Thursday, February 25, 2010

Romance Buzzwords: A Game Recycled

When I was blogging as a Vagabond, we had great fun playing the Romance Buzzwords game. I’m recycling it here with some minor changes. The OED defines a buzzword as “a catchword or expression currently fashionable.” I think you will agree that the fifteen words on the list qualify as “romance buzzwords.”

So, here’s the game. List a title of a romance you have read that uses the word. Just to keep us all honest, we will include authors’ names as well. You may use a variant form of the word (for example, scandal/scandalous/scandalizing). The more titles, the merrier the game; but if you can think of only a few, share those. You don’t have to list fifteen. To encourage you, I’ll add that when the Vagabonds played the game (with a slightly different list), Julie found a single author who had used all the words.

The only rules are that the title must use one of the words from the list, and it must be a book you have read or plan to read. All of my examples are from my 2010 list, so most of them fall in the “plan to read” category. I could have listed other titles from the list for most of the words.

To make it more fun, a random poster will win a book with one of our list words in the title.

The List
1. Bride (The Elusive Bride, Stephanie Laurens)
2. Duke (In Bed with the Duke, Christina Dodd)
3. Kiss (A Kiss at Midnight, Eloisa James)
4. Lady (Never Less Than a Lady, Mary Jo Putney)
5. Love (Ten Things I Love About You, Julia Quinn))
6. Magic (Lake Magic, Kimberly Fisk)
7. Mistress (Mistress by Mistake, Maggie Robinson)
8. Night (Promise Me Tonight, Sara Lindsey)
9. Passion (The Darkest Passion, Gena Showalter)
10. Scandal (Secrets of a Scandalous Bride, Sophia Nash)
11. Secret (The Secret Duke, Jo Beverley)
12. Seduction (Proof by Seduction, Courtney Milan)
13. Surrender (The Surrender of a Lady, Tiffany Clare)
14. Temptation (Twice Tempted by a Rogue, Tessa Dare)
15. Wicked (Wicked Intentions, Elizabeth Hoyt)

Please share your buzzword titles, my friends. And if you have any thoughts on why these particular words are so popular, we would all love to hear those too.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Five Questions for Romance Readers

The Definition:

This post is a meme. “Meme,” alternately pronounced to rhyme with “cream” or as the first syllable in “memory,” has been defined in various ways. The definition I like best is “an idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.” I’ve seen variations on the web of the reader’s game (the idea), and I copied (replicated) it, adapting it for my interests and purpose (evolution). Incidentally, I prefer the second pronunciation because the memes I like best are inevitably questions that require me to use my memory.

The Questions:

1. What are you reading today?
2. What are your top five all-time favorite romances?
3. What romance author have you recommended most often?
4. What romance could you honestly call “life-changing”?
5. What romance novel are you most looking forward to reading in 2010?

My Answers:

1. What are you reading today?
I’m reading Madeline Hunter’s Ravishing in Red. Except for her medievals, a subgenre I generally avoid no matter who’s writing it, Hunter is an autobuy author for me. I love her voice, her way with language, and the complexities of relationships that are characteristic of her writing. I was a bit hesitant to start this one because friends have raved about it so enthusiastically that I was afraid it might not live up to expectations. But I find fascinating the core idea of the new series, women living communally, and I quickly fell hard for Sebastian. It’s a great read, and I’m primed for the rest of the series.

2. What are your top five all-time favorite romances?
I could probably list a top 500 more easily than I can limit myself to five, but if forced to choose, I’ll go with the following: Persuasion by Jane Austen; Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase; Frederica by Georgette Heyer; Pleasure for Pleasure by Eloisa James; Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel (with A Place to Call Home by Deborah Smith a very close sixth). I’ve read them all more times than I can count, and I discover new things to love with each reading. The characters are familiar now but no less engaging for that.

3. What romance author have you recommended most often?
For years, I rarely recommended romance novels because suggesting one usually resulted in friends proclaiming "I never read romance novels" or warnings that my reading such “trash” would “rot my brain.” One of the joys of discovering online romance communities was building friendships with intelligent women who sgared my enthusiasm for romance reading. Now I recommend favorite books regularly. I recommend all my favorite writers, but I most enjoy recommending older books I’ve loved. I’ve recommended Carla Kelly’s Reforming Lord Ragsdale many times. Till the Stars Fall by Kathleen Gilles Seidel may be the book I’ve recommended most often. Both Kelly and Seidel are writers who often get overlooked, so I delight in making other readers aware of what wonderful writers they are.

