At the Back Fence #89, fka Laurie’s News & Views Alisa Herr
At the Back Fence Issue #89
February 15, 2000
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The 2000 All About Romance Reader Awards:
When AAR’s pollster Shelley Dodge sent me the final tally for our 2000 AAR Reader Awards, I was more than a little surprised at the outcome. I was happily surprised to learn that we had roughly 50% higher “turnout” this year than last year. Most of all, however, was that while I expected to see many of the titles and authors represented, some others were actually a shock to my system. While many of the winning authors were lead authors, meaning best selling authors, several of the winning titles and authors were unknowns, virtual unknowns, or certainly less well known than winners in previous years. And while some of the authors we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in our winner’s circle made a strong showing again, others seem to have disappeared. In a case or two, and Dara Joy comes to mind, that’s because they did not have a book published last year. But for many others, new and upcoming talent has captured our readers’ imaginations.
Seeing so many new names in the results was certainly interesting, as was the fact that so many of the winning titles/authors simply blew away their competition. In previous years we had many more “honorable mentions,” but this time around, the winning titles/authors in many more categories received so many more votes than the second place finisher that no honorable mentions were awarded in a majority of categories.
How did AAR’s reviewers represent our readers? Of the twenty positive categories readers could vote in, we awarded fifteen of these titles/authors Desert Isle Keeper Status. And we were very close in four of the remaining five – Julie Garwood’s Ransom (which won in two categories), Diane Farr’s Fair Game, and Liz Carlyle’s debut romance, My False Heart, all earned grades of B+ from us. Linda Howard’s All the Queen’s Men was the only title we graded below B+ – we gave it a C+.
Some other notes of interest:
We had more ballot stuffing this year than in any previous year, and authors of e-books seem to do this the most
Every year in which we’ve conducted this ballot, we’ve had ballot stuffers. The first year, someone submitted many ballots with the same three authors names in various categories. By tracking through e-mail addresses, the times the ballots were submitted, and return mail, we were able to determine that these ballots were likely submitted by one individual and discounted them all.Last year we received a spate of ballots filled with titles of books from one e-book publisher. Again, the ballots were all submitted within hours of one another, and were of titles and authors we had not seen before. After checking various e-book web sites, we realized all the titles were from one particular publisher, and discounted those results as well.
A different e-book publisher got into the act this year, as did a couple of authors. These suspect ballots, as usual, were trashed, but the question remains – why stuff our ballot box anyway? It’s not as though these award are the RITA, or are truly meaningful in the larger scope of romance reading. Are some authors so competitive that they simply must win? Are e-book publishers trying to gain legitimacy overnight?
Sub-genre fans “got out the vote” for their favorite type of romances
We feel that the final results truly reflect legitimate ballots, although in a couple of areas, questions remained until we did some additional follow-up. Without Carla Kelly or Mary Balogh in the Regency Romance category this year, we originally had no author receive more than one vote for the first half of the voting period. So we reached out to the Regency Romance community and had our reviewers put out the word that we needed Regency Romance readers to vote. And they did, en masse, voting for Diane Farr over any other Regency Romance author, and in several categories.We were also initially suspect over the number of votes Christine Feehan received. Until voting was nearly complete, the only review we had of her Carpathian romances was not particularly positive. Later, however, we received a very good review from one of our reviewers who loves this sub-genre. After questioning our other paranormal experts, we discovered this author’s books really were a big hit with paranormal fans, and were able to relax and count these votes (which were in many categories) as legitimate. We are very pleased that Christine has become so popular so quickly!
Nora Roberts as Nora Roberts had an “off” year
While Nora Roberts as J.D. Robb had another terrific year with five wins as Robb, she didn’t fare nearly so well as Nora Roberts. Though she started the year with the very strong Inner Harbor and ended the year, I thought, with the even better Jewels of the Sun and the very good Enchanted, many readers felt these books were derivative of her earlier work. Nora Roberts did not win or place in any positive category for a particular book as Nora Roberts this year while in previous years she has done remarkably well under both names. And yet, she did win as the “author most glommed” as Nora Roberts and not J.D. Robb.
