Pimping SB Sarah's Book Club!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

My Dream -For Free!

I came to this link courtesy of Jane over at Dear Author. Read it and weep. I read it and just shook my head. Talk about dinosaurs and sadly, it's these fools who are in control of distributing books to the reading public. Let's leave aside all the debates about e-books, pricing (which for the record ought to be much cheaper because a reader only borrows the the right to read the e-book, the reader doesn't actually own anything)and distribution. Let's not talk about all the new ways of doing business that are available to the forward thinking retailer, or the buyer, or even, the author. Let's pretend a little start-up by the name of Amazon doesn't exist and that buying used books on E-Bay is akin to going to Mars. Let's pretend none of this really matters (we'll certainly be in good company -I'm talking to you Scott Turow!)and focus on an area these guys feel comfortable with: the bookstore.

My bookstore growing up was Walden's at Hawley Lane shopping mall. It was small. When I asked about a particular book, half the time the clerk didn't know what I was talking about. Half the time the clerk was on the phone talking to his friends. The only classics you could get were the junior abridged versions. If the book was three months passed its prime, you would have a hard time finding it. The place was unkempt and often disorganized.

But still, I loved it.

Why,you may ask. BECAUSE THAT WAS ALL I HAD. There was nothing else! And knowing no better, I expected no better! So I was content.

Then I moved to Manhattan. Living on the Upper West Side, I discovered Shakespeare Books. And I discovered what I had been missing all along. Knowledgeable clerks! An interesting selection of books! Clean, friendly and oh so intellectual! And no romance section. None. Zero. Zip. Nada. But by that time I had been taught to fear my romance reading addiction as a dangerous habit. It was okay to smoke pot among the artsy crew at college, but admitting to a liking in reading romance would have called for immediate intervention by the Existentialist Task Force, and a stint in Real Literature Rehab.

So I snuck off to the public library branch on Amsterdam Avenue to get my romance reading fix. I'd bring the books home in an unmarked paper bag and hide them under my bed.

Time went on and I moved around some and Barnes and Noble became my bookseller of choice. Seemed so wonderful, browsing among the shelves and the comfortable reading chairs -sheer genius. And the book selection was rather staggering to my mind. It seemed like they had everything and if they didn't, then I sure as hell didn't know about it. And lo, I was content. At this stage of my intellectual development, I was neither ashamed nor proud of my romance reading habit. It just was something unavoidable, like the weather and eating. I didn't feel the need to join in the snarking at romance, (so common among the literati!) but I didn't trouble myself to defend it either.

Then something wonderful happened -in moaning about my writing career (mainly the lack thereof) I came to the rather startling conclusion that I loved romance. Nay, not loved -worshipped the genre! Yes! I was a romance writer and a romance reader and proud of it too! I embraced this aspect of my identity with all the fervor of a devout cult member. Then I discovered the world of the Internet and the blogs. And most importantly -romance readers and writer blogs. This changed everything.

I would read, with breathless anticipation, about a book I knew I would just adore. And then the baby would cry or something would happen and my minuscule little brain would only retain partial information. Next time I was in Barnes and Nobles, I'd try desperately to recall the title or the author and try to talk to the clerk about the book and I'd get -nothin'. Often times the clerks were not familiar enough with romance authors or their books to help me. Certainly, I never saw a romance book on the "Staff Picks" shelf. I'd try to browse the shelves, but often the book wasn't there. Or they had every book by the author EXCEPT THAT ONE.

And as my romance reading tastes expanded with further knowledge and education, I got continually more frustrated with the big chain approach to romance retailing. Where was the m/m romance section? Where was the erotic romance section? Or how about multi-cultural romance? Those books existed, I knew they did. But I couldn't find them and the option of ordering it from the the clerk at the customer service counter did not appeal to me. The point of going into a bookstore was to be able to physically go in there, pick out a book and read it immediately. If I couldn't do that, there was no point.

Now my story has a happy ending with the coming of the e-book and on-line book sellers. I am pleased to report that OmniLit and others are meeting my romance reading addiction most adequately, thank you very much.

But that's not the point of this little essay. The point is bookstores. If you dinosaurs that work in the publishing company are so wed to the traditional way of doing business THEN DO IT FREAKIN' RIGHT ALREADY. You see, I've been taught to expect better and I want better.

Here is my dream bookstore. You have my permission to use any and all of my ideas. I don't ask for anything in return.

My Dream Bookstore

1. Knowledgeable Clerks. Romance readers deserve clerks with a modicum of understanding about romance books. Romance outsells all other genres combined. We pay the salaries of these people, albeit indirectly. It's not too much to ask clerks receive some training in genre literature. Librarians have a model called "Reader's Advisory" -look into it.

