Issue #38 (November 4, 1997)

Confessions of a Glommer:
Most of you who have been with me for some time know that I'm primarily an historical romance reader. I think that comes from having picked up a few lousy contemporaries, which also explains why I shied away from category romance.

But reading some good books when you least expect them tends to change things, dragging you kicking and screaming into new arenas. There are those of you who have written me gleefully, whom I can imagine smacking your hands together as I've reported first the reading and loving of Nora Roberts, then Leanne Banks, Jennifer Crusie, and now, Jayne Ann Krentz.

I've been a fan of Amanda Quick (JAK's historical pen name) for many years, but found her Zinnia, a futuristic romance, less than scintillating. So I was sure her contemporary romances wouldn't do a thing for me. That is, until I read Whirlwind Courtship, which was reissued along with Dara Joy's wonderful High Energy.

I was at my favorite independent bookstore last week, telling the owner how much I enjoyed WC. She knows I rarely read contemporaries, but her eyes lit up and she grabbed my arm and took me to the JAK section, where she had used copies of several of her books. She started pulling them down off the high shelf, saying, "This is a good one, and this one, and this one, and this one. . . ." After we took the armfuls of books to the counter and went over them, I selected about ten and she returned maybe two or three back to the stacks.

Discovering a new author, as you know, is like visiting a candy store when you are a kid and being told you can pick out whatever you want, and as much as you want. You tend to go a little crazy. But, just as when you are a kid, it's hard to know when you've over-indulged and when you should have stopped. By this I mean the phenomenon that occurs after the glom, but before you've read all the books.

When I discovered Julie Garwood with the publication of Castles, I bought all her preceding books, which amounted to about ten. I read them backwards, and read last her very first book. By the time I had read about eight and had reached the first couple of books she'd written, I think I had OD'd because many people tell me that Honor's Splendour is her best book. I enjoyed it, but I was too Garwooded-out to fully appreciate it.

A few years later, after having discovered Deborah Simmons, I read about 4 of her books after glomming her backlist. By then we had already started an e-mail relationship and when I told her I was planning to read her backlist in full, she cautioned me against it. Her comments reminded me of my Garwood experience and I'm glad I took her advice.

It's hard, isn't it, to pull back when you want to move forward; to not read another book by an author you've just fallen in love with when you really want to? What is the appropriate number of books to read before stopping? I was on the phone with Vickie Denney today, proprietor of New & Previously Owned Books, and she said she stops at two.

When I came home from Books 'N' Stuff with my sackful of JAK's, I immediately read Lady's Choice (more on that particular book later). I enjoyed it immensely and ripped into another of her shorter books, Witchcraft, which I found just so-so. Undeterred, I grabbed Grand Passion, which had been recommended by a reader assisting in the Not Your Usual Conflict listing. This was a full-length contemporary and, again, I enjoyed it very much. What to do now? I notice Deep Waters, her most recent full-length contemporary, is coming out in paperback. I'm going to get that, but in the interim, should I read Absolutely, Positively or one of the other books I picked up last week? Would deferring my gratification actually increase my gratification?

I'd like to hear from you on this and will try to follow your advice - sometimes better judgment is difficult medicine to follow when you're a child at heart! Please e-mail me with your own glomming and over-dosing stories, as well as if you've found a good number of books to read before you reach saturation.

More on Glomming:
Last year, when I first discussed the glomming phenomenon, it hit a chord with readers. At the time, I received a lot of mail from readers who wondered how I could glom an author even before I'd read any of her books. Well, it's time to explain that because I've met some readers who do the same. Since I'm not alone, it's easier to share my thoughts on this and not be too embarrassed.

Here's a simple scenario: I'll hear a particular book is incredible and want to buy it. But wait. . . it's not the first book in a series and I hate going into a series without knowing I'll be able to read the whole thing. So I'll have to track down the earlier parts of the series. By the time I have the other books, I'll have moved onto something else, not to be able to get into the series at all until the author's next book in the series is published. Does that sound familiar to any of you?

Reader Anita actually created an acronym for this phenomenon - GWHR (glomming without having read). She wrote, "I. . .hear the raves so glom without having read a single book from that author. Not strange, just another symptom of that terrible disease -- bookaholism. Though very embarrassed, I will come out of hiding to share most of the authors I'm GWHR." Anita, who is a romance newbie, went on to list approximately 70 authors. Anita, you're my kind of gal!

