Writer's Corner for September, 2004
Historical Romance Roundtable
It would be hard to imagine a more star-studded line-up from the world of historical romance than the group assembled on a recent September afternoon for our first AAR Historical Romance Roundtable.
My goals were ambitious: First, to take a snapshot of the state of historical romance today as seen by a select group of leading voices in the field and, second, to gain what insights we could into the creative and editorial decisions and processes behind the books. Since the tasks were so formidable, we brought together the best and brightest in historical romance:
Connie Brockway: RITA-award winning author of All Through The Night (my favorite romance of all time), As You Desire, and My Dearest Enemy, each of which received DIK status from AAR. She has earned five DIK's thus far in her career.
Liz Carlyle: The author of AAR DIKs No True Gentleman and A Woman Of Virtue, Ms. Carlyle is renowned for her lush prose and unforgettable characterizations. Her following – and the buzz surrounding her books – grows with each new release.
Loretta Chase: RITA-award winning author of the brilliant Lord Of Scoundrels, Miss Wonderful marked her welcome return to romance after a hiatus of several years. Loretta holds three AAR DIKs.
Judith Ivory: A revered author with a following bordering on the cult-ish, she is the recipient of both the RITA Award and a truly astonishing seven AAR DIKs. Her last release was the AAR DIK Untie My Heart.
Lucia Macro: Executive Editor for Morrow/Avon, Lucia has proudly seen five of the authors with whom she works reach the New York Times bestseller list. Lucia edits all types of women's books and reports that the most exciting moment of all is when she's able to publish an author's debut.
Julia Quinn: Multiple New York Times best-selling author and undisputedly one of the biggest stars in romance today. Not surprisingly, she is also a multiple RITA finalist and recipient of three AAR DIKs.
Due to last minute complications, Maggie Crawford, Executive Vice President and Editorial Director of Pocket Books, was unable to join us. Though she was sorely missed, look for a few comments and insights from her at the end of the roundtable.
First of all, I want to thank all of you for taking the time to join us. In getting ready for today, I asked AAR's readers for their ideas on what they'd like us to talk about, and, of course, they didn't disappoint. A very, very big area of interest – and, to some degree, concern – for those readers is the proliferation of books set in the Regency (not that there's anything wrong with that!) and the perceived lack of books set in other periods. Several readers cited the popularity of movies like Pirates of the Caribbean and Gladiator as an indication of the public's willingness to accept and enjoy stories told in a variety of periods. So, this begs the question, for those here who write in the Regency – and those who don't – is your choice of period market-driven or are you truly setting your books in the time that appeals to you most?
Loretta: I started writing Regencies because I loved 19th Century English history. It has nothing to do with market for me – it's merely the fascinations of the time period. It's got so much stuff that I keep finding new things to write about.
Liz: For me, it was definitely a choice of the heart. I didn't know beans about the "market" when I started writing. And Loretta is right. It is a rich period, politically and socially. It has the beauty and some of the decadence of the Georgian era, without the restrictions of the Victorian era. Of course, Victorian-set books have a different set of possibilities.
Judith: Mine are all late Victorian, which is exactly what I want. I use the ideas of Freud, Darwin, and Marx, and they all only really came together at the end of the 19th century. So, I'm just happy as a clam.
Loretta: I love Victorian settings, but I haven't gotten there yet.
Julia: The Regency has always been the time period that appeals to me most. Even when I was a pure reader and didn't really even understand what the Regency was, I always looked for romances with certain buzzwords on the back: Lords, ladies, and the like. So when I started to write, it was the natural setting.
Connie: Certainly, I love the Regency period, but I've also written Georgian and Victorian books and I can't say I've seen an appreciable difference in their success.
