Issue #79 (September 1, 1999)

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Feel the Heat:
I'm sure we've all heard the statistics that violent crime flares as temperature rises. Heat and anger apparently go hand in hand, and a look at two of our message boards this summer certainly shows that.

In the last issue of this column, I shared Anne's post to our Reviews Message Board, entitled Fuming Mad. She wrote:

"I'm extremely disappointed and disgusted with some of the portrayal of women in novels. It's about time we stop whimpering and 'blushing' behind our fans or whatever we are hiding from and take a stand!! And what is it with women who canít say 'no'. I dislike novels that depict women going 'goo-ga-ga' over the hero, and just simply going weak at their knees. Whatever happened to a good smart remark if the hero happens to be rude and obnoxious. Sure it's no way to win them over, but sometimes men can a little bit thick, a good kick in the teeth should bring them around. And what is it with women, who try their hardest to win back their unfaithful husband/hero who claims that they are in love with the heroine but sleeping with their ex-mistress. Whatever happened to important things such as self-respect, sensibility and a little practically in these romance novels. Ok, so it doesn't sound too exciting, but at least they don't faint at the sight of a shirtless male. Heaven forbids!!! I mean after reading Michelle Martin's The Mad Miss Mathley, I can't help but compare the heroine to some of the simpering females I've read and I just cringe, and cringe."

Hmmm. It's hard to know where to start after a rant like that, but I'll give it a shot. Adultery in romance is a topic we've discussed before, and it isn't a theme that generally works for me. I've occasionally read a book where the hero tries to continue being the Duke of Slut after he meets the heroine. These books generally fall into one of two categories - either he's fighting his attraction and ends up unable or unwilling to perform with his mistress or a prostitute, or he's been forced into marriage and sees no reason why he shouldn't continue his lascivious ways.

There is, however, a variation on heroines without self-respect that has nothing to do with mistresses or prostitutes, and that is heroines who allow themselves to be verbally abused by their "heroes." An occasionally effective premise is the heroine who is beloved by everyone with the exception of the hero, who sees her as duplicitous, as undeserving of his trust, and/or as the root of all his problems. He refuses to see the good in her and treats her accordingly. Two books immediately come to mind - Catherine Archer's Velvet Bond, and Elizabeth Elliott's The Warlord. I love both of these books, possibly because the heroes realize the error of their ways before the last page, although in the Archer book, it's a close call. It's also possible that I loved those books because of the quiet dignity of their heroines.

Most readers who can put up with heroes like this appreciate that the heroines are often on the receiving end of a major groveling scene at the end of the book. A good grovel can go a long way in mitigating bad behavior. Judith McNaught is a master at "giving good grovel;" she even turned the tables in A Kingdom of Dreams and has the heroine grovel.

I'm far more inclined to enjoy a heroine who is capable of giving as good as she gets. Not always, though - there are times when I enjoy reading about The Waif (see Tami Cowden's female archetypes) who puts up with more abuse than seems imaginable.

Ronda Thompson, author of Desert Isle Keeper Isn't it Romantic?, agrees with Anne - she doesn't care for wimpy heroines. Neither does Anna, who can understand chemistry between men and women up to a point, but fails to see how a kiss can cause a seeming lack of memory. You know, the hero and heroine who are fighting, then seized by passion, embrace one another for a torrid kiss, and then the heroine can't remember she was mad. . . ?

This is an area of great consternation for Lynn, who writes, "You've hit upon one of my biggest pet peeves in romance novels. The fact that really angry people grab each other and dissolve into kisses. I'll tell you one thing, if a really angry man grabbed me I'd be petrified, and if he kissed me I'm sure I'd be freaking out too much to melt into his arms. Has anyone ever dissolved into sex in the middle of a fight? I know romances are fantasy, but I expect at least the sex to be based somewhat in the realm of reality."

