Pimping SB Sarah's Book Club!

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Hour I First Got Annoyed

So I've been a romance reading slump lately ever since I read Blah Book and decided to take a break from romance and read something I've been wanting to read for a long time: Wally Lamb's The Hour I First Believed. I liked his previous two books and while I can say most of what I read tends to be forgettable in the long run, his previous two books were utterly splendid and completly memorable. This last one...not so much. Well, let me clarify, it was memorable in an extremely annoying way. How annoying, let me count the ways. They can all be summarised under what I call the liberal sucker punch. So maybe these things wouldn't bother many readers, but they sure as hell bothered me. What is the liberal sucker punch? Glad you asked. It's when you are reading mainstream fiction or watching a movie or a tv show when out of the blue a character makes a statement such as: "That was as stupid as a vote for Bush!" Cue laughter. And you are meant to laugh, because the character must be really really stupid to have voted for Bush and only stupid people voted for Bush, right?

Or you are reading a great, insightful romance blog the writer, apropo of NOTHING remarks that we owe Canada an apology. Why, you may ask. Because our border agents, you know, might ask Canadians for a passport these days.

Both these examples left me scratching my head. Because in both cases, the shows I was watching, the blog I was reading had nothing at all to do with politics. One was a comedy and the other was a blog about romance writing. But then out of the blue there are these political comments that leave me feeling weirdly unsettled. Like I don't belong here reading this blog or watching whatever it is I am watching. Its a sucker punch, because you don't see it coming and it makes you feel, well, suckered. Like you've been watching propagana all along and just didn't know it.

The Hour I First Believed was just such a book. Here are the things that I was suckered into reading.

1. Lots and lots of ruminations on the killers at Columbine. Transcripts from their video recordings. Directions to various websites about the killers. One page would have been enough -but gah -what is it with liberals and their insane wanting to step inside the minds of evil people? Who cares? All this attention paid to them perversely makes them almost worthy of attention.

2. Liberal Shorthand: Bush voter = comic relief character. The one character who votes for Bush is characterized as a fifty year old virgin who is obsessed with a car (I forget what kind.) I don't know why it was important to know who this character voted for, adds nothing to the story at all. But its okay -he's a looser and the fact that he voted for Bush makes him even more of a looser.

3. Comments about Rush Limbaugh used to see whether another character is worthy of friendship. Again cheap liberal short hand. If the main character had liked Rush Limbaugh or gotten offended that the other character had hated Rush, there would be no relationship possible. Because people who like Rush are not worthy of friendship -or in this case, handouts. The fact that everyone hates Rush and didn't vote for Bush, means they are good people.

4. Repressed gay character who gets killed because he is repressed, thus nullifying guilt of killer. See, if the gay character (he comes out in a looooooook faux New Yorker article) had had a loving and accepting family, he wouldn't have run away at his brother's threatening to out him. Then he wouldn't have been running franitcally down the road as the car, driven by a Columbine survivor hit him. The fact his mother refuses to accept her son is gay, even as he is dead, makes her culpable of his death too! But the poor driver (a drugged up nurse) is forced to go to jail instead. Oh the poor, poor, killer!

5. The usual fucked up soldier back from Iraq. Seriously. How many times have we seen this character? Why is it the only time soldiers in books or movies are allowed "depth" is when they are FUBAR? Of course since the soldier is FUBAR, this serves a ringing, deep insightful condemnation of Bush as well and America's response to 9/11.

6. Loooong lecture by a Women's Study study doctoral student on the evils of America. This leads to unintentional hillarity when the main character, in all seriousness remarks: "You should leave the politics out of the dissertation defense for fear of offending a conservative professor." Conservative professor. In Women's Studies. Uh, has there ever been such a beast allowed to live free and unfettered while roaming the halls of academia? I'd love to meet him/her. Really, I would.

7. Infidelity used as short hand for character development. Not even sexy infedelity in this case. But boring "I fucked her out of existential angst" infidility. There is nothing more like taking saltpeter than reading about existential sex.

