Monday, January 24, 2011

What kind of reader are you?

With the Oscar nominees being announced this week, I thought it would be interesting to talk about how you "judge" a book.

I'm in the middle of judging my allotted RITA books for the year and, as usual, have been really enjoying myself. For those of you unfamiliar with the RITA, it's the annual contest for published authors sponsored by the RWA. It is generally regarded as the most prestigious romance contest for published authors, i.e. the Oscars for romance books. The judging is by other published authors. You can judge any category as long as it's not one you are entered in. I always choose Regency, Romantic Suspense and Contemporary categories (you have to choose three), and end up with mostly historicals, which is great.

Around this time the loops are always full with RITA related posts--you can't discuss which books you are reading--and something someone made a comment on the loops stuck in my subconscious and popped up when I was reading last night. I can't remember her exact words, but it was basically along the lines of how critically she judged the books. I have a number of writer friends who regularly talk about how hard they are to impress. When they read, it's like they're a high school english teacher with a red pen in hand, LOL.

It reminded me of a review I came across recently. Believe me, I try to avoid Amazon reviews, but sometimes it's inevitable that I see something. Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing one of those wonderful one star reviews. Goes with the territory, I know, but it doesn't stop the sick to the stomach feeling (as usually happens when I see something like that), until I hit the "other reviews" link. I don't remember the exact numbers, but this particular reviewer had about fifteen reviews. Of those THIRTEEN were one star reviews. The "best" review she'd given: a three star. Wow. That's one tough cookie.

By comparison, I think I'm pretty easy to satisfy as a reader. I've been charting the books I've read for the past 5 years or so--strictly for my memory only--assigning a letter grade to each one. I have probably only a handful of D's and F's, a few DNF's, maybe 20-25% C's, and the rest B's and A's. I start out with the expectation that I'm going to enjoy the book (otherwise I wouldn't have picked it up) and usually those expectations are met. My test is one of enjoyment--if I enjoyed it, that's enough--even if there are "problems" I notice as a writer, it doesn't effect my judgment as a reader. For example, I can forgive a silly suspense plot if I LOVE the romance.

So what about you . . . what kind of reader are you? Do you read with a red pen in hand or are you the kind of teacher we all wanted in school: an "easy grader"? :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Quick update:

I'm talking dream destinations over at Monica Burn's blog today. She and I were Golden Heart finalists together in 2005 (I think that's right). She has a HUGE blog event scheduled for the next month with lots of prizes, so you might want to check it out.

Hope you all had a nice long weekend!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I love you Karen Robards!
(Or: The Joys of Discovering a Backlist)

Karen Robards is one of the big romantic suspense stars in our industry. I've read a number of her books over the past few years and really enjoyed them. But it wasn't until recently that I learned she used to write historicals. That's when one of those great moments happens as a reader: I discovered her backlist. [Aside: this is where having a kindle is a great boon not only to an author but also to a reader. I downloaded about 10 of her books in a week.]

I think I've mentioned before that I've been reading romance off and on for more years than I want to claim. My earliest romance memories are of books like The Wolf and the Dove & Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss and Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers. Catherine Coulter, Judith McNaught, Shirlee Busbey, Jude Deveraux and Johanna Lindsey were also early favorites of mine. I read romance off an on through college and a little less in law school, but I do remember reading Julie Garwood in the early 90s. From the list of author's above, you can see I was there to read most of the classics of our genre.

I'm sure this has had an impact on my writing. I love what has been called "old school" romance, and many readers and reviewers have picked up on this in their comments about my books. One of the things I love about old school romances is the emotional intensity and gut-clenching "black moments" (the disastrous point in the romance--usually about 3/4 of the way through the book when a relationship between the hero and heroine seems impossible).

Good black moments are hard to find in today's romances, in part, IMO, because it's harder to get away with some of the things "old school" romances used to get away with. By this I'm referring to many things, from story lines, to what would today be called asshole heroes, to the really really bad things that used to happen to characters, and to the fact that often the hero's POV wasn't often used, making him--and his thoughts--more of enigma. If the heroine couldn't be sure of the heroes feelings, neither could we.

I haven't gone back and read all my old favorites, but one of the problems I've found with some that I have is that they often don't quite hold up to my memories. I don't have the tolerance I used to for certain plot devices (from big misunderstandings, to "forced seduction", etc.).

So imagine my delight when I discovered an "old school" author who I'd somehow missed the first time around, but who's books have held up extremely well. She has some of the sexiest heroes I've come across in a long time--Alpha with a capital A. I must give credit to my friend and CP Jami Alden (who shares my love of old school) for pointing me in her direction. We sound like excited teenagers when we discuss these books, LOL, but I think the love and enthusiasm part of the magic. I love the romance genre, and when I find books like Karen Robards's, it reminds me of why.

So if you love old school romances, Alpha heroes, or just want a lesson in how an author can do a romance trope extremely well, here are some books I loved:

Forbidden Love: I know it's "wrong"--in this ward/guardian book the heroine is much younger than the hero--but God, I loved this book!

Loving Julia: Pygmallion done right. One of her most popular/well-loved books.

Dark Torment: Loved this one: Irish hero sent to Australia as a convict; heroine is daughter of his owner.

Scandalous: Read a while ago, but spinster sister saves family.

Desire in the Sun: slave hero with plantation owner daughter heroine

To Love a Woman: Not a historical, and sex might be on the edge at times for some, but loved this VERY alpha hero.

So what are the books you read that got you into the genre? Have you had an experience like mine, where you find a new author, and then gorge happily on their backlist?

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A Very Happy New Years!

Looks like my celebrating isn't over. Just found out that THE RANGER hit the NY Times Bestseller list at #24! Double the thanks to all of you for helping to get it on there. I'm doing the happy dance and breaking out the champagne tonight. :) Whoo hoo!!!

Don't forget to come check out my interview with Ing over at her new blog today (Thursday).

UPDATE: I think I'm still in the holiday fog. I forgot to mention that I'll be on Borders True Romance today (Saturday) talking about THE RANGER (and the inspiration for the characters), if you want to stop by and say "hi."

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

A Huge Thank You!

I just wanted to thank you guys for all of your support and wonderful comments this past week. I know the time between Christmas and New Years is a busy one for everybody, so I truly appreciate the effort you guys made to pick up THE RANGER. You guys are the best. If you guys haven't checked out Laurie's review, you won't want to miss it here, and Ing is having a Monica McCarty week on her new blog, so check it out for some great giveaways!

Happy New Year!