Issue #44 (January 20, 1998)

The Best in Romance:
Valentine's Day is coming up, and I've got an idea on how to make it special. I'm going to hold a contest here for the best romantic story - it could be quietly sweet, it could be bittersweet, or it could be, as my own story is, a funny romantic story. I'll be determining the winner myself, and that lucky person will receive a beautiful, hand-crafted (not by me, of course, but by someone who sells them!) cornhusk doll bookmark.

Your entry must be sent no later than February 8th. I'll be announcing the winner in my February 10th column, which is when I hope to announce the winners in the 1997 All About Romance Reader Favorites. Voting continues through January 31, and a list of the front-runners can be viewed here.

One of the reasons I want to have this contest is that I have my very own special story to share. I, of course, am not eligible to win the contest, but then, I've got one of the beautiful bookmarks already. Still, I've been dying to share this story on-line for years now, and my husband finally agreed to let me - I had to ask him; he's in it. . . .

In May of 1991, we were desperate. I'd recently had a miscarriage; my latest promotion was one I now refer to as "the one that did me in". I was convinced that job was the reason behind my losing that first baby, and so, after having achieved my career goal of being a division manager by the age of 30 (I beat it by a year), I decided that I was going to quit my job. I'm sure watching Michael on Thirty Something going through similar career woes had something to do with it - was it a coincidence that the day after he quit his high-power job I gave my own notice?

In any case, we were going to devote ourselves to making a baby. I was doing the temperature, the mucus (don't ask!), the ovulation kits. So, when I woke up that Thursday morning, I turned into a chemistry professor yet again (the ovulation kits back in 1991 involved a lot of mixing and measuring) and did the morning pee thing. Today was the day! Problem was, my husband was not in the bed next to me. He had started travelling to Richmond, Virginia five days a week a couple of weeks earlier. That's where he was now - more than a thousand miles away.

I called him on the phone and said, "Today's the day - what are we going to do?" He said, "Get yourself out here - fly first class - let's do it up right." I called the airline and arranged a round trip - I had to be back the next day; it was my going-away party at work and it wouldn't do for me to miss my own party. The round trip would be tight - just a three hour, and this gives new meaning to the word, layover. I stuffed a negligee into my purse and headed for the airport.

My husband met me at the plane and told me there wouldn't be enough time to take us back to his hotel in town because by the time we got there, it would be time to go back to the airport. Then he told me there was a huge convention in town and rooms were next to impossible to find. He had managed to find a room, though - at a seedy hotel not too far from the airport. What the desk clerk thought when my husband returned the key and checked out two hours after checking in is anyone's guess!

My husband delivered me to the airport later that afternoon, and when I boarded the plane, I was greeted by the very same flight attendant that had flown me out to Richmond. She looked at me and asked, "Didn't you fly here just a few hours ago?" When I said I had, she asked, "Was there some sort of emergency? Is everything okay?" I'm sure I had a wicked grin on my face when I told her everything was fine.

I found out I was carrying Rachael two weeks later, and when my husband came home from Virginia that weekend, he had with him a nightshirt from the airport shop - it had a huge heart on the front and said Virginia is for Lovers - it's hanging in a special spot in my closet, never to be worn. A tiny match for that shirt hangs in our own daughter's closet.

Btw, I also had a "goal" for having a baby by the age of 30 - Rachael was born three months before I turned 31.

Please share your own most romantic story with me by entering this contest. E-mail me no later than February 8th.

Grit & Bear it!?!
There have been some books I've read in the past that really bothered me - in some instances I felt impelled to read them even though they had me gritting my teeth. In other instances, I had to get the books out of my house fast and traded them without finishing them.

So, first off, I'd like to hear from you if you've had the experience of some internal force compelling you to finish a book you didn't like. Some of you may finish everything you start; others may know when to give up in general, but just couldn't in a particular instance. And, if you've had the experience of wanting that book out of the house right now!, I'd like to hear from you as well. Please e-mail me with titles and authors and anecdotes.

The titles that come to mind for me include Laura Kinsale's Dream Hunter, Judith McNaught's Almost Heaven (which is many reader's favorite McNaught), and Catherine Coulter's Earth Song. Judith McNaught's Something Wonderful almost gets included on this list, but the ending is so touching that it cancelled out the part that bothered me - I gave it a 3. Still, that book is pretty low down on my list of McNaught's.

