At the Back Fence #145Dabney2017-06-23T08:29:56-04:00
At the Back Fence Issue #145
Treat yourself to the AAR Bookbag!
September 15, 2002
“Bits and Bobs”
Sorry if the above heading doesn’t make sense to you; I’ve become hooked on the BBC’s Changing Rooms and that’s a phrase I’ve been hearing in my head lately, English accent and all. Still can’t decide which designer I like best, but that’s another story.
Bits and Bobs means that there’s no one focus for this issue of ATBF. Instead, there are a number of topics that are on my mind, or were on your minds, as evidenced by recent message board discussions. Enjoy!
Young Adult Fiction (LLB)
Okay – I admit it. I’m odd. I like to play video games, I arrange “sloth days” and Gilligan’s Island marathons for my family, and when I was in the first grade I filled my little red wagon up with books I’d written and illustrated and sold them door to door to the neighbors. When I was in the fourth grade, I wanted to be Harriet the Spy. It wasn’t the spying that I loved, it was the writing in the notebook. For months after reading the book I carried a spiral notebook to school and wrote in it during recess. Beginning that summer, when we took our first sight-seeing family trip, I became the family historian. Several years later, when I started attending rock concerts, I took notes and turned them into programs for my friends. And when I was in graduate school I was in a dream group. My father was dying, I was just beginning my career, and I was newly married. For about three years I had frequent, intense, and bizarre dreams and filled journal after journal with them.
Obviously I’ve never stopped writing. Harriet the Spy remains a favorite book after all these years, although it wasn’t long after reading it that I read Gone With the Wind, and except for the the occasional children’s/young adult book, I made the transition to adult fiction early on. Some books that I read as a child/young adult I continue to re-read today, including including E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Margaret Sidney’s Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, Sidney Taylor’s All of a Kind Family series, Benedict and Nancy Freedman’s Mrs. Mike, Madye Lee Chastain’s Emmy Keeps a Promise, Iris Noble’s Megan, and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. My best friend read Little House on the Prairie in the fourth grade, but I’d never even heard of it and didn’t read it until I was in college and got hooked on the television show.
I think I read so many adult books so early on because after I read Gone With the Wind, my mother felt I was ready to move on. Since she didn’t know about YA books, she simply gave me access to what she was reading, which included books by Leon Uris, James Michener, and Irving Wallace, and a little later on even Jacqueline Susann, Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, and Judith Krantz. I read The Other Side of Midnight and Scruples along with My Darling, My Hamburger and The Pigman, but Sheldon’s and Krantz’s books were a whole lot more interesting and exciting. Why read The Outsiders again when there were Gail Parent’s Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York and David Meyer is a Mother?
Although my mom was a voracious reader, you can see from the authors above that she didn’t read classical literature or literary fiction, and since I read what she read, I didn’t either, unless it was assigned in school. It wasn’t until I went to college that I started to read a lot of literary fiction, and it wasn’t until I had a daughter that I became familiar with much of children’s/young adult fiction.
Here’s another way I think I’m odd: I now like to read many of the books my daughter reads. Many of the books are good and/or fun to read, but it’s also a very good way to bond (which is also why I listen to the music she likes, even if it drives me crazy). I fell in love with Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy/Tacy books while reading the first several aloud to my daughter when she was in kindergarten. She ended up reading and rereading the entire series. She still rereads them to this day, even though they’ve all fallen apart. Though she was a good reader by the time she was in the first grade, she didn’t truly fall in love with reading until after the second grade, when she devoured all four Harry Potter books in the week after the fourth book in the series was released in the U.S. I fell in love with Harry Potter at the same time. She read Caroline Cooney’s The Face on the Milk Carton this summer; I read all four Janie books at the same time. And after we met Meg Cabot (aka Patricia Cabot) at a booksigning this summer and she read Princess in Love, so did I. I wanted to borrow Louise Rennison’s Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, but she read it so often this summer (and hasn’t quite mastered the art of bathtub reading) that it too has fallen apart – I just may treat myself to a new copy.
It didn’t always work this way; many of the books my daughter had an interest in didn’t interest me. Many of her earlier favorites were fantasy novels by authors like Diane Duanne, Eva Ibbotson, and Christopher Pike (his semi-SF books), and YA horror novels by R.L. Stine (not the Goosebumps, though – she thought they were silly). All that began to change last summer when Meg Cabot sent her a signed copy of The Princess Diaries. Later she sent some of her Jenny Carroll books and the second “princess” book – Princess in the Spotlight, and then more of her Jenny Carroll books. That’s when my daughter began to be less parochial in her reading and more willing to read a greater variety of books. The books she’s liked recently are Princess in Love, All-American Girl, and Full Frontal Snogging. She says these books are sassy and have attitude; I like to call them “chick lit for teens.”
YA fiction has changed over the years from the Beverly Cleary books of my childhood; when the change began is difficult to say since my own experience was so limited. Many of our younger staff read a lot of YA fiction/romance as they grew up in the 1980’s. Most of our older staff simply went from reading children’s books to adult books because there wasn’t specifically a YA genre when they were growing up. Some of us grew up in between these two groups – myself included – and found that though our friends may have been reading YA books, we simply skipped them along our way to becoming readers of adult fiction.
