Last month, BookPage Managing Editor Trisha and I ventured down to nearby Atlanta to stop by the annual Romance Writers of America conference. It was my first RWA conference, and boy was it fun. Everyone was so warm, welcoming, positive and supportive.
But it wasn't just all fun and games. Before the glitzy glam of the parties, there was work to be done—though that "work" consisted of getting to chat with some of the hottest romance writers around, including Mary Jo Putney, Robyn Carr, Sarah MacLean, Elizabeth Hoyt and our very own romance columnist, Christie Ridgway. When they weren't giving or attending seminars or autographing books or catching up with each other, these gracious authors spent a few minutes chatting with us. We asked them all the same questions and then edited their responses into these five super snappy, entertaining videos. Enjoy!
What was the first romance you ever read?
What's special about romance readers?
What advice would you give an aspiring romance writer?
What is your favorite romance of all time?
And, finally, the most important, juiciest question of all:
Duke, vampire, Navy SEAL or cowboy?
We'd love to hear what your favorite romance novel is—and, of course, what type of romantic hero you fancy. Chime in below!
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
Doubleday • $26.95 • ISBN 9780385536776
On sale August 13, 2013
Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees is one of our August issue's best debut novels of the year, perfect for fans of Donna Tartt, Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver. Our reviewer was practically beside herself with praise, saying, "Novels like these are reminders not only of why we read, but also of just how vital and downright magical storytelling can be."
But if I'm totally honest, I picked this one up because I wanted to read about people eating magical turtles.
And there are definitely people eating turtles here, but fortunately for me, all the other stuff is true, too. Norton Perina, a scientist who has recently fallen from grace, recounts in these fictional memoirs an extraordinary journey into a remote Micronesian island where the meat of a turtle called the opa'ivu'eke may hold the key to eternal youth—but it comes with a terrible price.
The vivid and grotesque descriptions of setting, the engrossing science and the incredible imagination of this story are all enough to earn this book a spot among the best debuts of the year. What makes it one of the best books of the year, period, is its maturity in characterization. To take a man who has lost everything, who has been cast out from society and who may incite disgust in the reader, and allow him to represent himself in his own words defines Yanagihara as a uniquely talented storyteller. It takes compassion to be without judgment.
Check out our Q&A with Yanagihara and read her guest post about the true story behind her debut novel. Then enjoy this excerpt from The People in the Trees:
Looking back on it now, of course, I realize how extraordinary those first few days were, before I became immune to the awes of the jungle and even grew to despise them. One day—it must have been our third or fourth—I was trudging uphill as usual, looking around me, listening to the conversations of birds and animals and insects, feeling the floor beneath me gently buckling and heaving with unseen layers of worms and beetles as I placed my feet upon them; it could feel like treading on the wet innards of a large dozing beast. And then there was for a moment Uva at my side—he normally walked far ahead of me, in a pack with Fa'a and Tu, darting forward and back to assure Tallent that all was safe—holding his hand out before him, signaling me to stop. Then, quickly and gracefully, he sprang toward a nearby tree, indistinguishable from all others, thick and dark and branchless, and scrabbled up it quickly, turning his wide feet inward to cup its thorny bark. When he was about ten feet or so up, he looked down at me and held out his hand again, palm down—wait. I nodded. And then he continued to climb, vanishing into the canopy of the forest.
When he came down, he was slower, and clutching something in his hand. He leapt down the last five feet or so and came over to me, uncurling his fingers. In his palm was something trembling and silky and the bright, delicious pale gold of apples; in the gloom of the jungle it looked like light itself. Uva nudged the thing with a finger and it turned over, and I could see it was a monkey of some sort, though no monkey I had ever seen before; it was only a few inches larger than one of the mice I had once been tasked with killing, and its face was a wrinkled black heart, its features pinched together but its eyes large and as blankly blue as a blind kitten's. It had tiny, perfectly formed hands, one of which was gripping its tail, which it had wrapped around itself and which was flamboyantly furred, its hair hanging like a fringe.
"Vuaka," said Uva, pointing at the creature.
"Vuaka," I repeated, and reached out to touch it. Under its fur I could feel its heart beating, so fast it was almost a purr.
"Vuaka," said Uva again, and then made as if to eat it, solemnly patting his stomach.
The People in the Trees is one of my favorite debuts of the year, but First Fiction Month has highlighted plenty of other great debuts!
Our Top Pick in Romance for August is Jami Alden's scorching new romantic suspense, Guilty as Sin. Our Romance columnist calls it "a shivery, sensual and sensational read" that finds two former lovers reuniting to find a missing girl—and to heat up the pages.
