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At the Back Fence Issue#124

October 1, 2001

Welcome back to At the Back Fence. Our last “real” ATBF column went online on August 15th. We had planned to take a break on September 1 but no one could have envisioned the horrors of September 11th. Out of respect for our nation’s mourning, we did not go back online with another ATBF on September 15th. For many of us, reading anything but newspaper and magazine articles didn’t enter the picture for days. It took me two full weeks before I was ready to read a romance; I know many readers who haven’t yet reached that point. It’s time to start easing our way back into normalcy, so we bring you this ATBF and hope it will engage you.


Adaptations, Homages, and Ideas

A few weeks ago I forced my husband to stay up late with me and watch The Canterville Ghost, a movie made and set during WWII and starring Robert Young, Margaret O’Brien, and Charles Laughton (in possibly his only comedic role) as a cowardly ghost. Yes, he fell asleep before it was over, but I stayed awake as I watched this movie for at least the third time.

I know The Canterville Ghost has been re-made at least once, although I never watched the re-makes. Another fun old movie, We’re No Angels, was remade with Robert deNiro and Sean Penn, but I never saw the newer version. Re-do’s I have enjoyed include My Fair Lady (starring the luminous Audrey Hepburn), turned into a musical but originally written for the stage by George Bernard Shaw as Pygmalian; Sommersby, a re-make of the French film The Return of Martin Guerre; and both versions of Sabrina, the first starring the luminous Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, and Humphrey Bogart (who was also in the original We’re No Angels, for those wanting to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with me).

In the past couple of weeks we’ve posted two reviews for the new Christina Dodd release, In My Wildest Dreams. Dodd, who has received Desert Isle Keeper status from AAR four times in the past, doesn’t receive the best of reviews for this new book, which is an obvious homage to the movie Sabrina, more recently remade and starring Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, and Greg Kinnear. Mary Novak and Robin Uncapher, who both reviewed the new Dodd, join me in being fans of the original Sabrina. Mary drops out of the Sabrina fan club on the remake while Robin and I and our husbands may be the only people we know who actually liked it.

There is a long tradition of movies being remade, either in different languages or countries, adapted for television, or simply remade in another director or writer’s vision years later. When this occurs, rights are sold and money changes hands. Many movies are adapted for the screen from plays, while perhaps most that aren’t original screenplays begin as books. It seems, however, that the situation works in reverse far less often, and I wonder why. Although it seems that more recently, more books have been adapted from the screen, or perhaps a better way to say that is, more books lately have been obvious homages to movies.

Who can forget the discussions a few years ago when Lisa Kleypas’ Stranger in My Arms was released? The similarities to the 1993 movie Sommersby and the 1982 French movie The Return of Martin Guerre were duly noted. One of our two reviewers wrote: “Stranger In My Arms held absolutely no surprises…I figured out the truth by the first fifty pages, and you will, too. Being a romance, however, I assumed there would be a HEA ending, thus eliminating the fear that (the hero) would meet the same fate as in the other versions. If you have seen Sommersby or read TROMG, you might want to follow along with your script. There are no twists, no turns, no deviations. While this book is a nice enough adaptation of these two works, they were were done too recently to have faded from people’s memories.” The other reviewer gave the book a similar grade but did not mention the linkages.

If you read that quote carefully, you will note that the reviewer quoted (in this case, Marianne Stillings) talked of having seen the movie Sommersby and of reading The Return of Martin Guerre. As one of the posters to our Reviews Message Board pointed out, this particular work has a very extensive lineage. Holly wrote:

Sommersby is the remake of The Return of Martin Guerre, but in addition of using the French film as its source, screenwriters also used Natalie Davis’s non-fiction book about the trial (also titled The Return of Martin Guerre). “The screenplay for The Return of Martin Guerre was based on Janet Lewis’ novel, The Wife of Martin Guerre.

“Janet Lewis’ novel was inspired by Jean de Coras’ non-fiction book. In that book Coras reported his account of the trial that he presided as the judge

“So, who is the original author of the story? In my opinion it is Janet Lewis; she laid down the original structure. Others – Kleypas and such, are, imo, story interpreters. They tell the story in the way they like it to be told. In that aspect they are the original authors of their interpretations.

