Eagerly Awaited September Books

I was such a happy camper when I looked over the September new releases list. I’ve been waiting for Deanna Raybourn’s newest book for ages! Judging from the responses I received from others here at AAR, I’m not the only one. New releases from the likes of Meredith Duran, Tessa Dare, and Mary Balogh make this a big month for historical fans, but there are plenty of goodies to be had in other subgenres as well. What do you want to be reading in September?

Title and Author Reviewer
A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn Lynn, Lee, Caroline, Alex, Caz, Heather, Melanie, LinnieGayl
Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran Luck Be a Lady by Meredith Duran Dabney, Lynn, Caz, , Caroline
If Only You Knew by Kristan Higgins If Only You Knew by Kristan Higgins LinnieGayl, Lee, Dabney, Heather
Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh Only a Kiss by Mary Balogh Lee, Alex, Caz,
When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare Mary, Alex, Lee
Archangel's Enigma by Nalini Singh Archangel’s Enigma by Nalini Singh Jean, Alex
Scotsman of my Dreams by Karen Ranney Scotsman of my Dreams by Karen Ranney Caz, Mary
HIghlander Undone by Connie Brockway Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway Lynn
The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne Caz
Devoted in Death by JD Robb Devoted in Death by JD Robb Maggie
Windham novellas The Duke and His Duchess/The Courtship(mass market reissue) by Grace Burrowes Caroline
Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey Lynn
Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Hunter by Mercedes Lackey Anne
A Red Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire A Red Rose Chain by Seanan McGuire Heather
The Matchmaker's Match by Jessica Nelson The Matchmaker’s Match by Jessica Nelson Lynn
The Copper Gauntlet The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare Anne
Posted in All About Romance, Book news, Lynn AAR | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Jessica Trent: Winsome or Loathsome?

Welcome back to Winsome or Loathsome, the column in which AAR staffers lobby for and against controversial heroines. Today’s heroine is the leading lady of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, Jessica Trent.

Jessica is cool under pressure – her grandmother calls her “magnificently objective” – and does things like calmly looking at a naughty watch and suggesting it as a gift for that same grandmother. She is aloof, unconventional, and nearly impossible to shock or offend. And of course, she both hits Dain and, in the most polarizing scene in the book, shoots him for refusing to offer marriage after compromising her.

AAR reviewers tended to agree that Jessica was over-the-top, or at least, to use the Spinal Tap phrase, turned up to 11. But does that work?

Jean: I’m pretty indifferent to Lord of Scoundrels. I don’t consider it the best (or worst) of Loretta Chase or Regencies, and the whole thing reads like a trope taken to extremes. You want feisty? I’ll have her shoot the guy. You want not innocent? See, she auctions sex toys!! You want a big nose? It’s even BIGGER than you think!!!!  Etc. So I’ve no opinion on Jess Trent. She’s just…meh.

Lynn: I’d say I like her more than I dislike her. I read her as coming from the feisty school of historical heroines, but the way she’s written, I almost get the feeling that Chase was poking a little fun at the curl tossers.

Maggie: To me Jessica is a stock historical romance heroine. Feisty, liberated, independent. She goes to rescue her brother and I can’t tell you how often I have seen that in a novel. It just felt very average to me.

Mary: I LOVE Jessica Trent!!! I loved that she knew exactly who she was and did not take an crap from anyone.  She is one of my favorite characters. I agree that Jessica can be seen as a stock character,  but I think that the farcical elements to her character demand it.  She is meant to be over the top in my opinion.

Caz: I’m in the camp that loves Lord of Scoundrels.  I think perhaps some of the things that may seem clichéd about it today are because they have been so often imitated by others. I like that Jess is a woman who knows what she wants and is a well-adjusted character with no trauma in her past or terrible secrets – that allows Chase to focus on Dain and all HIS trauma and secrets!

I think that perhaps in any other book/context, Jessica might not be so appealing because she is opinionated and strong -willed.  It works here, because Dain is larger-than-life; anyone less strong-willed and opinionated would quickly have been steamrollered into a doormat, but because Jess is just as stubborn as he is, their relationship is less unequal (as far as that can be said for a relationship between a man and woman at that time). I would agree on the uber-feisty, uber-independent etc. nature of Jess, but I think she has to be that way if she’s to have any hope of a) standing up to Dain or b) being the sort of heroine the reader is going to want to see paired with such an ultra-masculine hero.  Dain would crush a wilting lily figuratively (and probably literally, considering how he was worrying about doing Jess an injury in bed!)

She’s a typical Chase heroine – but then I like Chase’s typical heroines. They’re “feisty” without being TSTL.

Dabney: I love Jessica Trent. She won my heart when, rather than being shocked when Dain–at their first meeting–showed her the bawdy working of the watch she was looking at, she admired its work and said she was thinking about buying it for her grandmother.

I love how she keeps trying to seduce Dain and refuses to ever let his sulky machismo intimidate her.

It’s sublime when, when Dain is trying to embarrass her by whispering Italian and unbuttoning her glove in public, she allows it and then, much to his chagrin, points out that it is his reputation he’s manage to trash simply by wooing a virtuous woman.

