The other day I was doing my semi-regular rounds on the Internet, checking author Web sites, seeing what they’re up to. Well, color me surprised when I saw that an author – whose books I used to love but who has fallen waaaaay off my radar after a string of duds – is publishing a Young Adult/Teen book.
After my eyebrows shot up, they went down again pretty quickly, and upon reflection I couldn’t say I was exactly surprised. Many authors try new directions for various reasons, but oftentimes when they change genres, they change names for a complete disassociation with their former lives. So Anne Stuart becomes Kristina Douglas (historical to paranormal), Lisa Marie Rice turns into Elizabeth Jennings (erotic to suspense), Candice Proctor writes as C. S. Harris (historical to mystery), and Patricia Cabot is now more commonly known to the world as Meg Cabot (historical to teen), to name only a few.
The latter marks a trend that I’ve seen grow slowly but surely. We don’t see too many authors transitioning to historical, probably because 99% of romance authors start writing historicals. And there isn’t much of a jump from historical romance to paranormal or suspense. But YA/Teen? I feel like it’s happening a lot. A cursory search and scan of the bookshelves yielded, just to name a few, Kelley Armstrong, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Richelle Mead, Gena Showalter, Rachel Vincent, Mary Jo Putney, Shana Abe, Sophie Jordan, Roxanne St. Claire, and Kathryn Smith writing YA/Teen fiction, some under pseudonyms.
Introduction first: In case you were unaware of the 1000 Awesome Things blog, Neil Pasricha was at a down point in his life a couple of years ago, and decided to cheer himself up by blogging about the good, often unnoticed, things in life. When gas prices go down just as you need some gas. When you turn a pillow onto its fresh side. The fact that we exist. When a cashier opens a new cash line. You know – awesome things.
1000 posts and 3 bestsellers later, the blog is over. In (belated) honour of the 1000th post, I decided to write about the awesome things in romance. It’s been a good exercise, because too often I focus on the annoying or tedious in romance novels. But despite the bad stuff, there are many reasons I stick with romance novels, and they’re all awesome (in my opinion, anyway). So here, counting down, are my Five Awesome Romance Things.
5. You can’t please everyone, but you can please someone. Publishing is a transient business. Just think of all those thousands – no, millions of books that clutter used bookstores, books that are in and out of print, remembered and forgotten. But what’s great about romances is that even 999 people think a book’s absolute crap, there’s probably at least one person who finds it awesomer than Kraft Dinner.
For those who’ve remained blissfully unaware, 50 Shades of Grey is the latest publishing phenom. Discussed obsessively everywhere from the Today show to Newsweek, the plot can be teased in just a few sentences: Christian Grey is a 27-year old billionaire in modern day Seattle who proposes an unusual relationship to graduating student, Anastasia Steele. He offers her a contract in which she would agree to serve as sub to his dom every weekend for a period of months.
We decided to subject the book to the scrutiny of our Pandora. This time it’s Sandy AAR and Jean AAR who open Pandora’s Box.
Jean AAR: I really wasn’t sure what to expect, considering all the buzz, but there also seemed to be a lot of hyperbole in either direction – either it was the greatest thing since the Pill or the worst thing ever published. So I kind of took it in stride. If I had to grade it, I’d give it a C+/B-. Parts of it are weirdly compelling, but other parts are just downright amateur. Still, it’s not really any different from hundreds of other romance novels.
Sandy AAR: I agree. It’s a romance novel. I kind of land in the B- territory. I thought it was kind of like an HP in a weird way. Mysterious gazallionaire meets virtuous student and sweeps her away to his lair yadda, yadda, yadda. But then there’s the sex. Which is actually pretty raunchy.
JW: Do you think the raunchiness gets tiring, or becomes unnecessary, especially in the second book? I haven’t read the third book yet, but I feel that if you took out two-thirds of the sex, edited heavily, and compressed, there’d be a B/B+ in there somewhere.
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.
We have all seen the trend that is happening in Romance novels these days. The Series. I can’t even remember the last time that I read a book that wasn’t a part of a series. Paranormals, fantasy, Regencies – it doesn’t matter the genre, all the books seem to be a part of a series. For me, that isn’t really a problem. I like that. I like that I don’t have to say goodbye to characters that I love and have come to care about after I finish a book. I like that a younger sibling or a best friend that we like in one book finds their own HEA in the next book. So this trend hasn’t bothered me all that much. That is until very recently.
