The ethics of blogging – Armchair BEA 2013 – Day 4

It’s day 4 of Armchair BEA, and today’s discussion topic focuses on ethics in blogging — how do we, as bloggers, navigate ethical waters?

I’m having a difficult time contextualizing ethics and blogging in general.  It’s hard to imagine that there’s a universal ethical code that could be applied to something as diverse and traditionally uncontrollable as the Internet, and it’s equally hard for me to imagine myself conforming to that universal code.

I do have a personal ethical code, however, and it governs my interactions on the Internet just as much as my daily interactions in face-to-face land, though there are a couple of subsections that apply only to my Internet life.

  1. Be kind.  I put this one first because I think it’s the most important and because it’s the one I have the hardest time achieving.  Sometimes I just don’t feel kind.  Sometimes people annoy me or say ridiculous things.  Sometimes books are bad.  Sometimes I’m just tempted to use my wit to cut.  I try to find a balance between my natural impulses towards snarky humor (I don’t want to suppress myself, after all) and my natural horror of hurting other people’s feelings.  When I manage that balance, the result is kindness, I think.
  2. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and follow through on every promise.  Again, this one is a bit of a struggle.  The thing is, I want to be all things to all people, even though I know it’s impossible.  I want to do all the things.  I want to volunteer for every job and keep all those balls afloat and all those people happy by being practically perfect in every way.  You can easily see how things go awry.  While I totally suck at managing my time in my real life (and consequently totally suck at following through on all those promises), it’s easier to succeed on this point on my blog.  If I request or accept a book for review, I read and review it (on time), though I use my own discretion in deciding whether to write about it here on the blog or just on Goodreads.
  3. An “honest review” means you actually have to be honest, even if you didn’t like that book.  Sometimes it’s difficult to square the need for honesty with the need for kindness.  The thing is, if I hate a book, I don’t think it’s unkind to the author to say so honestly whether here on my blog or on Goodreads.  There are a lot of books I’ve hated, and even more that bored the pants off me, and I don’t see the value in pretending that there are only OK, good, and excellent books.  That said, this kind of honesty requires sufficient explanation to be useful.  What help is it to anyone to say, “I read this book. I didn’t like it.”  If you state exactly what you didn’t like about the book, however, along with an honest accounting of the things you did like, your review becomes something like constructive criticism.
  4. Err on the side of caution.  Sometimes I buy books, sometimes I borrow them from friends, and sometimes I receive them from a publisher via NetGalley or directly from an author.  I like to think that the method by which I obtain a book does not have an impact on how I feel about that book, but who knows?  Maybe I’m so flattered at the few direct inquiries I’ve gotten from authors that I plop my rose-colored glasses on when I open their books.  It doesn’t take that much extra effort to tack on a disclaimer when I receive a book for review, so I do it.  I’d rather be unnecessarily nice about the whole thing than be accused of misleading readers.
  5. Stay true to the point of the blog.  I started this blog to write about books, to force myself to be a better reader by paying more attention to what I was reading and what it all means, in the grand scheme of things.  I didn’t start blogging to sell books or promote the publishing industry in general.  While I know that readers, authors, publishers, bloggers, agents, etc. are all part of an interconnected ecosystem and that, therefore, this blog is not an island unto itself, I personally feel more comfortable about the whole business when I stick to reading books and writing about them.
  6. Be careful about copyright.  I’m not a lawyer (I don’t even play one on TV), and I don’t want to have to talk to one about my little blog.  So I try always to post images that are my own or that are part of the public domain or wiki-commons (and I follow the latter’s advice on citation).  In general, I use embedded videos on YouTube whenever I want a multimedia experience.  For book covers, I link image URLs from Goodreads.  Sometimes I have an idea of something that I really want to put in a post (most of the time I’m just winging it), but if I can’t find it on YouTube, Goodreads, public domain or wiki-commons, I won’t risk using it.

Given that I’m a hobbyist blogger toiling in obscurity and neither spending nor making any money on this blog, I kept my ethical code recounting very simple and very personal.  Every situation is a little different, but I suspect that bloggers who approach ethical questions with the impulse to try to do what’s right will generally find their way.


