I. Don’t. Read. Romance.
I don’t read romance. There—I said it.
This goes a long way towards explaining why, in 2009 (after years of writing thrillers), I had to email the first ten chapters of my latest manuscript (what would later become The Frog Prince) to a book reviewer friend of mine along with this question: “What genre is this?”
Her response was short and to the point. “Romance…it’s a romantic comedy, you dumbass.” What can I tell you? I don’t read romance.
That fact also serves as an answer (of sorts) to this question: “You put a naked frog on the cover of your first self-published romance and it became a bestseller?” Because I don’t read romance, I had no clue what a typical romance cover—of any sub-genre—looked like. In what turned out to be a stroke of dumb luck (and not the “marketing genius” label I would be saddled with after-the-fact), the cover deviated just enough from the norm that it caught—and held—the eyes of tens of thousands of readers who went on to buy the book in the months that followed.
I don’t read romance. And it’s not because I’m some sort of literary snob who thinks one genre is superior to any other—I’m not (and I don’t). Nor is it because I think there aren’t any romance authors out there whose works I would enjoy—of course there are! The simple fact is that I grew up reading fantasy, horror and thrillers—genres my father devoured and passed on to me, beginning as an impressionable middle-schooler. As an adult, my choices became more nuanced and I can now say with confidence to anyone who cares to know that I prefer historical fantasy, speculative fiction and science thrillers.
So how did I end up here? (And I don’t mean “how did I end up writing a blog for Read-a-Romance Month?”—although I’m still wondering that myself). No, what I mean is this: how did someone nurtured on fantasy and horror (and who had written thrillers for years) “accidentally” start writing romances?
Take a peek at the dedication pages of my novels.
The Frog Prince is dedicated to my two children “for everything you’ve sacrificed for my fairy tale.” After years trapped in an abusive marriage, I finally got out, got a divorce and began the thankless task of rebuilding my life. I started The Frog Prince in 2008. The premise? “A sex researcher meets the man who would have been the king of Austria—if the monarchy hadn’t been abolished in 1918.” The love interest, Roman Habsburg von Lorraine, was my “Build-a-Bear” hero—everything I’d ever hoped for in courtship and in love (and the exact opposite of what I had found in real life).
Sleeping Beauty, a humorous contemporary romance, was for my mother “…who selflessly and lovingly put the pieces of my life back together while I slept.” In early 2011, a sleep study confirmed what had long been suspected: I had severe narcolepsy and, despite having regularly closed my eyes for extended periods of time, I hadn’t actually slept for, well, years. As a result, I was suffering from blackouts, memory loss, and cognitive difficulties. In the novel, Claire Beau has “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” a real disease that’s even more debilitating than narcolepsy. Her silver lining (besides Davin Wibbens and Brendan Charmant, the two hot men battling for her affections)? That disease burns itself out after a few years, leaving its victim free of it forever, while narcolepsy is incurable. Was Sleeping
Beauty a “wish fulfillment novel?” Oh, yes—in every way that mattered!
Alice in Wonderland is dedicated to my friend (and paranormal author) Alexandra Sokoloff “who took my hand when I needed it most and pulled me down the rabbit hole with her for a most unforgettable adventure through Wonderland.” The year 2012 began as my very own annus horribilis. By August, professional setbacks, health issues, family tragedies, and a broken heart had left me spiraling. Alex’s invitation/demand that I spend two weeks driving with her across Australia saved the year and changed my life. Drawing from that remarkable trip, I crafted Alice in Wonderland (and sexy Lapin “Rabbit” Montgomery) in thirty-seven days.
So. Even though I don’t read romance, I write romance for the same reason others consume it: it’s cathartic, it’s escapism at its best, it reinforces our belief that life is worth living and love is worth seeking, and whether its characters’ stories are fantastical, hilarious, or horrific, we are forever the richer for having invited them (and their “happily ever afters”) into our hearts.
Lorca Damon is a Young Adult (YA) novelist. Since I have a Young Adult lurking about my house (and because it features a male protagonist), I took a peek at her novel Driving the Demon to see if it was something I thought my son (aka “The Boy”) would enjoy being forced to read as part of the Summer Enrichment Program at Chez Lothlorien. After reading the opening sentence to him aloud (“Three things happened all on the same day: my grandfather died, my parents split up, and I got suspended from school for five days for being a terrorist.”), he devoured it. Try The Earth Is for Dancing and Not My Kind too.
Lorca Damon’s books are real. By that I mean that the focus of her novels—the shifting opinions involving drugs and drug use, coping with aging grandparents, ADD—are issues that teens live with every day. I suppose the realism of her work isn’t surprising given that they are based on scenarios she picked up from the kids in the juvenile correctional facility where she teaches.
Lorca also happens to write one of the most hysterical blogs around. (Seriously, if you can get through “Whip Me, Beat Me, Get Me Drunk and Milk Me Like a Goat” without choking on your tongue, you have absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever.) In what is perhaps the ultimate irony, Lorca recently signed a three-book deal (writing as Gigi Van Eyck) with Grassroot Books to launch their romance imprint. Don’t worry—she already knows I won’t read them. (Kidding….I’m kidding.)