“So, it is better to say that In my Wildest Dreams is the author’s interpretation of Sabrina.”

For the moment let’s leave aside the argument that the Martin Guerre case is different because it is based on a real event, because some might argue that adaptations of a real event should be looked at differently than adaptations of a fictional event. Let’s next consider stories that at this point are in the public domain – myths and fairy tales. We’ve all read many an interpretation of fairy tales; indeed, this summer we devoted a column segment to the Beauty and the Beast story. One romance publisher (Dorchester, which romance readers recognize for their Leisure and LoveSpell imprints) has gone so far as to devote a mini-series to author adaptations of fairy tales. These stories are a part of our collective consciousness. Just as it might be legitimate to ask whether adapting a real event is different than adapting a fictional event, it might also be legitimate to ask whether it is different to create a book out of a Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty story, which is, in essence, in the public domain, than it is to to create a book from a movie from the 1950’s?

Judith Ivory adapted the Sleeping Beauty story in her 1998 release, Sleeping Beauty. In 1999, she adapted the Pygmalian story and turned it on its head in The Proposition. Which leads to another question: Is there a difference when the adaptation comes from a classic work of fiction? Recent homages on screen and in book form of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice come to mind. In theory only – is what Helen Fielding did in Bridget Jones’s Diary different than what Christina Dodd does in In My Wildest Dreams?

These may, in fact, not be the right questions to be asking, but I think there’s something to be considered here, and that is…are romance authors running out of ideas? This summer we did a Pandora’s Box on Nora Roberts’ Dance Upon the Air. Both PB columnists Blythe Barnhill and Linda Hurst noted minor similarities between the set up of this book and the movie Sleeping with the Enemy; Linda joked that her daughter took it a step further. When given a brief synopsis of the book, her daughter responded, “sounds like The Witches of Eastwick meets Sleeping with the Enemy.” Another new book, by author Janet Dailey, seems to be an homage to the movie Roman Holiday, which introduced (guess who?) Audrey Hepburn to the world.

I’m trying to remember a time when books by three substantial authors (although one wonders how substantial Dailey is after admitting she plagiarized Nora Roberts a few years ago) all paid tribute to movies like these (although from what I understand, the behaviors of the husband in the Roberts book are fairly standard for control-freak spousal abusers). For the life of me, I can’t seem to remember one. Let’s flip that question around and also ask: What would have happened if the authors who brought editors these three books had been new or lesser-known authors? In the movie industry where remakes seem a dime a dozen but are paid for in the millions, the answer seems obvious; given that no money changes hands when a book is adapted from a movie, what is the answer, and what should it be?

There are some who would say not only that romance authors have run out of ideas, but that, as genre fiction, its creativity has always been limited. You know about whom I’m speaking – the book snobs who denigrate reading for entertainment purposes. Strikingly enough, these are generally not the same people who make the argument that there are only seven basic plots and that all fiction derives from them. Some put the number at 30 while others will grant an even higher number. Cecil Adams, longtime columnist of The Straight Dope, finds this a flawed theory. Here’s what he says:

“No taxonomy can encompass everything in literature, and second, they don’t tell you anything beyond the obvious. A more useful approach would be to abandon the chimera of universality and focus on what works today. By this light it seems to me that the most useful divide is: Everybody Gets Killed versus Only the Bad Guys Get Killed. The former leaves you thinking life sucks, whereas the latter has everybody walking out of the theater with a smile. Naturally one can come up with numerous subdivisions, such as the one exemplified by Disney animated features, i.e., The Bad Guy Gets Killed but by Accident. In the odd case no one gets killed, but this is mostly in works by sensitive lady writers that seldom earn back the advance and even so usually have someone dying of cancer or in some other tragic manner. “Now throw in the sizable genre of stories that may be characterized as The Protagonists Angle to Get One Another in the Sack and we begin to get a handle on the situation. My point is, never mind the 36, 20, 7, or whatever basic plots – take out sex, violence, and death and you lose 90 percent of literature right there.”