Kate and Tommy's thrilling story had us begging for more, so we chatted with Alden in a 7 questions interview. Read more about Kate and Tommy, and which scenes Alden believes are the hottest to write:
"For me the hottest scenes are the ones leading up to the first sex scene, including the first kiss. I love when characters are becoming increasingly physically aware of and drawn to each other. It's a great challenge as a writer to find the unique things about each character that the other will be drawn to. Then there's the first contact—the excitement of a first touch, a first kiss. It's something that, once you're in a long-term relationship, you don't ever experience again. It's fun to relive that, even if it's just in my head."
David Gordon's fun second novel, Mystery Girl, is our Top Pick in Mystery for August!
When failed novelist Sam Kornberg's wife walks out on him, he decides to take a job as an assistant to morbidly obese private detective Solar Lonsky. The gig: Following the "mystery girl." The result: A complicated, darkly comedic ride through L.A. with shootouts, murder and a little romance. It's a wild new take on L.A. noir, but it's also packed with clever literary and film references.
Check out our 7 questions interview with Gordon, where we talked about writing and other fun stuff.
Sound like your kind of mystery?
The idyllic countryside of southwestern France gets a little bit bloodier with each installment of Martin Walker's mystery series starring Bruno, Chief of Police. But don't worry, there are still sumptuous meals aplenty, and the wine never stops flowing.
In the fifth book in the series, The Devil's Cave, the cute little village of St. Denis gets a dose of Satanism—plus prostitution, a few murders and some troubling real estate ventures.
The man for the job is Bruno, the only cop in St. Denis, and when I read that Bruno is actually based on the real chief of police in the Dordogne, who is also Walker's tennis partner, I had to ask a few questions. Here's a preview:
This is the very question put to me by my friend Pierrot, the local police chief. But crime takes place anywhere, and this gentle valley in southwestern France has more history packed within it than anywhere on earth, from the prehistoric cave paintings of the Cro-Magnons, the hundreds of medieval châteaus and the importance of the local Resistance during World War II. And with the prevalence of hunters and shotguns, lethal farm tools, property disputes and France’s complex inheritance laws, there is no shortage of means or motives.
If you had to swap places with Bruno for a day, how would that day go?
I’d probably be able to win my tennis games and maybe even cook meals as well as he does. But my inability to match Bruno’s ability to combine policing with humor, common sense and his very idiosyncratic sense of justice might well cause a riot in our placid small town. And I’d certainly bring about a horrendous traffic jam.
Clive Cussler, who celebrated his 82nd birthday today, has other important things to celebrate this summer—including the 40th anniversary of his start in publishing. Cussler’s first book, The Mediterranean Caper, was published in paperback in 1973 and is being reissued Tuesday in a new hardcover 40th anniversary edition. The Mediterranean Caper launched not only Cussler’s career, but also the fictional adventures of Dirk Pitt, head of the National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) and undersea super-sleuth.
Cussler keeps the original Dirk Pitt series going with his son, Dirk Cussler, as co-writer, and also co-writes FOUR other series, all bestsellers: NUMA Files, Oregon Files, Isaac Bell and Fargo. Zero Hour, the latest NUMA Files novel, was published on May 28, while Mirage, the latest in the Oregon Files series, will be released on November 5.
In addition to being a publishing phenomenon (and collector of classic cars), Cussler is also a grand adventurer. Founder of a real-life NUMA that mirrors the organization in his fiction, Cussler has spearheaded the discovery of more than 75 lost ships, including the Confederate ship Hunley. He was honored for his work in marine archaeology last week at a sold-out appearance before The Explorers Club in New York City.
For more on Cussler and his remarkable career, check out our Q&A with the author.
I always love finding out what an author's research process is, so when I learned that writer Ingrid Thoft actually attended and graduated from the University of Washington private investigator program, I simply had to see how that helped her pen her debut crime fiction novel, Loyalty.
Loyalty is the story of P.I. Fina Ludlow, a kick-butt heroine who's the black sheep of a super-powerful, super-dysfunctional Boston family. When her brother's wife goes missing, the cops assume the husband's to blame, so Fina is called it to figure out what really happened. Fina's digging reveals so family secrets no one expected her to find, and as Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney writes, "Her allegiances will be tested, as will her detective skills, for it is likely that someone close to her is singularly undeserving of her loyalty."
I just love Thoft's answer about the coolest thing she learned in the P.I. program:
"One of the cases that stands out was part of a presentation done by a scientist from the Washington State Police crime lab. She discussed trace evidence and the idea that we all leave things behind wherever we’ve been and pick something up from that location as well, whether it’s fiber, hair or residue of some sort. Her example was ash from the Mount St. Helen’s eruption. The ash that was deposited into a suspect’s car filter could only have come from a particular place at a particular time. Suspects can be fastidious and cunning, but you can’t outsmart Mother Nature!"
Alafair Burke's new stand-alone thriller, If You Were Here, finds crime reporter McKenna Jordan investigating a mysterious heroine who clearly wants to keep her identity a secret. The unknown woman saved a boy from an oncoming train—and then vanished. However, the woman's face, caught in a brief snippet of video, resembles McKenna's former best friend—and McKenna just can't let a mystery like that go.
