Lord of the Romance Seduction, and Also Scoundrels

Back in March, Candy and I were interviewed on NPR’s All Things Considered, and oh, what a glorious thing. “Magic Hoo Hoo” and “heteronormativity” were said within moments of each other – on NPR? Win.

The producer of the show that day, a marvelously savvy woman named Petra, is a romance fan, but alas, the host, Rebecca Roberts had never read a romance novel, and wasn’t sure what to think of them – aside from all the negative stereotypical things one usually hears about romances. When Candy and I recommended a few during the course of the interview, we weren’t sure if Roberts was interested, but Petra assured us as we signed off after the taping was done that she would make sure Rebecca read one. Or two.

I honestly didn’t think she’d read one – so imagine our giddy fist-bumping when Candy and I received the following email from Rebecca, who read Chase and Crusie and, it seems, understands a piece of how powerful and evocative a well-written romance can be.

To: Sarah and Candy
From: Rebecca Roberts
Subject: Turning an NPR snob (redundant!) into a romance reader

Congratulations on the success of Beyond Heaving Bosoms.

Let me just reiterate that getting to say Magic Hoo-hoo on National Public Radio was the highlight of my professional career.  Of course, Weekend All Things Considered has not asked me back to guest host since then.  But I’m sure that’s just a coincidence?

As promised, I have now finished a couple of trashy books.  I really can’t groove to the supernatural thing (I’m too literal, I suppose.  My willing suspension of disbelief only goes so far) so I chose, on your recommendation, Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie.

The first thing I wondered was why is Crusie is considered Romance and not displayed on the table with the pink and blue “Fun Beach Reads!!” sign with the other Chick-lit?  (I know,  I know, the term chick-lit is degrading and patronizing and all kinds of wrong.  But Sophie Kinsella sells a lot of books)  Is it the single-minded focus on getting the couple together?  The line seems awfully blurry, genre-wise.

Anyway, I thought the book was hilarious and devoured it in one big gulp when I really should have been doing other things.  I had such a good time that I went back for more, and read Crusie’s Getting Rid of Bradley.  Mistake.  They’re the same book!  Newly single 40ish woman trying to prove her independence falls for inappropriate man because he is polar opposite of her ex and is kind to her dog(s).  Both newly-single-woman and kind-to-dogs-man are hesitant to get together yet secretly having serious lust issues.  Both come complete with best friend/sibling who sees that NSW and KTDM are perfect for each other.  Finally NSW jumps KTDM and, after a few lame subplots are disposed of, they live HEA.  Reading it once was totally entertaining, sexy, and satisfying.  Reading it twice started to edge into a waste of time.

Lord of ScoundrelsSo…I decided to try another of your faves, Lord of Scoundrels.  I proudly displayed that cheesy ripped-bodice cover (and what’s with the swirly pink title font?) on the DC Metro.  I was so into it I missed my stop.  TWICE.  I started to resent any demands on my time that weren’t Lord of Scoundrels.  Like work.  And motherhood.

When I was done, and the spell was broken, I tried to figure out why I had been so spellbound.  The swaggering hero brought low by a woman who wasn’t afraid of him?  The super hot sex scenes (in other words, swaggering hero brought low by a woman who wasn’t afraid of him)?  I think, actually, it was the fact that the author seemed to not take herself or her characters too seriously.  I think maybe that’s why I was so willing (before I was enlightened by you bitches) to dismiss Romance novels as crap—all that throbbing loins and pulsing womanhood seemed so deadly earnest and tedious.

So, I tried another Loretta Chase, Not Quite a Lady.  Loved it.  I love that her female leads are unapologetically delighted by sex.  I love that the male leads find that hot, not suspect.  The books were similar, but different enough that I stayed interested.

So thank you, bitches, for knocking off some of my blind assumptions.  I think romance novels for me are like warm chocolate donuts: a steady diet would be a little much, but now and then they’re exactly what you want.

Damn, now I’m turned on AND hungry.