This past spring I wrote about authors who take seemingly stale plots and/or characters and make them seem fresh and new. I ended that column by stating, “It’s the author, the book, and the person reading it whom all have to mesh in order for a story to be most meaningful. And that can happen whether the plot and/or characters are fresh or simply seem that way in the hands of the author, on pages written in a book held in the hands of a reader.” I think this applies to adaptations and homages as well. I for one am going to take Robin up on her suggestion that all readers of Christina Dodd try this new book and judge for myself whether the adaptation is too close for comfort and that the actual differences the author supplied made it a lesser book than its very strong similarities. I’d like to see if the execution of the idea lacks what the promise of a Sabrina homage suggests, which is the core of Mary’s review. I have my own general opinion on adaptations of myths, fairy tales, classic novels, plays, and movies that you may have gleaned from the above, but like to remain fluid on specifics until I can judge for myself.



The Wrong Turn

I just had the good fortune to read an advance copy of Betina Krahn’s The Husband Test, which will be released in November. This is the first medieval romance the author has written in nearly a decade and it had me hooked from the first page. I was thoroughly enjoying the book until about two-thirds of the way through. All of a sudden, after the hero and heroine married, the hero, who was as reasonable as a medieval warrior might be expected to be, turned into a caveman for several chapters. The advice of the heroine, which he took (albeit grudgingly) right before their marriage is suddenly thrown aside without a thought, and he all of a sudden jumps to mistaken conclusions about things where the heroine is concerned. Luckily, the author reels his behavior in well before the book ends, but after I finished, I wondered, what happened, and why? This is a book which had skirted DIK territory for me. It still earns a strong B, but why did this book, built on the foundations of character, veer off into sacrificing character for plot territory? That entire section could have been lifted, the book still would have been well over 300 pages, and it might have been a keeper.

When I think about the romances I’ve read that have been B range books, some of them were B-‘s that would have been B’s if not for several chapters, usually in the second half of the book, that brought things to a standstill. The same can be said for some of the B’s, which like The Husband Test, would have been B+’s – at least. Sometimes there’s a change in tone, a dreaded hero/heroine separation, a sub-plot (usually involving an extraneous villain), or one too many instances of coitus interruptus that overly prolongs sexual tension.

I’ve come across each of these “book padders” several times, and they vary in terms of annoyance factor. Certainly h/h separations are near the top of my list, but so are abrupt changes in a lead character’s behavior, as was the case in the otherwise quite good The Husband Test. The most frustrating aspect of these “wrong turns” is that they seem to exist solely to further the plot and do not arise out of character. Had Krahn’s characters not already been so well delineated at the point her hero began to behave badly, the story might not have ever regained its momentum. Had his behavior gone on any longer and I wouldn’t have cared.

I’d like to talk some more about this kind of book padder and which books have nearly been ruined in the process. Are there particular authors or styles where this tends to occur, and what is your page-limit tolerance? I’d put mine at about forty pages.



The Hero as Pursuer

Not long ago there was a post to one of our message boards about heroes who are not reluctant to get involved with heroines and who may actively pursue them with marriage in mind. I directed the reader to discussions on the “hero as pursuer” in earlier issues of ATBF and a Stephanie Laurens Write Byte. Soon there were several posts listing authors and specific titles of books featuring this type of hero. The original poster was pleased to know there was a name for this sort of hero, and was also pleased to have a list of books and authors to try.

For some this type of hero is immediately easy to identify, but as we soon discovered in-house, what seems simple to some is not to others, and it’s all a matter of perspective. AAR Reviewer Andrea Pool started off the discussion with this inter-office post:

“It seems that most romances I can think of that I really like or love have the heroes as pursuers. You’ve got Roarke in the In Death books going after Eve. Clayton is after Whitney in Whitney, My Love (until she screws it up and has to win him back). Archer wants Hannah in Pearl Cove. Dain tries to seduce Jessica in Lord of Scoundrels. In Suddenly You, Jack’s after Amanda, and in the book I’m trying to get through for review, the hero sees the heroine and is instantly convinced she’s the one he’s been waiting for to mother his children (don’t even get me started on this plot point) and conniving ways to spend time with her. Oh, and Brockmann’s SEALs all go after their women (with the recent exception of Taylor). This is a short list, but my experience has been the other way around. So, am I missing something in the original comments or in the books themselves? This just got me thinking, and I’m really interested in your thoughts.”

