I’ve just closed the book on yet another twisted fairy tale. Aside from the twisted roots, the books could not be more different.
If you put a romance novel in my hands five years ago and suggest I read it, my nose would have wrinkled as though ready to cast a spell a la Bewitched’s Samantha Stephens.
Then I went to a Toronto Romance Writer’s (TRW) workshop. The guest speaker, Eloisa James.
I’d long recognized that there is a little, and sometimes a lot, of romance in every book, every movie, and every TV show I enjoyed. But that wasn’t romance. Romance was jetskiing-skydiving-spoiled prince-pirate Fabios clutching heroines with heaving bosoms to their muscled bare chest against the background of a glorious sunset.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
From a writer’s perspective–genre aside–the workshop taught me valuable lessons to apply to my own work. And still, I hesitated to join. After all, I was sooooo not a romance writer.
I left the workshop with some great new skills and a copy of Eloisa’s most recent release, Desperate Duchesses.
Eloisa was intelligent, articulate, her presentation crisp and dotted with humour. She graciously signed my book, and so I kept it, but didn’t think I’d read it.
A year later, I did. I read Desperate Duchesses because I thought that as a writer becoming more serious about her craft, I should read more of every genre.
Here’s the thing: I’d always known that if a book was well-written, if the characters felt real and their problems relatable to mine, regardless of genre, I could get lost in the story. Case in point: Star Trek, The Next Generation. A friend recommended, I made the barf face, and half-an-episode later, I was hooked. I knew this, the knowledge was there, but I hadn’t fully acknowledged.
As Picard would say on the bridge of the Enterprise: Engage(d)
Okay, that was a toughie but I really tried to make it work.
I became engaged with Eloisa’s duchesses, enchanted by their world, and charmed by the excellent storytelling that ebbed and flowed from the tip of Eloisa’s pen. And yet…
I never picked up another copy. I was educated in what a romance novel could be, what a romance novel was when in the hand of an expert, yet I slid the book on the shelf and never gave Eloisa’s books another thought.
But sometimes it takes more than one kick in the keister.
Desperate Duchesses revealed some level of acknowledgement in me. I soon accepted that while I did not write straight-up romance, I did have romantic elements in nearly every story I wrote. I joined TRW. I entered chapter contests. I placed.
Last fall, I attended my first conference, Moonlight & Magnolias, sponsored by the Georgia chapter of Romance Writers of America. Eloisa James was the keynote speaker. Hark. I ended up with another Eloisa James novel. A Kiss at Midnight.
A Kiss at Midnight is not your run of the mill Cinderella tale. Imagine a male voice-over at the beginning of a seventies soap opera: The part of Cinderella will now be played by Kate, an independent, willful girl full of moxie.
James’ Kate does not need a prince and she certainly does not need rescuing. But she does need love. She needs to care for her tenants, and she needs to claim her dowry, her place in society, her life.
And Gabriel needs her.
A good fairy tale stands the test of time, a good twist on a classic stays true to the essence yet offers more. With steamy, explicit love scenes that could make a temptress blush, James and her version of Cinderella offers more than a glass slipper and a dose of fairy godmother magic. A Kiss at Midnight is only the beginning.