What's Your Perfect Read?
We're talking about our favorite sub-genres at the PHS this month.
From romantic comedy to the paranormal; what's your preference?
Heidi Hormel—I Love Small Town Romance
Maybe I’m really channeling the late John Cougar Mellencamp when I write. You know: “Used to daydream in that small town/Another boring romantic that’s me.”
I happily write small town and I like it. And I don’t just do it because small-town romances were selling well or that Harlequin Western (which is now RIP) were set in small towns. I’m small town all the way because: one, I write quirky characters, and they fit best in small towns. Two, I’ve spent most of my life living in a small(ish) town. Three, I had a college writing professor who insisted the only stories worth telling were those set in or around New York City and had to prove him wrong. Four, my “voice” fits small town and five, aren’t even big-city set stories, really about finding your small town in that big city?
Number five is what intrigues me.
Living close to big cities like Baltimore and New York, as well as having family just outside the thriving metropolis of Pittsburgh, I’ve figured out that big cities are a bunch of small towns smashed together.
Like Little Italy in Baltimore—those few blocks look like any small town anywhere with distinctive architecture, restaurants, and stores. More importantly, it was where the people who lived there felt they knew their neighbors and had common dreams.
What I’m saying is that we all have our own small-town experience no matter where we grew up or live. For me, when a hero and heroine call a small town home, their romance (like most) boils down to accepting and being accepted by a community of family and friends.
To quote another wordsmith, Robert Frost: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
At least that’s the small-town hope and dream.
Kate Hardy—I Love Medical Romance
I started writing medical romances when I was pregnant with my daughter. Actually, it was my husband's suggestion. He knew I wanted to write romance, I read tons of category romance, and my day job was being a freelance health journalist—plus I was addicted to TV medical dramas such as Casualty and Holby City. Why didn't I combine the two?
He had a point. Combining it all made sense. For me, Medical Romance has it all.
Heroes. Regardless of his background and his internal conflict, the prime concern of the medical hero—part from falling in love with the heroine, of course—is to care for his patients. It softens the alpha edge with kindness—which I prefer both as a reader and as a writer since I cannot write uber-alphas because I'd rather push them in a puddle.
Heroines. Because they have to be good in a crisis and fight for their patients, they come across as strong.
The background. I particularly like maternity, because of the newborn babies and the promise of new life (and a romance); children's wards, because it's lovely to make the little ones better (and if you can heal a patient, you can heal your partner's past); emergency, because that ticking clock makes everything they touch more dramatic; and GP surgeries, because I like small town books and the warmth of a small community.
Actually, it's the community that makes it for me in Medicals—it gives the books a more 'real world' feel. Plus, particularly in a hospital setting, heroes and heroines of previous books are colleagues in each new book, so it's fun to catch up with them, too.
Best of all, there's always a happy ending.
Avril Tremayne—I Love Romantic Comedies
I read all romance sub genres and styles—the sweet and the sexy; historical and contemporary; medical, paranormal, fantasy and romantic suspense; the billionaires and the bikers; the shy girls and the knowing women; the lot. I like a good cry, I’m into some breast-beating, can get behind an over-the-top drama, appreciate a serving of angst, and I absolutely adore a tortured soul or two. But I demand one extra thing from a book if it’s to hit my stratosphere of delight, and that’s a few laughs.
I think this is because in my real life. One, I’ve never fallen in love with a man who didn’t make me laugh; two, the people I choose to hang out with laugh loud and long and often, and know how to make me do likewise; and three, of all my memories, those that are full of fun are the ones I most cherish.
I guess it’s no surprise, then, that romantic comedy is my absolute favourite thing to write.
But there’s a great challenge in writing, labeling, or recommending a book called “romantic comedy”: the minute a potential reader hears a book is funny, that reader is going to set the laugh-bar way high. Keeps you on your toes as a writer, that’s for sure! And it’s not for the faint-hearted, because let’s face it, humour is subjective; one person’s joke of the century is another person’s, puh-lease, are you serious?!?!
All this means, however, is that rom com writers have to give their readers more than humour or they may be doomed from the get-go!
You start off with a situation the hero and heroine find themselves in that’s inherently kind of screwball, which in my opinion is the differentiator between a rom-com and fun-and-games contemporary romance—I write both—and have the fun practically built-in. Some of my own situations—past, present, and currently-being-worked-on—include dating lessons, sex contracts, mistaken identities, crossed-wire communication, faux relationships, characters-operating-within-a-plot-everyone-but-them-knows-about… You get the idea!