8. Guantonomo is used to demonstrate just how sensitive and caring the main character really is. Because if you regard Guantonomo as anything other than a death camp, you are obviously a Fascist.

9.And this is when it gets unforgivably bad. The equating of Columbine with our response to 9/11. In other words, our country is so evil and so out of whack all the really really bad stuff that produced the Columbine murderers lead to the horror that is Iraq and Guantonomo, etc., In case you missed this analogy, the author points it out in a needlessly explanatory afterword. Liberals love moral equivalency. They seem to think it especially insightful if they equate America with terrorism and murder and mayhem.

And what makes this all so annoying is that Wally Lamb is a good writer. The book is not just propaganda. It is actually a fairly detailed and nuanced character study of a marriage and two characters profoundly affected by the Columbine massacre. But its like the writer just can't help himself. I wanted to enjoy this book, get absorbed in it and forget the world for a while. But I just couldn't. Everytime I was absorbed, the needless politics yanked me right out.

Well, the book did accomplish one thing. I am back to reading romance again.

What about you, gotten a liberal sucker puch lately?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Blah Books

I am reading a much buzzed about romance book from an author everyone seems to be creaming their pants over. By everyone I mean a couple of bloggers whom I visit regularily (when did they become my "everyone" and what does that say about me and how my reading tastes have changed been molded etc., is a topic for another day). Lyrical writing, rhapsodzies one! Fascinating conflict, moans another. Great villian, sighs someone else. A not-Regency setting (it seems to be very important these days to have a non-Regency setting)-so unusual gushes another.

Blah, says I. To everything.

Lyrical writing -seriously, I read romance for lyrical writing?! Noooooo, lyrical writing is something MFA's in Creative Writing take very seriously. So seriously, they produce volumes and volumes of poetry no one, except their mother will ever buy and who knows if she'll ever read it? The problem with lyrical writing is, well, the lyrical writing. I notice the writing and not the characters, or the romance, or the relationship. Turns me off. And in this author's case, I think the reviewer meant abstract, not lyrical. Because I found the writing in this one full of big abstract words and not adding to my picture of the characters at all.

I didn't hate the book. That would take too much energy. I just felt blah about it. Its the kind of book that makes me sooooo glad to not have made a committment to reviewing books on my blog. Because its easy to write about something you love or hate, the emotion makes my fingers fly across my keyboard. But a book which arouses no strong feelings one way or the other -what can I say? Really what can I say? If I was reviewing it, I'd have to be fair. There are good points about it. The villian is really a villian. I've been told this is good, it creates real conflict for the characters. I just felt like going "dum da dum dum" everytime he enters a room. I mean, its a romance people!

How "real" can a villian be in romance? We all know he's going to get his in the end (and I looooove it when the hero kills the villian or has him locked up at Bedlam) because its a romance, so quite honestly, this knowledge on my part neuters the villian's ability to create conflict. I tend to skip over the really villianous parts because I don't read romance to get creeped out or to shiver unpleasantly. So it just seems to me like an awdul lot of work on the part of the author to create a character that everyone knows will never, ever triumph in Romance Land.

So yeah, the villian character is really really bad. So that's good. The writing style didn't appeal to me. The love scenes were tepid and there was a boring little sub plot romance about two uninspiring characters. I skipped those parts. I felt the male character had more potential to be sexy than he was. As did the female charactr. But still, the conflict between those two kept me reading. So as I said, I didn't hate it.

But I didn't love it.

It was Blah.

Read a blah book lately? Care to discuss it or am I asking too much?

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Cranky Reader

Okay. Here's the thing. I am reading blogs written by other wonderful writers. And my favorites are all listed to the left here and I really mean it when I say these are all great blogs and you should take the time to get to know them and read them.

However. I am depressed. I find myself gripped by lassitude and indifference. I shrug my shoulders and go "humph" when I read the wonderful reviews at one blogger and then another blogging about Harlquins. I am finding that I couldn't care less and its not so much a romance slump as a feeling of futility.

