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And now, for your earlier kits and comments, from 1997:
From Kathleen (email@example.com):
From Beth Abbot (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Just one book - Linda Howard's Dream Man. If that doesn't get 'em, they can't be had!
. . . if I had a conversion kit, it would include:
- Anything and everything by Crusie
- Knight of a Trillion Stars by Dara Joy
- Hidden Talents and the Gift of duo by Krentz
- The Bride by Julie Garwood
- The Mackenzie series by Linda Howard
- Love Game by Mallory Rush (if I know the person likes spicy stories)
From Francine (writing from Belgium):
You must know that here on the other side of the ocean, if you happen to be a romance reader, well you certainly will hide that fact unless you want to be considered as an under-educated person, as a second category type of reader not intelligent enough to understand and appreciate "decent" literature. The simple fact that romance literature is called here "litterature a l'eau de rose" (rose water literature) or, even worse as I once read "litterature de gare" i.e. train-station literature just will tell you that if you happen to be a college graduate and would dare read that kind of books. . . well you will just hide that fact, keep it for yourself and won't tell it anyone of your acquaintances. . . . Even if that kind of books sells well over here, no one will claim reading them. I read a lot but I would never read a romance on a business trip, because if caught reading that I would certainly loose the confidence of some people. In other words, if a person reads that kind of garbage, can we still consider that person as intelligent/capable enough of driving that or that specific business assignment. . . You see what I mean probably.
Why not rather a translation weapon: you will usually just get one chance to convert the person and she will probably never grant you a chance to provide her with a kit containing multiple books. According to what her tastes are, I would suggest:
- The Secret or Castles by Julie Garwood for someone who loves history
- Slow Heat in Heaven by Sandra Brown for someone who would prefer a more modern setting
- Cry Wolf by Tami Hoag for someone who considers romance as rubbish or garbage - I did this with a colleague, not telling her it was considered as a romance in the US (she would have doubted about my sanity). She loved the book, then she went to the bookshop and bought Dark Paradise from the same author, and when I told her these were great romances, she looked at me as if I was degenerated. "Romances," she said, "are the Cartland stuff", and that is it. . . .
From Maya Prestwich (email@example.com):
I've lived in dorms for over five years now (gotta love boarding school) and I've converted about a dozen people during that time. In high school I pushed romances on dorm-mates who were in television withdrawal, in college, people discovered that reading anything felt less like procrastination. I've had the best luck using any of Nora Roberts' "oxymoron" series, earlier Jayne Ann Krentz, and Katherine Stone's Roommates. But my most popular "conversion" book has been the under-appreciated Tell Me No Lies by Elizabeth Lowell. I finally had to buy several copies of it because people have such a hard time parting with it (and kept borrowing it again and again). I can only venture to guess that the whole world politics/ obscure art history angle really appeals to people who feel that learning something new helps rationalize enjoying a "trashy" novel.
From Betty (Smoon4@aol.com):
Hi, I might seem a little young to be glomming romance books but I've been doing it since I was 12 (I'm now 15). My older sister started me out by introducing me to her favorites: Julie Garwood, Amanda Quick, Johanna Lindsey's earlier works, and Judith McNaught. Of course once I got hooked on all these authors, I had to share with my friends. I found that many of my friends weren't sure if they would like to read such "big" books and were scared that they would bore them. Boy were they wrong! I think that "conversattion kits" differ for many people. It's best to give them a variety and see which one suits them best. Mine would include Julie Garwood, Julia Quinn, and Amanda Quick if they are looking for humor. Judith McNaught is good for people who want to read heart-wrenching novels that'll make them cry. Many other authors include the ones my sister introduced me to that I mentioned before, and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jillian Hunter, newly discovered Katherine Stone ( I've only read one of her books but it was great! I'm currently trying to find her other works.) Also, Jude Devereaux, Mary Jo Putney, Lisa Kleypas, Teresa Medeiros, and Catherine Archer.
