The time has come to stack up some paperbacks and update your Kindle. It's officially beach-read season. In anticipation of a sun-soaked summer, we tracked down romance novelist and Fordham University professor Mary Bly in Italy. And while she writes her beloved bodice-rippers under the alias Eloisa James, the author is also an accomplished academic and thoughtful advocate of her favored form. We talked the makings of gripping "genre fiction," "50 Shades of Grey," and the spines that she's most looking forward to cracking open this summer. It looks like it's going to be a scorcher.
What makes a good romance novel?
Genre fiction has to move extremely fast. It's had to be even faster in the last five years, because of the pace of electronic readers. [A woman] wants to be shivering along with the heroine. She wants to smile and laugh when her [heroine] does. But basically the promise of the genre is that you can have a long-term, loving, respectful, sexy relationship. Good genre fiction has to keep that relationship interesting and exciting and suspenseful.
Which romance novels would you suggest for first-time readers?
I would say they should pick up Susan Elizabeth Phillips. She writes contemporary romance. I would go with, for example, "It Had to Be You". It has one of the best first lines ever. I mean it goes: "Phoebe Summerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father's funeral." Lately, a lot of people like reading urban paranormals. Those have a big crossover with the male audience. For that, I would suggest Ilona Andrews. She wrote a book called "Magic Bites," which is the first in the series. It's great fantasy and totally fun. And if someone wanted to try a historical romance, I'd start with a book by Loretta Chase called "Lord of Scoundrels." It's just brilliant, hysterically funny, sexy dialogue.
Millions and millions of women fell for "50 Shades of Grey." What should they read now?
Julie Kenner is a really good author. She was a lawyer when we first met. She's had a series that was really caught up by a lot of the "50 Shades of Grey" fans. She has a new book coming out on June 3. It's called "Heated." My guess is that's going to skyrocket up the [best-seller] list. But I haven't read it yet. I've got it ordered same as everyone else!
What are you looking forward to reading this summer?
The book I'm reading right now is called "Alias Hook" by Lisa Jensen. It's a really beautifully written novel about Captain Hook. It tells that story from his perspective. He's stuck in this childhood world where Peter Pan rules everything until an adult woman finally falls into Neverland. It's an unusual premise. I love it. I've also got Terry Pratchett's new book "Raising Steam". I think he's really fabulous. But the one book I recommend to everyone right now is "The Rosie Project." It's literary fiction, but I think it just appeals to everyone and it's got a love story in it. It's a wonderful love story. The author is Graeme Simsion. It's brilliantly funny. You actually laugh out loud. It's a wonderful beach-read book.
Finally, what do you say to people who are dismissive of the romance genre?
Well, let's see. I think people are so encapsulating of romance readers. Romance readers read all across the board. They read literary fiction. They read "Alias Hook." They read "How to School Your Scoundrel." They read the New York Times. They read all kinds of things. It's so unproductive to criticize people for the books they have in their hands at the moment. We should not be denigrating any reading choice. Reading is a pleasure. We should encourage everyone to that pleasure. The instinct to dump on women who read romance fiction because it might cause erotic feelings...I think it's deeply unproductive. I also think it's remarkably foolish - not to mention misogynistic. But that's obvious.