by Mary Jo
Today, we're resuming our sadly interrupted anniversary celebration, and I have the pleasure of welcoming Eloisa James and Lauren Willig, both of whom have wonderful insights to share with us.
First up is Eloisa James, who has been a visitor to Word Wenches for both her romance and for her delicious memoir, Paris in Love. Today she ponders romance and what might lie ahead in our genre:
I read widely in romance sub-genres, with the exception of scary Romantic Suspenses. I’m just going to make a more-or-less haphazard list of the trends I’m seeing, skipping Historical because the Word Wenches have that covered. Please tell me in the comments what I’m missing or where I went wrong!!
I feel as if Paranormal readers are holding their breaths, waiting for the next big thing. The writers who established brilliant worlds are still going strong: Kresley Cole, Patricia Briggs, Nalini Singh, Ilona Andrews, etc. But I have the feeling that it’s harder to establish a new world these days, especially if it’s a shifter or werewolf or (God forbid) vampire world.
Ilona Andrews is a brilliant bellwether, and while she’s continuing the Magic Burns series published by Tor (a sci-fi publisher), her romances with Avon focus on magic, not shifting. Her next Avon book, by the way, will be out in 2017, with a re-issue of the first one, followed by 2 books only 90 days apart. Exciting!
One addendum here has to do with price points: the top authors are going hardcover (which I, personally, find annoying if understandable). Patricia Briggs, Kresley Cole, Nalini Singh, and now Thea Harrison’s next Tor book are all going out in hardcover. If you read paranormal, what do you think of this?
I’ve been reading a lot of male/male romance, which is a refreshing change. The feminist side of me rebels a bit (adulate the male body All Day Long—where are the wenches?) but there are some great writers in the field—Damon Suede, for example (read Hot Head!), Heidi Cullinan, and Tere Michaels (Groomzilla was really fun). A bunch of New Adult writers are publishing series in which 3 might be heterosexual and a fourth homoerotic, which is an interesting touch and reflects the way my undergraduates are very flexible when it comes to erotic choices.
I still love New Adult, though it’s possible the field is over-saturated. I’d point to Elle Kennedy, Sarina Bowen, and Kylie Scott as examples of great series (oh, and the Calendar Girls — on the NYT for ages). What’s great about these, to me, are the heroes: they tend to appear alpha, but are actually beta once they’re in love — which is often true for male/male romance as well. Some authors I think of as writing New Adult (with all its angsty emotion) are now writing slightly older people. Jay Crownover’s Marked Men series about a tattoo shop is fun, as I learned a lot about tattoos that I didn’t know.
Contemporary romance is flying off the shelves. I’m really enjoying books about injured characters at the moment. For example, Mia Sheridan’s Archer’s Voice, where the hero doesn’t speak, is great. Sports books seem to be huge, from football stories (in which, miraculously, the quarterback never has a concussion, thank goodness) to extreme sports, like Tracy Wolff’s Shredded series and Sarina Bowen’s Shooting for the Stars series.
I’ll end with an author new-to-me: Mhairi McFarlane. I laughed hysterically reading It’s Not Me, It’s You. The whole genre of funny romances (Kristen Higgin as a prime example) is going strong. I’m half way through Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s new Chicago Stars book coming in the fall — all I can say is, pre-order it now!! It’s wonderful and I particularly love the hero.
So what did I miss? What book should we all be reading — or what sub-genre did I neglect?
Now for Lauren Willig! Lauren leaped to renown with her very first book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and has been writing successfully ever since while working on advanced degrees in English and acquiring a degree from Harvard Law School in her spare time. Her thoughts:
Lauren: A wise colleague of mine is wont to say that there’s a sound that romance readers make when they find one another. It isn’t quite a squee and it certainly isn’t a “woo!” It’s as native to the romance reader as the harrumph is to the Regency dowager or the little gray cells are to Hercule Poirot: it’s the sound of like-minded souls finding one another.
It’s the sound many of us make, unconsciously, as we read the day’s post from the Word Wenches, nodding along as we read.
My inarticulate-romance-reader-noise moment? Reading a Word Wench post not so many moons ago about Mary Lide’s Ann of Cambray. Ann of Cambray has a special place in my heart. It was my very first romance novel, given to me when I was six and still reading mostly Nancy Drew and the Babysitter’s Club.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing to sneer at in Nancy Drew (except maybe that roadster), but this was something else entirely. It was history vivid on the page, translated through the lives of individuals, the war between the Empress Matilda and King Stephen made real in the plight of one girl, Ann of Cambray, and her quest to retain her lands—and the conflicts of loyalty experienced by the enigmatic man who held her as his ward. (And later something more.) (MJP: It was Wench Susan King who mentioned her love for this story.)
I still love this book. So much. I will be grateful, always, to Mary Lide and Ann of Cambray—not just for automatically giving me an unfair advantage years later in sixth grade Medieval History—but for introducing me to what historical romance can be at its very best: an exploration of human nature in adverse circumstances; a chance to live in another world and another time, if only for a few hundred pages; and a stunning awareness that people are people whether they live in a Norman keep or an Upper East Side apartment building.
I laughed; I cried; and, yes, it was definitely better than Cats.
But I’d had no idea that there were other Ann of Cambray readers out there until the Word Wenches posted about it. That’s one of those moments when you know you’ve come home. (Cue slightly altered version of Cheers theme song. Book-related lyrics mandatory. Booze sold separately.)
Recently, in the daily stew that is my Facebook feed, an article popped up, posted and reposted: a scientific study proclaiming that readers of fiction have more empathy. This is news? I think anyone over here at the Wenches could have told you that.
And I’ll take it one step further and say that readers of historical romance have more empathy than most, because we don’t just put ourselves into someone else’s shoes: we put ourselves into different cultures and times, into different manners and mores, into corsets, farthingales, and chitons.
We look past the stereotypes and the broad claims of “people in the nineteenth century behaved like THIS” to what the individual experiences might have been—so many different individual experiences!—and nothing brings out those idiosyncrasies like the particularly idiosyncratic act of falling in love. Because no two love stories are the same; no two people are the same; no two historical romance novels are the same. And, only very rarely, are two Word Wench posts the same because they’re doing an anniversary re-post.
So let’s raise a glass—malmsey, mead, claret, bubbly, or what you will—to the Word Wenches, for bringing out the best in historical romance for ten years and counting!
What was your first historical romance novel?
MJP: Eloisa and Lauren, thanks so much for visiting us today! We are a tribe, we lovers of history and romance! A tribe that makes sounds that aren't quite a "squee" when we meet others of our kind. <G>
Note that both Eloisa and Lauren have asked some interesting questions, so please say what you think! Commenters on the anniversary blogs will become eligible for book giveaways, so share your thoughts, and perhaps win a book or two!