Friday, April 27, 2012

Six Word Memoirs: Romance Fact or Fiction

According to literary legend, American novelist Ernest Hemingway, famous for his succinct prose, once accepted a challenge to write a story in six words. He won the bet with these six: “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” In 2006, Smith, an online magazine that defines itself as “a place for storytelling, with a focus on personal narrative” invited its readers to accept a version of the Hemingway challenge and write their memoirs in six words. The response was so successful that in 2008 Smith editors Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith published a collection, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. That book became a NYT bestseller, so Fershleiser and Smith followed up in 2009 with Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak by Writers Famous and Obscure. Some of the memoirs are nearly as poignant as the Hemingway original: "For the children, I remain his." Some, like writer Erica Jong’s contribution (“Much married, fourth time is charmed”), have a dark humor. Some, like poet Robert Hass’ memoir (“May I have the last dance?”) have a captivating ambiguity. My personal favorite is by poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman (“Wonder-filled, and never a dull torment.”)

I thought that it would be fun for us to celebrate our love of romance fiction by writing our own six-word memoirs of love and HEAs. You can share your own love story or you can assume the persona of a character from a favorite romance novel. Smith’s advice to his contributors should stand us in good stead as well: “write honestly, write truthfully, write specifically, and write quickly.”


I’ll start with a few examples:


Love’s memories console. One day—reunion.



She shot me. I fell hard.

                                    --Dain (Lord of Scoundrels, Loretta Chase)


His walk. Lessons learned. Heart call.

                                     --Josie (Pleasure for Pleasure, Eloisa James)


Your turn, my friends. Give it a try. I promise these things are addictive. Just to encourage you, I’ll give one randomly selected memoirist a copy of one of my favorite new releases, No Longer a Gentleman by Mary Jo Putney. HEA is guranteed.


This post is adapted from one I posted in 2009 at Romance Vagabonds.



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday Review: The Wedding Dress

The Wedding Dress
By Rachel Hauck
Publishers: Thomas Nelson
Release Date: April 3, 2012

Charlotte Malone, owner of Malone & Co., an upscale bridal boutique, should be a happy woman. Just over a year ago an anonymous benefactor deposited a hundred thousand dollars in her bank account, a windfall that allowed her to remodel her shop and increase her inventory of designer gowns. Charlotte’s gift for finding the perfect wedding dress for her customers has earned her the patronage of the reigning Miss Alabama and a feature in a prestigious bridal magazine. Her own wedding is a mere two months away. But Charlotte is bothered by a nagging feeling that things just aren’t right. The feeling sends her to the Ludlow Estate atop Red Mountain, a spot she visited as a child with her mother, for solitude and prayer, but she finds herself in the middle of the annual Ludlow Foundation auction. One thing irresistibly leads to another, and Charlotte leaves the auction the owner of a hundred-year-old trunk with a welded lock and unknown contents.

When Charlotte’s engagement to Tim Rose is broken, she turns her attention to the trunk. With Tim’s help, the lock is broken and its contents—a beautiful, timeless wedding dress and a pair of dogtags from the 1960s—revealed. As Charlotte traces the history of the dress, the stories of three other women surface: Emily Canton, who, in 1912, wore two wedding dresses, one by the dressmaker of Birmingham’s elite and one by a former slave, Taffy Hayes; Mary Grace Fox, who in 1939 married her preacher man in the Taffy Hayes dress Emily Canton Ludlow sold to her for ten dollars; and Hillary Saltonstall, who wore the dress when she married her military hero shortly before his deployment to Vietnam in 1968. Their stories not only intersect with Charlotte’s but they also give Charlotte her past and inspire the courage and faith she needs to claim her future.

The Wedding Dress is part contemporary romance, part historical romance, and part Christian allegory. As contemporary romance, the cultural references are employed to good effect. While enough detail is given to evoke the Depression and the 1960s, the richest historical period is the early twentieth century, the setting for Emily's story. The racial prejudice and the restrictions on women's lives are integral parts of her experience. The characters in all the stories are engaging, the multiple stories are interwoven skillfully, and the faith element is an organic part of the characterization rather than a sermon disguised as fiction. 

If you like Inspirationals, I highly recommend this book. If you avoid inspirational fiction because you assume it is badly written or preachy in tone, this novel will prove you wrong on both counts. I especially appreciated that while the book qualifies as a kisses-only romance, the author shows her characters as fully dimensional human beings for whom physical desire is natural.

Do you read Inspirationals? What are your favorites?