Rebecca

WOO HOO! I love introducing sharp people to romances, and helping them realize that everything they’ve heard about them is most certainly not accurate.

I am telling you, Lord of Scoundrels needs a special title for being a most effective tool in the “Bring Them Over to the Romance Side” arsenal.

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  1. 1
    thirstygirl says:

    I’ve actually lost track of the number of people I’ve hooked on romance using Lord of Scoundrels.  That book is Pure Crack.

  2. 2
    Malika says:

    Georgette Heyer novels are other great reads to introduce sceptics to romance. Great writing, thorough research and not far off from your favourite Austen, only with more adventure!  I do wish they would do something about those craptascular covers, though. If you want to give the questionable reputation of romance the boot, it is time for new cover designs!

  3. 3
    Cat Marsters says:

    Perhaps she should have read some newer Crusie—after all (correct me if I’m wrong) but weren’t Anything But You and Getting Rid Of Bradley written as category romances?  Which are, by definition, going to have a rather narrower set of parameters than single titles.  Send her Bet Me!

    Malika, to which Heyer covers are you referring?  They’ve been re-issued so many times a straw poll of a dozen readers would probably turn up different cover art on each copy.

  4. 4
    Barb Ferrer says:

    She’s still got a bit of the “Oh JesusGOD I can’t believe I’m reading this AND enjoying it,” about her, but damn, how cool.

  5. 5
    KristieJ says:

    Whoo Hoo!!!  And another one sees the light.  I’m glad she was open-minded enough to give then a try.  Romance novels will not be for everyone, but just getting those who bought into the stereotype and see that rather there are so many well written thought provoking, issue oriented romance novels change their mind and ‘see the light’ is a wonderful thing to hear about.

  6. 6
    Malika says:

    Cat Marsters: Actually, i was referring to romance novels in general, though i see i wasn’t clear in my last post. I actually like the recent re-issues of Heyer novels, which are rather tasteful. A friend lent me the following edition of These old shades,
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/images/0099465825/ref=dp_image_0?ie=UTF8&n=283155&s=books

    It manages to capture the seductive and frothy aspect of romance novels far more than the technicolor gold-leaf editions of romance novels you are used to seeing in the bookshop. Then again, what would we get to bitch about if romance covers became tasteful? Be careful what you wish for etc..; )

    Roberts does sound rather hesitant, but at least she lets herself be seen out in public with them instead of wrapping them in brown paper before leaving the house!

  7. 7
    JoanneL says:

    Obviously I have my grump on so I apologize in advance.

    I’m always happy when people discover that romance books can be good reading but why do so many newbie readers want to start by making changes to the genre?  There are many types of romance writers and an even larger variety of romance readers. We have room in romancelandia for all types of people including the not-so-sharp, the not so literal and the not so educated.

    Some of us would rather stick pins in our eyes then buy a a ‘fun beach read!’.  That table won’t ever have me looking for my next TBR.

    The ‘swirly pink font’ tells us ‘Historical’.  Personally I like that my favorite authors take their characters (and more importantly, their work) seriously.

    And why do I so often feel that some critics would prefer romance books to come in plain brown wrappers? I think Chase’s cover is lovely. The point would be that one woman’s cheesy is another woman’s insta-buy.

  8. 8
    Barb Ferrer says:

    You know, Joanne, some of those same things had occurred to me, reading through her email.  To me, Crusie is no more a quote/unquote beach read than Jodi Picoult.  But then, you know, whatever floats someone’s sandy shores read, right?  What’s interesting to me about reading her email is her questions with respect to things that those of us familiar with the genre take for granted, such as the nature of the cover art and font or that books that began life as category romances are sometimes going to have a startling similarity especially from the same author (which I think is sort of a danger of repackaging some of those books as ST).

    But I was heartened by what she did enjoy of the books she read because it really gives me hope for the future of the genre and in drawing new readers in.

  9. 9
    katiebabs says:

    Lord of Scoundrel gets them every time. She should read Lisa Kleypas. She wouldn’t leave her house until she read all of Lisa’s titles.

    One question, how does Loretta not take her characters seriously in LOS?

