I started reading romance as a teen, about the same time Harlequin started publishing their Presents line (yes. I am that old.) I used money I made babysitting to buy category romance novels, frankly because they were cheaper than the big historicals. My lack of cash helped me discover terrific authors like Robyn Donald, Ann Mather, and Margaret Rome.
Category romance writers rarely get the respect or attention they deserve, which is a shame. Everyone makes fun of Barbara Cartland for her sugary romances, for example, but that lady taught me more about English history than any school teacher ever did (and her novel Love Under Fire has remained on my keeper shelf for 35 years.) I've learned a lot from reading these authors, and still do.
If you're not convinced, then you should try writing a romance under 75K that adheres to guidelines so stringent and restrictive that they make strait jackets look comfy. Then try to sell it. I tried -- fifteen times -- and I never could.
Author Jo Leigh has done all of the above, over thirty times now, I believe. After meeting her via the publishing blogosphere, I picked up one of her books. It was just out of curiosity; I hadn't read a category in years, mainly because I thought all the good writers had moved on. Stupid me. Jo is a great storyteller, and the emotional realism she invests in her characters gets you in the heart every time. I struggle with that, so I admire and envy that kind of talent. Then there are her plots, which are so seamless and tight you can bounce quarters off them.
Kidnapped! is Jo Leigh's latest release, and I loved it for a number of reasons. It's so audacious, emotionally-charged and unpredictable that it leaves you breathless. You never know what's going to happen next in this novel. Technically speaking, the plotting in this one is insane; it demanded precise balancing in order for it to work, and she pulled it off without a single hitch. By the end I wasn't quite sure how she'd done it. I got so caught up in the story that I stopped paying attention to the mechanics.
But as always, you don't have to take my word for it. In comments to this post, name an author or novel you've read that taught you something, and what that something was (or, if you're still learning, just throw your name in the hat) by midnight EST on Friday, September 7, 2007. I'll draw five names at random from everyone who participates, and send the winners an unsigned copy of Kidnapped! by Jo Leigh, plus a surprise. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here at PBW in the past.