Posted by Diana Belchase
Sad news. The woman who pioneered the genre of Romantic Suspense, Mary Stewart, died this month at the age of 97. While that’s a ripe old age for most, Mary’s loss to those of us at Kiss and Thrill is immeasurable. Lady Mary Stewart was one of the first authors to write female-centric novels that involved both mystery and romance.
She inspired all of us here at Kiss and Thrill and we know she inspired millions of readers and authors worldwide. If you get a chance to read one of her delightful books, like Madam Will You Talk?, Touch Not the Cat, This Rough Magic, or Nine Coaches Waiting, and the Merlin Chronicles, I believe you’ll find her books not only inspiring but a whole lot of fun. You can find out more about her life at MaryStewartNovels.com
On another note, please remember that we at Kiss and Thrill have assembled an auction basket for the Brenda Novak Annual Online Auction for Diabetes Research.
This is a cause near and dear to our hearts. So many of our family and friends here at Kiss and Thrill have been affected by this terrible disease. So please go and bid on something — from jewelry to books to exciting vacations, there is something for everyone.
Our own gift basket features $125 in gift cards (including cards for jewelry, books, and starbucks), two items of clothing, two audio and seven print/digital books from Kiss and Thrill authors, a character naming, and a wonderful tote to carry everything in. You can find our basket HERE.
Finally, saving the best for last, the winner of Don and Renee Bain’s novel, Close -up on Murder is Bella! Congratulations. I know you will enjoy it very much.
Join us next Tuesday when our own Gwen Hernandez will be writing about military romance and special forces. Gwen’s book, Blind Fury, is fabulous, and being married to a military man, this is something she knows a lot about. I can’t wait to hear what she says.
Until then, have a super Memorial Day weekend! See you Tuesday!
Posted by Sharon Wray
In 1971, Time Magazine Arts Editor Martha Duffy made an observation about the increasing sales of romantic fiction. “What sells is the author’s name on the jacket and that illustration showing a girl and a castle.”
The key part about the above paragraph is the date. 1971
As I read that quote, a flood of memories rushed through me, transporting me back to middle school. It’s there, in between braces, scoliosis checks, and Latin declensions, that I discovered Mary Stewart, Eleanor Hibbert (aka Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr), Anya Seton, and Phyllis Whitney. Like my daughter who devours YA paranormal romances and dystopian stories, I was once addicted to romantic suspense and gothic romances.
It’s possible my honestly-acquired addiction to suspense and gothics came from reading Daphne Du Maurier and the Bronte sisters at too young an age, but by the time I was fourteen I had gone through all of the books these women had written up until then and I was desperate.
Unfortunately, in the late seventies and early eighties most of the romance novels were too adult for my tastes. I had no interest in the man actually doing anything with the heroine. I was happy if the hero stayed in the creepy castle, acting broody and threatening.
As my daughter says, “The heroine can think about the boy, see the boy infrequently, and yearn for the boy. She can even talk about the boy with her girlfriends while trying on shoes. But the boy must STAY in the castle in the woods.”
And at that age, not only was I desperate for something to read, I had the same need to keep the boy in the woods.
So bodice-rippers were out.
One day, after another not-so-great math test, I hid in the library. The librarian, who knew me by name, came over. After a few minutes of moaning about stupid math and nothing to read, she took my test and wrote down four names on the back.
Jane Aiken Hodge
I went on to read every book these women wrote and fell in love with romantic suspense all over again. One of these prolific romantic suspense authors is Jane Aiken Hodge.
The daughter of the poet Conrad Aiken and sister to the children’s novelist Joan Aiken, Jane Aiken was born in the U.S., raised in the U.K, read English at Oxford and received a master’s degree from Radcliffe College, Harvard University. She went on to marry twice, but it was her second husband, the poet and journalist Alan Hodge, who encouraged her to write novels.