Of course, the anger/sex scenario is a classic - I can remember practically salivating for the episode of Moonlighting when David Addison and Maddie Hayes finally consummated their angry passion in the midst of a fight where her slapping him led to the best "I hate you. . . let's go to bed" scene in recent memory. Of course, the show fizzled shortly thereafter, but there is a legitimate place for anger and passion in romance novels. It isn't called "make-up sex" for nothing. Unfortunately, it has been overdone to the nth degree.

Catherine writes, "Wimpy romance heroines not only ruin books, they make the whole genre look bad. One of my pet peeves is heroine who repeatedly say they don't want to sleep with the hero, while they are kissing him, and then, they are so overwhelmed by his manliness, or whatever, that they do. Hmph. Talk about sending out the wrong message. I lose a lot of respect for a heroine when she does that."

AAR Reviewer Robin Uncapher recommends Robber Bride by Deborah Simmons for those looking for a different type of heroine. She writes that author Simmons heroines are very well rounded; "they are intelligent and never act like wimps." Must be why two of Simmons' books are on my Desert Isle Keeper list! Even when she writes a wounded heroine such as Marion the Wren in Taming the Wolf, there is such a strong sense of an underlying strength of character that the book succeeds.

Christine recommends Loretta Chase's classic Lord of Scoundrels for a look at another strong heroine. Jessica Trent, she writes, "is a very strong woman. The chemistry between her and the hero is sensational. The hero is definitely alpha, but the heroine gives him a run for his money. Yes, she is 'weak at the knees', but never inferior to him. On the contrary, I thought that the poor guy never recovered from the first encounter he had with her! She does not whimper or submit to him. Whatever he dishes out, she comes back with a vengeance."

Because I've always enjoyed strong heroines, I've done my best to share information about this type of heroine with readers. Feel free to check out Elizabeth Grayson's Write Byte on Strong Heroines and to see the books on our Special Heroines list. Later you can post your favorites to the LN&V Message Board and when it's time to update that list, they may be added.

You Want to. . . Boycott?
Anne's not the only one who's fuming mad these days. Sandy seems even more upset, and those of you who have visited two of our three message boards in the past week or so may know why. It has to do not with hardcovers or reissues, both of which are of concern for some, but with re-writes that are published - often in hardcover.

Let's break this down into segments. Romance novels, like other genre fiction, are released mainly in paperback form. Mainstream fiction, on the other hand, is originally released in hardcover, and then, six months to a year later, is re-released in paperback form. With the exception of Publisher's Weekly, most mainstream publications don't review paperbacks at all. Even though sales of romance novels account for half of the dollars spent on paperbacks, if you pick up a magazine or your local newspaper, you most often will not be reading romance reviews. That is changing slowly - The Dallas Morning News now runs short reviews of romances, for instance - but, for the most part, only hardcover books are reviewed in print publications.

There is a sort of status conferred on a book that is issued in hardcover. It will likely be reviewed in some mainstream publication, and an expanded audience will likely buy it. It will also be on sale twice - first as a hardcover, and then as a paperback. Most romance authors who now sell in hardcover have written and sold many, many books before they achieve hardcover status. Whether or not they have written too many books to be fresh by the time they reach hardcover status is not something I'm going to get into now, but feel free to do so when it's time to post to the message board.

There's no doubt that publishers are in business to make money - some of the methods they devise astound me. I can recall seeing a hardcover book by Nora Roberts on sale earlier this year. It was a hardcover reissue of a paperback book written several years before. It was not a re-write; it was simply a book once sold for $5.00 now on sale for closer to $20.00. As all romance readers need to know, checking the copyright page of any book is crucial before buying it.

Sometimes this can be difficult because of cover and name differences. Kat Martin recently did a mass email enticing readers to read her latest book, which, unfortunately, was a reissue of a book written under her pseudonym Kasey Mars. While information at her web site indicated it was a reissue, many readers, regardless of whether or not they received Kat's email, bought the book, only to discover they already owned it.