4. What romance could you honestly call “life-changing”?
Sometimes I was a covert reader of romance, but from my tenth summer until the present moment, I have read them. I don’t have a single book that I can point to and say that it’s the one that shaped my love of the genre. There have been many romances that opened my eyes to some new truth and have been life-changing in that way. But the most definitively life-changing were the category romances of Essie Summers. When I was going through one of the most difficult periods of my life, when the very term “happy ending” seemed bitterly ironic, I read Summers’ sweet romances that were filled with courage and humor and a love that won over all odds. They allowed me to live in a world where love did conquer all. That world helped me heal.

5. What romance novel are you most looking forward to reading in 2010?
This is another tough question. I can name ten titles that I’m excited about reading next month alone: Moonlight Road, Robyn Carr; In Bed with the Duke, Christina Dodd; On the Steamy Side, Louisa Edwards; Something About You, Julie James; The Family Man, Trish Milburn; On Shadow Beach, Barbara Freethy; Lois Lane Tells All, Karen Hawkins; Match Made in Court, Janice Kay Johnson; Mad, Bad, and Blonde, Cathy Linz; The Wild Marquis, Miranda Neville. Again, if forced to limit my choice, I’ll say that my most eagerly anticipated romance novel of 2010 is a tossup between two, both out in July: Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage, the second of Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie Brothers books and follow-up to my top read of last year, The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie; and Last Night’s Scandal by Loretta Chase, the long anticipated story of Olivia and Peregrine, the wonderful, battling, adventuring 12 and 13 year-old duo from Chase’s Lord Perfect.

Now it’s your turn. What are your answers to the five questions?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Crazy Little Thing Called Valentine's Day

Whatever its origin, and the story seems to be in dispute, Valentine’s Day will be viewed, sentimentally or cynically, by American consumers as a celebration of love, mostly romantic love. The Greeting Card Association predicted in 2008 that 190 million Valentine’s Day cards would be sent, not including those exchanged in countless classrooms. Add to the cost of all those cards, the 189 million roses, 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, and eight billion conversation hearts that will be sold (plus gifts such as lingerie, jewelry, romantic restaurant dinners, etc.), and it’s clear we are looking at huge sums being spent in the name of love. The National Retail Federation predicts $17.02 billion will be spent this year.

But cards and candy and flowers are just part of the picture. What’s a celebration of love without music? “My Funny Valentine” is the best known Valentine song. It’s been sung for more than a century, so whatever your preferred musical genre, it’s likely you can find a recording. I prefer Ella’s version myself, but everybody from Barbra Streisand to Rufus Wainwright has sung it. Or perhaps you just want a song with love in the title. You have an even wider choice then. Looking just at songs that reached #1, you can choose from 114 different songs, ranging from Benny Goodman’s “Taking a Chance on Love” (1943) to Usher’s “Love in This Club” (2008)—and that’s a wide range, baby. Choose your decade: 1940s--Nat King Cole, “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons”; 1950s--Teddy Bears, “To Know Him Is To Love Him”; 1960s—the Beatles “All You Need Is Love” (Did you know the Supremes had five hits in the 60s with “Love” in the title?); 1970s-- Roberta Flack , “Feel Like Makin Love”; 1980s—Foreigner, “I Want to Know What Love Is”; 1990s--Whitney Houston, “I Will Always Love You”: 2000s—Beyonce, “Crazy In Love.” Are you humming your pick now?

Then there’s the obvious choice for this community—books. Books in Print lists 916 current or forthcoming books with “Valentine” in the title, but a lot of them feature characters like Charlie Brown and Curious George, not exactly what we’re looking for. Our options increase dramatically if we look at books with “Love” in the title. Now we have 41,280 choices, and they range from Love in the Time of Cholera by Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez to a 14-volume manga series called Love Hina to Sandra Hill’s February release, Viking in Love. Of course, you may choose to go with a title that delivers a specific message. There are book titles that proclaim love an addiction, a verdict, a secret, a memory, and a lie; others declare love is just in time, timeless, or out of time. I think the best book choices for Valentine’s Day are those with the best love scenes.

Whatever you give the loves of your life on February 14, I highly recommend you give yourself the gift of reading or rereading one or more of the following just to delight in some of the best love scenes in the annals of romance fiction. The scenes are different from one another in a variety of ways, but they have in common a view of love that is revealing and romantic.