Then you stack the story with a cast of fabulous, often quirky, sometimes goofy, secondary characters to keep your hero and heroine off kilter. (Think of your funniest and/or most endearingly embarrassing friends!)
And of course, you definitely throw in as much witty banter as the book can hold—pacey back-and-forth dialogue (hold the introspection) between a hero and heroine who don’t even know they’re in a comedy.
But with all that in play, you have to do one more thing: keep reminding yourself that a romantic comedy isn’t a stand-up routine, it’s an unfolding love story—and at some point in the story, that means you’re going to have to up the stakes and go for emotional broke.
In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that when a rom-com is done well, it packs its biggest wallop when the fun stops and the serious stuff happens. And it’s all about using the element of surprise.
One minute the story is rollicking along, and your readers are (hopefully) having a great time smiling and laughing… And the next, you’ve pulled the rug out from under them with a mood change, going beneath the humour to the vulnerable heart and soul of the story. Somehow, the black moment seems blacker, the drama more dramatic, the feels all the feel-ier, when you give you the reader more than they expected—and all because you put a smile on their faces en route!
Seriously, what’s not to love about that?
And if you can bring it all together at the end with another laugh or two? Now that is stratospheric!.
Patricia Sargeant—I Love Sports Romance
Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s It Had to be You, the first book in her uber successful Chicago Stars sports romance series, made me feel as though I’d died and gone to Book Lover's Heaven. It had three things I love in a story: romance, a happy ending and conflict; lots of page-turning, conflict.
I’m a sports fan. Basketball, U.S. football, and track and field especially speak to me. I don’t just enjoy watching the events, though. I love going behind the scenes. I want to know why my favorite players are in the sport. What obstacles have they faced? What obstacles could they be facing? What keeps them motivated?
With my Brooklyn Monarchs sports romance series, which I wrote as Regina Hart, I found my conflict in a fifth question: How does an athlete’s very public persona affect his or her private life and
the people who are in it? How do you grieve when a camera is shoved in your face? How do you handle success—or failure—when you’re forced in front of a microphone? How do you fall in love when you’re standing in a spotlight?
People often say, “Athletes are paid a lot of money to play a game.” But take away that wallet and they’re just like us. And what about the everyday people who are in their lives? How would you handle falling in love with a baller whose every step is dogged by a media determined to catch every crumb of his private life? Please don’t misunderstand. The game scenes are tons of fun to write: the ticking clock; the play-by-play; the mental, physical and emotional struggle. Loads of fun! But I love writing sports romance because of the conflict that occurs when athletes take their celebrity off the court.
Patricia's latest release, Peril & Prayer: A Sister Lou Mystery (written as Olivia Matthews), is out now. For more information about her and her writing check out her website. or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
A.C. Arthur—I Love Paranormal
“How do you come up with this stuff?”
“Aren’t you afraid of what you write?”
“I love your strange and creative mind.”
These are all comments I’ve received from readers when they meet me for the first time after reading my paranormal books. They are also the reasons why I love writing stories in the paranormal world.
I research, craft sentences, build a plot and plan a love story for every book I write, in any genre. But when I sit down to write paranormal, I begin to craft a whole new world. That’s what’s so fantastic about this genre for me. I have the opportunity to not only create a good story, but to also build a vibrant, detailed world around dark and tormented creatures searching for their own happiness.
Is finding love more difficult for the jaguar shifter than a human? It can be if that shifter is also fighting a centuries’ old mythological creature that is now threatening both the human and the shifter worlds. Even now my mind is full of scenes from a story such as this, my heart pounds at the thought of those battle scenes that could be created, the details that will be weaved throughout the story so that the reader feels as if they were personally sitting on the steps of a house in this fantasy world.
For me, writing paranormal is an exciting adventure that I never quite know where it will take me. Each book, even in a series where rules and characters have already been established, takes me on a journey through a mind that I’m not always sure isn’t warped in some way. LOL!
There’s also a balance that must be accomplished in writing paranormal. It’s somewhere between truth, creativity and believability and it’s not always easy to navigate. But I continue to enjoy the ride each time I start a new book.
Aja—I Love Erotic Romance
The best way to describe my unintentional choice of writing erotic romances, is to tell you a quick story… I still remember writing a scene between a couple caught in a deep and passionate embrace and right as they were about to kiss, I ended it. I knew that there had been amazing chemistry leading up to that moment, because I felt it as I wrote it, so I thought that would be enough for my readers. I wasn’t yet published and was a novice that wrote short stories I shared on my blog from time to time. Actually, it was once a week—gosh where has that ambition gone?—but I digress... I also remember sharing said scene with a friend of mine and her feedback was, “Aja that was so hot, but you needed to write the kiss. Give me the kiss.” I gave her the kiss and didn't stop at the kiss. In fact, every love scene I've written after that has given my readers the kiss, the touch, the penetration, the thrust, and the explosion, live in living color. And it’s erotic.
