Saturday, February 03, 2007

Romantic Kind of Guy

Who's hotter? Me or Fabio----->

I am currently researching romance writing. I went to the library and asked for what women between twenty and thirty might be reading. The librarian gave me a look. I wanted to respond: "Well, I've kept her chained so long that I thought I would provide her with some entertainment besides the tazer."

I took out three books, one old one by Janet Evanovich called "Woman Overboard", something by Nora Roberts "Blue Dahlia", and a third by the woman who wrote "Princess Diaries". I am currently halfway through "Woman Overboard" and I don't understand how this woman got published. That's not a comment about the genre, but about the woman's writing. No character development, simplistic sentences that wear you out, plot action that comes from nowhere. I find myself rolling my eyes a lot.

Janet, if you read this, I'm not saying you haven't improved as a writer (I haven't read your later work) but as an editor I would have sent you back to the drawing board.

One of my coworkers, a gym teacher with a shaved head, nodded at the desk. "What the hell is that? Tell me that's not your's."

"It's mine."

"You are not reading a book with a pink cover and purple lettering," he said. "It has a heart on the cover."

"I'm doing research," I tried to explain.

I have a shopping list of books to read over the next month. However, I can't continue to read things like "Man Overboard". I would end up scanning the text into a computer, editing it, and sending it back to the author. Sort of like I want to do when I read certain Stephen King novels.

When someone asks me what are my top ten most important horror novels...I tell them. So, let me pose a question to any women who may be reading a writer researching borderline romance, or at least stuff which may qualify as chick lit...what are my "must reads'? Earlier I posted about supernatural romance. Maybe I should start there?

If you aren't a woman between twenty and thirty, then think back to what you were reading at that age or what you would recommend to a woman of that age. One last comment: I am not implying that women of those ages will only read certain books. I just want to expand my awareness as a writer. You know what I mean.

I'm going out now to spackle my butt crack, see you later.


Kate S said...

I think I covered some of this in an email, so I'll just say I'm loving the image!

I'll have to try to remember what books I thought were so fabulous in my twenties & thirties. One that comes to mind is "A Knight in Shining Armor" by Jude Devereaux. I remember loving that book in my mid-late twenties, but I haven't read it since then so couldn't say how I'd react now.

Charles Gramlich said...

The best romance novel I ever read was "The Wolf and The Dove" by Kathleen Woodiwiss. But it is an old one and the modern writing is quite different I'm told. You wonder why I might read romance novels? Two reasons. I read the Woodiwiss because my wife liked it and I wanted to try to understand a bit about her reading and what she liked. I've also read a few romance novels because I know the women who wrote them. Candice Proctor wrote some, and I also know a lady named Rexanne Becnel who has written them.

Crunchy Carpets said...

I was reading Arthur C Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein...i don't think I am a real girl.

I keep picking up 'best sellers' and books that get 'rave' reviews and then wondering what sort of drugs people are taking. The Da Vinci Code was awful. Poor weak writing.
I am TRYING to read that Eragon (someone gave it to me) and it is dreck. I keep getting headaches from trying to read his stilted and awkward JUVENILE prose.

Those Diane Gabaldon that every woman in the western hemisphere seems to have read....ugh.

I must be a total freak.

Kate S said...

Just checking back in to see what others have recommended, Stewart.

I agree wholeheartedly with Crunchy's comments on the Da Vinci Code and Eragon; however, I liked the Gabaldon series. :) At least, the first three. I couldn't get into the others after that.

I was in my teens when I read Woodiwess and remember loving her. It's been so long, though, it would be interesting to reread them all and see what I think about them now. I read recently that her book "The Flame and The Flower" started the historical romance genre.

Stewart, get out there and kick some romantic butt--become our favorite new romance novelist who raises the genre to greater heights. :)

Me said...

Well, I can't help you as far as any girl-lit reccomendations. I've never read any of it. In fact, once at the cottage my mother in law handed my something with a pink and shiny cover and I opted for the yellowed Reader's Digests and the old Thornton Burgess books belonging to my ex- husband when he was a boy. That sort of research sounds far too painful for me Stewart but I admire your ambition. I do recall that the women here in town seem to love Beatrice Small, lots of loose bodices and curly white writing on the covers of those.
Put down that spackle. You're scaring me.

DesLily said...

Ummm, I am of no help here.. I went from zane grey to Tolkien! duh.

Crunchy Carpets said...

For 'good' womens stuff...

check out Kate Atkinson....scenes from behind the museum is great and well, pretty much ALL her stuff is great.

Pauline Gedge and Judith Tarr write historical fiction. I like their stuff.

Danny Tagalog said...

Roamntic comedy that his the mainstrem cinema - Bridget Jones - supposedly the novel is superior to the film...

Stewart Sternberg said...

Thank you Kate. I look at romance novels as upbeat and optimistic, with happy endings. I like romantic comedies, always have. I like what people term chick flicks. Hey, I liked "The Love Boat" and "Love, American Style".

Charles, I've seen that book around. I always liked that cover.