1. Cora & Francis, The Famous Heroine, Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh must like outdoor love scenes. She writes a lot of them, but this one is my favorite. It’s the final scene, and Cora and Francis are “lying side by side, hand in hand on the grass, gazing up at the sky” after making love. They engage in the teasing banter that people who love each other and are comfortable with each other often do, and then they burst into laughter, not polite social laughter but side-splitting, unable-to-talk roars of laughter. Their intimacy is not limited to the sexual. Their hearty desire for one another’s bodies is matched by their genuine liking for each other and a shared appreciation of life’s absurdities. I am persuaded that this couple will live happily ever after; I believe in their love.

2. Jessica & Dain, Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase
Fairly early in Lord of Scoundrels, there is a wonderful kissing scene. Dain follows Jessica into the street after she has berated him and his choice of companions. They kiss in the pouring rain, and Dain, who thinks he has made himself invulnerable, speaks his desire in his native Italian. The kiss lights the flame that will burn more hotly as the relationship develops. Just in case the characters or the readers are in doubt as to the significance of this kiss, it is ended by a bolt of lightning. When Jessica returns to her grandmother, she tells her all about her exchange with Dain, including the kiss. She tells her that they were kissing in the streets of Paris, oblivious to the rain and to anyone who might see them. They could have been killed by the lightning bolt, or Jessica could have been ruined. “I wish I had been,” she adds. Jessica Trent may be a virginal heroine, but she’s no na├»ve, ignorant miss. She understands her desire for Dain. From this moment the reader understands that these two strong, intelligent, stubborn characters are the perfect match emotionally and physically.

3. Regan & Rafe, The Return of Rafe MacKade, Nora Roberts
Rafe MacKade is a bad boy grown up. He was driven by his own demons to leave his home, but he returns “with money in his pockets and plans for the future.” Regan Bishop is the smooth to Rafe’s rough. The owner of Past Times, an antique and decorating shop, she is, as one of Rafe’s younger brothers observes, a combination of “spine, common sense, and compassion.” The two recognize their mutual attraction, but neither is looking to fall in love. Rafe bets Regan that she will grow so crazy about him that she’ll show up at Duff’s Tavern braless, in a red mini-skirt and stilettos, ready for beer and a game of pool. Regan bets him that he’ll be so crazy about her that he’ll bring her lilacs and quote Shelley for her. Of course, they both lose—and win. Regan wears the outfit so foreign to her image of herself to the tavern. Rafe is such a guy, so lovably awkward as he delivers the silk lilacs and kneels to recite the four lines of Shelley that it took him a week to memorize. Sigh! Such a terrific scene!

4. Catherine & Michael, Shattered Rainbows, Mary Jo Putney
She’s noble and beloved by many, but Catherine believes herself incapable of sexual pleasure. MJP devotes a full chapter to Michael’s proving her wrong. It is a scene filled with sweetness, tenderness, and passion that culminates in a union of bodies, minds, and spirits. The scene is as much about trust and vulnerability as it is about desire. Catherine concludes that comparing simple “physical release” to what she and Michael share is like comparing “a candle to the sun.”

5. Krissa & Quinn, Till the Stars Fall, Kathleen Gilles Seidel
Krissa and Quinn are reunited lovers. As college students, they were lovers, but they have been apart for sixteen years, years in which Krissa, the cinnamon-haired girl who inspired her lover to write songs about her, has become a divorced mother of four sons and Quinn, one half of the celebrated rock group Dodd Hall, has become a doctor and a writer. He visits her in Minnesota, and the first visit is awkward and unsatisfying. But the second visit, the scene I love, is wonderful! They kiss, and the world is transformed: “The sights, smells, and sensations of a physical universe sprang to life, honoring the flesh.” (That sentence is wonderful!) Nevertheless, the real world is still very much with them. They go to Krissa’s home where four demanding kids await. Instead of having sex, they watch hockey together. But none of this changes the wonder of falling in love again.

Will you be adding your $$ to the billions the greeting card companies, candy makers, and florists make this February? Will you celebrate the holiday that celebrates love by reading a romance novel? What’s your favorite love song? What’s your favorite love scene?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Breaking the Rules

I am not a rule breaker by nature. I’m the classic, compliant first born—a people pleaser who needs approval and doesn’t rock boats. Imagine my surprise then when I discovered that as a writer I’m breaking all kinds of rules. Here are just a few that I’ve broken.

1. Never open with a character waking up at the beginning of a day.

Breaking the Rule: My opening to The Long Way Home (Book 1) of my Home trilogy.