I used to think there were very few wonderful books in the world and that the cream would always rise to the top. Since I was on that book award committee last year, I have come to the opposite conclusion. There are too many wonderful books being published every day and too many wonderful writers writing out there that will never be fully acknowleged or understood in their lifetime or perhaps ever. Too many great books are published, live out a shelf life of a couple of weeks, and then sink into the dross, never to be heard from again.

Authors complain the business sucks, that they have a hard time getting published. And I hear you. I'm there and I too have gnashed my teeth about lack of response time, snarky comments, rejection letters, etc., My life would be alot easier if I didn't have this mad desperate desire to write. What the hell is wrong with me anyway? I toil away for hours on end, with the understanding that recognition if it ever comes, will be at most fleeting. And forget about making millions. I have a better chance of winning the lottery. If I could kill my muse, rip her to shreds, and stomp her onto the floor until she is absolutly dead and unresponsive, I'd do it. Being a writer sucks.

Well maybe not so much the previous thoughts. If I could kill other writers' muses I would, and leave the field clear for me. I wish publishers would publish less. I almost wish it was harder to get published. Why? Because if publishers published less, maybe fewer people would be writers and go be high school English teachers or something. Nothing wrong with being a teacher. Good pension plan and health benefits which is more than I can say being a writer. As it stands now, its not that there are too few books being published, its that there are so goddamn many, it is virtually impossible for a really really good writers to be discovered and make a living at it.

And who reads all this crap anyway? Between TV and the Internet and the Ipods and whatnot, people just don't read as much for pleasure anymore and you can't count all these wonderful bloggers -they are in a small select minority. So I read these reviews for all these wonderful books that I am not going to read. Mayber ever. And I am a serious reader, but here I am reading reviews and admiring all the hard work which went into the review with the sense its all for nought. Because I won't be reading all these wonderful books. I have a mountain of books beside my bed and I have vowed to not buy another book until I have made a dent in this stack.

So. What do I think should happen next? I wish publishers would think smaller, instead of bigger and stop constantly flooding a non-reading public with tons and tons of new titles all the time. Just stop it already. I would rather see publishers concentrate on quality works (in whatever genre) and promoting those writers that are good and maybe not as well known. Why does it have to be a hundred, a thousand, a million, great writers competing for your attention all the time? I can't see it does the serious reader any good -wading through all the dross and the non-serious reader is quickly overwhelemed and learns to ignore most books anyway. So what good is all this "stuff" anyway?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Book to Read

I was watching Sesame Street with my daughter and we came across this classic segment wherein Bert sings about the pleasures of reading as Ernie bugs him to come out and play. Fun stuff.

Lots of ink has been spilled about the joy of reading but I think this short video says it all. Have a look

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Don't Know Much About Historicals...

So Julia Quinn killed the Regency. Click here for this opinion and the reasons why some readers don't like regencies anymore -not this reader but more on that later. I have heard this opinion making the rounds lately. Lots of people complaining that historicals aren't historical enough, that Regencies have gotten too generic/too fluffy/too lacking in uniqueness, etc., And I suppose, if I were a critic and analyzer of the genre and needed something to write about, I might be tempted to say these things too, just to have something to say. After all, I do have not one, but TWO advanced degrees. One a MA in English, one an MLS and if I know nothing in this world, I do know how to critically analyze literature. But I choose not to.

Why? I have too much fun reading romance. And I am a bit mystified as to why certain bloggers and reviewers have the idea historical romances need to be every bit as accurate as a history text book. They give high marks to books that contain alot of what they feel are very necessary historical detail and look frowningly upon books they deem too "wall-papery". Who are these people who want to learn history from a romance book? Why in the world would you want that? I am genuinely mystified and trying to not be snarky at all. I tried to read a very highly rated historical romance from a well known author the other day and had to put it down. I found the details too distracting. I wanted more attention paid to the relationships between the hero/heroine and less about the food and setting. Because this is what I read romance for. Also, while the author had done considerable research on the time period, she had not bothered to research human nature and the female character was more than a little over the top and ridiculous.