That said, however, I was a teenager when Judy Blume’s Forever was released and I did read it. It was certainly different than any other book for teens I’d ever read. Unlike The Outsiders, it had characters I could relate to. And unlike some of the other YA fiction I did read, it wasn’t morose and “message-y.” Blume recalls her daughter asking her to write a book about “two nice kids who have sex without either of them having to die.” Obviously I’m not ready for my 10-year-old to be reading this one quite yet, but it’s certainly different from the YA books Robin Uncapher recalls from her formative years, which she says were “kind of like beach movies in book form.”
The children’s section in bookstores has grown over the years. I like to draw a TV parallel. Until high school, TV meant three broadcast networks, a few UHF stations, and PBS. Kid’s shows were limited to mornings or weekday afternoons after school on the lesser stations. At night when the family watched television, it may have been Batman or Gilligan’s Island, both of which appealed to younger audiences, or, when I was older, The Carol Burnett Show or Sonny & Cher. Regardless, there were no prime time shows solely for kids. Compare that with today and the existence of entire cable networks only for kids. We prefer Disney channel shows in our house to those on Nickelodeon because the latter have a bit too much attitude and an “aren’t parents retarded?” sensibility.
Before I get off on a rant about that, I’ll rein myself in and get to the point: kids/teens are a huge market for goods and services and these days are treated as a more autonomous group than in the past – there was no Limited 2 when I grew up, after all. And so you walk into a bookstore and see row after row of crappy books based on television shows. But you also see the Harry Potter and Lemony Snickett books, and along with Ramona and Beezus, the Judy Blume and Paula Danziger books that made great bridges for Meg Cabot/Jenny Carroll and Louise Rennison to cross.
As the market for YA fiction expanded beginning in the 1980’s, it began to be serialized; an example of this would be the Sweet Valley High series, which you’ll find near the Animorphs and Mary Kate and Ashley books. My impression from seeing books like this at the bookstore is that they are generic and along the lines – in terms of quality – of the Babysitter’s Little Sister and Babysitter’s Club books my daughter read in the first and second grades. When I was able to convince her to try some books outside of the Little Sisters series, she was amazed at the difference in quality. She didn’t have to skip the second chapter any more because unlike all the Little Sister books, the second chapters in these other books were all different!
A recent thread on our Reader to Reader Message Board about teen romances focused on the Sweet Valley High series (even though, according to our own Rachel Potter, who is a Children’s/YA Librarian, they’re more high school soap opera than true romances) and the Sunfire historical romances, which AAR’s own Blythe and Andrea read in their youth. An article in the online journal ALAN (assembly on literature for young adults) in 1995 called the Sweet Valley High series “a very popular, but vapid high school series.” In contrast, the ALAN article deemed the Sunfire line a “truly excellent set of romances.” Unfortunately, they didn’t sell as well, were not as financially lucrative, and the line didn’t last as long. As for Sweet Valley High, these novels sold so well that the line expanded into several additional series’ – there’s Sweet Valley Jr. High, Sweet Valley University, and Sweet Valley Thrillers, among others.
Both Andrea and Blythe reminisced about the YA reading of their youth:
I’ve always been a bookworm, and many of my fondest memories are treasured books. Over the last few years, I’ve begun a quest to find some of my old favorites that I enjoyed as a pre-teen and teenager. I grab them wherever I find them, and several are now residing on my shelf. There are Sweet Dreams and Wildfire books as well as series books like Cheerleaders, Couples, Sweet Valley High (I disagree that these are not romances. They may have evolved into something resembling a soap opera, but they started off romantic in nature, at least to my 12-year-old sensibilities.), and Sorority Girls. These sweet love stories made me feel good when I read them, and I gravitated toward ones that had heroines similar to me: shy, smart girls who admired the cute, popular boys from afar but eventually wound up with them.
The theme I see most among my favorites is that they are stories that I wished would happen to me while I was in junior high and high school. Several feature the makeover theme: self-perceived ugly duckling undergoes makeover and becomes pretty and self-confident, attracting the attention of the boy she’s always liked (and who often already liked her back just the way she was). Three stand-outs are Smart Girl by Sandy Miller, The Best of Friends by Jill Ross Klevin, andSeven Days to a Brand New Me by Ellen Conford.
Others were more fantastic in nature, such as Secret Identity, a Sweet Dreams title where the heroine unknowingly falls in love with a rock star hiding out incognito for the summer. Or Little Sister, another Sweet Dreams title where the “ugly duckling” little sister wins the boy she likes and ends up being discovered as a potential model.
And then there are the Sunfires (favorites: Victoria, Kathleen, Marilee, Cassie, Roxanne and Jessica) and other historical YA books like Defiant Dreams by Cheri Michaels, part of the Dawn of Love series. These were my first introduction to historical romances.