She’s level-headed, determined to win, and treats all she encounters as though they have value. Plus she’s wonderfully lusty.

Caz: The lustiness is one of the things I like about all Chase’s heroines, whether they’re sexually experienced or not.  It’s important – to me, anyway – that the heroine is shown to be as much in the grip of the throes of attraction or lust as the heroes are, and Chase gets it right.  I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I rather like that her strong -minded, intelligent, independent women forget their names when in the grip of it, even if only temporarily, and that they are able to at the very least admit to themselves that they are feeling things “below the waist”!

I love the bit after the kiss in the rain under the lamppost when Jessica admits to Genevieve that she wishes she HAD been ruined!

Dabney: That kiss in the rain is the scene in which I fell for Dain.

Caz: Yes!  “And so I beat him and beat him until he kissed me. And then I kept on beating him until he did it properly.”

Mary: I think there is an element of farce to Lord of Scoundrels that requires over the top characters.  One thing I love about Loretta Chase is her humor.  I adored Bathsheba DeLucey in Lord Perfect and laughed most of the way through that book.  She does humor very well.

Dabney: I agree. Count me as one who thinks Lord Perfect is comedy genius. I also think Lord of Scoundrels is a send up of the very best kind.

Cindy: I wonder what my thoughts would be today as opposed to reading the book in the 90s. For me the heroine was such a refreshing change from doormat heroines who fell in love with their captors – God forbid they have an angry word to say to the hero.  Wallbangers for me came from those books from late 80s and early 90s (when I started reading romance). It was nice to finally see a heroine stand up to a man and the gun scene had me thinking ‘about time’.  I think today a scene like that would be more upsetting to me. In the last Kresley Cole book I found myself upset that the heroine took a sword and just about decapitated the hero (he is immortal but it was made quite clear that maybe a millimeter of skin staying attached kept him alive) – it was an accident blah, blah and hey, it’s a paranormal but the whole scene felt too close to what could happen in real life if someone felt threatened and then grabbed a knife from the kitchen and the next thing you know someone is dead and the whole thing should have never happened.

And the reason why I took the book to be more of a comedy because Dane’s selfish ways were so over the top and then there was the buggy scene with the horses.

Caroline: I had recused myself from this column, beyond collecting the responses, because I have never been able to get past that gun violence, even if it was supposed to be “funny” violence. But I had never thought of Lord of Scoundrels as a farce or a satire before. I’m still not sure it works for me, but maybe I’ll check it out of the library and give it a re-read and see what I think of it read through that lens.

Unlike with many of our previous columns, we were unable to get a clear Winsome/Loathsome vote on Jessica Trent, with a few picking each and a substantial write-in vote for “meh.” So we turn to you readers for the final choice!

What do you all think? Is Jessica Trent a caricature/amplification of historical heroines, or is she herself? Whichever she is, do you find her Winsome or Loathsome?

Caroline Russsomanno

 

Posted in Caroline AAR, Heroines, Winsome or Loathsome | 18 Comments

What Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Taught Me About Writing Sex Scenes: A Guest Post by Heather Anastasiu

I’m a romance reader (and writer) who loves books of all levels of heat. If it’s got a romance tag on it, I’ll read it, everything from Christian fiction to intense BDSM erotica.

With my latest historical fiction novel, super explicit sex scenes weren’t appropriate for the feel of the story, though there is sex, even in the first chapter. But writing it was a conundrum—how did I write sex without, well, nipples, cocks, clits, women’s cores, and my favorite, steel members coated in velvet?

Then I remembered the sex scenes written by the master, Diana Gabaldon. She doesn’t fade to black but she doesn’t get explicit about it either. And yet I always know exactly what is happening. I might have to read a sentence a couple times to get it. Like wait, did that mean that Claire just went down on Jamie!?! But yep. That’s what just happened in that scene. Without ever saying it. And day-um, it was HAWT. There’s tons of sex in her books, none of it written the way sex is typically written, and it’s more powerful because of that. Here’s what I learned.

Avoid mentioning specific anatomy. Anatomical euphemisms are appropriate for certain romance heat levels. But if you’re aiming for less explicit or want to experiment with writing sex without relying on the old standard (and sometimes laughable) go-tos words, just never mention them.

Use dialogue to drive the scene – in the one I mention earlier, where Claire goes down on Jamie, most of the scene is dialogue. He asks her in a shocked tone what she’s doing. She’s like, what’s it look like? and, want me to stop? To which he responds, understandably, no! The dialogue gives us so much more of a sense of playful connection with these characters (and an idea of Jamie’s innocence at this point) than a physical description of her dropping on her knees and grabbing his ‘member.’

Keep it real. Jamie’s a virgin. He has sex like a virgin, and it’s awesomely awkward at first. So much of sex in real life is not fantasy magic, every one blasting off together at that perfect moment ALL THE TIME. Write sex scenes so readers can see the characters’ vulnerability—it’s hot to watch your characters learn, grow, and build up their sexual connection.

