At the Back Fence #128Dabney2017-06-23T08:29:57-04:00
At the Back Fence Issue #128
November 15, 2001
I finally read a Mary Balogh romance that I liked – after two earlier efforts. I’ve never been able to connect with her characters in the past without becoming inordinately depressed. I think this is because she does such a good job interpreting the era she’s writing about. The Regency era did have a fairly strict limit on the range of emotions people were allowed to openly express at the upper echelons of society. I’ve had no problem connecting with the tremendous sorrows her characters often face because we get to see them first-hand. No, it’s their happiness I’ve never connected with because those feelings and occasions are somehow muted for me in her books. I have never gotten that feeling of disconnect from other traditional Regency authors, but I get it from Balogh.
But…no more. I read Courting Julia last week and thoroughly enjoyed it, and connected quite well with its characters. It’s the first in a trilogy that features two titles you are far more likely to be aware of – Dancing with Clara and Tempting Harriet.
What surprised me about CJ was that Balogh took a romance novel staple – the will stipulation – added your basic free-spirited heroine and stuff-shirt hero, and came up with a book that was anything but stereotypical. I happen to be inordinately fond of the free-spirited heroine and stuff-shirt heroes; a goodly number of my favorite romances feature this match up (hmmm…could this be the start of a new Special Title Listing of opposites attracting?). I never seem to tire of a good free spirit and an uptight hero, but the will stipulation, a premise we began to talk about last time, does seem overdone to me, even though it can be very effective in traditional Regencies. Balogh came up with an interesting twist in this case, added quite a few secondary characters, and had me thoroughly engaged throughout the entire read.
I was I surprised that I liked the book as well as I did. I wasn’t surprised, though, that Courting Julia is not considered one of Balogh’s best books. We have DIK reviews for six of her traditional Regencies and CJ is not one of them. We have 13 titles listed for her in our Favorite Books by Favorite Authors page and CJ is not one of them – although both its sequels are. I’m used to walking the road less traveled when it comes to some of romance’s biggest authors – are you?
Perhaps what surprised me most about my reading experience of Courting Julia was that I went back to an author I’d tried before and discarded, and liked what I read on the third try. Most authors don’t get a third try with me (or even a second) – even when they’re considered goddesses of the genre. This is the very first time I haven’t been burned on a second or third try of an author I didn’t care for earlier. Have you had this experience?
More on the Will Stipulation
We started a discussion on the will stipulation in the last issue of ATBF after I had posted several reviews for both historical and contemporary romances featuring it as a plot premise. As with everything, too much of anything is simply too much. It suddenly seemed as though the will stipulation was the premise de jour; for me that almost guarantee it will eventually becomes a book-killing device. Posting four reviews in a period of days sent a red flag up in my mind, and so, I asked our review staff the following (and admittedly biased) question: “Does anyone at AAR find the will stipulation as annoying a premise as I do, particularly in contemporary romance?”
For me, the will stipulation is a subset of the Arranged Marriage, which also includes marriages of convenience and mail-order bride romances – not everyone would agree with how I organize this, but more on that later. I’m a fan of all these types of romances when they have historical settings – but to a limit. It seems a large percentage of Regency Romances feature will stipulations, at least those that I’ve been reading.
I have found very limited personal appeal for the will stipulation in contemporary settings. That may change, however, when I finally get around to reading Rachel Gibson’s Truly, Madly Yours and/or a trilogy of series romances by Eileen Wilks. We’ve posted reviews for the first two of Wilks’ trilogy – a third sits in my in-box. All three Wilks reviews are positive.
Before getting into some reader comments on the will stipulation, I’d like to share our review staff’s input on the topic. Keep in mind that they were responding to my “are they annoying?” question. If, after you’ve read their thoughts in general and/or if you’ve read the books they’ve mentioned, please feel free to discuss them on our message board at the conclusion of this column, okay?
Jennifer Schendel: “When you put it that way, yes, it’s annoying! Not to mention totally unbelievable. Even to a degree in historicals. As far as I can tell the law is pretty flexible and if say the heroine in The Burning Point went before a judge and pointed out she’d left her husband because he beat her and she hadn’t told her idiot of a father I’m sure he’d have made the will null and void. You hear about people contesting wills all the time. Why does this idea never occur to the hero and heroine in romance novels? I can see them not thinking of it in historicals, but still it’s a lame-o plot device to get two people together who wouldn’t normally be together.”
