Wednesday, September 05, 2007

RW: Take Me Away

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.

79 comments:

  1. W. Michael Gear taught me that even good guys die and Marion Zimmer Bradley taught me how to hide the truth.

    Now, if I could learn how a man's mind works - like La Nora - I'd be set!

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  2. Stephen King's "Carrie" taught me how to read...

    ...still today I am amazed that my parents thought it was a good idea to let me read whatever I wanted for the reading itself, even though they might have thought that book was not too fitting for an 8-year old.

    After that, my second book was Jean M Auel "Clan of the Cave Bear"...

    I was probably a quite disturbed kid :)

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  3. Diana Wynne Jones taught me that you can still have an adventure, even if you have to take your whole family along.

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  4. I would love Jo Leigh's Kidnapped, please drop my name in the hat. I'm still learning.

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  5. Stephen King taught me that if I want to really annoy a reader, and pad out a short story, I should spend three chapters describing a character and then kill him off for no apparent reason.

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  6. Jacqueline Carey -- how to select the right details.

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  7. Sherwood Smith - that you can take a fairly cliched plot and make it into a novel that takes you totally by surprise, and yet in hindsight makes perfect sense.

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  8. I've learned a lot from many different authors. But I think Jean Auel's books taught a great deal of things to use physically. I learned how Willow bark can cure a head ache, how to prepare and dye leather using natural elements and all sorts of nifty things like that. If it came to survival in outdoors, thanks to her books, I would have ideas how to go on.

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  9. Hey, ladyvampire2u, thats where my name comes from ;)and i would have to agree, i could pretty much survive thanks to her books. now if she would only write the last one...

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  10. Melissa B.7:06 AM

    I read a lot of science fiction, and I think I learn something from every sci-fi novel I read. Notably those of Orson Scott Card, Isaac Asimov, and PBW.

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  11. I'm still learning, but one of the more important lessons I learned so far(from Anne McCaffrey's books) is that, first and foremost, enjoy what you do. Looking at her Pern series...none of the later ones contributed anything new to the genre and most serious writers scoff at them, but they're still fun to read. She also taught me to be consistent...because nothing irritates me more than facts within a series that don't line up properly. :p R.E. Feist and Janny Wurtz (who wrote the Empire trilogy) showed me the importance of emotional balance in a story. I still have a lot to learn though.

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  12. Robin Hobb's Farseer & Tawny Man trilogies. I never thought that a fantasy novel could or should be written in the first person. It worked so well that I'm considering doing my fantasy novel in the first person.

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  13. Stephen King taught me that you can never have too big a cast for each character to have good backstory. Edith Layton taught me that not all romance novels are cheesy. Well, not terribly cheesy, anyway.

    And my sister taught me that no words, no matter how darling, are immutable. Her revisions are legendary, and I didn't think she needed revising in the first place.

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  14. I think the last thing I learned was some interesting things about dyslexia from a Jennifer Crusie novel. Please throw my name in the hat.. :)

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  15. Ranier Marie Rilke taught me in his Letters To A Young Poet that I must write as I must breathe, no matter what. Tossing my name in the hat.

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  16. Isn't that a fantasic thing when as a writer you fall into the story? That's when you know it's a keeper.

    No name in the hat for me. :-)

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  17. Maeve Binchy taught me that you can have 12 different points of view in one novel and still have it be a riveting page turner and not at all confusing.

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  18. bran fan9:56 AM

    Nancy Kress taught me that every POV character in a multiple POV novel has to think differently--not just look and talk differently. Otherwise, why have multiple POV's?

    This is the first one of your contests I've entered. Throw my hat in the ring, please.

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  19. I've learned that no matter how much I read--or write--there is always something new. I've learned that words have the ability to transport, transcend and traumatise; its all in the way they're used.

    Simply put... I'll never stop learning.

    Throw my name in the hat please, I'd like to learn some more :-)

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  20. bran fan9:58 AM

    I meant, "name in the hat." Y'know, I'd like to try to win.

    (Must. Have. Coffee.)

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  21. Anonymous10:05 AM

    Lois McMaster Bujold taught me how to be a fan of your own characters without boring or annoying the reader. Doris Egan taught me that I *could* incorporate what interests me about history or other people's works of fiction, without being derivative, and gave me a few pointers on how.

    I've picked up trivial facts about history or the craft from lots of authors I've read, but I don't think I'd ever have finished a novel-length project without Bujold and Egan.

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  22. Anonymous10:06 AM

    sorry, that was me "Tia" in the two-para comment above.

