In Defense of Romance

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A friend recently sent me an email entitled ‘Reading Suggestions?’

Within the email was a sole link to a September 26th, 2017 article  A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels by Robert Gottlieb from the New York Times. That little question mark in the title of my friend’s email threw me off, but as I often ask friends for reading recommendations, I dove right into the article.

My friend has read both of my romance novels and knows I am also a reader of the genre, so perhaps he was sharing some reading tips. Oh the difference a question mark can make!

man-typing-on-a-laptop_1218-559If romance novels were animals, then Robert Gottlieb takes on the role of vivisectionist in this cruel and witty review, using his pen (okay, keyboard and fingers) to slash and dissect the romance genre. And it’s a blood bath, folks. Yes, he’s intelligent. And funny. No. I’m not writing grammatically correct sentences. But Gottlieb has pissed me off.

The first half of his piece is about making fun of the language, plot and sex scenes in both regency (racy) and sweet romance novels by sarcastically summarizing the scenarios and splicing together excerpts from the novels. (Was that alliteration or consonance after my vivisection metaphor?)

Take this passage about Julia Quinn’s The Duke And I:

They: Meet at a ball, banter, begin to fall in love. Yet so many things keep them apart! Will he be able to conquer his demons? Will she be able to help him to? You’ll have to read Julia Quinn’s THE DUKE AND I (Avon/HarperCollins, paper, $7.99) to find out. I can reveal this much, however: The sex is great, he “squirming with desire,” she “writhing with delight.”
Excerpt from A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels by Robert Gottlieb. New York Times, Sept 26th, 2017

This is the only novel on his shish kebab list that I’ve actually read (skewered things, get it?).  Although I prefer contemporary romance to historical romance, The Duke and I ended up in my eReader to counterbalance my reading list. I was a bit tired of our contemporary, fast-paced world filled with affairs and deceit and reasoned that something that harkens back to another century might be refreshing.

The Duke and I is set in a romantic period when men gently courted women and innocence (at least in the female characters) was the norm rather than the exception.  Quinn does a reasonable job of creating an interesting cast of characters, defining the historical genre and slowly building the love story. For all the prudishness and innocence of the time, she makes up for it by unleashing passion and connection between the newlyweds in the bedroom. But Gottlieb apparently missed all of that.

Readers of romance don’t approach this genre as a teenage boy (or middle-aged man) with a Playboy or Penthouse magazine. They don’t flip right to the centerfold and get their jollies. Romance readers enjoy the slow build-up of two characters getting to know one another: the banter, the encounters or missed-encounters, those escorted walks through a sprawling estate, the first signs of intimacy, the obstacles they must overcome and yes-oh-yes the sex. More often than not, sex equals intimacy and commitment and eventually love.

Gottlieb the romance vivisectionist ignores this whole build up in Quinn’s novel and unceremoniously flips right to the centerfold. By cutting and splicing “squirming with desire” and “writhing with delight” and plopping them outside of the body of the work, he negates all of that work that brought the characters together and in just a few quick strokes (no pun intended), renders Julia Quinn’s writing as laughable. Not fair!

As someone who will continue reading a bad book just to finish the thing, I have fallen victim to some terrible romance novels with flat characters, God-awful dialogue and truly tasteless sex scenes. But the majority of the romance novels I’ve read create depth of character, realistic obstacles and tastefully written love scenes–some all sugar, some definitely spice.

Gottlieb needs to dig a little deeper into this genre to truly understand it. He could read for example Lauren Layne’s novels primarily set in New York that are smart, funny, witty and sexy. He could delve into Lisa Clark O’Neill’s romantic suspense novels that have self-sufficient female leads, sizzling sex and intelligently written suspense. He might enjoy either of my novels Green and The Things We Said in Venice for their strong female characters and societal depictions, if not the love story itself (or he might put them on the dissecting table!) Or if he prefers chaste but well-written romance novels, consider Outback Hero or Stuck by Australian romance author Elisabeth Rose.

My new favorite discovery is The Civil Wars of Jonah Moran by Marjorie Reynolds.  It addresses racism, fear, love, death and clash of cultures and romance combined with beautiful prose. Or if prose really is your thing, consider Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver: nature, sex, environmentalism and a romance that breaks out of the mold. These might really change his rather toxic view on the genre.

I’ll admit that Gottlieb made me laugh throughout his whole rant about my genre, but it seems he misspelled roundup. He apparently meant to apply RoundUp of the Monsanto ilk to the entire romance genre in an attempt at mass eradication.