In 1948, as a young mother, she read film scripts for Warner Brothers and started writing romances. But it wasn’t until her two children were in school that she began seeking publication. After years of rejections, she published her first novel Camilla in 1961 in Ladie’s Home Journal in installments. That serialized story late eventually became the novel Marry in Haste. In 1963, she published her first book Maulever Hall. Maulever Hall is a testament to her admiration of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.
Known for her historical and contemporary romantic suspense stories, contemporary thrillers, and non-fiction work, Jane Aiken Hodge wrote over 40 books between 1961 and 2003. Her novels bore her trademarked pacing and unique mixture of suspense, mystery, and gothic elements. Throughout her career, she wrote books set in what she called the borderland–that line between mystery and romance novel. In her last novels, her mysteries became thrillers. This invisible line–this borderland–made her “gothic romantic suspense” voice unique. Even though she died in 2008 at the age of 92, her contemporaries, historicals, and non-fiction works are still available.
In an age of weak, retiring beauties, her heroines took charge of the their situation and tried to change it. Although our standards for kick-butt women have changed, almost impossibly so, fans considered Jane Aiken Hodge a “feminist writer” for her time.
Her settings were also different. Instead of castles in Cornwall, she wrote about Savannah, GA during the Revolutionary War (Judas Flowering, Savannah Purchase), Russia during the Napoleonic Era (The Adventurers), and modern-day Portugal (The Winding Stair).
Jane Aiken Hodge is also known for her three highly-acclaimed non-fiction books about Jane Austen (Only a Novel: The Double Life of Jane Austen), Georgette Heyer (The Private World of Georgette Heyer), and the plight of the Regency Woman (Passion and Principle: Loves and Lives of Regency Women). All three are still in print and if you have any interest in Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, or the Regency, I highly recommend them.
But as teenagers grow, so do their tastes. And by the time I was in high school, my love affair with sweet gothics ended. Why is this, you ask? Because when I was sixteen my Aunt Eileen gave me a book for my birthday. Shanna. By Kathleen Woodiwiss. From that moment, the boy came out of the woods and I never looked back.
Now I’d love to know–do you (or did you) read gothic romances? What were your favorites?
Posted by Sharon Wray
When I was in eighth grade, the Vice Principal called me to his office. Apparently, I had lost track of time during study hall in the school library and missed all of my afternoon classes. I’d never been in trouble before and didn’t know how to get to the Vice Principal’s office. So the librarian had to walk me down. And there I stood, trembling, with a book pressed against my chest.
The Vice Principal stood over me with a black beard and a scowl, like a dark storm cloud. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” I answered, praying he wouldn’t call my parents. “But it wasn’t my fault. I know it.” I was, after all, a straight A honor student and secretary of the Latin Club (which is probably why I didn’t have any dates until my Junior year in High School).
“What were you doing?” he asked.
Wanting to throw up, I held out my book and said, “I found this in the stacks and sat on the floor to read the first chapter to see if I liked it. And before I knew it, the last bell rang.” Then, much to my horror, I burst into tears.
The Vice Principal, a father of five girls, took the book out of my hands. “Ahh, Nine Coaches Waiting. Did you finish it?”
Finish it? I’d DEVOURED it. But I didn’t say that. I just snuffled and nodded.
Then with a wave of his hand, he dismissed me, saying, “Next time, don’t open any book by Mary Stewart until you know you have hours of free time ahead of you.”
So relieved, I ran from the office and left school. My dad usually picked me up at the public library across the street, but that day he was late and I had to wait an hour. That hour changed my life. Hidden deep in the fiction shelves, I found a world belonging to Mary Stewart, an author I’ve since learned is the “Mother of Classic Romantic Suspense”. With gothic overtones, bad boy heroes, and stories set in exotic places, I fell in love with a genre I had never heard of before. And the most wonderful thing about Mary Stewart was the number of her books on the shelf. That day, I checked out seven. And I found out the Vice Principal was right.
In less than a week, I read them all and went back for more.