I responded to Andrea that, in my reading experience, the hero falls in love with the heroine and pursues her for marriage maybe once in ten books. He might lust after her and want sex or need to marry because he needs her money, but it’s far more rare when he does it for love, at least in my experience.

Next, Blythe jumped in to disagree with some of Andrea’s specifics. She wrote, “Most of the SEALS have that ‘I can’t fall in love! I’m a SEAL! My job is dangerous! I get called away and don’t even have time to say good bye! The woman I love deserves better than me! Marriage would never work, even though every one of my alpha squad buddies are married!’ thing going. I don’t think heroes as pursuers are rare as hen’s teeth or anything, but we do see a lot of the ‘I can’t get in love and I can’t get married’ type. And I think they are more common than the pursuers.”

The debate was on, and as AAR Reviewer Jennifer Schendel later noted, it’s all in how the term “pursuit” is defined. The discussion between Andrea, Blythe, and myself soon broadened to include new comments, distinctions, and refinements by Rachel Potter, Nora Armstrong, Marianne Stillings, and Jennifer. I said that in the last four romances I’d read (which were fairly typical representations of the hundreds of romances I’ve read), the hero is not in marriage-pursual mode for love until very near the end of each book. Rachel added that, “of the 400+ books in my database, I can come up with roughly 40 that have the hero pursuing the heroine with marriage in mind.” Rachel also came up with an important distinction between heroes: “Those in pursuit with honorable intentions (very tiny group) and those who just want to get laid and wind up falling in love (much larger assemblage).” Shades of Cecil Adams, no?

Jennifer then came up with a specific question to help us focus: How many romances have we read in which the hero first comes up with the idea of marriage and has to convince the heroine? That helped us deal with the distinction Rachel had raised about intentions. She said, “Having the hero think of marriage first is perhaps the easiest way to pinpoint honorable intentions, since the pursuit ‘for love’ does tend to get mixed up with sexual desire even in the most courtly of heroes.” To which Blythe responded”

“Pursuit with honorable intentions is what I was considering real pursuit. To me it doesn’t count as a hero as a pursuer if he is after hot sex. I mean come on, which man isn’t after hot sex? That’s one of the reasons Laurens’ books are fun. Sure they’ve got a sameness to them, but Devil’s Bride was really great that way. Devil saw her, Devil decided she was the one, and he went after her just like that. Same with Rogan in Born in Fire, and (very famously) with Roarke.”

The internal debate continued, with Andrea, Blythe, Rachel, and Jennifer discussing the finer points of the various SEALS, others providing their short lists of heroes who fit our definition, and I decided that if this was such a hot point among ourselves, it would likely be with you as well. So Jennifer decided to go through some of the books on her own short list to see if we could work this through.



The Hero as Pursuer

This summer amongst the AAR reviewers we were discussing whether or not the hero as the pursuer is a rare commodity in romance novels. After a little discussion we discovered one’s perception was based on how they defined pursuing. Is it the hero who is looking for a roll in the proverbial hay and ends up proposing despite his best efforts to escape? Or is it the hero who thinks in terms of marriage after the first meeting?

Sometimes it’s very easy to tell that the hero is in pursuit of a long-term relationship. Take, for instance, Murphy Muldoon from Nora Roberts’ Born in Shame. From the moment he sees Shannon Bodine he knows she is the woman he has been waiting for his entire life. As a reader we never once are in doubt as to Murphy’s intentions, especially when he invites the family home to meet her. You know it’s serious when a guy introduces a girl to his mom.

Then there are the guys who propose, but his motivation may not be clear to everyone such is the case of Harlan “Cowboy” Jones from Brockmann’s Tall, Dark, and Dangerous mini-series. Cowboy meets Melody Evans during a rescue operation. The atmosphere is emotional and intense; afterwards they spend an intimate six days together until he is called away again. Several months later, unable to shake the memory of Melody and not being able to reach her by phone Cowboy shows up on her doorstep to find her with child. So of course he does the honorable thing and proposes. Which begs the question: would he have eventually proposed anyway?

