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: 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.

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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.

 

 

Birth Announcement: Baby Number Two!

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I know a lot of you are thinking “Gosh, I didn’t even know you were pregnant!” But I have been for a couple of years now, in a figurative “authorly” way. I had written my second novel with a planned due date of May 2nd, 2017. But just this week, she decided May 2nd was just too far away.

When I approved the final version to order print books for a May book signing, I accidentally released her nine weeks early!

I’m sure there are marketing gurus out there who would say; “never admit to such a mistake!” But I view it differently. Sometimes, your baby decides to come into the world before the expected delivery date, and when that happens, you roll with it. Just to clarify, she is fully baked. She has been proofed and edited and formatted and properly clothed. She’s just . . . a premie.

The first order of business, now that I’ve gotten over the shock, is to send you all an official birth announcement:

Want to celebrate this wondrous experience with me? Then by all means, please schedule a visit by clicking on this link to order your copy now (Kindle or Print version). If you live outside the U.S. and you prefer a more tactile reading experience, it is best to order it from your Amazon store in your country or region, or order it directly from your local bookstore to support bricks and mortar business. You can also click on the links to the right of this post.

One last announcement. My son (the human type) hopes you will all order a copy. What a sweet, supporting child, you think! (Disclaimer: I promised him that after my 100th sale I’d get him a new Lego set. He’s suddenly very interested in how sales are going.

Thanks for your time!

Kristin Anderson

 

 

Sarah Turner from Bend, Oregon Coming to Europe.

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I have this close friend Sarah Turner* from The States who keeps saying she wants to come visit me in Europe. Sarah’s a high school counselor in Bend, Oregon. She’s totally into hiking and running, has been happily married for over a decade, is close with all of her siblings, enjoys her job. In other words, she has a great life.

But then her husband cheated on her with one of her best friends who happens to be the wife of her husband’s boss. It’s a total cluster f*&k, as you can imagine, not to mention humiliating. So there she is, 36 years old, suddenly divorced, betrayed by not only her best friend, but her husband (I never really liked that guy to be honest). Did I mention that her mom passed away not long ago? I’ve been worried about her because these are big, disruptive life changes all at once.

X003Most of our communication about all of this has been through email and PMs on Facebook. But she called me up at 4:00 in the morning (forgot the time change) to tell me something totally out of character; she left her job and has just embarked on a solo-trip through Northern Europe to rediscover herself! At the end of her trip, she plans to visit The Netherlands for some appointment she has scheduled in Amsterdam, and will have time to visit me in The Hague!

I’m really impressed. It’s pretty gutsy to travel all by yourself through Europe; especially for a woman who’s never left the continental U.S. and has a hard time picking up foreign languages. As I recall, she’s also a bit afraid of the dark and she became a vegan a couple of years ago. Hmmm. Not sure how traveling in Europe will work out for a vegan. That’s got to be hard.

I’d love to introduce Sarah to some of my single friends, because she really is quite a catch. But it’s obviously too soon. I wouldn’t say she’s in a man-hating phase, but more like she just needs to be totally on her own and remember what it’s like to be an individual.

I hope Sarah doesn’t mind me sharing all of this personal stuff on my blog.

Want to get the full scoop on Sarah Turner, then you might want to click here. I understand you can read quite a few intimate details about her.

Originally posted on http://www.kristininholland.wordpress.com

 

Fifty Shades of Venice

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A part of me tries to avoid mass cultural activities out of some inner desire to preserve my integrity.  Call it a left over residue of literary elitism from my days as an English Major, or a fear that by participating in the norms, I will lose touch with the ability to be ‘unique’ or to form my own thoughts–a fear of cultural brainwashing, shall we say.

On the other hand, just because something is wildly popular is not reason enough to write it off. Think Adele, Harry Potter, The Beatles, Facebook, Twitter, Martin Luther King or Obama, for that matter. We can be engaged and inspired by mass cultural figures, pastimes and entertainment while keeping our discerning minds intact.

Perhaps this view explains my recent caving expedition. Not spelunking or potholing but caving, as in giving in to things.

