Huh?

Earlier this month, writer Alan Elsner wrote an article for the Huffington Post entitled How Romance Novels take the Romance out of Romance.  I haven’t read any of Mr. Elsner’s novels, but he sounds like an intelligent man. He simply misses the point of romance novels.

For one thing, he makes the common mistake of confusing all romance novels with porn.  I’m very fond of the graphic sex scenes that “quite surprised” him.  Very very fond of them.  (Btw, we’ve been out of the Victorian era for over a hundred years, Mr. Elsner — why does the discovery that women enjoy reading about hot sex startle you?) But it’s safe to guess he didn’t pick up an inspirational romance. Or anything from Harlequin’s tamer imprints. Or by Georgette Heyer.

He has also either forgotten the meaning of the word ‘romance’ or didn’t look it up.  It’s the wee hours of the morning as I type and I didn’t feel like going downstairs to my reference books, so here’s the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary’s definition (the italics are mine):

Romance Function: noun  Date: 14th century

1 a (1) : a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural (2) : a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious (3) : a love story especially in the form of a novel b : a class of such literature 2 : something (as an extravagant story or account) that lacks basis in fact  3 : an emotional attraction or aura belonging to an especially heroic era, adventure, or activity.

Most readers of the genre know perfectly well that sex and love are two different things.  These days, a good romance of any genre depicts the development of an intimate relationship, physically and emotionally.  The level of physical intimacy varies greatly from inspirational to erotic romance, but the emotional connection between the hero and heroine must be there.

Mr. Elsner doesn’t say in the article what books he based his observations on.  If they were straight-forward erotica (a venerable literary genre, but not romance), that might explain his claim that in romance novels “love is expressed through sex and only through sex”.  Or he might have been reading through testosterone-colored glasses and not registered the emotional content.  He does assert that “love takes place in the mind where it has to fight for its existence against all the other challenges presented by life.”  Maybe for him that’s true, but it isn’t for me.  Loving my husband was not a rational choice on my part.  (I would never have deliberately chosen a man who thinks I should enjoy housework.)  It just happened.  After experiencing “an immediate and powerful mutual attraction”, I might add!

Christmas Lists

Not a ‘Get’ list or even a ‘To Do’ list.

This time of year, families celebrate the holidays with a myriad of traditions: favorite foods and meals, favorite movies and books, favorite activities. Here’s some of the things we do at our house each year, with a few reasons why I love them. (Just a heads up…some of them might not match up with the customary images of joy and family togetherness.)

Favorite Movies
The Lion in Winter: Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine celebrate Christmas in France. Except he keeps her imprisoned most of the year, she aids their sons in rebelling against him, and he’s doing the nasty with the future Richard Coeur-de-Lion’s betrothed. And you think your family has rotten holidays.

A Christmas Carol: The version with Patrick Stewart only. Captain Picard as Scrooge! Make it so!

Holiday Inn: Bing Crosby first sang White Christmas in this movie, which premiered in 1942.  Fred Astaire co-starred as a rival performer.  The movie was remade in 1954, again with Bing, entitled — you guessed it — White Christmas.

Favorite Rituals:
Some of these are done in lots of families. Some are very, very different. Allow me to emphasize that no one has ever suffered permanent injury or death as a result of any holiday activity in my home.

Putting up the World’s Biggest Cat Toy:
In non-feline homes, this object is referred to as a ‘Christmas tree’. The cats get very excited when they see the boxes and love to help, especially when we’re engaged in weaving the long strings of lights through the branches.

Wrapping presents: Okay, it’s a bit of a chore, and the cats like to help with this, too. But if you’ve got company, it’s fun to outdo each other in disguising gifts with unique packaging. We once convinced my youngest that she was getting the world’s largest piece of salt-water taffy. (It was a pillow made by my oldest.) And who knew duct tape could be so festive!

Christmas Eve at my in-laws: Pandemonium! 25 people on my hubby’s side, including some small children. Potluck buffet, champagne, and little ones asking if it’s time for presents every five minutes. It’s a blast!

Late Christmas Eve Service: The celebration of Christ’s birth moves me every year. The service ends with the congregation singing ‘Silent Night’ as the lights dim. With the altar candles glowing in the darkened church, I reflect on how small the lights of Grace and Mercy are in our world, and yet how brightly they shine.

Christmas Brunch with my family:
More pandemonium, particularly if my sisters are visiting. Let’s just say we tend to get creative with ribbons and bows once they’re off the gifts. My mother says we look silly, but we ignore her.

