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August 31st, 2009 by Jana J. Hanson
Staying Power
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On Facebook, my friends complete memes and I’m typically “tagged.” to complete them too. A favorite is the 15 movies that have stayed with you. I started working on it several weeks ago but haven’t finished, probably because my husband — reading over my shoulder as I typed — told me that I didn’t really like some of the movies I listed. It was true. I don’t particularly like Splash (Number 4 on my list); it’s only funny because my husband quotes it and I cannot hear “Buried treasure?” without hearing it in his voice. So while I love movies, very few (less than 15, in fact) make my “memorable” list.

That’s not the same for books.

Literary fiction is easy. Romances with staying power, well, that’s more difficult for me. You see, until 2005, I was a romance snob. (Oh, one of those people, you say. Yep, I’ll admit it. Never read anything specifically classified as romance until then.) Now, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find a book on my reading list that wasn’t a romance. But romances that really stick with me beyond two or three months… Like I said, it’s tough.

What is easy are authors, especially those I follow from their first book. When they have a new release, chances are I’m buying it (even if I don’t read it immediately — I’ve become a hoarder in the last couple of years). Then there are those authors who write trilogies (or quartets). I’m a sucker for a series. Finally, if there’s good buzz about a book, I sometimes feel like I’m missing out if I don’t at least try it.

So what makes a romance memorable for you? Specific authors? Amazing heroes or heroines? Or is the entire package?

August 30th, 2009 by Special Guest
Why I’m Afraid I’m Turning into Gladys Kravitz
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When I was little, we had a black-and-white T.V. in the living room, a monster with rabbit ears that needed five minutes to warm up, and sat inside a wood frame covered in some sort of heavy-duty nylon shot through with metallic gold thread that was worn through in the spot where my sister Kate propped her bunny slippers.

“Bewitched” was my favorite show. I loved it, loved Samantha, loved her mother, loved her husband and wanted to be Tabitha.

The one person who wasn’t very attractive in that show IMO was Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor.

True confession time: she’s the one I relate to most.

At first I blamed it on the fact that I work from home. I live in a small town on a corner lot. So it’s only natural that I notice things, right? I mean, you try sitting in front of a computer screen all day, every day, and tell me you wouldn’t notice stuff going on around you.

So what if I happen to take a stretch break near the window, just after the UPS truck rolls up with a delivery for the house next door? Or if I saunter outside to water my geraniums just as a squad car pulls over one of my neighbors for speeding. Maybe I did start dusting the blinds in the front of the house as the moving van unloaded the new neighbors’ furniture.

It’s no big deal, I tell myself, and not taking up even half the time I used to spend chatting with my fellow cubicle-mates when I worked for a large corporation.
All well and good. Nosy Parker or no, I still managed to write and sell two romantic comedies that way.

Things took a darker turn, however, when I started writing suspense. I needed to write about villains then. I didn’t want some cardboard bogeyman to play the bad guy for A Dark Love. I wanted a real man, one who wanted the same things out of life that I did. He just went about getting them the wrong way.

Enter, Dr. Porter Moross.

He needed a full-fledged personality with backstory and a childhood that made him who he is. I gave him a skin condition that got worse in times of stress, filling his face with nodules and postules that itched and stung (blech!). I worked really hard and really long on Dr. Moross, so readers could understand his motivations for doing the things he did. Put another way, I built my villain with all his weaknesses and demons and evil thoughts, from the inside out. On the outside, he was a successful world-renowned Freudian psychoanalyst. On the inside, he was a seething bubbling cauldron of negative emotion.

Oh, how I loved him.

No problem, right? A writer is supposed to love her characters - - the good, the bad, the ugly and even those with skin problems, right?

The problem is, now I find myself looking at people I don’t know and wondering if their little personality quirks are built to protect their backstory, and if so, what are they?

For instance, those new neighbors who moved in, the ones who keep to themselves….the ones who barely said hello and didn’t gush over how cute my dog is or tell me how nice my roses look. They don’t bother with anyone. Just people who enjoy their privacy is the most likely explanation.

But the suspense writer in me sees another, darker side to it all. They’re in the federal witness protection program, relocated here to escape their past. They’re having an extramarital affair, and meet here for lover’s trysts. They’re running an illegal business from inside the tidy Colonial. Or maybe . . .

See what I mean? Maybe now that I have written and sold two thrillers (currently working on a third), my suspense writer’s brain is always in overdrive.

Or maybe I’m just becoming Gladys Kravitz, in need of Abner to come home, lead me gently by the elbow away from the window and back to work . . .

This post was submitted by Margaret Carroll.