Winner of Most Luscious Love Story (no honorable mentions given)
Honorable Mention for
Most Tortured Hero
Favorite European Historical Romance
“Winner” of Purple-est Prose
Upon being informed of her showing, Robin wrote:
“To say I was amazed to find that in the final interim results, The Lady’s Tutor had been nominated for every single category that it could possibly qualify in, is a major understatement. All in all, it would appear that my book has affected many, many readers, on many, many levels. Perhaps that is the goal of any writer, to inspire emotion in readers, whether it be positive or negative. If so, I apparently succeeded in my mission!”My appreciation goes to all those who voted Tutor ‘Purple-est Prose;’ as the saying goes, it is better to be remembered than forgotten.
“To you who made it possible for me to receive Honorable Mention for ‘Most Tortured Hero,’ and ‘Favorite Villain,’ you have my devout gratitude. We came close, people!
I am delighted to have won the ‘Most Luscious Love Story!’ It is so wonderful to know that so many enjoyed my heroine’s tutelage!
“But to all of you who voted The Lady’s Tutor as your ‘Favorite Romance of the Year’ – oh, you don’t know what that means to me! I asked, in my infamous Rant About Sexuality, if there is room in romance for erotica as well as inspirational; for reality as well as fantasy.
“Thank you. You’ve answered my question.”
According to Robin, Tutor is going to be issued in trade size paperback in September. The first edition went through two print runs and is now in a second limited collector’s edition. Although many skeptical online readers believe this book sold so well simply because the author seems a master on-line marketer, I think the proof is in the pudding. Her book keeps selling and she’s been given a million-dollar contract for future releases. It’s doubtful that her on-line promotion is responsible for all this. And, though we know sex sells, her reviews across the board have been favorable.
Winner of Favorite Funny (no honorable mentions given)
Winner of Feistiest Heroine (no honorable mentions given)
Favorite Contemporary Romance
Honorable Mention for Favorite Romance
Susan Elizabeth Phillips has done very well in every year we’ve held voting for these awards: she received honorable mentions in six categories in 1997; she won in three categories in 1998; and in 1999 she won in five categories, proving her versatility by winning in the Most Hanky category.
My first SEP experience was Lady Be Good. It was my personal favorite romance of last year. Most of the readers who discovered SEP, as I did, with this book, loved it more than those readers who have been reading her for years. While they too enjoyed the book, many found it somewhat derivative of her earlier books, particularly after she showcased the dark side of her talent last year with Dream a Little Dream. Some readers who prefer her in her more humorous mode found Lady Be Good to be too similar to Fancy Pants and are glad her new book is not a “sports” romance.
When asked for comment about her showing in this year’s awards, Susan wrote, “Thanks everybody for all the Lady Be Good honors! Kenny and Lady Emma thank you, too. Some books are easier than others, and I enjoyed writing that book so much. I appreciate the support, and hope you enjoy First Lady, too.
Winner for Favorite Hero (no honorable mentions given)
Winner for Favorite Heroine (no honorable mentions given)
Winner for Favorite Couple (no honorable mentions given)
Favorite “Other Romance
Early in 1999 we were criticized by not awarding Conspiracy in DeathDesert Isle Keeper Status. We did, however, award Loyalty in DeathDIK Status. As it turned out, Conspiracy in Death did not show up as a finalist in any category while Loyalty won in several categories.
Eve and Roarke, the hero and heroine of Robb’s In Death series have consistently been winners for our readers. For four straight years, this couple has been voted Favorite Couple, and, for this year and last year, no honorable mentions were awarded because this couple received so many more votes than the couple in second place. Eve and Roarke as individual characters continue to be favorites as well. In 1997, Eve won as the Feistiest Heroine as well as Favorite Heroine while Roarke won as Favorite Hero. In 1998, Eve tied as Feistiest Heroine and received honorable mention as Favorite Heroine while Roarke received honorable mention as Favorite Hero. In 1999, Eve received honorable mentions as Feistiest Heroine and Favorite Heroine, and again, Roarke received honorable mention as Favorite Hero.