For those who think they can judge a book by its cover - think again. When I got heavily into romance, I learned that older books were more likely to have clinch covers, that newer books featured either the hero alone, a step-back cover, or a jeweled or flowered cover. What I didn't know is that older books often had their covers re-done for subsequent printings. After buying a book that I assumed was a new release, I checked the copyright page to discover it was, in fact, quite an old release.

I've shared my worst fears about the state of romance publishing before - that I foresee the day when all we'll see at a bookstore are shelves containing backlists for lead authors on one side while on the other all that exists are series romances. Doesn't it seem as though every month, there are more and more reissues available, and fewer good mid-list titles out there? Some publishers are delving into niche markets - Jove has many "mini" lines revolving around friends, quilting, ghosts, time travel, etc., while Kensington, after selling it's AA line, is now publishing a line marketed at Hispanic women.

As a reader, I welcome any new idea that brings us good new authors and new good books. However, as the publisher of this site, and the one who posts reviews, it seems as though many of the books in these smaller lines aren't very good. I know the print runs are small - since they aren't targeted at the entire romance market, that makes sense. Unfortunately, the quality of these books has been iffy.

Most new authors signed by publishers are often put in a sink or swim situation - their publishers expect the books to sell well even though they aren't willing to spend the money growing the author. Most mid-list authors have to promote themselves to an extent that boggles the mind. Publisher's money seems to be lavished on already-established authors, or on "stunt" publishing. From what I hear, most of these stunts do not pay off, and so there is less money to buy books from new authors, less money to spend doing decent editing on books, and little money spent on helping to sell these books.

Romance readers buy in bulk - we don't simply buy one or two hardcover books in a month and let it go at that. Many of us buy ten or more books in a month, and if one is a hardcover, we have a hard decision to make because one hardcover equals three or four paperbacks. Some readers opt to wait for that hardcover to come out in paperback, or to check it out at the library. Others can't wait and buy it regardless of the price - they've got to have it!

Most readers "collect" certain authors - they buy every Nora Roberts, Julie Garwood, or Mary Jo Putney title that's released. If they're not careful, they might buy two paperbacks of the same book. While I can understand MIRA reissuing older series romances that are next to impossible to find, it seems so greedy of Bantam to to reissue Carnal Innocence in hardcover form.

My last trip to Target included, as usual, a stop in the book department, where I mostly saw reprints of Jude Deveraux, Judith McNaught, Catherine Coulter, Nora Roberts, and Danielle Steel, along with all the series lines. I'm sure they had some other authors mixed in, but my overall impression was that most of the books were reissues. When I visited a full bookstore recently, I saw a larger variety, but more reissues than when I last reported on this. For those like me looking for Jayne Ann Krentz, Elizabeth Lowell, Linda Howard, and Nora Roberts titles being reissued by MIRA of their older series romances, this is a good thing. But it's a double-edged sword, because space is limited. Once the initial order for, say, an Adele Ashworth, is gone, will it be re-ordered, or will that shelf space be filled by another JAK reissue?

Then there is the re-write. Catherine Coulter has been re-writing her Regency Romances as full-length historicals for years now, and I've yet to come across anyone who has found this to be a worthwhile reading experience. Mary Jo Putney has begun doing the same - she re-wrote her classic Regency Romance, The Rake & the Reformer, as The Rake last year - both received Desert Isle Keeper Status from us. Later this year, The Bargain will be released - it is a re-write of The Would-Be Widow. In each of these instances, the re-write was in paperback form.

There is some sense in re-writing Regency Romances as full-length historicals, because the forms are different, for one. Also, Regency Romances receive small print runs and it's very difficult to find copies of some of the older classics, which include Putney's. But what about re-writing a classic that continues to be in print and is not at all difficult to find? Which brings us to Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love, which the author has re-written and is now on sale.

Judith McNaught popped up on our Reviews Message Board a few weeks ago, and addressed both the hardcover issue and the re-write issue herself. She wrote, in part, that authors are not involved in the hardcover decision at all, and that publishers lose money or barely break even on many novels, especially those as written by new authors. She added:

"The extra income from successful hardcover novels helps enable publishers to offset the expense of continuing to develop new authors.