Lucia: I'll answer from the editorial perspective. The vast majority of historical romance readers have indicated by voting with their pocketbooks that they like English and Scottish settings, though not only Regency. Historical novels are a different concept all together and what people go to see in the movies in terms of a visual experience and what they are going to buy as books are also often completely different. It's true, Medievals can work well, (although I'm not a personal fan of all those cold castles and rushes on the floor), but as soon as we send them to another country, we look at gloomy returns. Remember, in the movies you also get, say, Johnny Depp – maybe it's not the Caribbean that's so appealing! And heroics can look better on film (I'm thinking Gladiator), whereas romances are often about how people speak, think, and talk. The 19th century is perfect for that. Without getting too intellectualized, it's the beginning not only of modern thought, but the start of the concept of love matches as viable.
Julia: If you go back to what I looked for on the back covers of books before I was really in tune to what the various time periods meant, the sorts of things I looked for are marketing buzzwords that can be easily used in back cover copy for all three periods: Georgian, Regency, and Victorian. I think that most readers are not slavishly devoted to one nine-year period, but just rather like the vibe and they'll go for books set in Victorian and Georgian times as well. The vibe is actually quite different for all three periods, but in terms of how you market it on the back cover, it's not.
Lucia: Readers are definitely having a love affair right now with the UK. And, of course, all periods of the 1800s have that lushness, as well as the social issues, that can be so wonderful to write about.
So, if the 19th century is a vibe – and I think it is – where do Medievals fit in?
Judith: I like to read Medievals for the adventure and damsels in distress. But, as a writer, I just have no interest in characters who can't think in terms of their own consciousness and egos, which is too Freudian to be set much further back than the Victorian period.
Connie: Medievals are a different vibe. It seems to me that the 1800s have a social/class vibe, while Medievals are more about over-the-top heroics, death, and mayhem. I also look to Medievals to be more about politics and Regency-set books to be more about people.
Loretta: I like the intellectuality of the 19th century. Witty repartee was important.
Julia: Very good point, Loretta. The 19th century is a lot better for those of us who like to write a lot of dialogue.
Judith: I loved Laura Kinsale's For My Lady's Heart, but the characters – as Medieval as their speech sounded – really had a more "now" presence for me which I need as a reader. If characterization is important – and we all think of character, I think, in terms of internal monologues only introduced in Modernist literature, along with Freudian awareness for our 20th century notions of how people explain themselves to themselves – then this sort of modern feeling is necessary.
Loretta: It's tricky to write about characters' inner lives when you don't have the Freudian terms.
Let's move on to something slightly different. Clearly, a great "lighter" book is deceptively so since the terrific ones – and Julia and Loretta are perfect examples of this – are usually quite emotionally complex. But, sadly, many of the so-called lighter books really are just that. As one of our readers put it: "The books are getting shorter, the plots lighter, and the settings less varied. " Reactions?
Julia: I hear this a lot (obviously), and I'm usually unsure how to take it. I think it's because so many readers mean different things when they say "light." I've been thinking about this for some time, and I think there are three distinct comparisons: Light vs. dark, light vs. deep, and light vs. complex. And, to make that more complicated, you can find complexity in any number of areas. I would argue that the big sweeping historicals of years past were complex in plot. I would like to think that I write books that are complex in character.
Lucia: This certainly isn't something I've encouraged. Point taken about the settings, but most of the authors on our list who are growing are really stretching themselves in terms of providing emotional complexity. That said, the world is a tough place and sometimes you just want to read – or write! – something more light-hearted. Truth is, there is nothing more difficult to write than a funny/comedic story.
Loretta: Sometimes people want a very light read. My sister is a prolific reader, and sometimes she wants fluff. So do I sometimes.
Judith: I'm just laughing. My plots are so tangled and complex, I don't know what to say. Even The Proposition, my "light" book, gave me fits with the plotting and all but Black Silk are 400 to 500 page manuscripts. Avon even had me add stuff to Black Silk, by the way, which ended up as a 500-plus page manuscript.