From Teresa Eckford (YDZX40B@prodigy.com):
Re: lending Virginia Henley. I would only do that once the person was hooked on romance. Definitely not as an intro. I've read a couple of her books and discussed her writing with others in my writers group. We've agreed that her writing does tend to reinforce some of the negative stereotypes about romance with gratuitous sex (written in purple prose) and huge historical inaccuracies. However, if someone asks me who writes hot books, I do recommend her. I'm not questioning Henley's appeal or her success, I don't want anyone to flame me on this, but she does write a certain style of romance that isn't for newbies, especially if you're trying to convert people who think the books are only sex manuals for bored housewives who read them in their robe munching on bonbons. We all know that this isn't true, whether you read Henley, Kinsale, or Heyer, but had I not read Roberta Gellis and Jo Beverley first, and started out with Henley, I'm not sure I would have been converted so easily.
From Meg Wilhelm (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I'm discovering more and more authors these days, and have found some excellent books. However, for my "conversion kit" I find that I always stick to my tried-and-true favorites. I try to fit the book to the person I am trying to convert, hence my list includes both single titles and a couple of shorter (series) titles.
My all-time favorites that have never failed to hook new romance readers are:
- Judith McNaught -
- Once & Always
- Almost Heaven
- Something Wonderful
- Jayne Anne Krentz -
- Wildest Hearts
- Perfect Partners
- Trust Me
- Amanda Quick -
- Linda Howard - Sarah's Child
- Sandra Brown - Mirror Image
- Jude Devereaux - Knight in Shining Armor
- Julie Garwood -
- Susan Elizabeth Phillips - It Had To Be You
- Nora Roberts -
- Born In Ice
- Dance to the Piper
- Summer Desserts
- Lavyrle Spencer - Separate Beds
- Jennifer Cruisie - Manhunting
From Ann Klein(email@example.com):
Regarding your responses to conversion kits - I've found it very hard to covert people because of their pre-conceived notions of romance novels. Usually I've been sucessful when I don't tell the person they're reading romance (and avoid the stereotypical covers) until they're hooked. To lead them gently to romance, I would start out with something like:
- The Eight by Katherine Neville
- One Night in Newport and Lipstick on His Collar by Elizabeth Villars
- After that I'd give them some Nora Roberts like Hot Ice or Naked in Death (written under her pen name J.D. Robb).
- Or if they like historicals, maybe Patricia Gaffney or Anita Mills.
- For people who would like "sweeter" stories, I'd reccomend Patricia Veryan's Golden Chronicles or Loretta Chase's Regencies.
To me, the most important thing is to give them books that are extremely well written, aren't silly, and don't have the typical theme, storyline or characters (from a non-romance reader's viewpoint - romance readers already know that the good romances aren't 'typical').
The other thing to keep in mind, is that the person you are trying to convert must already read fiction. If they don't read much, or if they only read non-fiction, I think you're destined to be disappointed (especially the diehard non-fiction readers).
From Jo Beverley:
I was curious by your list of books to turn people on to historicals. Do you find it works? I find that Julie Garwood's books, while charming, are so historically bizarre, particularly the medievals, that many readers who are into historical fiction can't swallow them at all.
She just seems a dangerous first offering, as likely to reinforce prejudices as to overturn them. Or do you tailor what you offer to the established reading tastes of the reader in question?
The people I've loaned The Bride to are just regular fiction readers who, like me, remember vaguely historical events learned in junior high school, high school, and college.
I started to learn about history from reading romance, and did learn that Julie Garwood is not the best place to go for historical accuracy. But she writes so funny, so sexy, so much fun, that she has turned a few people into romance fans.
I've certainly picked up quite a bit more history along the way than when I started reading romance several years ago, but even Julie isn't totally off the mark about certain things. I'm sure you could go into detail about every thing she did wrong, historically speaking, in The Bride, but, hey, I learned what a buttery was from reading that book!