August 28th, 2009 by Eric Selinger
Back to School
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Last night I went to the open house at my son’s Middle School. Most parents we know have to step in and advocate for their kids; in our district, teachers and administrators ask our permission to give the kids pull-out sessions or extra challenges before we even know there’s a problem. We’re lucky, and we know it, and year after year the school has earned a lot of trust from me, both as a parent and as a fellow educator.

Still, every now and then I come away from a classroom presentation with misgivings, and tonight was one of those nights. Let me tell you what keeps nagging at me, and maybe you can talk me down.

There seem to be five required novels in the 8th grade Language Arts curriculum: Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card; Monster, by Walter Dean Meyers; Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes; Night, by Elie Wiesel; and The Skin I’m In, by Sharon G. Flake. To me, it looks like a pretty grim line-up–but, to be fair, I had more taste for reading about rough-and-tumble, even tragic events when I was a teen than I do now, so I’m willing to give that side of the list the benefit of the doubt.

What bugs me is something more basic. Four of the five are by men, and as far as I can tell, each of those has a male protagonist. Last year, all of the books were by women, but every one of these–every blessed book–was written from a male character’s point of view.

Last year, this bothered me mostly prospectively. I have a daughter making her way through the system, and I hated to think of her being forced to spend a year reading only about heroes, with female characters left at best in supporting roles. (All too often, they’re not even that; they’re victims, ground fine by the wheels of a plot.) This fall, though, it troubles me just as much on my son’s behalf.

Clearly the school has made an effort to get African American authors into the curriculum, and to mix up genres (SF, realist fiction, textual collage). I’m not saying they have to add romance novels. But have they simply given up on getting boys to read across the great gender divide?

When I pointed the disparity out to my son, he just shrugged. He’s 13, and he’s heard this song before. And maybe I’m just an old-fashioned bean-counting liberal, worrying over nothing. What do you think: you parents who’ve been through this, and have advice, and you romance readers, who know how different a reading list can be?

August 27th, 2009 by Angela T
The Industry, or Self-Segregation?
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As most know (or perhaps not), I began and recently re-started my blog formerly known as Reading While Black, as a reaction to the absence of black voices in the romance genre. Since the hiatus of RWB and its present incarnation as Save Black Romance, many of the voices who stood with me in raising awareness about the issues minority writers face in the publishing industry have largely faded into the background. Granted, many of them are writers with deadlines both professional and personal that must take precedence, but after scrolling through the dozens of photo albums and blog updates on the recent RWA conference I suddenly found myself reassessing the issue of black (and other minority) writers in romance when photo after photo showed a a terribly small number of non-white faces–whether it be writers or readers. This took me further aback because the conference took place in Washington D.C., which has always had a very large black American population and having been to the district, I know there is a lot of diversity in the outlying areas.

Regarding black writers, the industry placing them in the “African-American Author” ghetto stands in their way of mainstream success. The ghetto prohibits them from receiving the same opportunities their non-black counterparts are given, such as major book deals, prime marketing dollars, etc. While I do agree with this (has a debut black romance author ever been given a six-figure deal, or sold at auction?), and that romance novels with black characters tend to stock the shelves of bookstores or supermarkets only where there is a significant black population, most debut romance authors start out the same: nice deals, need for self-promotion, and so on. Not to mention that the internet has brought authors right to readers’ fingertips.

Read a few author blogs on the side here, and whether they be e-published, NY-published, unpublished, veteran, or debut, you’ll see that being a writer and being a published writer can be a difficult career. A writer debuting to much acclaim can find their next book sinking to the ground. Or a writer working under the radar can break out suddenly with their sixth book under circumstances they had nothing to do with. Or a writer who sold modestly can find themselves without a contract. Because of this crap-shoot of an industry, I now wonder whether the difficulties black writers face are made more surmountable because they are essentially self-segregating themselves? Truthfully, I don’t see any harm in the wonderful Romance Slam Jam Conference, or even an organization for black romance writers, but I can no longer believe that the ghetto the publishing industry sticks black writers (or writers of any ethnicity who wish to write romances reflecting their background and culture) is a barrier to what they can do to reach readers. In the Age of Twitter, Stanza, and Ebooks, if not enthusiastic and personable reader blogs, the old ways of reaching an audience have expanded exponentially. If NYTimes best-selling authors realize that simply having a book on the shelves isn’t enough, how much more does this benefit black writers?

August 26th, 2009 by MG Braden
Books, Books, Everywhere (Is What You Take Fair?)
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Last month I was in DC at the RWA National conference. And, as is the standard, there were books everywhere. Free books. Books in bags, books on tables, books being signed by authors, books being promoted by agents and editors, books being talked about… I mean what more would you expect from a gathering of writers?

