I blame it on the name

So I have been trying to read a book called Tribal Law whose heroine is named Vassiliki Verity. I am not on an ego trip when I claim that this character is named for me. She is. I know this because I was told by both the author and Kat Mayo of Bookthingo.

Tribal Law by Shannon B. CurtisSo here is the story: Tribal Law is a crowdsourced story. Author Shannon B Curtis (full disclosure: Shannon and I have twittered together, supped together and presented on a panel at a library event together so are on pretty friendly terms) wrote a story whose plot and main characters were given to her by members of the Australian Romance Readers Association (another full disclosure: I am not a member of ARRA though I have attended all their conventions to date). There was a big meeting, I was told it was rather raucous and fun and I was also told that Kat Mayo – friend, borrower and romance reading mastermind – insisted that the heroine be named for me. Because she loves me. Or should that be loves torturing me.

I am up to Chapter 7 of this book and though it is well-written, interesting and funny I just cannot continue (at least at this point) because  of the heroine being called Vassiliki and there are sex scenes and I just can’t stay in the story because I keep seeing my own name and I have no idea how all you “normal” named people can cope with reading books where you constantly see your own names.

Especially when I see the phrases such as “Vassiliki is a vamp” before my eyes.

I purchased my own copy of Tribal Law.

PS This book has a hatchback driving hero. I will return to read it just for this one reason!

 

 

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Look Ma! I’m on a podcast! or This is what you get when you don’t vet your children’s reading

On Valentine’s Day, Kat Mayo and I spent a good part of our day travelling to 2SER studios for an interview on Love and Passion. Anyone that knows both Kat and me would know that we can talk about romance fiction for hours. Put us in front of a microphone and we will amp it up just that tad bit more. I recommend you get yourself a cup of tea, coffee, icecream, cakey and sit back and enjoy.

Love and Passion Show 116 on 2SER

Love and Passion Show 116 on 2SER

The show was aired on a Saturday and unbeknownst to me, one of my sisters went to my mum’s place and translated the interview to mum as it was being aired. During the break in the interview, I received a phone call from my mum.

Mum: When did you start reading romances?

Me: 32 years ago.

Mum: Really? So you just went on the radio to tell everyone?

Me: Yes mum.

Mum: Thank you for letting them know that I don’t read them. But you didn’t tell them I read religious books and biographies of saints.

Me: Sorry mum. I did consider it.

Mum: So what do you know about romance?

Me: Ummm…you know how I went back to uni last year?

Mum: Yes.

Me: That is what I am studying. I told you about it. And you know I read romances. You would always ask me to help you cook and clean and to put down “those romances”.

Mum: I didn’t think you were actually reading romances. I was being ironic.

There you have it. My mum, the original hipster.

Unlike a lot of romance readers I have met, I did not discover romances by finding my mum or grandmum’s stash. If anything, reading is not a shared activity for my mum and I as our interests are quite different. Not now and not when I was a younger either.

For many people, the thought of a parent not knowing what their children are reading seems to be anathema. It is equated as “not caring” or “how can you trust what they have chosen”.

I can tell you that both my parents cared that I was reading. Their main aim was to provide my sisters and I with ample opportunities to read and do homework. That is, ensuring that we didn’t have too many distractions – 1 doll, no video player, 1 TV, regular visits to the library and food at the ready. Both my parents were Greek migrants so Greek was the main conversational language in our home. My mum’s English reading skills were minimal (she worked a day job in a factory, a night shift as a cleaner, a weekend job as a cleaner, ran a boarding house AND raised 4 daughters) and though she was literate in Greek, due to her mindblowing superwoman working life, her rare chance to relax involved her knitting, tatting, gardening and reading the newspaper and the Bible. For mum, food and care was her bonding experience – as well as teaching me how to embroider which I still do on occasion. The only reading I remember sharing with my mum was when I would translate Paris Match from French to Greek for her when they had spreads on the Greek ex-royal family or an article on Cristina and/or Athena Onassis.

As my dad was highly literate in English, mum was quite happy to let him take charge of the homework and reading tasks. Though she did not know the content of the books I was reading, my dad did. Luckily, he was of the mindset that censorship of reading was wrong and never objected to the books I was reading that other friends’ parents were voicing concerns over. Thankfully, he trusted my choices.

My reading path was mine to choose. Influenced by my sisters, my teachers, friends, the books available at the library and my local newsagency, there was a joy in discovering my interests unfettered by close examination of the content of my books by my parents. This is something I try hard to emulate with my sons though it is difficult when you are a librarian to not be involved in their reading lives. Making opportunities for them to read is a much harder task. Gaming and computing distractions abound in our home and are much more addictive than the written word. To be fair, they have both hooked me onto Football Manager and I am crap at it. Its complex rules and processes make me weep for the simplicity of a linear narrative text. I no longer choose books for them. I stopped doing so when they were 8. Unless they ask I won’t read their choices. It is their private party, their little secret. Funnily, both of them at 11 years old have sneakily challenged me with “Mum, there’s lots of snogging and drug taking in the book I’m reading”. My reply has been “That’s good. Would you like something to eat?”.