2. Romance is on the first floor, front and center and not hiding in the back, cowering like the red-headed stepchild. Be proud of this genre! Make romance readers feel welcome and they'll come back. They buy most of the books anyway.

3. Expand your romance offering to include multi-cultural, erotic and gay romance. I want to buy in those sub-genres and my only real option is buying on-line. Why are you making it so hard for me to love your store?

4. Embrace the digital aspects of the business to boost bookstores. If a nitwit like me can't remember the name of book she read about on a blog -why can't you offer me the option of looking the blog up on-line, in the store?

I think romance readers want to use bookstores. Half of all readers are off-line anyway. That's a lot of people. But as the Internet changes the way people think about books, they will get increasingly frustrated with your bookstores.

Do you really want to drive them away?

The Woman Who Knew Too Much

So I am reading This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James after reading The Bad Baron's Daughter and I think I am suffering from a bit a whiplash. One could not imagine two more different heroines. Is there anything Jemma doesn't know about the world, from scandal, to flirting, to double entrendes? Since I have not finished the book, I can't say for sure how much of it is an act and how much of her knowledge is based on experience. It is rather nice to see such a clever, intelligent woman who is nobody's fool and her sparring with both husband and Villiers is a joyful exercise in wit. I much prefer this heroine. But....

It's a little depressing as well. It occurs to me all this wit and sparring and flirting are the tools of jaded people. People for whom life hold no true happiness or real joy. And if Jemma was this jaded and cynical, I would have put the book down long ago. But because this is a romance, you just know there is some hope for her. For after all this knowledge, she's come to the conclusion she really does love her husband. And its this, and not the constant wit on display, that keeps me reading this book.

Its all about the saving power of true love, isn't it? But are there romance heroines who are too jaded, too cynical or too worldly? Heroines for whom it is simply unrealistic to expect love to save? I know traditionally romances have all been about love's ability to save bad (or pretend bad) heroes but I think I have noticed a trend in more complicated, darker heroines lately. (I am thinking books by Meredith Duran here.) I don't think Jemma is one of them but can you think of others?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Innocence Romance Cripplin' and Kind....

(With apologies to Strawberry Alarm clock)

So...just got finished reading The Bad Baron's Daughter by Laura London and if you want an interesting, insightful well-thought out review head on over to AAR because you won't get it from me. I read this book because of that review and had a completely different reaction. It was almost a wall banger. But in re-reading Nora's review, I realize I agree with everything the reviewer has to say, but I still didn't like it. That's the power of a good review.

The book didn't appeal to me for alot of reasons: too old skool, heroine too naive, hero too much of a real jerk and not merely a "rake." But I thought the setting was rather Dickensian and amazing and I loved the name of one of the villains -"Chilworthy." Also, nice touches of the Gothic that are missing from alot of romances today. So it is worth reading. I just kind of wish I had read something else instead. Maybe I would have liked it more if it had had explicit sex. Who knows.

So why the title of this blog post? Well, what stood out for me was the utter innocence, youth, and naivete of the heroine. She's only seventeen, and is almost completely helpless and dependent. On everyone. People get exasperated with her and rightly so. She is compared by the hero as a helpless kitten with no skills and very little, if any common sense. But she's seventeen and a very trusting and inexperienced seventeen at that. Which got me thinkin'...

When was the last time I saw this kind of innocence represented anywhere in the culture? I'm not just talking about romance, but like anywhere? In movies? At seventeen? I don't think I can remember the last time I saw an innocent twelve year-old, let alone a seventeen year old. In most "teen" movies the teens are more worldly than I am and I'm far from being a teenager. In romance, I've gotten so used to knowledgeable "with it" heroines, that it was a real shock to read about someone who just didn't know much about the world and the way things work. In other words, seventeen was allowed to be seventeen.

I am not just talking about sex though this a big part of it. In The Bad Baron's Daughter the heroine knows about sex -the mechanics of it, anyway. But she doesn't get any sexual allusions, knows nothing about positions, and the minute she gets a hold of a naughty book, it is immediately snatched away by a more worldly woman. In other words, the heroine's innocence is looked upon by almost everyone as exasperating, but something that must be protected at all costs.

But it's more than this. Katie (the heroine) has a rather naive view of human nature. She really expects people to be kind. She is a trusting soul and doesn't understand why people don't want her or like her. Her attitude is very much that of a sheltered teenager. It is a testament to London's skill as an author that these qualities don't make her TSTL.

It was disturbing to read about someone so naive and unsettling to me as well. The other characters in the book are also unsettled by Katie and don't know quite how to react. But they all (the good guys anyway) see her innocence as something to protect and cherish, and of course in the hero's case, eventually to love.