Ambiguity is king. If you don’t let yourself use the anatomy words, you have to get creative, and that makes for interesting sex scenes. But make no mistake, none of this is to say that these more ambiguous sex scenes have to be rushed. Not at all. 

Sex scenes shouldn’t be about the sex. Really. They shouldn’t. They’re should be about emotional connection. There are a TON of sex scenes in Outlander. Some are just a paragraph or two, but the ones that get pages are the ones where something is emotionally changing with the couple. Sex is either the means or climax (ha ha, pun not intended) of emotional connection or change. The longer sex scenes occur 1) right when they get married, 2) after Jamie learns the truth about Claire, and 3) at the end. In these kinds of sex scenes a reveal or a reversal occurs. In the first two, it’s a reversal. In the marriage sex scenes, Claire starts to feel something for Jamie she never meant to (reversal). In the scene after Jamie learns the truth about Claire, he intends making love to her to be a ‘claiming’ of her, only to realize she’s the one who possesses his soul (reversal). In the last important sex scene, it’s a reveal of important information—whether Jamie’s going to be okay or not. This is one reason Gabaldon’s sex scenes are so powerful: They have emotional stakes.


Heather Anastasiu writes historical romance and young adult fiction. Her latest release is Tsura: a World War II Romance. To find out more about Heather, you can check out her website atwww.heatheranastasiu.com

Posted in Book news | 2 Comments

An Interview (and Giveaway) with Kathleen Gilles Seidel

I’m a huge fan of Kathleen Gilles Seidel. Back when we did our reviewer Top Ten posts, I chose her Again as my top romance novel of all time, and mentioned how it frustrated me to love and want to recommend a book that’s out of print. Thank goodness for ebooks, because now Again, and three other Seidel classics (Till the Stars Fall, After All These Years, and Don’t Forget to Smile) are being released in digital form as the Hometown Memories books. Kathy agreed to talk with me a bit over email about this exciting re-release.

 

Not only that, but she is offering one copy of each of the four ebooks as prizes for AAR readers. Enter to win by leaving a comment saying which book you’d most like to win. (You can say “any of them” if you want, and we’ll enter you for all of them). We’ll choose one winner for each book from the comments.

Now, on to the interview!


 

Caroline: You are calling these four books “The Hometown Memories Books,” but they aren’t a connected series, are they?

Kathy: No, they aren’t. I know that readers love books with continuing characters, but I like exploring different settings so much that I have never written a series. So to call these four books a series would be very misleading. The publisher said that “collection” was also a misleading term, as readers might think that they were getting more than one book.  So because in each book the characters have a strong relationship, sometimes positive, sometimes wildly negative, with their hometowns, we are calling it the “Hometown Memories Books.”  

Caroline: Are these stories exactly the way they were when first published, or have you revised them at all?

Kathy: In general, they are the same. I did write one paragraph in After All These Years because the original quoted copyrighted material, and I had no idea if the permission to use the quote would cover a digital release. It seemed easier just to write it.  

The technology in the books is wildly dated. No one has cell phones or uses the Internet; a teen-aged girl is wildly impressed because her mom’s new boyfriend has a – hold your breath – VCR, which I spelled out as “video-cassette recorder” because VCRs were pretty cutting-edge at the time. But none of the devices had an essential impact on the characters’ experiences so revising didn’t seem worth the effort.

I did wonder about the phones in Again. The book is set in the former warehouse where a soap opera is taped, and none of the actors have phones in their dressing rooms. It is an issue in the book. If I would have rewritten it, I would have stipulated that the walls of the warehouse blocked cell phone and other wireless signals. So instead of standing in line at a pay phone, the actors would have clustered around the front door, and at the end of the book the executives would have installed fiber-optical cables inside the building. But the story wouldn’t have changed, and I might have had to learn what fiber-optical cables are. Easy choice there. I so don’t want to learn about fiber-optical cables.

I was told that the advantage of issuing a revision version was that readers who already owned the original would want to buy the new one. That seemed a little cheesy to me. I am so grateful to my readers, I feel that I owe them so much, that I don’t want to lure them into thinking that they are buying something new and improved when it is the same story, only with Instagram.  

Caroline: I’m actually really glad to hear you say this. I’ve never understood the idea that a contemporary has to be eternally contemporary. Why can’t we enjoy a book that is specific to a more recent time, like the 1980s, just as we enjoy books specific to the Middle Ages or the Regency?

What’s the story behind reissuing these books at this particular time?

Kathy: Various college professors have told me that they would like to teach Again in their classes about romances, but as the book was available only in used print editions or through illegal downloads, they couldn’t assign it. So that was initial prompt — now let’s see if any of them actually do it.

Caroline: Oh, I hope they do. I know you have an academic English background (Kathy has a PhD in English from Johns Hopkins) – do you like the idea of being analyzed by undergrads?

Kathy:  Bring it on.  And not just the undergrads.  Graduate students, post docs, people studying for their GEDs.  I love having people read and think about my books.  

Caroline: So did you have all the rights back?

