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Treat Yourself to the AAR Bookbag!

May 1, 2003 – Issue #159

We feature fabulous segments written by two of AAR’s talented contributors in this issue of At the Back Fence. Jennifer Schendel writes about “super couples” and Lori-Anne Cohen talks about most men, who don’t read romance. Lori-Anne’s screed led me to think about conversion kits, a topic we’ve not discussed in quite some time.

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Super Couples (Jennifer Schendel)

In the world of soap operas there is a term for the most popular couples: super couples. The best example of this would be General Hospital’s famous pair Luke and Laura (though the term was actually coined to describe Days of Our Lives couples such as Bo and Hope). Luke and Laura are known to every pop culture trivia buff, even if they’ve never watched a single episode of General Hospital. Something like 30 million Americans rushed home in 1981 (or set their VCR’s to ABC) to watch their wedding, which became a milestone in television history. Sadly, unlike books – where the vision of one author is involved – soap operas rely on the visions of multiple writers and the contract negotiations of actors for the longevity of favorite couples, so the course of true love did not run smoothly for Luke and Laura. There were kidnappings, presumed deaths, long separations, and other lovers, but through it all fans knew they belonged together. Even today (the couple is currently separated) fans don’t mention one character without the other. Their names are etched in our collective pop culture recollections as one.

Based on a comment made by another reviewer a few months back I started to wonder, amongst romance readers who would we call a super couple and why?

First I have set criteria by which to judge our couples:

  • Readers who haven’t read the books have some idea who these characters are.
  • Readers usually mention them together or you can’t have a conversation about one character without mentioning their other half.
  • No matter what happens during the course of the book(s), readers know these two characters belong together.

There are two couples I think of first: Eve and Roarke from the in Death series and Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. Look at message board conversations, how often do you see one mentioned without the other? Their fans/readers are passionate and can post up a storm (even though both series are several years old), to the point where even non-readers have a limited knowledge of who these characters are. Eve and Roarke never strayed after their initial commitment to a relationship in Naked in Death while Jamie and Claire endured a separation of nearly twenty years and marriage to other people – but through it all readers knew they belonged together.

But why did these two couples catch on, what made them stand out for readers? Because they became real to readers. J.D. Robb didn’t pull Eve Dallas out of central casting. She started with a heroine who at first glance seems cold and mean spirited, but when Eve snaps out a line with biting sarcasm the reader realizes she has a sense of humor, so she can’t be all cool distance. More importantly the reader sees Eve at work, agonizing over the murder victims she tries to obtain justice for and we see her softer side, the one that cares too deeply, and that early façade of ice and detachment implodes. Robb has revealed Eve over the course of 16 books like a flower opening its petals, slowly a little at a time until Eve is a well rounded and unique character. Like a person she has pet phrases and personality quirks that get repetitive or on a readers nerves, but she grows and changes as a well.

Now many would pipe up and say that while Eve is unique Roarke is definitely out of central casting, an amalgamation of female fantasies about a powerful man with money and looks. Like Eve a first glance can be deceiving. Roarke isn’t all polish and charm, underneath there are the rough edges and the tough childhood that he ignores and tries to hide away. His past gives him an ability to understand Eve, but he’s also strong enough to be her equal. Some may say too strong and overbearing, but the reader gets inside Roarke’s head and knows that he’s putty in Eve’s hands. There’s a balance between these two. Robb has created a rare chemistry on the page, because we know without each other, these two are not whole. That is the magic that keeps fans of this couple coming back for more. Two troubled souls who find peace, comfort, and balance with each other. It’s a magic readers wish to share, if only vicariously.

Where Eve and Roarke operate in the narrow world of 2058-59 New York City over the course of 16 books (so far), Jamie and Claire are in the middle of a larger than life story that spans time, continents and a couple historic battles. Such an epic story will require a very powerful romance.