"Until a few decades ago, good novels were never available as original paperbacks. They were published first in hardcover, then in paperback. Prior to that, good novels were all released in hardcover, period. At that time, 'the paperback novel' was synonymous with 'inferior junk.' And if you bought one, it almost always was. It's a fairly recent development in publishing to release good, solid novels as original paperbacks.

"Women account for the vast majority of the American reading public, so as soon as we start buying novels by any author (from Sidney Sheldon to Arthur Haley to Stephen King to Jude Deveraux and Johanna Lindsey) it's a foregone conclusion that author will hit the New York Times paperback best seller lists. And when that happens, you can almost bet your IRA that the author's next book will be released first as a more profitable hardcover, then a paperback.

"Given all that, it's amazing (and perhaps a little insulting to romance readers) that publishers continued to believe until ten years ago that romance novels weren't deserving of hardcover publishing, even thought they were consistently making the New York Times bestseller list as original paperbacks.

In the next few years, I think electronic publishing is going to have a dramatic effect on the way we buy and read novels. I also think the cost of an 'electronic novel' will soon drop to where it is substantially less than today's paperback. I also have a hunch that it will cut deeply into what authors earn for their novels. You may be thinking they already make more than they should, but you would be appalled if you knew the paltry amounts many romance authors receive for a novel that constitutes a year's work, or more. For you, reading is a hobby and a joy. For many authors, writing is a joy that pays like a hobby, and for a few authors, writing is an effortless delight that pays very well. For others, writing is a bewildering, difficult effort that occasionally fills us joy, but more often with anxiety, and which pays very well."

And, about Whitney, My Love, Judith wrote with great enthusiasm that she is "very excited and a little emotional about the new hardcover version myself. I added nearly 40 pages to the end of the book and made some changes to enhance two other pivotal scenes."

Judith was so concerned about every aspect of the endeavor that she ended up personally hiring an architect to do a detailed drawing of the Westmoreland estate. Part of the architect's assignment was to read part of the book so as to bring authenticity to the final work.

She wrote:

"It's hard to describe the attachment I feel for Whitney, My Love. It was my first manuscript, started in 1978 and re-written over and over again during the next four years. All my dreams and hopes went into that novel. And every publisher that read it, rejected it.

"With each new rejection, I lost more faith in my ability, until I finally gave up and tried my hand at writing a contemporary novel (Tender Triumph). Harlequin snatched that one up, which at least made me feel validated, and then they bought Double Standards.

"During all that time, during all those rejections and all the dejection and despair, there was only one person who believed in me unfailingly and who continued to believe that Whitney was a wonderful novel - My husband. Three months before my new agent finally sold Whitney to Pocket, my husband died in an accident. Michael didn't live to see my name on a bookcover, not even on Tender Triumph. He never saw Whitney as a book, and he never got to see the amazing way it leapt onto the best-seller lists as soon as it was released. A year later, he wasn't in the audience when I walked up to a podium and accepted an award for it as the best historical of the year.

"I think he knows about all that, though. In fact, I think he made it all happen for me.

"The new hardcover version has shipped out and some people have already gotten their copies. I don't how many copies will be available or for how long. That doesn't really matter to me. What does matter to me is all explained within the wording of the dedication. It reads exactly as it read in 1983, when I turned the finished manuscript into my editor: 'In memory of Michael - my friend, my husband, my love.'

"And now you will understand why that particular book is so very close to my heart."

So, if Whitney, My Love is a book Judith wanted to re-write, why should that be a problem for readers? Well, for many, it isn't. And, for many who had problems with parts of Whitney, the re-write might, in fact, be a good thing. But, for some, the question is: Why should I pay $20.00 for forty new pages and two re-written scenes when I've already paid my six bucks for nearly the same book?

Taking us down the slippery slope a ways is Sandy, who posted on two of our message boards her plea that we boycott this re-write. She wrote, in part, that she has no problem with authors being published in hardcover and understands what a coup it is for romance authors to achieve this sort of status.

