Day 3 Susanna Kearsley – Celebrating All Romance

All Romance is Real Romance

Susanna Kearsley Season of StormsFull confession: I’m writing this with the intention of challenging what you believe to be true about romance novels. I’ve done it before—it’s a soapbox I love to climb up on. I’m usually speaking to people who look down their noses at romance, who hasten to tell me they never read “those books.” But this time I’m aiming my argument closer to home—at those people, like me, who do read and write within the genre.

“Romanceland doesn’t like it when outsiders make sweeping generalizations about us. But there are plenty of insider versions,” observes Liz McCausland at her blog Something More: My Extensive Reading. That line, when I first read it, struck and stayed with me. Because it’s so true.

For all that we’re inclusive and supportive of each other and will rally to defend our whole community against any attack from the outside, you only have to read through the comments of any of our major blogs to find a general attitude that shorter series “category” romances are somehow on a level below longer “single title” novels.

“I don’t read Harlequins,” say the commenters…or, more tellingly, “I haven’t read a Harlequin in years.” And then come the kind of generalizations we bristle at when they’re from outsiders: “Those books” are badly written. They’re predictable. They’re unrealistic. The covers and titles (both things that we all know the authors don’t have any say in) are cringe-worthy. They’re the kind of books you read—and write—before you graduate to “real” romance novels.

Well, let me tell you something. I read a lot of category romance, and they are real romance novels. And I’ve never found the mystical dividing line that sets them off from single title books in terms of craft and voice and quality.

Length? Sure, I’ll grant you there’s a difference there. Complexity of plot? Sometimes (though adding extra chapters and more subplots doesn’t always make a story more complex). But craft and voice and quality? I’m sorry. I don’t see it.

From my soapbox, let me illustrate by giving you four excerpts, all from Harlequins I took from my own bookshelf:

“It wasn’t that I was reluctant to walk through the park with him. I was afraid that I wanted to rather too much…

‘You’re going to be difficult about this, aren’t you?’ I said.

‘Infinitely,’ he replied, his eyes creasing in the kind of smile that made my knees buckle.

Fool, fool, fool. ‘In that case, let’s walk.’

As we reached the park he extended his elbow so that I could slip my arm through his and we walked together along the path, not scuffing up the leaves, though, because they were still clumped together in sodden lumps following the rain.

Don wasn’t much of an arm-in-arm sort of man.

Being seen that close in public would have embarrassed him. Tucked in against the warmth of Cal’s body, I discovered just how much I’d yearned for this kind of warmth, closeness.

Walking arm-in-arm with Cal, I felt…cherished.

And, because I was enjoying it so much, guilty.”

(From City Girl in Training by Liz Fielding)

* * *

“What happened next happened fast, so fast she could never have put a sequence to events, even if a jury had demanded it. the firebirdShe looked at the wharf and then the cobbled street where people were usually passing by, especially at noonday. Bells began to sound in her brain, loud and all at once.

There were no fishing boats, no vendors, no children at play in doorsteps, no one. São Jobim looked as deserted as villages Laura had described to her in earlier letters ,when the French still rampaged in Portugal.

Startled, she turned to Colonel Junot, then tugged his arm. ‘Something is…’

‘…wrong,’ he finished, rising and gesturing to the Marines at the same time, moving fast but not fast enough.

He never got out another word before the shore erupted in flame and smoke.”

(From Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly)

* * *

“‘You have lost sight of who you are, little sister.’

He echoed her own troubled thoughts, and it only made her angrier. ‘I know who I am. It is Father who has lost sight of who we are.’

‘Is this what that barbarian has done to you? A dutiful daughter would never speak like that.’..

‘Our father has no daughter. ’ The moment the words left her lips, she crumbled inside.

Her brother stared at her, his eyes wide with shock. ‘Ai Li.’

This was the worst betrayal, the coldest, blackest thing she had ever uttered in her life. Honour and duty held them together. They each knew it from birth. To denounce her father, their family—hot tears burned in her eyes, but she couldn’t swallow the words and remain silent. She knew in her heart that everything she trusted was falling apart and she couldn’t keep it whole.

Not even here in Longyou.

She turned and fled from the altar room.”

(From Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin)

* * *

“’You want me to come for dinner?’

‘Dinner. Nothing else. We’ll review the cases and that’s it.’

‘Why?’

He wasn’t sure why she was asking so he went with the more obvious answer. ‘I promised you I would look over them and I’m keeping my promise.’

