An Open Letter from SB Sarah

Dear DocTurtle:

I’m a big fan of your wife’s site, and Lord knows, there’s more than enough cover snark to go around. And I completely agree, some of the Harlequin Presents! titles are enough to make your teeth hurt like you ate a glazed donut with a cavity. I’m particularly not fond of the “baby of shame” series, which makes me want to get all fidgety and stabby the nearest paperback.

And Lordy knows, I love a good random title generator. We’ve been known to play with such technology hereabouts, and mock the occasional Presents title. So it’s not like there isn’t plenty of mocking room going on. There’s like a mocking mansion with separate parlors for mocking at various times of the day, with all the mockage that floats about.

I so dig your sense of humor, too – random mammal generator? Win!. You went to the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg before your wedding? Also win. I’ve been there. It’s a dry county. The irony is delicious.

So really, sir, did you have to go there? Did you have to pair the silly humor of a Random Romance Title Generator with the text:

“low-grade throwaway bodice rippers put out by the thousands by Harlequin and similar publishers….”

Did you really, really have to go there? I won’t pick apart the layered fallacy of that sentence, except to say: you don’t know from much. The cover art: preposterous. The titles? Don’t get me started. The contents? Not bodice ripper, not low-grade, and certainly not throwaway. Not by a longshot.

I challenge you to a duel! A duel of reading! I shall pick out a Harlequin that is pretty damn fantastic, and I shall send it to you and your wife to read. Perhaps romance isn’t your cup of tea, but certainly you can evaluate fiction for fiction’s sake, and read a story that might just alter your judgment of the category romance genre. I mean, the brain that came up with The Strongbadian Paper Company Sales Representative’s Wily Marquess can face the task I propose.

I await your reply. Email me (sarah @ any time.


SB Sarah
“The Scottish Trillionaire’s Feminist Duchess”

Psst- Got a book to suggest for the duel? Leave a comment.


General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. ev says:

    My random mammal- a mink. saucy…

    although I love the snark (and really, the covers themselves deserve it) IMHO, any one who judges a book just by its cover, does the same to people.

    Let me think on a title, but I know by the time I get home from work, there will be many suggestions.

    The Venusian Outlaw’s Insatiable Prisoner

  2. DawnM says:

    Didn’t much like being a mouse so I became a bandicoot. And I’m actually impressed the generator had bandicoot in there.

    Not sure how anyone can equate HQ with the term bodice-ripper. Although I’m not a fan of HQ’s, so I can’t come up with any current decent ones, but I’d suggest an old Stephanie James.

    The Peorian Thousandaire’s Bodacious Virgin

  3. If evaluating fiction for fiction’s sake fails, can I suggest mud-

    The Loadedinaire Virginial Whore

  4. Kathy says:

    I just wanted to try the random generator:  oryx.

    Doesn’t this title entice you?  Tasty Fishmongeress?  Mmmm.

    The Mesopotamian Legal Consultant’s Tasty Fishmongeress

  5. Jill Myles says:

    I tried the random generator:

    The Samoan Hunter’s Depraved Queen

    Is it wrong that I want to read this?

    As for titles to suggest…hmm. I really dug Kathleen O’Reilly’s Blaze novels that came out last year, even though the titles made me wonder. The accountant one was my favorite.

  6. Jen says:

    The Venusian Millionaire’s Anarcho-Syndicalist Mistress

    OOOH!  I really really like that title!

  7. Jen says:

    Oh god, have to share this one!
    The Mesopotamian Merchant’s Insatiable Secretary

  8. I have no suggestions, but from now on, I want to be known as ‘The Pacific Islander Legal Consultant’s Supine Duchess’, or ‘The Mesopotamian Vampire’s Anarcho-Syndicalist Prisoner’. I will answer to no other names.

    Random mammal? Numbat.

    They’re making these up.

  9. Julie Leto says:

    I second Kathleen O’Reilly.  SEX, STRAIGHT UP.  I also suggest Elle James’s Intrigue, ALASKAN FANTASY.  Set on the Ididarod—great, action-packed story.  One of my favorites from last year.

    If we want to go back a bit, my favorite category romance is Jan Freed’s THE WALLFLOWER (Superromance).  But I really think you should send him something current, as much as I totally adored this book.

  10. Great challenge, Sarah.  Most of my suggestions are older books or Harlequin historicals, but I’ll check my shelves this afternoon.

    Signed, The Scottish Dragon Emperor’s Supine Bride

  11. Deb Kinnard says:

    Let’s DO go back a bit. I’ll throw any Desire title by Eileen Wilks into the pot. She’s gone over to the paranormal side of the Force now, but her romances RULE.

    And I don’t need a generator—long ago my crit partner and I agreed to a title for our awesome book: THE RICH CHRISTIAN VIRGIN COWBOY’S SECRET BABY.  That’s enough for us.