To be honest, I think "light" for some of our readers is shorthand for bad. And Julie and Loretta are two of the authors who are usually exempted when the complaints start. But, let's face it, it would be hard to argue with the fact that many readers enjoy a lighter read.
Julia: I think the danger in writing "light" is that many books that are written in a light style also end up being light in substance. But not all! My favorite sort of book is one with a light touch when it comes to the prose, but with a richness and complexity when it comes to the characters, the plot, or both.
I also think the big sweeping historicals that are complex in plot are a tough sell these days because they usually require a long separation between the hero and the heroine. And readers have repeatedly said (at least what I've heard, anyway) that they don't like that.
Judith: No, I don't think so. Complex plots don't mean a separation of the protagonists at all. It just means multiple conflicts going on at once.
Julia: I agree, Judy. You don't have to have a long separation, but it seems like most of the time that's what you end up with in that sort of book.
Lucia: I actually feel there is a blank in the market for big, sweeping historicals, but that might be changing. However, we make a mistake in calling these books romances. I recently surprised an interviewer when I maintained that Gone With The Wind wasn't a romance. Core romance readers want that intensity of emotion – they want the hero and heroine together and they want the focus on that love story.
Great segue, Lucia! As both readers and authors know, there are a few "rules" when it comes to romance. The women here today, however, are well known for breaking many of those rules. Do you think if you were being published for the first time today that you'd be given the same creative freedom or is breaking all those rules a right you earned? And, secondly, are there any rules you think truly are sacrosanct?
Loretta: I've never been clear on what the rules were, except the part about love conquering all.
Lucia: The rules you can't break in romance are that there has to be a happy ending and that as soon as the couple meets, they only have eyes for each other. Otherwise, go for it, I say.
Julia: Hmmm. Well, I guess I broke Lucia's second rule in my last book!
Judith: I think the happy ending is something that I, both as a reader and writer, absolutely must have in a romance. If I wanted ambiguity or unhappiness, I'd walk out my front door. Otherwise, I break any other rule I want. The thing is, you know as a writer when you are in the groove and that is what the reader and the writer long for – that feeling of being transported elsewhere. You do that, and all other bets are off. Except the happy end.
Liz: I'm kinda-sorta going to break the no-sex-with-other-partners-after-the-hero-and-heroine-begin-to-develop-a-relationship rule with my next book. We'll see how much flack I get.
Lucia: I've edited books where there've been longish separations and they are tough to pull off, but not impossible. I also edited a Lorraine Heath where the heroine believed her husband was dead, but he returned. And, trust me, he was not the hero!
Liz: As a reader – back when I actually had time to read – I had a definite dislike for long separations of the hero and heroine. But, otherwise, I was not troubled by rules being broken.
Julia: I think what a lot of people call rules are really just conventions, habits that we've fallen into as a genre. For example, so often when you read a story with a widow, the first husband was evil. Or if he wasn't evil, then he was old. Or gay. I think this came about because it was a good way to set the first husband in stark contrast with the ultimate hero of the book.
Loretta: It's too heartbreaking if the first husband was wonderful and the couple was passionately in love. When you make number one icky, it's easier to bear. (Of course, my new book has a widow who loved her husband, because why not make it hard on myself?)
Lucia: I agree with you, Loretta. But if you are skillful you can talk me into anything . . . well, almost!
Liz: I once wrote a book about a widow who had loved her husband and thought he was a nice guy. I did get some strange emails over that one.
Connie: Conventions become established because they resonate with the readership, they strike some core fantasy or establish some element of the fantasy that enables them to buy into it.
Judith: It's that groove thing. Funny. In 1987 when I was looking for an agent, I picked my agent based on this very question. He was the only one who said: "No rules. It's all execution." Still is decades later. If the words transport you, you'll follow them anywhere.
Let's move on to a different area. Some readers commented on the fact that contemporary attitudes seem to be creeping into historical romance. To a big degree – for me, at any rate – this makes stories more palatable since the position of women in the 19th century was so deplorable. Do any of you feel the need to apologize for heroines whose attitudes or position in life wouldn't quite pass muster for historical purists?
