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What I’m looking for – T. M. Lunsford

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve had a lot of time to think about what has always drawn me to romance to a genre and the only answer I can come up with can be summed up in one word: hope. I spent some time visiting Disneyland this week and it really brought me back to my roots as a lifelong romantic and every story I thought about that I’d loved since childhood centered around a profound sense of optimism and hope. In the realm of adult literature, every other genre focuses on the more tragic elements of human life (murder, greed, power etc).  While romance certainly includes all of these things, it is also the only genre that solely focuses in on the hope that should be an inherent part of life, no matter what the circumstances. The hope that things can get better, that the two characters can work their way through some substantial problems and build a partnership full of hope for the future.

So what does this mean for me as an editor? Well, obviously, I want to see novels that fit into the Romance Writers of America definition of a romance novel. I want a central love story. I have no objections to intrigue, suspense, what have you, as long as the relationship is at the heart (ha) of the story. And I want an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. As an English major, I saw too many depressing, unsatisfying endings to things that are considered “great love stories” (for more on my feelings about this visit my blog). Tragic endings need not apply.

I want characters that I can’t ignore. I’ve run across several books lately where the hero and heroine are not the most interesting people, which is an automatic turn off in a romance. And bland secondary characters? Almost as bad. What do I mean by characters I can’t ignore? Well, take Stephanie Laurens’s Cynster series.  I’ve been reading these books since I started in on romance over ten years ago (I started young). Like all series, they’ve had their ups and downs as far as story goes and some of the characters are not the most engaging. But where the hero and heroine don’t always work for me, the secondary characters have yet to fail. And a majority of the heroes and heroines are so good, so grab-you-by-the-throat-interesting, that I still buy the mediocre books to get check in with the previous characters to see how they’re doing.

Breaking down genre preferences, I’m a huge fan of historicals (Regency and non-Regency alike). As long as there are intricate details and great characters, I’m in. Yes, Regency dominates the genre. Blame Georgette Heyer and Jane Austen (my idol). I’ll never object to a Regency that is well-researched and interesting (Julia Quinn is an absolute master at these). But I also like to branch out a bit. Some of the books that have made my favorite/keeper list that aren’t strictly Regency are Eloisa James’s Georgian duchess series and Lisa Kleypas’s Victorian Hathaway series. Branching out of the Regency can be a lot of fun. I’d love to see more Victorians and maybe an Edwardian/Downton Abbey-esque book tossed in for good measure. It’s also okay if the hero and heroine aren’t both Lord Whosits Duke of Whatsits and Lady Soandso. A little class-tension never hurt anyone, especially if it’s not your standard lord-marries-governess story.

In the same vein, I’d love to see some gritty western romances and steampunks (especially steampunk). My 2011 book obsession? Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke. Seriously, could not put it down. I want a steampunk book with great world-building and compelling, but realistic characters.

Those of you familiar with NRP books, you know that we’re connoisseurs of all things paranormal. In paranormal romance, I want a healthy mix of quirky and sympathetic characters. I’m a bit of a nerd, so I’ll take just about anything you throw at me on the paranormal romance side.  My current favorite paranormal series as to be by Linda Wisdom. Her Hex quartet and her Demon trilogy are hilarious and intense and I adore them. With both paranormal and steampunk, I want to be pulled into the story so much that I don’t even notice that it’s not just a regular romance novel.

Based on some of my own work, I’ve been on a huge contemporary romance kick right now. Like a majority of romance readers, I worship at the alter of Nora Roberts (her Bride Quartet and The Witness are some of her best work yet), so I like variety in my contemporary romance. A current trend is for series and I’m all for them. Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor books are a perfect example of the spirit that I’d love to see in straight contemporary romances. There’s tension and real world problems, mixed in with characters that you could be friends with in real life.

Bottom line? I want to see well-written, unique, interesting stories about heroes and heroines that I can root for all the way through.  Every detail matters, especially in romance, so make them count.

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