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  23. I'm throwing my name in the hat. I'm still learning.
    ~ Barbara L.

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  24. Lordy, lordy, still learning.

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  25. Aren't we all still learning?

    But pick just one author who taught me something? Hmm. Let's say Jack McDevitt, for showing me (in A Talent for War) how important and evocative placenames can be. Even imaginary ones.

    John

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  26. It's so difficult to pick just one! If pushed I'd have to go with Angela Knight. specifically her ability to create hero's I want to keep.

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  27. To pick a random example - Naomi Novik (the most recent book I've read) has taught me that you can combine the most unlikely premises (dragons and the Napoleonic War, in this case) and create a totally original and convincing universe, if you do it well enough. My 81 year old mother, who doesn't read fantasy, is impressed too, it's that good!

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  28. I am still learning. :)

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  29. Kushiel's Dart taught me that I don't have to like the protagonist to love the story she tells or the world she inhabits.

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  30. Garnigal12:12 PM

    Anne of Green Gables taught me that it really does work to write what you know.

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  31. Please throw my name in the hat :) I'm always learning! I hope I never stop!

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  32. Reading Billie Letts's novels taught me about true friendship and the healing power of love.

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  33. From many various authors I've learned that - no matter how good the story - grammar errors and typos make my eyes twitch. And from both you and Holly Lisle I've learned that sometimes you need to push the reader into an uncomfortable place in order to best serve the story.

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  34. Still learning. Would like to throw my name in the hat.

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  35. I think I learn a little from everything I read. Whether or not that will actually improve my writing remains to be seen. :)

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  36. Rhonda2:39 PM

    I'm still learning. Janet Evanovich taught me not to drink anything while reading her Stephanie Plum novels. Please toss my name in the hat.

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  37. Anne McCaffrey introduced me to strong women in fiction. I also learned tubers were potatoes, but that's another story LOL. I would absolutely love this book, so please throw my name in the hat. Jo Leigh is awesome.

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  38. That Summer at American Beach by Janice Sims. I learned about the segregated history of FL's beaches and how wealthy African-Americans dealt with it by creating their own beaches.

    Made me interested in learning more about my new home state.

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  39. Carol Berg taught me how to torture characters (and how much I want to move to Colorado). She's my model for writing epic fantasy.

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  40. Warren Ellis taught me that while the future might be scary, it should be wonderful and exciting too. He's also taught about how important research is to a story.

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  41. In Adopting Alyssa by Denise Patrick I learned that love overcomes and faith plays a big part in one's life. Enter my name please.

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  42. I've read a lot of self-help books in the past and they taught me the only thing that really matters in life is love. If you can stay in touch with the love inside yourself, you can handle just about anything.

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  43. I'm definitely still learning, but please toss my name into the hat. :)

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  44. Michelle Sagara West taught me how to convey each human jestures in words and its imapact on the scene.

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  45. I'm currently reading an ARC of When I'm Not Myself by Deborah J. Wolf. It's a great read for any woman who has recently gone through a divorce after many years of marriage and has 4 kids. Life goes on!

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  46. I remember reading Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," and being amazed by how frighteningly plausible it was.

    That such a tale was conceived by a woman taught me to write what what I saw and felt without fear of reproach.

    Her work also taught me how important character development is and that even unlikeable characters can work--when handled well.

    [The racist edge has always been hard for me to swallow in O'Connor's work, but that was what she saw and knew. :-( ]

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  47. I'm still learning, just throw my name in the hat, thank you!

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  48. When asked who my favorite author is I've been saying Jean Auel and her Earth Series for quite a while. Stephen King is also one of my favorites. I've learned that there's always another new author and or book out there that is going to teach me something.

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  49. Star King by Susan Grant

    Reading this book I had an epiphany as a writer. To really spice up a plot, have a Big Moment. Have the heroine make a choice, a really big choice, like leaving behind everything she ever knew for a chance at love.

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  50. I learned how a basic premise can become a high concept plot from Lori Wilde in her 'There Goes the Bride' and I also took her workshop.

    Jo Leigh's 'Kidnapped' sounds like high concept to me.

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  51. Just throwing my name in the hat. :)

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  52. Joel Rosenberg and Roger Zalazny constantly remind me of the necessity to make believable characters, even in fantasy.

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  53. Anonymous9:00 PM

    Annie M. A.