Like Robb, Gabaldon doesn’t create standard characters. Claire isn’t sitting around waiting to be rescued; she’s a proactive heroine, a demanding heroine, and a person with a sharp wit. Since the first book, Outlander, is from Claire’s point of view, entirely, Gabaldon had to create a character we could like. Claire couldn’t be whiny, but she couldn’t be a stoic martyr either, so instead she has a smart mouth. Claire says things in situations we’d often say. She’s not perfect, she has a temper and makes mistakes, but she pays attention and learns. Most of all she opens herself to love. Many readers were uncomfortable with that aspect, because Claire has a husband, a perfectly acceptable one in the present.

Which leads us to James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser, Jamie to the series fans, a warrior, hero, and lover that would make a woman willing to give up electricity, modern plumbing, and a hope of finding way back through 200 years to the husband left behind. In so many ways Jamie is not the normal romance hero: he’s younger than Claire, he’s the virgin on their wedding night, and he’s the victim who needs to be saved in the end. Don’t let that mislead you, this man is no wuss, nor is he just a pretty boy attracting the attentions of both women and men. Jamie has a moral code and a sense of honor that harkens back to simpler time when the world was black and white. Yet, what draws the reader in is his total devotion and acceptance of Claire. He believes her when she claims to come from the future. Simple as that, he accepts her word because he loves her. It is around this core of love and devotion that the epic story rises, but readers come back to see these two and how together they will overcome any obstacle fate (or Gabaldon) throws in their path.

While readers have enjoyed these two couples adventures for years, propelling their stories to top of the bestseller lists, they may soon have their story taken to a larger audience. A few years back ABC optioned Outlander for a movie version – which is good or bad news depending on script and casting. The same goes for Naked in Death, which has been optioned by Mel Gibson’s production company. Will our beloved couples make the leap to the screen (both big and small) and come to the recognition of a wider audience and upping their status as super couples? Only time will tell.

All things being cyclical new couples are coming up to fill their shoes, most notably Tatiana and Alexander from Paullina Simons’s The Bronze Horseman and Sam and Alyssa from Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series. Both couples generate a lot of talk, their names are mentioned in unison, and readers have invested in their HEA without the actual books in front of them.

Tatiana and Alexander’s story is told against the epic WWII battle of Leningrad. A pretty Russian girl who falls for a red army soldier with a secret, he’s really an American caught up in fate not of his own making. Like Jamie and Claire they have obstacles that would destroy lesser beings, but they also have the love and devotion to give each other strength to see it through. Sam and Alyssa on the other hand, are more like Eve and Roarke, operating in a smaller scale story, but with no fewer obstacles to happiness. She’s an FBI counter-terrorist agent, and he’s a Navy SEAL. Their jobs bring them together on occasion, but it’s the chemical attraction between the two that keeps readers flipping pages. But unlike our established super couples, the major issues in both Tatiana and Alexander and Sam and Alyssa’s relationships come not from the outside, but internal flaws. Alyssa has trust issues, which cause her to push away Sam, who just makes stupid choices that create obstacles in their budding relationship. Tatiana consciously chooses her sister’s happiness over her own, and Alexander’s temper gets the better of him, provoking the villain into action that will have drastic repercussions for their future. Through both ups and downs, readers are interested in these couples and talk about them passionately, inviting other readers to discover for these characters and their stories for themselves.

Yet, both couples have some pretty hefty roadblocks to super coupledom. For Simons it is the lack of an American publisher for her sequel to The Bronze Horseman. While many die-hard fans forked over the cash to import copies from Great Britain (Tatiana and Alexander) and Australia (Bridge to Holy Cross), less ‘Net savvy readers in the USA may not know about a sequel and will only know of the cliffhanger ending from book one. It’s hard to get enthusiastic and spread word of mouth for only half a story. At the same time the power of this couple’s story generated a great deal of buzz in the online romance community, which at the very least raises them to cult status.

