If Stephen King is the King of Horror, Nicholas Sparks is, well, the King of Love. There’s no mystery to it, Sparks insists: “I just put people on dates and let them fall in love.”
Across seventeen novels, nine of them adapted for film, that boy-meets-girl formula, which he's explored every angle, has worked amazingly well for Sparks. He’s become one of the world’s best selling and most beloved authors, and he hasn’t slowed down a bit. The film adaptation of his novel The Best of Me opens Friday, and a screen version of The Longest Ride is coming next year.
“What I’m most proud of in my own career is: I never got lazy,” Sparks said during our interview earlier this summer at Amazon’s Seattle campus.
He’s also never tired of writing about love, “the emotion that pretty much drives most of the goodness in the world." Though he tries to walk a line between drama and melodrama--"almost like threading a needle”--he acknowledges some critics think he crosses into mawkish sentimentality. His goal, learned from his hero, King, is to simply tell the best story he can, and let readers decide. And if he makes readers feel something? Then he's done his job.
“I’ve heard rumors that some people have actually shed tears over some of my novels,” he joked.
The interview is a long one--almost 45 minutes--but fans will enjoy hearing Sparks talk about his work habits, and how sales of The Notebook seem to spike whenever Ryan Gosling takes off his shirt.
I received a somewhat disturbing text from a friend the other afternoon. She was running late for work because she couldn't put a book down that I'd recently leant her. "How can I go? I must read on!" "But, the children!" I cried. She is a nanny, you see, so while I could relate to her plight--I had spent a rare sunny day in Seattle, indoors, eschewing some much needed vitamin D reading the very same book--I didn't have children to keep alive. Such are the perils when one picks up The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. So readers, clear your calendars.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Waters recently, on a not-so-rare rainy day in Seattle, to talk about this historical page-turner, set during a "politically untidy" time that has many parallels to our own.
The story takes place in 1922 in suburban South London. WWI has ended and ex-soldiers are roaming the streets, unemployed and uncertain about the future. In a once grand and genteel house, Frances Wray--a spinster with a surprising past--lives with her mother. "They've lost their men to war, and they've lost income and servants, and so they've had to bring in lodgers to make ends meet, and they are Leonard and Lilian Barber, the paying guests of the title. Francis is at first appalled by their gaudy furniture and bothered by the sound of them moving about upstairs, but finds herself increasingly drawn to Lilian. So the novel is the story of their affair and the sort of dramatic and really violent and alarming consequences that it has for everybody involved."
The novel was inspired, in part, by an actual murder case from that time--a case that had a "classic triangle at [its] heart--a wife, a husband, and a male lover. And, I began to think what it would be like if the lover was female--what that would do to the story, how it would touch on other issues in the period." With this germ of an idea, Waters began researching similar cases in earnest. "I was struck when I looked at those murder cases--and I looked at lots of other murder cases from the period. They did tend to feature ordinary people who by some sort of mistake, by a moment of madness, were plunged into nightmare and into disaster and ultimately towards some sort of violent death. And I was very struck by the fact that people in murder cases like that, they don't know what's coming...In the months, weeks, days leading up to the murder, they were just leading their ordinary lives."
Waters is known for plotting-out most of her books ahead of time, but she admits that she was knee-deep in the writing process before realizing that--despite the murder and the mayhem--the book is mainly a love story. "I really was sort of rooting for Frances and Lilian but very conscious that their love came at a cost...Once I'd realized, though, that that was kind of the trajectory of the book--that it was based on their love--the book came together for me more smoothly. And then it became a novel very much about how their love is put under pressure, how it's tested by this dramatic incident, and the moral complexity of the events that follow."
Sound a bit dark? Fortunately, as fans of other Waters’s novels like Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith can attest, she has a knack for humanizing her characters with pitch-perfect humor for the period that also resonates with a modern audience. "Often humor is so specific to its moment that it doesn't date well. There's nothing worse than, sort of, terrible comics movies from the 20s, for example...The best of them last but they just seem incredibly tiresome now as no doubt our movies will in another hundred years. So, it's trying to find humor that belongs, feels like it belongs to the period and yet still seems kind of funny to us. That’s quite a challenge...We do need to get beyond those static black and white pictures of the past and remember that people live their lives in color, and with laughter, as well as with tears and sternness. The whole range, that's how you bring the past to life."
