I don’t know if I can really even explain how exciting this is for me. But here’s an excerpt of the email I wrote SBTB when I submitted Lily for review, back when it was rereleased by Samhain in 2014 (I hope Sarah won’t mind my sharing it):
I still love your blog, but sometimes I forget that back when I first discovered it, the only other person I regularly talked to who read romance was my mother. She could snark like nobody’s business, sure, but SBTB was the first time I felt like part of a romance community. [I] remember vividly many happy hours snort-laughing over cover snark and that incredible feeling of “Finally, people who get it!”
SBTB gave me the confidence that maybe there’d be a market for what I was writing, that not every romance reader was committed to only reading the type of hero that was in almost every historical at the time.
I was already working on the book that would become (some time collecting dust under the bed and a millionty rewrites later) A Lily Among Thorns, and I fantasized regularly about seeing it reviewed on Smart Bitches. Of course by the time it came out in 2011, Dorchester was being boycotted by a lot of bloggers including SBTB–which I actually thought was awesome, btw, so please don’t think I’m complaining. I reluctantly gave up on that fantasy.
And now it’s there! It’s really there! And they liked it!
Serena is my favourite character in the entire book…Watching her try to balance all of the plates she’s spinning is simultaneously stressful and delightful…whether the book is showing her first awkward attempts at friendships or having her in perfect control of a dangerous situation.
…I was so invested in the romance working out and in Solomon’s recovery from grief, and I loved getting to watch Serena defend everything she loved even as I was angry that she had to.
I’ll be putting A Taste of Honey on sale for the Jewish New Year (when it’s traditional to eat honey for a sweet year)! Watch this space for details, or join my mailing list to get notified in your inbox.
And by the way, Mandi also wrote an extremely lovely review of Sweet Disorder! “[A]s soon as I finished this book, I wanted to start all over again…Rose Lerner doesn’t shy away from the gritty, almost unfair life Phoebe lives, but she quietly weaves in a warm romance and by the end, you are smiling.” \o/\o/\o/
Went to the new staging of Les Mis at the 5th Avenue Theater on Saturday! So freaking good!
Enjolras was my favorite as always! SUCH a crush on that guy. So I was in luck as he was played by Jeremy Hays, a fellow who 1) was very talented and 2) has REALLY GOOD HAIR. He has in fact been in Hair previously. For obvious reasons. Look at him in the center of that promo shot. Those are the flowing golden locks of a born leader.
I really loved him in this staging. Awesome acting choices–he actually reminded me of some of the activists I knew in college. Plus, he was wearing a normal vest in his first couple of scenes, but when it was time for revolution, he put on his special red-and-gold revolution vest! Then he put on his special barricade tricolor sash! He was really really good at brandishing a rifle! All the other guys fell backwards off the barricade, but he fell forwards! Like a leader! ♥
ENJOLRAS: [singing] Is this simply a game for rich young boys to play?
ME AND THE BFF: Um….look around you at your friends, sweetie. They don’t seem to be taking this very seriously. That one guy has done nothing but pretend a wine bottle is his penis ALL SHOW LONG.
ENJOLRAS: Hey all my rich-kid friends from school, you want to be in the revolution with me?
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: Will there be beer?
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: Wine’s okay too.
ENJOLRAS: Okay we can have the meetings at that nice little wine bar we like.
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: We’re in!
ENJOLRAS: [to Marius, singing] Who cares about your lonely soul? We strive towards a larger goal! Our little lives don’t count at all.
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: No wait we want to hear about Marius’s new girlfriend! Is she hot?
MARIUS: She’s totally hot you guys but I don’t know if she’s technically my girlfriend yet. I mean what happened was…
ENJOLRAS’S FRIENDS: [listen raptly]
Sometimes Enjolras thinks he should try to expand the movement. Maybe bring in some actual poor people. But he tried! He handed out pamphlets! No one showed up for the meetings. He thought about trying to go out and talk to some poor people in person, but it would be so awkward. And besides, they probably wouldn’t understand political science and stuff.
