June 1st, 2012

What's your version of conversion?

My publisher is giving away 10 copies of Such a Rush on Goodreads. Enter here!

My literary agent, Laura Bradford, is on Twitter @BradfordLit. You should follow her. She tries to be helpful, and she is hilarious without trying.

In the last few days she’s been gathering entries in a drawing to win a Romance Conversion Kit while simultaneously soliciting suggestions for the kit. You may have seen Romance Conversion Kits circulating on the web before. I certainly have. Here’s a whole list of them from readers of the popular romance review site All About Romance. The idea behind a Romance Conversion Kit is that you are a rabid romance fan, but you have friends who absolutely refuse to read romance because they say it’s bad/stupid/anti-feminist/icky. Maybe they have gotten this idea from reading a few bad books. More likely they have never read a romance, so they have gotten this idea from other people who have never read a romance. Regardless, the Romance Conversion Kit is supposed to be a box of superb romances you give them to show them how wrong they were. After they read the contents of the box, they’re bigger romance fans than you are, and when Nora comes to town they knock you out of the way.

In this regard, I think some of the lists on All About Romance are dead wrong. They seem to be lists of personal favorites rather than Romance Conversion Kits. I haven’t read nearly all the books on those lists, but the marker for me is The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. My reintroduction to romance as an adult came through a popular culture study I read in grad school, the now-classic (and outdated) Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature by Janice Radway. When Radway polled romance readers in the 1980s, The Flame and the Flower was their favorite book. She proceeds to eviscerate the book. But a lot of the elements of that book that made it so popular then (the rape scene, for one) are largely gone from romance novels now. Though the All About Romance readers may remember it fondly, I don’t think it would convert many people today. Laura’s list seems more likely (from her series of tweets):

1) The Secret-J. Garwood 2) Dreaming of You-L. Kleypas 3) Naked in Death-JD Robb

4) All the Queen's Men-L.Howard 5) Bet Me-J.Crusie 6) Match Me If You Can- S.E. Phillips 7) The Iron Duke- M.Brooks

8) Carnal Innocence- N. Roberts and 9) Slave to Sensation- N. Singh

I ALSO wanted to add Lord of Scoundrels by L. Chase, Daniel's Bride by L.L. Miller, Sugar Daddy - L. Kleypas, Simply Irresistible- R. Gibson

My own experience with the Romance Conversion Kit goes like this. When I was growing up, my mother told me not to read romance novels because they were trash. She was simultaneously handing me her dog-eared Mary Stewart novels, which got me hooked on romance novels forever. Because she was telling me one thing and showing me another, I didn’t realize Mary Stewart novels were a terrific example of the romance genre. I had no idea what to call them, and I guess my mom didn’t either.

Flash forward to one year ago. I sent my mom Tell Me Lies by Jennifer Crusie, just to see what she’d say.

One month later, I checked to see whether she’d read it and whether she’d liked it. In the interim month, she had read ALL of the Jennifer Crusie--the twenty some-odd novels, the novellas, EVERYTHING--and now she asked me for more recommendations.

I suggested Nora Roberts, Linda Howard, Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer, and Ain’t She Sweet by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Now she is well on her way through the vast canons of Roberts, Howard, Heyer, and SEP, while I am still not quite through the Crusie. I haven’t read Wild Ride, I haven't read the novellas, and I’m reading Faking It right now. When I admitted this to my mom, she said, “Jennifer! You haven’t read Faking It?! That’s the one with Davy from Welcome to Temptation!!!” Which was kind of annoying. But that’s what you wanted from a Romance Conversion Kit, right? To convert someone so thoroughly into a romance reader that she annoys you with her superior knowledge of the genre? Right.

Now, remember, the point of a Romance Conversion Kit is not to list your personal favorites. It’s to convert non-romance readers. For that reason, it should probably contain the more vanilla books everyone tends to love rather than polarizing books. Rather than Tell Me Lies, my favorite Crusie, I should have given my mom Bet Me, which is in Laura’s list. Some people don’t like Tell Me Lies--they tend to love it or hate it--but most people seem to love Bet Me. It’s not my favorite by a long shot, but it’s the first Crusie I read, and obviously I am a fan. Anyway, all’s well that ends well.

My question for you: what books would you put in your Romance Conversion Kit? or, a conversion kit for any other genre? Not the classics of the genre but the ones that would excite readers right now. I would love to be converted to fantasy after The Hobbit turned me completely off.
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