So here's how I read romance. For enjoyment. And I will be honest, I am a lazy reader. I want to be swept away. I want to not have to think. If you are writing about a war -I don't really want the war to be too real. Because real war kinda sucks, ya know? I don't ever want to feel as if the historical conflict will overwhelm the potential for happily ever after. And I sure as hell don't want to be constantly reading details about the war and the rifles and how far they marched and the battle tactics and the shininess or dullness of the brass buttons. Boring.

Maybe this is the reason I don't like Ante-Bellum romances anymore though they've kind of gone the way of the dinosaur and good riddance, as far as I am concerned. I know too much about the real historical details of slavery in the Deep South to ever be able to put on my rose-colored glasses and pretend to not see. When I was oh, about thirteen or so, I read a book wherein the heroine's best friend was a female African slave and the hero (I shit you not) was a ship owner and one of his ships was in the slave trade. I think the hero (such a Prince) even sold the female African slave or put her aboard the slaver and stood stoically by while the heroine cried. And, if I am remembering correctly, he did this after he had promised her he would never get into the slave trade. His action I think, was to prove his Alpha credentials or some such nonsense. As young and stupid as I was, I DID NOT BUY IT. Not because it was unrealistic because it was very realistic for the time period, but because it proved the hero was a complete jerk with no real regard for human life and not worthy of the heroine's love or a HEA. In other words, I did not want the hero to be a real cash strapped man, living in Pre-Civil War South. I wanted him to look the part and talk the part but behave like a twentieth century post Civil Rights era white man with all the correct sensibilities.

This is why reading real history is such a bummer. You just wouldn't want to live at anytime but 2010, once you know even a little about less enlightened times. You wanna know the number one cause of death for women before the twentieth century? Childbirth. The number two cause of death was fire. Seems that all those wonderful long skirts women had to wear back then were just perfect for catching any stray spark emanating from an open fire in the kitchen. Nothing sexy or romantic about this at all.

So why in the world do the critics and the analyzers lament the lack of accurate detail in their Regencies and Historicals? Too much real detail and quite honestly romance land becomes a place I wouldn't want to visit, let alone live in for three or four hours. Gah -the less detail sometimes, the better!

I read romance because I want ROMANCE. I want a sexy Alpha male (with big muscles and a big, you know) and a heroine who needs him and is strong, yet vulnerable in her own right. I want them to psychologically real and to talk to each in a way I can imagine real people talking. I want the conflicts to be real, yet solvable. And I want the setting and the history only if it contributes to the romance. If it doesn't, I couldn't care less. AND I want the hot sexxoring.

I can forgive just about anything in a romance, but the lack of romance. Which is why Julia Quinn has not ruined the Regency. As long as she gets the romance part of it right (and I think she does), she's fine by me.

So what about you? Do you like your historicals with as much detail as possible? Does lack of accuarate detail bother you? How much knowledge is too much?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Wrting Time

So I call my friend. I call my husband. I blog. Check my email for the one hundred and fiftieth time. No, no acceptance letters yet from major publishers with my million dollar advance. I read my blogs. Comment when I have something to say. I want them to comment on mine -so I gotta comment on there's -only fair, right? Read all the news sites because as a writer I have to stay informed. Stare out the window. Get a cup of coffee. Get a doughnut to go with my coffee. Any business I have to take care of? My daughter's pre-school aceptance letter. Yes! It's something that has to be done. Right now. Can't wait! I call. Darn Can't make the appointment to pre-register -no one's there! Any bills to pay? No...I paid them all on Friday. Any paperwork I have to do? No....and I did the food shopping yesterday. Laundry! Okay! Hubby has no underwear. Hubby doesn't like to free ball it! So I have to do the laundry -can't have hubby upset. Very bad for the marriage. This will take about oh, fifteen minutes. Get back to computer. Ready to write. Realize I am editing to day. Grrr......Hubby left for work, otherwise I'd be tempted to have sex today. That's good for about an hour. Shoot, it's our anniversary. Nuts. Does phone sex count? Call hubby again. Can't have phone sex -his supervisor is in the office. Funny -he seems irate that I have called him twice in five minutes. It is our anniversary after all! Sigh. Chew my nails some more.