This post has been weighing heavily on my mind, about whether I should actually voice my concerns about some of the book “taking” practices that I witnessed.

What I’m talking about here is the book signings held by the publishers. You know, the ones where many of us got there an hour or so early and waited in line. The ones where when we were in the front people would come and stand beside us and then when we’d inform them that the back of the line was actually “over there”, they’d look surprise and say “Oh, sorry, we thought this was the end of the line.” Really? We are standing beside the door and people are all lined up behind us, facing us and the door.

But, I digress, this isn’t about the amazing fact that people can’t tell direction or just want to pretend because they met us once that they can now stand beside us and get in without waiting like everyone else. My issues is once we are inside the room. My issue is that I feel there should be some etiquette for how you go about acquiring the books that you want. Some kind of gratitude to these authors who are sitting there with their books waiting to sign them and talk to people, and to their publishers who are giving the books away for free.

It is not a free for all, people. I cannot tell you how annoying it is to stand in line and patiently wait to get a book signed and maybe, briefly, talk to the author, only to have someone snake their hand through the line and grab a book (or two) and dump it in a box with the excuse that they didn’t want it signed. OK, great, maybe not, but you still need to stand in line because otherwise there won’t be enough books for the people who are. And, in fact, that happened to one lovely author whose books had mostly disappeared before she even got to her table. She had all of thirteen books to sign and I think there were about fifteen people in line. Thankfully, I was number eleven and I was getting my book signed when a lady reached across to take one of the last two books on the table. The author’s hand shot out and snagged the hand, holding the book down. The snagger said “Oh, I didn’t want it signed” and the author said “I know, but I only have two left and as you can see, I have a line-up waiting for them.” The snagger just shrugged and walked away as the author and I shook our heads.

Next up, I’m in line for another author who had a ton of books in front of her and was very nicely allowing people to have two of them (each pile was a different book from her various series). Two people in front of me there was a lady who took one of each book (approximately six, I think) and then she’d hand those to a friend beside her. Rinse and repeat. The author had been distracted because she was having a conversation with a reader, whose book she was signing, and the editor/assistant person was busy diving beneath the table to replace all of the books that were disappearing like mad. Finally it was the the turn of the book-snagging lady and she handed one book to the author to sign, leaving her hand on the other pile she had beside her. The lady behind her asked how many books we were allowed to have and the assistant said “two.” It was then pointed out that snag-lady had a pile (not to mention the ones her friend already took away in a box). The author very graciously said to the snagger “Oh, I didn’t realise all of those were mine. I’m sorry, you are only allowed to take two.” At which point, the snagger shot a dirtly look to both the woman directly behind her and me. :roll: Sorry lady, but we’re not building personal libraries here! Did you notice the line now snaking down the wall behind us?

And so it went. People filling boxes and suitcases full of books that they’d never stood in line for and never respected the author enough to at least ask. By the last signing, as I stood there in yet another line and watched this happen yet again, I was done. I walked out of that session without a single book (which wasn’t such a hardship, I did already have more than enough, since these were all for my personal reading pleasure—well, you can never have enough books, but you know what I mean!)

Last year there was some of this, but not like I saw this year. I felt like the authors might as well just leave all their books in a pile on the table and call a free-for-all. I couldn’t believe it. These dedicated authors were spending an hour plus of their time to sit there and sign free books for people, how can you not want to at least say thank you? I’d like to add that the majority of people stood in line and were respectful. But, as is often the case, the few left a bad taste.

What do you think about this? Do you think there’s a way to avoid this? Or do you think it’s ok to grab and dash? If you are an author, does it bother you? Or does it matter how they get your book, as long as they are reading it?

August 25th, 2009 by Diana Peterfreund
Traditions and Superstitions
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Today is the on-sale date of my fifth published novel, RAMPANT. I’m going on vacation with my husband. We’re getting away from the internet, far from the nearest bookstore, and well out of cell-phone range. We’re going camping, just him, me, and our little dog Rio.

Am I worried about this? Yes, a little, but my ongoing anxiety about this book’s release is part of the reason I know I need a vacation. It’s my first hardcover in over three years, my first YA, my first fantasy, my first book with a new publisher. Surely a few days breathing mountain air and sleeping beneath the stars will help chill me out better than pressing “refresh” on my internet browser and obsessing over Amazon rankings.

