Tag Archives: LJ Smith

The Re-Reading Project: The Princess

Key West, Florida – 1942

J.T. Montgomery stretched his long legs out in the motorboat, resting his injured calf against one of the crates in the bottom of the boat. He was the remarkably handsome product of generations of remarkably handsome people. His dark hair had been cut too short by the navy but that did not detract from his good looks: brilliant blue eyes, lips that could be as cold as marble or as soft and sweet as the balmy air surrounding him, a slight cleft in his chin, and a nose that on a smaller man would have been too large. His mother called it the Montgomery nose and said it was God’s attempt to protect their faces from all the fists aimed by people who didn’t like the Montgomery hardheadedness.

This is the post in which I confess my early addiction to romance novels. It was the summer of 1996 and I was 14 years old. We lived in a suburb of Atlanta called Marietta. Everybody was going crazy finishing the preparations for the summer Olympics. I was bored and had read all of my books several times, so I snuck an inappropriate book off my mother’s bookshelf. That book was Jude Deveraux‘s The Princess, published in 1987 (when I was 5). Each day, I read for a few hours, memorized the page number and then slipped the book back on the shelf before my mom came home. It took me longer to read than normal because I had to be sneaky, since I thought I wasn’t supposed to be reading it. My mother never seemed particularly interested in censoring my reading (I read my first Dean Koontz at age 10!), but it didn’t seem like the kind of book I should carry around the house for all to see.

The Princess cover

In fact, I was so scared and later embarrassed to be seen reading romance that I later stuck the book into a slipcover, where it has remained, on my bookshelf, ever since.

It wasn’t my first romance novel, not quite. Once, while staying with my grandmother and aunt in Ohio, I discovered a shelf of Harlequin romance novels, all published around 1986 to maybe 1989. They all featured strong, career-minded women (in bold 80s power suits) falling in love with intractable men, often in exotic locales. They were, almost without exception, between 186 and 187 pages long, so I could easily read 2 a day, even though they already felt ridiculously dated just a few years after they were published. Because they were the same size as a lot of the books I was already reading (Christopher Pike, Richie Tankersly Cusick, Lurlene McDaniel and L.J. Smith) and because there wasn’t really any sex in them, the Harlequins didn’t seem inappropriate. My aunt even shipped her whole set of 1980s Harlequins to me after my visit and I must’ve re-read each of them several times before I bought new ones at the used bookstore (10 cents each, even in 1996).

There’s actually not a lot of sex in The Princess, either. More suggestions of sex. But when you’re a precocious bookworm of a 14 year old in 1996, a little sex seems like lurid stuff. I remember thinking this book was very romantic, a cross between Roman Holiday and Candleshoe, with some Anastasia thrown in. I have read lots and lots of romance novels since I was 14 (and I still read every Gaelen Foley book pretty much the second it’s published), but I’ve never re-read my first until now. In many ways, it has stood alone among all other romance novels in my imagination over the years – partly because it was my first “real” romance novel, partly because I don’t think I’ve ever read any others set during World War I and partly because while it is named The Princess, it is more J.T.’s story in many ways.

The fact that we start with him is a bit unusual (not exactly rare, but not typical, as romance novels are usually weighted more toward the female character, in my experience). The Princess (Aria) doesn’t appear until page 9 and doesn’t speak until page 11. We don’t get her perspective until Chapter Two (page 13). They’re both relatively stock types (I might be the only person on the planet who judges romance novels for their characters), but on the re-read, now, as a 32-year-old with lots more experience (with romance novels and in life), I just didn’t like either one of them. J.T. is autocratic and passionate, but I sometimes suspect he has a personality disorder. Aria is a shallow flake whose intelligence is really inconsistent, even taking into consideration she’s been kidnapped while on foreign soil and doesn’t understand a lot of what’s around her. They’re both incredibly mean and then randomly (and unbelievably) open and warm. I don’t buy that they’re falling for each other or that either one of them is learning or changing as an individual person (which are the things that characters usually do in romance novels). I was really disappointed.

Until about page 200, almost near the end of the book. Once they return to Aria’s homeland, I actually start caring a bit about them. It made me wish that the American misadventure of the first 200 pages had been collapsed down to about 50 pages, so we could get to the good stuff sooner. And then, of course, the nefarious plot to assassinate Aria (hardly the main point of the book, though it is the plot) is wrapped up in about a page and J.T. and Aria end up happily ever after in a surprise twist. That’s sarcasm, but not really, because it is surprising that two unlikable stock characters do end up somewhat convincingly in love with each other at the end.