I open the file. Stare at the comments. Press a key. Now I am ready to write.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Forgotten Ones -Please Watch

what you didnt see! from stacie huckeba on Vimeo.

I'll be honest, the flooding in Nashville has been off my radar screen. The almost 100% lack of media coverage has not helped. Watch this video. I had no idea it was this bad. The first and last time I heard about the flood was in the RWA emails stating that the national conference had been moved. RWA nicely donated money to a Nashville literacy group and then changed the venue. Then I didn't think about it anymore.

Please watch this video and help in any way you can.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Romance Books You Didn't Know Were Romance Books

Last year, I was fortunate to be on a committee which judged romance books (among other genres) in order to come up with the "best" one of the year. This was my pick for "Best Romance": Chemistry For Beginners by Anthony Strong. You'd never know it was a romance book by the title or by the marketing. It's a trade paperback -and if you find it in the bookstore at all, its going to be in the literary section. Shame that. The market for this book is romance readers not the literary types at all. And it's telling none of the big romance sites (AAR, Smart Bitches, Dear Author) have picked up on it. It's really too bad. This book is the best contemporary romance I have ever read and, as I have detailed before, I do not like contemporary romances for a plethora of reasons. And when I tell you about this book, you are going to grimace and role your eyes because it sounds like a bunch of pretentious literary crapola. But its not. Oh no, its not. And I totally mean that as a compliment.

I wish I could link to a great, well thought out review done by an independent blogger, as reviews are not my forte and I like it better when someone else does all the work. The best I can do is point you the Amazon page and invite you to read the first review. It actually is quite a succinct summary of the book and gives you a fairly good idea of what it is all about. But don't let the reviewer's snarky attitude toward romance turn you off! The reviewer doesn't understand romance books, or readers and thus cannot comment intelligently on this book as a romance. He is to be pitied. I am a romance reader who has read the book, and I am telling you it has all the traditional elements of a romance and an amazing HEA. The reviewer sees these things as detriments and he is annoyed that true love conquers all. But because we are all romance readers here, we like this kind of stuff. I blame the marketing of this book. If you pick it up and expect it to be "literary" you are going to be puzzled. But if it was marketed properly as a romance, you would have the expectations of a romance book and wouldn't expect the litery stuff.

A little about the book...yes, the book is in the form of a scientific paper. There are footnotes. It is about scientists. It is about academia. It is about female Viagara. It is about a Cary Grant type handsome nerd who falls in love with his research subject. It is also about sex. And fun. And what happens when you try to study sex in a scientific way. It is also about bonobos. They have a lot of sex, don't ya know.

This book was nominated by a woman who confessed to me she had never bought a romance book in her life. Just doesn't care for the genre. But she couldn't put this book down. So when she told me about it, I had my doubts. And I was deeply sceptical. And I thought, how good could a romance be, if its reccomended by someone who doesn't like romance. Boy howdy, I was wrong!

So try it. Trust me. You will like it.

And then let's storm his publisher and demand they put this book in the hands of romance readers everywhere and market the hell out of this book to the romance blogs, etc., Its that good. And romance readers deserve to know about it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Conflict in Need of a Good Romance

Okay, I'll be the first to admit I have a hard time with contemporaries. Nothing against all the wonderful romance writers who specialize in this genre...it's just I tend to find the conflict in modern romance to be somewhat lacking. Perhaps because I have had too much real drama in my life, I see the problems associated with straight contemporaries to be not very problematic at all. A perfectly good contemporary might revolve around rival restaurant owners and a stolen recipe. Shrug. Can't they just share? Or maybe she's an antique collector and he owns an antique she really wants and won't sell it for love or money. Yawn. Go buy something else why don't ya? And then there's the whole sex thing. A writer (who shall remain nameless) for a category line has the heroine jumping into bed with the hero in the first fifty pages. They spend the next couple hundred pages trying to figure out what it all means, and if it means anything and if it does, does it mean more to me than it did for you, and OMG you are getting too close and I have such a fear of intimacy and blah blah blah. I don't fault the writing or the character development (shoot, I should write as well as this chick) it's just the central idea and premise of most contemporaries leave me cold. And then the whole lack of sexual tension, the whole will they, won't they, and what are the consequences if they do, is missing in alot of contemporaries for the simple reason, it just doesn't much matter anymore if the characters jump into bed on the first date. So conflicts regarding sex tend to strictly of the internal kind. I end up feeling a good session on the couch with the shrink would solve most of their problems.