I used to look at the YA section with books by R.L. Stine (and other horror-ish writers) and wondered why there weren’t any YA romance series anymore or something for girls to read that wasn’t horror or Sweet Valley High or Animorphs. I’m glad to see in recent years to see more variety on the shelves. YA books helped develop my love of reading, and more variety can only help more teens discover a love of books.
I still remember the first time I picked up a Sunfire romance. I was shopping with my mom, and had ducked into the bookstore while she was somewhere else. I had just finished junior high and was headed to high school, and I had pretty much given up on Sweet Valley High, Silhouette First Love, Sweet Dreams, and Wildfire. I was ready for something different, but I didn’t know what – until I saw them. There in the postage stamp sized YA section were some big books, with romance and history. At the time there were four, and I wanted them all. Like most fourteen year olds, I was broke, and unfortunately shopping with the non-bookie parent, but I talked her into loaning me three dollars. I ended up choosing Susannah, a Civil War romance with a southern heroine choosing between a fiancé who was fighting for the Confederacy, and a dashing Yankee from Pennsylvania (I was about ten years away from reading Heather Graham at this point, so this was a completely novel plot to me).
I devoured Susannah, and it set me off on two gloms. The first was of Civil War books in general. I read every one I could get my hands on, from Gone with the Wind to The Red Badge of Courage. I discovered another favorite this way – Eugenia Price. I even read all the non-fiction I could find, and subscribed to Civil War Times Illustrated.
The second glom was of the Sunfires. They released one a month, and I haunted bookstores looking for them. Every one featured a strong young woman, always sixteen and generally choosing between two options in love, both pictured on the cover standing to either side of her. The settings ran the gamut, and none of them were repeated. Sunfires covered everything from the cotton mills in nineteenth century Massachusetts to seventeenth century Jamestown to 1941 Pearl Harbor.
While some were better than others, they were all well-researched. I think there was a certain sense of responsibility at work; the authors and publishers were gearing these book for teenage girls, and they wanted to get the history right. While I went on to get my degree in history (with all of the reading that implies), I have never forgotten some of the things I learned from Sunfires, and to this day I credit my 5 on the AP US History test to my fabulous essay – largely drawn from information learned in Kathleen, the Sunfire about the Irish immigrant girl in Boston. Although the line is now defunct, you can still find Sunfires on the Internet. If you’d like to try one, here are my personal favorites:
Susannah – My first was also one of my favorites, featuring a young woman in Winchester, Virginia – a city that changed hands several times during the Civil War.
Amanda – this book, which started me on a life-long love affair with wagon train romances, takes place on the Oregon Trail.
Marilee – set in Jamestown in the seventeenth century, with a heroine who falls in love with her brother’s indentured servant. It’s very realistic, right down to the food, illness, and violence.
Jessica – set in Kansas in the 1880’s, and written with humor and insight. One of the rivals for Jessica’s affections is a Native American, and the resolution of the plot is a lot more realistic than the Indian romances we see today.
Sabrina – set in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War, with a heroine who works in her uncle’s apothecary. When I saw The Patriot I leaned over to my husband in the theater and whispered the Mel Gibson’s character was clearly based on Francis Marion, the “Swamp Fox.” He’s a footnote in most college history texts, but I knew his name from Sabrina.
I would still consider many of these books good reading today, and I still have them all – just waiting for my daughter, who fortunately appears to have inherited my yen for historical fiction.
The Sunfire series was a definite influence upon Abigail McAden, the editor who developed Avon’s new True Romance line of YA historical romances. Of the three books we’ve reviewed in the line so far, two received good grades (Lorraine Heath’s Samantha and the Cowboy and Meg Cabot’s Nicola and the Viscount). Other authors to contribute to this line are other established adult romance authors including Beverly Jenkins and newer author Kathryn Smith, who used to review for AAR as Kate Smith. I knew from earlier conversations with Avon Executive Editor (for romance) Carrie Feron that Avon was actively seeking ways to pull younger audiences into the romance fold, so I thought I’d ask her about the line. She sent me on to Abby McAden, who created the line. I conducted interviews with McAden, Heath, Cabot, and Smith and would like to share them with you. One note – I was actually able to contact the authors before getting in touch with McAden, which means that some of the questions I asked her were based on answers I’d gotten from the authors. But I’m presenting the Q&A with McAden first, as the True Romance line was her creation.
How did the idea for the True Romance line come up, and if you are still in the children’s side or if this is a sort of bridge to the adult romance line?
I got the idea to do this line of books when Avon was still Avon. Avon Books and William Morrow were both owned by the Hearst Corporation, and I worked on the books for young readers that Avon published, so I was an everyday spectator to what my romance editor colleagues were up to. HarperCollins bought Avon and Morrow in 1999, and my department was – appropriately – integrated into the Harper Children’s Division, and Avon was integrated into the larger adult trade arm. However, we still publish our more commercial books for teens under the Avon imprint. All this to explain why it seems so separate, and how the Harper/Avon thing fits together. We’re in different buildings now, but whether for teens or adults, Avon still means commercial fiction, and most specifically, romance.
