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Books that turned me into a romance writer

Books that turned me into a romance writer

Saturday, January 21, 2023

For most of my life, I read non-fiction. When I was a child, one of my favourite books was a book that taught children how to be detectives. I can’t remember the book’s name for my life (it had a red cover and illustrations asking children where to look for clues; then, the back of the book had marked-up illustrations showing where to look for clues). Still, it taught me how to ask questions, different types of evidence, and where to find it. It was an engaging book that encouraged children to be active, seek answers, and think for themselves.

As a teenager and adult, I read a lot of history and military history books. Too many to count. I also read many fantasy books, with Raymond Feist and Mark Chadbourne being two of my favourite authors. I fell in love with Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which piqued my interest in romance. Likely because the plot is very much historically accurate and well crafted.

But Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey convinced me I could write romance. It’s a historical romance in the style of Jane Austen, with a touch of fantasy (magic). The tone of this book was perfect. The dynamics between the love interests were nicely done, and a slow burn.

Before reading Shades of Milk and Honey and the rest of the Glamourist Series, I had only written fantasy. And to be frank, the fantasy I wrote was very flat and dull because the characters needed more dynamism. After reading the Glamourist Series, I had a clearer understanding of the nuances of romances and how romance lends itself to plot stacking. A romance book can be more than a romance arc. You can have an adventure, a heist, a mystery, and so on. That insight spurred me to rethink my fantasy series, add a romance arc, and tootle around with plot stacking.

I’m proud to say that each of my 29 fantasy books (written but in need of deep editing) has a unique romance trope and genre (adventure, mystery, heist, thriller, etc.), all set in a fantasy backdrop.

Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The League Series taught me so much about tension. Terrific tension. That series taught me how to turn a victory into a whole new problem for the character. Again, this series has a beautiful variety of plots and romance tropes. Each character and each book is truly unique.

Glynn Stewart’s non-romance sci-fi series (all of them) taught me how to create unique worlds with unique constraints. He has six to eight series on the go at any one time. Each series has its unique world. He not only taught me how to write creative worlds with interesting pinches and politics but how to write fast. He releases a new book every four to seven weeks and rotates releases between worlds. It’s remarkable what he does and how he does it.

I learned a lot from Kelly Miller. She writes Jane Austen-esque books with perfect tone. Just perfect pitch in terms of characters, the prose, and the tone of the books. You’re immersed in a historical setting rich with authentic detail, period-accurate dialogue, and exciting plots. Just the perfect tone if you’re looking for brilliant period pieces.

James R. Benn is one of my favourite historical fiction writers. His series focuses on a military detective in World War Two. The crimes Billy investigates are based on historical events. The writing is simple yet nuanced, the settings are rich and diverse, and the crimes sink you into the time and period. Not to mention, a romance arc runs through the series.

Marie Varielle is a French author. I love the tone of her books, the details in her writing, and her relatable characters. There’s a messiness in forming romantic relationships, emotional baggage that needs to be dealt with, and nuances in the grey zone between friend and intimate partner. She navigates these ebbs and flows brilliantly.

C.C. Humphreys writes historical fiction and does tremendous research. His settings are rich and historically accurate and engaging. The characters are flawed in a relatable way, humans ways that draw the reader into the book. There’s a crackling pop to his writing, an honesty that comes alive on the page.

Lorelei James’ Blacktop Cowboys series is a wonderful contemporary western series that plays around with heat levels. The first few books of the series are scorching hot in terms of sex scenes, and subsequent books play around with the heat level. Each book has a unique, believable character with real issues and problems in their lives. There’s a grittiness to each character, an I’m-no-millionaire-in-the-making-ness about her characters. Her books are a great experiment in professions, heat levels, and relatable problems. One heroine is severely injured and can’t work. Another heroin suffers from lupus. One hero is depressed and is taken advantage of by his family. These are real problems and situations many of us face at one time or another in our lives.

C.J. Box has a simple writing style I wish I could emulate. He writes about a game warden (yay ~ because my contemporary mystery romance series is based on game wardens and conservation officers). He has straight-to-the-point writing that is matter-of-fact yet gripping. His Joe Pickett series is terrific.

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane Series gave me incredible insights into anti-heroes. I try not to write anti-heroes as romantic leads, but Elizabeth Hoyt’s writing gave me a new perspective on lead characters. There are flaws, and then are flaws. Hoyt’s writing brings to light some darker aspects of human nature, how they conflict with the public-facing self, and how they add texture to a romantic relationship.

I continue to read broadly, learn from authors, and learn craft and technique. Who is your favourite author, and why are they your favourite author?

You’re welcome to reach out to me on Twitter @reneegendron or by email at reneegendronauthor (@) outlook.com.

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