Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guest: Janet Mullany

Please welcome Janet Mullany to the convertible today!  

Why do we read what we read?

Thanks for inviting me to guest blog today!

I find it alarming that we are called upon to defend our reading matter, or, as a writer, what we write. The first time someone said to me “When are you going to write a real book?” my jaw dropped.

What wasn’t real about the books I’d written? Well, you see, they were the poor stepsister of mass market fiction, floundering beneath the weighty literary tomes of horror and mystery—romance. You know, those books with the gleaming male pecs and/or flowers and/or strangely photoshopped babies (or strangely photoshopped just about anything) on the covers.

Not real books. Now, the standard argument is that the poor stepsister turns into Cinderella when you look at her numbers—the vast industry that is romance, outselling all other genres. However, I always bear in mind H.L. Mencken’s observation that nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. Just because something—anything--sells well, what does that really mean? Hostess Twinkies, hot dogs, strange lawn ornaments…take your pick.

I’d like to challenge another standard argument that romance helps you get away from the terrible drudgery of everyday life. What if your life isn’t that bad?

Romance celebrates love and relationships and that can’t be a bad thing, although novels have been exploring love and relationships all along, with or without strange covers.

I read a lot—too much, some might say, particularly unlucky family members who fall over my books on the bedroom floor or have sneezing fits from the dust on the bookshelves. I usually have a book for the commute to the day job, and another to read in bed at night and I read fairly widely, mostly fiction but not only romance.

In trying to find out what I define as good fiction, I went to the last of my very infrequent reviews on where I wrote this about The Magicians by Lev Grossman: Scary, moving, exciting, dangerous. This is a book that enchants you and fools you, at first reading like a Harry Potter for grown ups and then becoming something much more profound about the nature of fiction and the imagination and the modern world. I'm still in a state of shock from this book which I've devoured on my commute. Toward the end it became extraordinary painful to read but still compelling. This is what fiction should be, a transformative experience.

None of this has anything to do with the marketing, the hype, the (possibly embarrassing) cover, the subgenre. I prefer to think of my reading matter in terms of Duke Ellington’s definition of good music: If it sounds good, it is good. Does it have that transformative power to make you see the world differently? If you spot a perfect stranger reading the book, do you engage them in conversation? Will you tell your friends about it?

That’s what I call a good read.

My latest not-real book is Improper Relations, a Regency chicklit about annoying relatives and finding love where you least expect it. You can buy it with free shipping worldwide at and you can read excerpts, hear soundbites, and enter a contest at

 Must a lady always put her husband first?
 After losing best friend and cousin Ann Weller in marriage to the Earl of Beresford, sharp-witted Charlotte Hayden is even ruder than usual to potential suitors. Introduced to Beresford’s wayward cousin, Shad, Charlotte may have met her match in witty repartee–but he’s hardly husband material. Caught in a compromising situation, Charlotte and Shad are forced to wed, resigning themselves to a marriage of convenience. And they aren’t the only ones with marital problems… Have both Ann and Charlotte married in haste to repent at leisure? And where do their loyalties really lie? With their husbands, with each other, or somewhere else entirely?

And if you leave a comment here, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a signed copy [winner announced on Thursday]. Tell me what your definition of a good read is, and what book has knocked your socks off recently!


Visit Janet at her website.


Laurie said...

I have to say that I'm especially drawn to books that have witty banter and sexual chemistry (actions and words). They don't have to be in an exotic locale but I do like to have some background details about the area where the story takes place and how they got together. I like stories that move along and don't repeat information.

I'll have to pick an author that I've enjoyed a lot lately.

Loved her contemps:
Molly & Ben's story Talk Me Down,
Lori and Quinn's story Start Me Up.
Loved her historicals:
Cynthia & Nicholas' story in One Week as Lovers.
To Tempt a Scotsman- Alexandra & Collin's story
and A Rake's Guide to Pleasure Emma and Somerhart's story.

I'd highly recommend her books!

Helen Brenna said...

Laurie, I've heard a lot about Victoria Dahl's books. Will have to pick one up.

Janet, hi and welcome! A good read to me is anything that transports me into another world. Doesn't matter what that world is, I just want to be entertained for a while.

Good luck with your book - sounds like a fun premise!

lois greiman said...

Hey Janet, thanks for joining us. Although I sometimes enjoy a weighty read, I most often like books that amuse and entertain. You're sounds great.

Terry Odell said...

Not romances, but I picked up the 1st 3 books in Barry Eisler's "Rain" series, and haven't found my socks yet. I steered away from the books simply because they were marketed as thrillers with an assassin protagonist. Not my thing.

But in reading them, I was amazed at how Eisler can turn an antihero into someone you care about. Not to mention his eloquent writing which gave me those, "I'll never be able to write like this" moments of depression.

In romance? The most memorable, although not recent by a long shot, was "Naked in Death." I'm still hooked on the series.

Debra Dixon said...

Hey, Janet! Welcome!

I love the concept of "Will you engage a stranger reading the book about it?"

That's a great dividing line for yummy goodness! And I have to say I have done that.

But I try to do it when I'm on my way out or past. I don't engage on a plane unless we're almost ready to land. A book is a signal they'd like to be left alone and I sure don't want them talking to me for the whole plane ride. (g)

MsHellion said...

Something MAGICAL. Something that makes me laugh and cry on the same page; something that makes me feel these people really do exist and I'm so glad to have met them.

I felt that way with the Harry Potter series.

I recently read the Percy Jackson Lightning Thief book. I couldn't put it down; I found it enthralling.

I glommed all of the Princess Diaries books. They were so funny; and the references to celebrities always cracked me up.