Are you a romance reader, and if so, what is your romance reading background? Have you ever been in the publishing side of romance?
I’ve been a romance reader since I was about 12, when I stole The Flame and the Flower from my mom. I loved reading both adult and young adult romances when I was a teenager – Scholastic had this series called Sunfire that I devoured. They were all historicals and set in the U.S., and the titles were girls’ names: Sabrina,Kathleen, and Emily. You get the picture. I also worked my way through the works of Kathleen Woodiwiss, Jude Deveraux, and Dorothy Garlock. My mom used to go to the library and just grab a pile from the romance shelves that we’d sort through for a week or two. Then back to the library for a fresh batch. When we knew we liked an author we’d actually go to the bookstore and buy the latest.
Other than the True Romances, I’ve done a number of other romance books or series, all for teens. Between those previous books, all the romance reading I’ve done, and my close observation of (read: spying on) my extraordinary adult romance colleagues at Avon, I kind of have a feel for it.
What besides the age of the lead characters is really different between the books and a “sweet” romance for adults? One of your authors says that the books should be exactly like her adult books except with younger protagonists and no sex. Another says: “Our characters are supposed to have these “feelings” and not really understand them as their adult counterparts would. This is all about first romance and unlike an adult story, there doesn’t always have to be the feeling that the hero and heroine will be together forever”.
When I think of sweet romances for adults, I think of sweet, gentle stories where there’s a lot of caressing and tenderness and lovemaking. As opposed to fiery, defiant heroines and badass heroes and all kinds of “I hate you! But why can’t I stop kissing you???” bed-rattling stuff in spicy adult romances. Yes, the characters in the True Romances don’t consummate their relationship during the story, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t all kinds of conflict and sexual tension. Whether they’re sweet or spicy varies from title to title – we signed up authors of adult romance who’ve already established their own individual styles, so I wasn’t about to ask Meg to write a dark, serious book or Beverly Jenkins to write a rollicking, lighthearted story with no mention of race. And honestly, I disagree with the assessment that characters in adult books understand their feelings any better than the younger characters here do (else the fun of reading about them sorting it all out would be…gone), and there is an assumption that these couples will all end up together – that’s part of the magic of being able to put the book down and sigh with satisfaction.
What do you make about adult women also reading the books and/or sharing them w/their daughters? How did you approach authors who have only written for adults to write for a younger audience? How do you define the line?
I’m thrilled that adults are also reading them! I would be, if someone else was publishing them! I’m all for fun sex in adult romances, but as a reader, the fun for me is getting to know the characters and watching them get over whatever internal and/or external obstacles in their way and fall in love. I love romances, and I’m happy to be publishing books other romance readers can share with their daughters without having to worry about age-inappropriate material.
I approached adult Avon authors to write these first, mainly because they were more of known quantity and it would be easier to cross-promote these books with their adult titles. As word got out that we were doing these books, I did sign May McGoldrick and Elaine Barbieri as well, and I signed Meg Cabot to do two. Though she’d written several adult romances at that point, she wasn’t an Avon adult author yet. We did have that whole Princess Diaries thing going, though.
Let’s talk some more about Meg Cabot. When she first brought the idea for the Princess series to you, how was it presented, and how did you see it panning out? I know she’s writing the Jenny Carroll books for Pocket; did you try to buy them as well?
Meg’s agent, Laura Langlie, really only handled adult projects at that point, so when Meggin handed her The Princess Diaries, she sent it to a number of publishers at once. I loved it, so I bought it for hardcover publication. While I am thrilled at the overwhelming success it and the sequels have had, I can’t say I’m surprised. I knew girls would just eat it up, and the movie being made of it was wonderful – it really put the books over the top. I need to qualify this by saying that I am more often surprised when books don’t make it – often there are books I think readers would adore, if only they found out about it. Luckily for us, people found out about Meg and her books.
Right after I was sent The Princess Diaries, Laura also sent me the first Mediator book. I read it, and while it only made me more eager to work with Meg, I passed on it because I didn’t think we’d be able to publish it well. Right around that time the YA paperback market was beginning to soften, and the only really successful books were those by well-established authors like Francine Pascal or movie/TV-related novelizations, like the Buffy books. But you never know what’s going to happen, because I did end up with the Mediator after all – we’re publishing a hardcover about her called Haunted: A Tale of the Mediator in January. It’s a standalone novel, but it functions as book five in the series. We worked really hard so that old fans wouldn’t be bored or frustrated, and new fans wouldn’t be utterly bewildered. We’re also publishing it under Meg’s real name because accounts are much more receptive to books from authors with excellent track records, and the Princess books have done the best for her.
It seems to me that there’s been an opening up in the YA fiction market for irreverent books. My daughter adores Meg’s books and has read Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging until it’s literally fallen apart. Am I noticing a true change in this market or has it been there and I’ve only now come into contact with it because my daughter is ten and has been reading like a fiend since she was eight and discovered Harry Potter?