She also wrote that she has no problem with reissuing original works in hardcover because she knows that many readers like to collect favorites in hardcover. As for reissues in general, she believes they are wonderful for books out of print because they give "a new generation of readers a chance to buy these books at reasonable rates" rather than through book auctions.

Sandy added that had Whitney, My Love simply been a reissue in hardcover form, she would not have been upset. She is upset, however - mightily so - and wants to be clear that she has no problems with Judith McNaught personally because her books have given Sandy "many hours of reading enjoyment," but that she's "sick that the publishers have chosen her to perform this little experiment on.

Sandy's problem is that she doesn't like "the idea, the concept, of editing, revamping, revising, or adding to 'original' classics' to promote and grab more sales." She further adds:

"I think this new type of reissue is a dangerous and unethical precedent. This new trend simply scares me. If this works and Whitney goes on the bestseller list, what next? Think of your top ten keepers, books that you cherish and have read over and over again until the characters are like family. Wouldn't you just love it if the writer did a sequel, but instead of giving you a sequel, the writer and publishers say 'Oops, I really wasn't happy with that ending' and the writer adds 40 pages to it, and the publisher tacks it on to the end of the 'original' and then reissues it?

"What's your first reaction? I know what mine is - simply 'Oh, I must have this,' 'these are some of my favorite characters and isn't it wonderful that she's writing some more about them,' or 'this makes it a collectors edition and its okay since she's giving us something more'." Then we all just open our pockets and buy the same book twice, with a little extra added. And the publishers and writers think, 'well heck, why write a 300 page sequel when we can pay for just 40 more pages and just tack it onto the original, and still make the same amount of money?' Now do you see? Think of it, all our keepers, constantly changing, being re-edited, packaged as new and revised."

"Please don't change original work. It's not fair to those of us who supported and helped to recognize this work as a classic. It's not fair to those who have never read it and pick up the old version only to find out that there is another 'extended' version that they should have bought instead.

"Do we want to see this happen to all our classics? Are the author and publisher being fair to us by doing this? Those of us who collect are just about forced to buy this is they want to have a complete set of that writer's work."

As you can imagine, Sandy's message brought forth a great deal of discussion. AAR Managing Editor Blythe Barnhill disagreed, seeing this new book as similar to a "Director's Cut" in the film industry. If the new Whitney is the book Judith McNaught really wanted to write, with its lengthier ending, and if she has the clout to get the re-write published, then what's the problem?

Laura Jane wrote that Stephen King's The Stand was re-written by the author similarly. When the book was originally released, the author wasn't a superstar in the publishing industry. The book was severely edited in such a way that the author wasn't happy with the final version. When he became a best-selling author, he re-wrote the book as he had originally envisioned. Laura Jane preferred the lengthier version.

On the other hand, there's Nancy Beth, who wrote, "Perhaps in the next edition (of Little Women) Beth can live and become a single mother."

That's a Wrap!
As usual, I've run out of room! Next time you'll find some reader-generated segments about "the buddy romance" and "the male brain." Also in the works is an interview segment with Judith McNaught herself.

Time to Post to the Message Board:

Feel the Heat: Are too many heroines written as doormats for your liking? Which heroines gave as good as they got or had a quiet dignity you loved?

Anger & Passion: Does kissing make you senseless? Is make-up sex all itís cracked up to be? Which books have effectively utilized anger and passion in a believable love scene? Which ones strained credulity?

Boycotting & the Re-Write: Let's lay it all out on the table:

  • Reissues
  • All those Jove mini-lines
  • Hardcover releases
  • Re-writes, whether of Regencies as historicals, Whitney, My Love, The Stand, or those posthumous Hemingway's and Mitchell's. Did Sandy go too far down the slippery slope or is there some validity in her comments? Do you fear a bookstore filled with reissues and re-writes rather than of new material by new and established authors?

    What questions would you like me to ask Judith McNaught in our interview?

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

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