I guess the reason many readers enjoy contemporary romance is that it reflects their own lives, or maybe slightly idealized versions of their lives. Problems are real and relatable. And its sexy and wonderful to think a real romance can happen amid the ordinariness of most lives. That's great, but it's not for me.

Here's what I want and I wonder if there is a writer who can manage it or dares to "go there." I want real world problems but ripped from the head line kind of problems. There's lots of people in the world who have to live with very dramatic external conflict which keeps them from true love. And by "dramatic external conflict" I don't mean that her business associate won't like her much for dating the hero, or her revenue from her inn keeping will decline by ten percent if the hero's inn attracts more customers.

This is what I mean by dramatic external conflict. Ayann Hirsi Ali. Need I say more. Yes, I know she's too "real" but wow, if you could imagine how a woman like that could find love in this world, the story would practically write itself wouldn't it? She's been mutilated, a price put on her head, and is not well liked by many left wing intellectuals for her unwavering criticism of Islam. Her whole life is a conflict. Is there a man for a character like that? Does he exist and how would you write him? It helps that she is beautiful.

I see characters similar to Ali in historicals or even paranormals. Tortured by what has happened to them both externally and internally, characters who live in a world that is conflicted and yet, they find love anyway. And manage to make a happy life for themselves. Why is we can write about werewolves gang raping women, but not real Muslim women undergoing genital mutilation?

Is it wrong to think about Ali and women like her in this way? Is her conflict something most writers would rather not confront because it is too real? Can no one can imagine a happy ending for women who have undergone and continue to undergo what Ali has been through?

Discuss....Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Servicemen (and Women!) are Sexy -Let's Write Them That Way!

Okay, I know when when the terms "military" and "contemporary" are used in Romance Land, we usually think of Suzanne Brockmann and Navy Seals. Not that there is anything wrong with that. For the record, I have spent many an enjoyable hour suspending disbelief and enjoying her books. But you know what Pope said about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, don't ya? Real Navy Seals have a divorce rate of 90% and that's not sexy. Was friends with a girl once whose husband was a Seal, and she had nothing good to say about being the wife of one. She longed for the day when he would get out. I've since lost touch with her so I don't know if she's part of the 90%. Sure hope not.

Military men in Romance Land are often of a "type" and romance has strong elements of fantasy and I enjoy this aspect of romance as much as the next gal. But much of America has lost touch with the military for a ton of political and cultural reasons I am not going to go into here. This lack of direct experience with real members of the military is reflected in romance books. Or maybe I am reading the wrong romance books. So if you can suggest a more "realistic" military romance, I'd appreciate it.

I look around at the people who I work with and I imagine them in uniform. This is what I mean by realistic. Real men. Real women. Your next door neighbor. Your son. Your sister. Your spouse. In uniform, serving our country. Where are the romance books about people like this? Because it is people like this who serve everyday and make the sacrifices.

So my challenge to romance writers is to imagine someone as oridinary and commonplace as a member of your family serving in the Air Force, Navy, Marines, Army or Coast Guard and to write a romance about them. It can be a woman. It can be a nineteen year old African-American female private who is serving in Iraq. Or a graduate of ROTC from the University of New York serving as a communications officer aboard a destroyer. Or an E-5 who is in language school, learning Farsi to serve on a submarine.

If you are writing about the military and everything in the above paragraph makes you go "Whaaaaat?" I would say this is a sign more research is needed. Memorial Day was yesterday. Can we please do our militray the honor of trying to understand them as real people because real servicemen -and women -are sexy.