Sam and Alyssa have a bigger roadblock: backlash and frustrated fans. These two have yet to star in a book of their own. Instead they are secondary characters who ran away with readers’ hopes and imaginations, only to be brought up short in true soap opera fashion by the introduction of another woman and a short term rebound relationship coming back to haunt Sam. Because the other couples in this series have had their self-contained stories, many readers felt that the delays in Sam and Alyssa’s HEA were a result of author manipulation, a marketing gimmick, or both. Where once there was excitement, now there’s bitterness amongst many fans, and it’ll take one humdinger of a story in Gone too Far, Sam and Alyssa’s story, to soothe all the ruffled feathers. Fortunately, many Brockmann fans know she has the talent to deliver the goods and look forward to Sam and Alyssa’s story with enthusiasm.

The one thing you’ll note all four couples have in common is their stories extend past one book. Is there a super couple who’s story made them larger than life in one book? Or do readers need several books to get to know characters in details, to see their story unfold to become passionate about them? Not necessarily. Pride and Prejudice, arguably Jane Austen’s most popular story, was written over 200 years ago, but readers today still get excited when discussing the intricacies of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy’s love story. Readers today are still discovering Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, even if it’s only through the contemporary re-introduction and alternate version of their story in The Eyre Affair. Then there is the reigning king and queen of super couples – Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind duo of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. In one book so epic in scale and love story so bold that their names are etched in our memories forever. Rhett and Scarlett came to define an era, a way of life, and American tale of love to rival anything the Europeans had written before.

Yet, that’s just my opinion. When asked about this on the Potpourri board, readers MMcA and Maili, both disagree with the idea that Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester are believable together, and MMcA goes so far as to wonder about Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice “It’s hard to know whether, if you came fresh to the story, you could imagine a different ending, where the characters didn’t end up together?” In other words do we only think they belong together because we’re conditioned by already knowing the outcome of the story? Or do they qualify as super couples solely for standing the test of time and still being popular? So are these single title books really the exception to the rule? Well there’s still Gone with the Wind, but we all know how that ends (i.e. Rhett leaving Scarlett). The key factor giving Rhett and Scarlett a boost to super coupledom not granted the other aforementioned couples is the fact that it was the readers/movie goers who decided they deserved to end up together, because clearly their creator, Margaret Mitchell, didn’t.

But what about genre romance? Even of the four proposed super couples, only Sam and Alyssa appear in what would be considered a true genre romance. Eve and Roarke are found in the mystery section, Jamie and Claire’s story defies genre (much to the consternation of marketing and book store shelving practices), and Tatiana and Alexander are more than likely found in the fiction aisles. Are genre romances and stand alone stories simply too small to create a super couple? Perhaps. arguments could be made that Steve and Ginny, from Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love, are a super couple because of their influence in defining modern genre romance. Indeed, many readers know this couple even if they haven’t read the book, but they haven’t stood the test of time well. Modern ideals and political correctness, not to mention an aversion to purple prose and forced seductions have turned readers away and made their story into a punch-line for a joke. Readers may think they deserve each other, more than actually loving one another. Then there’s Whitney and Clayton Westmoreland from Judith McNaught’s Whitney, My Love, who also starred in a genre altering book. Only weeks ago at AAR we argued about these two. Like Steve and Ginny, readers still know them nearly twenty years after their debut, but the test of time may be starting to wear on their popularity.

Still there seems to be serious limitations on the abilities of a stand-alone genre romance novel to make the leap from good couple, highly talked about for a week or two, to super couple talked about for ages. Reader Cindy proposes an intriguing argument for why super couples are not found in stand-alone genre romance novels:

“I think it is easier to become more involved with a characters life over time than being allowed to visit with them at a specific time of their life. For example, LKH’s Anita Blake series does cover many years of Anita’s life. Due to this, I am intrigued by the changes, the loves won and lost and the need to know what happens next. Romance books, for me at least, end with a HEA. I know they will make it but, I don’t need to be involved with the rest of their lives as maybe they live a normal, boring life that is full of love and happiness and no more perilous adventures.