Linda said that when she reads about a book she "knows" she'd like, she'll buy it and continue to buy books by this author because they sound good. She'll get to them someday, just not now. She listed a dozen or so authors she's glommed but hasn't yet had the chance to read.

Teresa wrote to say that she too collects authors she hasn't yet read. "If I see an author that is highly recommended on one of the lists, then I just have to have all of their books. Sometimes I will look at the books and think how crazy this is because I might not even like their writing style. I guess it is just part of the addiction that we all share."

Maudeen said that GWHR certainly validates her book-buying habits. "Not only do I glom authors but don't read them (although I usually glom after reading one book by a particular author, then tracking down everything the author has written, sometimes getting around to reading others, sometimes not)but also glom series but don't read them (Crystal Creek, Montana Mavericks, Seven Brides, etc.). I just recently finished my collection of the Fortune's Children series. I wonder how long it will take me to read them?"

Carol, whose glomming habits are similar to mine, cannot stand to read books out of sequence. She, like me, has to have all the previous books in a series before she'll read them. She takes my habits a step further; she won't read the series until it is complete. She's excited now that the Fortune's Children series is finished now so she can start reading it.

So, now that some of us have shared our deep, dark secret, are there others out there like us? I know most of you are glommers, but how many of you GWHR? Please let me know by e-mailing me. (LLB: Please click here for more on the GWHR phenomenon (Dec 27) )

Sex on Page One?
In the last issue of this column, I posed author Peggy Moreland's question of whether an author can write a book including sex on page one that wasn't sleazy or a turn-off to readers.

At that time, I had read a small number of books where there was sex fairly immediately, but generally these instances were encounters with prostitutes or mistresses, or were rape scenes. In other instances, the hero was dressing after an interlude with his mistress. None of these scenes, even when included in good books, did much for me; some did turn me off completely (especially the Susan Johnston I tried to read but traded in after sex by page 20).

One reader was very offended by sex on page one, finding nothing whatsoever romantic about it. Besides, she noted, who wants to read about the hero having sex with someone other than the heroine anyway? Well, while I agree in general with that statement, I must say that in JAK's Lady's Choice, the sex is between the hero and heroine, and the book was neither sleazy nor a turn-off.

When the question went out to readers in the last issue about sex on page one, several readers wrote in particular about that JAK romance, which is one of the reasons I was prompted to make that visit to my favorite bookstore as mentioned earlier in this column. As is always the case when discussing books and topics, the mail I received on this book in particular went both ways. There was a reader who felt the author had written the scene "because she had already done everything else and wanted to see if she could." This reader did not care for the scene or the book, believing that "part of the romance is the initial zing between the hero and heroine. If they are already having sex at the start, then half the story is missing." She was not offended by the book, but was disappointed.

I found myself agreeing with Susan, who wrote, "Generally, I don't hold with sex on the first page. I've found that it weakens the book overall, making it borderline erotica as opposed to romance. However, a strong exception to this feeling is Jayne Ann Krentz's Lady's Choice, a contemporary romance published in 1989 by Mira. The book opens with the h/h making love and Ms. Krentz handles this with grace and depth of feeling, along with her usual sensuality. It is obvious by the language that this act is not just sex or a one-night stand. It has meaning to both characters involved. The aftermath of this scene sends the reader straight into the story, a writing style which I am certain many of Ms. Krentz's readers recognize. I've often found that sex on page one doesn't work but here it definitely does."

Another book that was recommended which has sex on page one was Mary Balogh's A Precious Jewel. Karen wrote in to say that while she usually doesn't like books that start with sex, there are exceptions to everything. "It's hard to imagine too many situations where the hero and heroine could jump into bed in the first chapter, and I don't really care to read love scenes otherwise. The heroine in A Precious Jewel is a prostitute, and the rather impersonal sex of the first chapter is quite a jolt, especially for someone who is used to traditional Regencies! But it sets the stage for the story that follows, and is a perfect contrast to the tender love scenes that come later. Balogh could have been more "conventional" and glossed over that initial scene, but I don't think that the book would have been as powerful if it hadn't started with such an unsentimental look at Prissy's life and profession."