Questions for Elle:
What is the craziest or ugliest object in your house, and why do you keep it?
The craziest object in my house would have to be my son, The Boy. While I suppose he’s as attractive as any kid at the age of fifteen can be, I find myself questioning his sanity daily. Here is a typical exchange, this one taking place after I caught The Boy microwaving one of those greasy “pancake-and-sausage-on-a-stick” snacks on a paper towel instead of plate:
Me: “Don’t cook that on a paper towel—the microwave will get all greasy! Put it on a plate!”
The Boy: “I couldn’t find a plate!”
Me [opens cupboard, points at a plate]: “What does that look like?”
The Boy: “I mean I couldn’t find a SMALL plate. They’re all in the dishwasher.”
Me: “What difference does it make what size the plate is?”
The Boy: “It just feels weird to only use part of it.”
Me, incredulous: “You still have to put it in the dishwasher and wash the whole thing no matter how much of it you get dirty! If it makes you feel better, lick the parts of the plate your food doesn’t touch.”
The Boy, laughing: “Shut up, okay?”
Me, shaking head sadly while walking away: “Well, okay…if you think it’ll help.”
Why do I keep him? Well, I suppose I’ve always been under the impression that it is my legal obligation to feed, shelter, and nurture The Boy until he reaches the age of 18 (or is arrested and extradited for hacking into, like, Uzbekistan). Also, along with my dachshund, Bacon Bourgeois, Legendary Wiener, The Boy has a cult following on my Facebook page. If anecdotes about him suddenly stopped, people would notice.
If there was a movie made about your life, what would it be called? (And just for fun, who would play you?)
It would be called DIVA: Everything Wrong with the Modern Literary Market in One Aggressively Self-Congratulatory Package.
In the summer of 2012 (annus horribilis, remember?), I wrote a controversial “business of e-publishing” blog that generated a tsunami of vitriolic comments, emails, Facebook posts, and tweets—not to mention a couple of assault/death threats—that lasted for months. Of all the comments I read, the most memorable was one in which I was not only called a “diva,” but the rest of the faux “movie title” you see above. As you have probably surmised for yourself, this individual did not enjoy my opinion piece.
I think Zach Galifianakis would do an outstanding job playing me. (Hey, Cate Blanchett got rave reviews for playing Bob Dylan in the biopic I’m Not There.) Also, I just like saying his name: “Zach Galifianakis.” It’s kewl. If Zach is, for whatever reason, unavailable, I’d be willing to play myself if (and only if) Ian Somerhalder agrees to play all of my love interests from the age of fifteen to the present.
What is the best non-monetary gift you ever received?
Hands down, the best non-monetary gift I’ve ever received was the gift of literacy.
If you had to pick one romantic scene or couple to recommend to a first-time reader of YOUR books, which would it be?
Oh, that would definitely be Chapter 14 of The Frog Prince when Roman Habsburg von Lorraine drives his girlfriend, Leigh Fromm, to his new house in the Rocky Mountains for the first time. Leigh is frustrated (and a little worried) when he stops the car and announces, “This is it!”—because there isn’t a single house in sight. (Pssst! Look up!)
You are reading this essay at ReadARomanceMonth.com. Be sure to visit the About Read-A-Romance Month to learn more, or the Authors & Contributors page to see a list of all the great romance writers who are participating in celebrating the romance genre during the month of August. Also visit the Awesome Contests page to see how you can register each week to win “A Month of Romance” (31 books), e-readers, and even the Grand Central Grand Prize, an iPad mini. If you love romance, then this is the place to be!
Elle is generously donating a prize package of an autographed copy of her four novels as well as one of the Romance Rocks mugs from the RARM store (Thanks, Elle! ~Bobbi) to one U.S. reader (U.S. only, apologies to international readers.). 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 20 to be eligible, though winners will be announced the following week.
A “military brat,” Elle was born in Germany and spent her childhood in such far-flung places as Puerto Rico, Charleston, S.C., Italy, and Washington D.C. Sadly, the only language she ever became semi- fluent in is English.
Her first self-published romantic comedy, The Frog Prince, became an Amazon bestseller in December 2010—a distinction it kept through the summer of 2012 when it peaked at #1 on Amazon’s Top 100 List for Humor. She was one of the first self-published authors to take advantage of Amazon’s “free promo days,” which she used on Valentine’s Day 2012 to give away 45,000 copies of her novels—catapulting her second novel, Sleeping Beauty, to Amazon’s bestseller list. In March of 2012, she published an alternate-ending version of Sleeping Beauty (called Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up) in response to fans unhappy with the ending of the original. Alice in Wonderland followed in November of 2012. Her current project, Gilding the Lily-pad, is the story of The Frog Prince—told from the man’s point-of-view. You can read the first five chapters of Gilding the Lily-pad here.
Elle lives in Denver, Colorado. She keeps a teenage boy and a miniature dachshund around the house to provide comic relief.