In previous years, I’ve celebrated the on-sale date of my latest book with a booksigning, a dinner out with friends and family, or both. I’ve gone to visit my books on the shelves of my local bookstores, touched their pretty, glossy covers, and done stock signings. The sight of my book on a store shelf is a touchstone moment, proof that a complete stranger can walk in off the street, see my book, put down money, and walk away. It’s extraordinary.

This is pretty much par for the course, according to what I’ve heard from my author friends. Alyssa Day makes it a family field trip, bringing her kids to the store on release day to visit “mommy’s book.” Seeing one’s name (or pseudonym) on the shelf and knowing you wrote every word between the pages is something that never gets old.

But my book will be on store shelves later this week as well. My first signing is scheduled for this Saturday, and I’ll be there with bells on. Does it really matter if I’m not pressed up against the bookstore glass come Tuesday at ten a.m.?

This past March, I sat in the living room of an ancient castle in the middle of the Irish countryside as my critique partner Carrie Ryan’s debut novel hit shelves here in the States. Carrie was in the armchair across the way, valiantly resisting the urge to log onto her email and see if her family had sent her pictures from their local Barnes & Noble. Whiskey was drunk. Champagne was toasted. Congratulations were said. And her book has sold just fine.

I admit, Carrie’s bravery has lent weight to my own willingness to escape into the countryside on my on-sale date. Maybe I don’t have to see my book on a shelf to believe it’s there. After all, I can celebrate my birthday without dragging out my birth certificate. Maybe this is the start of a new tradition, a Zen one in which I unplug from my book’s release date, disconnect from the material concerns of marketing and placement, and celebrate my accomplishment –another book in print– by kicking back and letting go.

Other authors: how do you celebrate the publication of your books? Readers: do you have any important-milestone traditions or superstitions? Have you ever broken them? How did it feel?

August 24th, 2009 by Kimber Chin
Point Of View And Readers
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I often hear writers tell each other “it doesn’t matter what point of view you use as long as it works for your story.”

Horse pucky.

Readers notice and readers care. Big time.

So switch point of view and you will switch readers, I guarantee it.

I had a writer on autobuy. I loved, loved, loved her historical romances. Gobbled them up. I wouldn’t glance at the back cover. I’d buy her books without knowing anything about them. She was that dependable.

Then she wrote a historical (supposedly a wonderful historical romance) in first person. A year later and I finally left it unread on the bus. I speed read. It would have taken me an hour or two to read it. I simply couldn’t.

She has released a couple of books since then. I haven’t bought them because I no longer trust her storytelling. Did she not care what her hero felt about the relationship? Did she not think love required both people?

On the flipside, I have a buddy who can’t get into a book unless it is written in first person. When it is all about ‘I’ and ‘Me’, she feels she’s living the heroine’s life. The book becomes real for her. She cares about that heroine almost as much as she cares about herself.

Because that’s what point of view is to me as a reader… it is about caring. If an author writes a love triangle from all three points of view, I’ll care (and likely cry) when the third party loses. If an author writes in the butler’s point of view on page one, I’ll still be wondering about that dear butler on page 300. If a romance author doesn’t write in the hero’s point of view, I’ll worry if she kills him off at the end of the book.

Point of view is one of the most powerful tools in the author’s toolbox. It matters. It really, really matters.

Does point of view matter to you? In romantic suspense, do you want to experience the villain’s point of view? Does it matter if your romances have the hero’s point of view? Do you want to hear from secondary characters (moms, best friends, brothers)?

August 21st, 2009 by Special Guest
The Fictional Villainess
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by Annette McCleave

Medusa. Lady MacBeth. The Wicked Witch of the West. Cruella de Vil. Bellatrix Lestrange. You may only have run across one or two of these infamous women in your lifetime of reading, but chances are good that you remember them. All of them are famous fictional villainesses.

If you were raised on Disney films like me, a woman cast in the role of Evil Personified is a familiar concept. In addition to Cruella, there are several flavors of wicked stepmom, plus Maleficent and Ursula. Over-the-top, twisted, and bitter—every last one of them.

Even in romance novels, we’ve seen our fair share of evil women, usually cast in the role of The Other Woman.

For a long time, I was convinced that literature and movies went too far with the female villain. After all, when I cast my eyes over real life, the percentage of truly nasty women was low. And I was a romance reader—I wanted heroines who were worthy of the honorable hero, not women portrayed as evil and dastardly. Let’s face it—in romance, we’re proud of the way our stories have evolved to reflect the more empowered roles of women. I wasn’t enthused about any hint of disparagement toward women, and I avoided books and movies with female blackguards.

But over the years my tastes have matured—and I think the fictional villainess has, too. More complex, more deeply motivated, more intelligent. Rougher and tougher. I rather enjoy them now—if they’re done well.