Sparring matches: These break out periodically over Christmas season between my daughters, both of whom are testing for their black belts in taekwondo this month. They spar over who gets which of my ornaments when I’m dead, over who gets to use the prettiest wrapping paper first, and over the last dinner roll. Among other things.

Giving Thanks

So many things that I’m grateful for…

Always first, my husband and daughters. Without them, my world would be a colder and darker place, even on the brightest days of summer. I am thankful for the continued health and safety of those I love most in the world, as well as my own.

And I give thanks for the rest of my family — my parents and my stepmother, my sisters and stepsister, and my in-laws — and for the collective kinks in our brains, limps in our gaits and general dysfunctions that keep us arguing and laughing together. (Always remember, right in the middle of dysfunction you find FUN!)

I have been blessed with a multitude of friends, the people you find in life who feed your soul and love you even after they discover that you hate dusting and secretly love to listen to disco and Bananarama’s version of ‘Venus’.

Thinking of friends moves into my writer’s gratitude list: Sally, Johnnye & Kim are friends and fellow writers, and I have benefited immensely from their guidance and honesty. (Or in Johnnye’s case from her whining and nagging.)

Not only are these three terrific women friends, we all belong to a critique group that includes writers of fiction, screenplays and stage plays, and poetry. Genres from romance to horror movies are represented, as are both genders. (For a romance writer, getting the viewpoint of males, especially when writing your hero, is invaluable!!) My family loves me and is proud of me (mostly), but they don’t get my struggles and triumphs with the written word like other writers do.

I am profoundly thankful for everyone at Kensington Publishing who has put time and effort in the belief that I can write books that will sell. Yes, it is a business and I am a minnow in a pond with some very talented fish, but my emails and calls are returned promptly and they answer my newbie questions with great patience. Peter Senftleben, my editor, is wonderful! I was delighted when he told me he will be my editor for my second book.

And during these tough economic times, I am humbly thankful for material blessings. Not just the necessities of food, shelter and clothing, but for having enough to help our hard-working college student pay her expenses, and to cover our (mercifully small) medical expenses.

What do you give thanks for?

This is new….

While I’m hardly a recluse, the concept of having my book title and name come up in various places on the internet is …. odd. ‘Behind the scenes’ is where I’ve always lived and I do well there. So when Maureen Cuddy in Kensington’s publicity department emailed and then called me last week to request answers to questions for the Debut Corner of Romantic Times’ February issue, I alternated between ‘OMG!!’ and ‘Oh, crap!’ (Um, actually I used a stronger word than ‘crap’.)

Maureen’s initial email went into my spam file and she called one of the few times I didn’t have my phone with me. Lucky for me she was very understanding about the spam issue. Besides, when I checked the time of her call, I realized I had been driving a very busy stretch of road with my daughter in the car. Better chalk one up to my Car Guardian Angel for leaving the phone behind that day.

After jumping up and down, emailing Maureen back (she had left the office by the time I returned her call), running out to the nearest bookstore to get a copy of RT to get an idea of the length of the answers I should provide, going to my weekly critique group and finally composing the answers to send back, I wondered where else I might be popping up. For the record I didn’t Google myself, since my favorite search engine is http://www.dogpile.com

I knew that Kensington listed To be Seduced on the major sites for pre-sale, but I also found it mentioned in an online forum at Romantic Times, the blog Babbling About Books and More, and at Fantastic Fiction, a site based in the United Kingdom that covers all genres of fiction.  The site that gave me the biggest chuckle was the one offering my book for pre-sale in India. I wonder if this makes me ‘internationally known’ now. (My guess would be not so much, lol.)

Sitting and Staring

Okay, I sit down before the computer, turn it on and pull up my WIP. With any luck, the words I wrote yesterday make sense. Maybe there’s an awkward phrase to fix or a common word to replace, but those are just delaying tactics. Any writer knows the real work starts when the words stop scrolling. So I sit and stare at a blank screen.

And stare. And think about going back and doing some ‘good solid editing’. But that’s not what I’m here for. Editing means working with something that exists on the page or hard drive. It’s important, but first there are characters who clamor to get to the end of their story, the one that’s still unfinished. The surroundings and scenes living in my head must be described, the emotions transferred from imagination to page.

Writing is like walking through fog. Even when you know where you want to end up, most of the time you can only see a few steps in front of you. The good thing is, if you just keep walking, you can at least see the next few steps, and then a few more. Eventually you will reach the end of the book and your characters get to their long-awaited destination.

Happy Ever After

HEA…one of the basic requirements of romance writing. If the characters don’t end up happily united, with the implication they will stay that way for the rest of their lives, it ain’t a romance novel. It may be an excellent book — I’ve read many moving stories that do not end up with the hero and heroine together, but it’s a different genre.

