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Archive for April, 2012

Don't Forget MeSix sentences from my latest Konigsburg book, Don’t Forget Me. The hero and heroine, Nando and Kit, are former lovers who broke up. Kit left Konigsburg for San Antonio, but now she’s back. And this is Nando’s first sight of her on Main Street.

Hell, he didn’t even want her to see him just yet, not until he figured out what exactly he was going to say to her, And how he was going to say it. And what it would mean.

Kit Maldonado back in Konigsburg.

For a moment he swore he could almost hear his brother Esteban laughing. The force of karma had just sunk its teeth firmly into his ass.

 

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romance novelSo I’m reading the reviews at Rotten Tomatoes one fine Monday afternoon, just because it’s an entertaining quick snapshot of how a particular movie did over the weekend, and I stumble across the reviews of The Lucky One. For those of you who have already forgotten, this was the latest Nicholas Sparks movie, starring Zac Ephron as an anguished former Marine. Now we could talk about whether Sparks writes romance or not (and I’d be at a disadvantage because I’ve never read his stuff), but what really caught my eye was this bit from a review by Sara Stewart in the New York Post: “I’m beginning to think writer Nicholas Sparks isn’t one person at all, but a roomful of ladies doing Harlequin-romance Mad Libs.”

This is, when you think about it, a real compendium of insults for romance readers and writers. They’re all “ladies.” And they all read Harlequin, which is, apparently, the only romance publisher out there. And Harlequin, according to this POV, is the absolute nadir of popular fiction.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen that “Harlequin romance” gibe. Apparently, writers like Stewart use it to mean “second rate, blathering fiction read only by intellectually challenged women.” Which, of course, means that Stewart herself has probably never read a Harlequin romance. In fact, my guess is that Stewart has probably never read a romance novel at all, or at least that she’d never admit it.

You notice that other publishing companies don’t take similar hits. Sci-fi publishers, techno thriller publishers, and western publishers all get a pass. But if you use the phrase “Harlequin romance” in a mainstream publication, it’s clearly a code for all the prejudices the literary establishment has against romance writing.

I’ve never written for Harlequin, but I’ve read Harlequin books, just like most romance readers (I’ve also read books published by just about everyone else in the business). Unlike Stewart and people like her, I also know that Harlequin isn’t monolithic. Like most romance publishers it has a variety of lines, ranging from the mild (e.g., Love Inspired) to the decidedly spicy (e.g., Nocturne) and including a couple of single title imprints (Mira and HQN). Referring to a “Harlequin romance” is sort of like referring to a “Warner Brothers movie.” Once upon a time the phrase might have had some significance. Now it doesn’t.

But it isn’t really Harlequin that Stewart is after. It’s romance in general. To get all lit crit on you, she’s using Harlequin as a metonym, in which one publisher stands for the entire genre. I doubt that Stewart realizes that there’s any difference between Harlequin and, say, Ellora’s Cave. For her, they’re all romance, they’re all the same, and they all suck.

There’s really no point in arguing this by now. Those of us who read and write romance know what the prevailing wisdom is about our genre, at least among the literary establishment. But here’s a thought—the next time you hear somebody sneer about “Harlequin romance,” ask them how many Harlequins they’ve read. When they say none (and believe me, they will), ask them just what they’re basing their opinion on. You won’t convert them because probably nobody could. But at least you might make them think.

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Brand New MeHere’s another bit from Brand New Me. It follows on from the six sentences from a couple of weeks ago–Deirdre’s dance with Tom. And this is what she feels like when the dance is over.

He brought her upright again slowly in the midst of the noise and applause. She felt her face growing warm. What should she say? What could she say after something like that? She felt like she’d just engaged in some kind of sex act in front of a large crowd of beer drinkers. And she wasn’t even embarrassed—just sort of stunned.

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Meg Benjamin

Me in my "diva coat" just before the signing

I was going to organize this post around a central idea originally—signings, maybe, or going to RT in a group—but I’m still a little too woozy from the whole Romantic Times Convention experience and all I’ve got are bits and pieces. So bits and pieces it is, as in several random things I learned at RT 2012.