“Characters that are in peril constantly or have interesting jobs that carry them through different experiences, have a greater ability of becoming a super couple. Being lost to each other, believing one is dead and experiencing the overwhelming grief followed by a rush of relief at finding each other again keeps the romance alive.

“Just to go off track a bit, Han Solo and Princess Leia are a super couple for me. I did not know if they would get together but I just knew they were meant to be together. They were separated at the end of The Empire Stikes Back, which left me weeping at the tender age of eight because Leia had lost Han Solo and did not know where to begin looking for him. Three years of torture and wonder left me more than happy to see the opening scene of Return of the Jedi; I didn’t even care that the couple was caught and tortured. As long as they were together I was happy.

“Therefore, I don’t think a single romance book can create a super couple. I know they can create characters we long to revisit but, authors normally leave those characters behind to explore new relationships. After all, I think that maintaining tension in a relationship over many books can be daunting and a task that many authors may be loathe to even attempt.”

Maybe Cindy is right in that there are many factors that lead to a couple crossing that line from good couple to super couple. The story line has to be intriguing enough to hold us, it has to make us worry about the couple, it has to pull us in, get us involved, but so does the couple. We, as readers, need to see that couple over and over again, to know them intimately and thoroughly, so they become real to us and make us care. Unfortunately a stand-alone genre romance isn’t necessarily long enough to do this, particularly now that the epic style has gone out of vogue. Since many straight romance novels focus only on the interpersonal relationship, the story isn’t grand enough or dramatic enough to stand out in our minds. In the end what it may come down to is the same thing that make a soap opera super couple stand out the perfect mix of drama, relationship chemistry, and a little luck that the mixture will catch on with the audience.

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(Most) Men Don’t Read Romance (Lori-Anne Cohen)

I was recently chatting with a new male friend via email and eventually, the fact that I’ve reviewed books online came up. My friend was very impressed until he found out that it was romance novels that I reviewed. Then, like most of my other male friends, he proceeded to come up with a lot of nonsensical and stereotypical views of romance, the romance reader and the romance writer. This immediately raises my hackles. If you can imagine the robot from the TV show Lost in Space shouting “Danger! Danger! Warning!” you’ll have an accurate description of how I felt at that moment. Nothing pushes my buttons more than someone spouting off an opinion based on fluff. Most men I’ve met know nothing about romance novels past Danielle Steele miniseries and what they come across on television. The first reaction I get is either an “Oh, isn’t that cute!” or “You read that trash?” They then go on to wax rhapsodic on everything they know about romance novels and the genre as a whole. What they know is not a whole lot. I have been lucky and not really ever had this experience with women and of course, not all men are like this.

It’s no use getting mad at them – they don’t know any better. The best thing to do is educate them. If you arm yourself with knowledge, a healthy sense of humor and a few good zingers, you can pretty much out-logic, their logic with your own. You may not have a convert on your hands, but chances are the snarky comments will stop.

The following are some of the arguments that I hear from the male population. If you’ve reading romance for a while, I’m sure they sound familiar.

Argument I: “I only read New York Times Bestsellers”

I like when they start with this one. I practically rub my hands together in glee. I point out that they must not actually ever take a look at the NYT list because if they did, they would see romance authors there. My favorite example is Nora Roberts, whose books consistently make the NYT bestseller’s list; racking up around 69 bestsellers to date. I don’t care what kind of books you write, this is an absolutely amazing feat for any author. You can also list Suzanne Brockmann, Julie Garwood, Judith McNaught, Diana Gabaldon, and Jayne Anne Krentz, to name a few more. Not only does this show your friend that you are knowledgeable but it also lets him know where exactly the buying power is. I would also point out to him that while John Grisham is a talented writer who also appears on this list, his works are by no mean’s considered classics or highbrow literature. You read for enjoyment and forcing yourself to read a book simply because it’s on the list is ridiculous.