Poor kid. I really do love him. He just needs a hug! And maybe a consciousness-raising group. And someone to give him a nice scalp massage. Running a revolution is stressful! I volunteer. What can I say, I’m a giver.
The one thing that really, really made me angry about the staging [SPOILER COMING] was that Eponine was shot offstage while climbing the barricade to bring Marius news of Cosette. I can’t actually say if this was a change from the previous staging because I saw it in high school and don’t remember, but I know it was a change from the book.
In the book, Eponine takes a bullet for Marius. She gets to make a choice, even if it’s a choice to lay down her life for someone who hasn’t actually treated her with that much respect. She gets to be a hero.
In this version, she went from having agency to being a passive victim who immediately becomes nothing but a symbol of the enemy’s cruelty (women in refrigerators, anyone?), and her story became even more about Marius and his man-feelings than it already was. Once again, I’m so glad I read and write romance where women’s lives and choices are in the spotlight.
That said, I love this show so much! Glad I brought tissues with me.
Drove back from a friend’s wedding on Whidbey Island this morning. Very romantic occasion! Sometimes I just need a wedding, and people going on and on about their feelings for each other, and reading vows, and singing each other songs, and dancing, and feeding each other cake, to restore my faith that romance, the kind I write about, is real. Congratulations, guys!
This afternoon, Sonia and I went to Captain America. Overall, I loved it. Two big pluses and a small minus:
1+) This was a movie that really lived by “Show, don’t tell.” A lot of stories tell me that the hero is the hero because he’s a good person, and that the villain is the villain because he’s evil, all the way to the bone.
I’ve been rereading some of the later Harry Potter books, for instance. I adore the books, don’t get me wrong, but they’re very eager to tell me that Harry can defeat Voldemort because unlike Voldemort, he loves deeply. The problem is, when Harry is actually described feeling an emotion, it is almost consistently anger, hatred, or a desire for revenge. I don’t object to that per se, but it doesn’t sell the story I’m being told.
In this telling of Steve Rogers’s origin story, he was chosen to be Captain America because he’s a good man. Because he puts others first, because he always tries to do what’s right, because he hates bullying, because he never gives up. Because he cares, deeply. And we are shown that again and again.
He isn’t just decent when it’s time for the big things: in every interaction Steve has, right down to his first scene–an interaction with a disrespectful movie patron–he shows that same decency, courage, and willingness to put himself on the line for others. And it’s clearly shown that it’s his history of being a good guy when it comes to the small stuff that makes him able to be a good guy when it comes to the big stuff.
We’re also shown the Red Skull consistently, in every interaction, being arrogant, selfish, greedy, and pointlessly cruel. So when we got to the big power moment where the Red Skull says, “What have you got that I don’t?” and Captain America says, “I’m nobody special”…I was cheering! Because I had been shown exactly what the Cap had that the Red Skull didn’t.
2+) A lot of superhero movies focus on the single superhero whose name appears in the title, and his personal heroism. The same goes for action movies in general–there’s a tendency to focus on one man, and his ability to single-handedly defeat much greater opponents. Captain America has a team! And friends, and superior officers, and allies from other Allied countries…the list goes on.
Captain America is a symbol. He has the ability to inspire others, to bring out the best in people. In almost every shot that featured him doing something amazing, his team was right behind him, backing him up, making what he did possible. He’s a leader, but not a lone wolf.
This movie was full of heroes of all kinds: not just the Cap, but his best friend Bucky, his army unit, the scientists who modified his genes, every Allied soldier who volunteered to fight the Nazis, the women who bought war bonds, the girls who entertained the troops…every single character in this movie who wasn’t a Nazi, the Red Skull or one of his men was a hero in their own way.
Even the little kid taken hostage by a Hydra agent for Captain America’s good behavior and then thrown off a dock was a hero: “Go get him!” the kid yells. “I can swim!”