Mary Florence Elinor Rainbow was born in England on September 17, 1916. After receiving a B.A. and a M.A. in English, and working as an elementary school teacher during WWII, she married Frederick Henry Stewart in 1945. Although she continued teaching part-time, her husband encouraged her to start writing. In 1953, at the urging of her husband, she sent a manuscript for Madam, Will You Talk? which was accepted for publication by Hodder and Stoughton. The book, published in 1954, received wonderful reviews. From 1955 until 1980, she published one book a year, every one a bestseller. Since 1954, her books have never been out of print and a few were made into movies.
The element that drove her success–the same element that captured me during a school day and made me miss my classes–was her ability to craft a suspenseful mystery with a love story. This blending is so masterful, that neither the love story nor the mystery can stand on its own. One drives the other in a breathless pace of action, adventure, and romance.
In a time when there were few women authors writing commercial fiction, she quickly became one of the most important twentieth-century female authors, rivaling Daphne Du Maurier and Victoria Holt (Eleanor Hibbert). She was an author ahead of her time, not just with her romantic suspense novels, but with her best-selling Arthurian Fantasy series where she broke all the rules and made Merlin–not Arthur–the protagonist.
Pam Regis writes in a A Natural History of the Romance Novel, “Stewart’s influence extends to every writer of romantic suspense, for Stewart understood and perfected this hybrid of romance and mystery and used it as a structure for books so beautifully written that they have endured to become part of the canon of the twentieth-century romance novel.” (Ch. 14 (pgs. 143-154)–Courtship and Suspense: Mary Stewart)
Her influence can still be seen today. In 2006, when Nine Coaches Waiting was reissued, Sandra Brown (one of my favorite authors) wrote the forward, stating, “With its cast of fascinating characters, its ominous setting, and its captivating plot, this story of suspense and romance entertains today, as it did half a century ago. Generations of readers have adored it. It’s the kind of haunting novel that one rereads every year or so. Other writers, this one included, have been inspired by Ms. Stewart’s style, but her incredible use of language can never be duplicated.” (Nine Coaches Waiting, Forward by Sandra Brown, Chicago Review Press, 2006, pp. iii – iv)
And the book that got me in so much trouble? I just bought a reprint for my daughter. But after she turned up her nose saying she doesn’t like historicals (i.e. stories that take place in the twentieth century), I took an afternoon last week, curled up with a cup of tea, and reread it. By the time I put it down, I discovered my husband and kids had fed themselves dinner and gone to bed. Without notice, I’d read from 2 PM until 11:30 PM. The afternoon and most of the night were gone, and I’d finished the book. Again.
For those readers interested, here is the back cover blurb from the William Morrow edition of Nine Coaches Waiting, 1959.
“The Chateau Valmy, rising in foursquare classical dignity from a wooded plateau in the Haute-Savoie, seemed like a dream come true to Linda Martin. Young, lovely, she had had little in her life to spark a genuine gift for love and laughter, but now, as English governess to nine-year-old Comte Philippe de Valmy, it would be easy to forget the tragedy of her father and mother, the drab orphanage years, the dreary school where she had taught. But tension was in the very air–at first negligible, then building to an unbearable degree, as does a gathering storm.
At its center was the young count’s uncle, Leon de Valmy, dynamic, arrogant, yet the epitome of charm, whose paralysis seemed little hindrance as he moved noiselessly in his wheelchair from room to room–supervising, ordering, dominating everyone in sight, including his beautiful but unaccountably abstracted wife and his small, silent nephew and ward. Only his son Raoul, a handsome, sardonic young man who drove himself and his car with equal abandon, seemed able to stand up to him. To Linda, Raoul was an enigma. Though physically attracted to him, she sensed some dark twist in his nature…
And then one day deep in the woods there occurred a frightening, unaccountable incident–the first ripple to mar the calm, serene surface of an idyllic existence.”
And for those who just have to read the first line before you buy a book (which would be me), how can you not want to read a story that starts like this:
“I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport.” (Nine Coaches Waiting, Chapter 1, p. 3)
Now I’d love to know I’m not the only one who has lost time while lost in a novel. Has it ever happened to you? And which story was it?”