Monday, July 31, 2006

Nora Roberts: Ghosts, Gardening, and Genealogists

Title: Black Rose - Book Two of the "In the Garden" Trilogy
Author: Nora Roberts
Publisher: Jove Books
Price: $7.99
Length: 355 pages

Black Rose continues the story of Stella Rothchild, Hayley Phillips and Roz Harper, the three women who live at Harper House and work at Roz's In the Garden nursery. The focus of this second book in the trilogy is Roz, a steel magnolia in her late forties, and her blossoming romance with Dr. Mitchell Carnegie. Mitch is the genealogist that Roz hired at the end of the first book to help identify her family's ghost, the Harper Bride. At the end of the first book the ghost had a name—Amelia—yet by the end of Black Rose , they are no closer to identifying her relationship to the Harper family. In other words, wait until book three for the final resolution.

Just as with Stella and Logan in book one, Blue Dahlia , Amelia resents Roz and Mitch's relationship. As Roz and Mitch's feelings ramp up so does Amelia's anger. And besides dealing with an unstable ghost, Roz has to contend with her loathsome ex-husband, Bryce and his petty games. Then there is the added venom of her cousin, Clarise, who certainly knows more about the Harper Bride than she's willing to admit.

This second installment brings back the same appealing characters, although the romance between Mitch and Roz doesn't have the same playful sparks that Stella and Logan's did. We know from the onset that the muddled, disorganized, but basically brilliant Mitch will get together with Roz once they—or for the most part, she—slays the double dragons of Bryce and Clarise. It is refreshing to see Robert's mature heroine handle her own problems with her man along only for moral support and to pour her a cool drink when she returns from battle.

Some readers might find all the references to gardening off putting. But they are there if, like Roberts, you enjoy that sort of thing. If not, these sections can be skimmed without missing any of the story.

Like the first, I'd share this book with a friend, but I would have liked more passion and less predictability between Roz and Mitch.

sexual warmth
overall satisfaction
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Why Do Some Writers Think They’re So Damn Special?

I’m currently updating our writer’s guidelines, but I wonder why I bother. Based on some of our submissions not everyone’s reading them. If they are, they’ve decided they are the exception to the rule. It must be nice to be so damn special. But really, these writers are not special at all. They’re either ignorant, obstinate, or can’t read any better than they write. Don’t they realize they’re wasting their time and mine by sending me something I can’t use?

We don’t write our guidelines arbitrarily. They are based on the product that we sell and the audience we are trying to reach. The powers that be at Arrow gave it a lot of thought when they carved out our niche in the publishing world. We publish romance graphic novellas. Okay, maybe the term is confusing. We’ve tried others: “illustrated romance fiction,” “fully illustrated romance fiction,” “a cross between a romance novel and a graphic novel” or “an update of the old romance comics.” Still don’t understand? Interested writers can read our stories on our web site. We offer two different free stories on our site each day so if you come back a couple times you’ll get a feel for what we publish. Still writers send us mystery novels, science fiction novels, crime novels, and just novels. We don’t even publish novels!

Yes, yes, I know if I read your novel or at least the wonderful, evocative three sample chapters in your e-mail I would make an exception for you. Guess what, if Agatha Christie rose from the grave, dashed off a mystery and sent it to me I’d have to say, “No, thank you.” I might ask her if she could rework it to give us more sex and romance. And break it down into 70-75 panels so we could put it out as a graphic romance novella. If Agatha says, “yes” then I can use her story. If not, I still might buy it, rewrite the hell out of it and put it out as a new romance novella from the newly risen Mrs. Christie. I bet we could book her on “Entertainment Tonight” and “The View”.

Sometime I reply to a writer explaining what we do publish, and the response is, “There’s a lot of romance in my novel.” While I’m sure there is, they’re still missing the point. Romance is a specific genre. Throwing in a romance scene doesn’t make it a romance. There are certain things we look for in our romance scripts. There should be sexual tension between the hero and heroine with some plausible conflicts. We also like rich, intriguing heroes and womanly, interesting heroine, plus exotic locales. Readers like to escape into a romance so they don’t want to read about a dreary girl falling in love with some schlub in some boring place. That’s most of our lives and who’d consider that romantic?

Guess my other piece of advice is read, read, read what you want to write. We learn by reading. We see how other published writers handle the genre. How can you write a romance if you haven’t read a romance? Strangely, some people try and that’s another reason their submissions get rejected.

How can you expect to write for us if you haven’t read one of our stories? It’s not like you even have to leave your computer to do it—our stories are available online.