Note: As some of you know, I was in the hospital for several days last week and not feeling up to par for several days before and after that period. I apologize for the missed posts and fully expect to be back on track with Tuesday Reviews and Friday musings from now on. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tuesday Review: The Good Father

The Good Father
By Diane Chamberlain
Publisher: Mira
Release Date: April 24, 2012

 Four years ago, teenager Travis Brown made an unusual commitment. He chose to accept responsibility for his child whose mother planned to surrender her for adoption. He has worked hard to provide for Bella while his mother provided child care. But when his mother is killed in a house fire that destroys their home, Travis loses his construction job because there is no one to care for Bella. Unable to find work, Travis accepts a neighbor’s offer to connect him with a man in Raleigh, N. C. who can give him work. The work turns out to be illegal, and Travis refuses any part of it. Reduced to living in his van, with his small supply of cash dwindling to almost nothing, Travis grows more and more desperate. Leaving Bella with Erin, an acquaintance they have made through visits to a coffee shop, Travis accepts the job offer, a choice that places his own life in jeopardy along with the life of the daughter he would die to protect.

Erin has moved out of the house where she once lived with her husband Michael and their three-year-old daughter, Carolyn. Since Carolyn drowned, she and Michael have grown further and further apart. Michael wants them to get on with their lives, and Erin is almost paralyzed with grief, reliving the accident that took her child, unable to continue her work as a pharmacist. Her only interactions are with her therapist and with members of an online support group for grieving parents. When Travis leaves Bella with her, Erin begins to surface from her immersion in grief to meet Bella’s needs. In caring for Bella, she may find her way back to her life—if they survive.

Robin Saville is thrilled with her life. A heart transplant patient who lived a restricted life as a child and teenager, she enjoys her job as manager of a bed and breakfast in Beaufort, North Carolina, and feels lucky that she is engaged to the son and probable successor of the town’s mayor and one of its wealthiest citizens. But when her fiancé’s unmarried teenage sister gives birth to a daughter, memories that Robin has kept buried for four years begin to stir—memories of her daughter and that daughter’s father, Travis Brown. As her wedding day draws nearer, everything Robin learns about herself and the man she’s marrying makes her question the life she once thought was perfect and long for the one she never had.

The stories of these three characters unfold slowly. Chamberlain shifts points of view, alternating among Travis, Erin, and Robin, and switching between past and present. Travis’s story is the central one. Despite some foolish choices, Travis is a good person and a devoted father, who has already sacrificed a great deal for his child and is willing to do whatever he must do to take care of her. He longs to be for Bella the kind of father his own was: “My father'd never broken a promise to me, and I remembered how that felt, knowing I could always trust him no matter what.” Novels about single mothers struggling to care for their children only one step from disaster are common; it’s much rarer to see a father, particularly such a young one, caught in the same situation. But Travis’s limited education combined with an economy that has devastated the building industry and the kind of tragedy that can leave those who live paycheck to paycheck with no resources when the paychecks stop make this tale all too real.

Having witnessed at close hand the measureless grief of parents who lost a child in an accident, I found Erin’s story just as real and even more heartbreaking. Robin too is a sympathetic character. Chamberlain’s characterization of all three is rich and layered, and the reader is caught up in all their stories. The villains are stereotypes, but they serve their purpose. While the ending is a bit too neat and The Good Father did not measure up to my favorites by Chamberlain such as Kiss River and Before the Storm, fans of character-driven stories that ring true emotionally will find this a satisfying read.

How do you feel about novels with shifting points of view? What about non-linear narratives?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Poetry as Present

The noun “present” means both something offered as a gift and being in the company of a person or thing. Poetry carries connotation of both meanings. It is a gift from the poets and from those, beginning with my mother, who fostered a love for poetry within me. It is also with me daily, a presence in my life through memories, through lines learned by heart, and through lines on the pages of books I read, some decades old and some as new as last week.

Among my earliest memories is my mother reading to me from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. I memorized some of Stevenson’s poems before I could read. I wrote my first poems—very bad ones—at six. At ten, I discovered Emily Dickinson, with whom I have visited regularly ever since. I can’t imagine a life without poetry.

One of the things I always tried very hard to do when I was teaching was to bring my students to see that poetry is not written to be isolated in a classroom of reluctant students wrenching meaning from it with pain and protests. Poetry is living; it is as much a part of us as the stars we wish on, the wind that lifts our kites, the smell of lightning bugs on our hands. Dylan Thomas’s definition of poetry seems right to me: “Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.”

 Because poetry is a part of my life every day, it seems quite natural to find inspiration for the fiction I write in the poems I read. Many writers have sound tracks for their novels. Although I too find ideas and inspiration in music, I even more often turn to poems I love to help me capture a feeling, craft a love scene, or give me the seed for a section of dialogue. April is National Poetry Month, a celebration throughout the United States of poetry and its place in American culture. One meaning of “celebrate” is to make publically known. Part of my celebration is to share with you three poems and snippets of the particular moments they inspired.