Judith: An entertainment read has to resonate with readers now. I make no apologies for striving to make this so, no matter the time period in which my books are set.
Liz: If all we wrote was based on historical truths, no one would read it.
Loretta: To write about women as they truly were in the 19th century is too depressing and infuriating.
Julia: I've been trying to figure out how to answer this one, and everyone else already said it better.
Lucia: Votes for women, I say! Actually, I think historical heroines are often the fish-out-of-water in terms of their times and that's what makes them so much fun and so challenging to the hero. There were some amazing women – Florence Nightingale, George Sand, and the Pankhursts, for example – who could even be used as role models for our heroines.
Loretta: The difficulty is, even the most liberated of 19th century women would seem oppressed by contemporary standards. But there were bold ones who defied convention – and paid the price.
I'm always driven nuts by the fact that Lizzie Bennett – as smart and gifted as she was – could only hope for marriage to improve her circumstances. That was it – the only option...yes, it's depressing!
Lucia: That's why I'm a Bronte Girl and not an Austen Girl.
Judith: Dickens is probably the most true Victorian lit, though I maintain that most of what we consider "lit'rachure" is just the ramblings of white, Western European, clinically depressed, middle-aged men. I'm not sure that women in 19th century England didn't fall in love and feel happy and have beautiful lives from time to time. Certainly as much as they do now. Truth is, things aren't all that different today – a century has made appallingly little difference for the fate of many. I think we pat ourselves on the back too much with regard to the present. The present is plenty depressing if you think about it long enough. Victorian England may not have smelled as nice, but people didn't lead lives that were any less happy, I'd wager.
Connie: I've just been reading a book about high-end courtesans. Many of the brighter women were quite forward thinking.
Loretta: George Eliot lived with a man and had a "liberated" sort of life, but she was pretty hard on her heroines. I read somewhere that to the Victorians death wasn't as "dirty" as sex, so that's why heroines get killed off so much.
Julia: That's my definition of romance when written by a man: The heroine always dies! Love Story, anyone?
Connie: Or that terrible A River Runs Through It.
Judith: I still maintain the reason for all the depressing stuff in the books you point out is that history has lauded the works of people who today would be called clinically depressed. Good equals sad. That is just plain sick to me.
Loretta: People seemed to live life more cheerfully during the Regency era, maybe because they were more matter-of-fact about sex.
Judith: Freud would agree with Loretta. But didn't the Victorians know how to make sex titillating? Piano legs turned them on. Repression has it's up-side!
Connie: But our records are only for the elite.
Judith: The elite and the depressed, Connie. Romance is the first long-sustained literature that celebrates happiness.
Connie: Excellent point, Judy.
Loretta: Don't creative types in general have a higher rate of depression than other people?
Judith: There is a romantic myth that creative people tend to be more depressed, but I'd dispute it. As soon as someone turns out a book that isn't depressing – like romance, for instance – it isn't called literature anymore. I say we've acclaimed depressing writing long enough!
Julia: I don't know, Judy, I don't think it's a myth. There is a difference between a depressed individual and depressing output. I think the clinical studies show pretty clearly that people in creative professions suffer a higher rate of depression. It would be interesting to see if romance authors suffer depression at a similar rate as those in other genres.
Judith: A depressed writer has a certain view of the world, and this view – this unrealistic view for me – is one of bleakness and hopelessness that permeates his or her work.
Loretta: This is where I start inclining toward Judy's point of view about clinically depressed people writing bleak, obscure material. Or maybe they were just brainwashed by college professors!
Liz: You have to be "tortured" to be an "artist?" Many seem to think so – as opposed to we happy hacks who write romance.
Judy makes an excellent point that when a book isn't depressing it isn't considered "good". Do you think that's one of the reasons why romance is so saddled with that old bodice-ripper image?