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For example, the other night I met up with a friend to see Fifty Shades Darker. It’s not the type of film in which to invite your child or the minister of your church, but it works just fine as a sexy film to see with your girlfriends. (In fact, there were only women in the theater!)

After the film, I had an interesting discussion with my friend. Why is this genre so popular? Although The Fifty Shades stories have been called mommy porn and this latest film received a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, that doesn’t take away the facts; the novels are wildly popular the world over. In fact, 100 million copies of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy were sold worldwide through 2014 (The Gaurdian, 2014). That number has certainly only grown in the last three years.

I believe this series is popular for several reasons. 1) It pushes the norms of the romance genre (tell us it’s forbidden and we want it more), 2) it features an innocent heroine and a rich bad boy (two popular elements in the romance genre) and 3) it provides a narrative that goes beyond the sex and physical attraction to offer up what we all want in our lives: Love.

Although S&M plays a role in the film, and Grey’s stalker mentality would make any woman squirm (and not in a good way), the lead characters care so deeply for one another that they inspire positive change in each other’s lives. He’s willing to give up his dark habits for a chance at love. And who wouldn’t want a sexy, successful multi-millionaire to consider you ‘the one’ who could make his life complete? (Given that you feel the same way, that is. Otherwise that could be highly problematic.)

The heroine of the story is also strong. She is able to say no to power freak Christian Grey while every other woman in his past only knew how to say yes. Her innocence and integrity are her weapons in turning a bad boy good, without taking the sexy out of him.

As we left the movie, my friend gave me the ticket stub, suggesting that I could use the ticket as a tax write off or memento, since I’m an author of romance.

As I prepare for the launch of my second book,  I revisit why, with my interest in literature, I continue to write romance. It’s quite simple, actually. I believe that everyone deserves love in their lives and I am most attracted to works of fiction that bring messages of hope, connection and joy into the world, while honoring the social narrative in which they are written. Romance is a genre that gives space for all of these qualities.

It is thus with pride that I share with you the cover of my upcoming novel The Things We Said in Venice!

A gondola, Venice, Italy

It’s no Fifty Shades of Venice, but it does take you on a romantic journey through Italy, Argentina and The Netherlands with characters that make you laugh, cry, contemplate and open your heart to the chance of love.

With a launch date planned in May 2017, you will undoubtedly be hearing more from me in the coming weeks about this novel. But for now, a picture is worth a thousand words.

I would love to hear what you think of this cover design!

Graphic Public Service Announcement

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If I were in charge of the posters in airports, train stations and tram stops, they might look something like this.


Or like this:


I might even get a bit preachy.


Or blunt and demanding.


Okay. I’ll admit that this blogpost is inspired by my recent caving in to yet another social media platform: Instagram. I ignored it for years based on its’ name alone. As a writer, I savor a well-written article, short-story or book. I enjoy taking the time for a story to unfold on the page. Instagram was for me the antithesis of this idea.

As you can see by my little image gallery here, I’ve been using the app Phoster to combine words and images for my Instagram posts. I have to admit, it’s been fun.

Speaking of fun, the proof for my second novel The Things We Said in Venice just shipped. Any bloggers or columnists who are into reviewing books, please let me know if you’d like a review copy.

Any readers up for a light, travel romance, my second novel should be available to order by mid-May! The cover of my second novel is still a secret, but if I were to announce it’s pending arrival in Instagram terms . . .

Rumor Has It

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I was at a networking event in Amsterdam the other evening and I ran into an old friend of mine who works as a translator. Anyway, she was translating from Swedish to English at this trial at the Criminal Court and on her break she was in line at the cafe to order a latte when she overheard a conversation. Guess who’s single? Fokke van der Veld.*

I’m not usually one to gossip, but he’s only one of the most famous travel writers in Europe. I have at least three of his guide books on my bookshelf and he’s been translated into 36 languages, so he’s also known around the world.

One book of his I have is van der Veld’s travel guide to Peru. To be honest, I bought it because of that shot of him on the cover. He’s so handsome! That, and of course I hope to go to Peru someday.

According to my source, he now lives in The Hague. Not that I’m interested, being happily married and all. But it’s interesting to know.

*Thanks for reading the fine print! Want the full scoop on Fokke van der Veld? Get it here.