Kathy: No, I didn’t. I have long had the rights back to the books published by Harlequin (including After All These Years and Don’t Forget To Smile). There was a period of about five minutes back in the 1990s when Harlequin was willing to return rights, and I got mine back then. But then, first, the markets that were formerly behind the Iron Curtain opened up, and second, Harlequin began to rerelease some authors’ backlists. So the company stopped returning rights, and my friends were suddenly making lots of money. I did wonder if getting the rights back had been a mistake, but now I am glad that I have them.  

I did not have the rights to Till The Stars Fall and Again. Originally I sold these books to Claire Zion at Pocket Books. I had worked with her before, and I respect her and like her. But her strength as an editor is, in part, helping authors make a book clear and realistic. I think of her as the kid on the ground holding the kite strings, keeping crazily imaginative authors from floating into outer space. But my books are already clear and realistic. I need an editor who can kick me into the magic of outer space.  So I bought the books back from Pocket and sold them to NAL.  

But Claire was lovely and supportive throughout all that. And now – and this is why you never ever burn bridges – she is an incredibly senior person at NAL. I approached her about digital rerelease, and she said that she would be happy to have NAL release the books, but that there would be no marketing to support it, and I probably wouldn’t like the price that they would set.  Or – in an act of great generosity –  she could return the rights to me. I accepted that offer.  

Caroline: Any plans to reissue other works in your backlist, like the Harlequins, or other single titles?

I now only have the rights to the five Harlequin Americans, and at the moment I don’t have any plans to re-issue them.  

Caroline: Careers are huge parts of your characters, and many of them are high achievers: a nationally renowned home restorer, a soap opera showrunner, a Miss America runner-up, a rock legend. What draws you to exceptional characters?  How do you make these lives and settings feel authentic?

Achievement matters to me, but achievement doesn’t have to be glamorous. One of my characters whom I admire the most is Curry of After All These Years, and her achievement was that, as a young widow, she opened and ran a paint store that was successful enough that she could provide for her son.

Caroline: That’s a really good point.

Kathy: I have selected these careers for my characters because I was curious about the world of soap operas, rock tours, and elite figure skaters, and I figure that if I am interested in something, a hundred thousand American women will be too. I agree with the precept, “write what you know,” but you don’t have to have known it your whole life. You can have learned it yesterday. So my advice is “write what you want to learn about”  – hence the lack of the fiber-optic cables in Again. I don’t want to learn about fiber-optic cables. I wanted to learn how soap-opera actors kept track of their characters’ jewelry (baggies clipped to the hanger of the costume).

Caroline: When I think of your books, I always think of those details. The difference that a special flower bouquet makes for a girl in a beauty pageant, or the culture of a Princeton men’s singing group.

You wrote these books pre-Internet. How did you do your research? Did you do interviews, watch documentaries, work mostly from books? Do you do research differently nowadays?

Kathy: Yes, I interviewed people and read books, especially first-person memoirs and popular sociology. The Internet is great from tracing down stray facts that in the past I would have to write around because to do the research wouldn’t have been worth it. I also like dipping into the message boards about a particular topic. You get a good feel for people’s voices  . . . at least once you’ve filtered out the crazy ones.

Caroline: All of these books contain at least one protagonist who has been married/engaged before. What draws you to “second-chance” stories and characters who have more relationship experience?

Kathy: I was plodding (as opposed to something useful like “plotting”) my way through the book I am currently working on. My agent read bits and pieces of it and then said, “Kathy, give them a past relationship.  That’s what you love; that’s what you’re good at.” And the story suddenly came alive for me.

I don’t know why this works for me. It isn’t biographical. I met my late husband during my freshman year in college. It’s nice being Facebook friends with my high school boyfriends, but the only reason I would have for wanting to meet them in person is to meet their wives as they seem to have married such interesting women.  

Caroline: So you’re working on something now – can you tell us about it, or would you have to kill us?

Kathy: I wouldn’t have to kill you, but I would almost certainly want to kill myself. Whenever I try to summarize a work-in-progress, it sounds awful.

Caroline: Thank you so much for talking with us, Kathy!


 

Here are Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s Hometown Memories ebooks:


Again: Alec Cameron joins the cast of a regency soap opera as a duke and inspires showrunner Jenny Cotton to make some changes in her writing and her personal life.


After All These Years: Widowed single mother Curry James finds a second chance at happiness when Tom Winchester, who used to be best friends with her and her late husband, comes back to their small town.



Till the Stars Fall: Quinn Hunter wrote some of the greatest rock songs of his generation for Krissa French before they and his band broke up. After over a decade and Krissa’s marriage to another man, have they changed enough to be together?


Don’t Forget to Smile: Meeting former Miss America contestant Tory Duncan, who now runs a local bar, makes Oregon logger Joe Brigham question his small-town life and his goals for his future.


Would you like to win one or any of the Hometown Memories books? Enter by leaving a comment with the book title or titles that you’d like to be entered for! Don’t forget to provide a working email when you leave your comment. Comments close on Friday, August 28th at midnight.

Posted in Authors, Caroline AAR, Interviews | 35 Comments

Writing Across Cultures: Right or Wrong?