Nora Armstrong: “It’s one of my least favorite plot devices, even in historicals. I find it almost laughable in contemporaries.”
Andrea Pool: “I thought of one that worked. The first one in that Sharon Sala SIM trilogy a while back – Ryder’s Wife. That one actually worked for me. I think it’s a fairly common device in series books. Maybe because they have such a short format to work in. There was an SSE by Laurie Paige several years ago that used it also. Awful book. Kept describing the heroine as having ‘bouncing breasts.’ I was surprised she didn’t sock herself in the face with them.”
“The Gibson is of course a contemporary, but since the will stipulates that the two not have anything to do with each other, it makes it seem more realistic. I have no idea whether this is legal or not. I too would be interested in an attorney’s opinion about these will stipulations.
“The will is an element of these stories too (though there’s no coercion, exactly):
It’s pretty clear that for some of our staff, the will stipulation is a touchy subject. I was so glad, though, to have been reminded of the will involved in Connie Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy – that’s a book that came thisclose to being an all-time keeper for me. What I took away from the discussion is that, for most of us, even an annoying plot premise can make for an enjoyable reading experience if the author handles it with care. What made it work for me in Balogh’sCourting Julia was the twist put upon it: if the heroine wanted to live on the estate upon which estate she grew up, she needed to choose from amongst her five cousins a man to marry. One sweet but slow, another seemingly dull and plodding, the third a best friend, the fourth a dashing rogue, and the fifth the responsible and uptight cousin who seems to despise her spirit. You certainly don’t come across a premise like that every day.
As for readers, I’d like to start with something Deborah wrote. Like me, she too is far more accepting of the will stipulation in historical romances because, as she put it, “women were more dependent upon their families for support. They couldn’t easily do what I would expect the heroine of a contemporary to do when faced with an outrageous will stipulation: walk away and support herself some other way.” That’s why Deborah liked the SEP title we listed above – It Had to be You. She added that while the heroine “eventually gave in to emotional blackmail by the hero,…her immediate reaction wasn’t to try and please a dead father who’d never done a thing for her while he’d been alive.”
Trisha made a post that reminded me of something Rachael had said; she thought it was important to distinguish between will stipulations that explicitly force people to marry and those that simply throw two people together. Trisha has enjoyed books featuring will stipulations that throw people together, including Brockway’s My Dearest Enemy and Nora Roberts’Montana Sky.
Contrary to my grouping of will stipulations as one subset of the larger “Arranged Marriages” category that also includes marriages of convenience and mail-order bride romances, Mary Lynne would organize will stipulations, marriages of convenience, mail-order bride romances, and arranged marriages differently than I do. She looks at the forced leading to the marriage. An arranged marriage and a will stipulation both arise from outside forces. She wrote: “It’s daddy saying that his daughter has to marry this lord, or the king forcing this Saxon to marry that Norman. Will stipulations are a more modern take on this (arranged marriages are often medievals), where someone outside of the couple is forcing their hand due to unusual codicils in the will. In neither case do the h/h have any real choice in the matter. It’s do it or else.”
Conversely, because the heroes and heroines involved in marriages of convenience or mail-order bride romances themselves make the decision to wed, they cannot be considered to be true arranged marriages as far as Mary Lynne is concerned. True, she wrote, “they may be driven to make this choice due to extreme circumstances, but the choice is theirs – they come up with it themselves as a means to achieving a solution to whatever problem they have.” I would say to Mary Lynne that I might agree with that except for the fact that a will stipulation is not a legal requirement unless the recipient wants what is being offered in the will.
In a larger sense, though, it seems that many, many romances would fall into one or the other of these two categories: Either the couple marries because of outside forces or the couple marries to achieve a non-romantic goal. Indeed, most romances wherein the couple marries well before the ending of the book seem to fit into one of these two molds, and in both instances, these marriages are those wherein love is not (or is not supposed to be) a consideration. I’ve asked before: why do we find so romantic the prospect for two people to marry without love when in our own lives we would find that entirely lacking in romance?