Hearts-clip-art-images-imageYet there was one point in his romance roundup with which I fully agree: Nora Roberts is the Queen of Romance. It doesn’t seem to matter if it was written in the 80s, 90s or any time within the 21st century, I have enjoyed almost every Nora Roberts novel I’ve read (her romantic suspense ones can be a bit too brutal).

Cartland’s successor as Queen of Romance is America’s Nora Roberts. And she deserves to be. Roberts is not only extraordinarily industrious — 215 or so novels, including 45 futuristic police procedurals under the pseudonym J. D. Robb, also big best sellers — but her books are sensibly written and on the whole as plausible as genre novels can be.

Excerpt from A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels by Robert Gottlieb. New York Times, Sept 26th, 2017

I won’t kid myself and think that Robert Gottlieb will take the time to search out my little author blog and respond. But just in case he does, I invite readers of the romance genre to comment on this post with their top romance picks and WHY they think they are worthy of a readership.

Love, kisses, hot sex and happily ever after! (How’s them apples Mr. Gottlieb?)

Author Kristin Anderson

 

 

 

Sunday Book Review Daphnis and Chloe

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Penguin_Little_Black_Classics Have you seen these cute little black books? They are part of the PENGUIN Little Black Classics series, issued in 2015 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of Penguin Books.

Perhaps by making them pocket-sized, they had hoped to downplay the significance of these works and by doing so, make them appear less daunting / more palatable to the harried, multi-tasking contemporary reader. If that was their ploy, it certainly worked on me.

Why not start out with a highly accessible story in the series entitled Daphnis and Chloe by Longus? It is a pastoral love story that takes place in the 2nd century A.D. on the Greek Isle of Lesbos. This charming tale of two youths, both from unknown origins who were raised by simple farmers in the countryside, comes across as a very simple tale. Yet it has a magical timelessness about it.

Written in an era when people lived off the land, honored the sea nymphs and prayed to the Gods with impressive results, it definitely says 2nd century A.D. But it has a strange modernity about it as well. Homosexuality is seen as perfectly normal and timeless issues of wealth versus poverty, cultural conflicts, deceit, abduction, forgiveness, jealousy, greed, innocence and desire all play a role. Considering so many contemporary novels have mystical elements, Pan intervening on behalf of a love struck man seems almost contemporary.  And for an author of romance such as myself, I was of course happy to learn that at the heart of this little novel is love.

Raised as sheep and goat herders, Daphnis and Chloe spend a lot of time together tending to their flocks out in nature, away from others. Seeing as there’s lots of down time, like when the sheep are resting in the shade, they have plenty of leisure time to swim in the lakes and the rivers, play pipes, weave garlands for the sea nymphs and bathe in the pools of the sea nymphs. Considering the importance of nature and how efficiency in nature is important, it might even be fair to say Daphnis and Chloe is one of the first eco-romances.

Daphnis grows from a happy young boy into a handsome young man. The women of the village liken his beauty to that of the god Dionysus. Chloe transforms from his childhood playmate into a beautiful young woman.  As you can imagine, all of that bathing and touching and time in nature starts to awaken things in them. But do they even recognize what’s going on? No. They don’t. If The Blue Lagoon ever needed a source for depicting innocents discovering the joys of the human body, this could have been their reference book.

Although Daphnis and Chloe are innocent, those around them know the drill. Nevertheless, it takes quite some time before they are enlightened. When Chloe first falls for Daphnis, she has no idea what is happening to her.

“She cared not for her food, lay awake at night and disregarded her flock; she laughed, then she cried; she sat down, then she leaped up; her face was pale, and then again it was fired red.”

Daphnis and Chloe, p.11

Daphnis is equally clueless: “‘Whatever did Chloe’s kiss do to me? Her lips are softer than roses, her mouth is sweeter than honey, but her kiss is sharper than a bee sting. I’ve kissed kids many times, I’ve kissed newborn puppies many times . . . . But this kiss is something new. I’m short of breath, my heart is pounding, my soul is melting away: yet I want to kiss her again.'”

Daphnis and Chloe, p.15

Will these two young lovers ever discover how love works? You’d think with flocks of  animals around them, they could figure out the mechanics, but that would be too easy.  The Greek author Longus lines up a long cast of obstacles: other would-be suitors, abduction, near death, trickery, attempted rape, attacks by foreigners to strange discoveries of their origins. Longus is so good at spinning his tale that he leaves his readers from the 2nd century and the 21st century wondering if these would be lovers will end up together. He does not dissapoint.

Daphnis and Chloe is a fun tale that thoroughly explores the ancient art of falling in love and it’s many confusing phases. A recommended read!