According to Brockman in reference to Cowboy’s feelings for Melody, “she was ‘the one’ for him, and part of him recognized that right from the start. Pregnant or not, he wasn’t going to let her go!” Therefore Cowboy was always thinking long-term, but fate just sped up the proposal.

But then there are those guys who really are just looking for a little lovin’ before moving on to greener pastures and find themselves in over their heads. Like Cowboy’s fellow SEAL Luke “Lucky” O’Donlon in Get Lucky. He plans a little slam bam thank you ma’am revenge on the journalist dogging his heals, instead Sydney turns the tables and he ends up proposing. Or how about Murphy’s brother-in-law Grayson Thane from Born in Ice. When he shows up on Brianna Cocannon’s doorstep he’s attracted enough to woo her and charm her, but his need to make a home with her comes as a total shock to this wandering gypsy. Just because their original intentions were less than honorable doesn’t make these guys any less pursuers than those who entered the relationship thinking of the long term outcome. As reviewer Andrea Pool pointed out, “You’ve gotta start somewhere. I never “dated” anyone with the idea that they would be the person I’d marry.” So maybe these guys didn’t start intending a long-term relationship, but that was the end result of their efforts.

And what about historical romances? Are pursuers any more rare there? You’d think not, because traditionally the man is the proposer of marriage in our culture and moral codes in the past demanded women be chaperoned with anyone besides their intended. Yet, when the question was posed on the RtR board the answers were basically limited to the Laurens’ Cynster series. Maybe because it’s so overwhelmingly clear in books like Devil’s Bride what the hero’s intentions are. He doesn’t even ask Honoria to marry him; he tells her they’re getting married and works the situation so she has no choice but to say yes. But there are others outside the Cynster clan who pursued the women they loved. Such as Clayton Westmoreland in Whitney, My Love (who basically buys his bride) or Adrian of Warfield in Uncommon Vows (who kidnaps the woman he loves). Not to say all historical heroes are so high-handed. Think of Thomas Blackwood from Ashworth’s Winter Garden. He is fascinated by Madeline DuMais and in a position to push her into marriage. Instead he helps her career while working through his own personal demons and then brings her to England to get to know him. He may have always loved and admired from afar and manipulated her into a position where they could meet and get to know each other, but in the end he asked and let Madeline decide if they were meant to be a couple.

Overall, I don’t think we expect a guy to be a pursuer of a long-term relationship, because we see them as commitment shy. Therefore unless a hero bulldozes over the heroine’s objections to get them in a relationship and down the aisle a la Roarke in the In Death series we spend the entire book waiting for the hero to bolt or start in with the “I’m not worthy” routine. We are so busy waiting for the other shoe to drop we don’t notice the hero is pursuing the heroine.



The Un-Slump

Lately it seems like everyone is in a romance reading slump. Readers and reviewers both seem to be complaining that good books are getting harder and harder to find, and that romance seems less exciting than it was in the good old days, or the golden age, or whenever. After awhile I started wondering why I wasn’t in a slump. Had I suddenly become less discriminating? Was the sky really falling – and I just wasn’t looking up?

When I thought about it some more, I realized that not only am I not in a slump now; I’ve actually never been in one. Sure, I’ve read my share of duds, but never at any time have I felt completely discouraged about the genre as a whole, or unable to enjoy reading. I thought I’d share my thoughts (and those of some of my fellow un-slumpers) about why I’m not in a slump, in the hopes that I may just be able to help someone who is. With that in mind, here are some of the ways I keep from slumping.

Variety: If romance wasn’t my genre of choice, I wouldn’t be working for this site. But while I mostly read romance, but I don’t only read romance, any more than I would only eat ice cream. Within the genre I try to vary my reading somewhat. I might read two Regencies in a row, but I wouldn’t read five. If I’ve just read several historicals, I try to read a contemporary. But more importantly, I read outside the genre too. While I’m nowhere near the straight fiction fan I was before I started reading romances, I still like to keep a toe in those waters, and I like the occasional mystery too. I also belong to a book club, which has been a tremendous help for me in this area. My book club doesn’t read exclusively fiction; this year we’ve read choices as diverse as The Count of Monte Cristo and Under the Tuscan Sun. What I especially like about my book club is that every member chooses one book a year. I end up reading many books that I would never pick up on my own, and I’ve found some good, thought-provoking reads that way. It always provides a change of pace for me.