Grief, Cynthia Angeles
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

It was over then. Zan wasn’t surprised. She’d always expected Caleb to leave. She’d had plenty of practice at losing. Her mother chose death over her child and husband. Her father left years before his body followed his heart. Caleb was just the latest in a line. And Tal.  The man she loved, the child she loved. Her breath caught on the sudden stab of pain--sharp, physical pain, like a blade plunging and turning in her chest. She bent double from the blow. “Damn you,” she cried. “Damn you.” She didn’t know if she were cursing her parents who had abandoned her, Caleb who had followed in their path, or the distant deity who had let them leave.

Lovers, Connie Chadwell
How Will You Kiss? by Judith Pordon

Lilt me your lips,
our lost breath intermingling.

Synchronize our silence
as lazy hours ease by.

Waft cocoa, hazelnut, cinnamon,
scents around me.

Tremble with me
in paralyzing pauses.

I may no longer breathe
without breathing you.

Silence surrounded them as if the world had paused for this long delayed moment. He kissed her slowly, his mouth savoring hers. Saja tasted cocoa and cinnamon and lust and memory. His hand trembled as he stroked her breast, his mouth moving to brush kisses across her face. “Brody.” Her voice was scarcely more than a whisper.
 “I’m here,” he said. “I’ll always be here.”

Chair-Two Women Talking, Fred Bell
True Love by Judith Viorst

It is true love because
I put on eyeliner and a concerto and make pungent observations about the great issues of the day
Even when there's no one here but him,
And because
I do not resent watching the Green Bay Packer
Even though I am philosophically opposed to football,
And because
When he is late for dinner and I know he must be either having an affair or lying dead in the middle of the street,
I always hope he's dead.

It's true love because
If he said quit drinking martinis but I kept drinking them and the next morning I couldn't get out of bed,
He wouldn't tell me he told me,
And because
He is willing to wear unironed undershorts
Out of respect for the fact that I am philosophically opposed to ironing,
And because
If his mother was drowning and I was drowning and he had to choose one of us to save,
He says he'd save me.

It's true love because
When he went to San Francisco on business while I had to stay home with the painters and the exterminator and the baby who was getting the chicken pox,
He understood why I hated him,
And because
When I said that playing the stock market was juvenile and irresponsible and then the stock I wouldn't let him buy went up twenty-six points,
I understood why he hated me,
And because
Despite cigarette cough, tooth decay, acid indigestion, dandruff, and other features of married life that tend to dampen the fires of passion,
We still feel something
We can call
True love.      

“All I ever wanted was to have what you have, to have a marriage like yours and Dad’s. Easy and—"

 “Easy? No marriage is easy, not if there’s any commitment. There’s anger and disappointment and loneliness enough to make you wonder if being alone is less painful. Maybe Dan and I did you a disservice by not fighting in front of you. Buy you’re an adult now, Dori, old enough and smart enough to know that no two people as different and as strong-willed as your Dad and I are could exist in perpetual harmony.  We didn’t speak for a week after I unplugged his TV in the middle of the Daytona 500. And the freeze lasted longer than that when I campaigned for Trent Porter.”

 “None of that mattered. You stayed together. You were happy. We were happy.”

 “They mattered to us. But you’re right: we stayed. The good was always enough to keep us together during the tough times. And we just kept falling in love again.”

 Dori heard the unspoken words as clearly as those spoken. “You didn’t stay, Dori. You ran away. You quit. You left.” Was Zan right? Should she be wearing a sign that read “Dori Marshall, Coward.”

What are your favorite poetry presents?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Review: The Duke's Perfect Wife

The Duke’s Perfect Wife
By Jennifer Ashley
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: April 3, 2012

In The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (2009), the book that introduced readers to Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie brothers, Ian says, “All of us are mad in some way. . . . I have a memory that won’t let go of details. Hart is obsessed with politics and money. Cameron is a genius with horses, and Mac paints like a god. . . . We all have our madness. Mine is just the most obvious.”  In The Duke’s Perfect Wife, the “madness” of Hart Mackenzie, Duke of Kilmorgan is revealed. As the eldest of the brothers, Hart fought to protect his brothers from their father’s brutality, and the consequences of his assuming this responsibility are heavy guilt for the times he failed to protect them and an obsessive need to control everyone and everything around him. This need fuels his political ambition, his well-intentioned interference in his brothers’ lives, and his dark secrets.