    Montana Standoff, a romance by Nadia Nichols, taught me many interesting things about the “environment vs. development” issue. Basically, a female attorney and a male attorney fight over whether a certain mountain in Montana should be mined. The book shows how passionate (and violent) people on both sides of the issue can be, makes convincing arguments for both sides, etc. Very absorbing.

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  54. Rosina Lippi9:06 PM

    Don't put me in the drawing, I already ordered a copy. ... And thanks for the recommendation.www

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  55. Jo Rowling taught me to believe in magic.

    J.R. Ward taught me how to sound out and spell via hooked on phonics.

    Shelly Laurenston showed me that women can be incredibly strong and have language that can rival a sailor's.

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  56. I gotta admit that I started reading category romance when I was 14.. (a few years back yea)
    ;-)

    And did you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs also wrote Westerns?

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  57. ooh Love deecee answer about shelly laurenston lol. I learn something in every book I read. So please throw my name in the hat.

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  58. As much as I like Anne McCaffrey's work, her first published novel, Restoree, taught me a couple of things not to do.

    1) Don't write a Mary Sue, wish-fulfilling main character.

    2) Never have your character "smirk," "laugh," or "rasp" words, especially not with an endless parade of adverbs following.

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  59. Anonymous11:21 PM

    Ursula K. Leguin taught me (in The Dispossessed) that you can always come home, as long as you realize that home is no longer the place you left.

    Jackie L.

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  60. Anonymous11:52 PM

    Please throw my name into the hat!

    Thanks,

    Terri W.

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  61. Johanna Lindsey taught me medivial history facts. When I went to college and we covered that period, I was nodding my head and realized I had already learned most of it via my historical romance novels! :)

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  62. 1984 by George Orwell taught me that Big Brother is not good.

    Hm...maybe I'll try a category romance. I've never read one before.

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  63. Please throw my name into the hat.

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  64. Please throw my name in the hat.

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  65. Mine is Message from Nam by Danielle Steel.

    I don't read her anymore, but Message from Nam has a special place on my keeper shelf. I learned more about the Vietnam War than I did ever did in my history class (yes, I'm young). lol

    That book still has the ability to make me tear up when I re-read it, which isn't often.

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  66. Anonymous11:22 AM

    It was Jenny Crusie who articulated what I really like about many books, and why I enjoy reading series like Stardoc and Kelly Armstrong's Women of the Otherworld. I really appreciate the community in a novel. The characters don't live in a vaccuum. They are surrounded by people who influence their lives.
    JulieB

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  67. Anonymous12:17 PM

    sounds so hot. love Jo books.

    kim h

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  68. I learned from Lois Lowry (The Giver) that pain is the opposite side of pleasure. And that to banish suffering from the world is to also banish joy and to avoid truly living. You can't have joy and the good things of life without the bad as well.

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  69. Shelley6:41 PM

    Just throwing my name in the hat. Looks like a good book. I started reading romance books in my teens when I had to sneak them past my religiously forbidding mother. They were $0.10 for used ones at the library.

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  70. Betty Smith taught me that gritty can be real without being gratuitous, in "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", and "Maggie-Now", read, of course, when I was very young.

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  71. I posted earlier but I must have screwed up.
    Andre Norton taught me the value of infer and imply for strong emotions.

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  72. Anonymous9:37 AM

    its an odd choice bu Stephen Donaldson

    Issy

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  73. Florence Littauer taught me to understand the four different personalities. Please include me in the drawing.

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  74. Anonymous11:25 AM

    I've had to think about this for several days. Excellent question. Most books I read teach me something. Sometimes it's what not to do, but I'm mainly looking for techniques that work and why they work.

    Your 'Endurance' taught me about grabbing the reader quickly. The first scene snatched me in within a few words.

    Barbara Kingsolver's 'The Poisonwood Bible' taught me about unique, identifiable, first-person voices.

    Lois McMaster Bujold taught me about story. A good one trumps being obsessive about 'the rules'.

    Those are just a few. I'm still learning and hope to for as long as my brain will hold up...which is a debatable timeline. I may already be past help. But the journey is still worth it.

    Karen, the lurker

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  75. mrs.mj1:23 PM

    Jenny Crusie's books taught me the importance of community to the development of the characters.

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  76. I was thinking the same thing,mrs. mj! Jennifer Crusie's books taught me more about character dynamics and dialogue.

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  77. I just gotta say that bran fan cracks me up...

    I'm too tired to think straight, so I'd just like to toss my name in the hat please.

    Thanks.

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  78. Alexis11:44 PM

    Please throw my name into the hat.

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