No Purple Prose In Sight
I used to loathe romance novels. Not that I’d ever read any. Why should I? They’re all trash, aren’t they?—“sex books” full of purple prose with stupid covers. Whenever I went to a bookstore, I’d even turn my head to avoid looking at the romance section, thinking “why on earth would anyone read those?”
I’d been an aspiring author all my life. I wanted to write fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries. I started noticing that whatever I wrote included a couple who had adventures together, or solved a mystery together, fell in love, and lived happily ever after. I enjoyed that.
In the books I read, however, while some had side romances in them, the romantic elements never lasted. Couples might be together by the end of book 1, but in book 2, they were apart again. Often one half the couple (usually the woman) was killed or otherwise died tragically. Or she ran off with someone else, or went to “find herself”, leaving the hero alone and cynical. The gist was “love doesn’t last past the passion; don’t bother.”
Hey, what happened to my happily ever after? As a reader, I felt cheated. I’d rooted for this couple for 300-500 pages, and that’s it? Oh, please.
Also well-meaning people gave me advice (bad advice, it turned out) that scifi, fantasy, or mystery books with too much romance didn’t sell. There is monumental evidence out there that they were wrong, but at the time, I believed everything I was told.
Well, I said, I’ll have write romances to get my need for romance out of my system. I’ll stick with historicals, because that’s close to fantasy. (At the time, paranormal romance didn’t exist or . . ahem . . . didn’t sell). I’ll write a few romances, get published and get famous. It can’t be that hard.
Confident that I’d solved all my problems I went to the library and plucked a few historical romance novels off the shelves. I admit, the first couple I chose I didn’t like, which was discouraging. But when I went back to the library and looked again, I discovered how much width and breadth the genre had. There was so much to choose from! I picked out some romances labeled “Regencies,” because I loved Jane Austen and her period of history. (I had never heard of Georgette Heyer). Two of the books I picked up were by Jo Beverley, two by Mary Jo Putney.
And I loved them!! I found well-drawn, three-dimensional characters with believable problems, settings that were historically accurate and commented on problems of the day. There were love scenes in some of these books, which were well-written, believable, and emotional—no purple prose in sight.
I happily read more books in the same vein, and I discovered scores of wonderful authors whose writing and storytelling was engaging, strong, vivid, and just plain good. The authors I found included Mary Balogh, Amanda Quick, Laura Kinsale, Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, Betina Krahn, Megan Chance, and Barbara Samuel.
These writers told heartwarming, heartbreaking, realistic, historically accurate, engaging, emotional, and often funny tales of couples finding love. I laughed, cried, and cheered these people on. I started writing my own books (the first few were absolutely terrible!), and I couldn’t stop. I’d fallen in love with romance.
From then on, I never looked back. I fell in love first with historical romance, then when paranormal romance (romances that include supernatural elements such as vampires and shape shifters), I was thrilled to be able to pair fantasy and romance. I started paranormal series in addition to my ongoing historical romances.
What I’d like to emphasize was that my first impressions of romance were entirely wrong. I was so very sure that I, with my graduate degrees and love of literature, knew that all romances were “trash,” without bothering to read a word of them.
Romances are so much more. They come in many flavors, from full-blown comedies to angsty stories covering serious issues. The settings range from those rich in historical detail to small towns in modern America to gritty inner cities. Characters can be historical aristocrats, modern businessmen and businesswomen, ranchers, FBI agents, small-town cops, bikers, or vampires and shape-shifters just trying to make a living and keep the big bad evil off their backs. The heroines are not victims existing only to be rescued, or appendages to be gotten rid of in book two—they have careers, families, goals, ambitions, friends. You know, like real people.
So I say to all romance dissers out there—try it. If you don’t like the first book you pick up, try another, and another. I bet there’ll be something out there you’ll like. And who knows, you might just fall in love.
A new historical romance author whose first books have been released in the past year or so is Juliana Gray. Her books are witty, well-written, and a little bit different, with good twists on classic stories or well-known tropes.
A new e-published author writing in paranormal and building quite a following is Carrie Ann Ryan. She publishes her own wolf shapeshifter novellas and books.
Questions for Jennifer:
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
That would be my cats. They are messy, smelly, rambunctious, and only adorable when they’re asleep. But we rescued them from a bad situation, they’re happy now, and they’re staying.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
Chaos. or Diary of a Mad Writer. Not sure who would play me, but they’d have to be able to act geeky and have messy hair.
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
Too many to choose. I’ve been very blessed to have wonderful people in my life who give to me all the time.
If you had to pick one romantic scene or couple to recommend to a first-time reader of YOUR books, which would it be? (Any picks for romance novels in general?)
I’d pick The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, with Cameron and Ainsley in the billiards room, when he asks her how many buttons of her bodice she’ll agree to undo for him.
Jennifer is generously donating one audio book CD of Tiger Magic to a U.S. reader and one signed print copy of The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzieone to an International reader (International readers enter here). U.S. readers, to enter, either leave a comment here or enter the weekly drawing on the contest page. Or both. (Only one entry per commenter per post, though – multiple comments on one essay does not give you more chances.) Comment entries must be posted by 11:59pm EST Aug 15 to be eligible, though winners will be announced the following week.
Jennifer Ashley is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 70 novels and novellas in romance, mystery, and urban fantasy, under the names Jennifer Ashley, Allyson James, and Ashley Gardner (mysteries). Her books have won numerous awards, including Romance Writers of America’s RITA award for best romance novels, and the RT Reviewers Choice award for best historical mystery. Her books have also been translated into more than a dozen different languages. Jennifer lives in the sunny Southwest. Learn more about Jennifer’s books at www.jennifersromances.com; www.allysonjames.com; and www.gardnermysteries.com