  12. skapusniak says:

    I think it needs a little tweaking, as…

    ‘The Assyrian Paper Company Sales Representative’s Captive Automaton’

    …is definitely not a Harlequin Presents, and probably not a romance at all.  Most likely a ‘New Weird’ short story published in either Strange Horizons or Subterranean Magazine.  🙂

  13. “The Mediterranean Performance Artist’s Buxom Bride.” It’s the sort of thing that we wooly mammoths enjoy.

    I’d recommend “Delicious” by Julie Cohen, published in the US as “Macalester’s Baby.” Terrific book.

  14. robinjn says:

    I think it needs a little tweaking…

    Are you kidding? It’s perfect! I so want to read this one.

    The Parisian Sheik’s Depraved Personal Trainer

  15. Jessica says:

    I don’t know. Maybe I’m feeling defeated because it’s the last week of summer,  but sometimes I doubt that hard core negative judgers of the genre are going to have an epiphany a la “I am Sam” (with apologies to Dr. Seuss) just by doing some reading.

    But I know I speak for many when I say I appreciate your efforts!

  16. I’ve posted twice before (here and here) about the utter inanity that is the romance novel title. They’re really formulaic: if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all.

    Okay, I’ll admit that many romance titles are redundant and formulaic, but I HATE IT when people generalize and lump the whole genre together.  There are actually some damn clever titles out there if you ask me!

    Love the letter, Sarah.  Me hopes he accepts the duel!!

  17. The titles? Don’t get me started. The contents? Not bodice ripper, not low-grade, and certainly not throwaway. Not by a longshot.

    I’m in your corner, Sarah. Great challenge.

    Just a question:  When did Harlequin Presents titles start getting so silly? I just pulled an old favourite Anne Mather HP down from my shelf, which lists her other titles as: “Seen By Candlelight”, “Dark Enemy”, “Chase a Green Shadow”, “White Rose of Winter”, “Leopard in the Snow” (ooh, I remember that one!), and “A Distant Sound of Thunder”, among others….

    Not a billionaire baby in the bunch.  So just as a point of historical interest, when did Harlequin develop its own Random Title Generator for the Presents line, and why?

    Just curious,
    The Scottish President’s Sleep-Deprived Prisoner

  18. nystacey says:

    Another vote for Sex Straight Up, by Kathleen O’Reilly, with a very close second for Nightcap.  She’s amazing at infusing her books with topical issues in a way even those biased against category romance cannot ignore:)  A 9/11 widower hero in Sex Straight Up and a Deputy Mayor Heroine in Nightcap dealing with a Transit Strike…?

    I just can’t wait to see what she does next !


  19. Brianna says:


    Random mammal? Numbat.

    They’re making these up.

    Not making it up – the Numbat is real.

    The Nordic Landowner’s Supine Slave-Girl

  20. Suze says:

    Goat!  That’s my Chinese Zodiac sign.  Huh.

    I’m blanking on specific recommendations, but Rayanne Thayne has been fairly consistently good.  She has a new Intimate Moments out, but I haven’t read it yet.

    The Albanian Prince’s Tasty Princess

    Mmm, tasty!

  21. darlynne says:

    All discerning llamas are reading “The Frankish Outlaw’s Quiet Fishmongeress” these days.

  22. TracyS says:

    Random generator: ELK.  Hmmmmm, I used to live in ELK RIVER, MN so that’s interesting! LOL

    The Samoan Legal Consultant’s Lonely Prisoner

  23. Courtney S. says:

    Well played Sarah!

    I must put in my 2 cents for Flyboy by Karen Foley. This one is more then your average Blaze, two believe characters and a wonderful military plot.

  24. CT says:

    I have nothing to add to this conversation except:

    The Albanian NASCAR Driver’s Bemused Feminist

    Oh my.

  25. Rebecca says:

    That is fun. These are my favorites:

    The Parisian NASCAR Driver’s Unctuous Slave-Girl

    The Pacific Islander Tycoon’s Bluestockinged Fishmongeress

    The Nordic Dragon Emperor’s Tasty Bride

    The Parisian King’s Sleep-Deprived Dragon Lady

    The Slavic King’s Feminist Girl Friday

  26. molly_rose says:

    So, as The Gaelic Duke’s Bodacious Duchess, I was just talking with a few of my friends, and I was reminiscing on that link a while back with the comic about Mr. Darcy – the (very short) plot was about what married life was like for the Darcys. It was quite funny, but I couldn’t find it in the Archives. Anyone remember this?

  27. ilona andrews says:

    The Maltese Dragon Emperor’s Wily Fishmongeress


  28. Soccer Mom says:

    Hmmm, if I combine my mammal and title, I get:
    The Mesopotamian Hunter’s Insatiable Love-Slave’s Orangutan.


  29. OK, I haven’t actually read this, but I fully intend to.  It got a B+ on Dear Author, and I think it would be perfect for this challenge. 

