Issue #41 (December 10, 1997)

Women are from Venus (Reflections):
They say women internalize failure while men externalize it. That's a fancy way of saying that when things go wrong, men blame outside forces and women blame themselves. That's the main reason given for why men are more likely to take risks than women. It may also explain why, when women do take risks, we make it extra hard on ourselves.

When I ventured out onto the Internet in 1995, it seemed like a brave new world. Oh, I only made it as far as the Prodigy romance BB, but it felt like a giant leap. I didn't make it beyond the BB for six months, but during even those first few months of taking baby steps, it felt like a big thing. See, once I discovered authors were also on-line at Prodigy, I started writing to them. Having enjoyed Bewitching by Jill Barnett and The Bride Wore Spurs by Sharon Ihle, I wrote my first "fan" letters, and was thrilled to receive responses from these authors. I joined an organization, now defunct, called the Romance Readers Association, and started writing short articles about reading romance for its newsletter, Romantics at Heart. When the editor asked me to write a monthly Internet column, even though I'd never moved beyond the BB, I took a deep breath and agreed.

I discovered The Write Page, and, on it, Julia Quinn's e-mail address. Having recently read Splendid, I wrote her eagerly about the book and she too responded. I had dozens of questions I wanted to ask her, including whether or not when she envisioned the hero in her mind, he had chest hair. But I realized I couldn't ask her so many questions without intruding, so I proposed interviewing her for the newsletter, and she agreed. Then I asked my editor whether I could write up an interview with Julia Quinn. And that is how the life and times of Laurie Likes Books began.

Shortly after that, of course, Leslie McClain and I "met" on the RRA-L listserv, only to discover we lived within a mile of each other. She had recently taken the risk of beginning a romance review site called The Romance Reader and asked whether I might be interested in reviewing for the site. I jumped at the chance, and, with her encouragement and instruction, started writing reviews.

Oh, the first several had to be completely re-written as they read more like junior high school book reports than professional reviews. Having always wielded the red pen myself for others' writing, I was unprepared for the onslaught of her editing, but, hey - she was a professional writer. So, my reviews began to get a bit better. At the same time, I was doing other interviews and articles for RRA, and was seeking out other publications. I convinced The Literary Times that they needed me to interview Jo Beverley and Deborah Simmons, and then I screwed up my courage and asked Leslie if I could start interviewing for The Romance Reader.

Her generosity was such that, of course, the answer was yes, and, by the way, would I care to start sharing my views on the world of romance with readers in a bi-weekly column called Laurie's News & Views? Convinced the column would be short-lived - after all, why would anyone be interested in my views on anything, let alone romance, I agreed, and the first issue of the column appeared a week or so later.

At each step along the way, I either made opportunities for myself or eagerly accepted those presented to me. Scared? Hell, yes. Excited? Definitely! Afraid of rejection and failure? Still, to this day. These feelings got stronger when I decided to leave The Romance Reader in August and go out on my own. I literally had a stomach ache beginning the second I resigned, and it stayed with me for the full month I was completely on my own until I went under the umbrella of Romancing the Web.

When women take risks, we get stomach aches (or headaches). I haven't had a stomach ache since mid-September, but I've continued to do risky things. I've learned, for instance, much more about web site design and how to use some new software programs. Anyone who has learned computer skills knows that you risk looking and feeling stupid doing so. But with all the risks has come a lot of knowledge - of new people, of new skills, and of new things to love.

Between this column, the listserv I run, and keeping this web site updated, my days are fairly full. The listserv I started less than a year ago now has nearly 300 subscribers and is, I think, the best romance listserv around. I can say that without bragging much because all I do is nag list-members to keep it on-topic; they do the rest themselves. In addition to meeting some great people, I learned a lot more about history than I could have imagined, which led to my creation of the Historical Cheat Sheet, a feature at my site of which I am very proud.

Once you learn how to surf the Web and access newsgroups, a whole new world is open to you. At least I found that to be the case for myself. I found that keeping an open mind helped me take links I would otherwise have missed. Did I end up in some strange sites? Yes. But I also met many new people. Some turned into cyber friends, some turned into interview subjects, some turned into mentors, and some turned into those whom I could mentor. One link led me to a world of castle images, which I turned into a popular feature at my site, the Castle of the Week.