Earlier this month I was chided on Twitter for saying this:

I’m 70% through A Bollywood Bride by @Sonali_Dev. I now feel bereft that I’ve never been to an Indian wedding. Or worn a sari.

The chider is a woman and author whose opinion I respect. She asked me why I would ever have had an occasion to wear a sari. This then generated a lengthy and interesting Twitter conversation about cultural appropriation. I’ve thought about the points she raised as well as those raised by those in my Twitter stream who felt strongly that anyone who wants to wear a sari or a kimono or lederhosen should do so if she wants to.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post published an article entitled “To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation.” In it, the author Cathy Young asserts that those who criticize artists and writers who draw on cultures other than their own–whatever that means–are ignoring history, chilling artistic expression and hurting diversity. She writes,

These protests have an obvious potential to chill creativity and artistic expression. But they are equally bad for diversity, raising the troubling specter of cultural cleansing. When we attack people for stepping outside their own cultural experiences, we hinder our ability to develop empathy and cross-cultural understanding.

I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page and asked how others saw this issue. The answers were varied. Here is a sample.

Sometimes I go to concerts and other events that are primarily for the Indian community. I am always careful about what I wear. Once, I was sitting next to a lovely lady in a sari who asked me why I was not wearing Indian clothes, and I told her I loved them, but didn’t think it was appropriate. She looked at me sharply and said,” I wear American clothes.” And I said, “You’re right.” She was clearly giving me permission to wear Indian clothes if I chose.

 

As a writer, this is concerning. I have written a book about a major event in Russian history, right now its tabled because of changes I want to make, but I had planned on querying down the road. Now I have to worry about cultural appropriation because, though my grandmother is from Russia, I was born and raised in the US. 

 

If you want to be separate stay separate, do not share and do not teach about your culture. Do not be surprised if someone wants to emulate you. Remember, mimicry is the highest form of flattery.

 

Without cultural appropriation by others there would be no art.

 

What?!?! Appropriation is the first step to acceptance and assimilation which seem like the perfect antidote to racism and segregation. 

I can see both sides of this debate. Cultural theft, a hallmark of Western imperialism, is morally suspect. Stealing the work of others is wrong. As Ms. Young points out in her article,

The concept of cultural appropriation emerged in academia in the late 1970s and 1980s as part of the scholarly critique of colonialism. By the mid-1990s, it had gained a solid place in academic discourse, particularly in the field of sociology.

Some of this critique was rightly directed at literal cultural theft — the pilfering of art and artifacts by colonial powers — or glaring injustices, such as white entertainers in the pre-civil rights years profiting off black musical styles while black performers’ careers were hobbled by racism. Critics such as Edward Said offered valuable insight into Orientalism, the West’s tendency to fetishize Asians as exotic stereotypes.

But to me, there’s a significant difference between passing the work of others off as your own and imagining worlds other than the one you were born to.

In romance, we are comfortable–or at least less uncomfortable–when historical romance authors write about worlds and cultures other than their own. Many, however, see contemporary romance through a different lens. Those who write the experiences and/or voices of others–especially marginalized others–can expect their work to be scrutinized.

I’m inclined to be more forgiving.

Men have written first person narratives with female protagonists–I can recommend Brett Lott’s Jewel and Reynolds Price’s Kate Vaiden. Women have written men. Many of best-selling writers of children’s and young adult literature are themselves childless. I, like you, could come up with endless examples where writers have conjured realms beyond their ken. In general, I think this is a good thing.

What do you think? I’d like to know. I’m still trying to understand this issue.

Thanks!

Posted in Characters, Dabney AAR, Romancelandia, Settings | 28 Comments

Julia Quinn: The #RWA15 Interview

My final RWA interview was with Julia Quinn. Ms. Quinn was beyond lovely to take the time to talk to me. She’d just finished giving the Keynote address at the conference. That address was wonderful. (You can watch it here. She starts right before the twelve minute mark.) Given the context, my questions were brief. She answered them all with warmth.


Dabney: Thank you so much for talking with me. Your speech was lovely.

Julia: Thanks.

Dabney: So tell me about your most recent release.

Julia: It’s The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy.

Dabney: And it’s about…?

Julia: The short version is the hero needs to marry the heroine very quickly but the heroine doesn’t know why and neither does the reader.

Dabney: What makes the hero tick?

Julia: He’s a good person who made a bad decision for good reasons. A lot of the book is about what that means and what do you do to overcome that? Part of my job as a writer was to show that he didn’t feel good about his decision and was really quite tortured over it but did not see what else he could do.

Dabney: Tell me about the heroine.

Julia: She’s Iris Smythe-Smith who has  appeared in several books already. She’s got a dry sense of humor and the world’s most annoying sister, Daisy. I have no plans to write about Daisy.

Dabney: What’s up next for you?

Julia: I am writing a book called Because of Miss Bridgerton. It will be out at the end of March 2016. Here’s one thing about it: As there was in The Viscount Who Loved Me, there is a Pall-mall game! My writing challenge with that scene was to do something that captures the spirit of what people like about the family but still not have it be the same. I’ve tweaked it in some different ways.

