Happily Ever….

QRMOne of the most – cough – discussed posts we’ve had on Queer Romance Month recently has been about the happy ever after in queer romance. What the post, and the responses to the post, highlighted for me was just how complex and emotive this issue is. And while that would probably make any normal person STFU, I’d kind of like to talk about it. So the next two QRM-inspired posts for AAR are going to be about the HEA: in this one I’m going to ponder what HEA means in the context of queer romances, and in the companion post next week, KJ Charles is going to talk about why the HEA is valuable and necessary on its own terms. Continue reading

Checking in with Sarah MacLean

imageI was lucky enough to get a chance to sit down and chat with Sarah MacLean while at RWA. (This was before she won the RITA for best historical romance!) I wanted to follow up with her. I’d talked to her in December of 2013 about her challenge to The New York Times and that paper’s dismissal of romance. Since then, Sarah has been writing a regular column for the NYT’s rival, The Washington Post, about–gasp–romance novels.  Continue reading

The SA in NA

NA column

Image Credit: India Times

A few months ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek guide to writing a successful New Adult novel. I wrote this piece after reading yet another book that seemed to follow such a formula as to be suspect, that this Mad Libs method of simply filling in the blanks with different names, locations and minor details had gone beyond the realm of coincidence. While my blog post was meant in fun, I do believe that there is a definite pattern that far too many NA books follow. But if readers are snatching them up in record numbers, who am I to argue with the maxim, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? Continue reading

Sarah MacLean talks about romance, the New York Times, and upending tropes

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Sarah, this fall the New York Times Book Review published a “Sex” issue that lacked any coverage of the romance or erotica genre. (I read it and steam came out of my ears.) You sent a lovely letter to the editors taking them to task which they published. In it, you wrote:

“I was dismayed to see that of the 15 authors asked to discuss writing about sex in the “Naughty Bits” roundup, none write romance novels —the genre best known for its naughty bits.

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How Do We Define Romance?

stormwalker How do we define romance? On a romance blog, one might as well ask what is life. It’s one of those broad, overarching topics susceptible to endless debate. We see authors offering endless variations from the most conventional to the most edgy and subversive. And yet, at the end of the day, we expect our lead couple to end up happily ever after – or at least happy for now. Though I still get irked with market restrictions from time to time, I have appreciated in recent years that we’ve been seeing a market full of change, choices, and great authors. And then I went to RWA 2012 in Anaheim.

The Elimination of Novels with Strong Romantic Elements as a RITA category

At the general meeting in Anaheim, Romance Writers of America(RWA) announced that it had decided upon a plan to reconfigure the RITA awards. Continue reading

New York Publishing and 50 Shades

fiftyThe astounding success of 50 Shades of Grey has a lot of folks bewildered.  Publishers included, quite clearly.

While all of us stumble around trying to make sense of it, I was stumped when a reporter asked me recently why it was such a success.  Expecting a succinct answer, I started to talk about covers and the appeal of the hero and it clearly wasn’t what she was looking for.  She wanted a firm and fast answer.

And I just didn’t – and still don’t – have it.  But you know what?  Its clear that publishers don’t either.

I’ve seen the recommendations for those who liked 50 Shades and they strike me as tone deaf.  As in, “here, are our stale traditionally published books, give us some of your money” recommendations.  Please.

One thing that’s completely clear to me:  50 Shades is fresh.  As in fresh in tone and feeling and style.  It’s got a feeling of freshness to it that I haven’t seen coming out of New York in a very long time.

New York publishers are bound (sorry) by tradition.  They do things the same way they’ve always done them.  And they are sluggish.  I have no doubt that they are scrambling right now to find the next new 50 Shades authors. They’ll put them on the fast track and, gee, we might see a resulting book in about a year.  Too little too late, I’m afraid since who knows what readers will want by that time?  Chances are, it won’t be another 50 Shades.

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It’s Time to Revamp our Sensuality Ratings

AAR’s sensuality ratings have come under discussion lately due to the changing nature of the romance industry in general. With the recent proliferation of racier novels, what was once declared Hot may now be considered barely Warm by our readers. The language used in love scenes, once a deciding factor in rating, has also changed drastically in recent years.  Quaint euphemisms such as “manhood” or “heated channel” have fallen by the wayside.

If we update our sensuality ratings in response to changes in the industry, what sort of changes should we make?

One issue under discussion was possibly adding another category after Burning.  For instance, Penelope and Prince Charming by Jennifer Ashley was given a Burning rating because of some mild anal play and very frank love scenes. But does PaPC compare to Sarah’s Seduction by Lora Leigh which would be given the same rating by today’s rules?

And how should language affect rating? In the not so distant past the words “cock” and “clit” were pretty rare in mainstream romance, their presence garnering a Hot rating just on principal. Is it shocking to read a review rated Warm, only to find language once considered very blue when you read the book? Conversely, some readers may be disappointed to purchase a book rated Burning because of language or one delicately described incident of alternative lovemaking, when their hope was for something more raunchy.

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The People We Hate to Love

During my life I’ve been a critic and/or a reviewer of books, movies, theatre, live events, and art.  I’ve written a weekly book review column as well as a weekly art critic column.

Everywhere I’ve worked and for everyone who edited my writing, what a critic or reviewer is and should do has been a bit different.

In the early ‘70s, my editors saw the job as that of critic, the point being to give an honest critique of art pieces I saw in local galleries. Critique, in this case, meant being harsh. I tended to write my columns only about pieces I liked and avoided technical art language in favor of the language used by everyday people. I tried to describe the art in terms of how the piece made me feel, not how the various art elements worked in the piece. Oddly (to me), my columns produced positive letters to the editor, which, of course, made my editors happy.

When I switched newspapers, I became a critic at large, being assigned various entertainment events to cover. This included people like Tony Orlando and Dawn or Liberace, family events like the Ringling Brothers Circus, and generally any event other critics couldn’t cover.

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The Washington Romance Writers 2010 Retreat

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How’s that for a picture? Two superstar authors feelin’ the love after a successful booksigning.

Hey, it was a moment for me, too.

Last weekend I attended the 2010 Washington Romance Writers Retreat and, it’s safe to say, a good time was had by all. The weekend started off in the traditional way: A multiple author booksigning at Turn the Page, a bookstore in Boonsboro, Maryland, owned by Nora Roberts’ husband Bruce Wilder. The signing headliners were Nora herself, the great Charlaine Harris, and the equally great Roxanne St. Claire. According to reports from the store manager, the crowd was double that of the year before. Then, it was off to the retreat.

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