On literary fiction – Armchair BEA 2013 – Day 3

It’s day 3 of Armchair BEA, and today the topic is literary fiction: What books have you read this year that would fit into this category? Is there anything coming up that you’re particularly excited about?What authors/novels would you recommend to someone new to the genre? Are there any misconceptions or things that you’d like to clear up for people unfamiliar with literary fiction? What got you started into this kind of book? Name a novel that hasn’t received a lot of buzz that definitely deserves it.

I ranted yesterday about my reservations with distinguishing between literary and genre fiction, so today I’ll (try to) content myself with answering the question.  I don’t read a lot of literary fiction — some years, I don’t read any.

What is literary fiction, anyway?  It’s a non-genre genre, and perhaps it’s best defined by one thing that it isn’t, and one thing that it is. It isn’t genre fiction, and it is (must be) identified as literary by an accepted critic whose merit as judge and gatekeeper everybody who is anybody approves.  It tends to be written by men (for a variety of reasons, including: books by women tend to be sidelined as chick-lit or the slightly better-named women’s fiction, and most reviewers bestowing literary status are men and may be less inclined to review books written by women, though probably not for nefarious reasons… in our culture, we tend to assume that books written by men are for everybody, but books written by women are for women and thus are not mainstream), and I suspect the idea is that the books that are touted as literary fiction today will end up being the classics of tomorrow.  I wonder how many of them will actually make the cut.

So why don’t I read more literary fiction?  I like good books, and I recognize and appreciate quality writing where I find it — why wouldn’t I read a genre that is vetted for quality?  Honestly, it’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles’ fault (everything is, actually).  I know, I know – Tess is a classic and bears no resemblance to modern literary fiction.  The thing is, having spent the better part of a decade reading the classics, that sea of venerable men and a few worthy ladies, I’ve come to associate literature with sexism/misogyny.  Tess is just a fine example of it, even if Hardy was being ironic (and I’m not entirely convinced that he was).  So I’ve been making a concerted effort to avoid misogynistic literature and cultivate a more feminist library.  I’ve been a lot happier, in general.

I know — I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and I’m terribly wrongheaded and all that — I know!  But I’m just being honest, here.  It’s probably a temporary thing, but for now, that’s where I’m at.  Have any of you gone through anything like this in your reading, where you purposely avoid an entire section of the bookstore because those books make you angry?  Did you grow out of it after a while?

Lastly, these books are probably not considered literary by the gatekeepers at the NYT, but they certainly struck me as being more literary than otherwise.

Blogging and genre – Armchair BEA Day 2

Well, it’s day 2 of Armchair BEA, and today, there are two topics: Blogger Development & Genre Fiction.

I’m certain I’m imposing my own insecurities on the question, but I have to be honest and admit that the very notion of assessing my development as a blogger makes me feel a bit inadequate.  The truth is that I consider this blog to be a hobby, a thing I do because I enjoy it, not because of any external pressure to perform.  Even if no one read this blog, I would still write it.  With that starting position, I feel very little compulsion to promote my blog, and if I drop off the map for three weeks because I’m unbelievably busy, I don’t feel at all bad about it.  That’s not to say that I don’t take this blog seriously — quite the opposite — but I don’t measure success in terms of popularity or marketability.  I have a job, and this blog isn’t it.

That said, I have developed quite a lot over the past year.  For one thing, I’m a better reader than I was.  For another, I’m a better writer.  Best of all, this past year of blogging has helped me to chip away at my habitual reserve, to make some friends (never easy for me to do), to say some true things and put them out there for all the world to see (should the world go out of its way to find my little corner of unreserve…), to try new things.  It has been a fantastic year, but these successes can be measured only on my peculiar scale.

Abrupt subject change: I’m all about genre fiction!  To be honest, I think all fiction can easily be categorized as genre fiction of some sort or other.  I know folk have a strong inclination to distinguish literary fiction from the sordid genre type, but this inclination seems like misplaced snobbery to me.  All fiction is the work of scribbling human hands to explain some part of the human experience.  Maybe that explanation comes in the form of alien planets or vampire stalkers or amorous dukes and barmaids or neurotic narrators recounting their entire misspent lives; the connecting thread running through each of those stories is the humanity of their authors.  (In case you’re curious, I did just lump Children of the MindTwilightAny Duchess Will Do, and In Search of Lost Time into one category, Aristotle be damned.)