Dabney: If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Julia: Don’t be so impatient.

Posted in Authors, Dabney AAR, Interviews, RWA | Tagged | 1 Comment

TBR Challenge – How did THIS get here?

mastersmistress As a reader with a large TBR pile, I have more than a few books that have ended up in my house even though I have no clue how they got there. The Master’s Mistress, a 2010 release from Carole Mortimer, is a case in point. Since she won a Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement award at this year’s RWA conference, Mortimer was definitely on my radar. I’ve read her books in the past, but probably not since college.

I didn’t realize that I had any of Mortimer’s more recent books, but I found a signed copy of this one in one of my RWA boxes. Serendipity! Perhaps. As it turns out, The Master’s Mistress is far from the craziest Harlequin Presents I’ve ever read, but sadly, it’s also far from being the most memorable.

The story centers on the remote Sullivan House in Cornwall. Hired to catalog the library, history professor Elizabeth Brown has remained on at the house even after the owner’s sudden death. One night she is startled by the unexpected arrival of the home’s newest owner, Rogan Sullivan, the estranged son of Elizabeth’s employer. Things get off to a rollicking start as Elizabeth attacks Rogan, thinking him to be an intruder. After much smoldering sexual tension and a great many exclamation points, the truth comes out. Continue reading

Posted in Caz AAR, Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Diversity in Romance: A Guest Post by Audra North

Audra NorthI’m guest posting today about diversity in romance, with a focus on race and ethnicity, using the responses from a small, informal survey I conducted last month. The discussion about diversity in romance, which goes beyond race and ethnicity, has been ongoing for years, with many people contributing to the advancement and visibility of diverse romance. This is only one small part of the conversation, but I so appreciate All About Romance for lending me space to share these findings.

At Scandalicious Book Reviews, I posted a partial analysis report of the survey, which had 507 respondents. To summarize that report, the most frequently cited obstacle to reading more romance featuring POC main characters was: knowing about existing or upcoming content. Lack of content as well as mistargeted marketing were two suggestions for why discovery is so difficult. Multicultural romances are often subject to specialized categories or descriptions, which places a net-non-beneficial tax on great romance stories.

In this post, I am focusing on the results in one other question from the survey. “When reading romance works, do you enjoy…?”

The summary of responses, which I’ll discuss in more detail below, is as follows:

    • Readers prefer stories in which they find at least one character attractive to them, personally. This might seem like a too-obvious statement, but I use it as a point of reference for the other responses.
    • The second-most frequently indicated response was “stories where you can physically identify with one of the main characters or put yourself in her/his place.”
    • Respondents who indicated that they prefer stories in which they find at least one character attractive to them were much more likely to indicate that they also prefer stories featuring main characters with cultural backgrounds markedly different to their own.
    • Respondents who indicated that they prefer stories where they can physically identify with a main character were more likely to indicate that they also prefer stories featuring main characters with cultural backgrounds similar to their own.
    • Respondents were more likely to indicate that they enjoy stories featuring characters with cultural backgrounds markedly different to their own.

I’ll discuss some of the possible reasons for these trends below, in this post. A longer, more technical report, including discussion of all survey results, is available on my website.

Identification with Characters
The question, “When reading romance works, do you enjoy…?” was included on the survey in order to determine how readers are identifying with stories and with characters. There’s been some discussion on social media and in workshops at conferences about how, exactly, readers read. The short answer? Everyone is different. But though this answers makes sense on an intuitive, human level, sometimes it helps to put numbers to a concept.

The question listed a set of preferences from which respondents could choose one or more answers, including “None of these preferences describes mine.” Here is how the responses broke down:

s graph

Interestingly, readers were more likely (68%) to indicate “stories where the one of the main characters has physical characteristics that are attractive to you, personally,” as a preference than they were to indicate “stories where you can physically identify with one of the main characters or put yourself in her/his place” (59%).

Why do I think this is interesting? Although the question and the responses do not indicate race or ethnicity as being a factor at all, the way that these questions relate to the other responses: “stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to you own” and “stories where one or more of the main characters has a similar or very similar cultural background to your own” is important when making a case for increased diversity in romance. I’ll get to those relationships in just a second.

But first, I want to make the point that these responses weren’t specific to one race/ethnicity. In both cases, the breakdown of responses by race/ethnicity were similar—significantly more similar than for some of the other questions. You can find the exact numbers in the post on my website, but I think it is important to acknowledge that these trends deal with romance readers as a whole, and not just “Caucasian romance readers” or “African-American romance readers.” I think this is especially relevant when we’re having this discussion with anyone who publishes romance—to demonstrate that categorization of romance based on race/ethnicity is not adhering to expectations that the industry seems to have of readers, based on the way diverse romances are categorized and marketed.

So back to the discussion of the responses. We know that respondents in this particular survey are more likely to want stories where they find one of the main characters attractive than stories where they can physically identify with one of the main characters. Respondents were also more likely to choose “stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to your own” (54%) over “stories where one or more of the main characters has a similar or very similar cultural background to your own” (50%). Although the difference is not as significant here, there is a preference, nonetheless.