    If I’d Never Known Your Love by Georgia Bockhoven.  Harlequin Everlasting Love.

    From the review/summary, I’d say this one couldn’t be further from a low-grade, throwaway bodice ripper. 

    Whatever you select, here’s hoping he accepts the duel and gets schooled!

    I tried to add a link to the review:

    url=]If I’d Never Known Your Love[/url]

  30. Anaquana says:

    Oh, Ilona I’m jealous!

    I wanna be the Maltese Dragon Emperor’s Wily Fishmongress!

    Instead I am The Gaelic Outlaw’s Bodacious Marquess

  31. Melisa says:

    I had to share.

    The Venusian Dragon Emperor’s Buxom Girl Friday

    Love it!!

  32. Jana Oliver says:

    The Frankish Prince’s Gold-Digging Love-Slave

    And here I thought I had no idea what my next novel would be. I envision imagine a woman in harem dress, with brilliant auburn hair to her waist, pitchfork in hand as she mines for that golden 24K ore. It’ll sell a million copies.

    Rita here I come!

  33. sandra says:

    I’d recommend Janice Kay Johnson’s SNOWBOUND:  a school teacher and her busload of hormonal teenaged pupils are stranded at a ski lodge run by a scarred war veteran with issues.

  34. Michele says:

    I’ve always been irritated by the titles- they can make a well done story appear formulaic, even though there are fresh authors out there.

    Couple of authors that come to mind-

    Janice Kay Johnston tends to write heart-wrenching stories for HQ Superromance.  “With Child” was outstanding (and an award winner, I believe).  I’ve heard similar good things about “Snowbound”.

    I’ll second Raeanne Thayne.  Good stories, compelling characters.

    For more adventure/action, Catherine Mann comes to mind.  Some of her Wingmen Warriors series have dealt with very serious topics that face members of our military. 

    I guess the question is, are you looking to break the notion with a “Blaze” type book, or one that is more romance-focused? 

    The Samoan Hunter’s Sleep-Deprived Secretary- *giggle*

  35. Julie Leto says:

    Um, Blazes ARE romance focused.  They just sometimes have a lot of hot sex.

    I see no reason to try and deny that romances have hot sex in them.  It’s part of the package.  I hate that the only books anyone ever wants to hold up to the light are the ones that are serious and deal with issues—or the ones where the characters experience sexual tension, sexual tension, sexual tension, love & commitment, then sex.  Blah, blah, blah.  It’s very old school.  (Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with that…there’s no school like the old school.)

    But sometimes, I like a book that’s hotter, that shows what happens to those couples who fall into bed pretty darned fast and the aftermath that follows, even if it’s all good.  It’s perfectly okay for romances to just be fun and sexy and exciting and emotional.  That’s what Blaze is to me, anyway.

    I’m not knocking “the issue” books or the slow build books…I’m just saying that we shouldn’t discount one particular line just because the sex is explicit and sometimes happens in Chapter 1.

  36. The Aztec Rogue’s Insatiable Love-Slave

    Hey, who broke into my hard drive and peeked at the spoilers??


  37. JenTurner says:

    I have a box of Red Silhouette novels from the 1980’s that my mom gave me.  Maybe I can find something in there. 🙂

    My random title: “The Parisian Sadist’s Unwilling Lady”

    I think I need to write this book…but something tells me HQ won’t print it. 🙂  Bondage anyone?

  38. JenTurner says:

    Okay, I couldn’t help it.  Here’s another one:

    The Viking Rogue’s Tasty Bride

  39. Robin says:

    You know, in a way they’re actually proving the point of those titles:  that they draw attention to themselves and to the book.  How many people have picked up some of those categories based on the outrageous titles? I have.  They’re certainly outrageous in a much more noticeable way than the endless variations on passion and sin in single title Romances (every time I review a book from a certain publisher, I have to check like three times to make sure I’m writing the totally derivative title in the right way, since it’s impossible to tell them apart based on the book itself).  And the Presents titles, at least, are usually pretty descriptive, too.  I know that’s not the point of the mockery, but I doubt Harlequin is unaware of the absurdity of those titles or that it eschews that absurdity if it sells more books to people who either know what they’re getting from the title or people who are so intrigued that they have to pick up a book. 

    As for recommending a good category, I think that the first Harlequin Temptation, LaVyrle Spencer’s Spring Fancy is great.  As are the old Laura London ones.  Or the old Jennifer Crusie’s.  I know there are plenty of contemporarily published ones, as well, but I am a bit hesitant to recommend one to a non-Romance reader.  I truly believe that genre Romance is a paradigm that allows its readers to understand and accept certain things that are more difficult to get and appreciate for the non-Romance reader.  And categories, with their condensed format, can be even more strict in terms of the genre paradigm.  So those books genre readers understand to be exemplary may not come across that way for readers who are not used to the genre conventions.

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