Some authors undoubtedly write better than others, some come closer to achieving a real art, some have more skill at using the lies of story and narrative to tell a truth about who we are as humans, but when we assign categories to writers, we hobble ourselves as readers and limit the artistic reach of those writers.  (We also inflate the egos of those writers and critics fortunate enough to be the gatekeepers of literary quality.)

I suppose I should scramble down from my soap box now and talk about the kind of stories I most want to read.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good story.  When I was in elementary school and junior high, I read whatever I could get my hands on: library books, school books, my mother’s books, etc.  I didn’t precisely have a favorite genre because I was just obsessed with the written word and all the knowledge it contained.  The first book I read that truly took my breath away was Cynthia Voigt’s Homecoming.  In junior high, I discovered fantasy books, and I read The Hobbit and tried to read The Lord of the Rings (I didn’t succeed in reading it until I was 20 and had achieved something like patience); I read Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony, and a bunch of truly terrible Dragonlance books.  Then I read Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series (books 1-4) and W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neil Gear’s The First North Americans Series.  Then I read Les Miserables and discovered that what I liked most in all those stories I’d read was any inkling of the redemptive power of love.  Strange as it might be, it was a short skip for me from Les Miserables to romance novels, because that’s where all the love stories hide.

These days, I read romance novels almost exclusively.  Some of them are terrible, and some of them are incandescently wonderful.  I highly recommend each of the following.

Review – What a Lady Needs by Kasey Michaels

I enjoyed What an Earl Wants, the first book in The Redgraves series by Kasey Michaels, so when I saw the second book, What a Lady Needs, come up on NetGalley, I requested it right away.  I was excited to read the second book, which features the inimitable Lady Katherine Redgrave, because she seemed, in book 1, to be an interesting character.  She was so comfortable with herself, wearing what she liked, sitting how she liked, conversing how she liked, etc., and I was interested to see how Michaels would take all that self-sufficiency and incorporate it in a love story.  The result, to my mind, is a bit mixed, with some aspects working very well and others not so much.

Cover image, What a Lady Needs by Kasey Michaels

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Lady Katherine Redgrave has one mission—to find her deceased father’s journals, which may hold the key to a traitorous conspiracy that puts Kate’s family in danger. Kate vows to let no obstacle stand in her way . . . but when she meets Simon Ravenbill, Marquis of Singleton, her attention is diverted as the sinfully handsome nobleman tempts her beyond reason.

Simon has a mission of his own: to uncover the truth about the secret society he believes murdered his brother. All he needs is to get to the Redgrave journals before Kate does. The solution is simple—he’ll romance the fiery beauty in hopes of distracting her from her quest, all while covertly searching for the diaries himself. Yet what begins as a charade soon becomes an all-consuming desire . . . one that could lead them down the most dangerous path of all.

What a Lady Needs continues the intrigue story arc from the first book of the series, though I do think it could easily be read as a stand-alone story, but the focus of this story is on the romance developing between Simon and Katherine.  I thought Michaels did a fine job tying in the continuing story elements with the romance, and I enjoyed the carryover of some of the first book’s charming elements into this story.  Adam is still delightfully stupid, and Trixie is still wonderfully disturbing in her dual roles of oversexed political and social mastermind and awkward grandmother.

In fact, there was really only one thing that I didn’t like about the book, but it’s a biggie.  The writer’s voice of What an Earl Wants was rather serious, and it suited the subject matter of the book.  This series is about uncovering the members and the plots of a hell-fire club bent on treason and predicated on rape… it isn’t lighthearted stuff.  The author’s voice in What a Lady Needs is much lighter, and it made the book seem like a romp.  It bothered me throughout.  I had a difficult time connecting to both Simon and Katherine because neither of them seemed to be taking anything as seriously as they should.  I kept putting the book down in favor of other books until I finally forced myself to read the second half in one sitting.  When I was done, I felt more relieved to be done than happy I’d read the book.  To be fair, my experience of the book does not seem to be typical (it’s getting loads of very positive reviews on Goodreads), but other readers whose tastes run similar to mine may experience a similar difficulty enjoying the book.