There really has been a change in the market. A number of books all kind of landed at the same time and all found a great deal of success, making it clear that it wasn’t just about junior Bridget Joneses or princesses or whatever. I don’t think it’s just irreverent books, either. Anne Brashares’ The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is pretty earnest, and Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl has a real message, and I would include those two in this batch of hot novels for teens.
I just think there’s a real market for what amounts to women’s fiction and chick lit for teens – both Angus and Princess have had a couple of sequels published, and each has been more successful than the last. There’s something more accessible about all these books, yet it doesn’t mean they’re devoid of depth or meaning. At all. It’s all just served up in an enjoyable, engrossing read with a fabulous cover. Never underestimate the power of a good cover. Never. The nice thing is that all these books deliver after seducing you with their bright colors and cool cover /wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages. I couldn’t be happier that this kind of book is popular, too. I love working on them, and I’ve been able to buy a bunch more. Catherine Clark has written a couple already (Truth or Dairy, Wurst Case Scenario), but with her next one, Frozen Rodeo, we’re really looking to break her out. Figure skating + bad summer job + a cute IHOP waiter + summer school French = hilarity at the hands of Cathy.
Not long ago I read an article on literacy in Book magazine. The premise of the piece is that while the vast majority of kids have basic literacy, many kids aren’t literate at higher levels; they are able to read material, but don’t understand it at a complex level. Apparently fewer kids are reading books for pleasure (as opposed to magazines, email, web pages, and video games with lots of text). Not only are they reading less traditionally, but the argument goes that whileHarry Potter or Judy Blume can keep kids engaged and turning pages, “it can also push back the day when kids turn to the kind of serious, adult reading that has always played an important role in teaching kids about complex language, shifting points of view and the like.” The article went on to say: “Whereas a generation or two ago, the adult classics were a familiar part of childhood, today an explosion of titles is aimed specifically at young readers. In 1950 fewer than a thousand juvenile titles were published. In 1999 there were 9,438 – and young adult books are an increasingly important part of juvenile publishing.” What do you say to that?
I don’t think that reading literary fiction alone is going to cause a kid to be better at reading/understanding/analyzing books; I think those are skills that are taught. I was an early reader, and I read big, fat adult books long before I probably ought to have been reading them. Not so much because there was upsetting or inappropriate material in them, just because I lacked the skills to really digest what I was reading. In seventh grade, my English teacher had us read The Witch of Blackbird Pond (which is a total romance, by the way), and he really pulled it apart for us and used it to illustrate concepts such as theme and foreshadowing and patterns (there are a lot of sets of three in that book!). It was wonderful, and it’s wasn’t something I would have come to on my own. I would have put it down and said, “Well that was a good book! What’s next?” Well, I did say that, but still. It meant I was more open to seeing whatever multilayered themes or what have you the next book I read might have had.
I think there’s great concern in general for what kids are taking in these days. Everybody cites statistics of kids who watch a ton of TV and how they turn out to be psychopaths, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that a kid watching a million hours of unregulated television a day denotes a deeper problem in the household (and more of a cause for future psychopath behavior), plus they’re not being taught to think critically about what they’re viewing. I don’t think the answer is to throw all the TV sets out the window and devise new tofu recipes for entertainment instead. I do think it’s important to communicate with kids and discuss what they’re watching with them, and how unrealistic/sexist/disturbing it might be. Loathe as I am to sour anyone’s enjoyment of a good Jay-Z video, scantily-clad women having liquor sloshed on them certainly presents an opportunity for an interesting conversation.
All that to say that I think understanding and analyzing books/TV/billboard advertisements are skills that need to be taught, and if kids don’t have these skills it’s not because they’ve spent their time reading comic books, trashy romances, and watching MTV. It’s because they haven’t been taught to think critically about what’s before them.
Next up, my round-table discussion with Meg Cabot, Kathryn Smith, and Lorraine Heath.
I know Avon is looking for ways to skew their romance reading audience younger. Is that the impetus behind the True Romance line?
Abby McAden, who thought up and pushed for the Avon True Romance line, is the editor who bought my first YA book – The Princess Diaries (after it was turned down by around 10 other editors). She is a big romance fan and as a kid read Sunfire YA historicals. She wanted to start a similar line of historical romances, but using established adult authors. The idea was that girls would start with the authors’ YA books and when they were old enough move on to the adult books.
It was my understanding that the line was seen as a way to fill a niche since at the time; there were no historical romances geared toward the younger audience. That said, I think everyone – publishers, authors, RWA – is always searching for ways to increase the romance audience, and tapping into a younger audience is one way to do that. Certainly, I hope that readers of my YA books will stay with me when they’re ready to branch into adult novels, but my goal in writing the young adult novels is to provide a fun read for a fun audience.
The line came about when Abby McAden at Harper Children’s brought it to the attention of the powers that be that most women read their first romance by age 12. She knew there was a market there. I first spoke to Abby about writing one of these books about two years ago.
How were you approached to write for the line?
My agent knew that I had an interest in writing young adult romances. She heard about the line and called to see if I wanted to submit a proposal. I did, and happily for me, the editors at HarperCollins Children’s were interested in the story.