Why do we so desperately want the hero and heroine to find their Happy Ever After in our favorite romances? My theory is that this is part of the fantasy involved in the genre. Compared to staying together, the wonderful and improbably gallant adventures featured in romances are cake. You have to outwit a drug lord? No biggie. Your sweetie has just come down with the Black Plague and you have to nurse him back to health? Easy peasy. I’ve been married 24 years, so I think I can speak with experience here.

Try tactfully changing the conversation before your oblivious spouse tells your uptight boss that story of how he and his friends mooned their college library while spelling out ‘Merry Christmas’ on their butts. Or coming to terms with the fact that your disinterest in housekeeping drives your honey up the wall. And no fictional plague victim has ever decided to ‘help’ his nurse by reorganizing the kitchen while she was out for an evening.

On the other hand, romances end fairly early in the lives of their characters, while skin is unlined and libidos are strong. We don’t get to see them enjoy the little discoveries that keep a relationship fresh. And after 24 years, some things are better than ever. We both have more lines in our faces than we like, and we might fall asleep on the couch instead of making out on it. But once we’ve rested up, my husband and I get to slip between the sheets with someone who’s had years to find out just we like.

Let’s just say a good time is guaranteed 🙂

How did I get here?

Seriously, how did I get here? ‘Here’ being a pre-published author, terrified at the idea of strange people reading my books. (Okay, yeah, I’m kinda strange myself, but I’m used to me.)

Nearly two years ago, I was trying to recharge myself creatively and took an acting class. I was there to see if I wanted to go back onstage at our local community theaters. Another student was there because she writes screenplays, and had been told that she needed to take an acting class before writing for actors. (Excellent advice, by the way!)

She and I got to talking and she told me about a weekly writer’s group she belonged to. The writers included poets, novelists, short story writers, screenwriters, and the genres covered the writing map: thriller, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, young adult.

Something went ‘click’. Moments of ‘click’ happen very rarely in my life, and I’ve learned the hard way not to ignore them. I’d written bits of stories, along with some truly awful poetry, starting in my teens. I wondered if I could do more than that. So I went. And I’ve gone ever since. When it was my turn to write, I started with historical romance. It is my favorite genre, followed closely by fantasy and science fiction. Most of my previous writing attempts had been placed in past eras.

I abandoned my first story because I couldn’t get the characters to DO anything. Then a wonderful heroine appeared in my imagination, and the book now titled To be Seduced was conceived.

After a year, I was having a wonderful time writing Richard and Bethany’s story! I loved my characters and my work was well received by our critique group, including the men. But I wondered how it would hold up outside that trusted circle. So when I saw a first chapter contest offered by the East Texas Writers Guild that promised a critique of every entry, for a very reasonable fee, I thought ‘why not?’ That the judges of the finalists were all editors and agents looked pretty cool too, but there was no way my entry would get that far.

Wrong. My entry finaled. This thrilled me to pieces, because the judge for the historical romance section of the contest was Hilary Sares of Kensington Publishing. I couldn’t say much to my family, as they tend to regard my writing as yet one more weird thing I do. But the idea that a New York editor was reading my stuff resulted in numerous happy dances in the privacy of my living room. I ended up winning my category, and Hilary requested my manuscript. Eventually Kensington offered to buy it, and it is now in the good hands of Peter Senftleben.

I am pretty sure that if I turned my experience into a synopsis for a future book, it would be rejected by any respectable agent or editor. I can’t blame them. Stuff like this doesn’t happen.

Except it did.

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to Ann Stephens Romance. I’m a romance writer — my first book is coming out in 2010, from Kensington Books. In To be Seduced, handsome Cavalier Richard Harcourt returns to England with King Charles II only to find his estate ruined.

A marriage of convenience…
Destitute and desperate, he sets his sights on Puritan heiress Bethany Dallison. As the lady is all but promised to another, he resorts to kidnapping, knowing her mother and friends would rather see her wed than face ruin. But he doesn’t count on a bride with a cool head and a passionate heart!

…Or connivance?
Bethany has her own reasons for marrying Richard, most of them held in the care of her father’s banker. With her fortune in trust until she weds, she enters into marriage with Richard in hopes of gaining a measure of independence. Unfortunately, she discovers her groom has a disastrous effect on her senses…and her emotions.

Join me on the exhilarating ride as I prepare for publication. I hope to update this blog at least monthly in between writing and real life!

Sexy Historical Romantic Comedy

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