Connie: I definitely think academic paternalism has led to certain values in defining good and bad literature.
Lucia: I think we're saddled with it because some of the older books (more than 20 years ago) truly were bodice rippers (and not all, so hold those calls and letters, please) and the general public wanted to latch onto this image. It was as if once the bedroom door was opened in the 70s and 80s all bets were off. Also, I still maintain that because these are popular books written by women that the genre just can't get no respect. But I also think we need to demand that respect. No more cover model pageants ever!
Moving on, one of our readers wondered which of your heroines is most "you"?
Loretta: Not a one. I create women I'd like to be.
Julia: Oh, geez, I'm kind of a combination of one part each of Penelope, Eloise, and Francesca.
Connie: I'm with Loretta on this one. My heroines are the woman I would have liked to have been when I was 20 or so. I'm perfectly happy with who I am at this age (35).
Judith: I'm laughing now because I'm always the guy! Hey, where else do I get to be egotistical and have people love me for it?
Liz: I have always had to struggle in writing my heroines since I see things from the male POV.
Well, I have to admit some of those answers are pretty surprising to me! Now here's a question for which you'll have to wear your reader's hat. What was the last book that absolutely knocked your socks off?
Julia: I'm way behind on my romance reading, but one that comes to mind is Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee Guhrke. Really beautiful characterization and I loved the way the story unfolded. I can't wait to read her next one. For a non-romance, that would be The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The plotting just took my breath away. And the characters were so real (in an unreal story).
Lucia: I refuse to answer on the grounds that I may incriminate myself and have all the authors fire me! So, I'll skip mentioning a romance, but I loved The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory. I thought it was brilliantly done. I also read a YA historical, A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libby Bray, that was amazing and so original.
Liz: I recently reread Clyde Egerton's Walking Across Egypt. That one always knocks my socks off and is a comfort read for me.
Connie: For me that would be The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason: Crappy mystery, but stunning coming of age story.
Lucia is officially off the hook, but for everybody else what was the last romance that knocked your socks off?
Connie: Boy, I've read many I've enjoyed a great deal but "knock my socks off" . . . that's tough.
Loretta: Ditto here, Connie.
Liz: An old Mary Balogh from the UBS – The Secret Pearl. Stunning, and it broke lots of rules.
Judith: Lordy, it's been such a long time since a whole book did that for me. In truth, though, I haven't had much time to read lately (a wedding, a move, a hurricane, a late book, a bad back that won't quit). John Irving's A Widow for One Year was gorgeous for the first half and crap for the last. I still enjoyed the last half, though, truth be told.
Julia: Oh, I agree about A Widow for One Year! And it has changed the way I make left turns forever!
Judith: The last romance I read was the Crusie before last, which shows how far behind I am in my reading. And I'm banging my head here on the desk, trying to remember the title. (Forgive me, Jenny!)
Julia: Faking It?
Judith: That's it! I love Crusie and think she has just gotten better and better. (Now there is an example for me of "light" and brilliant.)
As a reviewer, it's kind of hard to knock my socks off, too, but every one of the writers here has done it. Do you think as the fine craftswomen you are that it's tougher for you to just relish the experience?
Julia: I think we don't get to read as many books as you do. Or at least I don't.
Loretta: I read murder mysteries for relaxation.
Liz: It is hard to read any sort of fiction. You want to reach for your red pen and start marking it up.
Julia: I read totally differently than Liz. If I'm reading a book and it's not good, it bugs me and I may not finish it, but I have no desire to fix it – that is, unless it's been given to me in manuscript form. Then I want to fix it! Go figure.
Do any of you have plans to try a different genre – contemporary or romantic suspense, for example?
Julia: Definitely not suspense. I'm just not that tight a plotter. I don't think I could write a mystery that everyone wouldn't have solved by the end of chapter two.
Liz: No, I'd rather dance with the gal that brung me, so to speak. I still love historicals.