Many fans love Burke for her Samantha Kincaid and Ellie Hatcher series, so we wanted to know what makes McKenna Jordan stand out. Burke's answer, plus some fascinating insight into the real world of criminal investigation, can be found in our 7 questions interview:
"McKenna, in contrast, endures more trauma and drama than most people experience in a lifetime, which allows her to make enormous discoveries about herself in one little book. She's also incredibly tenacious, for better or for worse."
Reddish blond hair pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck. Long-sleeved white sweater, backpack straps looped over both shoulders. Despite the train's lurch, she typed with two hands, stabilizing herself against the bounce with her core strength.
Maybe that should have been a sign.
He stepped one foot into the car, grabbed the phone, and pivoted a one-eighty, like he had 50 times before. He pushed through the clump of angry riders who had followed him into the car and now stood before him, all hoping to secure a few square feet on the crowded train before the doors closed.
Had he known what would happen next, maybe he would have run faster for the staircase.
It wasn't until he hit the top of the landing that he realized he had a problem. Somehow he heard it. Not the sound of the shoes but the sound of surprised bystanders reacting.
What the . . .
You lost your shoe, lady!
Oh my God, David. We have to leave the city.
Nicky sneaked a glance behind him to see the woman kicking off her remaining ballet flat as she took two steps at a time in pursuit. She had looked sort of average middle-aged through the subway doors, but now she had a crazy look of determination on her face. In her eyes. In the energy of her forearms as they whipped back and forth at her sides.
Stay tuned for lots of mystery coverage throughout Private Eye July!
Contemporary romance fans know Susan Mallery's fictional town of Fool's Gold well, and the fun continues with our June Top Pick in Romance, Just One Kiss. For single mom Patience McGraw, Justice Garrett is the one who got away. When he returns, she can't resist allowing him back into her life. Romance columnist Christie Ridgway writes, "An endearing romance and intriguing new characters make Mallery’s latest a must-read."
In a 7 questions interview, we asked Mallery why readers love returning to Fool's Gold with each new romance. Her answer:
"Fool’s Gold is about more than the central romance. It’s about the community. Readers love to see who has gotten married, who’s pregnant, who has babies. (Not to mention, they love to see what the septuagenarian troublemakers Eddie and Gladys have been up to!) The Fool’s Gold romances allow readers to see what happens after the happily ever after."
Fifteen years ago...
Patience McGraw couldn't breathe. She placed her hand on top of her chest and wondered if it was possible to have a heart attack and die from fear. Or maybe anticipation. Her mind raced and her throat was tight and here she was on possibly the most significant day of her life and she couldn't catch her breath. Talk about lame.
"The snow's melting," Justice said, pointing toward the mountains just east of town.
She looked up and nodded. "It's getting warmer."
It's getting warmer? She held in a groan. Why did she have to sound so stupid? Why did she have to be so nervous? This was Justice, her best friend since he'd moved to Fool's Gold at the beginning of October last year. They'd met in the school cafeteria and they'd reached for the last cupcake. He'd let her have it, she'd offered to share. She'd figured because he was older, he would have refused, but he'd smiled instead and that day they'd become friend.
She knew him. They hung out together, played video games together, went to the movies together. It was fun. It was easy. Or it had been until a few weeks ago when she'd suddenly looked into Justice's dark blue eyes and felt something she'd never experienced before.
Her mom had reassured her it was normal. Patience was fourteen, Justice was sixteen and it was unlikely they would stay friends forever. But Patience wasn't sure she liked the change. Before, she hadn't had to think about everything she said or worry about what she wore, or how her hair looked. Now she was always thinking, which made it hard to just hang out.
After two months of sweating every word, every thought, every action, she was done. She was going to tell Justice the truth. That she liked him. That she wanted him to be more than her best friend. If he liked her back, well, she didn't know what would happen then, but she was sure it would be wonderful. If he didn't, she would probably die of a broken heart.
Beth Kendrick's new contemporary romance, The Week Before the Wedding, is our Top Pick in Romance for May. This charming, funny story will appeal to romance fans whether they're married, getting hitched this year or are making the singles' table look good.
The Week Before the Wedding finds bride-to-be Emily McKellips looking forward to seven days of pre-wedding festivities and marrying her surgeon fiancé at a lakeside resort. But who should appear at the wedding but her ex, no longer the wild boy she married on a whim 10 years ago. Emily is forced to choose between the two men in this laugh-out-loud romantic comedy.
We chatted with author Beth Kendrick in a 7 questions interview about weddings and hot guys, and her answers are just as funny as The Week Before the Wedding promises to be. We asked her why she loves writing romance:
"Plot problems making you crazy? Deadlines getting you down? Need someone to join you on a 'fact-finding mission' to a male strip club? (Serious research!) Author buddies are there to help."