Squawk Radio

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


I am a romance columnist. I get to write about anything I want and tie it in to whichever great novel I want to feature in my weekly romance review column, Romance: B(u)y the Book. I fancy myself a bit like Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated. If Rick were a girl. And he loved really hot novels with Alpha male heroes.

Apparently, the title “romance columnist” is a little confusing, cause I actually receive a lot of relationship advice questions. I don’t pretend to know what Fred should say to convince his girl it meant nothing when he slept with her best friend. But I do know how to dish about cheesy covers and strapping Highlanders with chicks who dig romance.

In creating Romance: B(u)y the Book, I had two things in mind – not counting getting paid to write and scoring free books. First, I wanted to take a literary look at the romance genre and explore reader issues in ways that catered to the highest common denominator: the smart, literature-savvy women who read and write romance.

Second, I wanted to introduce those women to the best new romances and most exceptional authors in weekly review/author interview packages.

Internet content diva Nancy Cassutt immediately recognized the scope and importance of the romance reading audience, and gave Romance: B(u)y the Book a home on the 75 local TV news websites supported by Internet Broadcasting, including New York City’s WNBC.com.

Suddenly, the romance genre had a spankin’ new forum: an established and well-respected news “network” visited by about 12 million unique viewers monthly, many of whom would be getting their first impressions of romance from my column.

And I feel no small amount of pressure and responsibility at that.

To write my feature reviews, I draw on various methods of literary criticism, as well as research I compiled on the romance novel shortly after I bought my first one a couple years ago at a Florida grocery store.

By studying popular criticism of the genre, and scores of romances in various sub-genres, I found consistencies of form, plot arc, dialogue, etc., easily recognizable by the romance reader. A language, if you will, that speaks to us of reliable features within the books, and facilitates connections between other romance readers and ourselves.

As you know, it can be a little tricky explaining the “language” of romance to folks who are new to it. My supervisor – I’ll call him Romance Novel Cover Guy to protect his anonymity, and because he’s really handsome – is totally supportive of the column, but only works with the content on a “need to know” basis.

As in, “I SO didn’t need to see that,” his first remark upon viewing my new blog, Romance: By the Blog.

One of the coolest parts of my job is getting to know romance authors. Yet, no matter how long I do this, I know I’ll still have “Fan Girl” moments. Like when I babbled to Christina Dodd about how she’d written a description of a certain male appendage that was one of the best I’d ever read. Or when Connie Brockway had to endure my stammering repeatedly, “well, you’re just, like, one of my favorites ever,” after she’d said something to invite my worship like, “how are you?”

I also live vicariously through my Inbox, though I prefer to think that the day I don’t get excited by an email from a Really Famous Romance Writer is the day I go back to reading Oprah’s Books of the Month.

I receive a couple hundred submissions a month, and from those I select four for Feature Review and AuthorView. That I can choose so few gives me wicked agita; each time I don’t select a novel, I feel as though I’m letting down the author who wrote it, especially if she sent me the novel and we’ve gotten to know each other.

Because with each book piled on my desk – and floor, and nightstand, and kitchen counter, and front car seat, and walk-in closet – I associate a breathing, feeling human whose big, beautiful heart went into creating her novel. And I’ve never written a manuscript, so just the fact that a writer got her book from brain to bookshelf inspires in me nothing but respect.

So, why don’t I choose a novel for a feature review? It’s generally as simple as this:

I’m pretty sure the writer can do better.

I know you have the same instincts. Your “blink” response tells you what grabs you and will keep you up all night reading. Yet, I’d bet you’ve also known disappointment when an author you love writes a novel that’s just not as tight and polished as she’s capable of.

And, like me, I’ll bet you’ll give her another try when her next book is out, because in the past she’s made you care about her work, and by extension, her as a person.

I’m honored to nurture relationships between romance authors and readers on the web pages of my column. In return, they teach me new stuff about this amazing genre every day.

Michelle invites you to send her your ARCs and published novels for consideration c/o Internet Broadcasting; 1333 Northland Drive; Mendota Heights, MN 55120.
Kitty Kuttlestone, 9:49 AM