I’m being a little harsh, because I’m grumpy that The Princess doesn’t stand the test of time for me. The same way I was getting grumpy reading the Stephanie Plumb books and the Sookie Stackhouse series. Once you read something that feels new, you really want it to follow through, and not resort to swiftly wrapped up plots and stock characters or easy tropes. Which reminds me of an author who makes me the grumpiest – Iris Johansen. I thought her early thrillers and romance novels were wonderful, but that annoying Eve Duncan character just kept popping up and suddenly all of Johansen’s books seemed like a 300-page cookie cutters with the names replaced. I’m afraid to re-read her romance novels, honestly, though I’ve considered trying in light of this project. But essentially, the grumpiness comes after the thrill of discovering a new author or character, of falling a little in love and being disappointed down the road. And, it’s got to be hard to write something that feels new every time, especially when you’re writing as much and as fast as romance writers generally do.

Jude Deveraux was already a well-established author when she published The Princess (the copyright is held by Deveraux Inc.) and as many romance novelists do, she wrote several books about the Montgomery/Taggert families, characters related to J.T. I was surprised to read, while researching the post, she lost $20 million when she was victimized by a ring of con artists posing as psychics after the death of her young son. Not only did she participate in the indictment of the matriarch of the con artists, but she used her experience as inspiration for her book Scarlet Nights.

And while I never read another Jude Deveraux book after The Princess, I was fully hooked on romance for a while. I could say that I’ve wasted a lot of time reading what are usually only mediocre books, but I think that it was an education. Because, in a genre that relies so heavily on format, stereotypes and tropes, a genre that is generally disregarded, you have to be inventive and inspired to rise even an inch above mediocre. If  you’ve written twenty romance novels and they each have four to eight sex scenes in them, you have to get pretty creative when you’re writing a new sex scene, mostly by writing as if it’s your first sex scene. There are several sex scenes in my novel The Winter Circus and I’ve been told that I’m very good at writing them. I probably owe a lot of that to my history as a romance novel reader. Beyond this obvious takeaway, I think they’ve taught me not to disregard the power of sentiment. How can romance novels (or romantic comedy movies) make us invest, even if we feel like they are silly and unrealistic? Because they’re grounded in very real sentiments that we all feel and they’re unafraid of dealing with sentiment nakedly, as if it is something new.

I’ve considered writing romance novels, of course, but I think what might have inspired me to write them was not so much any romance novel I’ve read or what I know about the genre and industry, but the fantasy inspired by Romancing the Stone (which is still one of my all-time comfort movies and face it, basically a romance novel come to life):

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LJ Smith: Strange Fate

A little while ago, Borders sent me an e-mail and said I might like to pre-order Strange Fate, the tenth and final (?) book in the Night World series by L.J. Smith. I couldn’t help but laugh as I scrolled through the comments from readers that all generally said the same thing, “I love this series, but I’ve been waiting for it FOREVER.” The comments are generally the same over at B&N and Amazon, where there’s even a forum called “When is this REALLY coming out?”

I’m not laughing to be cruel, it’s just that I’d be willing to bet money I don’t have that most of these readers/commenters, a lot of them anyway, have not been waiting over a decade to read this book, as I have. Most of them don’t even know that Lisa Jane Smith’s books were originally published when I was a teenager, before they were born in some cases. Strange Fate‘s original publication date was shortly before the new millennium and accordingly, the plot of the earlier books reflects that.

When the Night World books were published, 1996-1998, I was 14-16 years old and L.J. Smith was my favorite writer. Her books meant the world to me and I was bewildered by the inscrutable, almost entirely unexplained delay in the publication of the last Night World book. I went to college and still periodically checked in on a giant fan site for updates. L.J. was sick, we heard, but was back to writing and the book would be published soon.

Years passed and I started to believe that the book would never be published. Then, just a few years ago, all of her books were re-issued in new editions that would appeal to rabid fans of Twilight. The Vampire Diaries series was adapted into a t.v. show, which I watched for a while. I had to stop, though, because the t.v. show didn’t reflect either the books or my experience of them as a teenager, or both. But then, I knew they wouldn’t. To be successful in this millennium, they couldn’t. The Secret Circle series is being adapted now and I’ll probably watch a few episodes out of curiosity and because I like Britt Robertson from Life Unexpected. I think she’ll be a great Cassie.

I’m a little annoyed that when (if?) Strange Fate is released, it won’t match my series (though, yes, I have bought all of the reissues). On the left is what MY Strange Fate should have looked like a decade + ago and on the right, what Strange Fate will (maybe) look like when (if?) it’s ever published. And that’s something Lisa Jane’s newest fans may be learning, which her most senior fans have long known – I’m not going to invest my money (and hope) till I hold the book in my hand.