She looked away and there again was that look. It screamed for him to tread softly and so he would.

‘Just dinner.’

Victory, he thought. He was so relieved he wanted to shout. But he didn’t. ‘I’ll do burgers.’

‘I prefer fish.’

He hated fish. ‘I’ll do fish.’

‘Okay.’

‘Okay.’ He sighed. ‘I’ll write the directions. You can call when you’re on your way.’

It was hard to do but he turned and walked away. He wanted to show her that he had no plans to crowd her or push her again…

Quite frankly, he wasn’t sure why it was so necessary for him to involve her in his life. She was prickly, a workaholic, close-minded about things he wasn’t and downright difficult. And she was coming over for dinner tonight and he was so happy he whistled.”

(From The Doctor’s Deadly Affair, by Stephanie Doyle)

 

So, what do you see in those excerpts? Because I’ll tell you what I see: I see four gifted writers with four distinct voices whose level of craft, to my eyes, matches anything found in a longer book.

And they’re not alone. There are many, many good writers out there doing great things with category length romance, both traditionally and independently published, and they deserve to be respected.

So be warned: for as long as I hear other writers and readers within our community talking about category romances as though they’re something “less than”, and dismissively announcing they don’t read “those books,” I’ll be standing right here on my soapbox, doing what I can to change their minds.

You want to join me?

Recommendations:

Some authors I’d recommend  to anyone are :

Liz Fielding www.lizfielding.com  Liz created a RARM post you can read here.

Jeannie Lin  www.jeannielin.com 

Carla Kelly  www.carlakellyauthor.com 

and Stephanie Doyle  www.stephaniedoyle.net  And Stephanie’s RARM post is here


Questions for the Author:

Describe the most daring, adventurous or inspiring thing you ever did.

I’m really not the world’s most daring person, except when I travel. I’ve had many adventures on my trips, but nothing can really top the trip I took when I was sixteen and my sister was nineteen and we went on our own to Hong Kong for five days. (Our family was living in South Korea at the time, so the airfare was pretty affordable). My sister—who was a daring and generally fearless sort of person—led the way, and we explored that city to the fullest and had an absolute blast, though now that I’m a mother I shudder to think of my own teenage daughter doing the same…

Tell us about your journey to becoming a writer. (How did you decide to get started? Did you always know or was there a specific moment when you knew?)

It’s a matter of record that, although I started writing novels as a child, I’d still be stuck writing first chapters and never finishing anything if it hadn’t been for my sister, Kathryn, who finally handed one of those endless first chapters back to me and dared me to finish the book before Labor Day. Her dare (and her belief in my ability to do it) was the push I needed to confront my fear of failing and sit down and write. With the help of a copy of Phyllis A. Whitney’s Guide to Fiction Writing borrowed from my local library, I not only finished that first book by Labor Day, winning the bet, but I broke through the wall of self-doubt that was holding me down, and discovered I could write. I haven’t looked back.

Tell us about The (or A) Book That Changed Your Life. (Why?)

This is a hard question to answer, because there are so many books that had a deep impact on me and changed me in various ways, but I think I’d have to say A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute. It’s a book written in two interwoven threads—one told in third person, set in Malaysia in World War II, when the heroine, Jean, was taken prisoner by the Japanese; and another set in postwar London, narrated in first person by the elderly lawyer who’s helping Jean manage her finances.

Not only is it an unforgettable story, but the way in which Nevil Shute uses the dual-stranded method to tell it showed me the power and possibilities of that way of storytelling, and I’m pretty sure it’s the reason why I started writing dual-time books myself.

Susanna Kearsley is generously offering two copies of her Rita-award winning book, The Firebird for domestic readers, and two signed copies of The Firebird for international readers, all bundled with a bonus copy of a category romance. U.S. readers use the entry for at the bottom of the page. International readers, enter here.


Susanna_KearsleyNew York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley is known for her meticulous research and exotic settings from Russia to Italy to Cornwall, which not only entertain her readers but give her a great reason to travel. Her lush writing has been compared to Mary Stewart, Daphne Du Maurier, and Diana Gabaldon. She hit the bestseller lists in the U.S. with The Winter Sea and The Rose Garden, both RITA finalists and winners of RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards. Other honors include finaling for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year Award, National Readers’ Choice Awards, and the prestigious Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize. Her popular and critically-acclaimed books are available in translation in more than 20 countries and as audio books. She lives in Canada, near the shores of Lake Ontario.