I've not coined my scenes or my romances as erotic, and not all of them are by the way, but my readers have. They must see that the intensely passionate, and sometimes graphic, sex scene are necessary when
telling those particular stories… And the fact that they blush when they read them, want to be in a private place when they read them, must also help. For example, at the beginning of Be With Me the sequel to Unexpected, both of which are co-written with Roy Glenn, the heroine performs oral sex on her lover/boyfriend of two years. Why we chose to open the book up in such a way, was to show you exactly where these two are in their relationship. As we believe that what a couple does with their physical intimacy is as much of a reflection of who they are as how many times they say, “I love you.” In fact, personally, I think it says more. So, we wanted the reader to know that these two are solid and passionate before we began to throw some challenges at them… And boy did we. On another note, you’ll see these two appear as cameos in The Pursuit which will be released this fall. Is it an erotic romance? Of course it is.
Tamsen Parker—I Love Romance Retellings
There’s a saying that there are only seven plots, and that every story ever told is some variation on one of those. If you believe that, then every book, every movie, every play is a retelling of sorts. Which some people might see as depressing. What, then, is the point of writing stories if they’ve all been told before?
But I like to think of it as a challenge. Yes, we’re telling the same stories, but the challenge is in telling them in new and exciting ways, and in some cases, a better way. We are building better mousetraps and reinventing the wheel all the time, and in no place is that lineage more clear than in a re-telling.
Humans delight in pattern recognition, and there’s a certain kind of satisfaction that comes from identifying the story under the story. It’s pleasing to be able to classify and organize things, it helps people understand volumes of information that might otherwise be too large or daunting. It can also be a tool for writers to surprise their audiences by taking a familiar story and adding a plot twist.
One of the best things about re-tellings is taking problematic stories and reshaping them with an eye to more modern, more progressive sensibilities. This is one of the reasons why I love queer re-tellings so very much. It’s not that queer people weren’t around when these stories were being told, it’s just that their stories weren’t the ones being recorded, they weren’t allowed to claim the spotlight. We have the opportunity to change that, to rewrite history, to enable people who have previously been hidden or ignored to see themselves in their favorite stories.
In short, re-tellings are wonderful because they provide content that is both familiar and new, and they give authors a chance to right wrongs—basically superheroes in book form..
Tara Taylor Quinn—I Love Contemporary Romance
I’ve been hooked on contemporary romance since I was fourteen years old. From the time I picked up my first Harlequin romance for free in the grocery store check-out line, these books have guided my life. They’re larger-than-life, draw-you-in feel-goods. And nestled within the ‘escape’ is enough real life to show you ways to make your life better. Little clues. Times when a line, like, ‘sometimes it’s not being wrong that’s so, but learning to forgive yourself when you are’ just sticks with you—and crops up in real life just when you need to hear those words.
Because the stories are contemporary, they depict current trends, issues, cultures and struggles—the same kind of struggles we are all going through in our daily lives. In real life, so often times we hear a story, in the news, from a friend, and we’re left hanging. Feeling somewhat powerless, or hopeless, because the story is ongoing. It doesn’t have a solution. It doesn’t end. Or end well. But in these books, we’re guaranteed that if we stick with it until ‘The End’, it will not only conclude, but it will give you a solution. And it’s guaranteed to be a good solution. To leave you feeling uplifted.
These books take our world and show us how to live within it and still have hope. They not only give joy for the moments we’re engrossed in them, but they show us ways to take that joy into real life. To spread a bit of it. They remind us that love really does exist. That it’s powerful. And that it’s available and accessible, in today’s world, in unending amounts, to every single one of us!
Elizabeth Goddard—I Love Romantic Suspense
When I first started writing for publication—or rather, seriously trying to learn how to write for publication, I was writing historical romance. But not just any historical romance—historical romantic suspense. Back then, that wasn’t even considered a genre—but it existed for me in the books I wrote and in the books I read. Then for a bit, I switched to fantasy. Ahem. Briefly, okay? My first published novel was a contemporary romance. Well, wouldn’t you know it, that contemporary romance was full of mystery and suspense. Danger. I just couldn’t help but add those elements. That’s what intrigues me when I’m sucked into a good novel. But that suspenseful novel had better include romance because otherwise it’s just no fun. Ha! Maybe the reason I love romantic suspense is because the books I read as a teenager were written by Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt. I guess you could say I cut my teeth on gothic novels. I loved Jane Eyre and Rebecca. I was a gothic novel addict. I developed a love for romance filled with danger, sometimes part mystery, or sometimes part thriller. It didn’t matter, and still doesn’t. Edge-of-your-seat romance.