Many of the teenagers reading Lisa Jane Smith (or L.J., as I’ll always think of her) don’t realize these are not new books, as evidenced by one of the comments I read that said Lisa Jane should stop writing multiple series of books at the same time and just finish Strange Fate. 🙂 I feel sad and nostalgic when I think about these books now, especially Strange Fate. Now that I’m almost thirty, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to experience it the way I would have when I was 16 years old, moving to Louisiana and completely adrift.

But just like a teenager, I’m waiting… and waiting… and waiting… to find out.

P.S. While researching online for this blog, I found the following paragraph on the Wikipedia page for The Vampire Series page. This horrifies me as both a fan and a writer:

Unfortunately, Smith stated in her blog on the 9th of February, 2011 that she was fired by Alloy Entertainment and that ‘Midnight’ is her last book. Alloy Entertainment will be hiring a ghostwriter to continue the series. She will still be mentioned as the creator of the series on the covers of the new books but she will have nothing to do with them. Smith has asked her fans not to boycott Harper. L.J Smith has also already given Alloy Entertainment her manuscript for ‘The Hunters: Phantom’, although there are no guarantees that it will be released, let alone with any of her input.

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A yummy all-media post

Going back to one of my favorite things to blog about – media. Yum.

Let’s start with movies. In a distant time and place (okay, say for a while before spring 2007 and in Baton Rouge), I used to have a Sunday-movie tradition that got disrupted by graduation, my European tour and moving to New Orleans. I re-established it with Confessions of a Shopaholic. I haven’t read the books, but I did enjoy the movie. I remember reading somewhere (EW?) a review that questioned whether big-spending would go over well with a recessed audience. But I think some of the messages of the film – don’t count just on material possessions, credit cards and debt collectors are the devil – is all the more poignant because of this recession. Isla Fisher is amazing and I always love Hugh Dancy (oh yes, I do), so even though I felt like the romantic elements were a little rushed, I still believed them cause the actors are awesome at what they do. I love that Isla Fisher is such a physical comedienne, which is reminiscent of the best of Debra Messing (I’ve been a fan since 1998’s 13 episodes of Prey, which was NOT comedy) and, even better, Lucille Ball (who I’ve been compared to in my dizzier, hopefully more brilliant moments).

Now let’s talk t.v. I think I’ve come out as an American Idol fan before and if I haven’t, I suppose this is my big confession. I started watching a few seasons ago and probably got hooked cause it was fun to watch with my neighbors and friends. Now I’m just hooked. The good, the bad, the ugly, I’m there. Sad to say. I am more reluctant and less enthusiastic about the early train-wreck auditions, if that does make you feel any better. Enough defense. 🙂 So far, though this season is definitely weird, I’m entirely satisfied with the first six going through. I looooove Alexis Grace and Allison Iraheta really blew me away (she wasn’t really on my radar before her performance). However, if anybody is reading this, I do hope this is heard – Megan Corkrey and Stevie Wright MUST, must, do you hear me, be wild card picks for the top 12. I’ll tell you now, I don’t care what happens to Megan Corkrey on this show – I will buy any c.d. she puts out. I love her voice. It’s probably too early to say the word “favorite,” since I haven’t even seen 12 people perform and I do love some others, but… Predictions for the three picked from this last set of 12 (really, AI, confusing) are: Scott MacIntyre, Lil Rounds and let’s say…Alex Wagner, but I remember liking Kendall Beard, too. Let’s see what happens tonight.

[3.6: I must’ve had a premonition that they’d pick four contestants, rather than just three. And I was right about two of the last set of three before the wild cards. That was a pretty easy call, though.]

More t.v. Can I just say that, after catching up with all three episodes of Dollhouse so far, I am a BIG fan. No, I won’t be staying in on Fridays to watch it, but YES, I will watch it. Hear that, Fox peoples? Let’s have a deal here and now, between you and me. I will watch it, do not cancel it. But then, I knew I would love it, since I do love my Joss Whedon (insert collective sigh for Firefly here). Big fan of Eliza Dushku, too (in part thanks to Joe, love you dear). This show is smart, funny, addictive. And it’s slick and pretty. Has all the best elements of classic Whedon, also reminds me of Alias a bit (which is great as J.J. Abrams is another big love of mine). I think, honestly, it would’ve been paired better with Fringe than The Sarah Conor Chronicles (Fringe has a strong, kick-ass woman lead, too and my mamma mia! and I text throughout the episodes), but maybe the Fox folks felt that was too much science and technology and weird conspiracy for one night. I will bow to their greater knowledge of these things – provided they don’t cancel either Dollhouse or Fringe. Have I revealed yet just how big of a dork I am?