Dori Marshall was wide awake, but she refused to open her eyes. It was an old trick that she had played as a child: the day couldn’t start until she looked it in the face. But even with her eyes closed, she knew her quiet, ordinary life was under attack. The very air against her skin seemed charged with a presence. Damn Max! He always changed everything.

2. Never have a character describe herself/himself by looking in a mirror.

Breaking the Rule: Dori looks in a mirror as she’s getting ready to go downstairs and face Max, who has caught her by surprise earlier.

She stared at the face in the mirror. She knew she wasn’t plain exactly, just ordinary. She ran her fingers through her bangs to give them the tousled look that her hairdresser recommended. Maybe she should listen to Lou Anne’s advice about highlights. Her hair was just so—just so brown, not golden brown, not caramel, not mahogany—just brown. Her skin was good, but it wasn’t peaches and cream or tanned and lovely. It was just fair skin that flushed too easily for her liking and required a triple digit sunscreen to keep from burning. Her nose was just a nose, and while her lips were pleasantly curved, they lacked the pouting fullness of a cover girl’s.

“Cute” was the adjective she had heard applied to herself most often, but “cute” was not an adjective that seemed appropriate for a thirty-four-year-old mother of a teenage daughter. Dori knew her eyes were her best feature, not blue or green, but a changing mixture of the two, surrounded by lashes so thick some people thought they were fake. “The only thing fake, lady,” she told the woman in the mirror, “is your smile.” With another sigh, she started out, only to return, snarling words her mother never taught her under her breath, as she grabbed a pair of red sandals from the closet and shoved them onto her feet.

3. Never give your character names that start with the same initial.

Breaking the Rule: Three M’s and Two S’s

In the first draft of TLWH, my hero was Max. His best friends were Micah and Mowgli. I even turned the common initial into a joke and had them call their first band Mmm. Pathetic, I know. I did say “first draft.”

And Dori’s best friends were Scott and Saja. No jokes for them, just the feeling that they had told me their names.

4. Keep your focus on the two main characters. Don’t distract your reader with too many characters.

Breaking the Rule:Twenty-Five and Counting

Max and Dori have a daughter. Dori has a mother, a father, a brother (who has two children), two best friends, an agent, and a sort of ex-boyfriend. Max has an aunt, a father, a stepmother, two half-brothers, five band members (and the wife and son of one of them), one friend/manager who’s dead but still very much a part of the story, a new manager, and a former girlfriend. That's twenty five secondary characters who contribute to the story plus assorted townspeople.

5. Don’t write books one and two in a trilogy until you’ve sold book 1.

This is a new rule for me, one I discovered this week when I read Jessica Faust’s blog post from last Friday, and to be fair, it was really expert opinion and advice, not a rule. It just felt like a another rule to me since rules were much in my mind.

Breaking the Rule: 170,000 Words Later

I have about a third of both books 2 and 3 written. I had never heard that I shouldn’t write them yet when I started on them, but I have enough finished on both now to be fairly certain where the stories of Dori’s best friends, Brynne and Saja, are going. I even have titles: Home Is a Four-Letter Word and Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

A Rule Breaker's Declaration (Sort of):

I compromised with the rule on characters names. Micah became Eli, but I could not change Mowgli’s name. He refused to cooperate under any other name. Scott became Brynne because several people though Scott sounded too completely a male name, but I’m not happy with the choice. I’ll probably change the character’s name again if I can find something that fits the character better.

As for the other rules, I think I’ll remain a rule breaker for now. I like my opening, and I’ve received good feedback from friendly readers and from contest judges. I’m happy with the mirror scene, and it elicited some very positive feedback from a couple of contest judges. If an agent or editor says these scenes have to go, that will be soon enough to conform to the rules.

Books 2 and 3 introduce far fewer characters than book 1. I do most of my world building for the town of Gentry, Georgia, the primary setting for all three books, in book 1. I need those characters to give context to the lives of the hero and heroine and to make Gentry seem real. Again, if an agent or editor suggests I have too many characters, I will reconsider at that point.

As for the trilogy, since I can finish both remaining books in about the same time I can write another book, this time I’m staying with the trilogy. If I write a second series of books, I’ll keep in mind Jessica Faust’s advice.

As a reader, are you aware of rules and of writers who break them? Are you bothered by rule breakers? As a writer, do you follow rules—or are you determinedly typing to the beat of your muse with no thought of other peoples’ rules?