I didn't include Diana Gabaldon's Outlander on that short list because it does so much of what I don't like that I don't even consider it to be a romance. It works for me as historical fiction, but not as a romance. So what do these books share in common that I don't like in a romance? The lengthy separations between hero and heroine where the reader is part of those separations.

When I sit down to read a romance, I look forward to reading about a relationship between two people who fall in love and are in love. Yes, they may go through trials and tribulations, they may be kept apart for a short time by chance or by choice, but, for a strong relationship to develop, these people have to be together. I think that's why I'm one of these people who have a narrow definition of what a romance is. I don't like a whole lot to get in the way of the progression of the romantic relationship.

I said in an earlier column that, although I enjoyed Julie Garwood's Come the Spring, it bothered me that the hero and heroine didn't meet until the book was nearly 1/3 complete. I missed 100 pages of the heroine and hero together. Come to think of it, one of the Bertrice Small's I reviewed last year, Love, Remember Me, had the hero and heroine barely meeting until the book was half-over. I had many reasons for not liking this book, but this was the main reason. It just didn't read like a romance because the romantic relationship was so late to develop and seemed to take a back seat to the history.

Apparently I'm not the only one who likes lead characters to meet early on, and to be together for most of the romance. Medieval romance fan Falcon wrote, "For me, the meeting between the hero and heroine definitely must be sooner rather than later. I get really ticked off if by Chapter 3, the main characters have not met yet. Romance novels are all about love stories and when the characters meet is pivotal to developing that love story. I want my characters to spend a lot of time together, not meet in 100 pages or so before the ending. What's up with that?? No, no, no - I stand firm on this...I don't want to read a sequel just to find out what happened to those people...and by that time - who cares?"

On the other hand, Lee wrote that, "Sometimes it doesn't matter if the hero/heroine meet early on...cases in point, Breath of Scandal by Sandra Brown and The Tiger's Woman by Celeste de Blasis. Only a couple of the many I am sure are out there...the book is still enthralling and a keeper for many re-reads."

As for whether or not having lengthy separations between lead characters is a problem or not for readers, most of the mail I received said it was a problem. Leonie wrote that she likes the hero and heroine to meet very early on. Not only that, but "I have the tendency to skip the pages when they're not together - OK, maybe I can tolerate 1 to 3 pages if they're separated but my itchy fingers will start flipping the pages if more than that. Also, I've read a few books where the secondary story can occupy pages and pages at a stretch. I find this really distracting to the main story. I generally like books with one main story and no or very little secondary story. This way, I only have 2 people to concentrate on."

Leonie goes perhaps farther than me in one sense, although I too get "itchy fingers" when my lead characters are separated and I'll page forward to where they're together again - if it's not too many pages, I'll relax. But if I have to turn a lot of pages to have them back together again, many times I'll have to put the book down for awhile because I just don't want that. Where Leonie loses me is that I enjoy secondary characters and secondary story lines, but I can see her point. If the mystery angle or the suspense angle, or the kidnapping or visionquest, or whatever else is going on in the story besides the romance becomes primary and the love story secondary, I tend to get "itchy fingers".

Anne points to a plot device as a possible culprit in lengthy separations. She too prefers having the lead characters together in a romance, and she thinks that some authors "waste too much time keeping them apart to create 'tension'. This reminds me of the historical novels of the 1970s where the heroine would start out in England, meet the hero, end up in a harem, meet the hero again, end up on a pirate ship, and so forth. No wonder the secondary characters were often more interesting."

Anne, however, makes exceptions for romantic suspense novels, about which she said:

"I do make an exception for some romantic suspense novels, especially those that concentrate on the mystery. But in most cases, those books would be even more suspenseful if the characters met before page 100! What's more suspenseful than a heroine trying to figure out if she can trust this guy?

"Examples in romantic suspense include Vicki Mason White's Deadly Paradise and Deadly Demise; were both published as romantic suspense. In both novels, the hero is not introduced for a long time. In both books, her heroines are strong and engaging characters. They'd have to be, because the heroines carry the books! (Her love scenes are G-rated, by the way, so I did feel like I was missing something...)