This week, I talked with Lauren Willig, author of the Pink Carnation series and the upcoming That Summer. We discussed brooding Pre-Raphaelites, underwire nightdresses, and witty Regency romance.
Alyssa Morris: Can we start by talking about your new novel, That Summer? I’m reading it right now and it’s just so lovely. Could you describe the plot, for those that don’t know about it yet?
Lauren Willig: It goes back and forth in time between 2009 and 1849. In 2009 my modern heroine discovers an old painting that’s been hidden behind a wardrobe in a house in a suburb in London, and her research brings us back to 1849, where we meet a Victorian matron involved in an impossible love affair with a Pre-Raphaelite artist.
AM: Do you think Pink Carnation fans will see a little bit of Colin and Eloise in your modern day protagonists? There’s an American going to London, Julia, and Nick…
LW: Like the Pink Carnation series this does involve an American out of water, although my modern heroine, Julia, was actually born in England and then leaves when she is 6 years old after her mother mysteriously dies in a car accident. Julia has blotted out everything she remembered about her early life in London; it’s all a big blank. So she’s actually really reluctant to go back and re-open that whole can of worms. But, like so many, she loses her job during the financial downturn in New York, and when she inherits this house in London from a Great Aunt she doesn’t remember, there’s really no excuse for not going and back clearing it out. So she’s a different sort of American in London, because she’s really a former Brit who has totally Americanized herself.
Flaubert gave a whole new meaning to the idea of re-gifting in his novel Madame Bovary.
A heartfelt token he had received from his longtime mistress Louise Colet—a cigar holder engraved with the words “Amor nel cor” (Love in the heart)—inspired Emma Bovary to bestow a seal with the same motto on her rakish lover. The fictional rogue later breaks off their relationship in a letter he cruelly marks with the romantic insignia.
The Romantic poet fell in love with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, only to be parted from her by illness. Keats hoped a short stay in Italy would bolster his health, never imagining the parting gifts the couple exchanged would be their last.
He gave Fanny his cherished Shakespeare folio with personalized notes written in the margins, while she lined his traveling cap with silk and presented him with a lock of her hair.
When the Bard passed away, he ignited a four-hundred-year controversy by leaving his “second-best” bed to his wife, Anne. The perceived snub led many to speculate that his marriage had been unhappy.
But contrary to appearances, the bequest was probably a romantic gesture rather than a slight. Tudor custom dictated the best bed be reserved for guests, while the second-best bed would have been the one on which Anne conceived their children.
When the struggling scribe saved up money for his wife to attend the Chicago World’s Fair, she took the cash but never boarded the train. Instead she used the gift to spruce up their sparse cottage with muslin curtains and wicker chairs.
Later, while her husband was on the lam avoiding embezzlement charges, she made a lace handkerchief and auctioned it for twenty-five dollars in order to send him a Christmas care package. Her generous acts inspired his tale “The Gift of the Magi.”
Edie Parker’s wedding gift to Jack Kerouac was bail money. She tapped into her inheritance to spring him from the slammer, with the stipulation that they tie the knot. The pair swapped vows while he was handcuffed to a police detective, after being arrested as a material witness in a murder investigation. Not surprisingly, the hasty nuptials ended in divorce six months later.
The stormy two-year liaison between French novelist George Sand and dissolute poet Alfred de Musset was rife with quarrels, breakups, and tearful reunions. When their relationship finally fell apart for good, Sand said farewell with a dramatic parting gesture. Like the heroine in her novel Indiana, she cut off her dark, waist-length hair and sent it to Musset in a skull.
The honeymoon phase was still going strong three years after Elizabeth Barrett Browning defied her tyrannical father to marry Robert and elope to Italy. On their third anniversary, she presented her beloved with forty-four sonnets she had secretly penned during their clandestine courtship. Among the intimate love poems is number 43, which begins with the now-famous lines “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
One of our selections in the True Love category of our Valentine's feature 150 Love Stories, Romance is My Day Job is the sweet story of a romance book fan who lands a dream job as an editor of romance novels, only to stumble upon a reality that lives up to the fiction she's surrounded herself with--ten years later, that is. Harlequin editor Patience Bloom's memoir begins in 1984 with all the drama of a Sadie Hawkins dance and ends with a wedding picture from her ultimate happily-ever-after.