Keeping an open mind spread over this year into my reading. I learned this year never to say never. I learned that all it takes is one good book to change my mind about a whole set of books. I learned that I could actually love a book containing forced seduction. That was this summer. This fall I learned that I could love contemporary romance, after having read mostly historicals for five years and swearing I'd never enjoy a full-length contemporary.

Since I stopped reviewing for The Romance Reader, I've been able to read some of my older books, books that make up part of my TBR mountain of 500. I've read 34 books since August and more than half were not recent releases. As a result, many of the books others are talking about on bb's and listservs are not those I've read. But I've furthered my "rounding" as a romance reader through my glomming of Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz.

The end of the year is upon us, and, already, releases for 1997 have ended and books with 1998 publish dates are being released. It's time for us to reflect upon the year's reads. I read 53 books published this year and an additional 19 which were not. Last year I also read 53 current-year releases. Here's a comparison of my ratings for the two years:

1997 releases1996 releases
5-heart reads6%6%
4-heart reads30%34%
3-heart reads34%32%
2-heart reads22%17%
1-heart reads8%11%

It looks as though I read a few more books at the lower end of the heart scale than I did last year, but what more than made up the difference for me was in the older books I read. I read 19 older books this year, and they were mostly "glom" books by Nora Roberts and Jayne Ann Krentz, with a couple of "horror" (Anne Rice and vampire) books thrown in. I rated a vast majority of these books, 68%, as 4-heart reads. Another 17% were 3-heart reads. Only one book received a 5-heart rating from of the older books I read. The same can be said of 1 and 2-heart reads. But, oh, those 4-heart reads were wonderful, and they were mostly contemporary.

So, how did the year stack up for you, romance reading-wise? Did you find it just about the same as past years? Better? Worse? Did you decide to risk reading a book you thought you wouldn't enjoy, only to discover a whole new world of books? Did you convert any non-romance readers or develop a conversion kit of your own? Did you read mostly this year's releases or did you find yourself glomming through some extensive backlists and reading more older books than usual? Please e-mail me about your year.

Last year I set up a ballot of 1997 Reader Favorites - if your browser doesn't support this page, please click here for Issue #20 of this column, which provides the winners and comments by those authors who won big last year.

After the awards were presented, I transformed the ballot into one for All-Time Favorites; unlike the year-end ballots where I only tabulate totals, I maintain on-line a listing of recent ballots received for these All-Time Favorites. While recent results remain on-line, I've replaced the all-time ballot with one for 1997 Reader Favorites. I will keep that ballot on-line through January and hope you will make your votes - readers and authors are welcome and the returns are strictly confidential. It helps to be prepared before-hand because there are many categories, so I'm providing you a listing here:

    Favorite Funny
    Most-Hanky Read
    Most Luscious Love Story
    Most Tortured Hero
    Most Feisty Heroine
    Favorite Hero
    Favorite Heroine
    Favorite Couple
    Favorite Road Romance
    Favorite Romance of the Year
    Favorite "New" Discovery - could be new author or just new to you this year
    Author Most Glommed This Year
    Favorite Medieval Romance
    Favorite Regency Romance - an actual Regency and not an historical set in the regency period
    Favorite European Historical Romance - includes historicals set in the regency period
    Favorite American Historical Romance
    Favorite Contemporary Romance
    Favorite Romantic Suspense
    Favorite "Other" Romance - includes paranormals/time-travels/futuristics, etc.
    Author You Gave Up On In 1997
    Author Others Love that You Don't
    Most Disappointing Read
    Purple-est Prose

Remember that these are only for books published in 1997. Be prepared to give the book's title, author, and, where necessary, the character's name. I think last year's balloting and awards were very successful; I want this year's to be just as good, if not better, so don't forget to make your vote.