 

Sharing the Love

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Most authors love to read. So it goes without saying that authors read other author’s works. Of course they do. Otherwise we’d be reading books written by robots. On occasion, real authors interview other real authors and write reviews.

In this case I’m not being hypothetical, but sharing a fact. Case in point; after reading my second novel The Things We Said in Venice, talented YA author NJ Simmonds interviewed me for her blog! It was a great experience that I’d like to share with all of you. Click on the title below to read the interview and her thoughts on my novel.

Romance & Europe – with Author Kristin Anderson

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You can also learn more about NJ Simmonds and her debut novel The Path Keeper, Book One in a YA fantasy-Romance series by clicking here. I enjoyed this novel so much, that I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up writing about it on my author blog in the future!

 

Sunday Book Review: Persuasion

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Among my list of qualifications for a great summer is time to read without pressure. The Dutch library system seems to agree; the three-week lending window is extended during the summer vacation and they even have a free app where you can borrow eBooks through August 31st.

Thus one of my first vacation-minded stops was the library where I checked out a hardback version of Persuasion. I’ve read Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, but this was my first encounter with Jane Austen’s Persuasion.

Considering my three-meter tall stack of books on my to-read list, let alone the millions of titles available from the past two centuries, you might wonder why I would choose a novel written in the year of 1815 to 1816.

Because it’s Jane Austen! That, and I half-listened to The New York Times Book Review Podcast on July 14th, which included an interview with Deborah Yaffe, a self-proclaimed Janeite. A Janeite is a person who is a die-hard Jane Austen fan. Yaffe was talking about her life as a Janeite, her encounters with other Janeites and promoting her book entitled Among the Janeites. I didn’t realize until I heard the podcast that this summer marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death (July 18th, 1817).

Was it the right choice to kick off my summer reading program? Absolutely! Persuasion was so good that here I am, 200 years after her death, writing a review of Austen’s novel.

It usually takes me about 30 to 40 pages to adjust to literature written in another century. This wasn’t the case when I read Persuasion. Austen’s smooth and consistent writing style drew me in within the first few chapters. I found it fascinating to be pulled so accurately and personally into another century.

I had to shift into an era where time was slowed down.  For example, if the cast of characters needed to communicate with friends at a distance, they couldn’t pick up a phone or cell phone, send an email or sms. They drafted letters and sent them via a servant on horseback.

handwritten-letters6

random letter courtesy http://www.dodd.com

Letters are important in this society. They are poured over, read multiple times, and when appropriate, shared with friends and family members. The content is debated and discussed the way we discuss news, politics or gossip today.

Letters play a significant role throughout the novel, from conveying grave news, evidence of someone’s traitorous character to declaring true intentions.

 

Once I had adjusted to the 19th century era of Persuasion, I found myself reading for long stretches of time, drawn into the dramas that unfolded. Daily life of the gentry class is so well described, that you feel a part of it. Men are gentlemen who help you into a carriage and make sure you don’t get caught in the rain. Women go for social visits not longer than 30 minutes where they exchange pleasantries with their neighbors. Evenings include dinners and conversation, playing the piano and polite dancing.

The societal and emotional issues presented–class consciousness, the influence of wealth, regret, seeking the right partner, family conflicts, second chances, the fickle or steadfast heart–were beautifully portrayed.

Anne Elliot, the clear heroine, is 27 years old when the novel begins. While that is still considered young in our contemporary world, in the 1800s you are almost over the hill. Eight years earlier at the age of nineteen, she had fallen for a young navy lieutenant named Frederick Wentworth and they were engaged to be married. But a family friend talked her out of the engagement. Why? This young lieutenant had not yet made his fortune and was therefore viewed as an inappropriate match for someone of Anne’s social stature.

Eight years later, he has made his fortune, advanced the naval ladder and is back in town. When Anne hears of his return, she tells herself she is over him, but her heart begs to differ. Is the now Captain Wentworth’s first stop to see Anne Elliot to try to woo her again? Unfortunately not. It seems that Frederick Wentworth  views Anne Elliot in a rather negative light and is still holding onto the shame of being turned down rather than the deep connection and implicit understanding they had of one another. These days, it also seems that any young woman of a certain social class will do as his future wife.

Yet Anne displays grace and kindness where just about every other member of her social circle displays shallowness, haughtiness and pride. As Anne and Frederick continue to encounter one another, it is clear they are the best match. But of course it’s not that simple. Austen has an amazing ability to create one conflict after another for these two potential mates, without overdoing it.