Now I have a quandary… I didn’t truly enjoy reading What a Lady Needs, but does that mean that I should stop looking forward to the next book in the series?  I’m leaning towards continuing to look forward to book 3, because I loved book 1 so very much.  I hope I am not leading myself astray.

Bottom line: those who enjoy romantic romps will, I think, absolutely love What a Lady Needs. Readers who want a little more depth with their romance should stick with What an Earl Wants.

What a Lady Needs was released on April 30, 2013 as an e-book and mass market paperback by Harlequin HQN.  To find out more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Kasey Michaels, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from HQN via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.*

Introduction – Armchair BEA Day 1

May has been an uncommonly busy month for me, but it’s finally starting to calm down.  Good timing, too, because it’s time for Armchair BEA!  What’s that, you say?  It’s a way of participating virtually in the Book Expo America currently occurring in somewheresville, USA (I pay a lot of attention, you’ll note).  I had a blast participating in Armchair BEA in 2012, and I’m looking forward to having even more fun with it this year.  It all starts with an introduction:

1.  Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? 

Hello_my_name_is_sticker copy

So, this type of question provides an obvious beginning to an introduction — after all, who does an introduction without first providing a reference point? — but reference points tend to stress me out.  How much context is appropriate to provide?  I suspect the average person doesn’t spend any time analyzing such a silly, everyday question as ‘who are you, and why do you blog?’  Then again, there’s a reason this blog is called Reading with Analysis…

Anyway, I’ve been blogging here for a little over a year.  I started the blog because I needed something for my brain to do, an outlet for my creativity, and because I know very few people IRL who read romance novels, and I wanted to find some way of talking about books without enduring my friends’ well-meaning side eyes and eye rolls.  In the past year, I have made a few book friends and have greatly increased my general happiness quotient by talking about books to people who aren’t all judgy.  It’s fantastic.

2.  What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? 

I’m having a difficult time determining my favorite book so far in 2013, so I’ll just highlight the book I’m reading now.  Also, I’m loving it, and you should all read it when it comes out.

Cover image, A Woman Entangled by Cecilia Grant

Don’t let that cover fool you into thinking this is just another silly boy meets girl, they instalust, they boink, and something happens, so they angst about it a bit, but it turns out to be nothing, so it’s happily ever after type of story.  It isn’t.  The writing in this book is incredible; I feel less like I’m reading a story and more like I’m making a friend.  Seriously, you need to read it.  (A Woman Entangled will be available on June 25.)

3.  Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you. 

I’m wary of opening up a, “hey, let’s talk about religion” thing here — that never goes well — but this tidbit is really the only surprising thing about me, other than what I shared last year: I’m very involved in my church.  I sing in the choir, chair the board (though we Episcopalians call that position Senior Warden, and we call the board a Vestry, but when I first joined my church, I thought the term ‘warden’ was restricted to penitentiaries or insane asylums, so….), and serve on the social committee.  That last is actually the secret thing most folk wouldn’t know about me.  I’m so painfully awkward in person, it’s difficult to imagine that I might have an interest in anything social.  Surprise!

4.  Name your favorite blog(s) and explain why they are your favorite(s). 

In no particular order, my favorites are:

Beauty in Budget Blog – My friend runs this blog, and I love reading her reviews of drugstore and higher end makeup items.  Every day that I don’t look like a transient, it’s because of something I read about on this blog.  (When I do look like a transient, it’s because I’m lazy.)

Via Lucis – I’ve got a thing for architectural photography, and Via Lucis provides a dose of beauty with every post.

Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books – I get excited every time I get an email that a new post is up at this blog, which contains a fairly eclectic mix of posts on books, art, life, movies, television shows, pop culture, cocktails, etc.

and Reflections of a Book Addict – Kim, the founding reviewer at Reflections of a Book Addict, and I are reading besties.  We have remarkably similar taste in romance novels and often read books together.  My favorite thing about her blog, however, is that she and her fellow staff on the blog read books from a diverse mix of genres and styles, and there’s always something interesting appearing on the blog.