I never thought of my romance reading as ever being secret. I never felt that they were my private party. I honestly thought I read romances openly for most of my life. That is until last week when I realised that it only took 32 years for my mum to come to the realisation that when she was shouting at me to put away those romances, her daughter was really, truly reading romances.

Australian Romance Readers Convention 2011 – Part 2

In my day to day life, I have a few acquaintances who read and enjoy romance novels but it is a rare occasion to be surrounded by romance novel enthusiasts and authors and attending the Australian Romance Readers Convention gives you a chance to talk talk talk about romance novels without the fear that you are getting tiresome.

Here is the second part of my twitter influenced take (that is: 140 words or less per session)

Dinner – Bling and the 2010 Australian Romance Readers Awards – Winners

The ARRC2011 dinner was a dressed up, blinged up affair. An unofficial bling off had been issued and everyone came dressed to the nines. I felt that my tiara might give me the edge on others but unfortunately, Christine Darcas out-blinged everyone in her ballroom dancing, white sequin dress. It was bright & beautiful and her win was well deserved. For more pics there’s Bookthingo and ObsidianTears13 Flickr sets.

As for the favourite authors – there really was a strong Australian/New Zealand bias. Congratulations to Anna Campbell, Nalini Singh, Paula Roe, Jess Dee, Kandy Shepherd and Helene Young. For more details on the winners go to ARRA or Bookthingo.

The food was lovely and the company was splendid. There was much talking and cheer amongst all that attended.

DAY 2

Keynote: Cindy Gerard

Coming from Iowa, corn-fed Cindy Gerard had no idea that romance was the ugly step-sister of the publishing world. She (naively) sent her manuscript to LaVryle Spencer to critique who suggested CG send it to RWA .

Cindy addressed that she knew that she was talking to readers not writers so her talk was not going to be on her craft. She spoke about how, regardless of what you undertake in your life, it is the ability “to confine, control and dominate self-doubt” that will help you succeed. “Self doubt is a sneaky bitch” and can derail any career.

Cindy Gerard was funny, friendly and a lovely person throughout the convention. Stupidly, on each day I kept forgetting to bring my Marriage, Outlaw Style fave Cindy Gerard Silhouette for her to autograph but we did talk cowboy heroes!

Contemporary – The Resurrection of Contemporary Romances

Cathleen Ross, Amy Andrews, Lisa Heidke, Christine Darcas, Ros Baxter

Moderator: Kandy Shepherd

I was excited about this session as it’s my fave sub-genre. Unfortunately, the title was a misnomer as only 2 of the authors wrote contemporary romance. The rest were chick lit authors writing in the first person not the third. This difference was evident when asked for their fave authors. The contemporary authors listed SEP, Rachel Gibson, Crusie, Roberts whereas the chicklit authors listed Marion Keyes & Maggie Alderson.

That said, discussion was fun and lively. Authors articulated their craft, drawing on life experiences. Lisa Hiedke openly admitted to stealing from her own life, Amy Andrews & Ros Baxter on collaborative writing, the use/non-use of children, how much sexual description is enough (at which point Denise Rosetti’s books were described as 3 knicker reads) and the use/non-use of condoms in romance (do they get in the way or is it necessary).

Overall, a great session which would have set different expectations if it had been named Contemporary Romance vs Chicklit.

Category Series – 100 years and still going strong

Kelly Hunter, Melanie Milburne, Michelle Douglas, Paula Roe, Haylee Kerans (Harlequin staff)

Moderator: Annie West

I adore this sub-genres’s short, intense, contemporary stories so attending an intimate talk with these authors was a bonus. Annie West opened questions not only to the panel but to the audience too. Everyone discussed their first ever category read and why they chose to write in the genre.

The authors discussed how satisfying it is to read about alpha males who are at the mercy of the heroine. Kelly Hunter finds the power balance in relationships is important. Paula Roe is still mourning the cancellation of Harlequin Temptations.

Other topics were male virgins, the economy of words and tightly delivered emotions in the short story, tackling issues and the 40 year shift from low sensuality yet broader moral views to high sensuality with more conservative views.

The love promise has stayed core to the category series. The authors said criticism is fine – the reader always owns their response to the story.

By invitation – delegates panel

Cindy Gerard, Helene Young, Anna Campbell, Nalini Singh, Lexxie Couper, Keri Arthur

Moderator: Pamela Diaz (Convention Co-ordinator)

I chose to not take notes at this session. I enjoyed listening to the authors banter with each other about their writing experiences, their favoured genres, what they imagine they would be doi

ng if they weren’t authors. Bookthingo asked them whether they read the last page of a book (I won’t steal BookThingo’s thunder here but I will say that it was a fifty/fifty response). For more details please go to her website!