"In romantic suspense, the plot often requires less interaction between the h/h. If he's a cop, and the murder takes place half-way through the book, he won't be introduced until then. If she thinks he might be a murderer, in most cases, she will try to avoid him. Some authors can write under these constraints. But I think many of these novels would be improved from more interaction between the h/h."

Anne has probably put her finger on the reason I haven't yet ventured in to the romantic suspense arena. It's one thing to read a romance and discover the romance isn't primary. Why venture into something you know won't place the emphasis there? There are lots of romantic suspense fans out there - please convince me otherwise by e-mailing me; you might want to send in some authors and titles for a romantic suspense conversion kit.

Asides from romantic suspense, what books in particular have worked for you that included either a late introduction between the hero and heroine or lengthy separations? Do you not mind lengthy separations? Do you need to have the lead characters together for most of the book, as I seem to? I'm fairly sure that's why I enjoy road romances, what about you? Please e-mail me with your comments.

Laurie's Picks & Pans:
A Handful of Heaven by Kristin Hannah, 1991. I gave this a rating of 3.
Summer Darkness, Winter Light by Sylvia Halliday, 1995. I gave this a rating of 4-.

To access my Picks & Pans page, click here

Going Against the Grain:
When the movie Stand By Me was released, were you surprised to discover that it was written by Stephen King? I was. My husband and I were in a state of shock to learn that the reggae-tinged Red, Red Wine, as performed by UB40, was actually written by Neil Diamond several years before. These were aberrations and not the typical type of book to expect from King nor the typical song I'd expect of Diamond.

Something similar happened when I read Night Fire by Catherine Coulter. While this was not the first book I'd read by her, it was the second, and it led me to glom several of her other books looking for a similar style. While I can say I've enjoyed many books by this author, this was the only book she's written that I've read, and I've read twenty or so of her books, that featured a beta-sort of hero. So I started to think about other romance authors. Have I read books by authors that were one-time glitches? Did I prefer the glitches to their basic style? Julie Garwood's Rebellious Desire, for instance, features a far less gamma hero than her other books, although Jared is hardly a brute. It's not my favorite Garwood, but it's way up there.

Nora Roberts generally writes contemporary romances (although she writes futuristic romantic suspense under the name J.D. Robb). She wrote two historicals several years ago. If you look at the books you've read, what authors generally have written either a particular setting, style, or character type but then have a single book that's quite different from the rest?

I posed this question to my listserv recently, and, to be honest, didn't get the answers I was looking for. I'm going to ask again here, but will also tell you what tangent the listserv went off on, because there's probably an equally valuable discussion in the tangent as well.

The thread of the discussion soon focused on authors who write in multiple settings, and how, for instance, Jude Deveraux's historicals work better than her contemporaries and time travels for some, and vice versa. Another reader preferred Linda Lael Miller's vampire romances to her historicals. And, of course, the discussion of Linda Howard's historicals just led to another discussion as many readers weren't even aware that Linda Howard had written historicals. As author Ann Josephson aka Sara Jarrod put it so well, "Are there other people out there who think one author's voice is better suited to one type of romance than another?" The answer is, apparently, yes, but more about that later.

Some listserv members did actually answer the question as stated - Linda thought that Letting Loose by Sue-Civil Brown aka Rachel Lee was humorous, and her other books are more serious. She enjoyed the book very much. Reader Nadine, also answered the question as asked - her first romance by Catherine Coulter was, in fact Night Fire , and she has been confused about Coulter ever since. She also very much enjoyed Geralyn Dawson's Capture the Night, which was a very dark read and very unlike the humorous westerns for which Geralyn is known.

Geralyn, who is also on the listserv, answered Nadine's post with one of her own: "That book was my second novel and I don't think I'd found my voice yet. I was asked by the publisher to do a fairy tale book and I chose Beauty & the Beast because I love those stories myself. I felt for my hero to be a "beast" I needed the dark stuff, and in all honesty I loved writing the creepy parts. But, I wouldn't write that story now - using my name - because I have developed a readership and I'm aware of their expectations. My challenge is to write a different story every time and still give the reader what they're looking for from one of my books. I don't want people saying 'Geralyn Dawson writes the same book over and over.' I do want them saying 'I can count on Geralyn Dawson for a story that pulls me in and makes me smile.' "

Geralyn has a point - after all, I know I can count on Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick to deliver a certain type of romance; the same can generally be said about Julie Garwood. There are those authors who are chameleon authors, who write different styles, different settings, different moods, and while I hadn't wanted to talk so much about them, perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to kick around some of those names, such as Julie Moffett, Nora Roberts, and Deborah Simmons. If you've got an author who is a chameleon, and writes successfully as a chameleon, please e-mail me.