Crunchy, it hurt me to see you kill the DaVinci Code like that. I loved that novel. Fascinated me.

me, romance has always been a genre which has fascinated me. If I am going to say anything intelligent about it, then I am going to have to have at least attempted to pierce the genre.

des..straight to Tolkein ey? I wonder how the trilogy would have sold if those books had Fabio on the cover, leading the hobbits toward Mordor, his hair flowing in the breeze.

Danny I will check out Bridget Jones.

DesLily said...

LOL ewwww no Fabio! lol.. don't need a "handsome" leading man, just a damn good "character!" ...

miller580 said...

I can't reply on the romance novel, but I agree on your stepen king comment. I read somewhere that Stephen King doesn't use an editor anymore. I can't say that it's true or not, but I have read a few of his later novels and if he did use an editor, then that person should be fired.

Susan Miller said...

This was a tough one, Stu. I've never read many romance novels because I've always been fairly cynical...but I remember reading "Waiting to Exhale" by Terry McMillan when I was in my twenties. The book spoke to me because of female friendships and the whole woman done wrong theme. Sex and the City, this is a collection of DVDs that I own, spoke to me in the same way.

Kate's blog today...the romantic letter could definitely assist you in seeing the side of romance that women want to believe. I still think that you must believe it before you write it, though.

Women, of course, are complex creatures. If you are truly going to write to us, and do it with some respect for our intelligence, you must take this into consideration.

Romance your wife and then write me a short story about it. That's an assignment I'm giving you.

Bird on a Wire said...

I wanted to respond: "Well, I've kept her chained so long that I thought I would provide her with some entertainment besides the tazer."

Oh man, this cracked me up! Speaking of books that need to go back to the drawing board, I've been trying to read "Hannibal Rising." Highly, HIGHLY disappointing.

SQT said...

Well, I know a few women who consume romances.

Danielle Steele (of course), Nora Roberts, Jude Devereaux, and Diana Gabaldon are all big sellers.

Janet Evanovich got her romance published because she wrote another series of books that are actually pretty funny. They're definitely chick-lit- kind of similar to Bridget Jones, but I read them. I've tried to read her romances and can't get past 10 pages.

I've read both of the Bridget Jones books and laughed my butt off. They're way funnier than the movie (I've only seen the first one).

I have a friend who writes romances for Harlequin, so I'll ask her who she'd recommend to someone who's researching the genre. I can send you one of her books if you'd like Stewart, she sent me a free copy and I have an extra one. She's not big yet, but she publishes about 4 books a year for them.

SQT said...

Stewart, I asked my friend about what romances you should read and here's what she said.

Nora Roberts is the ubiquitous name in the romance genre when it comes to "what sells." She is the reigning queen.

My personal favorites are Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Laura Kinsale, and Meg Cabot, to name a few.

Chick lit is kind of a "dead" genre now. Well, not really, but the publishers now shy away from calling any book that because the market got over-saturated with such books. There are still books that fit the genre "women's fiction with 20 and 30-something protagonists" though, but I wouldn't call them romances, so if you're talking strictly about the romance genre, the above names are a great start.

For chick lit, I love Jennifer Weiner. Some of Meg Cabot's books are more chick lit than romance. She kind of straddles the line.

Christina Rundle said...

I use to read romance novels, but lately I feel the same way you do. Plot is an issue, however, I'm such a sucker for Scottish and pirate romances.

Lately though, I'm to busy reading Urban Fantasy and at the moment, reading work that my group writes.

Stewart Sternberg said...

I'm afraid that's an assignment I'm not ready to handle yet, Sue. Not yet.

Jim, that point about Stephen King makes me crazy. How full of yourself do you have to be?

Thanks bird...

And SQT, I would be interested in knowing what books your friend would recommend. However, I can't handle anything else like Janet Evanovich's romance stuff. I mean, I can handle a lot, but I can't handle bad writing.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I've read one Janet Evanovich book some time ago, and I'd have to agree with you on this one: crappy writing, crappy story, everything about it crappy, crappy, crappy. She's supposedly part of the "Chick Lit" scene. As for Mr. King, last novel I read of his was "Bag of Bones". Again, crap. I thought he said he was retiring? Now someone gave me "Lisey's Story" to read--all 500 pages. But I won't ask anyone if it's any good; I'll try reading it.

On a different note: Were you found guilty in a court of law and handed a sentence? Why the spackling?

Stewart Sternberg said... wife has forbidden me to discuss it.

Sphinx Ink said...

Stewart, I wrote a very long comment suggesting some other romance authors and books for you to try, but it was so long I decided to post it on my blog instead. You'll find it there at

Sidney said...

When I was a librarian we had to close the main library once for asbestos abatement. What the ultimately meant was that for about a month and a half books only came in, they didn't get checked back out. When we reopened, everything was there and we had to try to find a way to deal with all of it.

Nora Roberts books were everywhere - we had to stuff them on top of the shelves and cram them in at every angle. I was amazed at how many copies of each we had and how man paperbacks that had been converted into hard covers.