Jo Beverley responds:
As I said, Laurie, I'm not denying Garwood's charm, and that she could turn on many readers. I'm just not sure she's a safe first offering, considering that she'd turn off some, too.
I just wondered if you'd had that experience. I'm not sure who I'd use if I had to offer someone just one historical book. It's an interesting question, perhaps suitable for the web page.
The one book likely to interest the highest percentage of non-romance readers in exploring the genre, while turning off the smallest percentage. Perhaps it's impossible, as most "safe" options are.
I wish I could have suggested the Garwood book, but Celia (Rivenbark) said she wanted to give romance a fair shake and was sure she wouldn't like an historical. Since I don't read contemps, I ended up suggesting Nora, LaVyrle, and SEP.
As for the conversion list in general, what books would you put on it?
Jo Beverley responds:
Actually, I tailor my recommendations as carefully as I can to people's reading tastes. If they're fairly literary, I'll suggest some Putney and Kinsale. If they're more Bestseller Readers, Quick or Krahn, and Teresa Medeiros' Breath of Magic. If they like a particular period, I'll aim that way. Medieval, for example, Gellis and Pat Ryan.
From Adden (firstname.lastname@example.org):
My conversion kit:
- As You Desire by Connie Brockway
- The Shadow & the Star and The Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale
- The Shattered Rose by Jo Beverley
- Love's Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde
- Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss
It's sort of a mix of recent novels and more traditional ones. I would have to agree with Jo Beverley about tailoring romance novels to your friends/family's tastes. I have a friend who is sort of the "literary" type and who used to look down her nose at me for reading these "trashy" novels. I used a series of Laura Kinsale novels on her and it worked like magic. She's now hooked! I like suggesting to my friends authors who have really unique and sophisticated plots. This helps to get them to overcome any stereotypes they may have about romance novelists - you know, purple prose, bodice-ripping, bad writing. . . . On the flip side, I have also refered Virginia Henley to other of my friends. She offers fun and kind of raunchy (bawdy, but in the nicest way possible) stories. No offense to Julie Garwood, but I would never suggest having my friends read her novels - too sacharine sweet.
From Bonnie Byers (Rabyers@aol.com):
- My all-time favorite - One Summer by Karen Robards
- My favorite Nora - Hidden Riches
- My favorite Garwood - Guardian Angel
- My favorite Krenz - Wildest Hearts
- The best Spencer - Morning Glory
- The best Curtiss Matlock - The Loves of Ruby Dee
- My favorite Linda Howard - Dream Man
- The best Kay Hooper - Amanda
There's too many to list. But these I re-read many times a year and recommend them to anyone who asks or suggest to those who scoff.
I can certainly understand why you might want to give Celia Drivelbark (or whatever her name is) some good romances to defend the validity of the genre; however, I'm not sure about a general conversion kit. It seems to me that any such "kit" would have to be designed and adapted to take into account the tastes and background of each potential "convert." For example, someone who is (or was) a big fan of 60s British Invasion rock music might like Public Secrets by Nora Roberts; someone who likes herbs and their histories (and who doesn't mind very long books and rather graphic violence) might enjoy the first Outlander book by Diana Gabaldon; someone interested in Welsh culture and history might like Longing by Mary Balogh; someone who likes early British history might enjoy The Edge of Light by Joan Wolf; someone who likes well-written novels with some depth of characterization might enjoy To Love & to Cherish by Patricia Gaffney; someone who likes time travel or romantic adventure and doesn't care too much about writing style will probably like A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux; and someone who cares a great deal about writing style and enjoys witty, gracefully written books might like A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson, or perhaps a Regency "classic" by Georgette Heyer.