Here are some of the authors members of the listserv went off on a tangent talking about:

From Linda: "I'm enjoying the Iris Johansen contemporaries more but I think it has more to do with some of the love scenes in her historicals which I didn't care for. I do not like any contemporaries by Elizabeth Lowell but enjoyed most of her historicals. I just liked the heroes better?? I love Wendy Haley books but have no desire to read Wendy Garrett historicals. Love Dorothy Garlock historicals but am not interested in her Dorothy Phillips books. Love Barbara Delinsky but have no desire toread her under her other names. I love Maura Seger SIM and historical but she wrote totally different books under Laura Hastings. More in the style of Evelyn Anthony. They were all very good!!! Barbara Michaels writes totally different books than her other pseudonym Elizabeth Peters. (spooky books vs. archaeological books). Both have a romance. I like both but prefer the Peter's books."

From Ann Josephson: "I've noticed that of the authors I've read who write both historical and contemporary, I often strongly prefer one to the other. For instance, I love most of LaVyrle Spencer's contemporaries, while I'm not fond of the tone of many of her historical romances. Karen Robards, OTOH, I prefer in her historicals - although I like many of her contemporary books, too. Linda Howard's historicals leave me cold, while I wouldn't miss the larger-than-life alpha heroes she brings to life in her contemporaries - single-title and category alike."

From Laurie: "The first author that popped to mind was also LaVyrle Spencer but I had the opposite reaction of Ann. I attempted to read 3 of her newer contemporaries, and just about gave up on her because I found the plots and characters too mainstream (or unlikable) but then someone convincedme to read one of her oldies. So, I picked up Hummingbird and adored it. It was funny, the characters were lovable and real but not perfect and the historical detail was terrific. The entire style of the book was so different from her the other books of hers that I had read that I wondered at times if I was reading the same author. . . Another author who is good at doing different genres is Justine Davis/Dare. I've enjoyed everything that I've read from her including her futuristics, medieval, westerns and contemporaries. She's just an amazing writer. I can think of several other authors whose style I like no matter what they write but I can't think of any others besides Spencer that I'm not crazy about when they switch subgenres! (Oh, maybe Dara Joy. I think her voice works better with contemps, futuristics and weird stuff rather than straight historicals)"

From Maudeen: "I've enjoyed Linda Howard's historicals just as much as I've enjoyed her contemporaries. Same goes for Kristin Hannah who, noted for her historicals, is now writing contemporaries. I could name more: Jude Deveraux, Judith McNaught, Stella Cameron, Linda Lael Miller, Anne Stuart, and I know there are more. I think there are many, many talented writers out there who are able to jump from one century to another without a problem. And now we hear that Diana Gabaldon is doing to do a few contemporary mysteries before she continues Jamie and Claire's story. So, the bottom line is, a good writer, is a good writer, no matter what century they're writing in."

From Mary: "I didn't say there weren't writers who could write both contemporaries and historicals and do both well. I, too, have enjoyed books by the same authors Maudeen listed and many others. I, also, have purchased and read many books by authors who have tried and failed to write in both fields. The bottom line is there are authors who write contemporary who can't write historicals well and vice versa.

For the record, I no longer read Kristin Hannah or Diana Gabaldon."

So, you can see, there are a lot of things tied up in this topic. There's that one little aberration that either is a gem or perhaps a dud. There's the author who writes in more than one setting regularly, who has fans for her historicals but not her contemporaries or vice versa. There's the issue of voice and how it is best heard. There are chameleon's. And, there's something to be said for being able to pick up a book by a favorite author and know what you're going to get. Where do you, as a reader, come out on all this discussion? I'd like to hear from you, so please e-mail me.

TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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