The convention was wrapped up at this point. It was another fantastic, intense weekend full of romance reading suggestions. My highlight of the convention has to be meeting all the wonderful Twitter folk I have been tweeting with over the last two years. Authors, bloggers, booksellers and readers….oh – and meeting Cindy Gerard, author of one of my favourite ever category romance rereads.

Sex, love and passion: the appeal of romance novels: the moderator responds

On Friday the 11th of February, I moderated a Romance Panel for the City of Sydney at Ultimo Library.

Kick off your Friday night talking about Sex, Passion and Love with our romance panel discussion. Join Mills and Boon author Annie West, romance scholar Sandra Barletta and book blogger, Kat Mayo along with Ultimo’s romance reading librarians in discussing romance fiction in the 21st century…

It was a fabulous night with an engaged audience, a wonderful panel and fantastic discussion that ensued. So fantastic that Ultimo Community Centre staff had to push us out of the building as we went beyond their closing time.

As the moderator for the panel I had my questions prepped and I knew that I wouldn’t have to prepare meaningful answers (ever the shallowreader).

From the left: Annie West, Sandra Barletta, Kat Mayo and Vassiliki Veros Photograph courtesy from BookThingo http://www.flickr.com/photos/bookthingo/

However, as the panel discussion progressed I found that I really wanted to give my point of view, too. I behaved and, with the exception of the last question and some library promotion, I left the answers to the panel. A transcript of the panel’s answers is available on BookThingo’s blog. I now would like to share my answers to the questions on the night:

Why do you do what you do in romance, of all genres (I’ll answer this in the vein of why do I promote romance reading as a librarian)

Public libraries are charged with providing equity and access of information to all.  My feeling had been that libraries and librarians were not treating genre fiction and it’s readers with equity. Throughout all my years as a librarian, romances not only were not purchased for library collections but there was also a certain attitude amongst staff and some borrowers that romance reading was secondary and that library budget money would not be devoted towards the genre. This annoyed me so I decided to support the underdog, climb onto my soap box and declare romance King until the shelves were populated and the staff accepting  of readers choices.

What have you observed as differences between romance in the past decade as opposed to romance in the 80s?

For me there are 2 standout differences:

1. Like Annie, the 80’s and prior were predominately written from the female point of view. During the 90’s and now in the 21st century there was a gradual shift to both the female and male point’s of view being written into a novel. In my opinion, this shift has been so strong that the way I personally categorise the books I read is that if it has both the protagonists’ points of view then it is a romance. If it is only a female or male point of view it is categorised as Chicklit or Ladlit.

2. The sex is much more explicit and, thankfully, turgid shafts and manhoods have made way for erections and dicks. A much more realistic reflection of contemporary language.

Some people think that reading the last page first is sacrilege. Do you?

I always read the last page. I  feel that “fairies must die” and have previously blogged about this.

Now about male leads. Why do we love rakes, rogues, cowboys, tycoons, sheikhs?

My favourite leads are Montana cowboys and the best friend/sibling’s best friend hook up. Journeys into someone else’s life, journey’s into a world quite foreign and the complete escape from the reality of our own lives. I tend to avoid romances set in Sydney and in Australia as I keep finding myself distracted by the setting of the book.

Kat, you said people get bored with just a kiss, but the obvious exception is Twilight. Can you discuss why it was successful?

As I haven’t read Twilight nor have I watched the movies I cannot answer this question. Though on a purely aesthetic basis – Team Edward.

Do you think romance has lost its stigma?

I think that some of the stigma associated with reading romance has dissipated for the following reasons.

1. Romance readers and romance publishers are leading the ebook revolution. This is acknowledged further by traditional book review magazines taking on romance reviewers.

2. The establishment of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance and the Journal for Popular Romance have made inroads in bringing academic merit to the study of popular romance literature. Having been established for under 3 years it will be interesting the changes that will come forth over the next decade.

That said, there is still  a large amount of bias towards romance literature and a lot more work is needed from not only the reading and reviewing public but the publishers of romance, also.

What books would you suggest to a new romance reader?

My 1st question to the person venturing into reading romance would be: What do you normally enjoy and then I would select titles from there. I’m a strong believer in merging someone into a genre by using cross-over fiction titles though there are some definite titles that I never hesitate to recommend:

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie

A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

How come book stores don’t have a romance section? Where can we buy romance?

Unfortunately, romance isn’t stocked in most bookstores because it relates back to the stigma question and bookstores don’t value their readers. I get my romance books from 2 sources Kmart/Target and from overseas. Either the Book depository or Amazon. I also get most of my books from the library but, it too, has it’s biases.

Fave authors? (the only one I answered on the night)

Vassiliki: Anne McAllisterJennifer CrusieVictoria DahlSusan Elizabeth PhillipsSuzanne BrockmannAnne Stuart, Rachel Gibson, Julie James and Melanie La’Brooy)

It was a very successful event and I feel it is apt that my moderator’s cherry was painlessly popped at a romance literature panel.