  10. 10
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    One of Rebecca Roberts’ points struck me as particularly apt—that about genre lines being blurred.  I’ve thought for some time that many, many readers are romance fans without even realizing it ( and some would undoubtedly deny it with their last breath.)  Nearly all mystery, suspense, urban fantasy, and action/adventure has a love story of some sort, often secondary to the main plot, but still a substantial part of the overall story arc, and many of the “classics” do as well.

  11. 11
    Barbara says:

    I think the whole “fun beach reads” vs. “romance” thing is a genre/category issue.

    I found this blog through the Bujold fandom :)  so I’m a die-hard Science Fiction and Fantasy Fan. And one of my favorite authors in that genre-as-it-is-now is the late (lamented) Andre Norton. Who, as one of my compatriots noted, had written more novels in the different facets of the genre than anybody else….

    We realized that she (yep—Norton was her penname) was spread so widely because she was writing the books she wanted to write, and telling the stories she wanted to tell, before the genre’s definitions and expectations were set.

    Which I think is part of the issue here. Most contemporary romance doesn’t do anything for me… I like romance in my adventure novels, rather than adventure in my romance novels—and I think that’s an issue of a sliding scale. A very personal sliding scale, one that’s very different for each of us.

  12. 12

    An entertaining letter despite the lingering whiff of condescension.  The problem will be keeping new readers by making sure they access the good stuff.  A couple eye-rolling romances in a row is enough to turn anyone but the most dedicated of us off to the genre.

  13. 13
    Wendy says:

    Because of this lovely blog, this fantasy-reader now enjoys a romance from time to time, and it’s just like Rebecca says: chocolate doughnuts.  Constantly, it might get tiring, but every so often, nothing else will do.  When I know I just need to lose myself for a day or two, I’ll go find one o’ these so-called “trashy books.”  ;)  I actually like my books gritty, political and angsty with bittersweet endings, so it’s been really refreshing to mix it up a bit lately.
    (Though, in all honesty, I’m probably a book whore at heart and just like a good read, and I trust the smairts of the ladies that write and read this here blog.)

    To Barbara: Great points about Norton and the sliding scale of genre.  And, I too, like romance in my adventure, rather than adventure in my romance.

  14. 14
    Jill Shalvis says:

    Turning readers one romance at a time.  LOVE it.

  15. 15

    Chase and Crusie FTW! They won me over, so I use them mercilessly on unsuspecting anti-romance people. I do think the newer Crusies work better, though—Welcome to Temptation and Bet Me are pretty surefire weapons, even on men.

  16. 16
    Silver James says:

    And one of my favorite authors in that genre-as-it-is-now is the late (lamented) Andre Norton. Who, as one of my compatriots noted, had written more novels in the different facets of the genre than anybody else….

    Barbara, I cut my SciFi teeth on Norton’s books and I still own almost the entire set of her Witchworld series (I lost track in recent years when she had co-authors). The Beastmaster was my first crush.

    I need to find the article I read stating that almost every genre and book out there has some element of romance in it. *staples sticky note to forehead as a reminder*

    It’s nice to know that even “an NPR snob (redundant!)” can come to the “pink” side!

  17. 17
    Caty M says:

    Not that I ever need any encouragement to read romance, but I have somehow managed never to read Lord of Scoundrels, despite having received a billion and six recommendations to do so.  I finally caved in and ordered it.  I hold you lot entirely responsible for the overstretched state of my credit card. ;)

    And yes, I always found Crusie and especially Heyer good for sucking people into romance reading.  And the new Heyer covers are wonderful.

  18. 18
    LadyRhian says:

    I still love Andre Norton! Not only do I have almost *all* of the books she ever wrote, but that includes the YA, Romance, Western, Fantasy and Sci-Fi ones. Did I miss a genre? I think I did. Her “Sword” novels are action adventure (The Sword is Drawn, Sword in Sheath and At Sword’s Point).