5.  Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read? 

My favorite post is Women and silence…and romance novels.  I’m quite proud of a few others, but that one really stands out to me.

Stay tuned for more Armchair BEA posts this week (and an overdue review post, hopefully later today)!

Author I.J. Miller and I look at erotica from both sides, now

True story: I really don’t know erotica at all.

I’m not trendy – never have been – but I’ve certainly increased my erotica reading over the past six months or so, mostly because there are simply more erotica novels on offer these days (or because Kim suggests we read one… or four… together).  On the whole, I have disliked more erotica novels than I’ve liked.  On the whole, I have found more of the sex scenes in these books laughable than compelling.  On the whole, I worry about the broader cultural trends that one might extrapolate from the genre’s (and specific books’) recent success.  All that to say, I don’t think I”m the target audience for most erotica novels… I don’t read in order to be titillated.  I don’t care how HAWT a sex scene is… I want a good story, good characters; I want good writing.

After I read and reviewed Wuthering Nights, I.J. Miller and I shared an interesting, wonderful, and intellectually exciting dialogue, and I asked him if he would be willing to come back on the blog and participate in a somewhat more exciting interview, featuring less politeness and more interesting questions.  Somewhat obviously, he agreed.  I.J. graciously offered me an e-copy of his short story collection Sex and Love, and I’m honored to be able to review it here.  I may not be the target audience for erotica in general, but I absolutely adored Miller’s version of literary erotica (or, more accurately, of literature) as demonstrated in Sex and Love.

Cover image, Sex and Love by I.J. Miller

Cover image, Sex and Love by I.J. Miller

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Who doesn’t hunger for more sex and love? In I.J. Miller’s stories everyone does … A married man who is a king in cybersex chat rooms, a woman torn between her boring fiance and a hot anonymous affair, a professor fighting off seduction by a biker chick, a lonely man held hostage by a lascivious ex-lover, a housewife infatuated with her daughter’s tennis pro, a straight man tempted by a gay friend … everybody in Sex and Love wants to burn a little hotter. Real people. Powerful writing. An intense, erotic ride that has the novel feel of one breathless journey.

I’ll start with the bottom line: I loved this short story collection.  Taken together, the collection seemed like a kind of Metamorphosis that hinges on sex.  That is not to say that sex is the point of these stories, but sex is the fulcrum that allows the characters to change (for better or worse).

Some of the individual stories, particularly “Lonely Man” and “Things We Shouldn’t Do,” reminded me of Jerzy Kosinski’s writing.  There is a bleakness to some of the characters, a sense that they are present but not fully aware, not completely animated, that is deliciously creepy in its realism.  I felt like the worst (and best) kind of voyeur jumping into these characters’ minds, shouldering up to their flaws, bathing in their hopes and dreams and inevitable failures.

It’s difficult for me to say which stories are my favorites, because there is an excellent diversity in the type of stories offered in this collection.  “Husband and Wife” is a lovely tale of the intricacies and compromises of marriage.  “Attraction” is a little bit creepy and a lot compelling.  “Lonely Man” is bleak and dark and funny and heartbreaking but also beautiful.  I highly recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys short stories and would enjoy a literary view of the world through a slightly cracked lens.

Interview with I.J. Miller

First off, I want to thank I.J. for coming on the blog, answering these questions and offering his perspective as a writer.  I originally intended to edit down my questions a little bit, but I decided to leave them the way I hastily wrote them, flabby, goofy wording and all.

1.  RwA: Have you read that book?  Does it bother you that the increase in erotica’s marketability is directly connected to that book? 

Miller: I have read Fifty Shades of Grey, or rather skimmed through it rather quickly.  It is easy to be cynical about the book, because it has had such huge success and it is not very well written.  However, it put erotica on the map and made it more mainstream and opened up the doors for so many writers and books.  In addition, reading an erotic book is a little more acceptable now.  Hats off to E.L. James.  Any writer would wish for her success.  Hopefully, her books get better.

