between re-readings, it's almost like discovering it for the first time, but better, because you notice things you missed the first time around. I certainly felt that upon re-reading Then Came You by Lisa Kleypas on my trip home from Florida.

Speaking of Gone with the Wind:

I received more e-mail mentioning Margaret Mitchell's classic historical epic than I have on nearly any other book. It came up time and time again when talking about the HEA (happily-ever-after) ending.

When I first asked about HEA endings a little more than a year ago, nearly everyone agreed that a romance is just not a romance unless there is an HEA ending.

In Issue #14 (among others) of this column, we talked about whether the boundaries of romantic fiction should be narrowly or broadly drawn. In this instance, I was in the minority - most readers are less parochial than I and enjoy the stretching of the boundaries in terms of what is a romance. For instance, I don't think Outlander is a romance. To me it is epic fiction. For others it is considered among the best the genre has to offer.

Given that many Romance Readers enjoy the stretch, I was interested in seeing just how much of a stretch they would allow before the rubber band recoiled. I have been surprised at the response I have received on the HEA ending. In this current survey, response has been more two-sided. Perhaps more surprisingly, it has been the authors whom I felt would have been most married to the idea, who have made this a more two-sided survey. (On the other hand, creative people tend to be open-minded, and authors are obviously creative, so perhaps this should not have surprised).

While a majority of readers and authors still agree that a romance must have an HEA ending, a strong minority believe it is not necessary. They point to Romeo & Juliet, or Gone with the Wind. To which I respond that the former is a tragedy while the latter is epic historic fiction.

I was grateful that some who responded reminded me that romance is genre fiction and made the point that genre fiction is not the same as women's fiction, nor is it the same as classic fiction. Who among us would read a mystery if it remained unsolved? Mystery is genre fiction and one of its rules is that the mystery must be solved. In essence, the solving is mystery's version of an HEA ending.

Nora Roberts wrote, "For me, if it's a romance, it has HEA. If it's women's fiction, not necessarily. But HEA is one of the constants that defines the genre. That's mho."

For Nora and many authors, it's fairly cut-and-dried. However, things get a bit more convoluted when some authors describe what they believe is happily-ever-after (but I won't go into detail because I want you to link to HEA and HEA - part deux for the actual reader and author comments). Does it mean the hero and heroine live happily ever for the next 50 years? For me, and for most of us, the answer is yes, yes, yes!. I wouldn't read either of the two Mary Gillgannon medievals, nor would I read Dana Ransom's Pirate's Captive or its sequel because I now know that the heroine from the first book died relatively soon after the ending and that the hero has been alone and grieving for over fifteen years. And I now know that two from Janis Reams Hudson's Apache quartet feature the same hero. In one of the books, the author foreshadows the heroine's demise in the epilogue, setting the stage for another heroine in its sequel.

Reader Teresa responded directly to the question about the two Mary Gillgannon books:

"When it comes to a romance novel, I generally do feel the need for a HEA - even if it's some kind of meeting between reincarnated souls. If a book is well written, however, and provides some sense of satisfaction, then I might be willing to forgo the HEA.

"However, the Mary Gillgannon case is different. I won't read that second book. I loved the romance in the first one and couldn't believe that the sequel was about him falling in love again! After Aurora dies? And in such a short period? What about all the emotion I invested in the first story? I'm not sure what she was thinking. I'm sure it's a good book, and if you haven't read the first, then the second will probably be good, but I can't imagine how anyone who watched Maelgwn and Aurora struggle to be together would want to read about him falling in love with someone else after she has died."

Author Marsha Canham wrote in about her duo of The Pride of Lions and The Blood of Roses. The hero and heroine are separated at the end of the first book and not reunited until the second. While this was logical and necessary for her, at least one reader disagreed. Rose read the first book and was so infuriated by the lack of an HEA ending that not only did she not buy the sequel, she never plans to read Marsha's work again. (As Marsha indicated in her post to me, her publisher failed to include at the end of Pride a preview chapter of Blood, which she felt would have allayed the fears of many upset readers.)

