As readers of this blog may know, I’ve given myself one year to embark on my dream of becoming a professional writer and, while I have not yet completed my own work of fiction, I have been a volunteer book reviewer for The Romance Reviews for three years. While that might not seem like the most direct path to becoming an author, I’ve gained treasured knowledge from the experience that I will carry forward in my own journey.
Growing up, I was always a fan of Historical Romance, from the quintessential Jane Austen (I fell hard for Henry Crawford) to Harlequin Historical (oh, the sexual euphemisms of 90s romance – rosebuds, anyone?).
That said, serving as a reviewer has pushed me outside my comfort zone, exposing me to genres of Romance that I had not previously read, including BDSM, Paranormal and Inspirational Romance.
Furthermore, it introduced me to writers whose work has inspired and amazed me with its clarity, sensuality and immersive landscapes. Writers whose stories and careers I have studied in the hope of someday paying forward the wisdom they have unknowingly shared with me.
I could dedicate a series of posts to the varied writers whose work I discovered while serving as a reviewer. And the lessons I’ve learned could fill a book – and, perhaps, someday, it will.
For now, however, I will focus on three, very different, Romance writers whose techniques motivate me to learn more about my craft and whose work embodies some of the best qualities of the genre.
Lauren Blakely – The first work I read by Lauren Blakely was Burn for Me in 2015 and I have consumed her books voraciously ever since.
Blakely’s novels are seldom long, but she makes excellent use of the space afforded to her through meticulous editing, punchy dialog and richly developed characters.
Whether it is Cara Bailey, a family-focused, commitment-seeking, dog walker or Julia Bell, a tough talking, bar-tending gambler, Blakely’s heroines are always compelling. Moreover, Blakely’s heroines vary widely, like her readers, bringing something unexpected to her audience with each story.
Moreover, one of my favorite romantic fiction writers, Lauren Blakely writes some of the most fiery love scenes in her genre. Sizzling, yet never gratuitous, she balances smoldering sexuality with genuine emotional connection, never forgetting that both are equally important to realizing the dreams of many modern women – and men.
For those who have not experienced Blakely’s work, I would love to share one of my favorite passages from Melt for Him, which I feel excellently illustrates her brilliant interweaving of devotion and desire.
“…she knew he’d just walked past her. He hadn’t even touched her. He hadn’t even lazily traced a finger across her back. Instead she could simply sense the shape of him; she could smell the clean, sexy scent of him; she could simply feel the way he was near her.
‘Can’t wait to see you later.’
The words were the barest of a whisper on her neck. The sent a rush of heat down through her veins, and goose bumps erupted over her skin. A proper date. Not just a stolen moment in the bar, in his house, by the river.”
If Lauren Blakely captures the steamy, complex yearnings of Contemporary Romance readers, Caroline Warfield offers a more traditional romantic landscape, presented with a lovely prose style and attention to detail that has shown me how compelling writing can touch readers, regardless of their preferred genre.
Caroline Warfield – Though Warfield’s writing style represents a dramatic departure from that of Lauren Blakely, I fell in love with her work from the moment I read Lady Charlotte’s Christmas Vigil last year.
I knew from the first paragraph that I was experiencing something special. The writing style was thoughtful and elegant, with varied sentence structure and beautiful descriptive language. In that moment I realized just how frequently this loving craftsmanship is missing from modern writing – lost in a culture in which writers are pressured to write and publish faster than ever before.
Furthermore, in a time of instant gratification, the depth of research required to truly envelop readers in a historical context is often missing.
Historical Romance enthusiasts love the feeling of being swept away into the past, tracing their fingers over the delicate needlework of a Point de Venise collar or tasting the thin pottage of an Elizabethan peasant. These readers often know the difference between horsehair, steel hoop and nylon net crinolines and expect their authors to know these distinctions, as well.
A librarian, as well as a novelist, Warfield never disappoints her readers with inaccuracies and, in fact, educates her readers while entertaining them with rich, riveting language and lovely landscapes.