She shared her thoughts about True Love with us, as well as a few of her own favorite romance novels.
My 10 Favorite Romances by Patience Bloom
Whether you love it or wear black in protest, Valentine's Day is almost here. If you're a die-hard romantic, it can be the best or the worst day of the year. Maybe it just depends on how much chocolate you have?
As a long-time editor of romance novels, I experience most days as a sort of Valentine's Day. When I'm at work, all I need is a good story, juicy characters and a mind open to love. But believe it or not, until a few years ago, I would have said real-life true love was just a fantasy, that it only existed in the romance novels I edited. Then one day my Prince Charming appeared out of nowhere, wooing me with laughter, talking into the wee hours, and offering the promise of a future --a future that came true in a story that ended with my own fairy-tale wedding.
It seemed so crazy--me, married--that I had to write our story.
I hope your Valentine's Day is extra special this year and filled with hearts, admirers, and chocolate. And if you're looking to add a romantic book to the mix, here are some of my favorite novels about love.
There are mean girls you might consider unredeemable, but Darcy Rhone will win you over (even though she steals boyfriends and mooches). I'd campaign for Darcy in a heartbeat and, by the end of this book, I felt desperate for her to find love.
I tend to enjoy reading about unbelievable situations and this was my first Susan Mallery romance. The heroine, Heidi, is a joy: curious, scholarly, and noble. To honor her adoptive family, she marries a son, who of course, winds up being her dream come true. I sobbed at the end, and I don't cry easily when reading….
It's hard to keep me away from a good-girl-who-finally-lets-loose romp. Here, the heroine decides to live a different life with new name and skimpy wardrobe, and boy, does she ever enjoy herself. It's sexy, fun, and emotional—all in one page-turning read.
The romance in this amazing story shows how age doesn't have to matter. Plus, who doesn't want to see how a woman “finds” herself again? We all need help. I read this in my twenties and adored Stella, how she learns to enjoy life/love again.
Don't hate me, but I enjoy reading about the trials of beautiful women. In Bombshell, Grace is a too-gorgeous heroine who's been through all kinds of man-torture. She wants a baby and winds up with her own unforeseen happily ever after. Curnyn's stories are great fun.
My first attraction to this story was that the author loved Duran Duran, just like me. But this romance grabbed me to the point where I was angry that it had to end. The rock star romance is quite tantalizing and I think many of us have dreamed this story. Am I right?
A captivating enemies-become-lovers story. Even though I read this story ten years ago, the romance is so vivid in my mind. Novak builds a heartwarming community and makes you want to live in Dundee, Idaho.
"Bridge" is instant validation for those of us with healthy—and sometimes unhealthy neuroses. Bridget is so good-hearted, nuts (in the best way) and loveable. Of course, Mark Darcy would love her. And of course, I started tracking my weight and daily vices thanks to her.
I fell in love with Becky Bloomwood instantly. She can't control herself, gets in over her head, then has to learn harsh lessons to get back on a saner path. And she does this is such an enjoyable way. This book compelled me to start shopping.
When we think of February, love frequently comes to mind--and let's face it, for better or worse this four letter word is probably one of the most enchanting, infuriating, and exciting subjects to read about. From stories of an idyllic marriage gone terribly wrong to mortals falling for immortal lovers, or the flush of crazy, passionate, first love, romance has always captivated readers and writers alike. Where would Shakespeare be without Romeo and Juliet? Or Hollywood without its larger-than-life affairs of the heart, often adapted from beloved novels?
Whether you like classic romance or stories of love gone wrong, we decided this month was the perfect time to look at some of our favorite novels of amour. To that end, we chose 150 love stories in a dozen flavors—our own box of chocolates for the mind and heart, if you will. The Beatles say, “all you need is love.” But maybe all you need is a good love story.