(She also won a Rita in 2014 – yay, Susanna!) ~ Bobbi

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  • May

    I think those are great excerpts and I would enjoy reading them!

  • angryreader

    I agree wholeheartedly with the premise, but there are some authors who have deviated from their earlier works to follow a different path…in Kelly’s case more christian novels, and have lost some of their sparkle in the transition, I don’t know if it is the genre or weariness, but the later output does not have that felicity of writing that I would have said placed them in the same category as authors in less formulaic books.

  • Sharon Forbes

    I love romance novels of all lengths and genres! Sure, there are some that I prefer more than others, but to me, romance novels rock!

  • Glenda

    The only romance novels I won’t read are the serial romamces — not until I can get the entire books. I hate waiting for a resolution. 🙂

  • Michele H.

    I wholeheartedly agree . Most of my favorite authors either started in category romance, or still write categories. Most of the time, they are just what I needed when I want to read but don’t have the time to dedicate to a longer book.

  • Stephanie H

    I kept saying yes, yes, yes – when I read your essay. Thank you! By the way, I am huge fan of Jeannie Lin too. With thanks!

  • Kathy Nye

    I love love Carla Kelly’s books so that you recommend her says a lot. Thanks for your essay. Am in agreement.

  • Martha B

    As a teen, I used to read Harlequin and then I “graduated” to other, longer romances. However, within the last few years, I’ve read MANY Harlequin produced books. Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis started me on that path. It was recommendations from people like you (authors,) and other readers on blogs that encouraged me to read them and drop my elitist attitude! Honestly, I was chagrined to discover my ingrained bias. Bottom line, I want a well written story that moves me to truly care about the characters regardless of the publisher. I no longer dismiss books I “thought” were beneath me. Final confession: if I am uncertain about a book (e.g. new genre, new author, new line,) I will borrow it from the library before I buy. That’s a win-win.

  • LisaVH

    I tend to avoid Harlequin’s only because of their length. As a rather fast reader, I just want to stay in the world of these characters a little bit longer. I guess I need to expand my library a little bit. I think there are a lot of great stories I have been dismissing. Also, I never realized that the author didn’t have control over the covers. Is that at the publisher’s discretion? Do the author’s get a say at all?

    • susannakearsley

      Lisa, as far as I know the covers and titles are completely up to the publisher to decide. One day I’d love to write a post asking my category-romance-writing friends what titles THEY would have given their books if the choice had been theirs to make. 🙂

  • Caitlin M

    Great post! I enjoy reading Harlequins just as much as longer novels, with the added benefit that you can finish several while on holiday. Thanks for standing up for genre as a whole.

  • lisa

    Wow, pretty powerful argument. I will join you 🙂

  • Colleen Turner

    I love romance within a book as long as it has more to offer than just the romance storyline. For example your books have so much historical and suspense within them that I cannot help but be drawn to them. I must admit I am one if those people generally turned off by the heaving bosom covers but I have read a few books by Harlequin in the last few years and really enjoyed them! I would never look down on someone for their choice of reading, I think it is just a case of different reading interests.

    • susannakearsley

      Thanks for your kind words. And I know some readers prefer longer books, but I think my biggest problem is when people assume there’s an automatic difference in quality of writing, not just length, because there are a lot of really wonderful writers with great unique voices working in category romance.

  • Ros

    LisaVH, why not check out some of the category lines with a longer wordcount, like Historical or Superromance? 75,000 words isn’t far off the length of a standard single title romance.

  • Nicole Fortuna

    I love category romance and read a couple a month in between single titles. I like the shorter length sometimes especially when I am short on time. Word count isn’t important to me I just want a good romance.

  • Sarah Blumkin

    Love this! Thank you for getting up on your soapbox!

  • Melissa Cowling Terry

    I read a little bit of everything including Harlequin. I read a book if the story interests me.

  • Meghan

    I give all books a try, and believe me, Harlequin has some of the most talented and yet underappreciated writers out there. I’m with you Susanna!

  • Emmel

    Caria Kelly is a goddess, and I love that she has recently chosen to concentrate on writing Regency romances that *don’t* feature the nobility. When every other Regency seems to be about the plethora of dukes that were roaming England at the time, it’s a joy to read something different about that time period.

  • Patty Vasquez

    I love your soap box message, because the snobbery of the book industry is so blatant . Friday night my husband and I wandered into an independent book store we’d never been to in a trendy neighborhood. My husband asked one of the clerks about the location of the romance novels. The clerk managed not to look down his nose, but said somewhat condescendingly, “We really don’t have any of those books.” Upon leaving the store, my husband (who is my hero) said to me, “They really don’t know what they’re missing, do they?” Clearly they do not!