The book I’m reading now, for instance, features a handsome lord preparing to marry a plain young woman who can seemingly disappear into the woodwork to avoid notice. His father is dying and he wants his son to marry before he does (this is also a common theme too, isn’t it? It worked well in Diane Farr’s Once Upon a Christmas, although instead of a dying father it was a dying mother). The heroine is already coming to love him well before the marriage and while he is apparently falling in love without either of them realizing it, she (and the reader) are appalled by the prospects of her living in an unloving marriage. The reader continues, knowing the hero will realize he loves the heroine by the end, but it occurs to me that putting ourselves (and our heroines) through this in so many romances is downright masochistic!
I’d like to further explore Mary Lynne’s two categories, and see whether or not you think most romances then would boil down to one of the following when marriage occurs well before the end of the book: Either the couple marries because of outside forces or the couple marries to achieve a non-romantic goal.
It’s so Nice to Read About….
Our staff recently had a great discussion about the usefulness of our Desert Isle Keeper page. How many DIK’s (Desert Isle Keepers) had they read and loved, and how useful did they find the feature? Most DIK reviews resulted in good to great reads for other reviewers. A DIK for Rachel might not be a DIK for me, but it would likely be a B level, which is a pretty good recommendation in and of itself. And, for our newer reviewers, the page was likely more helpful than it was for those who have been reviewing (and perhaps even reading) romance for longer periods.
We have well over 400 DIK reviews. That number is astonishing, but when you look at it more closely, I notice some interesting things. According to our Did You Know? page, 46 authors have been granted DIK status at least three times. And, just five authors account for a substantial portion of the the entire DIK list. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb is represented 20 times. Julie Garwood shows up with 12 DIK’s. Mary Balogh, third on the list, has 11 DIK’s, Suzanne Brockmann has 9 DIK’s, and Carla Kelly has 8. If you don’t happen to like one or more of these authors, chances are our DIK feature will be less useful to you than if you like most or all of them. How useful do you find them?
I love the enthusiasm I feel from our reviewers when they discover a good book! That enthusiasm is multiplied when the book is either from a new author or from an author who has only received good reviews from us in the past. If that well-reviewed author is not considered a major author, so much the better, because then we can tout her as a “buried treasure,” a concept we value greatly (to see earlier discussions of the buried treasure, check our At the Back Fence Index and a stand-alone page for Buried Treasures). And if the author is a new one, we are very glad to go to our readers with alternatives to authors who may have jumped the shark.
I’ve just worked my way down our listing of new reviews and came up with the following authors I’m happy to point out to you in case you hadn’t noticed them yourself. Remember that this is simply a snapshot of the moment – earlier this year we had the startling debuts of Anne Gracie, Susan Squires, and Jayel Wylie.
Lauren Bach, whose debut romance, Lone Rider, received a B+
Deborah Simmons, who has received three DIK Reviews and six B level grades for her full-length historicals (she’s also received for her short stories, a grade of B, B+, but to dash her “perfect record,” a grade of C-)
That excited feeling is nice, isn’t it? Discovering an author who is either new or new to you is like having a new pathway illuminated. If the author is new to you, you then have the excitement of searching for her backlist and perhaps having a new “auto-buy” author. If she’s a new author, you look forward to her second release like a child wanting to open Christmas presents early. All around, it’s simply wonderful.
Discovering a buried treasure might be even better, because it’s like belonging to an exclusive club that not many people know about. Once you’ve made it into that club, though, you don’t want it to be exclusive any more – you want to tell everyone about the author – at least that’s how I feel. Buried treasures really are like these small jewels everyone seems to have overlooked while they’ve been ooh-ing and ah-ing about larger jewels, many of which turn out to be nothing but synthetic stones.
What happens, though, when instead of a buried treasure or a star on the rise, you’ve simply discovered a one-hit wonder? When I think back to books I was really excited about, authors I couldn’t wait to share with others, I sometimes grimace, because in that bunch are some authors who turned out to not have been buried treasures. Instead they seem to have had only one good or great book in them and everything else has been, if not dross, then at least a disappointment. While some authors seem to have gotten better over time, others started out with a bang, and immediately went downhill.