This year, of course, Eve and Roarke simply blew away the competition. No honorable mentions were awarded for Favorite Heroine, Favorite Hero, or Favorite Couple – these two were the clear winners, ripping to shreds that old saw that marriage isn’t sexy.
Loyalty in Death also won as Favorite “Other” Romance; in both 1998 and 1999, she received honorable mention in this category. This series continues to be a hit with readers, with the eighth title proving at least as popular as the first. That’s quite impressive, don’t you think?
And though none of Nora’s titles from 1999 as written by Nora Roberts won in any category, Nora herself, and not J.D. Robb, did win as the Author Most Glommed for 1999. This is the third year in a row she captured this win.
When given this year’s results, Nora had this to say, “I’m just delighted. There’s nothing more satisfying that having readers enjoy your work. Naturally, I’m incredibly attached to Eve and Roarke so their popularity with readers is an enormous boost.”
Diane Farr had two Regency Romances released in 1999 – The Nobody, and Fair Game. Regency discussion lists were buzzing throughout the year about this exciting new talent, and as concerned as we are about the future of the Regency Romance, having a Regency author win an honorable mention as Favorite New Author is very encouraging.
Here’s what Diane had to say about her showing in this year’s awards, “What a terrific, amazing rush! This entire experience – my first year as a published author – has been a dream come true. I expected support from my friends and family, but have been truly overwhelmed by ‘the kindness of strangers’ (as Blanch DuBois would say). To the point of tears, I kid you not. It definitely makes a writer choke up, to think of total strangers reading her books – and liking them! I just don’t know how to express it. It’s awesome, in the literal sense of the word. I feel honored, humbled, and thrilled. So, when can I expect my gold-plated trophy?”
Winner for Favorite Medieval Romance (no honorable mentions given)
There are those among us who feel Julie Garwood peaked in 1993 with Castles and Saving Grace. While I’ve enjoyed some of her releases since then, none became keepers for me, and I’ll admit I haven’t even read Ransom yet. Given its relative short length, I didn’t see how the author could support two romances. Most of all, however, I assumed it took off where The Secret ended, with Brodick and Ramsey off on a quest to get some English Brides, and when I found it did not, I was disappointed.
Still, long-time and newbie Julie Garwood fans flocked to Ransom. Far and away it was the Favorite Medieval of the year, trouncing its closest finisher. And, readers also thought it was the best Cabin or Road Romance of the year. Because this author has contributed nine titles to my all-time favorites list, I was pleased to see that Ransom did so well for her. When it comes time to post to the Message Board, I’d like both long-time Garwood readers and newbie Garwood fans to post.
As for Julie, she had this to say when she learned how well she had done with our readers, “What a nice surprise to open my mail today and find your letter! I feel very honored that the readers have chosen Ransom as a favorite. Please extend my heartfelt appreciation to everyone who voted.”
Honorable Mention for Most Tortured Hero from Dark Prince
Honorable Mention for Favorite New Discovery
Honorable Mention for Favorite “Other” Romance for Dark Desire
Here’s what Christine had to say upon learning how well she did with our readers:
“This is a complete shock, I had no idea I would have a chance at any of these awards. Believe me, I felt it an honor to be nominated by enough people to just get into the finals!”I am certainly surprised and pleased to win honorable mention in these three categories by a readers vote. Thank you to everyone who voted for me. I feel very honored with so many people giving me such a positive reaction to my books. I appreciate each and every reader who has taken the time to try a new author. Thank you all so very much.”
Favorite European Historical Romance (no honorable mentions given)
I’ve followed Julia Quinn’s career since the release of her first book, Splendid. Watching her success at Avon has been a pleasure for me because she was the first author I ever interviewed, and because I happen to have loved some of her books. Not all of them, but two have earned DIK Status from me, and another two I liked very well when I reviewed at The Romance Reader.
She hasn’t quite hit the big time yet, but it’s coming, at least if our readers have anything to do with it. Previous winners in the Favorite New Discovery category include Mary Jo Putney and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, so I’d say she’s in good company. And, her win for Favorite European Historical was so large we didn’t even award an honorable mention this year.