If you'd care to comment on sex on page one, please feel free to, but Peggy, it appears as though in the hands of a skilled author, readers won't necessarily be turned off.

Another Author Question:
Author Sharon Ihle wrote me the other day. She's been hard at work on an historical with a Christmas theme and wondered about the proliferation of such books. She wrote:

"I've noticed over the past few years, as I'm sure most readers have, that there has been a steadily increasing amount of Holiday titles/anthologies available at bookstores each year, usually starting in October. Part of the appeal of these books is readily apparent - the holiday season is the most stressful time of year for many people, and reading an uplifting romantic story can go a long way in helping to ease that stress. For those of us who do not find the holidays stressful, reading a Christmas novel can only enhance an already full sense of excitement and joy. Since I've been asked to write a single title historical novel with a Christmas theme, I'm wondering what elements other than family unity and of course, a happy ending, make these stories so appealing? Readers? Writers? I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts on this subject."

Sharon poses an interesting question here, and I'd like to provide her with your answers. However, one part of her question in particular interests me, and that's about anthologies. Perhaps one day I'll have a different feeling about them, but it's taken me nearly five years to deal with the concept of a complete romance in less than 300 pages. I've only read a couple of anthologies, and, for the most part, they left me wanting. Either the stories I most enjoyed were too short or the stories I found least enjoyable seemed interminably long.

Denise has some strong feelings about anthologies. Listen to what she recently wrote me: "Another thing that has irked me is those books with the 3 or 4 stories from the different authors bull___. Pardon the language. I feel like I'm reading the Cliff notes of what could be a pretty good book. Are the publishers doing this to give exposure to more authors that they aren't going to publish anyway? I like my books with lots of description, lots of conversation, just lots of words. I don't enjoy the Reader Digest version of something. Fool me once, shame on you...Fool me twice...."

What do you think about anthologies, Christmas-themed or not? Do they hit the spot? Are they too short or just right? Are they a good way to introduce you to newer authors while giving you a glimpse of an old favorite? Or do you keep buying them but find yourself dissatisfied each time you actually read one? And, to answer Sharon's question, just what do you think about those Christmas-themed romances? Please e-mail me with your responses.

Eyes Wide Open:
Many of you had rather strong feelings about the hero commanding the heroine to keep her eyes open during the height of passion. My dh wants you all to know that he's glad he provides comic relief for many of you! A couple of readers hadn't noticed this very often, but most readers felt it was a power thing. As I read your comments and thought about it more, I developed a theory. But first, your comments:

From author Lisa Kleypas: "Thanks for asking a question about something that has confounded me for years. Being nearly blind myself, I too have never been asked to keep my eyes open during the 'crucial moment' - Good Lord, how distracting that would be! It makes no sense to me, but I can venture a guess as to why so many writers use it . . . perhaps they think it imparts a greater intimacy between the two characters, as if the hero could somehow see into a woman's soul if her eyes are open at such a moment? Sounds kind of silly, but it's all I could come up with.

"I have to add, however, that I do really, really like it when a hero either speaks his beloved's name during orgasm, or asks her to say his. I guess because it reinforces the sense that he would not be satisfied with any woman but her, and not just any warm body would do!"

Cecelia thought it definitely was a power thing, a way for the hero to control the heroine. Rebecca agreed, writing that, "I honestly think the eyes open during orgasm thing is about domination and control. It doesn't appeal to me either, but some authors still hang onto the fact that women still fantasize about being submissive. Do you think it is still true? Certainly not for this blatant feminist with romantic tendencies."

Susan sometimes gets "the feeling that the hero orders the heroine to look at him in order to increase his feeling of mastery, to enhance his ego, as a confirmation that he is a great lover and he really knows how to bring pleasure to a woman. These scenes just don't do it for me."

Each of these readers gave me a clue as to what I think is going on here. No one wrote in to say their lover had ever commanded them to do this. This is important because many of us seemed to get upset about a purely fictional device written by women about men. It's as though we're angry about something men did, even though they didn't do it - it's women authors who created the device.