2.  RwA: As a reader — primarily of romance, but occasionally of erotica — my impression of the erotica market is that the proliferation of erotica titles in the wake of FSoG very closely resembles the explosion of “young adult paranormal romance” titles following the popularity boom of Twilight.  There are tons of erotica titles available, but it’s very difficult to find any that are actually worth reading.  What is your experience as a writer of erotica?  Is it easier to get good erotica (my litmus test for “good” is just quality writing…) published these days, or is the market still challenging, just in a different way?

Miller: If you’re reading basic erotica genre material, perhaps the very best, excluding the sub-genre of literary erotica, has good writing, but still wouldn’t be called literary.  Why?  Chances are the characters are cleaned up, absent of any blemishes or tics.  Chances are things happen in the plot because that is the way the writer wanted it to happen, but there doesn’t seem to be great justification for it in the story.  Chances are there is a Happily Ever After ending and most, if not all of the sex, is really hot, which is certainly not true in real life.  However, these types of criticisms can be leveled at almost every strict genre writing, including romance.  The expectations for the reader are to have their fix, their escape into that world.  For literary erotica the expectations are higher.  For literature the expectations are higher.  Unfortunately, a lot of literature may be dying as the younger generations seem more drawn to particular genres, rather than complex literary stories.

Isn’t this all really about our culture becoming more homogenized?  How many individual family owned restaurants are there anymore, as compared to the generic Applebee’s or Friday’s you can find in every town?  A motel, bookstore, drugstore, shoe store not part of a chain?  So rare.

Ultimately, I try to stay away from following the genre norms and want to tell the best story, even if there isn’t a happy ending.

 3.  RwA: What draws you to write erotica?  Do you consider most of your work to be erotica?  What is erotica, really?  

Miller: Aside from Wuthering Nights (literary erotica), I don’t consider my writing erotica.  In my story collection, Sex and Love, a few of the stories could be considered erotica (i.e. “Single Woman,” “The Tennis Pro”).  What I often do is use sex to tell the story.  I have always been fascinated by sex, in my life, in my writing.  I am a very controlled person, yet sex has sometimes made me uncontrolled.  How fascinating to explore that in storytelling.  So my endings in this collection are not always happy.  Sometimes the sex isn’t hot.  Sometimes the sex reveals the dysfunction.  That’s why it doesn’t fit into the genre.  It got published as erotica to fulfill the need to market it toward a better selling genre…and it has sex in it.

I don’t think simply focusing on characters over sex separates literature from erotica.  It’s developing fully rounded characters, with their dark and light sides, with strengths and weaknesses, and having plots that are organic, dictated by the story, not by the need to titillate.

 4.  RwA: In Wuthering Nights, Heathcliff’s alpha male characteristics as bestowed by Bronte (strong, rude, forceful, swarthy, etc.) are joined by a host of physical descriptions that mesh the erotic portions of the tale with the original material and serve as an extension of his character.  I’m cognitively aware that there’s a reason for these descriptions, but they seemed (to me) a bit over the top.  What I most want to know is whether your intent with those descriptions was to depict Heathcliff as a super-sexy manly man or simply (and neutrally) to provide another, more tangible, layer of characterization for Heathcliff (or neither of these).  While reading the book, I got the feeling that I, like every lady character, was supposed to be seduced by Heathcliff’s mastery and strength, but I never was.  Was I supposed to find him sexy, or was the point of the whole thing that he isn’t sexy?  That’s what I want to know.

Miller: Even in the original, Heathcliff is a near myth of power and passion.  Part of developing these characteristics erotically was giving him great sexual size and stamina.  In addition, he has a strong cerebral understanding of his power over women, how he can use that power to manipulate.  Yet, he understands that this won’t bring him complete fulfillment, that the moment after making love is more significant than the act itself, that sharing it with someone you love makes it greater than any simply intense erotic experience you share with someone you do not love.  So there is a great juxtaposition between his purely carnal encounters with Nelly and Isabella, and his true sensual longing for Catherine.  As to whether he is sexy or not, that will be up to the reader and her perspective and what she brings to the story, and what she is turned on by, and what she is looking for in a man.  If you look at the reviews, a lot of women find the book very hot and Heathcliff very sexy, especially the bdsm community.