When I asked for reader input on this, I received an email from Jo-Ann, who wondered why I’d ask about Buried Treasures and One-Hit Wonders at the same time since she found them so very different as topics. To me the buried treasure is the direct opposite of the one-hit wonder because the Buried Treasure writes consistently well while the One-Hit Wonder goes supernova almost immediately.
I’m asked at least once a month about whatever happened to Elizabeth Elliott. Her 1995 The Warlord won a RITA and her next book, Scoundrel, received DIK status from me in 1996. She had another historical in 1996 and was published in an anthology in 1997. Then she disappeared from sight. My sense from discussions with her in 1996 and early 1997 was that she couldn’t meet her deadlines. Because she did have more than one good/great book, she really can’t be considered a one-hit wonder, but did she not meet her deadlines because she ran out of stories or lost her talent? I don’t think so, but does it matter to readers? I’m interested in what you think.
But getting back to Jo-Ann’s question, I think she asks and answers it well herself. Here’s what she had to say:
“I’m not sure how you’re differentiating one-hit wonders and buried treasures. To me they’re two very different things. But maybe that’s what you’re asking? The difference? Some of my buried treasures include Theresa Weir, Jeane Renick, Claire King, and Lisa G. Brown, all of whose books I’ve read and enjoyed, so I can’t count them as one-hit wonders. Three of these authors are not writing romances or writing at all anymore so, to me, they were ‘buried treasures, because (and I’m guessing here) they didn’t receive enough exposure or publisher backing to give them star or even mid-list status. Theresa Weir’s is a slightly different case in that she elected to stop writing romance due to publisher pressure, but maybe that pressure wouldn’t have been there if she had reached star status. Claire King is still writing and may achieve star status yet, but for now I don’t see her books “talked” about or publicized enough, so until that happens, I’d consider her a buried treasure for me. “A one-hit wonder for me would be Suzanne Robinson, whose Lady Gallant I loved, but nothing else I read of hers. Same thing with Susan Carroll, whose Bridefinder I loved, but haven’t cared for her others and Robin Schone, whose Awaken, My Love I enjoyed but heartily dislike her writing style since her ‘comeback.’ I loved Ann Lawrence’sLord of the Keep, but nothing she’s written since. But I know people like many of these authors’ books so what I consider a one-hit wonder, does not hold true for others.”
I hope hearing Jo-Ann’s musing on the two intertwined topics helped you remember authors who fit into any of the categories we’ve just mentioned: the fabulous newly debuting author; the buried treasure; or the one-hit wonder.
The Romance Novel Sequel
Unlike most movie sequels, many romance novel sequels are actually as good – if not better – than the original book. That said, most romance novel sequels as not “sequels” as that term is traditionally defined. Rather than following a character or couple through many books, most romance novel sequels take a secondary character from a previous book and give that character his or her own romance. That explanation, of course, is basic Romance Novel 101 information. What isn’t basic is why so many romances have sequels?
I think sequels in romance novels are so common because romance novels are character-based. When a reader falls in love with characters, she doesn’t want to leave them. If the author has planned a sequel all along, she’ll have created secondary characters the reader will want to continue along with, particularly if she gets to revisit the original characters – even if only briefly. At the same time, because so many duos and trilogies and quartets are written in similar styles, a reader gets the joy of reliving that style throughout the sequels. Many romance authors have even been able to successfully turn villains into heroes or heroines in their sequels – that is great writing indeed, if you ask me.
We romance readers can be an obsessive lot. What happens when you find a book that’s part of a series and you’ve not read the earlier books? Because romances tend to go out of print so quickly – unless they’re by lead authors – you’ll have to make the decision to: (a)Buy the book knowing that if you love it, you might never find what came before; (b)Buy the book and start the series with that title; or (c)Not buy the series at all.
I think there’s a more fundamental problem in sequels that authors need to be wary of. Elaine Coffman, in a Write Byte she wrote in early 1997, said that one of the titles in her MacKinnon series was written not because she’d planned to, but because readers clamored so hard and loud for it. Intuition tells me that authors ought to follow their own instincts on this – better to leave readers wanting then to have the last book in memory be a stinker. Nora Roberts has a book about Seth, the prominent secondary character from her Chesapeake Bay series, in the works; if this was her plan all along, I’ll look forward to reading it. If it was simply a gift to her readers, I’ll have to see. I trust her instincts on series writing because she’s done such a terrific job with them in the past. I’ll read anyMacGregor book simply for a glimpse of Daniel MacGregor, and her In Death series (as written by J.D. Robb), which feature dictionary-definition sequels, shows no sign of faltering.