    • susannakearsley

      Your husband is definitely a hero 🙂

  • TrishJ

    I read all kinds of romance books. I do prefer the longer books, simply because I read fast and it seems I just started on the smaller books and I am done. But if the writing is good, then the book is good, doesn’t matter the page count. I just love to read.

  • Karen

    I also love A Town Like Alice, although I didn’t read the book until after I saw the mini-series starring Bryan Brown and Helen Morse. I highly recommend both. Susanna – thanks for reminding me of these!

  • Erica H

    Great post

  • Judy Goodnight

    I don’t read many category romances these days simply because I am drowning in the sheer number of other books that I have waiting to be read. I certainly respect them, however. Many of my favorite authors began their writing careers with category romances and I still have those books and enjoy re-reading them.

  • Eileen Aberman-Wells

    Thank you for writing this. I enjoyed reading romance. I have my favorite authors & it doesn’t matter what they write I will read it.

  • pamela paterakis

    My mother put down my “trashy” reading till we went on overseas trips together and I could tell her about the places we were visiting; she asked how I knew little details and I replied: learned from my historical romance books!

    • love that! Thanks Pamela, and for all your great comments. xo

  • Rene Manette Royston

    I’ve all her books and love them

  • Susan Donovan

    Talk about a coincidence . . . I am your neighbor here at RARM today, and I’ve just started reading The Firebird. LOVING IT!

    • susannakearsley

      🙂 Nice to be sharing the space with you, Susan!

  • mariannewestrich

    I love to read any romance genre that is well written … short, long, in between. As long as the character is fully fleshed, I can enjoy a good story!

  • Thanks so much for taking part, Susanna, and for your powerful and genius defense of romance novels, both in this post and the one you referenced. You are a wonderful advocate for romance, especially as a well-respected women’s fiction author. I am so happy you are here today. xo

    • susannakearsley

      Thanks for asking me, Bobbi. And I’m an advocate for romance because that’s what I write 🙂 Wherever they happen to be shelved in the store, the stories are all, at their hearts, romance novels. The love stories are the spine by which everything else is supported. Remove the romance, and my books fall apart.

      • Yes, but thanks for embracing that! :o) xo I just love your approach, too. So pro-active.

      • We are happy to have you in the advocate corner and the writer corner! xo (sorry this took me so long, been a little busy this month…).

  • Gretchen Miller

    awesome

  • Fantastic! I love Liz Fielding, thanks so much for asking her to partecipate! And authors like Anne Mather and Janet Dailey. It’s no lenght or publisher that makes a good romance, isn’t it?

  • Beverly Long

    I so appreciate your comments. Just this week, I had someone say to me, “I used to read romance. I’m sort of over that now.” I hope I never get over it!

  • Pamby50

    I love your soapbox rant. Leave Harlequin alone. Read so many of their books. They are a quick read & will take you all over the world. I’ve read Liz Fielding & Carla Kelly before. Sorry to say I’ve never read anything by you. What book would you suggest I start with?

  • Quinn Fforde

    Very thought-provoking essay. I need to reconsider my opinions. Those excerpts were amazing.

  • Michelle Harlan

    We’ll be right up on that soapbox with you! Thanks for the recommendations. I’m familiar with Liz Fielding and Jeannie Lin, but the others are “new to me”.

  • Tonda Galloway Hargett

    Let’s hear it for romance writers and readers! Love it!

  • rebecca moe

    Great post! Borrowing a Carla Kelly book from the library drew me into the Harlequin world, where I found many other authors to love 🙂

  • Anna

    I may have to pick up that Stephanie Doyle category. I actually started reading romance by reading Harlequins and Silhouettes and the Kensington regencies. I’ll have to go back now!

  • Joan Varner

    Thank you for your passionate support of catgeory romance. I read all types of romance and romanctic suspense, no matter the size.

  • susannakearsley

    Thanks so much, everyone, for taking time to leave a comment. it’s nice to know I’m not alone up here on my soapbox 🙂

  • Bernadette Long

    There are so many good romance stories of all lengths published that it is sometimes difficult to pick out one. I am always more interested in a good story with well developed characters so it doesn’t matter that it is a “category” romance over another one.

  • Sheila M

    Thanks for defending all romance.