While most readers want there to be no equivocation about the ending, some readers and authors think the requirement for an HEA ending leads to cliche and cut-and-paste endings. Personally, I tend to enjoy the endings and often-sappy little epilogues to romances - they reassure me that the hero and heroine really did go off into the sunset, but I suppose there is something to this fear.

I'd love to hear from you on which books had wonderful endings - both the novel's conclusion and/or the epilogue. Why was it/were they so great? And, if you recall a book with such a cliched and/or sickly-sweet ending practically put you in a diabetic coma, I want to know about that as well. For me, the epilogue of Jill Barnett's Bewitching is among my favorites - it's funny and loving. The same can be said of Anne Stuart's A Rose at Midnight, and considering how dark that book was, the change in tone really hit the spot.

Please e-mail me here with your favorite and least favorite endings, along with reasons why they did or did not work for you.

The response to the HEA ending question by both readers and authors was so large that I've set up a couple of pages (HEA and HEA - part deux) for reader and author comments. I have tried to juxtapose either similar or opposing views together. There are many comments to read and there won't be a test next time on who said what. But I do hope you will take time and read over some of the comments. And for those extra clever among you, congratulations on noticing so quickly that for each two reader comments, an author comment is interspersed!

If you don't have time to read the pages now, feel free to bookmark them to return at your leisure. In specific, I hope you'll notice all the references to Gone with the Wind, both pro and con, and those from the minority - what they have to say is quite intriguing. But also pay attention to those readers who have commented on why the HEA ending is crucial - it is that emotional commitment we readers have made to the hero and heroine throughout the read. We've been there for the good times and the bad, and we need that HEA ending as pay-off, just as most of us need a great love scene as pay-off for all that sexual tension! If we've bought into the romance and made that commitment, we feel betrayed if the ending doesn't give us what we need, or if a sequel shatters our illusions. Because of that emotional commitment, most readers (and authors) feel quite strongly about the need not to violate the covenant between author and reader on the HEA ending.

Purple Prose Parody:

The Purple Prose Parody at The Archives continues to grow - there have been several submissions so far and I'm hoping that a few brave authors will take up the challenge and send in their own snippets. For those of you who haven't been by lately to read what's been posted, I encourage you to do so - I guarantee you'll be LOL. One thing I've heard from all those who have submitted snippets so far, and I certainly agree, it's fun to write them - almost as fun as it is to read them, so if you've been feeling shy, please give it a try and send me your purple prose parody. Once there are a few more to choose from, we'll have a vote.

How About Another "P"? This Time "P" is for Publishers:

When I wrote last time of my wish list for publishers, I received a great deal of agreement from readers. Realizing, of course, that this wish list is a fantasy, I asked readers to add to my wish list. Here's what you had to say, on everything but covers (we'll do that separately): Rony wrote that many of the romances she reads seem padded unnecessarily and that extra pages, which often hurt the books, are added so that readers will feel they "got their moneys worth".

Cynthia laments copy editing. She recalls reading a romance where the character's names were so mixed up that it read as though "there was a party going on in that bed!"

Mandy agreed with me on the need to promote lesser-known authors. She wrote, "Why promote authors. . . who are already bestselling authors? Why not promote authors that aren't as well known?. . . . if you turn to the very back of a book published by Avon, you'll see an ad for Johanna Lindsey's books. If you turn to the back of one published by Pocket, you'll see an add for Deveraux's books. Or Silhouette, you'll see one for Nora Roberts' books. And on and on and on. There are a lot of really great authors out there that are struggling and with the right promotion, they could be become 'best-sellers' also."

Reader Teresa would also "love to see more money spent on new and mid-list authors. Denee Cody is a case in point. . . Her writing is wonderful, but she never seems to get any promo unless she does it herself. Same went for Denise Domning and her wonderful series. I don't often read many lead authors simply because I find their books are too much the same. Jo Beverley is the exception, but that's because her books are always unique - a welcome change."