The story gains depth through Austen’s clear mockery of the very social class to which she belonged. She creates characters that are so engrained in their sense of superiority brought on by social class, that they are blind to their own faults; faults that are so obvious that everyone around them can’t help but notice. She does this in such a fluid, humorous way, that I often found a mirthful smile on my face while reading. Jane Austen was letting me in on a private joke, poking fun at entitlement and the pitfalls of classism.  Money is important, but integrity and authenticity are equally valuable–a fact overlooked by many.

The majority of the novel centers around the courtships that form between young men and women within Anne Elliot’s social circle, but also displays how much women are dependent upon marriage to secure their future as well as male relatives to represent them in society.

Austen is perhaps the quintessential author of romance, who set the stage for the modern day romance novel back in the 1800s. I would recommend Persuasion to anyone who is interested in history, who would like insight into 19th century British society and who likes a good old fashioned story of courtship and love. But keep in mind that you will have to step out of our fast-paced world and slow your way into another century before you can truly value this engaging tale.

 

 

She Asked Me About Cake

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Since I ventured into the world of becoming an  indie author, I’ve gotten to know other authors from Canada, the U.S., England, Spain, The Netherlands, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates. I realize this might give you the impression that I’m a contemporary nomad, traveling the world to promote my novels at book signings, attending writing conferences and lecturing on panels with other authors. That’s a pretty sweet picture. I like it so much, that I’ll add it to my author vision board (once I get around to making it).

But the truth of it is, I’ve met most of the authors I know online. Such is the case with author Isabella May, whose novel Oh! What a Pavlova will be released in October of 2017.

After discovering that we are both avid readers and that our novels have some similarities (a penchant for travel, including Italy and food), she interviewed me on her website. Her questions weren’t the ordinary ones. She asked me about cake, ESD and more. She’s even visited my little (population 5,000) home town of Solvang in California!

You can read the interview by clicking on this title:

 We talk Venice, ‘European Style Detachment’ and Carrot Cake…

Like the interview? Please share it on Twitter and Facebook by clicking on those options at the end of her interview. After this experience, I am inclined to start interviewing other authors as well.

 

 

 

 

From Dormouse to Santa Ynez Valley Star

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As a kid, I was terribly shy. So my mom–showing sensitivity and understanding for my inherent shyness–threw me head first into a summer drama program.

I started out on a large stage in the small role of the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland at the Solvang Theaterfest.  I moved on to play a street urchin in Oliver!  Despite my height as a youth, I even had a role as a dwarf in The Hobbit before eventually getting a lead role as Gerda in The Snow Queen.  In other words, I had the shy beaten out of me, one play at a time. 

I’m now an extroverted introvert who begins conversations with others, can network and even speak in public, though my stomach still gets all tied up in knots every darned time I step on a stage.

The good thing is, I actually like talking to people now. I even like talking to reporters, most of the time.  So I guess, after all of these years, I am thankful to mom, to the drama teacher Maria Bland and her opera singing brother Jo, who taught me to use my voice. I’m also thankful to that motley crew of fellow youth actors who bolstered my confidence in those early years in the Santa Ynez Valley.

You need a voice in life after all, especially if you want to be a known author.

Right now I’m a known author to a small but growing circle of  readers, family and friends. I wouldn’t mind being a star. Or at least mentioned in the Santa Ynez Valley Star. 

Mission accomplished! (SEE BELOW)

Thank you home town paper! Question is, after reading this interview, do you feel like continuing the reading experience by ordering my novel? That would be the true test. 

Reading and talk at Haagse Hout Library, Saturday June 24th, 2017

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Now that my book launch is over, I’m back to being an author behind the computer screen, escaping into fictional worlds I create, or those of others (I’m one of those authors that LOVES TO READ other authors as well).

But I will come out from behind the screen once again on Saturday, June 24th, 2017 as part of the Parels in Bezuidenhout celebration.


The Parelroute features 47 “pearls” or venues where you can see everything from art and music, participate in workshops and meet authors.

I will be giving a presentation at the Haagse Hout Library (Theresiastraat 195, The Hague) at 1:00pm and 3:00pm. I will discuss how living in The Hague influenced the narrative of my latest novel The Things We Said in Venice, do a reading and there is a chance to purchase a copy of one or both of my titles on this day as well. Not able to make it that day? My book is also available at The American Book Center, The Hague (Lange Poten 23) and via Amazon in your respective countries (best shipping rates to The Netherlands is via Amazon.de).


Here’s the map of the event. As you can see, there’s no shortage of participants! You can see the full schedule on this website and plan your own route for the Parel Dag.