Argument II: “I only read real books” 

Um, excuse me but what does this mean? The last time I checked, romance novels were produced the same way as all other books. They have paper pages and covers. There are page numbers; there are words on these pages. The best way to handle this is to raise an eyebrow with an “Oh really?” look and make a snappy comeback like what I’ve written above. If you say it in a slightly sarcastic tone of your voice, your victim…er…male friend will backpedal and stutter at you while you look at them. Just stare him down. This comeback is really all about the attitude more than the logic behind it. The heart of the matter is that they don’t consider romances real books but we know that’s not true.

Argument III: “Only frustrated housewives and spinsters read those… or write those”

Au contraire, mon frere! Readers of romance cross many economic and cultural lines. There are doctors, lawyers, judges, and executives to name a few. I have a very good friend who has an MBA and is an avid reader of romance novels. As far as the writers go, Christina Skye has a PhD in Chinese Literature, Mary Jo Putney has degrees in English and Industrial Design, and Judith Ivory has two math degrees. Romance writers come from all walks of life and have all kinds of experiences. No one pigeon holes male writers in this way and I find it very unfair to do this to women. People don’t argue that Tom Clancy is a frustrated househusband or an unmarried bachelor. Then, you can segue way into a diatribe about the term “spinster” and how an unmarried woman is a spinster but a an unmarried is a bachelor and the connotations are just unfair. No, it’s not entirely on topic but it’ll divert their attention and scare them a little.

Argument IV: “I don’t like Fabio” 

Again, my brows knit together in consternation. I am not a Fabio fan either but I don’t understand what this has to do with anything. Yes, he has graced a lot of book covers and yes, there are books out there with his name on it, but the whole weight of the genre does not rest on his shoulders. They may be brawny, but they aren’t that brawny. This comment is generally reserved for the frustrated male after you’ve shot holes in his other arguments.

Argument V: “You just read them for the sex”

Sure and you all watch Cinemax after dark for the snappy dialogue. No, women do not necessarily read romance for the sex. We read it for…get ready; it’s coming…the romance. Where else can you be assured of a happy ending, of love conquering all? The world is a complicated and chaotic place; the romance novel is a sure thing. And not all romances have or even need sex. I’ve read some that I wish never had a sex scene. But I guarantee you if I sat down and read any sex scene to any man, he’d be very interested and listen to it with rapt attention. Sex for sex’s sake is not what it’s all about.

Also, have you ever tried reading a love scene to a man and he asks you to stop? Of course not, they want to hear those parts. My sweetie is always asking me to read him a love scene if it’s a good one, out loud.

Argument VI: “People aren’t really like this, you know? We men can’t live up to romance novel heroes!”

Of course you can’t and no one really expects you to. These books, like many other entertainment outlets, are based on fantasy, not reality. Most people are not international spies who live wonderful, glamorous exciting lives. If you do work for the CIA or the FBI or if you’re a CEO; you work a lot harder than people in the books do. I don’t necessarily want to read about someone who does what I do for a living; being a project manager is not at all glamorous, even on days I wear high heels. When I read romance, I read to escape into a fantasy world for a little while. The people are glamorous, the men are handsome and the women are beautiful. If I knew people like this in real life, I’d probably hate them. I’ve never known a woman with a 16 inch waist with long beautiful spun gold hair and if I did; I bet her name would be Rapunzel.

In a scene from Woody Allen’s Radio Days, Julie Kavner’s married character talks to her unmarried sister, played by Diane Wiest, about how her expectations for a husband are too high. Wiest’s character reminds Kavner’s that she’s not the one who listens to all the romances on the radio, to which Kavner’s character responds that she has her “two feet planted on her husband.” This is the perfect way to sum up romance novels. Sure, we have our feet planted in reality but sometimes you want to drift a little. On a good day, aren’t we just grateful if we come home and the garbage has been taken out? When I read, I don’t want to read about the garbage going out on time; I want to read about people who don’t have to worry about the garbage.