We just posted a review for a prequel to the Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens. I rather like this idea. Julia Quinn recently mentioned that she’ll be writing Ned’s story – Ned being a featured secondary character in the Splendid, Dancing at Midnight, and Minx trilogy. While I look forward to his story, I’ve often wished Quinn would write the romance of Ned and Belle’s parents; their romance is given some hysterical glimpses in Splendid.
All in all, I like related romances, even though many have been one book longer than they should have. Sometimes a novella would suffice rather than a full-length sequel; at other times I wish a single novel could handle two love stories as well as Anne Stuart and some other authors have occasionally done. The biggest pitfall in sequel writing, it seems to me, is to have the original couple overshadow the new lovers, or to have the newer work sink under the mythology of the entire original family. That seems to happen most often when a series goes on for too long.
My favorite romance series is well-known here at AAR (although, if you missed it, it’s Julie Garwood’sregency quartet). My favorite non-romance series used to be Anne Rice’sVampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witch series, although the latter has too few titles for my liking. The last three of her vampire novels have been stinkers – her brand new one absolutely destroyed the character of Marius for me. I have higher hopes for her witches, that is, if she ever writes about them again. Laurell K. Hamilton’sAnita Blake, Vampire Hunter series holds more promise for me even though none of its individual stories has been a “true” keeper for me.
Jennifer Schendel spent a good amount of time working with readers and AAR staff on this topic. Before I natter on forever, I’m going to giver over to her. Enjoy.
The Appeal of the Romance Series
I have been thinking a lot about series/inter-connected stories lately. This past year the latest installments in two of my favorite series jumped the shark in my opinion; so Ive started to think about why I like series books and whether or not to quit reading certain ones.
Ive always been a fan of series/inter-connected books. If you were too look at my shelves you would see a lot coordinated spines and titles that denote related stories such as: the Outlander epics, the In Death mysteries, Anita Blake chronicles, and even the Harry Potter tales. I am a series junkie. I like to see what becomes of characters after the initial book. Each successive book is like catching up with old friends. Yet, sometimes like old friends the characters go someplace I can no longer follow.
I wanted to see if other people shared my opinions about series books and so I posed a few questions to my fellow AAR reviewers and to readers on the Potpourri Message Board. Not only was I blown away by the sheer number of series mentioned, but also I may have obtained a new outlook on connected stories.
When I first posed the questions I was thinking of serialized stories in terms of books by one author following one set of characters through their lives, but as I started getting answers back I realized others saw things differently. Many people mentioned interconnected self-contained stories that follow various family members or a group of friends, which are the most common form of series in the romance genre (e.g. Laurens Cynsters or Putneys Fallen Angels). Then there are books that follow various characters in a group or family, but written by different authors (e.g. Silhouettes Year of Loving Dangerously). And then there are books that follow either a set of characters or various characters in an alternate reality/fantasy realm created by one or many authors (e.g. the Star Trek books).
The one thing all these books have in common though is readers keep following the story through all its twists and turns and volumes. The question is why? The most common answer would be for the characters. Reader Heidi L. put it best when she said, reading is a very intimate relationship between the characters and the reader. You are inside the minds of the people, privy to their thoughts, emotions, etc. Thats what makes characters seem real When an author does their job well and achieves that level of realness with the characters, I care about them and want to read more about them to make sure theyre still living the HEA we were promised.
This isnt a surprising answer when the question is posed amongst primarily romance readers. Romance is a very character driven genre. So part of the joy for romance readers following series, even those books outside the genre, is learning the little details of about characters, watching them grow and develop, and the changes between their relationships. Therefore readers become very attached and want to know things about the characters like: When will Eve and Roarke have a baby? or Will Anita choose Jean-Claude or Richard? The answers to these questions mean a lot to readers because weve had several books to build up to them.
