In which the author reluctantly admits she is reading a romance novel

The other day I needed something to read really fast. I was going somewhere (out to eat? to get my tire fixed? why are my days blurring together like this?) and the book I’m reading right now is sitting on my desk at work. (One of the hazards of being a librarian: my to-be-read pile originates and lives at work.) So I pulled out my phone, went to OverDrive, and downloaded the first thing that caught my eye.

Which happened to be a romance novel. Why was this the first thing that caught my eye? I really don’t go for the romance-cover-guy look. I’m particularly happy to criticize most historical romance covers, in fact. Too many beardless men supposedly from the Renaissance era, when a beard was considered a visible symbol of manhood and not to have one guaranteed ridicule. Too many women with overflowing bosoms in dresses that clearly have modern underpinnings. Yes, I said underpinnings. I have done some historical costuming. (Hence, the snobby attitude toward romance novel covers.) But the thumbnail cover images were extra-tiny on my phone, and so didn’t have much to criticize on that front.

Sometimes I just feel like something fluffy. If you’ve read any of my fiction you’ll get the idea that things aren’t always sunny in my brain. I like to call it brick-to-the-head writing. But while I think heavy writing is important, everyone needs a break from it now and again. The truly embarrassing thing is how much I’m seeing myself in this book. Not from a character standpoint, but as far as author choices go.

I keep forgetting the name of this book and I’m not going to look it up now. If I feel brave, I’ll post it on Goodreads. (Oh, and – Hey everybody! I’ve got a Goodreads page!) It’s your typical Regency-era romance, identified by people bandying about the word ton, with an unexpectedly willful heroine and a hero with a rakish streak. My biggest criticism about the genre is that it’s overwritten: everything takes three times as many words to say as necessary, with all the extra words making things seem sexier than they need to be. People don’t just comb their hair, for example, or even comb their thick hair. They comb the thick, luxurious chestnut locks that hang wantonly about their shoulders. It’s easy for me to laugh at but it’s part of the genre. It’s what makes a romance novel a romance novel. So go on and overwrite, all you romance authors, and have fun. Don’t mind me snickering in the corner.

Now here’s the part where I have to stop snickering. Our hero is the son of a wealthy family (natch), who for reasons I haven’t yet discovered has found himself exiled to a cottage in the forest, where he chops wood and does his own cooking outdoors. It’s as if the author couldn’t decide whether she wanted to go with the refined wealthy man (absolutely required in the Regency subgenre) or the handsomely rugged one (arguably more appeal to the modern American audience). So she put them together. I was tempted to start laughing again. Poor author doesn’t want to make a choice. No, actually I have to admit that she made an effective choice blending these two character types. And I have to admit that I’d probably do something similar myself if I had to write a Regency romance. In fact, I already have, albeit in a more age-appropriate format: my first childhood “book.”

When I was in the 4th grade I wrote something called – I kid you not – “Princess Morgan and the Farm Girl.” (It’s the book that I bound with string and shelved in my elementary school library, if you saw that bit in my bio, and I wish I could turn back time about 20 years and ask the librarian if she still has it. It’s undoubtedly been circular-filed by now, and like a dope I gave away my only copy.) You see, I wanted to write a story about a make-believe girl, who, like a true Mary Sue, would be a stand-in for myself. But I couldn’t decide whether it would be cooler to live in a castle and wear fancy dresses, or to live on a farm and eat buckwheat pancakes. Obviously I didn’t know much about what happened on a farm, but I liked buckwheat pancakes and figured they were more rustic than buttermilk ones. So I put the two characters in the same book so I wouldn’t have to choose. I am that romance author. I will be reading quietly in the corner now, my luxurious if somewhat tangled tresses shielding my reddening face.

And more news: I’ve gotten my first Amazon review for The Sea Between the Worlds! Okay, it was written by my dad (who uses my mom’s name online for some reason), but he was being fairly objective, and hey – it’s a review! Thanks, dad!

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