I first heard about it through a past editor of mine at Avon. She knew I was looking for something to fill in time between adult books and suggested I talk to Abby. I wrote a proposal and Abby bought it.
What besides the age of the lead characters is really different between the books and a “sweet” romance for adults?
I was delighted to be asked to write for the line, because I was able to combine two loves of mine, historicals and YA’s. The instructions I was given were that the books should be exactly like my adult books – not “dumbed down for the kids” in other words – except with younger protagonists and kissing only, no sex. So that is how I wrote my own two contributions to the line, Nicola and the Viscount and Victoria and the Rogue.
I think the young adult novels carry more innocence. Because the characters are so young, they are only just becoming aware of attraction for the opposite sex. Their internal thoughts are more along the lines of what will that first kiss be like? In a sweet adult romance, even if there is no actual on-scene sex, it can be alluded to or perhaps thought about. In the Avon True Romances, we aren’t allowed to allude to sex. In a sweet adult romance, the attraction can be immediate and hot. In the young adult it’s blossoming. It’s difficult to explain since I don’t write sweet adult novels, but I see the difference as being depth of awareness. Young adult novels are about falling in love for the first time. Adult novels, even when a character is falling in love for the first time, are about finding a soul mate and a love that will last forever.
Our characters are supposed to have these “feelings” and not really understand them as their adult counterparts would. This is all about first romance and unlike an adult story, there doesn’t always have to be the feeling that the hero and heroine will be together forever.
What do you make about adult women also reading the books and/or sharing them with their daughters? How were you approached to write for the line? Had you read YA books/romances while growing up or in recent years? What were some of the youth-oriented books you read growing up that you loved?
I think it’s wonderful that adult women are reading the books. I especially love when they share them with their daughters. I recently received a letter from a reader letting me know that 3 generations of women in her family were reading my novels – she’d just brought her granddaughter into the fold.
I think it’s great! A love of romance is a wonderful thing for mothers and daughters to share. Plus it shows that mothers are interested in what their kids are reading. Maybe mom will buy our adult books too.
Did you read YA books/romances while growing up or in recent years? What were some of the youth-oriented books you read growing up that you loved?
As embarrassing as it is, I have to admit that I wasn’t much of a reader until around 1990 when I picked up LaVyrle Spencer’s Morning Glory. Then I got hooked on romance and reading. So as a young person, I didn’t read YA books except for a few Nancy Drew. I read stories where the main character was a dog or a horse…I loved animal stories.
I did start reading young adult a few years ago because I thought it was a market I wanted to write for, and I think reading the actual books is more helpful than reading “how-to” books. Part of what prompted me to want to write young adult was the many letters that I receive from young girls who are reading my adult books. I wanted to provide stories that didn’t contain as much adult content (Language, sex, issues). I also thought it would be really neat if a mother and daughter could read books by the same author, but written at a different level for each person. I read the Love Stories series when it was available. I read Roswell High (Melinda Metz who writes the series was my first editor, actually). And of course, now, I’m reading all the Avon True Romances.
I read a lot of YA’s when I was younger. The Sweet Valley High series was a favorite. Recently I’ve read The Princess Diaries and Terry Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice an his Educated Rodents.
Finally, I’ve been reading a lot of YA fiction/romance lately because my daughter is a big reader. On the one hand, I think it’s great to have books that kids want to read. On the other hand, I wonder if literary fiction is going to be all the more difficult to interest them because it pales in comparison. Any comments there?
As far as “spoiling kids for literary fiction” goes, I remember that when I was your daughter’s age, I devoured Judy Blume…but I read Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen with equal pleasure after I’d burned through all of JB’s stuff. I think if kids are readers, they are going to read whatever they can get their hands on. I used to babysit for a kid who read nothing but Sweet Valley High. Her mother, a college professor, despaired of her. Well, that kid just got her PhD from Princeton and has a tenure track position teaching Children’s Lit. So my take on the whole “junk vs. literature” thing is: chill out. So long as your kid is reading, who cares whether it’s comic books or Kierkegaard? Your kid is reading!. (FYI, I went through a period of reading nothing but Spiderman when I was 12, and I think I turned out all right!)
I think any story that interests younger readers and draws them into books is a wonderful accomplishment. I believe if people are avid readers, they will eventually get around to reading the classics. The first step is helping to make someone an avid reader.
I think a good book is a good book. Jane Austen isn’t less interesting because she’s now considered “literature.” Kids reading is the main issue. We want our kids to enjoy reading. If it takes a True Romance to get them interested, I don’t see anything wrong with that. Maybe Anna and the Duke or Nicola and the Viscount will get them interested in Jane Austen because of the time period, or maybe because of Beverly Jenkins’s Belle and the Beau they’ll want to learn more about the Underground Railroad. That said, I do agree with parents monitoring their kids books and TV. I may be biased but I think a book that promotes healthy relationships and girls with backbone is much more useful than one that promotes violence or rebelling against one’s parents.