When asked for her comments, Julie wrote, “The AAR awards are very special because they’re decided by popular vote, and the results give a snapshot of what readers are thinking and reading and liking and not liking. So I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to vote, because they’re providing authors and editors with valuable insight and feedback. Of course, extra big thanks go to everyone who voted for me.”
Favorite New Author
Liz Carlyle’s debut novel My False Heart really struck a chord with our review staff and our readers. Colleen McMahon is one of our toughest reviewers, very demanding of historical accuracy, realistic characterizations, and strong writing. When she sent this review to me with a B+, I knew the book had to be good, and our exacting readers felt similarly.
Here’s what Liz had to say when she learned she had won in this category, “On behalf of myself and Pocket Books, I would just like to thank all the AAR readers who took the time to vote. I also appreciate Colleen, Carol, and Ellen, whose reviews, comments, and advice have been of inestimable help to me in entering this tough business. This is truly a gratifying award for a new author, and I promise to work hard for my new readers by continuing to deliver the quality they deserve.”
Honorable Mention for Most Tortured Hero for Heartthrob
Honorable Mention for Favorite Cabin/Road Romance for Body Guard
Honorable Mention for Favorite Contemporary Romance for Heartthrob
Suzanne Brockmann has long been a favorite for lovers of series romance. Her Tall, Dark, & Dangerous series is still going strong after eight books, and her move into single title contemporaries has proved very successful. Both of her single title releases in 1999 earned DIK Status from our reviewers, and both did very well with our readers. Suzanne is “so pleased, and honored, of course! (And tremendously busy writing my next book!)”
Many readers have discounted Jill Barnett as a “serious” romance writer in years past because some of her most popular books have been humorous. However, even in these humorous releases there have been moments of great pathos, going as far back as 1990’s release, The Heart’s Haven. And, if you’ve read Bewitching, you might remember laughing and crying, very nearly at the same time. It takes some level of skill to do that, don’t you think?
Though Jill has endured great personal tragedy that might have stopped other romance writers from writing romance, she continued to write following the sudden death of her husband in 1996. With 1999’s Wicked, the third in a medieval trilogy for which she received Favorite Medieval in 1998 (Wonderful) and an Honorable Mention in 1999 for Wild, she not only proves her lasting appeal, but her resiliency, and the depth of her talent.
Here’s what Jill had to say when she learned she had won this honor:
” I am so incredibly honored to know that readers feel moved by the words I write, by the characters I try to make real and vulnerable and human, and by the stories I tell. It is particularly rewarding on Wicked because that book held special meaning for me. I was a reader before I was a writer and the books I remember are those that moved me to laughter and especially to tears. To know that readers cried means that the characters, to them, were real enough to make them feel as if they were part of the book, to feel their pain and their joy. That is the best award, the best compliment I could ever receive. Please thank them for me and tell them I will try to make each book special and different and moving. I might not always succeed, but know that I am trying. I love the challenge of writing and the thrill of creating something out of nothing. I love what I do.”
Multiple RITA winner Lorraine Heath has received honorable mentions from our readers in the past, and for the second year in a row has won for Favorite American or Western Historical. This author is known for her realistic characters, historical accuracy, and the ability to capture the small moments that other authors miss. I’ve just had the chance to read her next release, Never Love a Cowboy, and it’s a great read. AAR’s reviewers have enjoyed her books for years, and Cowboy is to be released with Lorraine in a Super-Lead designation for Avon.
Having met Lorraine at a book signing in 1996 where I was the only reader to show up, I can only say, “Wow!” when I think of the changes her career has seen since then. Of her win, Lorraine says, “What an incredible honor the AAR readers have bestowed upon A Rogue in Texas. I am deeply touched and thrilled that they named Rogue as their favorite American Historical Romance. As a writer, it means a great deal to me to know that readers enjoy my stories and this recognition is certainly a wonderful tribute, as wonderful as the readers for whom I write my stories.”
Karen Ranney is well known for her dark romances. For some, they are just too angst-filled, while for her growing group of fans, they are perfect. When Karen found out Sebastian was our readers’ favorite for Most Tortured Hero, she wrote:
“Frankly, I was sweating out the Purple Prose award. “When I found out I was nominated for that I almost gagged. Jeepers, anything but that. (On the plus side, however, as long as people are talking about you, to paraphrase an old saying, I guess it doesn’t matter what they say, hmm?)