Re: Jo Beverley's admirably polite comments, I can tell you that if anyone had given me one of Julie Garwood's books in an attempt to convert me to romance reading, I suspect I would have never have gone near the genre again. I admit that I have only read (or tried to read) 3 Garwood books, but that was enough for me (three strikes and you're out -- I don't have time to try more!!!). I thought the books were extremely juvenile, with incredibly shallow characterizations (including entirely interchangeable heroines), silly plots, and, what was worse, weak writing with a contemporary slang-y style and "feel" that seemed jarringly inappropriate, given the settings. The idea that these were "historical" made me cringe. I'm not saying that I was bothered by specific anachronisms or lack of period detail--rather, it was a question of Garwood's not being able to capture for me, in the tiniest degree, an atmosphere appropriate to the past (or to Britain, for that matter).
On the other hand, someone who enjoys light humor and adventure and who does not care very much about history, Britain, literature, language, or any depth of characterization might like such a book. This is of course borne out by statistics: Garwood is one of the most popular of romance authors!
So any conversion "kit" really depends on your audience. In the case of Miss Celia, I think I'd give her The Boyfriend School by Sarah Bird before I'd give her anything else!
From Corynne Davis (email@example.com):
My answer would be:
- It Had to be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
- Led Astray by Sandra Brown
- Mirror Image by Sandra Brown
- The Bride by Julie Garwood
- Sweet Liar or Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux
I think I'm going to give It Had to be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips to my boyfriend to read. He expressed to me last night that he wanted to know why I liked romance and what was considered a romance novel. I chose SEP because of her football theme and the humor. I'm open to suggestions you may have or other readers may have. I will see him next weekend so I will give it to him then (we live 600 miles apart). I will let you know what he thought. Do you think this was a good choice?
From Lori Ousley (firstname.lastname@example.org):
It's very ironic that you included Conversion Kits in your column this time. I had my own "conversion" experience this previous weekend! My husband and I venture to our local Barnes & Noble every Saturday for an afternoon of relaxation with books and some fine Starbucks coffee! Well, on our visit two days ago I had an interesting encounter with a very nice lady! I was, as usual, sprawled out in the floor of the romance section with books all around me and this lady came around the corner and noticed me and struck up a conversation. It seems she was an avid reader, but had never, as she put it, "had the nerve" to try romance. It seems she was put off by the bad rep romance has as being "trashy" and not being "real literature". Well, I wasted no time! In less than 10 minutes she was at the counter with:
- Castles by Julie Garwood
- The Bride by Julie Garwood
- Kiss an Angel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
- Kingdom of Dreams by Judith Mcnaught,
as as well as a list of recommended future readings! I gave her my e-mail address and asked her to please let me know what she thinks. I figure that one of those four is sure to get her. If not, I guess she is one of the hopeless ones!!
From Urefra (email@example.com):
To my friends who claim they don't read romance, I usually lend out After The Night by Linda Howard or A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Devereaux. Plenty of hot sex is a must for a first time romance reader over the age of 30 -- it keeps them interested and returning for more!! }: )
From Guy Prater (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Please don't forget the unforgettable and incomparable Lorraine Heath. She just garnered the Holt Medallion and is up for the RITA with her book, Always to Remember. This historical writer can tug at your heart strings as none other I have read. Her characters are so real, it is easy to suffer the pain they endure to achieve their goals. Parting Gifts was also wonderful. For Regency, I think the wonderful writer, Elisabeth Fairchild, would be tops. Her magical weaving with words in The Rakehell's Reform held a depth of meaning many writers never achieve with their works. There are many, many writers that I admire, each for different reasons. I am touching the surface of the romance writers. It is indeed an iceberg. The depth and scope is immeasurable.
From Andrea Schlieder (DXKD78B@prodigy.com):
I usually recommend the following:
- Nora Roberts -
- Carnal Innocence
- Genuine Lies
- Honest Illusions
- LaVyrle Spencer -
- Bitter Sweet
- Morning Glory
- The Gamble
- Mary Jo Putney -
- Thunder & Roses
- The Rake & the Reformer
- Susan Elizabeth Phillips -
- Heaven, Texas
- It Had To Be You
- Diana Gabaldon - Outlander
I figure these books will give someone the insite that there is alot more to romance novels than an innocuous boy meets girls or the much maligned 'heaving bosom, bulging manhood' type of book.