A New Way to Look at Something (LLB)
How many times have you heard the following question (or asked it yourself): “Why did this author stop writing historical romances and start writing contemporaries?” When the latest Pandora’s Box hit my in-box, I noticed that it was a contemporary romance by an author who had always written historicals in the past – Stef Ann Holm. Since she’s been a long-time visitor to AAR, I asked her why the move from Americana to contemporary? Her answer was something I’d never before considered, and seems a very valid response that you may never have considered either. Here’s what she had to say.
The Age of a Romance Author (Stef Ann Holm)
I sold my first book when I was 28 and all of my books have had young heroines in them because they’ve all been historicals. I mean, it’s really hard to write about a woman in the 1870’s or 1900 who’s 40. The reality check is a “I don’t think so” on women older than say . . . 25 or maybe 30 in a historical. You can do it once and get away with it, but the credibility factor – hard to keep up.
Im 44 now and I can write a believable historical heroine whos in her twenties. But I have to admit, the older I get, the more difficult it’s become for me to relate to younger women’s points of views. I mean, seriously – I’ve tried wearing frosted lipstick, glitter nail polish and a toe ring. It didnt work out for me. But on the flip-side, I dont wear a caftan or rat my hair into a helmet of hair spray.
So while I’ve aged, the historical heroines have had to keep that fresh innocent appeal and stay in their 20s. I’ve totally loved writing the 21 year old spinster and I will continue to enjoy her. But for now, I wanted to sink my teeth into a woman who’s older and the contemporary format was just the ticket. I had the right idea at the right time and I went for it in Girls Night. It was a good change as I enter into the change of life.
But I’ll be back to the historicals. You can’t keep me away from a rugged saloon owner, marshal or bounty hunter – or the desire to be twenty again!
Stef’s answer surprised me, but when I read a thread on our Potpourri MB about the age of heroines, I thought the timing couldn’t be more perfect. And when I think back to my discussions with Carrie Feron, it all sort of came together.
The thread on the message board posed this question: Why are most contemporary romance heroines between the ages of 24 to 32? Many of those who answered the question believe that the publishers are relying on bad market research and that they would prefer to see older heroines. Certainly it’s true that publishers are trying to skew a younger audience, and at least one reader in her twenties said she wouldn’t want to read many romances with heroines over 35.
I’m now a “forever 39” romance reader who likes that most romance heroines are younger than 35. It’s true that I enjoy the occasional older heroine, but for me, romance is fantasy. I want to read about something that isn’t my life or the life of my peers, which means I’d rather not have a steady diet of heroines juggling jobs, kids, and day care, divorced heroines, or heroines with 20+ years of adult baggage weighing them down.
Some romances I’ve enjoyed do feature older heroines, including books by Ruth Wind/Barbara Samuel and Susan Grant, to name a couple that quickly came to mind, but I don’t want a steady diet of them. Just as a 25-year-old reader may not relate to a 40-year-old heroine, I can relate…but would rather not. But I don’t mind older heroines in Women’s Fiction, where the focus is not solely on romance…could this be the reason some well-respected historical authors moved on to Women’s Fiction as well?
Romantic Movies (LLB)
Since you already know about my admittedly odd formative years, here’s another tidbit: Right before my senior year in high school, I saw the Italian film Swept Away… by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (directed to Lina Wertmüller and starring Giancarlo Giannini) on cable. It was about the sexiest thing I’d ever seen, and my best boy friend and I used to act out on the swim floats in my pool scenes. If you can imagine two hormone-addled teens fighting against those hormones while screaming “Beech” and “Peeg” at each other in Italian accents, you’ll have an accurate picture.
I shudder to think what the remake of this movie will be like, and don’t know if I’ll want to see Guy Ritchie’s version, starring Madonna and the son of Giancarlo Giannini. But my memories of the original bring to mind other wonderfully sexy scenes. One comes early on in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, based on the Milas Kundera novel and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche, and Lena Olin. Day-Lewis plays Tomas, a young Czech doctor living in Prague and involved in a sexual relationship with Olin’s character, a sophisticated artist. He meets Tereza, Binoche’s character, while waiting at the train station in the country. Although they spend little time together before he returns to the city, the provincial Tereza turns up at his apartment one day. Tomas is eating an apple when there is a knock on his door, and when he opens it, she quite literally jumps his bones. I love this movie, even though in no way is it an easy movie to watch given that the Russian invasion of Prague is at its center, but this particular scene is just about the most erotic I’ve ever seen.
There’s one other scene I’ll never forget, and it’s unforgettable for AAR Reviewer Sandy Coleman as well. Another scene I’ll never forget is one you might remember as well; the movie and the scene were talked about endlessly after the film opened.
Just What Is It About That Scene? (Sandy Coleman)
The abundance of movie quotes in Jennifer Crusie’s Faking It and some pretty lively discussions about films lately among AAR staff got me thinking about movies, romance, and why those of us who love the genre are so often disappointed by Hollywood.
