When Jane Litte and I hosted a session on “Save the Contemporary” at RT this year, in the middle of a discussion, we discovered that in the audience was contemporary romance author Susan Donovan. I think my literal response was, “Oh, cool!” So when she got in touch with me later, I suggested an interview, because I was curious what she thought of the contemporary market, and romance in general.
You visited our Save the Contemporary panel and we were very excited to meet you – thank you for coming. What do you love most about contemporary romance, reading and writing it?
Susan: I visited the “Save the Contemporary” panel at RT because I was alarmed to see the title of the workshop, plus I was hoping to get a free t-shirt. The truth is, I had no idea anything needed saving! I’ve been so busy sitting at my laptop making up stuff set somewhere in modern-day America that I didn’t realize there was any kind of crisis with this type of fiction. I’m out of the loop, as usual.
Why do I gravitate toward contemporary romance? I’ve always been a here-and-now kind of girl, earth-bound and realistic, so I suppose that’s why I prefer contemporaries both to read and to write. I enjoy love stories that take place in what could conceivably be a real situation, in our time, and in a place that has a familiar feel to it. In my opinion, if you have a sexy, hot, funny and wild love story grounded in the here and now, it’s even sexier, hotter, funnier and wilder because there’s some realism in it. It really could happen! Better yet, it could happen to me! So when I write a contemporary love story, that’s always where I to start. Then I kick it up a few notches, giving the reader a fantasy world within the real-world setting. The highest compliment I can receive is when a reader or reviewer says they knew from the start that a story’s premise was highly improbable, but the tale was written with enough detail, emotion and down-to-earth humor that they forgot it was damn-near impossible from the get-go.
Have folks told you that contemporary is tougher to sell, or is that a myth in romance publishing?
Susan: As I mentioned, I’d never heard contemporaries were hard to sell until I attended the RT workshop. I’ve sold twelve contemporary novels and three contemporary novellas since 2000, all the while thinking contemporaries were hot. I mean, I always assumed contemporaries would be easier to sell than, say, medieval werepanther BDSM erotica. (OK, so maybe that’s not such a great example.)
But in all seriousness, it’s no harder to sell a contemporary than any other kind of book. It’s hard to sell a book, period. If you’re a writer trying to get your first sale, ignore everyone’s advice and everything you hear about what’s hot and what’s not. Your job is to find your voice and write the best darn medieval werepanther BDSM erotica story you can! Then keep your fingers crossed!
What tropes are absolutely your favorites? Guilty favorites, too – don’t be shy!
Susan: Sarah, I had to look up the word “trope” before I could answer you. I was afraid you were inquiring about my favorite French pastry or sexual position or something equally personal. Now that I know the word means “a figure of speech using words in non-literal ways, such as a metaphor,” I’m all over it! As it turns out, I love tropes. I love the heck out of those things. My friends and family will tell you that I’ve been troping through life from an early age, making up words for stuff or coming up with strangely humorous ways to describe what goes on in the world. It seems I’ve surrounded myself with tropists, in fact. The man in my life goes trope-to-trope with me daily. Many of my best friends are tropists as well, and my closest friend is the most entertaining kind of tropist possible – an involuntary tropist. Since her first language is German, she mangles metaphors on a daily basis, such as, “That girl is dragging around a lot of luggage.” (Think “baggage.”) And, “I almost blew a casket!” (Um, no. She doesn’t read vampire romance.)
So, to answer your question, my mind is a veritable treasure trove of tropes. I collect them when I eavesdrop at restaurants and when I travel. They’re part of my writing style. Now that I think about it, they’re everywhere in my books. I’m suddenly embarrassed by my prolific troping. I believe that somewhere along the line I’ve become a trope trollop. Here are some of my all-time faves, many of which are disturbingly crude and, therefore, can be found in my books:
· “Looks like he fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.”
· “She was on him like a cheap suit.”
· “I’d like to open her up like a new Wal-Mart.”
· “I’m hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit.”
· “It’s wetter than a cucumber in a women’s prison.”
I think I better stop now.
Tell me about your upcoming book – plot summary, scene that’s your favorite, number of times you used the word “the….”
Susan: My book THE NIGHT SHE GOT LUCKY, (that’s one “the”) comes out May 25th from St. Martin’s Press. It’s Book #2 in a trilogy about women in a dog-walking group who give up on men and decide to lead happy lives in the (I’ll stop counting now) company of their dogs. Of course, since I write romance, these women fall off the wagon one-by-one as they find their true loves. THE NIGHT SHE GOT LUCKY is the story of Ginger Garrison and Lucio “Lucky” Montevez.
Boy, do I love these two. Talk about volatile! In my opinion, there’s nothing sexier than the combination of a woman who thinks her life is over and a man who can show her it hasn’t even begun. And that’s what THE NIGHT SHE GOT LUCKY is about.
Ginger is a newly unemployed forty-year-old who’s raising teenage boys while trying to put her world back together after a painful divorce. She fantasizes more about Botox than bad boys and is suffering from a whopping case of psychosomatic menopause. Then she meets Lucio, a sultry Spanish lothario and world renowned wildlife photographer who’s been sidelined by an international “incident” that cost him his job, pissed off the Chinese and raised the suspicions of the State Department. Lucio decides he’ll take wedding pictures and designer pet portraits to pay the bills while he gets the mess sorted out, and he wants one of his first clients to be the succulent Ginger and her little bichon frise. There’s an undeniable attraction, but can Ginger trust Lucio enough to reveal her hidden wild side? Is Lucio telling the truth when he says he’ll stick around? Or will someone out of his playboy past cost him the only woman he’s ever really loved?
As for my favorite scene. . . hmm. Probably in chapter two, where Ginger thinks she’s alone, sipping wine at midnight in a lawn chair at the Sonoma Valley estate where her friend has just gotten married. She begins to feel sorry for herself, achingly lonely. Her thoughts wander to the sexy photographer she met earlier that day. She touches herself. Her need overflows. Her imagination runs amok. (I’m paraphrasing here. In my actual books, I try to avoid things that “overflow” or “run amok.”) So in her disheveled emotional state, Ginger envisions the swarthy photographer, feels his long hair gripped in her fingers, whispers all kinds of out-of-character nasty things to him, and then . . . well, yes, she discovers it’s more than a fantasy and the guy really is kneeling in the grass before her, happy to follow her every request. I won’t spoil it, but the scene ends with Lucio carrying Ginger to her room, patting her on the bottom and giving her back the panties she’d flung onto the grass. “You shouldn’t leave these lying around just anywhere,” he advises her.
As for that other part of the question, I honestly don’t know how often I use the “the” word. I’ve never really stopped to think about it. But I’ll tell you what. I’ll just head out to the lawn chair in my front yard and sit a spell, maybe sip a glass of wine while I mull things over in my head. I’ll get right back to you.
Thank you, Susan! So, what about you? Do you love the fantasy-in-the-real-world setting? Improbable and possibly impossible but not put-down-able? What types of contemporary romances rock your boat?