PS - I will be very interested to read Celia's comments. You might want to point out to her that breast feeding leaves one free hand for holding the book.
From Sue Tatham (email@example.com):
Although my list of favourites is as long as a piece of string, a few that spring to mind are:
- The Trouble with J.J. by Tami Hoag
- Not a Marrying Man by Barbara Boswell
- Heart's Aflame by Johanna Lindsey
From TJ (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Conversion kits? Probably anything by Nora Roberts, Mary Jo Putney, Judith McNaught, and Jennifer Crusie. Although I like Julie Garwood, I hesitate to recommend it to non-romance readers b/c of her style & characterization. It's OK to have humor, but she has some hen-wit herones, and childish sentence construction.
From Teresa Eckford (YDZX40B@prodigy.com)
I've lent my mother a few books, to prove to her the genre I'm writing in isn't all "bunk". They included:
- Ashton's Bride by Judy O'Brien
- The Shattered Rose by Jo Beverley
- Surrender to A Stranger by Karyn Monk
Now I would add Denee Cody's
- The Conquered Heart
- Court of Love.
I'd probably also recommend:
- A Knight in Shining Armour by Jude Devereaux
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - I know Ms Gabaldon argues her books aren't romance, I think Outlander comes the closest - after all Jamie and Claire overcome huge obstacles and ride off into the sunset together!
From Jaci (email@example.com):
Hi, this is my first contribution to your news letter but while I don't have a "conversion kit" like you do, I did loan Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love and Kingdom of Dreams to my roommates (who had never read romance before). By the time they finished those books they had become loyal fans. For the next four years (our time together in college) we created a romance library in our living room where we all contributed books every week. They were my first converts!
From Karen Brooks (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I don't have a conversion packet, but I am working on my oldest friend -- so far I have sent her:
- Connie Brockway's As You Desire
- Arnette Lamb's Maiden of Inverness
- Jillian Hunter's Fairy Tale
- Lynsay Sand's The Deed
The last two had me laughing 'til I hurt. Thanks for being here!
From Jennifer Stevens (email@example.com):
Without a doubt, any conversion package of mine would have to include Sarah's Child by Linda Howard, in my opinion the best category book ever written. Also worthy of consideration would be:
- Point of No Return by Rachel Lee
- The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
- The Roselynd Chronicles by Roberta Gellis
- The Edge of Light by Joan Wolf
All of these books are excellent and anyone who doesn't enjoy at least one of them doesn't enjoy reading.
I usually insist they read Years by LaVyrle Spencer (favorite book ever) or a Kathleen Woodiwiss book (my favorite of hers is So Worthy My Love). Most of Julie Garwood books are up there but that's usually when they come back for more (I really liked Lion's Lady a lot). I enjoy reading Laurie McBain (Moonstruck Madness) but she tends to be a little heavy and you can't get them off the shelves in bookstores any more. There's nothing worse than wasting time (and money) reading a bad book so I am very excited to see this internet site!!
From Joanne Bartling (firstname.lastname@example.org):
I always start out by lending McNaught's Perfect. That was the book that hooked me, and so far has a 100% track record. I then lend out:
- Susan Elizabeth Phillips' Heaven Texas
- Catherine Hart's Irrestible
- Catherine Anderson's Coming Up Roses
- Jude Deveraux's Knight in Shining Armor
- Karen Robards' One Summer
- Virginia Henley's Pirate & the Pagan
- Jill Barnett's Bewitching
- Julie Garwood's The Gift and Saving Grace
These are lent in no particular order, and depending on how each author is received, (I keep track of each borrowers likes), I then have an idea which of my other books each will probably enjoy. For example, when they come back for more, I lend the rest of the Gift quartet, and The Bride isn't far behind. Julie Garwood remains a favorite, at least with my friends.