Lady Eleanor Ramsay was betrothed to Hart more than a decade ago but broke off the relationship. Since then, Eleanor has lived in genteel poverty in Aberdeen, and her contact with Hart has been minimal. But when Eleanor receives a photograph that could prove damaging to Hart’s political plan, she follows her instinct to go to London and share the information with Hart. She knows Hart in ways that no one else does. Not even to his brothers has Hart disclosed the self he shared with Eleanor. She understands the motives underlying his controlling ways:

That was what Hart Mackenzie always wanted, she realized. For others to surrender to him, to let him be their master. Not because he wanted to punish them, or to have his own way, but for their own good, because he wanted to take care of them. Those who didn't understand that dashed themselves to bits on him.

What Eleanor doesn’t know is that Hart has already determined that Eleanor is the perfect wife for him. He will not lose her again. She stirs his passion more powerfully than any other woman, but beyond that, he needs her warmth and openness. The chemistry between them has lost not of its potency, and Hart finds proof that Eleanor has never stopped caring for him. She loves the younger Hart of her memories, a man whose darkness is tempered by joy and hope and vitality; she loves the controlled, obsessive, wounded man he has become. But can her trust in him be restored? Can he protect her from the darkest part of himself?

Like much of the romance-reading world, I fell in love with Ashley’s Mackenzies when I read Ian’s book, which proved to be my top read of 2009. I eagerly read Mac’s book (Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage) and Cam’s book (The Many Sins of Lord Cameron) and waited impatiently to see Hart achieve his HEA. I finished The Duke’s Perfect Wife believing that Eleanor was Hart’s ideal match and imagining their enjoying a long, happy life together.

The reunion story is my favorite trope, and I expected this one to be a favorite after I read the teaser chapter.  My expectations were realized. Eleanor is Hart’s opposite in personality and experience, but she is his equal in tenacity and strength of will. Their passion for one another is hot enough to scorch the pages, but their emotional connection is just as powerful. Hart maintains his imperious, impervious façade relentlessly, but Eleanor sees the loneliness and the fear beneath. Her love is strong enough to heal his brokenness. Ashley affirms Eleanor’s role as Hart’s healer throughout the novel. Hart looks at her and thinks “She held out a salve, with a smile, offering peace.”  Later, he realizes that “Eleanor’s smile wiped out the cloud of memory.”  And yet later: “Warm, sweet Eleanor. He wanted to bathe in her and cleanse himself of all the things he’d done and all the things he would do in the name of making himself prime minister.” But despite the prevalence of such imagery, Eleanor is no saccharine saint.  The term “alpha hero” is used too loosely in my opinion, frequently applied to tortured loners who are as far from leaders as one can get. But Hart is a true alpha, relishing his power but using it to protect and advance the interests of his “pack.” Eleanor is an independent, stubborn, passionate woman who is aware of but not intimidated by his alphaness.

Another of the joys of this book is the presence of the rest of the Mackenzies, who now include three wives and half a dozen children. Ian particularly plays a significant role in the story. My favorite character in the series and one of the most brilliantly conceived characters in romance fiction, Ian is happy with Beth and their children, but he continues to march to his own drum.

Readers anticipating full disclosure of Hart’s dark desires may be disappointed in the revelations of this book. Other than some mild bondage, the revelations are couched in general terms about trust and surrender. I was bothered more by the delay of details about Eleanor and Hart’s shared past. I know the bias against prologues is entrenched, but this is one book where I would have liked a prologue that allowed me to see the younger Eleanor and Hart. Nevertheless, The Duke’s Perfect Wife is another Ashley keeper for me. It was a satisfying conclusion to the tales of the brothers Mackenzie, and I’m delighted that at least two more books will allow me to visit their world again.

Today is another Super Tuesday in Romancelandia. In addition to The Duke’s Perfect Wife, I also highly recommend the following books being released today:

Paris in Love by Eloisa James, definitely one of my top reads of 2012.See my review here and reviews by Terri O at Romance Writers Revenge here and by Andrea at   The Romance Dish here. 

About That Night by Julie James, a romantic comedy about adults with great characters and lots of sizzle. See my review here. 

Just Down the Road by Jodi Thomas, a new Harmony book with another unconventional H/H. See my review here

April 3 releases added to my TBR collection include:

  1. On His Honor (Deep in the Heart/MacAllisters #7) by Jean Brashear 
  2. Deadly Dance (A-Tac #5) by Dee Davis 
  3. Betrayal (Scarlet Deception #3) by Christina Dodd 
  4. How to Ravish a Duke (How to Book #3) by Vickie Dreiling 
  5. The Wedding Dress by Rachel Hauck 
  6. The Call of Bravery (A Brotrher’s Word #3) by Janice Kay Johnson 
  7. If I Fall by Kate Noble
  8. The Princess and the Peer (Princess Brides #1) by Tracey Anne Warren

 What April 3 releases are you most anticipating?