AAR’s Ellen and Anthony have a similar approach to reading, and it helps keep them slump free too. Ellen said, “I hardly ever get in a reading slump since I read so many different kinds of books. I can see those who read only (fill in the blank) suffering from burnout, but I never have yet.” Anthony also likes to genre-hop: “When romance bores me, I switch to comic books, when they bug me, I switch to SF or mystery. I can usually find something to read.” If you can’t remember the last time you read outside the genre, you might consider joining a book club, but failing that there are still ways to expand your horizons. After you pick up the real autobuys on your list, why not try something totally different, just for fun? Even if you don’t find a new favorite, maybe you’ll find a new thought, a new idea, or a different take on an old subject.

Expectations: When you open up a book everyone has been raving about, do you expect to love it too? Do you expect to love every book you read? Can you enjoy reading a book that isn’t excellent, but is pretty good? Sometimes when I visit certain sites or read certain magazines I worry that all the enthusiasm for romance is creating unrealistic expectations. A lot of this is rooted in Romantic Times, the magazine that suggests all romances that are published are at least acceptable, and most of them are excellent. Readers can feed right into this frenzy, particularly at sites where authors hang out like they are one of the gang. It usually starts with one reader gushing, “I just read your new book, Author X, and all I can say is ‘Wow! Write faster!'” then other readers pile on the praise, or start lamenting that the book hasn’t reached their neck of the woods yet. While I think it’s great that there are sites where authors and readers can converse like long time friends, I worry about the unrealistic expectations all this gushing engenders. When Author X is a pal on the site, nobody who is disappointed is going to say anything negative about her books. I think there are a lot of people that start wondering why they don’t understand the appeal of this “excellent book.”

I don’t expect every book I read to be wonderful. In fact, I expect most of them to be average. Sure, I’d love to read one DIK after another, but I tend to view the DIK read as a rare surprise rather than a given. I try to avoid pre-judging individual books, but every year I expect to read a handful of DIKs, many Bs, lots of Cs, several Ds, and a handful of Fs. With all the hype surrounding certain books and authors, I also wonder if readers aren’t disappointed when a book is “only” a B read. It may be the DIKs that keep us going, but B reads are great too, and even C+ books usually contain elements that I enjoy. It seems to me that anyone approaching every book as if it is a masterpiece is likely to be disappointed if the book is just “pretty good.”

TBR piles – the secret weapon: Sometimes I do hit a streak of books that are really disappointing. Recently I had a cold streak, with six books in a row that received lukewarm or bad grades: C, C-, C+, and D+, D and C+. Not exactly inspiring stuff. When I have a string of duds like that, I know it’s time to hit my tbr pile, which is full of great books that I’ve never read. There are over a hundred of them, which is modest compared to the stash some readers keep. I’ve got Heyer’s The Nonesuch, Mary Jo Putney’s Silk and Shadows, Carla Kelly’s Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation, and Balogh’s Lord Carew’s Bride Added to that are newer titles from this year, like Kleypas’s Suddenly You and Madeline Hunter’s The Protector. I also enjoy discovering long series after the fact, when many books have already been written. Last year I read and loved all of Suzanne Brockmann’s Tall, Dark, and Dangerous books. This year it’s the J.D. Robb In Death books.

There are no guarantees of course, so I don’t know for sure that I’m going to love every book I pull out of that pile. But it still feels like my ace in the hole. Even if the book I pull out isn’t the DIK I was hoping for, it’s usually one I at least like. For example, after the recent terrorists attacks I felt the need to read something completely out of the ordinary, so I pulled Danegeld out of the stack. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Ellen and Christine did (they gave it an A and a B+ respectively), but I did find it interesting and worthwhile, and I’m glad I read it.

