Ready to Read the RITAs? Right!

In more than one bookstore, you can find lists of Hugo and Nebula award winners posted in the science fiction/fantasy sections. Displays of the recent Pulitzer winners are currently everywhere. Man Booker Awards, American Book Awards, National Book Awards -- these will all be noted on shelf cards or pointed out. The reason for this is simple: a good way to sell books is to convince people of a book's importance and quality. Winning a prestigious award is a shorthand for both -- plus, it makes the reader look sophisticated and intelligent when trying to hit on other humans. You know what I have never seen in an actual brick-and-mortar bookstore? A list or display of RITA award winners (formerly known as the Golden Medallion). It's the romance genre's most prestigious award -- which critics will argue is like frosting on a shit sandwich. And hitting on someone when you are holding a romance novel -- drenched fatally in pink and white, or else covered in cursive lettering, or else lounged upon by a scantily clad and heavily haired couple who may in fact be orgasming as you watch -- well, it just plain does not work. The prime cultural tone associated with romance novels is desperation, the antimatter to seduction.

Of course, this is absurd, as anyone familiar with the fine work done over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books can tell you. Romance readers are smart, and romance is no less powerful a genre than fantasy or science fiction or mystery. It has a craft, and a history, the same way any subset of literature does.

Many of you already know I've been trying my hand at writing romance, which has turned out -- surprise! -- to be hard. It's also amazing, and now that I've started I don't think I can ever stop. It has begun to rewire my brain: everything becomes a potential narrative, the start of a story I haven't learned how to tell yet. And I'm getting better -- but slowly. It is time to take a more organized approach.

Which brings me back to the RITA Awards.

From henceforth, I will be going through the list of RITA winners (focusing on the historical and regency categories, which were once the same but are now separate) and writing about each. This is not going to be merely a process of review -- there are plenty of very thorough and delightful review sites out there already (hello, Mrs. Giggles!). What I am going to be looking at, specifically, is the way the romance is written: the plot setup, the prose craftsmanship, things that leap out from a writing perspective. There will probably be many swearwords.

One of the reasons for this is a piece of writing advice I've been thinking about a lot lately: never switch from one character's POV to another. This makes good sense, mostly, because leapfrogging around from brain to brain tends to give unpolished prose a feeling of whiplash. But I keep remembering my favorite moments from Julie Garwood's The Bride, one of the earliest romances I read and in fact the first RITA winner for Best Single Title Historical. And many of those moments -- which are hilarious -- depend upon a deft switch from one character's perspective to another.

So sometimes the rules need to be broken, apparently. But we knew that. What other rules can I break, in useful ways? What rules are holding me back, or helping me tell a better story? I intend to learn from the best.

First up: The Bride by Julie Garwood (Best Single Title Historical, 1990).

After that: The Rake and the Reformer by Mary Jo Putney (Best Regency Romance, 1990).