We watch things on TV all the time that aren’t real, and I’m not talking about sit-coms, dramas, or dramadies. Wrestling and reality shows may give the illusion of being real but have you watched The Real World lately? All those people are far too good looking. A reality show should have a cross section of the population. How long do you think someone who was just average looking would last on The Bachelor? People don’t watch these shows because they’re real. They watch them to be entertained…it’s a fantasy world.

And men; do you all really think you’re Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan?

Argument VII: “No one reads romances”

No, what they really mean is they don’t read romances so they can’t comprehend that anyone else would. In 2001, romance novels racked over $1.5 billion in sales. Over 50% of paperbacks sold in North America are romance novels. There are over 50 million readers of romantic fiction in America alone. That’s a lot of nobodies. Statistics do not lie. This one works great. If you’re questioned on this, send them to RWA’s web site – it’s all there. Heck, you can do a Google search as well.

Argument VIII: “All romances are the same”Yes, within the industry or the fan base, there is talk about the sameness of some stories but we like the books, we can say that. I point out all the different kinds of romances there are. I talk about series romances, contemporaries, historicals, regencies and all the various nuances within these sub genres. There’s romantic suspense, futuristics, time travel. I then go on to explain that the differences lie in the characterizations, like any book. You want to connect with the people in the story. Sure, there’s a formula to them in that two people need to fall in love and have a happy ending but in a Tom Clancy book, Jack Ryan gets to save the world. In a western, the hero triumphs over the bad guy. You wouldn’t want to watch a John Wayne movie if he didn’t come out the victor. I know people who love John Wayne movies but never watch The Shootist because of how it ends. An HEA is important.

Argument IX: “Wouldn’t you be better off reading a classic?”

A classic? Oh…well sure. Here, let me pick up Jane Eyre or Villette or something by Austen. Perhaps I should read some Shakespeare? Maybe his sonnets or one of his plays like Much Ado about Nothing or As you Like it or maybe a tearjerker like Romeo and Juliet? While not all end happily, there are many classic stories that have a huge romance element to them, and many weren’t exactly considered classics in their day.

And buddy, I don’t see you picking up War and Peace either.

I then throw down the gauntlet: “Read one and then tell me you don’t like them!” Yet, they shy away. Secretly, I think it’s because they know if they read one, they might like it and then I would be right and yes, I am definitely the type of person who would rub it in. At this point, I’ve never been able to get a male friend to actually read a romance. And in secret, they probably still think their snarky, unkind thoughts, just like I do about their TV watching habits. But now they know enough to not say anything to me; and if they do, I have an arsenal of words at my disposal.

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Conversion Kits (LLB)

On a recent trip to Los Angeles to visit family, my husband finished the thriller he’d been reading and my mom offered him one of the books she’d recently read. Both were mystery/thrillers, and when she asked if I ever read this type of book, I answered that though I’d recently tried a few, they didn’t work for me in general. She knows that I read romance novels and couldn’t resist telling me – yet again – how romance novels are all the same and “so unreal.” This time, though, I responded differently, and in return, said, “So are mysteries and thrillers! Somebody always dies, and how many covert agents do you know in real life?”

Rather than writing a defense of romance novels as Lori-Anne so admirably did, I started to think about this problem in a different – and more positive – light. As critics are always imploring: “Show, don’t tell!”

It’s been a long time since we at AAR have talked about Conversion Kits – the last time the subject came up was in an ATBF column just about three years ago when Ellen Micheletti suggested a Series Romance Conversion Kit.

It always helps to know your audience when recommending books, particularly when trying to proselytize a prospective romance reader or convince a dismissive friend that they’re not all fluff, not all alike, not poorly written, not disguised women’s porn, etc. As author Jo Beverley once wrote after I indicated that Julie Garwood’s The Bride was in my conversion kit, a serious student of history might agree that Garwood’s books, “while charming, are so historically bizarre, particularly the Medievals, that many readers who are into historical fiction can’t swallow them at all. She just seems a dangerous first offering, as likely to reinforce prejudices as to overturn them. Or do you tailor what you offer to the established reading tastes of the reader in question?”

