Damon Suede – The Sky’s the Limit

Hi friends!

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!

#LoveRomance

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 Pent Upinnovation. 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.Bad Idea

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 Hot Headfreaky 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.QUestion - Moment - Rodeo

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  Question- Share (Marie & Eloisa)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.Question Couple (Persuasion)

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 QUestion (date)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.)

#LoveRomance  #HappyReading


Damon Suede - Spring 2012Damon 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.

 

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  • Since I gorge on contemporary romance, I can’t lie–I’m totally in a rut–but I’m having way too much fun to climb out of it and try other genres. Although I do read some WF, YA, and historical, I’ve definitely limited myself. So–good morning–you’ve inspired me to branch out! I’m going to ask my friends for their desert island reads in RS or paranormal or dystopian or any of the other genres I don’t tend to consider. Thank you for a great article!

    • Damon Suede

      I’m so glad, Erika! The thing is, I’m such a binge reader that at a certain point I realized I had to seek out new terrain or I’d literally burn out on a subgenre. EVen better, by digging BACK into the genre’s history I found all these must-read classics that sort of get shunted to the side. Same thing that happens with classic films or albums. And I love being able to splash around in all that richness. 😀

  • Mary McCoy

    Damon, every time I read a new author who I enjoy I go on a magical mystery tour to read books that influenced them or are recommended by them. What a terrific date with Geoff!

    • Damon Suede

      And how! He’s pretty spectacular. 🙂 Thank you, Mary.

  • Linda Henderson

    I love romantic suspense. When I was younger I loved reading Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney and Mary Stewart. I still like to re-read those old stories.

  • Toni

    I read all sorts of subgenres of romance and enjoy them, but lately I’ve been making even more of an effort to read outside what I might usually pick. There are so many great authors and stories out there.

    • Damon Suede

      That’s me all over, Toni! I feel like branching out in unexpected directions makes for such a rich reading experience AND kicks my butt as a writer.

  • Carol Opalinski

    Awesome post!! I used to devour Jane Aiken Hodge, Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart books! I also loved Barbara Michaels. I still remember the first time I read Ammie, Come Home.

    I also agree about Persuasion. Such a beautiful story.

    And I want to say how much I loved your Character Excavation Workshop at RWA last month. I have been preaching your love of verbs. Thanks!!

  • Laura Watson

    I was a voracious reader of the gothic romance writers such as Victoria Holt. For awhile I was bummed out the Gothic category disappeared for years & was replaced with romantic suspense. I like that also, but still miss the classic gothics.

  • Pamby50

    I loved reading Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney. I haven’t read them in quite a while. I always thought Phyllis’s books were interesting because of the stones and crystals she emphasized in her books. I actually bought a ring in green agate.

  • ButtonsMom2003

    I’m not exactly in a rut but I’m currently hooked on M/M stories. Hot Head is wonderful.

  • Eileen Aberman Wells

    You reminded of some authors (Mary Stewart & Phyllis Whitney) I hadn’t thought about since I read them back in middle school. That was a very long time ago. I was around during the 70s when the bodice rippers first appeared. I love reading!! You and your books have been recommended by many of my favorite authors. Thank you for your post.

  • Anna Carrasco Bowling

    Wonderful post, and I second the notion of going back to the well. When I picked up Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, I had no idea it would open a watershed of realistic YA, which gave me an injection of the intense emotion I love to put into historical romance. Which, in turn, reminds me of the first wave of historicals, in the early 1970s (and points for noting the horror boom at the same time, the two natural outgrowths of the gothics that preceded them) and the variety of historical settings and stories that period brought. Story in, story out. Beautiful reminder of that here.

    • Sharlene Wegner

      I read Fangirl recently. Twice! Great characters & sweet love story!

      • Anna Carrasco Bowling

        Fangirl was utterly amazing. I think I am due for a reread. Levi is enough to make anyone’s YA heart go pittty-pat.

  • Heather Roach

    Phenomenal post! Thank you.

  • Debbie Fuller

    Great post, Thank you for contributing your thoughts.

  • Sharlene Wegner

    Hi Damon! Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Meghan Stith

    I totally agree with the Sherry Thomas recommendation! I read her book “Ravishing the Heiress” and it is now one of my FAVS!

    • oh – Luckiest Lady In London is in my top 5, likely!

      Hi Meghan! You’re one of Damon’s winners. I think I can get your email through this comment, so I’ll send you an email to confirm it’s correct! xo

  • DVC Eeyore

    So few people today admit to reading ‘Jayne Eyre’ but what about ‘Wuthering Heights’ still think that was one for the ages… Kuddos to you for living your dream & HAMILTON am so going to, well no am a southerner manners dictate must be polite, you rock! Hope you two enjoyed it & if I ever meet you I will expect a full blown, well you get the point… LOL Keep writing, reading, living the American dream!

  • rebecca moe

    I love Anne and Captain Wentworth! Definitely Austen’s best 🙂

    Lovely post, thanks so much for sharing!