My final piece of advice for a writer who wants to be published by Arrow or any other publisher is: learn to read. Read the publisher’s guidelines to find out what they want and how they want to receive it before you waste your stamp or the time it takes to press “send” on your e-mail. Read the guidelines once, twice and three times if necessary until you understand. If you follow this advice you’ll reduce the number of rejections you receive and hopefully the number of ranting editors out there. Well, you won’t really reduce the number of us ranting editors. It takes a wooden stake or a silver bullet for that. And besides, even if everything was wonderful, we'd be cheesed off about that.
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Lovable Hijinks Make For a Great Read

Title: The Wife Trap
Author: Tracy Ann Warren
Ballantine Books
392 pages

In this rollicking entry in a trilogy about nineteenth century mores and high jinks, Tracy Ann Warren concentrates on the loveable cut up, Lady Jeannette Brantford, who has been banished to the dreary Irish countryside for embarrassing her aristocratic family. Along the way to the home of her Irish-cousins, her carriage breaks down and she makes the acquaintance of the roguish Darragh O'Brien whom she mistakenly assumes is beneath her. After all, he accepts pay for his work as an architect—something no gentleman would do! The fact that he is working on her cousin's home and dares to wake her up with his early morning construction noises leads to a clash of wills and a delightful series of one-upmanships that eventually culminate in passion. Although I took delight in the way Darragh keeps his actual title and riches a secret from her to teach her a lesson even after they are married, Lady Jeannette shows such pluck and willingness to adjust to her circumstance, we soon feel for her. I soon felt for her and can quite understand her sense of betrayal when the truth comes out. Warren has a bright, evocative touch, and the love scenes are worth a second, and on a lonely night, a third read.

sexual warmth
overall satisfaction
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It’s OK to Be Creative, Just Not Too Creative

Take a writing class and you’ll be told, write what you know. Boring! You should understand what you’re writing about. If you’re writing a historical novel then research your time period. Don’t pretend to know when you don’t. If you get it wrong it will show and your readers will never let you forget it. But writing about what you know doesn’t mean writing about your life, your town, and your adventures. Not unless you are really interesting.

So if you’re not writing your own story, you will probably need to create characters and a plot. When you do, please don’t go crazy. Not too long ago I received an outline for a book that had it all. And none of it was good. The writer tried too hard to be creative.

This particular submission had history, alternative universes, and pedophilia. It was set in the Depression and World War II. A young boy marries his much older teacher and somehow one of them becomes president of the United States during World War II. As I recall one of them was a fighter pilot, too. Together they single-handedly win the war. Or something like that. The reason I’m not clear is because there was so much to take in. After dealing with all that creativity I didn’t care if this person could write. I already knew that the writer couldn’t plot a story or develop believable characters.

Another writer submitted a story so dark, sad and inventive that I was scared they had our mailing address. This story in the hands of a gifted writer could have been fantastic, although in a weird, but good way. With a less skilled writer it was just plain odd. I guess my advice is don’t run before you can walk. And don’t stray too far to the creative side unless you can truly impress. Innovation can be dangerous. One slip and the whole story can tumble.

I don’t want to suggest that creativity is dead. That a writer has to pull from the standard stable of characters and send them out in the world with a tried-and-true plot. While we are all comfortable with the familiar, I bet if you look at your bookshelf you’ll see the works of writers who dazzle you with their imaginative characters and storytelling. I don’t think creativity is limited to fantasies and paranormal fiction where otherworldly creations are essential. Sometimes creativity comes in taking the same-old-same-old romance scenario and breathing new life it in.

So tell us, which romance writers dazzle you and why?
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Where Have All the Editors Gone?

Let me tell you the story of Mary the Editor. Mary loves words and is a talented editor. She can mentally juggle multiple style manuals and glide between them with the art and grace of a speed skater. She attacks a manuscript with the zeal of a marauding Viking pointing out repetition and slack plotting. In a precise hand she marks convoluted passages with “fix motivations”. And Mary never leaves her desk without a red pen. She’s the type of editor that copyedits the memos on the bulletin board while she’s photocopying. She gets the obscure proofreading jokes in the editor-only newsletters and seems to have reference materials for any situation and knows exactly what section to go to for answers. Yes, if there’s a piece of paper with an error on it, Mary will bleed all over it with her red Paper Mate. We need more pain in the butt editors like Mary!

So where was an editor like Mary when one of my favorite writers put out her last book? Has this bestselling writer become too rich and popular to need an editor? Or does the fault lay with a publisher trying to get a book out too quickly or rushing the writer to get on to the next book? Whatever the reason, let’s put the Marys back into the writing equation.

I know one writer who takes more than a year to write the very weighty novels in her ongoing saga. She accounts for every hour of her heroine’s day and describes every breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is thoroughness, but there is also plain old rambling. Because of the meandering storytelling it takes me nearly as long to read one of her books as it takes her to write it. A good editor would have advised this writer to tighten the plot by cutting out some meals and leaving unimportant actions to the reader’s imagination. We don’t need to catalog every bump in the road to know it was an arduous journey. Other judicious editing would trim the bulk from these massive tomes.