“I am so glad that readers empathized with Sebastian. He had my heart from the very beginning.
“I guess I have a tendency to write wounded people because I’m imperfect. But I can honestly say (holding up my hand here) that I’ve never had leprosy. Reason enough to be tortured, wouldn’t you say?
“Again my thanks to you and the readers of AAR. I truly consider it an honor.”
Better Luck Next Year?
What happened to Mary Jo Putney? Did her fans disappear? Mary Jo, considered one of the best romance writers by the on-line community, had three books published in 1999, and two were eligible for these awards. The Wild Child, published in hardcover, received DIK Status from us. Her re-written The Bargain, was originally written as the Regency Romance The Would-be Widow. The re-write, as a full-length historical, received a grade of B+ from us. The Diabolical Baron, a reissued Regency Romance, while not eligible in this year’s voting, received a grade of B from us. While The Wild Child did show up in several categories mid-way through the voting process, the only category it “placed” or “won” in was a negative one – for Most Annoying Lead Character. Ouch!
Catherine Coulter is an author who has done poorly in our awards since their inception, and this year has not changed things. For the third time in four years, she is the Author You Gave Up On. I disagree on this one because I found her The Courtship, although published in 2000, to be wonderful. However, we posted two reviews of this book, and Nora Armstrong, the other reviewer for Courtship gave it a D. She is one of two reviewers who gave Coulter’s Mad Jack a grade in the D range. And it is Mad Jack that our readers found to be the worst romance of the year.
Before we leave the realm of our negative categories I think it might be useful to discuss, for a moment, the category of Purple-est Prose. Purple prose is one of my personal pet peeves in romance writing, and yet it’s not a problem, from what I gather, for most readers. Then too, many readers believe it is somehow synonymous for love scenes. True, purple prose often rears its ugly head in love scenes, but the pure definition is ornate, flowery, and overly descriptive writing. Every year authors such as Bertrice Small are nominated in this category, and their nominations are richly deserved. But when I see Susan Johnson’s name as well, it has me wondering whether the definition is truly understood. Her love, scratch that, sex, scenes are certainly explicit and perhaps outlandish, but are they purple? So, when it’s time to post, share with me your own definition of purple prose, and, if you’ve read Robin Schone’s The Lady’s Tutor, whether it truly fits.
Isn’t It Romantic?
As usual, all the entries in this, our third annual Isn’t It Romantic? Contest were terrific – heartwarming and romantic. However, Larry Quave’s entry was perhaps most romantic of all. Congratulations, Larry, you’ll be receiving two author-signed hardcover books our reviewers deemed worthy of Desert Isle Keeper Status – Kathleen Eagle’s What the Heart Knows and Eileen Charbonneau’s Rachel LeMoyne.
And now, without further ado, here is Larry’s entry, in his own words:
In July of 1975 I was a 28-year-old, recently discharged Marine captain and Vietnam veteran attending my senior year on the GI Bill at the University of West Florida in Pensacola, Florida. About to leave my fathers house at the end of the July 4th weekend to return to my apartment in Fort Walton Beach, 60 miles away where I was living temporarily while I finished the last two months of a six-month long cooperative education assignment at Eglin Air Force Base, Dad asked me when I thought I might return. When I asked him Why? after telling him Not soon, he said, Well, I just thought if you were gonna be back in town on the 19th, you might want to attend Marys daughters wedding with your brother and I. (Mary was the divorcee my divorced father was going with at the time.) Her sisters gonna be there too, he continued, along with a young woman she thought you might like to meet. Its up to you.And to that – still recovering from being dumped by yet another young woman a year earlier – I promptly replied, Why didnt you say so! Of course Ill be back.