Of course, there have been some tremendously romantic films. But, when it comes to love scenes, great ones – especially those designed to appeal to women – are few and far between. But, with that said, there is a Gold Standard, a scene so real, so romantic, and so deliciously stimulating that, for my money, all others pale in comparison. It’s far from graphic and the act itself isn’t even completed, but Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin in director Jim McBride’s1986 film The Big Easy generate an incredible amount of heat that only improves every time I see it.
There are some things that just shouldn’t be over analyzed and what makes this scene so appealing is probably one of them, but I do think there are a few key elements that really make it special. First, I’m pretty sure that Quaid and Barkin must have liked each other. Oh, yeah. But I also think that the scene’s appeal has a lot to do with the fact that it is a perfect good-girl-takes-down-bad-boy scenario and, even more impressively, it actually dares to explore the idea that smart women (who, let’s face it, often have a tendency to live way too much inside their heads) can be a bit sexually inept. And for any woman who has ever lacked sexual confidence, especially when it comes to holding her own with a man who oozes charm and experience, the scene is an incredibly empowering one.
Patiently and lovingly bad boy cop Remy McSwain (Quaid) shows uptight Assistant District Attorney Anne Osborne (Barkin) just how sexual a being she can be – a discovery that, not surprisingly, clearly delights her. And while the ways he does that are best seen and not written about, one of my favorite moments occurs when the two burst into laughter. For some reason, that just slays me. I will, though, give you a small taste of the flavor of the scene:
“I can’t do this. I’m too nervous. I can’t relax,” a clearly aroused Anne Osborne pulls away. She turns back to the bed and tells the disappointed Remy: “I’m very embarrassed.”Remy’s reply couldn’t be better. “Oh, no don’t be embarrassed cher. Just relax. This is the Big easy. Folks have a certain way of doing things down here.”
“I noticed.” As Remy’s talented fingers start working their magic, “Stop that.”
“That or that?”
Now, I ask you, what would you do?
And, while I won’t give it away, I will say that Quaid’s immortal exit line at the end of the scene takes me (and just about any woman who’s ever seen it) out each and every time.
If you haven’t seen The Big Easy treat yourself right away. If you have, watch it again. As for me, I find myself agreeing with Jennifer Crusie who wrote in Welcome To Temptation:
“What’s the only thing wrong with the love scene in The Big Easy?”” It’s too short.”
Time to Post to the Message Board
Here are the questions we’d like to have you consider this time:
When Did You Become a Bookie? – At what point in your romance reading history did you fall in love with books? What was the first book you loved, and were you surprised to fall in love with a book?
The Books You Read Before – When you recall the books you read as a pre-teen and teen, were they YA books or did you (mostly) segue straight from children’s books to adult reading? When were you a pre-teen or teen, and do you think that made any difference in your answer? What was the first adult book you read?
An Order of Chill Pills to Go Around, Please – Have you ever found yourself getting upset at a poster who didn’t like your favorite author? How did you handle this? If you ended up posting, did you later regret it? Conversely, have you ever found yourself surprised by how vehement fans are in protecting their favorite authors? Have you ever posted in a thread defending another’s right to criticize an author, only to regret it?
Reminiscing – There could be a danger with all authors being tarred with the same brush. Not all author promos are created the same. Have you ever seen readers get angry about a particular author because they believed she was “overpromoting” herself – and yet you believed that author kept a rather low profile or exhibited “good” online behavior?
Mother to Mother – Is sharing your love of reading a way to bond with your children? Have you shared certain books with your children and/or read any of your children’s favorite books because of their recommendations? If you have read some of your children’s favorites based on their recommendations, what was that experience like, and were you surprised to find the book(s) so good?
Would You Read These Books Now? – We’ve now reviewed three Avon True Romance YA historical romances, and two of the three received good grades. Would you consider reading one of these books? Would your answer change if you had a pre-teen or teenage daughter?
Help Us Create A Special Title Listing – We plan to create a new Special Title Listing of YA books. Please share titles and authors of your favorites, and the favorites of your teens/pre-teens, along with any information you’d care to provide.
The Age of Heroines – The Age of Authors – Were you as surprised as we were to learn that one reason authors may move from writing historicals to contemporaries is because, as they age, it’s harder and harder for them to write about young heroines? Does that change how you feel about authors who have made the move?
Older or Younger? – Some readers express dissatisfaction with heroines generally being between the ages of 24 and 32; certainly fewer are in their late thirties and fewer still are 40+. If you are younger than 30, is there a “cut-off” age for a heroine beyond which you’d rather not read? If you are in your 30’s or 40’s, would you prefer to read about heroines your own age? If you are 50+, what about you? Do you miss the fact that the heroines and heroes in the romances you’re reading are far younger than you? Do you find it difficult to read a romance featuring a heroine under 25? Is it all all-or-nothing thing for any age group or is it simply greater variety of ages you crave?
Isn’t It Romantic…& Sexy? – Help us create a list of romantic and/or sexy movies. Or, if there are scenes like the ones Sandy and I shared that you recall (with or without deep blushing), please share them here!
Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board