That's Gross!
One of the books I read this week, and enjoyed, btw, was Nora Roberts' Montana Sky. I was surprised that I enjoyed it as well as I did because it was fairly filled with gore. At the tale end of Issue # 36, I mentioned a book, Peggy Hanchar's The Scottish Bride, wherein a head is served on a platter and the adult villain suckles at his mother's breast. I found this book loathsome and asked if some romance authors include too much violence in their books. Blythe wrote in to say that she found Montana Sky was "chock full of gore to the point where I thought the romance suffered. I have avoided reading most of her single titles because it sounds like they are all violent too, but her trilogies seem to center more on romance."

Montana Sky and The Scottish Bride were both violent books. The difference for me, however, was that Nora Roberts made me care about the characters in her book and Peggy Hanchar didn't. Again, another "I won't read" supposition bites the dust. As with forced seduction, it is the skill of the author that can make a book I wouldn't have considered reading a good read in my mind.

Another reader wrote in about Nora Roberts, albeit in her incarnation as J.D. Robb. While Rebecca likes the In Death series, she believes "they tend to be violent, sometimes way too much so. . . I think we can safely compare them to Silence of the Lambs at the series worst, but the books don't usually get that bad. Pretty gross, though." I haven't read these books - indeed, my trying new things thus far has not included either romantic suspense or futuristic romance, but these books are not romance novels. They are written under a pseudonym to separate them from the romances written by Nora Roberts.

Finally, reader Petal made the point that heads served on platters might be gruesome but historically accurate in terms of the violence in medieval days. She wrote, "I think there is a need for some reality in romance. I read historicals because I love the History involved. Life in the past has not always been as civilized as we are now. (Yes, now you can kill and maim without ever seeing who you are killing and maiming or what kind of damage you have inflicted.) The head on a platter was gruesome but that is the way many things were back then. I don't want to know all the gory details but I don't want all the realism left out. If I did I would read the "lighter" stuff that's out there. I like dark and heavy and Real."

Without going back into the debate on historical accuracy as we have done in many past issues of this column, I would like to say once again that I read historical romance more for the romance than for the history. I, as author Marilyn Grall so aptly put it in the last issue of this column, prefer "reasonably accurate historical 'wallpaper' for flavor any day". Again, to me it boils down to the skill of the author, but, in general, while it's true that life was difficult back then, there are certain things I just don't want to read about in a romance.

If you are a reader of historical romance, do you like Marilyn's "wallpaper" analogy? Have you read a book that took you farther than you thought you'd go in terms of violence because of the skill of the author? Please let me know by e-mailing me.

Laurie's Picks & Pans:

  • Lord of the Dead by Tom Holland, 1995. I gave this a 4-. Another good vampire novel is Anno Dracula by Kim Newman.
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts, 1996. I gave it a 4-.

To access my Picks & Pans page, click here.

Keep it Simple, Stupid!
When I started writing this column three times a month rather than two, I vowed to keep it short and haven't generally done so. Well, this time I am. At this time of year, there are presents to buy, presents to wrap, parties to attend, children out of school, and life in general becomes more important than reading on-line. It's also a time when I become reflective and you probably do as well. I'm far more interested in learning about the books you loved and hated this year than I am in anything else right now, especially since I know I've not read most of the year's more popular reads.

I'm also interested in helping some of you take some risks of your own. If you are an author or a reader who would like to more fully participate here at All About Romance, I want to hear from you. I want you to consider writing for me as many of you have already done, either on the Historical Cheat Sheet, the Desert Isle Keeper Review page, a stand-alone article (as Maudeen did in "I got dem just got done with a really good book blues", or taking on a guest segment of this column, as two readers are doing now in answering this question: Can a book be bad if you respond to it emotionally?

Whether you are interested in answering that question, or providing your input on these outstanding issues:

    Things you've read in a romance that are supposed to be erotic to you but are anything but
    Hero/heroine separations
    Unacceptable behavior in heroines that we accept in heroes
    Book buying browsing,
or proposing something entirely new that interests you, I want you to strongly consider doing so. Those who have worked with me in the past know that I will give help when needed, but will give you final say on whatever you write. Please e-mail me here if you are interested in spreading your own wings.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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