Christiane Friese (email@example.com):
Here in Germany romance is very much frowned upon as well, which is not very surprising if you read a translated version of almost any romance novel. There are so many translation mistakes and sometimes entire paragraphs or chapters are completely left out. Especially the sex scenes are either cut or translated insuch a way that I hardly can stand them. Maybe it's the German language but scenes that are absolutely erotic and sensual in English seem, at least to me, cold and clinical in German. For that reason conversion is only possible if the persons speaks/understands sufficient English to want to read the original. A few months back I managed such a successful conversion. My sister and I had at the same time bought the same book, SEP's Nobody's Baby But Mine. Because the original English books are quite expensive here we normally only buy one version and ship them across Germany so we can all read it. Now I had one book too many and had to find someone to buy it from me so I gave it to a friend who studies English and she loved it! On her birthday I immediately had the perfect present in It Had to be You. Since she also loves mystery and suspense I plan to make her read Nora Roberts next.
Tanya Tremblay (firstname.lastname@example.org):
The first time I converted someone (my best friend), I wasn't really trying to. I had been talking about this great book to her The Return of Rafe MacKade, and all of a sudden she said she'd like to read it. I was so unsure, I thought that she might think I was perverted or something. I gave it to her anyway. She loved it and is now and avid romance reader. Presently I'm trying to convert my Chemistry 12 teacher. My friend and I saw her in the bookstore so I recommended Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. She ended up buying it. I'm anxiously waiting to see what she thinks. Perhaps I'll get bonus marks if she likes it!!
In my conversion kit I would have:
- Naked in Death by J.D. Robb for readers who normally like mysteries
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon for history buffs
- Merlin's Legacy: Daughter of Fire for people into fantasy (this is the first in a quartet)
- After the Night by Linda Howard but expressly for those whom I think can handle the heat the first go 'round
I find getting someone to listen to a book on tape is easier to convert them than having them read the book - especially males who wouldn't be caught dead reading romance. I started with Outlander by Diana Gabaldonr and went on to One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (more a funny mystery) and then It Had to be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. The Bride by Garwood is the one I also recommend for stress reduction.
Deborah Barber (email@example.com):
I got a book years ago called Queen of Knights by Monica Barrie. This book had a great tale of a legend, the fulfillment thereof and a great heroine and hero. My husband read it and it's what started him on the way to a library of fantasy fiction that grows to this day.
I recommended Dianna Gabaldon's Outlander series to my husband. He read the first three nonstop, and was disappointed he had to wait for the release of The Drums of Autumn. More than great romance, Diana creates characters anyone grows attached to.... even my husband! I would also like to recommmend Midnight Magic by Betina Krahn. Her charechters are wonderful. I laughed all the way through it. All men need a release from the stressful lives we live. Midnight Magic is just the ticket! If you haven't read this one ...please do!
I have only one question: what do the converters do to the covers before they give the books to the convertees? There are so few romance books with neutral covers that it seems that would be a dead giveaway. One book I would want to include would be Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm but how could I get anyone biased against romance to read it with Fabio on the cover? Do you think that calling this genre something other than romance would convert readers as well as the use of neutral covers?
I know that it is very difficult to get away from the characters being on the covers in a half dressed state. I assume that when the term step-back is used that means that the reader has to turn the cover page to the inside cover page and that is where the picture will be found. I think Elizabeth Thornton's cover on You Only Love Twice solved the problem the best with the collage paintings of the characters found on that inside cover. Jane Feather has something similar on her later books. I know I could get someone else to read Elizabeth's because that cover is not such a stretch for a supposedly mainstream reader. But I still don't see how I can get such a reader to read Flowers from the Storm when I hand the person the book with Fabio half dressed on the cover! That is the only flaw I see on the conversion kit idea. Actually, if you took the terms "historical romance" which are printed on the spine of the book away and then gave the book a plain cover, I can think of quite a few romance books I could use in a conversion kit.
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