What romance reader worth her
salt doesn’t swoon over one particular fairy tale? And what romance author
worth the name hasn’t written a take on her own favorites at least once (or
twenty times)? Fair few, my friend. Sometimes we honor these stories with respectful
retelling, sometimes with tongues firmly in cheek, and every now and then by
going completely off the grid. Fairy tales speak to those memes we carry in our
DNA: the beast tamed by love, the impoverished (in all ways) heroine raised to
a position of power and happiness, the hero faced with an impossible task but who
nonetheless pitches headlong into the fray to protect his beloved. We all want
the same thing: to be the sort of person who inspires loyalty, heroism and
love—and a few fairy tales.
Here’s this month’s list of romances
based on fairy tale tropes, plus an add-on I couldn't resist.
Teresa Medeiros wrote her
riff on Beauty and the Beast to hysterical effect in the wonderful The Bride and the Beast. As the last virgin
standing (so to speak) in Ballybliss, our plus-sized heroine, Gwendolyn, is the
logical choice for the superstitious townfolk to sacrifice to local monster, “The
Dragon.” When she’s delivered to his lair, the dragon (our hero, of course) is
flummoxed by the unwanted guest but helpless to release her if he wants to
pursue his dark plans for revenge. Bright, witty, sarcastic and fun, this is
Ms. Medeiros at her best—which is very good indeed.
Eloisa James’s tender,
sometimes bittersweet, love story Once upon a Tower is an homage to Rapunzel (with a bit of Romeo and Juliet thrown in.) When the very young,
self-controlled Duke of Kinross meets demure and silent Edie at a ball, he
thinks he’s met his soulmate.
Forthwith, he presents an offer for her hand to her father who accepts.
Unfortunately, what Gowan mistook for reticence was simply the flu, and the girl to
whom he is now wed is... unexpected. The marriage bed is not a friendly--let
alone fun--place in James’s sweet tale of challenged young love, which ultimately
leads to Edie fleeing to her tower. The slow unfurling of these two very young
hearts journeying toward maturity and understanding is filled with exquisite
insight and romantic moments that will have you sighing.
In her futuristic YA Cinderella
story, Cinder, Marissa Meyer offers us
a cyborg heroine in place of the standard Disney youngster. Instead of sweeping
houses, Cinder--who has amnesia regarding her childhood--works as an unpaid
mechanic in the markets for her evil stepmother. There she meets the handsome
prince and falls in lust, er, love. What follows is political intrigue,
plagues, lunar wars, a look-see into Cinder’s own mysterious past and, yup, a
ball. This is the first book in a series and a fabulous kick-off for the reader
who wants a touch of cyberpunk to their fairy tales.
And since we’re talking
romance writers, I have to direct your attention to An Invitation to Die by Helen Smith. This is not a romance novel
but, as almost its entire cast is composed of romance authors or those intimate
with romance authors (readers, agents, publishers, bloggers etc.), I’m
including it. Perennially unemployed Emily Castle, a gifted amateur sleuth,
signs on for a weekend helping out at the annual Romance Writers of Great
Britain conference where wannabe romance writer and much hated romance review
blogger Winnie ends up dead. Quirky, whimsical, smart, and engaging. Yes, it’s
way over the top and wincingly familiar in places. But, it’s always fun. I flat-out
loved it. A must-read for romance readers. But beware! You might learn too
much! --Connie Brockway
After naming Sylvia Day’s Bared to You a 2012 Best Book of the Year in Romance and devouring Reflected in You, we've been anxiously awaiting the release of the third book in Day's scorching Crossfire series, Entwined with You. To whet our appetites and make waiting for the book's arrival a little easier, Amazon Romance expert Alyssa Morris spoke with Day about what’s next for Gideon and Eva, her upcoming collaboration with Harlequin and Cosmopolitan, her all-time favorite romance novels, and much more.
Alyssa Morris: Now that you’ve had a bit of time to absorb the success of Bared to You, does it feel real? Or are you still surprised?
Sylvia Day: I'm still surprised! I’m glad I’m a veteran and that I’ve been publishing for close to 10 years, so I had some experience under my belt as far as dealing with it. But on the other hand, there’s no way to anticipate writing something that becomes a global phenomenon, you know. I don’t know about other writers--I didn’t even dream about anything like that. I always figured that it just happened to the Stephenie Meyers and J.K. Rowlings of the world. So, yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever get over being surprised that I had a series that struck such a chord.