1. Signings are both ordeals and delights. Delights when you meet someone who knows your work. Ordeals when you don’t. During the massive three-hour print signing on Saturday, I decided to just relax and enjoy the experience. I sold a couple of books, talked to a few people and watched the show. I recommend that approach because, like everything else at RT, the show is definitely worth watching.

2. It really helps to go to RT with other people. It’s not an unfriendly place. You could always go to workshops and parties by yourself. But it’s so much easier when you have peeps to share things with. And, of course, it helps even more if those peeps are the Naughty Nine.

PG Forte

PG Forte at the book signing

3. While costumes aren’t required at RT, they’re certainly part of the mix—and not just at parties or specialized workshops. Several authors dressed up for the signing, including one in a rather nice Queen Elizabeth I dress and another in a Marie Antoinette wig. And, of course, there are authors like J.R. Ward who dress up as part of their working personae (unless Ward has always worn black leather and shades, which could be the case, I guess). I even dressed up in my uptight, Midwestern way. My sequined “diva coat” is definitely not something I plan on wearing to the grocery store anytime soon.

4. RT isn’t exactly designed for morning people like me. Those of us who routinely get up at five aren’t exactly at our best at midnight. On the other hand, I did make it to some workshops that my night owl friends slept through, so I guess it evened out. And my Naughty sisters made sure I sat up late in the bar a couple of times and was present at the Ellora’s Cave party to cheer my buddies in their “perp walk.” However, being all bright-eyed and bushy tailed at seven a.m. can have its downside. I was an hour early for the book signing because I didn’t read my program carefully.

Erin Nicholas

Erin Nicholas at the signing

5. The flowers for our nametags that indicated published authors were a great idea, but they kept falling off, enabling author after author to exclaim loudly “I’ve been deflowered” accompanied by obligatory shrieks of laugher.

6. In many ways, the best part of the convention for me were the long conversations with other writers, particularly my Naughty sisters. You can learn more about writing from hearing other people’s frustrations and triumphs than you can in a week’s worth of workshops.

7. Cover Model Karaoke with the Smutketeers and the Nine Naughty Novelists is clearly the wave of the future. Look for us next year, y’all! And for that, you’ll have to actually come to RT—something I highly recommend.

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Brand New MeOkay, here’s a bit from Brand New Me, Konigsburg, Book 5. My hero, Tom, has just pulled my heroine, Deirdre, out on the dance floor. Deirdre’s been trying to ignore the heat between them. Up until now, that is.

Tom maneuvered her expertly around a swaying couple, his hand moving down slightly to the side of her hip. She could feel the warmth of his palm against her skin where her T-shirt had pulled up.

Every inch of her body was suddenly sweltering, infected by the heat of his hand. Deirdre felt a clenching deep in her body that had nothing to do with nervousness and everything to do with how close his body was to hers as they made one more turn across the dance floor.

She closed her eyes: Oh god, oh god, oh god. This really wasn’t supposed to happen—at least not like this, not with him, not right now.

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Cover Model KaraokeNext week is the annual Romantic Times convention, this time at the O’Hare Hyatt Regency in Rosemont, Illinois (outside Chicago). Everything starts on Wednesday, April 11, and runs through Sunday, April 15. I’m involved in several different events—both ebook and print book fairs, a workshop panel on group blogging with four of the other Nine Naughty Novelists (PG Forte, Kinsey Holley, Kelly Jamieson, and Erin Nicholas), and the infamous Cover Model Karaoke Party with the fabulous Smutketeers. I’m also part of a Kindle Fire giveaway organized by Alanna Coca that will require you to find me sometime during the convention and get your ticket punched (literally).

RT is, in fact, a five-day party for readers and writers alike. Writers get a chance to meet other writers and hang out with friends. Readers get a chance to meet their favorite writers under decidedly informal circumstances (I found myself sitting next to Catherine Coulter at the awards ceremony last year—gasp). It’s all both exciting and a little terrifying and well worth doing. And now for the shameless promotion part.

If you’re in the Chicago area during the week of April 11, please consider dropping by the O’Hare Hyatt Regency and saying howdy. Book fairs are long and sometimes monotonous—authors love it when somebody stops off to talk. In particular, I’d love it if you’d talk to me. I’ll have jellybeans. I’ll have book thongs. I’ll have other goodies. Y’all come!

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