Welcome to Read-A-Romance Month 2016!
If you’re a new visitor to RARM, I hope you’ll come back every day in August to read all the wonderful pro-romance posts this year. Check out the full calendar here. You can also find links to the last three years’ posts from the boxes in the sidebar, and if you’d like, you can follow RARM on Facebook. Enjoy August!
Wishing Well: Dipping into the classics
One of the unique features of romance fiction is that it is simultaneously a genre driven by tradition and innovation. No other form of popular entertainment operates within such narrow boundaries and proscribed expectations. For authors this creates a supreme challenge, for readers a unique landscape of human emotion and imagination.
Now for my part, I tend to be a traditionalist. That’s true in film, plays, music, and literature. All artists stand on the shoulders of giants and we draw on those traditions shamelessly and exuberantly. Likewise, that crazy global backlist of love stories offers an all-you-can-eat menu of narrative pleasure unbounded by taste, temperament, and tone.
To merit the name, a romance requires a central relationship and an optimistic ending. Beyond that, the glittering variation available is as endless as the night sky. Ours is a genre that can dissect or make light of every human struggle and because of the variegated tradition we draw upon, inspiration and exploration are always at our fingertips.
For the past few years, I’ve challenged myself to step outside of my comfort zone in our genre. All of us have desert island reads. All of us gravitate toward certain tropes, certain riffs, certain themes. We reach for a particular subgenre or style of writing out pleasure and habit… And that’s a gift. But there are times when our comfort zone becomes a rut, when we wall ourselves behind our expectations and limitations.
In those moments I like to go back to the well.
Last spring for whatever reason, I spent two months devouring romantic suspense, everything from gritty erotic thrillers to inspirational intrigues. Something in their shadows just called to me at that moment and I followed: Cherry Adair, HelenKay Dimon, Joy Fielding, JD Robb, Cynthia Eden, Elle Kennedy. I barely came up for air and loved every harrowing second.
Then of course came the moment when my binge reading had cleaned the cupboard, not because I’d exhausted all the books in the subgenre, but because they led me to stories hadn’t visited in years: Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Daphne du Maurier, Jane Aiken Hodge, and Phyllis Whitney.
These authors had championed the mid-century neo-Gothics that prefigured the bodice-ripper boom of the 1970s. At the dawn of the sexual revolution, they reveled in “had I but known” women in jeopardy who foiled brooding heroes and made homes out of hellmouths.
What amazed me was the precision and tension in the prose. These folks could WRITE. This period of paperback publishing is mostly remembered for the all-but-cloned covers of pale damsels fleeing gloomy manses in the dead of night, but they represented much more. They prefigured the horror boom of the 1970s. They hinted at the explosive power of first-wave feminism and the civil rights movement. They exposed the freaky tensions rife in traditional matrimony and its Bluebeard logics. They proved that “scribbling women” dream as darkly as any J-horror director.
Of course once I’d gorged myself on these I kept tunneling back to du Maurier’s Rebecca, Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho…the long unbroken tradition of romance authors unpacking the dark chambers of the human heart. By the time I’d satiated myself, I’d learned so much about romantic suspense that it had begun to affect my own writing directly. And more than anything I realized that they had written the fictional future we inhabit. All bones were there at the start.
I could have done the same with Regency or urban fantasy or erotic romance, and the way I read I probably will. LOL We don’t write or read in a vacuum, and the internet only gives a narrow slice of the picture.
We forget sometimes that publishing didn’t start with the e-book boom or mass market paperbacks or pulp fiction or private presses. We exist in that same river of storytelling and that swimming upstream returns us to the source. Because of my funky romantic-suspense Gothic adventure last spring, I’m starting to visit forbearers as a matter of principle… To remind me where we come from and where we might be headed.
Our subgenres don’t exist in a vacuum. Not only do they draw on our literary history, they adapt mutations in neighboring niches. Romantic suspense and paranormal have always been dark twins. Romantic comedy and sweet contemporary fine phrase to turn erotic tension into comic gold. Women’s fiction and YA both test the limits of romantic relationships that don’t always work the way we wish they would. And all of them are stronger because they cross-pollinate.