Judith: Way down the line, like five or six books down the line. I loved The Bourne Identity, but didn't feel like the romance was done as well as it could be. Now if I could do all the other stuff as well . . .
Loretta: My natural voice seems to be historical, English setting. It must be all those years of reading Victorian novels.
Connie: I enjoy writing. I have this feeling I should be happier when I'm writing. I think my friend Susie Law says it best, " really, really like having written."
Liz: I am much happier after I've written.
Judith: I feel proud to have brought something forth, but, no, I love to be inside another world. When I'm in that groove, I adore the process. If I can't find it, I'm miserable.
Loretta: There are bad days and good days. But writing beats having a real job.
Julia: Amen to that! (I've never had a real job!)
Moving on, What's next for all of you?
Loretta: Mr. Impossible which will be out next spring, I think. It's set in Egypt with English characters and was hard but lots of fun to write.
Julia: Oh, I can't wait, Loretta! My favorite of Connie's is As You Desire which is set in Egypt and I'm also a huge Amelia Peabody fan.
Loretta: I love Amelia Peabody. Mine's set much earlier, though, before they could even read hieroglyphs.
Connie: Go, Loretta! I'd love to write a sequel for As You Desire. I'm finishing the last of the Rose Hunters series, then maybe a comedic historical paranormal.
Loretta: Comedic historical paranormal – I love this!
Liz: I've got The Devil To Pay out in January and I'm working on a sort-of sequel called (I think) One Little Sin set for October.
Julia: I'm finishing up the next Bridgerton novel, this one about Hyacinth. It's due out July 2005.
Judith: I have a book that has been near completion for months, no kidding. But I also have a back that won't tolerate being in the chair for the long periods I need. Yadda, yadda, yadda – it's a long story and I won't bore you. My work in progress is Victorian and I love it, bien sur. It looks like it's the first of what might be several books, but we'll see. This one is the middle brother Nicholas's book (his two brothers really, really feel like books, too) and it's all about control. Nicholas does everything right and has his world in perfect order. Then, the wind literally blows Cara into his life and thirty years of planning and perfection go to *ell in a hand basket. It's great fun.
Okay, winding down, now and this one is just a quickie. Let's imagine it's five years from now and we're all sitting down to ruminate on the state of historical romance in 2009. Where do you all think we'll be?
Loretta: If we could see into the future, wouldn't we be at the track, betting on horses?
Julia: I don't see the love for 19th Century Great Britain dying off, but I think we may see a few more settings opening up. Probably not Westerns, though. I think that'll be a while.
Liz: I fear our audience will have shrunk a bit. Young girls don't seem to be reading much romance. Other than that, I doubt much will have changed.
Lucia: I suspect we'll all be bemoaning the awful state of the market and I think we'll all be wondering just how wholesale distributorships work! But, seriously, I think and hope we'll be seeing some great new talent coming up through the ranks and some authors who come from nowhere. I never try to predict trends, but I think we'll see different formats for contemporaries (more in trade). The UK will always be popular, but I actually think Westerns may make a comeback. Julie and I can discuss in five years!
Julia: I hope you're right and I'm wrong, Lucia!
Lucia: I also think we're on the cusp of seeing bigger historical romantic novels, and then I can finally reissue Daughter Of The Game!
Judith: Interesting. I think the mood of the country may affect things. I find myself terribly curious about all things Middle Eastern, so I have a half-Arabian heroine and oodles of research into the areas that are in the headlines today.
Connie: We will all be bemoaning the fact that since Loretta's book Mr. Impossible came out, we haven't been able to write about anything set in any country other than Egypt in the Regency era! Or we're all writing hip contemporaries for middle-aged women. I even have the genre name: Hot Flashes (as opposed to chick lit).
Julia: Boom Lit!
Loretta: Stories about middle-aged women would be nice. Then I could relate.