3-) The romance. Why can’t action movies seem to get romance right? I loved Agent Carter, don’t get me wrong. She was a great character. But the romance was definitely a weak link in an otherwise very strong movie. First they trotted out some tired “I’ve never talked to a woman before” clichés. Then they ignored several opportunities to have the Cap and Agent Carter discuss potential real connections between them (for example, they both had to struggle to be allowed to do their part for the war effort, him because of his physical weakness and her because she’s an attractive woman) in favor of run-of-the-mill flirtation. They threw in some meaningful looks, and then they told me that it was a betrayal for him to kiss another woman and that their love was epic.
I want to think, “Man, if they can plan an attack on a mountain fortress this well together, imagine what they’d be like in bed!” Instead, most of the time, all I’m given is “Wouldn’t they be good in bed?” If you want the romance to work, if you want me to really believe that these people love each other deeply and belong together, the relationship has to have other things besides romance in it.
So often the relationships in action movies that really sell me are the ones between the hero and his best friend or sidekick. They have a history. I see them understanding how each other thinks, working together to solve problems. I see them risking their lives for each other, trusting each other absolutely in a tight spot. I see them giving each other strength. I even see them hanging out, sharing private jokes, enjoying each other’s company.
Of course, sometimes the relationship that sells me is between the hero and his nemesis. They have a history. They can’t focus on anything but each other when they’re in the same room. They define who each other is, motivate each other to be the best and the worst they can be.
I believe that those relationships mean something to the characters.
But when it comes to the hero and his girlfriend, most of the time all there is is the romance. Those speaking glances, snappy comebacks, and sizzling attraction are the only thing drawing the characters together.
Obviously there’s nothing wrong with a relationship that starts with casual attraction, moves to dating, and builds from there. It happens all the time and it’s great. But if you want me to believe that when the hero thinks he’s going to die, the person he wants to spend his last moments talking to is the heroine, even though they only met a few months before–then you have to do better.
Which is why I love romance, of course. Because it gives me the whole package.
Have you seen the Captain America movie? Did you like it? And what’s your favorite full, complex h/h relationship?
Okay I know I am supposed to be a professional and not act like a fan and blah blah blah but ELOISA JAMES HAS READ MY BOOK. AND SHE LIKED IT. And she posted about it here for her Barnes & Noble blog/column! I read it this morning at 4:30AM before going to work and of course when I got there I immediately told my coworker all about it:
ME: It’s like every month she does a theme and she talks about books that fit the theme, and–
COWORKER: What was this month’s theme?
ME: …Um. Protagonists who aren’t very bright.
COWORKER: [after laughing quite a lot] Is one of your protagonists not very bright?
ME: Well, I never thought of him that way before? He likes classical music and studied Latin at Cambridge and stuff. But I definitely see what she means because he is pretty hapless and not good at math, and in the genre there are lots of uber-competent brain surgeons running around and–
COWORKER: Doesn’t your book take place in the early nineteenth century?
COWORKER: So maybe a brain surgeon wouldn’t be the best choice for a hero for you?
ME: You have a point.
COWORKER: The reader would think, “Ooh, a brain surgeon,” and then he’d walk on with, like, a hammer and bone saw. “I’ve discovered that this part of the lobe controls deviant behavior! Stand aside while I cut a hole in this convict’s skull!”
For some reason I am picturing this hero as Hugh Laurie’s Wooster in my head. Okay, and what’s sad is that I have such a thing for mad scientists (I’m not kidding, I think they’re dreamy!) that I would probably read that romance. Even though I have a lot of strong and negative feelings about historical psychiatry, ESPECIALLY when it involved surgery (often it was non-consensual surgery!).
Anyway, you should read James’s piece, and then check out the B&N Romance board for conversations about the piece and about my book and all kinds of stuff!
Which is a good time to mention–I will be one of the B&N feature threads for May!!!!!! I am so honored and excited you guys. My thread is here and I will be hanging around the boards and the thread all month, but especially I will be there regularly next week, starting Monday the 10th, to chat and answer questions and talk about books and also probably Star Trek because this is me. I can’t wait!