 5.  RwA: Wuthering Heights reads, to me, as though Emily Bronte was trying to pretend to be a man when she wrote it.  It’s got all the classic aspects of male literature from its era: flighty female characters doing things that make no sense; a classic romance with a nineteenth century sensibility (the kind where everyone dies after suffering for a very long time); and an inscrutable moral.  In your retelling, you invested Catherine with a reason for all her crazy behavior, edited out a good deal of the suffering, altered the ending, and, I think, provided a bit of a moral.  Was that your intent?  If so – bravo!  I know – that’s not really a question.  — I’m starting with the assumption that your writing is an art and that you have a story to tell: what story did you want to tell with Wuthering Nights?  What interested you about the project?

Miller: What a challenge to write an erotic love story where your female protagonist dies halfway through the book, which is partly why the original doesn’t have a fulfilling ending, in my opinion.  The second generation takes over, but it is never as powerful as the original love story.  So, what I did was streamline the story, got rid of some of the minor characters and subplots and focused on the love story.  I also added some through lines that are present from the first part of the story to the end, specifically Black Rock Cragge, a new place between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, where so much significance occurs; and the locket, which in the original is crushed mid-way through the story.   In addition, Catherine maintains a stronger ghostly presence even after her death…and then of course there is the ending (sorry, no spoilers here, but you read the book so you know what I’m talking about).  The second generation and their relationships still have significance, but it is relevant, ultimately, to the final consummation between the lead protagonists.

The rewrite was the publisher’s idea and I was commissioned to write the book and given six weeks to do it.  I’m sure the publisher expected a lot of verbatim text and some sex thrown in.  Not my style.  I really wanted to stay true to the original story, language, themes, and characters, but peel back more layers to everything with a deep, erotic interpretation.  What a daunting task to do it in six weeks, truly possessed by Bronte and her wonderful characters.

 6.  RwA: Do you have any upcoming works you’d like to talk about?

Miller: I just finished a New Adult erotic romance for the 18-25 crowd called CELINE’S SOLUTION, about a college girl who gets her final, senior year education from her young English professor who is both a master of passion and a troubled secretive soul.  Before she can know for sure whether she has found true love or needs to move on, she needs to unravel all of his mysteries.  One of the things that is important to me is the back story: why are characters who they are and why do they make certain decisions?  In genre writing, you rarely have to answer these questions.  You can mention, “Oh, yeah she had a mean dad, or her first boyfriend was a jerk,” and that can serve to justify why she makes wrong boyfriend choices or whatever.  Real back story can mean real weaknesses, deficiencies, heartache, etc. that don’t always go with erotica.  This book is erotica because the sex is very hot, the emotions very high, it is a classic teacher/student fantasy, but it also shows a girl who has issues and is struggling to become the woman she wants to be.  We’ll see if publishers are willing to go outside the genre a bit.

Also, I am working on a non-erotic novel that I’m sure you will love.  It’s about two damaged women who meet and have a baby together and struggle to give the child the happy life they never have.  Very intense, as they are also on the run from the law.  Kind of like Thelma and Louise with a baby.

I want to thank I.J. for participating in this interview and speaking so candidly about writing, the erotica genre,  and these two thought-provoking books.  I’m intrigued by Thelma and Louise with a baby and will be keeping an eye out for it!

Wuthering Nights is now available as an e-book and a trade paperback from Grand Central Publishing.  Sex and Love is  available as an e-book and paperback from Fanny Press. 