AM: It just hit such a moment in our culture, where all of a sudden this is what everyone wants to be reading. It’s an interesting confluence.
SD: Right. We always talk about that, about right book, right time. Random House released Fifty Shades on the same day I self-published Bared to You, so talk about the right timing. Just… wow!
AM: Do you have a favorite moment in the Crossfire series so far?
SD: You know, I really loved the weekend that Gideon and Eva spent in the Outer Banks. These poor guys. When they’re alone, they’re fine. Life is perfect when they’re alone. Unfortunately, they don’t get a lot of time alone. [Laughs] So I just love that. I love seeing them together away from all of the distractions and intrusions and everything else that’s going wrong in their lives.
I can’t talk too much about Entwined with You because it’s not out yet. And that’s so hard, because I so want to talk tabout it! But there’s more alone time with Gideon and Eva as we move forward in the series and they grow stronger, so I’m really enjoying that as a writer.
AM: Can you tell us a little bit about what we can expect to see next for Gideon and Eva? And is Entwined with You the last book in the series, or it might continue farther?
SD: Yes. It’s definitely continuing, so I can say that for sure. I was not able to wrap up the entirety of the storyline into three books, and I was absolutely adamant that I was not going to try to rush or cram the third book to try to make it fit. And I was fortunate that my agent and my editor they both agree that it would be a big disservice to the series to not let it play out the way it needs to, so there will definitely be future books.
The first book was really the introduction to Gideon and Eva. That’s where we first become familiar with their flaws and their issues, which are of course very prevalent in the first book. The second book they were really apart most of that book. They were mostly broken up through that whole thing. It was very angsty and dark. The third book is very different. Eva’s in a different place. At the end of Reflected in You, Gideon has made a pretty large sacrifice for her. Her big issues had been insecurities, concerns about other people and other women particularly in Gideon’s life. It’s hard to have those sorts of fears and self-doubt after somebody makes a huge sacrifice, like Gideon did for her. So she’s in a much more stable place as far as her comfort level with the relationship and being able to accept the depth of his commitment to her.
Gideon, however--what he’s done, there’s a lot of ramifications. Not just externally, but internally. So as she grows stronger, he’s actually struggling with more. That said, she’s really the anchor for that relationship. She has been from the beginning. So with her being stable, it brings new stability to the whole relationship, and readers will see a lot more moments of calm and connection between the two than we have seen in the previous books.
I'm in the mood for something steamy, and--since up here on the tundra, we're still entrenched in never-ending winter--something warm weather-related. But if I can’t have that, I’ll settle for the Deep South: a molasses-smooth drawl, humid nights, hot heroes, and steel magnolia heroines.
Here’s my selection of old and new treasures guaranteed to sweep you south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
Long before True Blood hit the HBO airwaves, Charlaine Harris wrote a more genial (if no less blood thirsty) vampire novel called Dead Until Dark. In it, her naive 25 year old virgin waitress finds true love and an empty mind (you either already know why this is a plus, or you’ll just have to read the book!) with super studly vampire Bill. But the real star of this story in Bon Temps, a sleepy, bayou-stranded town with a plethora of characters both alive and dead, supernatural and super-odd that will have you turning pages as fast as you can. Here’s a story that goes down as easy as sweet tea on a hot afternoon.
Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath
If you love a tortured hero, you’re going to adore Houston Leigh, ravaged body and soul by injuries suffered in the Civil War. Sent to escort his beloved brother’s mail-order bride across the Texas wilderness, Houston falls for southern bell Amelia Carson. What’s a tortured, honorable, desperate man to do, especially when your brother is not some shiftless ne’er do well but a good, hard-working man deserving of the glorious Amelia? Happily, in Lorraine Heath’s expert hands, the answer isn’t left entirely up to Houston. Amelia has survived her own ordeals and emerged stronger, more competent and ready to love. This is a richly satisfying and emotional read that never takes the easy way out. And that setting? I can almost taste the trail dust.
