Although both of my novels have romantic elements, I've never considered myself someone who generally reads romance novels myself. There are a few exceptions. Jane Austen, of course, is the most important one. I adore Jane Austen, as long-time readers of this blog know. Interestingly enough, it was a science fiction writer who got me to read Jane Austen, when I was (I think?) somewhere in my late twenties or early thirties. Eleanor Arnason made an off-hand comment at a panel at a science fiction convention (or perhaps it was one of our one-on-one conversations afterwards; my memory is hazy) that one of the best Iago-like depictions of evil she's ever read takes place in the opening chapter of Sense and Sensibility
. Fanny Dashwood cleverly leads her husband, step-by-step, to repudiate the promise he made to his father on the latter’s deathbed to support his sisters. She gets him to agree to a little, and then a little more, and a little more, until by the end he is actually congratulating himself for his generosity for resolving to behave in totally dishonorable and miserly way to the women his father commended to his care. I was intrigued by her description of the passage and so read the book--and I was hooked. It's curious, that my introduction to romances was due to my writerly curiosity about how to write an effective villain.
Of course, Jane Austen wasn't considered a 'romance writer' in her day because the marketing category simply didn't even exist yet. Even today, I think that people who dismiss her as a mere romance novelist (often without reading her) are missing the point. She wrote about love and marriage, true. But she was hardly a wild romantic, but more of an Augustan realist with a very keen sense of the absurdity of human nature. When it comes down choosing between the worldview of Marianne or Elinor Dashwood, I think Miss Austen would clearly side with Elinor.
I also read Georgette Heyer's novels, which were recommended to me by a friend. I loved them and reread them almost every year. I had a couple Joan Aiken and Jane Aiken Hodge romances, which I picked up because I read Joan Aiken's children's books, and because Joan Aiken wrote continuations of Jane Austen's works.
Last year I picked up the Sons of Destiny novels
of Jean Johnson (ladyofthemasque
) because I'd read and enjoyed some of her fanfiction. These were fantasy romances. Magic+sex=fluffy and fun.
But last month, I did something I'd never done before. I'd just finished the Jean Johnson books and when I got the bookstore gift card from my family, I went into a bookstore and headed, somewhat uncertainly, to a section I'd never hung out in before: I think I'll buy a romance. Any romance, I don't care. Um, well, a good romance. But which one?
No recommendation. No knowledge of the author. Could I pick a romance up off the shelf and just read it cold?
I didn't know and I had literally never tried doing such a thing before. I have a sense of a slight preference for type (I was gravitating toward the historical romances, particularly regency) but I have no idea who popular romance authors are. As a genre, I had a little idea of how the marketing works from reading, of all things, Elizabeth Peter's Die for Love
, a marvelously snarky and fun murder mystery set, of all places, at a romance writers convention. Yeah, Elizabeth Peters was right. The covers of romance novels ARE embarrassing. I thought about Joanna Russ' essay "How to Suppress Women's Writing" as I browsed the lurid covers. Here was writing by women, for women. It's wildly successful, but I'm embarrassed to pick it up. I thought a lot about that as I browsed, but yeah, I was
uneasy about being seen carrying a book with those stereotypical clinch bodice-ripper covers. How interesting. Was I buying into the disparagment of the genre without thinking about it?
My first two picks were okay. Fun and pleasantly salacious. I enjoyed them well enough that I went back last weekend and picked up four more, again, picking cold. OMG. This last attempt was much less successful. I squirmed at the egregious errors, in history and voice. It was like biting into a bon bon, hoping for some delicious chococolate, and encountering plastic. Well, that was a waste of money. The cover blurbs were useless and "New York Times Best Selling Author" is no guarantee of quality, believe me. The historical errors irritated me, and the cliches were a turn off.
Well, what do other people think are good fantasy novelists? So I googled "Best romance novels" and picked a book that came in #1 on several lists: Outlander
by Diane Gabaldon. There are over sixteen hundred reviews on the Amazon page, so I guess a few people have read it. I was interested to discover, when I got to the bookstore to pick up a copy, that although it was considered a rather groundbreaking book when it came out, and won the best novel of 1991 from the Romance Writers of America, it is now shelved in "Fiction." Not Romance. No clinch on the cover.
So I'm diving into the book, and so far it's certainly gripping my attention. No taste of plastic in my teeth so far. I'll keep you posted.MyCharityWater Campaign Report
$5,000 CAMPAIGN GOAL
$1826 RAISED SO FAR
91 people served
29 days left
The Charity:Water blog posted about this campaign
, and I felt more than a little envious. He raised more than $25,000? What fundraising mojo does he have that I don't have?
Then I realized he is one of the co-founders of Twitter.
Oh. Guess that answers that.
(Only 29 days left! There's still time to make the goal!)