Sure the person that came up with cutting and pasting in our word processing programs was a genius. But don’t overdue it to the point that an editor like Mary would charge you with the sin of repetition. We’ve all read those books where the hero or heroine or another character repeats the same thing nearly word for word in the story. Just don’t have your characters describe the antagonist as insane. As in, “He must be insane!” “Yes, he is insane.” “Only someone who is insane would do that.” “Are you insane?” Instead use your thesaurus and mix it up a bit. Occasionally call him “crazy,” “nutty,” “loony,” or “off his rocker.”

Then there are those writers that get lost in the woods. Their plot goes every which way until it stalls halfway through the book. And why, you might ask, does this happen? Sometimes a writer wanders off on a tangent with some secondary character’s unnecessary story. Or perhaps they didn’t have a story to tell in the first place. But then why did they use 200 plus pages to prove it? The Marys of the world make sure some supporting characters never saw the light of day. They’d make certain the writer had a map to guide them through the story. Sometimes a writer can navigate by the stars, i.e., start a story without an outline, but it’s nearly impossible without a good editor like Mary on board.

Let’s hope the story of Mary has a happy ending and my favorite writer’s next book does, too. Anything is possible with an editor like Mary at your side.
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

List of Romantic Movies Has Glaring Omission

The AFI released its top 100 Lists, which feature the top 100 movies of the past century in several categories. One of the lists is the top 100 love stories of all time. There’s nothing included on there I would completely disagree with, but there was a gross oversight in omitting Moulin Rouge.

I hear a lot of flak about that movie, which I personally thought was brilliant. I think the chronologically incorrect review of pop culture turns a lot of people off. They just can’t handle 19th Century Bohemian artists singing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Like a Virgin.” It leaves the audience confused and disoriented. To me, a lot of chronological dissonance is a nice addition to a tragic love story.

Not only that, Nicole Kidman is hot. Come on. She is and you know it.

With that one exception, most of my favorites were on the list. Failing to list Harold and Maude would have earned the AFI a seriously nasty letter from me. That one has some of the finest quotes in movie history, said as she lay dying from her suicide pill.

Harold: I love you.
Maude: Oh Harold...That’s wonderful. Go and love some more.

Granted, I like the tragic story, and it’s not everyone’s taste.

But just to show I can appreciate the happy ending, no list of great love movies would be complete without The Princess Bride. As you wish...Enough said.
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Not Sexy, But Cute Story

Title: I (Heart) Marvel: Web of Romance
Tom Beland
Cory Walker
Cover by:
Gez Fry
Marvel Publishing, Inc.
32 pages

Released as part of Marvels' I (Heart) Marvel Event.
If you've never read a Spider-Man comic or seen one of the movies, it might be hard to figure out where Spiderman and his wife, Mary Jane, live. And who are all those guys are watching the Knicks game with MJ? Here's a hint: they're superheroes, too. Longtime comics readers would know this is the Avengers headquarters, and that man in the kitchen with Aunt May is Jarvis the butler.

What is clear from the first few panels of this sweet Valentine's Day story is that when it comes to giving his wife a gift, Spider-Man is just as much at a loss as most husbands. He thumbs through the yellow pages in search of ideas, while consulting the villain he has tied up. He asks the advice of his fellow Avengers, Captain America and Luke Cage, as they battle a dragon. He also takes time to show Mary Jane his cool web shooters and tell her a funny story of when he punk'd Johnny Storm (The Human Torch) back in high school days. Eventually, he goes to Tony Stark (Iron Man) for his mechanical genius in creating a unique present for MJ.

Better and more romantic than the gift itself is the true love that writer Tom Beland shows shining through Spider-Man's every thought. When Spidey tells MJ how he feels about the moon and coming home to her, the story hits a pure high note. This is a genuinely loving and romantic tale with touches of gentle humor. Beland is of course the acclaimed author of the semi-autobiographical romance comic called True Story: Swear to God.

The cartoony artwork of penciler Cory Walker and inker Cliff Rathburn conveys a cute story that resonates with love.

Web of Romance was released as part of Marvel Comics' I (Heart) Marvel event, which was designed to pay homage to this once-forgotten genre. Other titles include I (Heart) Marvel: Masked Intentions, I (Heart) Marvel: Outlaw Love, I (Heart) Marvel: My Mutant Hear #1, and I (Heart) Marvel: Marvel AI .
This comic is rated G for all audiences. Overall this story was more cute than sexy.

sexual warmth
overall satisfaction
Copyright © 2010 Arrow Publications, LLC™. All Rights Reserved.