While I have no problem with the trend that all books are a part of a series, I have started to see something that I don’t like. Usually, I enjoy a good epilogue. It used to be that the epilogue was a small chapter at the end of the book where we get a chance to peek at the future. This used to be a place that transcended the “series” chronology and jumped forward a few years and let us know that despite what may be happening is the great story arc of the series, this is what is happening with the couple currently. A good example of this would be Lover Awakened by J.R. Ward. At the end of this book, we get an epilogue that takes place 18 months after the book ended and the epilogue is a scene with the main couple, Z and Bella, and it steps out of the chronology of the series and gives a glimpse of the future. I love these scenes. They reassure us that all is well with the couple in the future, they reaffirm the HEA, and they satisfy any curiosity of children that may have been born or events that might have played out off page.
Today is the 16th of December and the biggest holiday of the year is growing ever closer.
In between decorating, shopping, and being busier than I should be work-wise, I’ve had little time to read lately. Well, let me put it this way: Time I used to spend reading, I’m now spending more and more of it in other ways.
I wonder what’s up with that? Is it me?
Well, to a certain extent, I think so. But to a certain extent, not.
I just can’t get excited about yet another Regency featuring yet another Miss and yet another wallpaper duke.
Even a casual visitor to the AAR message boards quickly learns one thing: We are an opinionated bunch.
And in just about every thread somebody posts about a plot device they loathe. Be it a couple who jumps into bed right off the bat or an arranged marriage, the list of plot devices that we loathe seems to number in the thousands. Maybe millions.
Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here, but not by much. We’re a bunch of cranky pants.
And, when you think about it, we’re leaving authors with little to nothing to work with. Because constructing a plot that doesn’t feature any of the devices that someone loathes would be nearly impossible.
Here’s what I think: We’ve gotten so narrow in our list of what we’re looking for when we read, that we’re denying ourselves a whole lot of good stuff.
One of my children asked me recently if I’d ever given a book I’d reviewed an A+. I said I hadn’t. He then asked if I thought I ever would. I said yes, that in fact, there was a book I’d reviewed this past year and had given an A- to that I now see as an A+ novel (Julie Anne Long’s What I Did for a Duke.) “So what’s an A+ book?” he asked. “Let me think about it,” I said.
Not only did I think about it, I did some research. First, I checked how many A+’s AAR has given over the years. (21, and none since 2007.) I then asked my colleagues at AAR what they would consider an A+ book and if they’d ever read one. The responses were varied, yet many had similar qualities.
Sandy said, “An A+ book is a book that satisfies on every level. It is, in fact, a perfect book. I’ve given just one A+ and that was for Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, a book first published in 1932 that I loved as a teenager and still love today. In my case, it was a book that stood the test of time. I wish now that I’d given an A+ to Untie My Heartby Judith Ivory. I gave it the typical A- back then and I regret it now.”
Wendy L agreed with Sandy and added, “Yes, and it has to provoke an emotional response, either crying, laughter, or anger to make it an A+ for me.” She listed The Truelove Bride by Shana Abe, Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair, possibly Charming Grace by Deborah Smith, and oddly enough Dooly and the SnortSnoot by Jack Kent as books that would rate an A+ for her.
Three years ago I posted here about romance authors’ Web sites and listed four essentials: (1) a complete listing of the author’s books, and connections for those in a series; (2) news of upcoming books; (3) a brief bio; and (4) a method to contact the author (email link or form). These are all still essentials for me. They can be fairly brief and hopefully require little time for updating. I’ve visited a lot of author Web sites in the intervening three years and have some other essentials I’d like to add. I’ve also discovered some fun new extras at other authors’ Web sites.
First, it’s vital that the Web site be current. I immediately leave an author’s site if I discover that their homepage features as “new” a book that was published one or more books ago while failing to mention their latest release. I expect that a News tab will actually have recent (not necessarily daily or even monthly) news. Even something as simple as news about an upcoming – or recently published – book works here. What doesn’t work is “news” of books published or awards won years earlier. Many authors have extra sections including one for Appearances or Upcoming Appearances. These are of particular interest to me when I prepare AAR’s monthly booksigning post. However, events that occurred months, or years earlier, don’t really qualify as “upcoming,” and call into question the content of the entire site.
Today at Speaking of Audiobooks, we are hosting our first live Narrators Forum. It’s an event structured for narrators to come together and discuss pertinent issues in their industry as well as provide listeners with a glimpse into their world of bringing multiple characters to life. Once the live portion of the forum is over, those involved want to hear from you. Your feedback is important to them.
When I first started writing about audiobooks, I envisioned those reading to me in a studio surrounded by a director, producer, and recording technician. My mind saw the director instructing a narrator to stop occasionally and try a line again or explain a needed change. I guess I imagined something similar to a movie set with only one actor sitting in a sound booth performing all of the characters. However, after visiting with a number of narrators this past year, I understand just how inaccurate that vision was. Now that home studios are becoming more commonplace, narrators often operate alone and in somewhat of a vacuum. There just aren’t that many opportunities to get together and talk about what they do day in and day out.