So. Where has innocence gone in our culture? Who is still allowed to be innocent? Children? Really? Kids dancing to Beyonce anyone? (I refuse to link to this video.) Can you think of a romance book wherein the heroine was allowed to be an innocent or it is a good thing this trope has fallen by the wayside? What do you think?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I'm a Total Whore for The iPad (and also for reading)

Yes. I really want an iPad. But I also love the blog Smart Bitches Trashy Books and you can see over to the left they are one of the "Blogs that are Better than Mine" so definitly worth your time. They are hosting a summer reading club in which I am very pleased to be participating. If you blog and put up the above banner on your site, you will also be entered in a drawing for a free iPad.


Forget the last part.

Never mind.
(Did I mention I really want the iPad?)

Anyway, you'll also get to talk about and read some good books as well. I'll be there, hope to see you too.

The Romance of Food...or Not...

Cooked a steak last night that tasted like liver. Seriously. Liver. And I like liver, just not so much as flavoring for the steak. Wanted to throw the whole four pounds plus of the lousy London Broil out the window, but can't because I made too much of it and we are trying to waste less food. So now I am stuck with a whole bunch of extremely unappetizing dinners to look forward to. Sigh.

Anyway, the whole sorry episode got me thinking about food and how its used in romance and was wondering if anyone can recall extremely memorable disgusting meals? Or just maybe meals that are not so good. It's easy to recall the erotic meals and the candlelit dinner at the romantic restaurant is a staple of the romance genre. The best known movie example I can think of is Tom Jones and the dinner scene at the inn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tezjznL9NzM

Its lusty and funny and you just know they are going to devour each other in bed with equal gusto.

But what are some other ways food is used to demonstrate character and/or emotion? I am now thinking of the dinner party scene in Little Women wherein Jo cooks a meal because Marmee has given Hannah the night off. Jo can't cook and uses salt on the strawberries instead of sugar. Truly a terrible meal. But what I remember most about the scene is everyone refusing to eat, except Laurie who really likes Jo. He manfully shovels strawberries into his mouth as everyone else is pushing them away in disgust. His actions demonstrate his feelings for Jo, and if that's not romantic, I don't know what is.

So how about it? Any other memorable "bad food" scenes?

Also, if anyone knows how to make four pounds of liver-tasting London Broil palatable, please let me know! Thanks!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Writing When You Don't Want To

So why the hell am I blogging? Well, why the hell not? I have three books completed (not finished, completed that's an important distinction!) and a request to revise and submit one of them from an actual real live editor at a real live publishing company and I am not doing it right now. Why?

Because I can't.

And I ain't gonna say more about that, because, you know, that's like all personal and stuff. And I don't wanna go there on this blog.

So I still want to write and in fact am completely miserable when I don't. Hence, the blog. We'll see if I can keep it up.

So if you wanna read, go ahead. What am I going to talk about or do on this thing? Well, basically anything I want. Probably will include political rants at some point and if that bothers you, then don't read. I'll probably talk about books that strike my fancy -but unless I really hate a book, I probably won't talk about it at all. Why? I can't be bothered. It would seem too forced and I am just not about forcing the writing muse at this point in my life. I can't write about books or movies which don't arouse strong feelings. It's just too hard. So if you are looking for reasonable, well thought out critical discussion about books, go somewhere else. If you want unmitigated ranting or raving, then maybe you'll like this blog. Or maybe not. Up to you, really. Ditto for movies and religion and politics and just about anything I want to write about.

So go ahead. Enjoy. Or not. Have fun.

Books I Love

I'm a big fan of romance blogs, (massive time sucks they are) and DA, SmartBitches, and AAR have pointed the way to many a good book. But there are some books out there, poorly reviewed by these very popular bloggers, that I just love. The one I keep coming back to is Dark Highlander by Karen Marie Moning -a book that I love and very poorly reviewed at AAR. It occurs to me if I just based my romance reading on blogs, I would never have found this book or this author. AAR gives it a D and complains about the heroine and the Scottish accent, etc., I think its one of the best romances I have ever read. Another case in point, "Passion" by Lisa Valdez, another excellent book which, had I trusted the opinions of a blogger over at Dear Author, I would never have picked up. Glad I picked it up, before I learned I wasn't supposed to like it.

Here's another example: Cassie Edwards. Okay, she did plagiarize and I am not a fan, but geeze Louise, this woman is a massively bestselling author with readership in the millions. Are all her readers dumb? Or are they seeing stuff there that I don't? And if so, what? I really am interested to hear what fan of Cassie Edwards thinks of her books.

So what about you? What are some books you love that smart people aren't supposed to like?