Meant to Be by Terri Osburn
This book isn't available until May 21st, but it fits in so well with my theme and it's so much fun that I couldn’t resist including it. Sweet, disarming Beth Chandler isn’t exactly a mail-order bride, but she is willing to take a terrifying voyage (okay, it’s a short hop across a channel on a ferry, but she’s hydrophobic) to meet her future in-laws on idyllic Anchor Island. During the trip she finds a welcome distraction in rugged fellow passenger Joe Dempsey and his dog, Dozer. The animal magnetism (sorry, it was irresistible) is already doomed by the fact that she’s already engaged, but then she discovers that—yup, you guessed it—Joe is her intended’s brother. Fun, flirty, with an adorable and genuinely likeable heroine and a great supporting cast, watching these two fight their high-octane attraction is pure delight.
I could go on for a long time about my favorite southern delights, but for those of you who want to really sink your teeth into the more over-the-top on that pile, I suggest digging up some of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s titles, such as Ashes in the Wind or the seminal Shanna. They’re as lush and rich as praline sauce on bread pudding. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
My original plan for this post was to write a follow-up to last month's Scottish-set romance recommendations. But that will have to wait for another day. Because, once again, my family’s snow/sleet/cold/gloom tolerance has maxed out after a particularly nasty Marchuary, and we are dying for some sun and surf. I have a sneaking suspicion there are droves of others out there in the same boat (or sleigh).
My suggestion? Flee the hinterlands for southern climes! And if you can’t make it to the real thing, plant yourself in an armchair, switch out your reading lamp’s florescent bulb for a full spectrum one, pour yourself a tall frosty drink, pop a paper umbrella into it, and set sail between the pages of a book. It’s time for a beach party!
And what’s a beach without a pirate? I’ve got a couple of yummy sea wolves for your consideration.
First up is Marsha Canham’s Across a Moonlit Sea, a classic rip-roaring, Elizabethan swashbuckler, pitting French nobleman and privateer Simon Dante against cartographer Isabeau Spence. Both protagonists are overcoming past betrayals, and the sexual tension is hotter than a mutineer’s broadside. But the real pleasure here is Canham’s first-class historical detail. You can practically feel every swell in the ocean (naughtier ones amongst you, feel free to imagine me wiggling my eyebrows suggestively). This isn’t costume drama, it’s high seas drama at its best.
I love a good girl-poses-as-boy story. Add in a pirate captain and a slow simmering attraction, and I’m hooked. (Resign yourself to the marine allusions.) Darlene Marshall does both in her wonderful Sea Change. In 1817, David Fletcher plucks a doctor from a British merchant ship to tend his wounded brother, unaware his young sawbones is female. For years, Charley Alcott has worked alongside her physician father, but when he dies, she masquerades as an apprentice physician in order to secure passage to her godfather’s Caribbean home. Uneasy friendship grows into even more uneasy attraction and finally, with the revelation of Charley’s gender, into a passionate love affair. But that’s just icing on the cake in this funny, yet poignant tale of a woman struggling to find her way in a man’s world (and on his ship).
If pirates aren’t your cuppa, how about a world-weary photojournalist who just happens to one of the most romantic, sexy men I’ve read this year? The always excellent Christie Ridgeway outdoes herself in Love Shack. With her trademark humor ratcheted down just a hair, this lovely story is the quintessential romance having heart, humor, pathos, and red-hot love scenes. In this story of heartbreak and healing, what Gage Lowell envisions as sweet, summer fling with old friend (and unacknowledged soulmate) Skye Alexander quickly escalates into something neither are prepared to admit, yet cannot deny. Wowza. Simply terrific!
And finally, to my mind you, simply can’t call it a vacation unless you read a gothic romance--and if it’s on a lush tropical paradise during the nineteenth century where a young orphan girl faces hidden danger, all the better. If this is your idea of gothic heaven, prepare to sigh over Jill Tattersall’s fabulous Damnation Reef. Marina Derwint is shipwrecked and rescued, only to find herself under the unwilling protection of the enigmatic and brooding master (aren’t all the best masters enigmatic?) of Tamarind, an estate in Antilla. Murder, sunken treasure, and suicide are just a few of the obstacles the star crossed lovers must overcome. An old-fashioned gothic with a tropical flavor. I can practically taste the rum. --Connie Brockway