Eventually they all got checked out again, so somebody was reading them.

miller580 said...

I thought I heard or read somewhere that Nora Roberts doesn't even write her books anymore. That the author's name was a franchise in itself...ghostwriters or something like that. Maybe its not Nora but Janet Evanasomething. I thing Patterson is in the same type of arrangement.

SQT said...

James Patterson suuuuuuuuucks!

Clifford said...

When I first moved to CA, I worked at a discount bookstore (Crown Books), and there was this one guy who came in every couple of weeks, went straight to the romance carousel, and checked out the titles and bought from his favorite series. He told me, once or twice, that he was picking them up for his wife. Plausible, but I didn't believe him. You see, he had that look of bliss, that glow that booklovers exude when glomming on to a new book by a favorite author or series as he turned the display and made his selections.

I'm one of those people who believes that the difference between men and women is due to the socialization process... though romance novels tend to shake my faith (:

P.S. Charles, it's okay to say "I'm a man, and damn it, I like romance novels!" It's the first step, buddy!

Claudia said...

Stewart, for your research on this, you must go check out the book bitches
they are funny and will proabably give you great insight!

Vwriter said...

If you're serious about writing romance, please allow me to recommend Kathryn Falk's work "How to Write a Romance for the New Markets," and her equally compelling, "How to Write a Romance and Get it Published." I have copies of both.

Linda Hamilton, recognizing her own struggles in mastering this arena, once signed several volumes of her work for me, touched my hand, and told me that if I ever wished to shift genres and write romance, that I must listen to every word of advice that Kathryn Falk gave, read every book that Johanna Lindsey ever wrote, and never, ever think that as a man I could understand the queen of genres without becoming the romantic hero that these women write about.

For a period of time I lived with a woman who read two romance novels each day and whose sense of drama shamed Hepburn's. After passing on to her what the great vampire author had shared with me, she told me that another man writing romance would be as welcome in that field as Norman Mailer living to 100. Having thought him already dead, I had no response.

So if you'd like to peruse the Falk volumes, let me know and I'll bring them next time we get together. Mickey Spillane reportedly wrote that Ms. Falk, known to many as the Lady of Barrow, is "...some kind of dame."

Not a bad recommendation.

cs harris said...

I used to think most romance novels were badly written, but I've come to the conclusion most popular fiction is badly written. That's a daring thing for a writer to say, because it draws comments like, "Oh? So you think YOUR writing is perfect, do you?" But speaking as a reader here, I've come to the conclusion genre fiction writers hit the best seller lists not because they write well, but because they know how to satisfy their readers' fantasies. This is true of all readers, not just romance readers.

I enjoy love stories. I hate most genre romances. My favorite? LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird. I can't stand Gabaldon, Nora Roberts, etc, etc, etc. I'm sure they're crying all the way to the bank. They hit their readers' fantasies. But they're not my fantasies, so all I see is the clunky writing.

Oh, and The Da Vinci Code drove me nuts.

Lee said...

There was a time when I read a lot of Nora Roberts and Karen Robards. I think there was some Catherine Coultier chick too.

After my last semester ended, I went to the library and picked up a couple of romance fluff stories, thinking they would be a nice change from all the educational reads I am required to ingest for classes. I just couldn't do it! The books were all so bad, I couldn't get past page 10 on any of them.

I'm reading the Ramayana (Hindu religious text) now for an internship at an Asian Art Museum. It's got sex, jealousy, rash behavior, devotion and loyalty! Who needs Fabio? I've got Vishnu and he's got gleaming blue skin and massive pecs!

I'm almost 38 tho...I get most romantic when reading some Joseph Campbell or Deepak Chopra.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Yeah, lee...Vishnu has his points.'re right. A poorly written fantasy, if it isn't your fantasy, is just a poorly written fantasy. However, I still have problems reading what I think is bad writing.

Yeah, Falk. I'll give her a try. And I won't resort to saying: What the falk?

bookbitches...I'm on my way claudia.

DonkeyBlog said...

Q: What's the difference between Mr Sternberg, who as an editor would refuse to publish Janet Evanovich, and Janet Evanovich's editorial and publishing Team?

A: One has shit-loads of cash! Aah, the folly of dying for one's art!

By the way, I think Chick lit needs to be differentiated from romance novels - now THERE'S an opportunity for moneymaking. I once lived in a small town who's inhabitants were non native English speakers. One day a box of used romance novels turned up at the Pharmacist, and despite the limited literacy, disappeared in a matter of hours! Supply and demand, People.

Maya said...

hmm. i am sixteen and don't read a lot of chick lit. but yeah, 'bridget jones' was very funny; 'sisterhood of the traveling pants' is for high-schoolers but is surprisingly well written; 'the princess diaries', well, i outgrew those but the author isn't completely talentless; there was this one fairly good book about an indian girl. 'born confused' is what it was called.
good luck, i guess.

Peregrin said...

It cannot succeed as a matter of fact, that's what I suppose.
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