So this is my challenge to you: the next time you read a book that breaks you open and stuffs you full of starlight, see if you can find one of its ancestors or a far-flung cousin on a neighboring bookshelf. Look for the ways that these stories intersect and inform each other, like candles lighting other candles to illuminate the way.
You might be amazed by what they show you about the books you love.
Damon Suede recommends:
- Sherry Thomas – www.sherrythomas.com (at Amazon) – whose swoony historical rigor is only outclassed by her hilarious and subtle turns of phrase.
- K. A. Mitchell – www.kamitchell.com (at Amazon) – who fills contemporary with blistering banter worthy of Heyer and worldbuilding as rich as any urban fantasy.
- Joanna Shupe – joannashupe.com (at Amazon) – because her opulent new series about the robber barons of the 19th century is amaze-balls.
- Katana Collins – katanacollins.com (at Amazon) – because she balances so much grit and wit in her stories, and never takes the easy way out of risky stories.
Questions for the Author:
Tell us about a moment in your life when you felt romance surrounding you.
The best example would be the night I met my husband at a big rodeo, surrounded by about 2000 people one night at a barn dance (which is essentially a huge circular dance of concentric rings in which everyone in the room partners with everyone else eventually). All odds were against us. We lived in different states and led wildly different lives: him as a forensic investigator, and me as a screenwriter and script doctor. There was absolutely no way we EVER should have met each other, but in the strangest way the entire universe conspired to bring us together.
Tell us about someone special in your life (other than your partner) with whom you share romance.
There are so many ways I could answer this, but I’m gonna go with the first that leaps to mind: Eloisa James and Marie Rutkoski. We have a standing cocktail date at which we sit and gab and recommend books to each other and talk through writing headaches in this relaxed, collegial way. But even more than the advice and asskicking, the thing I value most is the amazing book recommendations that pass back and forth. Those ladies have turned me on to some of the best books I’ve ever read, which I never would have thought to pick up. Seriously life-changing in a totally romantic way…and a rendezvous I look forward to each time. 🙂
Do you have a place in the world or a sound that you equate with romance?
A smile in a whisper. I love those hushed moments I share with my husband when we’re alone together and speaking in that strange, intimate, constructed language that married couples share. But most of all I dig the sound of him smiling and murmuring some joke at me when the words don’t matter.
Who is your (or a) favorite romantic couple?
Anne Elliott and Captain Wentworth from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. I love their folly and their pathos. I love that they’re both battle scarred and careworn, and I love that they earn each other’s love in every sense of the word while wading through some of the most noxious boobs in Regency England. “Half hope, half agony.” So tragic and sexy and clever and right together. They’re everything I could want from a couple.
Tell us about your dream date.
The night I took my fella to see Hamilton for the first time. I’d lucked out with an old colleague who’s working on the show who owed me a favor. Without telling my husband, I scored us house seats on Xmas eve, front row, center mezzanine. I’d seen the show downtown at the Public, and I had a hunch he’d dig it, I just didn’t realize how much. (He’s been listening to the score on repeat for 7 months now.) By the time the show was over, we were both ecstatic and crying and unable to actually communicate much besides nonverbal joy and disbelief. As I said at the time, seeing it like that felt like being burned alive in genius, together. I can’t think of a better way to spend a night on the town.
Damon Suede is generously giving away 3 ebooks from his backlist, one each to two US readers and one international friend. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below or on the Facebook post you’ll find here (or both – Share the Love!) ;o) by 11:59 pm PST Aug 14, 2016. Good luck!
***International friends, be sure to include your country in your comment so we know to include you in the international drawing. Good luck!
(*You don’t have to like the FB page, but we do recommend it. It’s easier to contact you if you win. Also consider joining the Read-A-Romance Book Club page, where we discuss romance of all kinds and will have drawings and events throughout the year.)
Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Though new to romance fiction, Damon has been writing for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He’s won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year.
Buy Damon’s books:
*Please note that the Amazon button, most cover images and many text links connect to a Read-A-Romance Month affiliate portal. Thanks so much for your help & support!