I think it’s a sign of the times that one of the most popular books and Broadway plays is a re-take on the Wicked Witch of the West. In Wicked, the famous green witch with the striped stockings becomes the central character, and we get a chance to see what drives her to do the things she does. She even gets a name—Elphaba. That POV switch changes everything.

Even the movies seem to have re-thought the stereotypical roles—I recently saw an ad for an upcoming movie called The Stepfather, where—for once—the evil person marrying into the family is not the mother. I know I’ve personally come full circle—in my Soul Gatherer series, I cast a woman in the role of Death.

Do you think the fictional villainess has truly matured? Yes? No? Got a favorite villainess? Care to share?

Signet Eclipse, September 2009

August 20th, 2009 by Misa Ramirez
Jane Austen vs. Zombies
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Jane Austen wrote 6 books in her 41 years. Bet she never, in her wildest dreams, could have ever imagined her name and books would live on close to 200 years later. More than that, even in her crazy wildest dreams, would she have imagined her books blended with monsters, zombies, and sea monsters? Did Mr. Darcy ever look like a vampire in her mind’s eye?

I’d lay down money that Jane never, ever would have wanted her books blended with the supernatural elements that are becoming mega popular in the book industry. Yet they have and there’s no stopping it. A new sub-genre has been born thanks to Seth Graham-Smith and Quirk Books.


Seth Graham-Smith hit on what some would call a brilliant idea when he decided to blend the classic Regency Pride and Prejudice with the crazy horror world of zombies. In one interview, Bethan Jones, a spokesperson for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies said: “The idea of taking two completely separate, incongruous elements – Regency romance and zombies – you think it couldn’t possibly work, but it’s so intriguing and has really captured people’s imaginations.”

He made a list of classic books whose copyrights have lapsed and were ripe for pillage, from “Moby Dick” to “Great Expectations.” “Queen Victoria: Demon-Hunter” and “I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas.”

“Then I made a list of things that might enhance these novels _ robots, ninjas, zombies,” Rekulak said. “As soon as I drew a line between ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and zombies, I knew I had a great title.”

Other books in this mashed up sub-genre are: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, [Mr. Darcy as a blood-sucking vampire? Say it ain’t so!], Jane Bites Back, another vampire tale, this time about Jane Austen herself, Queen Victoria: Demon-Hunter, and I am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas.

I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I have friends who have–and who’ve loved it. I just can’t bring myself to read it, though. Lizzie and Mr. Darcy don’t have to fight Zombies for me to love them and I’m not sure I want my image of them to include monster mashing.

Obviously I’m in the minority since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a bestseller and the other ‘mash’ books are flying up the charts. I’m curious. To those of you who’ve read Graham-Smith’s book, or any other similar hybrid, what’s the appeal?

August 19th, 2009 by Sarah S. G. Frantz
Popular Romance Studies: An International Conference
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Thursday and Friday last week, the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance hosted the First Annual International Conference of Popular Romance Studies. The conference was sponsored by Samhain Publishing, DePaul University, and the Romance Writers of America, and hosted by the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Queensland.

The conference was a wonderful success. Aussie TV even had great national coverage of the conference. All the papers presented were of a very high academic calibre, demonstrating the need for sustained, focused study of popular romance.

The conference, with presenters from India, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Indonesia, Italy, China, the US, and of course, Australia, taught us that Popular Romance Studies is and should be a truly international pursuit. In learning the universality of popular romance, though, it teaches us to be very specific about the historical, social, and national culture of the text under consideration. (For example, the book I will be writing for the next few years is about the power, appeal, and history of the modern American romance hero, not the romance hero in general.)

The conference also taught us to be aware of cultural definitions of romance. The American middle-class definition requires a happy ending, but other cultural versions of romance might not. It is important to be conscious of our own historical, social, and national cultures, as well as aware of those in the texts we study.

The conference taught us that there is a strong, vibrant community of scholars of popular romance and that we all need to do continue coming together AS a community in order to expand the field of popular romance studies.

It taught us, finally, that it is very important that we’re studying popular romance. Period. We’re not limiting our conferences or our journal to the study of popular romance fiction. We just stop at popular romance–period–popular romance across all media and genres.

I’d say more, but I’ve been up for about 55 hours with five hours of sleep scattered through those very long hours on my journey home, so I have to get to bed to try to get over this jetlag. I’ll pop in today to say hi but I just wanted to tell you all about how thrilled we all were that the IASPR conference went so well and that we managed to learn so much from it. Let’s expand and deepen that understanding in next year’s IASPR conference in Belgium (and 2011 in New York City!).