Okay, so why is this important? If I’m trying to make the case to publishers (author/self-publishers as well as traditional publishers), that diverse romance has a market, then I’m going to point to these numbers and show that a higher majority of readers prefer stories about people in cultures that are different over those that are similar. “Culture” and “background” to a reader could mean race/ethnicity, or it could mean religion, or be based on socioeconomic class—we would need a more detailed survey to understand how respondents interpreted this question; however, differences are a big part of diversity, and in this survey, “different” was preferable.

Here is a good place to say that I am very much trying to make the case that diverse romance has a market, that it is important, and that we should be creating more of it and changing the way we market it. So I will call out and admit to bias in how I’m interpreting these results. But I don’t feel they’re off base, despite that bias. And, in fact, if we take a slightly different approach and look at those two responses broken down by amount spent per month, spending among those who chose “similar” came out to:

$15-$30 80 31.50%
$2-$5 1 0.39%
$30+ 44 17.32%
$5-$15 94 37.01%
<$5 35 13.78%

While spending among those who chose “different” came out to:

$15-$30 92 33.82%
$2-$5 1 0.37%
$30+ 48 17.65%
$5-$15 98 36.03%
<$5 33 12.13%

The percentage of those who indicated that they enjoyed reading romance where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to their own was higher for the top two spending groups ($30+ and $15-$30) than those who indicated a preference for main characters with a similar cultural background. For the third highest spending group, the percentage difference was less than a point. The way I interpret this data is that, again, there is a market—and not a small one—for diverse romance.

All of my conclusions might seem obvious to some people, but I’ve pulled this data together both to show these there are trends in place that back up what so many already know and believe, as well as to demonstrate to those who don’t understand that diversity in romance is important or relevant that this is not the case. There is a need for more diverse romance content, there is a reader preference for diverse romance, and there are substantial potential dollars at play in the market for diverse romance.

Now, to try to be more fair and present information that would not support the case for diverse romance as strongly, I’ve tied together the responses:

“stories where the one of the main characters has physical characteristics that are attractive to you, personally,” and “stories where you can physically identify with one of the main characters or put yourself in her/his place”

with

“stories where one or more of the main characters has a cultural background markedly different to your own” and “stories where one or more of the main characters has a similar or very similar cultural background to your own”

You can see in the following results that, in doing this, the relationship between those who prefer stories with characters of similar cultural backgrounds and those who prefer stories with characters of different cultural background changes:

    • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they were attracted to one of the main characters and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a similar cultural background: 44%
    • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they were attracted to one of the main characters and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a different cultural background: 46%
    • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they could physically identify with a main character and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a similar cultural background: 41%
    • Percentage of respondents who indicated that they preferred reading stories in which they could physically identify with a main character and who also preferred stories in which one or more of the main characters has a different cultural background: 39%

In this comparison, the percentage of respondents who indicate that they prefer reading stories in which they can physically identify with a main character goes down from those who also chose “similar” to those chose “different” cultural background.

Although the percentage of those respondents—those who chose “physically identify” and “different cultural background” option is still significant, this particular set of responses does not necessarily support diversity in romance. The difference makes sense, though. If a reader prefers stories in which they can physically identify with a character, then characters of different cultural backgrounds will probably be less likely to meet that criterion.

However, this is not race-specific. Again, this is a survey of the general romance-reading population, wherein the responses broken down by race varied, but were not significantly variable as to merit discussion in this post. Understanding, then, how and why readers read, and what makes a good story, might be of interest in improving the way that diverse romance is marketed to the general romance-reading population.

I’d be very interested to hear what the readers of this post prefer: being attracted to the hero or heroine, being able to physically identify with the hero or heroine, and so on. I’d love specifics, too—do you think height of the hero is important? The color of the heroine’s eyes? Is it about the heroine’s personality, her intellect, or her past struggles?

And overall, what are your thoughts on how diverse romance is marketed, given the way that respondents’ preferences broke down? I’ve seen discussions around the web, but I’d also love to hear points made here, and to know if this information has affected anyone’s thoughts on diversity in romance.

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to read this post, and to All About Romance for hosting me!


 

Audra North writes strong women, smart men, hot romance. Her latest release is In the Fast Lane, a Hard Driving novel. You can sign up for Audra’s month Diversity in Romance newsletter at  http://eepurl.com/buUFrX.

Posted in Authors, Dabney AAR, Defining Romance, Guest Posts | Tagged , | 19 Comments

Eva Leigh/Zoë Archer: The #RWA15 Interview

I’m impressed by authors who write as more than one persona. To a non-writer like me, managing to come up with one distinctive fictional voice is cool. Creating multiple successful writing selves is a coup. Eva Leigh is one such writer. She’s already garnered awards and fans as paranormal writer Zoë Archer. This fall, she’ll introduce romance readers to another of her writing selves: Eva Leigh, historical romance novelist.


Dabney: What book would you like to talk about?

Eva: Forever Your Earl which comes out on Sept. 29. It’s the first in my new series The Wicked Quills of London. The series centers around three female writers in Regency England.

Dabney: Tell me about the hero of Forever Your Earl.