Two weeks later, as the wedding reception came to a close and I still had not found the young woman who, in all the hustle and bustle, I had not been introduced to and only knew of by her first name, after having no success with the bridesmaids and every other young woman who wasnt wearing a wedding ring, I ventured into the kitchen, found another pretty young woman cleaning punch bowls and cups and asked her if she was Kathy. Hearing the word yes and receiving a pretty smile as I tried unsuccessfully to come up with something cool to say, I volunteered to give her a hand, eventually got around to complementing her on her pretty dress, and asked her to go dancing with me at a not too distant motel lounge that had a respectable live band. Receiving another sweet smile and another affirmative answer, we finished our chore and continued on to the lounge.
At the end of our most pleasant date three hours later, wanting to see more of my shapely new friend, I asked her to go to the beach with me the next day. Having no intention of easily giving up when she told me she couldnt because she had to teach Sunday school, I asked her to attend, instead, the dinner party my father would be hosting for Mary, the new bride and groom, and other guests that – as it turned out – we both knew in common. My previously broken heart making great strides toward mending as we exchanged a polite but warm kiss after Kathy agreed to see me again, I returned to my fathers house anticipating the next day as if it were Christmas.
When dinner was over on Sunday, with both of us wanting some privacy to get to know each other better, I asked Kathy to ride out to the beach with me – this time not to swim, but just to talk. At midnight, twelve hours into our second date, after having done little more than hold hands as we talked about everything under the sun, we melted into each others arms to share our first passionate kiss. And thats when a slim hand raking through my mane of thick brown hair found its way beneath my hairpiece and brought our making-out to an immediate halt!
As if she had done something wrong, Kathy apologized profusely for my immense embarrassment, but I would not accept it. All I wanted to do was disappear out of the life of the young woman I was already beginning to fall in love with, but Kathy would not allow it and made me promise, after giving me her telephone number, to call her.
A week later, after taking her flying over Pensacola, and a week after that, after fixing a candlelight dinner for her in my apartment (Yes, I am very much a romantic!), I again asked her to go the beach with me. This time, she accepted.
Anxious as before to see the gorgeous body of the beautiful woman I liked so much only a few days before I was to fly my brother and I to Miami to visit our mother, I found myself bewildered when she made no effort to disrobe from her jeans but only sat on our blanket and bade me go swimming while she watched. I cant, Larry, she began to explain. Its my burns. The sun blisters my scars.
What scars? I asked, having no idea what she was talking about.
My legs. They were burned below my knees when I was two years old – in a hot water heater explosion. If I stay out in the sun very long without something over my legs, they sunburn real bad – even if I use sunscreen.
“As we came to the realization that we both had imperfect bodies that, all along, we had been concerned about revealing to the special someone we each hoped one day might become our significant other, Kathy made a most profound proposal: Larry, when you return from Miami, if youll let me see you without your hairpiece, Ill let you see my legs.
Not sure I could accept Kathys burned legs – never having seen such burn scars before – I did not immediately tell her that it didnt matter, but – instead – thought about her all week long as I visited with my mother. Finally coming to the conclusion that she was everything I ever wanted in a wife, I found myself impatient to get home and see her again.
At the beach the same afternoon I returned from my trip, we nervously revealed our imperfections to each other, immediately found they were no obstacle to our love, and rolled into each others arms to celebrate my – our – homecoming.
Just before Thanksgiving dinner a few months later, with she having accepted my sunset proposal on the shore of Pensacola Beach (I told you I was a romantic!), and with our families brought together especially for the occasion, we announced our plans to marry as soon as possible after my graduation from college in June, the year following.
On August 7, 1976 – 29 years old – I married my 20-year-old bride and, in time, made her the mother of our now 19 and 15 year old sons, Andrew and Allen. Weve been together ever since – more in love today than at any time before.
Wasn’t Larry and Kathy’s story the stuff of romance novels? What did you think about it? You can talk about that, and the 2000 All About Romance Reader Awards on the At the Back Fence Message Board, although you should plan on checking out the full awards page first. (There’s a link directly to the message board from the awards page.) You can post about ballot box stuffing if you like. But please post about how many of the winning books you’ve read (or plan to read now), which books seemed over-rated, and which books you felt should have won that did not. I know I will! And, if you can remember, give your definition of Purple Prose, which authors are guilty of sinning in this arena, and how much (if at all) this type of writing annoys you.
Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board