There is a word in the English language I quite detest, and that word is “heartwarming”. If a book calls itself heartwarming, I immediately suspect overcute virgins and overcute pets. If a movie advertises as heartwarming, it could kiss my $8.50 goodbye. No, thank you, I only pay that much money to see things blow up good. The last thing I want to spend my Friday night doing is watching a man who’s about to die from cancer make his last, desperate attempt to right a wasted life.And yet one of my favorite movies of all time has the word “heartwarming” written at least three different places on its DVD box. And it’s the story of—guess what—a man about to die from cancer making his last, desperate attempt to repair relations with his estranged teenage son.
The movie is called Life as a House. Its setup is as clichéd as you can possibly imagine. Middle-aged man loses job. Falls down outside his office building as he leaves for the last time. Cancer, late-stage, inoperable, incurable cancer that would kill him in four months flat. Is he divorced and living alone? Yes. Does his teenage son hate him? Oh, yeah. And is the kid a druggie? Mais oui. And a Goth with multiple piercings too—why not, right?
And yet it works. With a stellar cast, great performances, a gorgeous setting on a cliff jutting into the Pacific, a lovely score, and a director who is unapologetic about making a modern fable, it works beautifully. My frozen heart thaws every time I see it, and I love it with a great fierceness precisely because it is something I wouldn’t have thought I’d like at all.
There is something wonderfully affirming about loving a story outside my small-ish sphere of comfort. It is not only the power of the story itself, it is also me, feeling alive, knowing that my horizons can still be broadened, that my humanity–my ability to empathize, and to be awed and amazed–is still very much intact despite my cynical habits and insular occupation
Here is a list, off the top of my head, of Things I Don’t Want to Read and the books that broke through to me:
• Vampires. Never could stand the thought of those bloodsuckers. Still wouldn’t ordinarily pick one up. But I was totally sucked in by Lover Awakened.
• I’m not very interested either in magic or in children’s books. Well, hello, Harry Potter. Harry rules.
• One Anne McCaffrey’s dragon books was enough dragons for me for life, right? Wrong. God, I adore Shana Abé’s Drákon books.
• I couldn’t care less about football or football players. Yet there is one team whose quarterbacks I can name from years immemorial: Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s Chicago Stars.
• You couldn’t pay me money to read medieval romances. Then one day I realized that two of my favorite books of all time, Laura Kinsale’s For My Lady’s Heart and Shadow Heart, are–what else?–medievals.
• I hate it when the hero is twice as old as the heroine. So it was with a feeling of great marvel that I loved, loved, loved Judith Ivory’s Beast, in which the hero is 35, the heroine 18, an age difference that would have made me broken out in boils had the relationship between the two not been so unique and fascinating.
We are lucky that we write in a genre with such a large built-in audience always on the lookout for new books. While I’m extremely thankful for that, I sometimes I dream that my own book would break through the barrier and reach a picky reader like myself.
Private Arrangements is a pure historical romance set in Britain in 1893. I dream for it to be embraced by someone who likes only Regencies. I’d like it to be a good introduction to historicals for someone who reads nothing but contemporaries. I would love it if it would remind someone who’d left historicals behind of why she loved them in the first place. And I would, with utmost pleasure, deflower romance virgins. ?
Learning from the best—Anna Campbell, that is—I am putting up an ARC of Private Arrangements as a prize for one intrepid commenter. Tell me what your unspoken no-nos are in your reading, and which books made you happily eat your words.
And now I would like to humbly thank everyone at Romance Roundtable for having me here. I’m a pre-debut author who’s had at most 300 readers. So it is a tremendous pleasure and honor for me to participate in this anniversary celebration. Thank you.
Private Arrangements hits the shelves March 25, 2008. Click here for an excerpt.