Eva: He’s the Earl of Ashford and is known for his scandalous exploits. He leads the life of a rake but is becoming dissatsiatified. He’s looking for a purpose.

Dabney: And the heroine?

Eva: She’s Eleanor Hawke, the editor and owner of the Hawk’s Eye, a scandal rag that publishes the peccadilloes of London society. She is a business owner at a time when many women were not. Eleanor is very intelligent, very independent, and dedicated to her work. She must support herself and is aware that the ostensible purpose of a scandal rag is to serve as a cautionary tale. That said, she also wants to entertain.

Dabney: You are also Zoë Archer. How is writing is writing as Eva Leigh different for you?

Eva: My books as Zoë Archer have lots of action and adventure, lots of ass kicking. The historical are more about the interactions between the hero and the heroine. There’s still ass kicking on the part of the heroine, but it’s more virtual. All my heroines are strong, capable women.

Dabney: How did you start writing?

Eva: I started writing when I was six years old. I’ve been writing my whole life. I discovered romance through a friend in high school and started my first romance then. I’m really glad no one will ever find it because I”m sure it’s quite cringeworthy.

Dabney: What’s next for you?

Eva: I’m continuing to work on the Wicked Quills series. The second book comes out October 27th. It’s Scandal Takes the Stage. There will be three books in the series. The second book is about a female playwright. The third book is about a young aristocratic noblewoman who secretly publishes erotic novels as The Lady of Dubious Quality. The hero’s a vicar!

Dabney: If you could give your younger self a word of advice, what would it be?

Eva: You’ll make it. 

Dabney: So nice to talk to you!

Eva: Thanks! I enjoyed it.

 

Posted in Authors, Dabney AAR, Interviews, RWA | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Annual Poll Focus: Best Historical Romance NOT set in the U.K.

Last month we published the first of a series of posts leading up to AAR’s Annual Reader Poll for the best of romance published for the first time in 2015. Each post will focus on one of the Annual Poll categories (see here for last year’s winners) The first post featured the best of Romantic Suspense, and readers had a lot of great recommendations for books we should read.

Next up in this series is the Best Historical Romance NOT set in the U.K. (in other words, every place but England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland).

Sherry Thomas won in last year’s poll for My Beautiful Enemy. I used the same strategy as last time, and did a series of power searches at AAR to see which non-U.K. historical romances first published in 2015 had received grades of B- or higher by AAR reviewers. This search was a bit harder than the one for Romantic Suspense, as historical romance appears under a large number of different categories in the power search function. The following titles all appeared through various combinations of categories:

I haven’t read any of these books, but am currently reading one I’d definitely vote for, Lauren Willig’s last in the Pink Carnation series, The Lure of the Moonflower. The historical portion of the book is set in 1807 in Portugal and at long last features as heroine none other than Jane Wooliston (the Pink Carnation).

Other than that, this isn’t a category I read very frequently – unless a historical romance happens to be set in Greece or Egypt. As a result, I rarely vote in this category. This time I’d like to give it a try, and am certain I’m missing many great romances that fit this category. I asked my fellow AAR staff members for their suggestions, including both books they’ve already read in 2015, and ones they’re looking forward to for the remainder of the year, and they came up with some great suggestions, including ones actually reviewed at AAR that I missed!

Lee commented that this is a “hard category to find titles that fit.  But I came up with two: Home by Morning by Kaki Warner takes place in the Midwest and Colorado and some DC thrown in too.  It’s the concluding book in her Runaway Brides/Heroes of Heartbreak Creek series.  And we find out what happens to all the characters in the final pages.” Lee also noted that, “the last of the Pink Carnation books, The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig, looks to be set in Portugal.”

Caroline said that “Carla Kelly has a Spanish Brand book out (U.S. Southwest).” (NOTE: A quick search of Amazon revealed that the new book by Carla Kelly is Paloma and the Horse Traders).

Maggie came up with three recommendations, noting first that she “gave The Bootleggers Daughter by Lauri Robinson a five star review on Goodreads.” Her second recommendation, also earning a five star review from her at Goodreads, is Flame Tree Road by Shona Patel, set in  early 20th century India. Maggie’s final recommendation is Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist, which she gave a B+ to in a midweek mini here.

Caz commented, “I’ve given a B- to Lady Emily’s Exotic Journey by Lilian Marek which is set in Assyria and Constantinople.” Caz also wrote that, “I just finished reading The Lure of the Moonflower (Lauren Willig) andli loved it. I’ll be rating it highly, so that’s definitely one for your list.”

Lynn notes that, “A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley would actually fit the bill. I’m not sure why the review has it listed as taking place in France and UK. There are some scenes in UK, but the bulk of the book takes place in France, with the historical characters taking a roadtrip from France to Rome.”

So with five months remaining in the publishing year, those are our recommendations to date for Best Historical Romance NOT set in the U.K. I’m sure you have many more recommendations, and we’re hoping you’ll share your thoughts here.

LinnieGayl

Posted in Annual Reader Poll, LinnieGayl AAR, Polls | Tagged | 15 Comments