Of course, that led me to believe that perhaps it's not about power, but about intimacy. That it's not an ego trip, but about the realization for these heroes that, for once, he really cares about his partner, and watching her orgasm means more than usual. So, not only is he a great lover, but now he actually has feelings for his partner.

If that makes sense to you and you agree, please let me know. If it makes sense and you disagree, I want to know as well, so e-mail me. Please click here for more on the eyes wide-open device, including author Jo Beverley's take on it (Dec 27) )

Even More About Love Scenes:
It seems as though this column is delving quite a bit into the realm of the love scene. I know I've brought it up before, but a recent discussion on Aarlist reminded me once again of how romance authors may be toning down their love scenes at the very same time they are possibly attempting to go "mainstream". This is not a discussion of whether romance readers are upset that their favorite author has gone hardback, but whether certain authors feel they have to change one of the best aspects of their writing in order to appeal to a wider audience.

I have my suspicions about Julie Garwood, which, after I read her brand new Come the Spring, may be dispelled or proven, and about Johanna Lindsey and Catherine Coulter as well.

I've started asking some authors about this already, and hope not only to hear from more of them, but from readers as well. Cheryl Biggs wrote in with an interesting take, which I don't necessarily agree with, but present here because it contains some valid points:

"Personally I feel that if a love scene is needed, then it should be included, but they are not always crucial to a good story." Remember the gothics that were popular before the big romances came into vogue? They had no love/sex scenes, yet a lot of them were very good books. I know, I have several boxes of treasured gothics in storage that I wouldn't part with for anything. I had two all time favorite gothic authors, Dorothy Daniels and Patricia Maxwell. Patricia went on to write big romances as Jennifer Blake, but many of her early big romances are very similar to gothics and extremely well told stories.

"Perhaps it is a change of the times that some authors want to tone down the love/sex scenes in their books, and perhaps not. Some authors love writing those scenes, others dread it. The reasons are too many to list.

"If, for character and story development, a sex/love scene is needed, then it should be included, if the action and story and character development could continue without it, then it shouldn't be there.

"Perhaps the authors you see toning down their sex/love scenes feel they aren't really needed in these stories to make them good stories."

As I said, Cheryl makes some interesting points, although I don't agree wholeheartedly. For me, love scenes are an integral part of a romance novel. While I've read and loved certain books that contained minimal love scenes, generally I feel as though something is missing without some wonderful love-making.

One of the reasons I love Julie Garwood is her ability to write incredible love scenes. I think it would be a big mistake for her to tone these scenes down in an effort to appeal to a wider audience. And, I don't think it's necessary. I drove by my local six-plex the other day - all six movies were "R"-rated.

So, what do you think? Am I picking up on something that isn't there? Or have you noticed this toning down as well? Do you think it's related to a move toward a larger audience? Is it a necessary move? This isn't a matter of being angry at authors who may be moving into the mainstream, it's just a concern that they may be giving up something that really works in their writing.

Please e-mail me with your comments. I plan to develop this discussion into a stand-alone page.

Speaking of Which. . .
Another stand-alone page which I have already developed went online over the weekend. I asked authors to answer the question: What is a romance novel? I indicated they could include what a romance novel should be and what a romance novel should not be if they so desired. The responses generated can be found here.

I hope that additional authors will respond, and that readers will as well. My plan is to create a special readers page to correspond with the author's page. I've been doing a lot of thinking on my own of what a romance novel is, and here is my definition: A story about the growing love relationship between a couple that has an HEA ending. There may be other elements, but the love relationship and its progression should be the focus. Because of this, there should not be lengthy separations between the lead characters. There should be, however, an emotional bond with the reader that develops out of their story, and it doesn't matter whether the bond is laughter or tears or a strong sense of lust.

Please do make sure you visit Authors Define Romance, then give me your own definition (and include whether you are a reader or author) by e-mailing me.

Laurie's Picks & Pans:

  • One Red Rose by Julie Garwood, 1997 - I gave it a 2. For a better "mini" from this series, try One White Rose, which I gave a 4-heart rating to at The Romance Reader
  • Lady's Choice by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1989 - I gave it a 4-
  • Witchcraft by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1985 - I gave it a 3
  • Grand Passion by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1994 - I gave it a 4-

To access my Picks & Pans page, click here.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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