AAR reviewer Rachel Potter is a fellow un-slumper. As she has read more romance, she has actually discovered more authors to like. She credits AAR and the Internet for helping her to find new favorites, though it took her awhile to figure out which reviewers shared her taste. She also mentions variety as a factor, and warns of one early pitfall:

“I started off giving authors more chances than I give now. I can see clearly now how many authors past, present, and future there are. There’s no point wasting time on an author I really don’t like that much. When I first came to AAR, I saw all of the DIKs for Julie Garwood, so I gave her a bunch of chances and didn’t like any of her books. She really doesn’t work for me. Now I trust my taste more. I can tell sooner if that authors style at least doesn’t work for me. If not, I move on. “Then too, I’ve branched out more. At first I wanted to read only historicals, but then I found some contemporaries I liked. I’ve tried inspirational fiction, and recently I’ve moved in the area of category romance with a good deal of success. I try to vary what sub-genre I’m reading. Last month I had a very good month, I read five assigned books and 11 that I’d picked out based on recommendations. Here’s a breakdown. I read the following romance/romance hybrids:

1 American Historical5 Series Romances2 Contemporaries1 Inspirational1 Historical3 Regencies1 Short Story2 Women’s Fiction“Of the 16 romances or romance hybrids I liked a whopping 13 of them (B- or better). I had 4 As and 2 B+s in that 13 as well. It was a very good month, but the previous 2 were just as good. I think that reading a little in other genres helps to keep the romances from seeming too stale or same old. And lest you think I like everything, I don’t. There were months in 2000 that I only had one B and that’s it – months filled with Cs and Ds. I think I’m getting better at reader’s advisory, at least for myself. It also helped that I read one mystery, one YA novel, and one book of non-genre fiction.”

And like me, Rachel has a tbr pile she depends on: “I also save authors. I don’t glom super heavily. My favorite romance The Windflower is by Sharon and Tom Curtis. I have their whole backlist in my collection, have had for a while, but there are still two that I have to read. Ditto for Kathleen Gilles Seidel. I know she’s a guaranteed good read, so I save her for after I have to read something horrible like Emily Hendrickson. To cleanse the palate, so to speak. In my three-shelf TBR pile I’ve got lots and lots of books I’m really looking forward to reading including five more Tall, Dark, and Dangerous books, half of Jan Freed’s backlist, and some books that have been heavily recommended at AAR.”

AAR Pollster Shelley Dodge is also in the middle of a hot streak, and she shared her thoughts and strategies as well:

“Well, I have been in an un-slump recently and it has been lovely. I have a few thoughts on what puts me into a slump – three things seem to do it:

  • I read several wall bangers in a row – I think stupidity tends to numb you after a while;
  • I am in the mood for a certain type of book and cannot find something new to suit my mood ( I hate this and usually end up consoling myself with rereading); and
  • Stress – sometimes things can get so stressed and crazy that my TBR seems more like work than escapism. Just one more thing I have to do. Or things are so crazy that I can only get 15 min periods here and there – which means I don’t get to immerse myself in the book. Sometimes a quick reading break is fine, but I really like to be able to lose myself in a book.

“What gets me out of a slump:

  • Finding that book that exactly suits my mood – something that just hits what ever I have been craving like a good spooky book or a funny love/hate romance or a really great fantasy.
  • Finding a new author who I really enjoy. Recently I read One for the Money by Evanovich – it was the start of my current un-slump. Sometimes I like finding an author late – it gives me more books to play with.
  • Reading a new book by a favorite author – sometimes it is the “voice” of the author I love just as much as the storylines. I read the mystery series by Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie (her cat) Brown for all the recurring characters and to find out what is happening in town – at time the mystery is really secondary for me.

“Sometimes a reading slump means it is time to change genres – if I cannot find a romance that I can enjoy time to go look at science fiction or mystery. If nothing on the fiction shelf seems worth a try I read non fiction for a while. Seems to help. I tend to go on genre kicks where I will read bunches of one type of book and occasionally this will burn me out for a time.”

After hearing from Ellen, Anthony, Rachel, and Shelley, I was impressed with the similarity in our reading strategies. While I’m not sure I could ever say that everyone can be slump-proof, I do think that these strategies are worth a shot if you find yourself feeling bored with romance or with reading in general. For those in a slump, do you think it’s tied to your expectations? Do you get excited about the book “everyone is talking about” only to feel disappointed when you actually read it? What are your un-slumping strategies?