New Romance Reader Andrea believes, as I do, that the publishers look upon the genre as a necessary evil to make money. She wrote:

"Publishers need to mobilize their PR machines to push romance books as a legitimate literary form to the public instead of standing back, red-faced and shrugging, 'Well, they sell.' My local, big-city newspaper only rarely reviews romances, usually in conjunction with Valentine's Day or summer beach reading. On the other hand, they have weekly synopses of soap operas. Why can't romance novels get more space in their papers? . . I've tried more new authors this year because of reviews on this site than I have the last 3 years.

"Which leads me to: Promoting mid-line authors. For lack of better information, I've stuck to my tried and true favorite authors, luckily mostly prolific ones, for better or worse, since I pretty much know what to expect. An unfamiliar name scares me off, since I don't have a clue whether this is the next Nora Roberts or Jane Doe's one shot at writing fame, missing the target completely. Give me more information!!"

Reader Rose wrote that she too would wish to dispel the stereotypes of romance readers and writers. Her particular gripe? The fabulously infamous Fabio, and "the dimwit who gave what was no doubt a lucrative contract to" him. She added, "How can we expect those on the outside to take romance seriously when someone whose claim to fame is his flowing golden locks and impressive chest is a showcase author?"

Author Judi Lind "loved the publishers' wish list. Couldn't agree more with everything you said. I'm weary of baby/preggers heroine books and wish for more variety in category romance, which is what I primarily write and read. Maybe we could get everyone to email a response and send a giant letter to all the romance publishers with the names of all online people who concur. Might get their attention."

Long-time Romance Reader Andrea would tell the publishers to take some chances on unusual settings and time periods, and to not try to tame lead authors in an attempt to mainstream them. I share many of her thoughts, which I'll share with you here:

"You are dead on with you wish list for publisher's. I get the feeling that when an author goes hardcover the publisher nudges the writer into a less romantic story in order to appeal to a 'wider, more mainstream audience.' Unfortunately, some of these writer's do romance best and toning down that aspect of their work makes for a less appealing book.

"I am sick to death of time travel, ghosts, and baby books. I'm not saying that their aren't some good ones out there, it's just impossible to pick them out of the morass of ones published. I won't pay for any of these types of books. I've been burned too many times. Publisher's and editors do readers a disservice by trying to manipulate the market. It seems like books are written to meet the expectations of the publishers rather than because the writer has a good story to tell. And it shows in so many of these types of books. "I would like to see some more unusual time periods and settings. Mary Jo Putney told me that editors reject books with exotic settings because they think the writer has to spend too much time familiarizing the reader with the setting. Which leads me to believe that editors don't have a very high opinion of a romance readers intellect.

"I would like to see post card type surveys in books. Publishers need to be a little more in touch with the people who spend money on their product."

Perhaps if the publishers listened to some of our suggestions, there would be fewer disappointments and set-asides. Speaking of which. . . there isn't time to follow-up on set-asides in this column, but I hope to revisit this topic soon. If you've not shared your opinion with me yet, please e-mail me.

Stars of the Future:

Hearing from readers about mid-list authors they enjoy reading reminded me of a recent thread on AARList. Are there authors out there you think are wonderful but no one seems to know about but you? And, which of the authors out there seem to be riding a rocket to the top, like Jennifer Crusie?

Some excellent authors are out there, toiling away on the mid-list or writing for the "lesser" publishers. Catherine Archer, who has only had four books published to date (with another out next month) and Deborah Simmons are both authors who are immensely talented but, in my view, haven't caught on yet as they should. I know the former will soon be published not only by Harlequin Historicals, but by Leisure, in October, while the latter continues to write and publish nearly two books a year for HH. And since I feel like a one-woman booster club for Deborah Simmons, I'll no longer be reviewing her books (although you can read my review of her latest, Tempting Kate, here at The Romance Reader).

Other authors, like Julia Quinn, Julie Moffett, and Lorraine Heath, have caught on more quickly. Julia Quinn has moved to the top of Avon's mid-list, and Julie Moffett and Lorraine Heath are becoming more and more well-known after being published for a very few years.

So, which author do you adore and wish were more well-known? Which authors that you adore seem to be over-night success stories? Please e-mail me and let me know.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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