Judith: Go, Connie! And we'll all be asking what the rules are and which ones we can violate. And, as usual, we won't be able to find any rules, as much as we'd like some. And, Lucia, what is Daughter Of The Game and why can't we have it now?
Lucia: I'm clearly the fish out of water, because I'm in my forties and I like reading about 28 year-olds. Daughter Of The Game is a terrific historical novel by Tracy Grant that Morrow/Avon published a while ago. I think it's still in print in mass.
So I'm not surprised considering this group, but I think we're on to something here: Hot Flashes and Boom Lit! Okay, we'll finish up now with a truly open-ended question. Did any of you have a great answer prepared for a question I failed to ask?
Lucia: That's a great question, but you asked the hard one about settings!
Connie: "When I was 21."
Now, I ask you, how can you top that last answer?
Maggie Weighs In
As an unfortunate result of some last minute technical issues, Maggie Crawford, Executive Vice President and Editorial Director of Pocket Books, was unable to join our live chat. She took the time, however, to answer a few of the key questions addressed by the group.
Maggie, what's your reaction to the perception of our readers that these days it's All Regency All The Time?
Maggie: No question about it, it the most popular historical setting is among the privileged in early 19-century England which seems to be where most historical readers' romantic fantasies take place. For publishers it's a safe bet that the Regency setting will not turn off readers, whereas eighteenth-century Australia might. However, I'll also bet that something different done well will attract an audience. Connie, would you please get me a copy of that comedic historical paranormal manuscript you mentioned right away?
Is our reader accurate in her complaint that "the books are getting shorter, the plots lighter, and the settings less varied."
Maggie: I agree with your reader's observation. The majority of historical romance readers don't buy the longer novels that contain a lot of historical detail and are set outside England and Scotland. Which is why they're not being published plentifully.
How do you feel about the "rules" in romance? Are there any that you see as sacrosanct?
Maggie: I agree with the group. A happy ending and no long separation of the hero and the heroine. I'd advise writers to keep those ideas in mind and go off and write something fresh with realistic emotions and vibrant characters. I can't wait to read Liz's book in which she breaks the no-sex-with-other partners rule. That's certainly going to add realism and complexity to the primary romantic relationship! I bet readers will relish it.
What was the last book - romance or otherwise - that totally knocked your socks off?
Maggie: If by "knocked your socks off" you mean loved it and didn't want it to end and would gladly change places with the heroine, I'd say Connie's Rose Hunters novels (My Seduction and My Pleasure, the latter of which is about to be published) and Liz's A Deal With The Devil and Beauty Like The Night, one of her backlist titles which I read recently.
If by "knocked your socks off" you mean shocked me – in a positive way – I can only think of one romance in recent years and, of course, it's not in one of the well-established sub-genres. It's a paranormal contemporary romantic suspense, Catherine Mulvaney's Run No More. Pocket Books is publishing it in October.
Where do you think we'll be in five years?
Maggie: A writer, and it wouldn't surprise me if she's one of the five chatting here who have all added vitality to the genre – and I thank all of you for your high-quality work which draws loyalists and crucial new readers to romantic fiction – is going to come along and do something very different that will surprise and delight readers and we'll all begin to view the romance genre a little differently. Will she introduce a new emphasis on plot? Combine historical and contemporary settings? Let her heroine be interested in two different men and lead us through the discovery of which one is truly right for her ? Take us into exotic territory, i.e., not England/Scotland/America? I can't wait to read it!
My heartfelt thanks to everyone who participated, as well as to the readers who took the time to make invaluable contributions to this Roundtable through the many insightful and thought-provoking questions posted on AAR's Potpourri Board. Though we couldn't get to them all, I hope you found the discussion as illuminating as I did.
Many thanks also to Sandi Morris, AAR's Technical Editor, whose IT savvy and willingness to get involved above and beyond the call of duty contributed significantly to this Roundtable. Finally, my sister and fellow romance lover provided a critical insight at a key moment. Thanks, Big Sis!