With that amount of emotional involvement a reader may feel a little upset when the next installment of a series doesnt deliver to expectation. The number one way to upset a reader is to kill off a character. Reviewer Jane Jorgenson gave her reasoning for this:
“Though I’m saddened when a beloved character dies, if it’s done as a part of the continuing story and logically fits the existing world the author has created and is not just for shock value or to create dramatic tension, then I’ll continue to trust the author. One mystery author I did stop reading after she killed off the significant character was Karen Kijewski. The characters death serves no purpose other then to act as a dramatic complication for Kat. The author had done a wonderful job in books three and four (maybe 4 and 5) creating enough tension that the characters death was overkill (pardon the pun).”
Reviewers Ellen Micheletti, Rachel Potter, and Linda Hurst all mentioned being upset with a similar situation in Charlaine HarrisA Fool and His Honey. For Ellen the fact that Lillian Jackson Braun seemed to be killing off a lot secondary characters eventually got to be too much. When it comes to killing off characters, reader Marlie summed up her feelings well: “I read for pleasure; I dont need all the melodrama.”
But what appears to be even more disconcerting for readers is character inconsistency or unlikable characters. For example many readers were upset by the recent turn of events in Narcisuss in Chains the latest installment in the Anita Blake series (myself included). Anitas new found sexual freedom was not the problem, but her reaction to it was because of her history. For a character to be sexually repressed for nine books and to be unconcerned by mystical forces causing her to have sex with a complete stranger in the tenth book seemed inconsistent with what readers had come to expect. Character discrepancies can also reveal plot holes. Reviewer Mary Novak said, Character consistency and development will always hold my interest, and can sometimes make up for a weak plot. So if the reader is questioning the character they might also start questioning the plot.
Another thing that annoys readers nearly as much character inconsistency is one who becomes stagnant. This seems to be a problem confronting the Stephanie Plum series. After Seven Up readers commented not only that the traditional laugh-out-loud moments were missing, but that the characters seemed to be stuck in an endless loop repeating the same mistakes as previous books. According to Rachel Potter “I’ve rather lost interest in the books because Stephanie hasn’t grown at all.” So, while a reader wants consistent characterization they also want change and development.
Plot seems to be a secondary concern in series. Most of the people who responded to my questions agreed they will overlook plot holes for a really great character. But something that may contribute to problems with both is a lack of planning on an authors part. For example reviewer Jennifer Keirans said, I did deliberately quit the Robert Jordan fantasy series, even though it had some cool stuff in it, just because it seemed to spin entirely out of the author’s control.. There were millions of characters, all going in different directions, and it was too confusing. Every three books or so he really needed to have some huge calamity kill off a dozen or so characters, just to keep it manageable. A little plotting on the authors part may have helped keep control over the outcome and limited reader confusion.
Right now the most popular books out are those in the Harry Potter series. Most readers have heard that J.K. Rowling intends for there to be seven books when all said and done, and most accept that she knows how book seven will end. The amount of planning in the series is evident and causes the books, according to Mary Novak, to represent series writing at its most sophisticated. This is not say that authors need a clear ending to be good. According to reviewer Andrea Pool, I’d be happy to see the In Death series go on indefinitely. Both series are examples of what reviewer Anne Marble says in regards to the need for advance planning, I think it depends on the type of series. If the plot depends on putting the rightful heir on the throne, it needs a clear ending – and the author might be better off plotting it out. If it’s about a couple of rogues, it doesn’t – and the author doesn’t have to do as much advance planning. The Harry Potter set up requires an ending as we know the goal is to defeat Voldermort and graduate from Hogwarts, if the series goes on past that natural end it will feel padded, where as the In Death books have no set in stone goal and therefore the reader is along for the ride where ever it may go.
Which is the goal of a series, to keep readers along for the long haul. So the secret seems to be to have a great characters that a reader can love and adore and follow through thick and thin.
After learning how readers view a series I posed a few questions to Nora Roberts about writing as J.D. Robb and her In Death series:
Jennifer: I asked the AAR staff and readers what the appeal of reading a series/connected books, I wonder about the reverse what is the appeal of writing a series? Is it setting to visit the characters again? Or the world youve created?