Perhaps, as Mark Pottenger suggested in the last issue of this column, I am more comfortable with “mythic history” than other readers who enjoy historical fiction. Having just finished Morgan Llywelyn’s The Lion of Ireland, a very meaty historical novel based on the life of Medieval Irish king Brian Boru, I can honestly say I like to read both “real” history and mythic history. I read different books for different reasons and approach different types of fiction with a different mind-set. Primary in my mind when I read a romance is the romance itself, and pure entertainment. When I pick up historical fiction, I have a more serious intent. I read this type of book more slowly and more thoughtfully, and while enjoying myself, “pure entertainment” is not my goal.

For every reader who finds straight historical fiction as entertaining as historical romance, there are probably an equal number like me, who find that as long as errors aren’t so severe that even we notice them, we’re going to overlook them. So, for me, one or two vintage Garwoods remain on my conversion list for friends who aren’t serious students of history. Would I hand The Bride to someone with a graduate degree in Medieval British history? Probably not, although it must be said that my husband, a litigation attorney, has for years been a fan of “lawyer shows” on television, even when he sees an unbelievable court scene.

I keep a second copy of several books so that when I want to give a conversion kit to a “base-line” reader, it’s a no-brainer. Unfortunately, I haven’t updated this kit in some years, and will report back next time the additions and removals I’ve made from my old kit. My goal is to provide this type of reader with excellent yet traditional types of romance so that a feel for the genre comes across, but in its best light. In other words, I don’t want to include ground-breaking or envelope-pushing romances unless they set a standard now common. Why include something different if the plan is to show what romance is all about? Why not choose great reads that take common premises, characters, or storylines and make them seem fresh?

In thinking about Jo’s question, though, I now realize that certain questions should be asked when putting a kit together for a friend who isn’t a base-line reader. The following should probably be considered:

What is the friend’s passion?

  • Does this friend have much interest in history or travel? Is her idea of a great vacation skiing in Colorado or visiting historic Williamsburg? Does she prefer shopping at Harrod’s to visiting the Victoria and Albert Museum?
  • What books, movies, and TV shows does she like? Does she like contemporary settings, is she a big Tolkien or Star Trek fan, does she already read some sort of genre fiction, does she prefer tear-jerker to laugh-a-minute movies?
  • Sense of humor – what type of humor appeals to her, is she funny or serious in her demeanor?
  • How much do she like to read?

I plan on following up on the conversion kit discussion in the next issue of ATBF. So, if you have one, what books are in your conversion kit? If you don’t, what books would you include, and what questions would you ask yourself before giving a friend romances to read?

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Time to Post to the Message Board

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

What’s your definition of a super couple? Do you agree with Jen’s criterion, should another qualification be added, changed, or removed?

 Which couples qualify as super couples in your mind, and why? Is Jen’s list of couples a good jumping off point? Have they earned a list on the Super Couple Hall of Fame, and would this make for a good Special Title Listing? Is it harder to come up with a list of romance novel super couples than it is to devise a list of non-romance super couples?

 Which books taught and/or inspired you?

 Why do you think some couples stand out more than others? Do you think a super couple can come from a stand alone romance, or is a series necessary?

 Can you share some of the discussions you’ve had with friends who diss romance novels? Do you simply drop the entire subject or do you try to convince them they are wrong? What did they say, and how did you respond? Were any arguments particularly effective?

 What is the most infuriating argument a friend has made against romance novels and/or those who read them? Why was it so frustrating, and what did you say, if anything, in response?

 Some readers are satisfied simply to stop arguments against romance novels while others have actually made converts of friends. What’s been your experience?

 On the subject of conversion kits, do you have one (some)? Which titles are in your kit, are they “your” copies of the books or second copies, and why these particular titles? Is your kit constant, or do you change its content over time?


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