  • Laurie W G

    I love category books. They are perfect for reading when you need to wait for someone or for an appointment. They offer a variety of topics are delicious and satisfying!

  • Toni Linenberger

    I love category romances. There are great stories to be found. I’ll happily stand on the soapbox with you.

  • btw

    I love you for this post Susanna. I’m a series writer, and I so appreciate the love. Writing short books is hard – as hard as writing Single Title. (You try crafting a powerful emotional read in 50K words) The authors you sampled, btw, are among the best. I hope some people pick them up along with your latest.

  • Courtney Cogswell

    I’m so with you on your soapbox! I read all types of romance as well as other genres and if I discounted certain books for being category romances I would have missed out on a lot of great reads 🙂 I’m looking forward to checking out your books since I haven’t read any yet. Sounds like you’ll be right up my alley!

  • Michelle Fidler

    I have some of your books. The travelling in Asia sounds exciting.

  • Great post and great message! I am embarrassed to admit that I once looked down on romance novels – until I was introduced to historical romance authors like Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney, and Julia Quinn and discovered what I was missing. And then I stumbled across some contemporary romance writers like Robyn Carr, Susan Mallery, and RaeAnne Thayne. Now I happily veer from my former favorite genres (fantasy and mystery) to my newer favorite (romance) – and love it even more when they’re combined!

    But you know, I still cringe at some of the series-category-romance covers and titles out there. (Not the authors’ fault, I know. But ouch.) There are some good books and good authors hidden behind them, though!

  • Stephanie M.

    I will read romance books until the end of time. I love being able to share my books and opinions with my mom, sister, and friends.

  • Jen C

    Haters gonna hate. Unfortunately. I’ve decided that I’m gonna love the books I love. If others agree, great; if they don’t, too bad. Great post today.

  • Donna

    An excellent and thought provoking post. Thank you! Good story telling, compelling characters and excellent wordsmithing can be lurking – or not – anywhere! As long as the history is accurate (or at least fairly close), I’m reading!

  • I love this post so hard! Okay, perhaps it’s because I’m a Harlequin author, but, good gravy, it’s true. All those exampled authors are such fine writers, and it’s shameful the labels some readers are anxious to slap on us. It’s also a shame some of our own (the romance community) participate as well – it’s not merely readers who scoff at category. So thank you, Susanna, for supporting those authors and the category world in general. And I would encourage readers who’ve not ventured into the world of category romances, to dip a toe back in 🙂

  • Texas Book Lover

    What a great excerpt! I have heard great things about this book recently so I am really excited to read this!

    Thanks so much!

  • Cyndee Martin

    I loved you comments! Thank you! But I must say your books are always my go to! Thank you for your wonderful talent and sharing it with us!

  • Karin Anderson

    I love Jeannie Lin’s books! I also love Margaret Daley, Kathy Lyons, Tawny Weber and several other category authors.

  • PEGGY ALLEN

    Well, I am a fan. I love your books.

  • Ann Mettert

    I sometimes still read kids books. Why would I think a book isn’t worthy because of it’s genre or heft? It’s the writing and the story and the people. And I’ve found wall bangers everywhere. 😉

  • Linnea Bassin

    I love reading romance, trust me it has helped my marriage in many ways, even if it is a little time a way from stress but I have gained knowledge from them too.

  • Brianne Sherwood Wolman

    I really like that in the category romances there is such a tight focus on the main couple and their relationship. For the most part, there are not a lot of sub plots and other relationships. Sometimes that is exactly what I am looking for.

  • Hannah B

    Hi Susanna, you are a new to me author and I look forward to reading your books.

  • Angela H

    I am with you I am not a daring person. I just want to say thank you for your books, I enjoy them.

  • LSUReader

    Re your journey to becoming a writer–Thank goodness for sisters! Thanks for the post.

  • Chelsea B.

    Thanks for sharing excerpts with us!!!!

  • Stephsco

    Preach! I admit, I knew next to nothing about category romance before I joined RWA, and I’m sure I made fun of those little paperbacks with outdated looking covers. But since learning craft from many talented category writers through RWA workshops (and those whole conference recordings are gold), I would never dis a category writer again. To do what they do in 50,000 words in multiple books a year, that’s impressive. Some of my favorite romance authors have a background in writing category and they say it made them stronger writers. Thanks for a great post.

  • Julie Nieves

    I’m going to track down a copy of Phyllis A. Whitney’s Guide Writing Fiction!

  • Ruth

    I applaud you on your soapbox. Thanks for the post!