Nora: Its both. Its incredibly satisfying and challenging to develop characters, events, relationships, a setting that will evolve over a long period of time rather than be set in one book, or a limited series. I enjoy, tremendously, discovering layers of Eve and Roarke, and the rest of the gang. And particularly exploring Eve and Roarkes marriage, how this has changed both of them. An unlimited series gives me plenty of freedom to take my time with the characters, who they are, what theyre becoming, and how the dynamics between them shift.
Jennifer: Do you have to be in a different mindset to write the In Death books than single titles/trilogies, etc?
Nora: Im in a different mind set with each and every book I write. No matter what the story is, I havent told this one before, in quite this way. Different people, different relationships, different conflicts. Im able, I tend to write the trilogies on after the other, so its sort of like one big book for me, with three parts. Again, if Im able, I tend to write the In Death books three in a row so I can stay in that worlds mindset.
Jennifer: The books follow one set of lead characters; does this ever get boring? Or is it more interesting to follow those characters in depth?
Nora: For me, just the opposite. Ive fallen hard for the characters in this series, and I really enjoy going back in and finding out whats going on this time. This little bits and pieces of their pasts, how that relates to their present, what itll mean for them in their future.
Jennifer: Readers of a series are often passionate about what they want/dont want to happen and express it. Therefore do you ever fell hindered by reader expectations?
Nora: I cant be-not when it comes to specifics. I respect reader expectations, when it comes to basic structure of the genre. I’m writing futuristic romantic suspense, with continuing characters. Reader expectation tells me I have to deliver a solid mystery, interesting, developing relationships, a fun and interesting backdrop. But it doesn’t tell me what I must do specifically with the characters or the plot. That’s my job.
I know some readers, having tender hearts, don’t want to believe – for instance – that Eve’s father was her real father. How could he have abused her so viciously if he was? Well, I’m always bursting their bubble with this one. He was her father, and the fact that she came from a monster, made herself into a strong, compassionate, dedicated woman is part of the miracle of human courage. I can’t demean or diminish what she’s made of herself by soothing the reader who’d prefer he’d kidnapped her or whatever as a child.
Jennifer: Do you ever feel hindered by something you wrote in previous book in the series? Or do you just change it and pray no one notices?
Nora: I don’t feel hindered, and I wouldn’t ever change anything purposely. It’s possible I’ve done so inadvertently, but that would be a mistake, not something I’d set out to do. I’ve created this world, made its rules, now I have to stick to them. It wouldn’t be fair to the readers, or to the characters, if I changed something that had happened just to make the current story flow in a specific direction. Instead, I’d have to use what happened and make the current story, and the ones that followed, work with it.
Jennifer: How far in advance do you map out this series? Do you already know how it will end? Or are you playing it by ear and seeing where Eve and Roarke take you?
Nora: I have no idea how it’ll end, or when. I don’t map out, particularly. I know pieces of what I think or hope will happen down the road, but I’m never sure when. It’s all what the story demands, each and every time.
Jennifer: Because the books are a continuing series, are story ideas/characters’ futures less firm than in say a trilogy with a clear ending?
Nora: It’s pretty fluid as I’m not wrapping things up within a finite time frame. Naturally, as Eve’s a homicide cop, there’s going to be a murder or murder which she’ll have to solve. Roarke will be involved in some fashion or we’d lose the core of the series – their relationship, their working together. Sub-characters will pop in and out, or stick around and play a more definite and bigger role, depending on the plot line. But within the structure, I’ve got a lot of room to play around.
Jennifer: There were several mystery series with a female lead in which the boyfriend/spouse bit the dust, should we ever worry about Roarke’s longevity? Do ever think about killing off a major secondary character?
Nora: Kill off Roarke? Bite your tongue! LOL. Absolutely no worries there. He’s as essential to the series as Eve. They’re a team. Would I kill of a major secondary character? Possibly, if the series needed that sort of direction.
Jennifer: Because you started out and still write romance does that have any affect on the direction of the series? (i.e. that at the end of each book Roarke and Eve are happily together or that secondary characters find successful relationships a la Peabody and McNab)
Nora: Absolutely. The romance element plays a major role in this series. I’m not going to run with what I feel is an old and cliched device of separating Eve and Roarke, then getting them back together in a subsequent book. They’re dedicated to making their marriage work, they’re wildly in love, and they’re stubborn. So you won’t see them going separate ways at the end of a book. Others, sub-characters, that’s up to the story.