Cover image, Wuthering Nights by I.J. Miller

Cover image, Wuthering Nights by I.J. Miller

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of Wuthering Nights from Grand Central Publishing via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.  I received an e-galley of Sex and Love from the author in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Behind the Courtesan by Bronwyn Stuart

Historical romance is my favorite genre, but sometimes I get tired of some of the obvious heroine tropes that are available… You know what I mean – the bluestocking heroine who finds her brainy hero, the innocent heroine who almost always gets paired with a notorious seducer of women and then charms him into monogamy with her innocence and “inner strength” (if you know what I mean), the spinster heroine who finally allows herself to be seen and snaps up her perspicacious hero, the otherwise quite normal heroine whose family’s penury forces her into a marriage of convenience that eventually becomes less convenient, more loving… When written well, I definitely enjoy stories that feature these kinds of heroines, but I tend to get excited about authors whose characters are a little more outside the box.

For example, I dig stories that feature courtesans as heroines, particularly when an author uses that type of character to have a discussion about women’s limited options throughout history and the societal assumptions and pressures that further narrow those options.  In that regard, Behind the Courtesan did not disappoint.

Cover image, Behind the Courtesan by Bronwyn Stuart

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

When courtesan Sophia Martin returns to the village she fled as a young woman, she knows it won’t be a happy reunion–but she can’t refuse her brother’s request to attend his expectant wife. Trapped until the baby arrives, she must navigate the social rift she caused when she left to pursue a disreputable life–and keep the true reason for her departure from the man she once loved, the bastard son of the Duke who ruined her.

Blake Vale has never forgotten Sophia, but he can’t accept the decisions she made, the courtesan’s life she leads, or the fact she’s cast aside her true self. Plain old Sophia has to be inside this hardened woman somewhere, and he’s determined to make her see she doesn’t need rich men to be happy, and that their future has nothing to do with the past.

When the dukedom suddenly falls within his reach, Blake must come to terms with his own past and his birthright, and what that means for his future…and Sophia.

The theme throughout this book is that behind  the mask every courtesan wears, there is a woman who made a difficult choice and who has to live with the consequences.  Most of the story involves Sophia’s struggle to be seen as a woman rather than as an object created by her life experiences, and I enjoyed Bronwyn Stuart’s depiction of that struggle.  Sophia is a well-drawn, complex character who possesses a lovely strength.  Her story is heartbreaking and all too real, and her journey from grief and shame to a self-acceptance of sorts made for a beautiful, emotional read.

To be honest, I pretty much loved all the parts of this book that didn’t relate to the romance between the two main characters.  But wait, you say, isn’t this a romance novel? Surely the point of the book is that the love story — the romance — between the two main characters is interesting and compelling.  You’re right (and don’t call me Shirley), and that’s the problem with this book.  Actually, the hero, Blake, is the problem with this book.  He’s way too whiny.

As an aside, I like the original version of this song because I live a life secluded from current pop culture (so I haven’t heard the song a bazillion times), but I like it even better when it’s sung by an enthusiastic Dutch choir.

Blake spends most of the book whining about how Sophie left him — a decade ago — when she was 14 and he was not much older, about his sucky childhood and his abandonment fantasies, about how awful it is that Sophie chose to life the life of a whore rather than marry him (not that he asked, mind… they were kids…), and on and on…  As if the whining weren’t enough to make him a less than sympathetic character, he also takes every opportunity to treat Sophia poorly, to make sure that she knows that she made a bad choice when she was 14.  Though Sophia tries to explain a few times that he might not understand all the circumstances surrounding her disappearance all those years ago, Blake doesn’t listen.  At the end, once someone else fully explains Sophia’s back story, Blake finally realizes how wrong he was, but it was too little, too late for me as a reader.  I found that I wasn’t actually rooting for him, because he was just such a douchebag that I didn’t want him to get a happily ever after with a character as awesome as Sophia.  In fact, I wanted to poke him in the eye with a stick.

For a romance novel, it’s hard to have a more serious flaw than a bad romance.  Behind the Courtesan is well written, well paced, and its heroine is beautifully crafted, but none of that matters when you’re enraged by the main story line.  That said, I’ll be keeping an eye out for Bronwyn Stuart’s future books, because I definitely enjoy her writing style.  Even though the romance irritated me, I had a hard time putting the book down because I was so captivated by the story.  I just hope Blake’s characterization is a one-off.

Behind the Courtesan was released on April 23, 2013 by Carina Press.  For more information about the book, click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Bronwyn Stuart, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Carina Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*