Now, books. Reading this cool French girl-adventurer book called The Princetta (and the Captain, apparently). It’s massive and translated and really, really good. Just finished a fun (if a bit weird with the Brit-infected “New Yorker” main character) book called Me and Mr Darcy. Not as good as Austenland, a bit too reminiscent of Bridget Jones, but fun nonetheless. Also, while I’m always a big fan of Sarah Dessen, I was blown away by Lock and Key. Even wrote the author a very personal fan letter.

And something I’ve been wanting to blog about for a few weeks. Let’s see if you can follow this. In a distant time and place (okay, circa 1996 as far as my documents certify and in Georgia), I started reading an author named L.J. Smith. I became a BIG fan, getting involved in a massive fansite online (remember in my first blog when I talked about first engaging in an online life?) called The Night World, which was devoted to all of her books. She wrote several trilogies and a quartet of books (after two linked stand-alones) before beginning a longer series called The Night World, which was supposed to be 10 books long, the last of which, Strange Fate, would be released right before the new millinnieum (which featured in the series). However, due to mysterious illnesses and etc., the book’s never been released. Now it’s 9+ years later and, to my knowledge, the book’s still not out. She’s reappeared, writing under the name Ljane Smith and according to her website, she’s still writing Strange Fate. And coolest of all, as I discovered while at my not-so-local bookstore (I was in Baton Rouge), her series’ are being re-released, omnibus style!! There’s lots of L.J. (as I’ll always know her, short for Lisa Jane) news lately, actually. The CW is apparently creating a t.v. show from The Vampire Diaries. It has a lot to do with the success of the Twilight books and movie, almost certaintly, but these books pre-date all that and rock in their own right. As I said in my comment responding to this piece on Pretty Scary. However you get into L.J. Smith, get into her. I love these books. They predate when I was educated about writing (and judgmental) and just enjoyed books for all their cheesy potential (see: Dean Koontz). And you know what? I was a kid when I read L.J. Smith and Dean Koontz. And all these years later, I still get crazy excited about them, still enjoy their books. So that must say something… Can you tell me what? 🙂

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Blogging, am now a blogger, wow, wouldn’t have imagined that phrase coming out of my mouth 15 years ago

Hi folks,

My name is Emilie. You don’t know me yet, but I’m a soon-to-be published, fabulously famous writer finishing my novel and working in New Orleans. To be honest, I don’t know how famous I want to be. I remember thinking, when I was younger, that the good thing about being a writer is that your words, your worlds, are famous but you are not. You can still go to the grocery store and not be accosted. That used to be the sad, beautiful thing about being a writer. Stephen King, JK Rowling, YouTube, MyFace and hundreds of reality t.v. shows later, this is not always the case. Writers are stars (and yes, some always were) and people are even famous just for being famous.

So that’s my way of saying I’m ambivalent about blogging. Primarily because of delicious little trainwrecks like this: Emily Gould Blogs All

I jumped into the Internet in a big way between the ages of about 16-19. Built a website, wrote fanfic and made dozens of friends I’d never actually met in person. I had people emailing me about an alternate history soap opera I was writing about Anastasia and the last of the Romanovs, and I wrote roleplay scenarios based on the characters of LJ Smith. I was a huge dork and I loved it. But then I went to college and next thing you know, classes and new friends I could actually hug took over my life. I asked my roleplaying co-writer to take over my character temporarily and then later to gracefully kill her off. And I moved on.

But the Internet’s been calling me back ever since. I joined LiveJournal because my boyfriend at the time and all of our friends were on it. Enjoyed the hell out of that, but always felt a little queasy about it too. Next thing you know, everybody was on MySpace and wanted me to talk to them there. So I joined up, but hardly used my account until slowly but surely I was always there and never on LiveJournal. And the progression went on with Facebook. Collectively, I shall call these “online social networks” MyFace.

I’ve discovered they’re useful. For keeping up with friends when I’m exceptionally busy and for getting the word out about my writing and events (and those of my friends). They also create a weird distance that must be bridged. For instance, it worries me when it’s easier to write a little note on my friend’s wall than to call them to say hello. Sure, I live in a new city and am away from the bulk of my friends, but that’s what phones were invented for, yes? And we’ll talk later about the tragic death of the letter.

So this blog will be about things I find interesting, the status of my writing and what it’s like to be in New Orleans. When I sell my book, I’ll break the news here. When it’s about to be published, I’ll harass everyone here to buy it. When I’m coming to your town, the schedule will be here. And when I’m engrossed in something cool like say, oh, Post Secret, I’ll let you know with a little link like so: http://postsecret.blogspot.com/

I will not overshare about personal issues. For that, you’ll have to call me and/or buy me a drink. But I think I’m about ready to be *my kind* of blogger. Let’s see, shall we?

-Jill of All Trades, Master of One aka Emilie

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