Furthermore, I have frequently been impressed by the humor Caroline Warfield introduces into her stories. While her heroines often find themselves navigating dire circumstances, such as perilous illnesses, physical violence, legal repression, Warfield introduces appropriate levity that keeps her novels from feeling excessively wrought or stuffy – as can be the case with some period novels.
One of my favorite passages of Warfield’s work is found in Dangerous Secrets, and illustrates, in my opinion, the exceptional flow and charm of her writing.
“Jamie crouched behind a fragrant verbena bush and wondered how he might avoid Mother Margarita. She continued to waylay him ever day.
Every conversation had been nothing but a series of feints and sorties designed to expose his flank.
Once when she got him to admit that he hadn’t been a model student of the classics, she said, ‘You are better educated than you would have her believe, aren’t you, Major?’
Thank God I never mentioned Cambridge or that two of my three closest friends had titles. I didn’t have to. She probably guessed.
Routed by a five foot elf in a black habit, he now resorted to cowering behind the bushes.”
It is important to note that, while I have traditionally preferred steamy romance, I found myself enjoying Warfield’s wholesome and heartwarming stories. Refreshed by her family-oriented perspective, I learned that evocative language and thoughtfully crafted writing can cross boundaries, engaging readers who are brave enough to venture into new territory.
Kimberly Dean – My first introduction to the work of Kimberly Dean was Courting Suspicion, a sexually-charged detective novel that I reviewed in 2016. Finding Dean’s writing to be sultry and full of substance from the first page, I read the entire novel in one sitting.
I have counted Dean among my favorite contemporary authors ever since.
Captivated by her excellent pacing and compelling, descriptive language, I was especially impressed to read a work of Romantic Suspense that delivered all the cat-and-mouse, sexual tension that readers crave without compromising the quality of the mystery around which the story revolves.
That said, it is Dean’s penchant for innovative storytelling from which I have learned the most.
Unlike many writers, who tend to position much their work within a niche (firefighters, werewolves, gangsters) Dean excels in her ability to engage a loyal readership while undertaking diverse subject matter.
Whether she is writing about heart-throb detectives, identical triplets, football players or computer programmers, Dean always keep her readers guessing with unexpected angles and exhilarating characters.
Dean’s inventive approach to her work is especially evident in her Dream Weaver books – a series erotic novels featuring the Oneiroi, Greek daemons of dreams. Though Dean is not first writer to base stories about erotic dreams or visitations from Incubi, the way she presents the interactions between Shea and the Somnambulist are fascinating.
I was absolutely enthralled by the way Dean depicts the Somnambulist’s control over Shea’s body while maintaining a clear sense of his agency and identity apart from those of the heroine. The passage below is an except from Dream Walker that illustrates Dean’s incredibly creative approach to this supernatural concept.
“They were so good together, a perfect match. They came together like no two ever had: she as his hostess and he as her guide. He hugged her arms around her and squeezed tight. He’d missed her so much.
Carefully, he coaxed her into a seated position. She slumped to the side, but he propped her back up by bracing her hand against the mattress. The color of her fingernails caught his attention.
‘Hmm.’ He cocked her head, intrigued. They were a pretty rose color, just a shade lighter than blood. Experimentally, he scratched them over her legs. The stinging sensation made him cry out in delight.”
As I move forward with my own dream of becoming an author, I will take the lessons I have learned from Dean’s writing to heart, the foremost of which is to always keep your reader guessing. Creating a distinct narrative voice is not at all exclusive from trying new things and seeking new angles.
In the meantime, I would strongly encourage anyone interested in writing to consider reviewing as a first step. My experience with The Romance Reviews has been fantastic, but there are many blogs that provide opportunities to review all manner of literature.
I have received no compensation for this post or for my reviews and all of the opinions shared in this post are my own. If you share these sentiments, or if you do not, I would love to connect with you.
Please comment, tweet at me or email me firstname.lastname@example.org and share your own story. We’re all in this together!