LLB: I’m happy to announce that my own romance reading slump ended this summer. The technique I used was “going with the flow.” I discovered a book or two in a sub-genre I have rarely read, and continued to read various authors within that sub-genre. In my case it happened to have been the traditional Regency Romance, and I’m thrilled I did.



A Special Notice about an At the Back Fence “Extra”

Coming October 7th is an At the Back Fence “Extra.” Ellen Micheletti and Rachel Potter have looked back over time and written this special article about a lesser-read branch of the romance family tree – the inspirational romance. The resultant article is fascinating, whether or not you’ve ever so much as picked up an inspirational romance and I encourage you all to check back on the 7th and read this piece.



Time to Post to the Message Board

Here are the questions we’d like to have you consider this time:


histbut Movies and Books – Many movies are adapted for the screen from plays, while perhaps most that aren’t original screenplays begin as books. It seems, however, that the situation works in reverse far less often, and I wonder why. Although it seems that more recently, more books have been adapted from the screen, or perhaps a better way to say that is, more books lately have been obvious homages to movies. Is this happening with greater frequency today than it was, say, ten years ago, in the romance genre?

histbut Where (if Anywhere) Do We Draw the Line? – Is it legitimate to ask whether adapting a real event is different than adapting a fictional event for a work of fiction? Is there a difference between adapting a myth/fairy tale which is in the public domain and adapting a more modern story that was first told in the last 50 years? Is it legitimate to ask whether adapting a classic work of fiction is different than adapting a more modern story that was first told in fairly recent history?

histbut A Limit to Creativity? – If it seems to you that there are more romances today that owe (at least) part of their birth to movies, is this a signal that romance authors are running out of ideas?

histbut The Straight Dope – The bottom line of Cecil Adams’ argument is that most literature can be boiled down to sex, violence, and death. What do you make of his argument?

histbut The Book Padder: About Face! – What happens to you when reading a great romance that suddenly takes a bad turn because a lead character begins to behave in a manner that doesn’t fit his/her character? What is your tolerance in terms of page length before you give up on him/her, or the book? Where does this type of “book padder” rank when compared to other “book padders,” such as abrupt changes in tone, a dreaded hero/heroine separation, a sub-plot (usually involving an extraneous villain), or one too many instances of coitus interruptus that overly prolongs sexual tension.

histbut The Hero as Pursuer – When we talk about the “hero as pursuer,” do you automatically know what we mean, or is this a less than meaningful character type for you? Can you easily identify him like LLB or, like Andrea, is he a more nebulous concept? Where do you draw the line? Are they men who merely initiate the relationship? Or are they only the men who initiate the relationship because he intends to marry the heroine eventually? What books can you think of where the hero pursued the heroine? Do find it a more common plot device in contemporaries or historicals?

histbut Pursuit and Honorable Intentions – Is a hero who merely initiates a relationship with the heroine a “pursuing hero” or is the hero as pursuer the one who initiates the relationship because he intends to marry the heroine. And, where do intentions fit in?

histbut Let’s Name Names – How many romances have you read in which the hero first comes up with the idea of marriage and has to convince the heroine? Please name names, and let us know if this type of scenario works for you never, rarely, occasionally, often, quite often, almost always, or always. Finally, do you find this a more common plot device in contemporary or historical romance?

histbut Slumps and Un-Slumps – Are you in a romance reading slump currently? Were you in a romance reading slump earlier this year (or some other time) but have roused yourself out of it? If you did get yourself out of a slump, how did you do it? Would you say you have never been in a romance reading slump?

histbut The Un-Slump – Blythe indicates she’s never felt in a romance reading slump. She, and some of her fellow reviewers employ a variety of techniques that they believe keep them from slumping. Do you employ some or all of these techniques? If you were to give advice to a fellow romance reader on how to get out of a slump, what counsel would you give?

histbut Is the Glass Half Empty or Half Full? – After reading some of Blythe’s comments, I get the impression part of her Un-Slump strategy is part of how Blythe looks at things in general. How long do you go between good reads before you start to feel the glass is half empty?


In conjunction with Jennifer Schendel, Blythe Barnhill, Rachel Potter, and Shelley Dodge




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