Now I can look back over my thirty-plus novels and even my “sweet” romance novels for Heartsong Presents have an element of suspense. Interesting to note, in some of my romantic suspense novels, a big creepy house is part of the backdrop. In fact, my September release, Stormy Haven is set on the Washington coast in the winter with a picturesque lodge resting on the edge of the cliff. Romantic suspense with a bit of gothic seasoning. Romance is all around us—but add in layers of danger and suspense, running from a killer, trying to stop a murderer, and I’m on the edge of my seat.
Virginia Heath—I Love Historicals
I think I should start my defence of the historical romance genre by stating that I am a fairly recent convert. Until I turned forty and despite being a history teacher, I read contemporary romance veraciously and had never picked up a historical. Yes, that’s right. I’d never read Georgette Heyer or Jane Austen. Never worked my way through all the lauded recommended historical reading that lead me, naturally to the genre. I read contemporary and wanted to write contemporary. In fact, I stumbled across the pure indulgence that is historical romance quite by accident.
I went into the tiny bookshop in the railway station before setting off on a long journey, and upon realising I’d read every contemporary romance on their pathetically stocked shelves, picked up a historical romance with a pretty cover out of desperation. It was called The Duke and I by Julia Quinn, and it changed my reading habits and my life in one fell swoop.
Instantly I adored the world. Feisty heroines with modern sensibilities I recognised, complex and intriguing heroes who wore boots and tight breaches, different and entertaining plots that transported me to another place and another time, oodles of angst and longing, passion, romance and chemistry—all bubbling and brewing within the rigid social constraints of the era. If you want an escape and an adventure between the covers, then you really cannot beat the genre. It has it all in spades. I love the settings, the language, the cool stuff I learn and the vibrant worlds each talented author creates. It’s like stepping into the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice or the sexy world of Outlander.
That first story was my gateway book. Thanks to the Amazon recommendations and search categories, I discovered other brilliant historical romance authors. Sabrina Jeffries, Connie Brockway, Mary
Balogh, Eloisa James, Julie Anne Long, Tessa Dare… The list goes on and on. I’ve lost count of how many I have actually read in the last ten years. It’s probably over a thousand. Some are filled with suspense and intrigue, some with obstacles and family saga, some—my personal favourites—are sumptuous romantic comedies, but they all have a happily ever after. When it came to writing my own stories, it only seemed natural I would write historical romance too. And thank goodness I did. I am now no longer a history teacher I am an author. Of historical romance! I officially have the very best job in the world. All because I had nothing to read that fateful day a decade ago.
So next time you’re struggling to find a book, why not check out the historical romance shelves. You never know, it might change your life too..
Piper Huguley—I Love Forgotten Women's Romance
I’m making a change in my writing life. Though I have enjoyed bringing Black couples to life through writing historical romance, the election of 2016 changed some things for me. I felt the need to see, and know, real-life examples of Black love. So, after doing some research, I discovered some forgotten Black women, and their Happy Ever Afters. People may know of these women, but the fact they had real-life romances often gets left out of the recollection of their various deeds.
Ida Wells Barnett fought for lynching laws, and for women’s suffrage. Ida was a feisty woman who bit the conductor when he tried to evict her from the ladies’ car on a train, mistakenly thinking a Black woman didn’t belong there. In her autobiography, Crusade For Justice, she talks about her travels worldwide and suddenly, after one chapter ends, she tells the reader of her marriage to Ferdinand Barnett, a widower with two children. Say what? She never even mentioned she was dating! What happened? Ever since learning of her marriage in such an abrupt way, I’ve wondered how the courtship happened. Her autobiography left us in suspense! I’ve got to write it, to recreate it to find out.
Mary Church Terrell was an activist for education and was Ida’s contemporary. She loomed large in the women’s club movement. Mary graduated from Oberlin College and later married Robert Terrell. He was a lawyer who later became the first Black Justice of the Peace in Washington DC. How did these two giants meet and marry? Once again, I’m compelled to write their story and find out. These women, both crucial in the formation of the NAACP, lived with their loves for more than thirty years each. It may take me a while to recreate these stories, but we have so few examples of long lasting love, I’m looking forward to the discovery.
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