Jennifer: When you get the dreaded “When will Eve have a baby” question why do you say that’ll be the end of the series? Is it because you think when Eve is ready for a family she’ll want to retire or take a desk job (or more likely Roarke will want her to settle down?) Or do you just think that would be a natural conclusion for the series some day?
Nora: It’s not just the baby thing, which is not an option at this time. Neither Eve nor Roarke are ready to be parents. It’s the baby thing, the can’t Peabody and McNab get married, the let’s fix up Nadine, find Eve’s mother, have her remember everything and so on and so on. In other words, let’s tie up everything in a bow, fix all the problems, make everyone happy and content. And when that happens, series over. Part of what drives the series is discovery, is those layers again. Once there’s nothing left to discover, no more layers to reveal, there’s nothing more to say.
Jennifer: What gave you the idea for the series? At the reading you did here in Denver you said Eve came first and then Roarke, so when you thought up Eve did you plan for her to be single longer or was the series always intended to involve following a couple past the “I do” stage of a relationship?
Nora: I never know where ideas come from. I remember thinking of doing a book about a female murder cop, in the future. Wondering what sort of things she’d have to deal with, what would the world be like. But I couldn’t figure it out then, nor did I know what to do with that sort of a story line. When both my publishers and my agent started asking me to take another name – I write fast and there are only so many slots – I resisted. I didn’t like the idea. But when I began to see the value of it, I remembered the idea, and said I’d take another name if I could do something a bit different under it. Then I got serious about figuring out Eve Dallas
I’d always intended to give her a central, vital, core romance. So there was Roarke. Little did I know how lucky both Eve and I were about to get.
Jennifer: What’s the best part about writing the In Death books?
Nora: The exploration. The fun in seeing these characters come back for me, time and again. Seeing them grow and change and become different parts of a whole. And the feedback from readers who let me know they’re just as hooked on the series as I am.
Time to Post to the Message Board
Here are the questions we’d like to have you consider this time:
The Road Less Traveled – Do you find that the books you like by certain authors aren’t the same books most other readers gravitate toward? Or are your tastes more or less unique to you?
How Many Strikes Before She’s Out? – Let’s revisit the number of “tries” you allot authors before they go on your “never buy” list, assuming you have such a list? Have you ever had the experience of finally discovering the joys of an author everyone else seems to adore, one whom you hadn’t enjoyed in the past? Please share that experience.
The World of the Arranged Marriage – For me, the will stipulation, the marriage of convenience, and the mail-order bride romance are all part of the larger grouping of “arranged marriages.” For others, it’s a matter of looking at the forces leading the marriage – if they are external than the marriage can be considered an “arranged” one; if not, then the marriage has not been “arranged.” What do you think?
The Bigger View – If we adopt the “forces leading to marriage” viewpoint, that either the couple marries because of outside forces or to achieve a non-romantic goal, how can we as readers truly find such books romantic and at all believable?
Desert Isle Keepers – Tell us how you utilize our Desert Isle Keeper feature, and how useful it is overall to you. Were you aware that a handful of authors had accumulated such a high number of DIK reviews? Had you visted our Did You Know? page before?
Buried Treasures and One-Hit Wonders – Who are some of the buried treasures you would like to see become shining stars? How do you define a buried treasure? Are there authors you fell in love with initially who you eventually realized were one-hit wonders? What do you most value about the Buried Treasure designation – is it the consistency of writing, or something else?
The Sequel – Why do you think so many romance novels have sequels? Do you enjoy them as a rule or do you wish there weren’t as many as there are? In which instances has a sequel been better than an earlier book? In which instances has a series petered out before it ended? What is your favorite romance series? What is your favorite non-romance series?
More on Romance Series – What is the best aspect of a series of related romances? What are the pitfalls you fear when reading a sequel to a favorite romance? How many series have you read that you felt had the right number of books? Which series were they, and why do you think they succeeded?
Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb on her In Death series – What struck you the most about Jennifer’s interview with Nora Roberts aka J.D. Robb about the fabulous success of her In Death series, still going strong for so many after 12 books?
In conjunction with Jennifer Schendel and Nora Roberts
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