    At this point, I am still missing a few of her books: “Caroline” and “Day of the Ness”, “Star Ka’ats and the Plant People”, among others. It’s been a labor of love to get them… people on E-bay are selling old books of hers for $300.00 and up. :P Not even first editions! The most I’ve paid for one of her books was $30.00 for one of her Westerns, “Stand to Horse” and $25.00 for an old YA, “To Ride the Green Dragon”- not fantasy, sadly.

  19. 19
    HelenB says:

    This is totally beside the point, but I can’t take it any more. What is the man in the Dreamspinner ad curious about? A blue man peering down at himself as if to say “what is that dangly thing I’ve got downthere”. The books may be good but that ad is just strange.

  20. 20
    Keira says:

    She’s come to the dark side… now we must give her cookies. lol

  21. 21

    Well done! I always love forcing intellectual snobs (like my mother and pretty much anyone I went to college with) to read romances and love them. I’m sad she chose category Crusie instead of Faking It or Bet Me, though—I imagine she might’ve had a different reaction.

    The Loretta Chase thing, obviously, is the huge win. I can’t believe I’ve never read Lord of Scoundrels. At this point, it’s almost a contest to see how long I can hold out in the face of everyone in the universe telling me how freaking amazing and awesome it is.

  22. 22
    Mary Stella says:

    Wow.  Despite some of the little comments, this woman scores points with me for four major concessions.  1) She admitted to a previously snobby attitude about romance.  2) She was willing to give romance a shot.  3) She not only dismounted from the high horse to read the books, but did so with an open mind.  4) She admitted to really enjoying a genre she previously scorned.

    So many times, an anti-romance snob picks up a book and reads it only to purposely find reasons to prove she was right.  Roberta read for the experience.  Good for her!  Good for SB for turning her on to them.

  23. 23
    Kate says:

    The ‘swirly pink font’ tells us ‘Historical’.

    Hey, I’m a romance reader and I really dislike the swirly pink font. But I suppose that’s more a matter of taste than genre, since I’m not a big fan of swirly pink fonts anywhere or figurative representations on my book covers, regardless of book or genre.

    Wish I would have heard that interview, o so long ago. Thanks for the link.

  24. 24

    I can’t believe I’ve never read Lord of Scoundrels. At this point, it’s almost a contest to see how long I can hold out in the face of everyone in the universe telling me how freaking amazing and awesome it is.

    (Psssst…I’ve never read it either so we might be having this contest against one another!)

  25. 25
    Randi says:

    Leslie Dicken and Caty M: Oh, I hope you get to it soon. It is a marvelous reading experience. Do let us know what you think when (I’m optimistic here) you finally read it!!

    I had a love affair for Norton in my adolescence. I LOVED her Witch World books. Sadly, I tried reading them about a year ago and couldn’t get past page 10 of the first book. I’m terribly sad, as I have all these lovely memories of reading her, but for me, she just didn’t travel well into my 30’s. I was going to post all my Norton books on bookswap.com, but now I’ll check them first to see if any are selling at a premium.

    longer92: Leslie and Katy-don’t wait longer than 92 days to read Lord of Scoundrals.

  26. 26
    Randi says:

    ETA: I meant paperbookswap.com. duh.

  27. 27
    Mary M. says:

    Hehehe…romance slowly conqueering the world, one reader at a time. Congrats for pimping well done Sarah :-D

  28. 28
    Silver James says:

    Pssst, Leslie Dicken and Louisa Edwards, shall we be the Three Musketeers? I haven’t read it either.

    *bwahaha* Spamword: easy32 Yeah, I easily have at least 32 books in my TBR pile.

  29. 29
    MB says:

    Wow, good choices for recommendations!

    I wish she would have read “Bet Me” first.  I think it is a much better book.  ABW/GROB never did much for me.

  30. 30
    Polly says:

    I think I must be the only person in the world who had mixed feelings about LoS. I loved the first half, and didn’t care for the emotional angst re: the illegitimate child. Give me more fun sparring, less overwrought emotion any time (which is probably why I love Georgette Heyer like whoa). And please don’t throw anything at me.

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