I read to be entertained. To have fun. I have a good life--and I imagine a lot of people who read commercial fiction do--and it makes it that much easier to get lost in the story because you know that sort of happiness could exist than if you lived in true misery and never recognized it at all.

I loved Hester Browne's The Little Lady and the Prince; and Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess. They are books where I thought, I want to be able to write like that.

traveler said...

I enjoy books that are captivating and enthralling. Realistic characters and a wonderful plot that becomes enmeshed between fascinating people. Family sagas are what I enjoy greatly. The Winter Rose has been a memorable novel.

Janet Mullany said...

Good morning, Laurie, Helen, Lois, Terry, Deb, MsHellion, traveler--you're up and about earlier than I am. Thanks for sharing the books you've enjoyed--I've heard very good things about Victoria Dahl's books, too, but a lot of the writers you've mentioned are new to me.

I read on my commute to the day job and I tend to grade books on whether they make me miss my stop or (and this only happened once and I think it was one of Eloisa James' books) get on the wrong line entirely and give me a surprise 30 minute detour.

And I'm always very interested to see what fellow commuters are reading. Interestingly enough it's rarely books on bestseller lists.

Virginia said...

Lately I have been drawn to western romance and Elaine Levine's series knocked my socks off. Also been into highland books. A book that keeps me up half the night reading in my definitions of a great read.

LSUReader said...

A good read keeps me entertained. A terrific book I read recently was Tami Hoad's mystery "Deeper Than the Dead."

ForestJane said...

I think the bad reputation some romance books get is largely due to their formulaic titles:

Start with one of these - duke, sheik, earl, viscount, cowboy, lord, pirate

Add an apostrophe s, then one of these: reluctant, depraved, besotted, buxom, virgin, unwilling

Then end with one of these: baby, chattel, mistress, lover, bride, nurse, secretary, secret, wife

And just for fun - I looked several combinations of these up on my library's catalog, and they're THERE.

I'm not saying I don't read them, just that the titles sound silly sometimes. Maybe that's why they get no respect?

The last thing I read for pure pleasure was S.M. Stirling's "Dies the Fire." I stayed up entirely too late to finish it last night. :)

Christie Ridgway said...

Hi, Janet! Your book sounds wonderful. I got hooked on romance through Georgette Heyer, so Regency or Georgian romances are forever in my heart.

I've been happily amused lately by Harley Jane Kozak's mystery series. I'm listening to A Date You Can't Refuse on my iPod.

Ann Elle Altman said...

That's so funny that they thought you didn't write real books because you wrote romances...yikes!


Cindy Gerard said...

Hi Janet. Welcome and thinks for the lovely defense of our genre.

robynl said...

I think a good read is a book where you can lose yourself between the pages for a while and not think of the world around you. It has action, romance, adventure, etc.

catslady said...

I read just about everything. I love a variety in my reading. And all books are "real books!" People can be such snobs and hypocrits lol.

I just finished The Conqueror by Kris Kennedy and The Woman in Red by Eileen Goudge - both great reads.

tracega said...

I love to laugh out loud while reading (mostly because it freaks out my hubbie) but a laugh beats a spy, wicked villain driven plot any day! Love you Janet!!!!

Janet Mullany said...

Virginia, LSUReader, ForestJane, Christie,Ann, Cindy, Robynl, Catslady--hi, thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts on books. I'm always happy to talk about books and I'm making note of what everyone is reading.

ForestJane, I think you're absolutely dead on about the marketing tactics--titles and covers--making people think romance is formulaic. However for some subgenres the formula, and the variations therein, are the charm. In my Regency chicklit I play around with Regency tropes (or cliches, whichever you prefer) and sometimes I go along with them and sometimes I subvert them. It's all in the execution.

Cindy, I'm not sure whether I'm defending the genre or doing more damage. I think I'm mostly concerned with the freedom to read!

Maureen said...

A good read happens when I am so caught up in the story that I lose track of time. I just finished Kylie Brant's Mindhunter series and I would say they are good reads.

chey said...

A good read keeps me entertained enough that I lose track of time. I recently read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong. It was a good read.

Janet Mullany said...

Losing track of time--absolutely, Maureen and Chey. I love it when that happens, and you slowly come back to the real world (and become aware of things left undone). Sometimes it can be a real wrench to finish a book you love, and have to leave that world.

KylieBrant said...

Welcome Janet! I'm with Laurie, I love witty banter and sizzling chemistry, but also want an intelligent suspense to go with the story!

mariska said...

For me, A good read is a book that keeps me read, read and read until the last page of the book. makes me forget that i have to eat and sleep :)

it happened when i read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. i just can't leave the book, even when i went to bathroom !

Linda Henderson said...

To me a good read is a book that you get so drawn into that you want it to go on and on. That's why I like series books. I've read several good books lately, Scoundrel's Kiss by Carrie Lofty and the first two books in Nora Roberts' Bride Quartet, Vision In White and Bed Of Roses.

Janet Mullany said...

Hi, Kylie, Mariska and Linda. Uh, I read in the bathroom too.

I've been enjoying Sue Grafton's alphabetical Kinsey Milhone series for years--I think she's got to U. She publishes a book a year and they're all set within about the same time period and brilliantly done. It's interesting to see how she develops minor characters and themes through the series. And it's always fun to go back to the beginning!

M. said...

no need to enter my name - I've been lucky enough to read 'Improper Relations' and loved it! very funny and unpredictable. highly recommend this pioneering example of that new subgenre, the excellently named 'regency chicklit'


Martha Lawson said...

Great interview!!! I love books that draw you right in from the first page. No matter, what the genre, I love romantic suspense, historicals, paranormals. Cate Noble's books have really impressed me!!

mlawson17 at hotmail dot com

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