Today I am very excited to welcome Mike Harris, grandson of the author, William E. Thomas, who wrote Pegasus Falling (which I reviewed previously) and It Never Was You. Since his grandfather is no longer able to, Mike has taken on the task to support his grandfather's wonderful books. I am very pleased to be able to be a part of this tour!
As a reader, what does the word “romance” mean to you?
Some will argue that every book, whatever its genre or subject matter, will have an element of romance in it. Others (usually critics and reviewers, it’s sad to say) hold the word, and the genre of writing, in low regard, even disdain, despite its obvious popularity.
When I published my grandfather’s first book Pegasus Falling last year, I used the word romance liberally when describing it, and in the marketing materials I published. It has, after all, a rich and wonderful love story at its heart, and I thought romance was a perfect word to use. It may be unconventional, but it is undeniably romantic.
But then I started to look further in to the world of the “romance” genre, and found myself asking, what if readers who were searching for romance books were finding Pegasus Falling, reading the blurb and thinking “no, that’s not for me”?
Take a look at the romance section of your local book shop and on the surface at least, the genre appears to be all about bodice-ripping and bulging biceps. I see scantily clad, beautiful people in sultry poses - the promise of a highly emotional (and sexy) ride along a rocky path to a happy ever after.
This didn’t seem to fit in with the tone of Pegasus Falling, so in a panic, I decided last summer to remove the word “romance” from the blurb and marketing materials and started using the term “love story” instead. It’s not that I didn’t want the book to be associated with the romance genre - this wasn’t a snooty dismissal of the genre. I would never look down my nose at the work a writer has put huge amounts of effort, time and energy into creating.
I was more worried that readers looking for a certain type of book might be disappointed, or feel mislead. Pegasus Falling is set in a theatre of war. Chapter Two takes place in a Nazi concentration camp and the action moves on to the highly politically charged arena of Palestine. Was this kind of setting and subject matter what readers of romance novels were really after? I was worried that I was mis-selling the book.
So, Pegasus Falling became a “love story”, and I began work preparing for the release of the second part of the trilogy - It Never Was You.
Then I started thinking about romance again. It Never Was You is set against an entirely different backdrop. We return to the war, but with a new set of characters and primarily away from the frontline action. We meet Harry, an educated, piano-playing engineer in the merchant navy, and Mary, a hotel waitress who grew up in the deprived Liverpool docklands. It has quite a different tone to Pegasus Falling with a much more straight forward love story, and the word romance kept coming to mind. Was it time to re-think my stance?
I started reading around again and came across this interesting blog post on moonlit garden (http:/ /moonlitgarden.wordpress.com/2008/07/12/8-essential-elements-romance-novel/). According to Pamela Regis, author of A Natural History of the Romance Novel (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0812215222), there are 8 essential elements to a romance. At last, I’d found a yardstick against which I could measure the books, and decide, once and for all, whether my grandfather had written a series of romance novels or not. So, with Ms. Regis’s eight elements to hand, let’s have a closer look...
Well, this one is not difficult to spot in either book. We have the war, the concentration camp, the post-war politics, social upheaval, and the changing attitudes to relationships and marriage. The society that William’s characters inhabit is definitely flawed, and comes to define the characters’ relationships.
In Pegasus Falling, Sammy meets two beautiful women who he falls in love with in very different ways. Chance brings him together with our two heroines, and intertwines the stories of all three characters.
Harry and Mary’s meeting in It Never Was You is a classic romantic moment. Alone together in the hotel bar, he is at the piano playing love songs, she is working, and trying to close up the bar for the night. These are two people who were never really meant to meet, let alone fall in love.
When the camp is liberated, Sammy is separated from Naomi and vows to track her down again and find out whether she survived. Surely that’s a barrier worthy of romantic virtue?!
Harry and Mary face both internal and external barriers. Can they overcome the expectations of their society, which they perceive to be frowning upon their relationship? And can they also overcome their own pre-conceived notions of love and romance? Mary, in particular, struggles to believe that she is worthy of the attention and affection Harry bestows on her and convinces herself that it can’t last.
The chemistry between all of our main characters in both books is undeniable. All of the love stories are different, but they’re all united by this emphatic attraction between them. It makes for an intriguing love triangle in both books.
Sammy, our hero in Pegasus Falling, has no problem in revealing first to Naomi, and then to Lesley his affection for them. But his declaration of love to Lesley is almost comical. As Lesley complains afterwards, “Do you know you are the most unnerving, infuriating individual I have ever known? You sit there and reveal the most intimate confidences as if they were the simply mundane. You tell me you are falling in love with me with about as much emotion as if you were telling me you had just missed the last bus, ‘well there it is, can’t be helped, take it or leave it’. In God’s name, Sammy, what do you think I am made of?” Perhaps Lesley was hoping for something a little more like you find in books?
Harry’s declaration to Mary on the station concourse in Liverpool’s Lime Street station is much more romantic. After months of not being able to reveal his true feelings to her, his “unbelievable, wonderful, magnificently uncharacteristic eruption of passion” comes as a shock both to the reader and to Mary. You can almost hear the orchestra swell!
Point of Ritual Death
For the lovers to succeed in being together and living happily ever after, there must be a death, either literal or metaphorical. Both Sammy and Naomi are changed by their experiences in the camp. As Sammy points out to a friend after he has recuperated, “young Stan Parker is dead. He died in Matthausen. The man who came back was a different person.”
Harry’s ritual death comes when he finally realises that he must overcome his fear of others’ attitudes to his relationship with Mary. It is quite a moment when he suddenly realises he’s ashamed of the fact that he’s head over heels in love with a working class girl.
Sammy is quick to recognise his love for Lesley in Pegasus Falling. But Lesley is slower to respond. It takes her some time, after his impetuous and inelegant declaration, to realise that she is in love with him, and that she has been for some time.
For Mary, it’s the other way around. She’s known what her feelings are for Harry from very early on, but she waits patiently for him to recognise his feelings for what they are.
There are three (yes, three!) proposals of marriage in the books. Telling you when and where they occur or the outcome would be a bit of a giveaway, so that’s all I’m saying for now!
So, on the basis of the above, it looks like Pegasus Falling and It Never Was You both fall quite readily into the Romance genre, don’t they?
But let’s make sure, shall we? Let’s take a look at the Romance Writers of America website (http:/ /www.rwa.org/p/cm/ld/fid=578), for their definitive description of the genre. According to the RWA, “Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally- satisfying and optimistic ending.”
Well, after reading that, I have to admit that I still have my reservations about whether either book fully fits into the genre, and I’m going to leave it up to you, dear readers, to make up your own minds.
But would I recommend the books to fans of romance fiction? Undoubtedly, yes. If you’re after a heartbreaking love story with plenty of emotion, then I whole heartedly suggest you get stuck in to the Cypress Branches trilogy.
But is it strictly speaking romance? You tell me.
WHERE TO BUY PEGASUS FALLING:
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/PXbf5X
Amazon UK: http://bit.ly/R4IdCG
B&N Nook: http://bit.ly/Sytq6Y
WHERE TO BUY IT NEVER WAS YOU:
Amazon UK: http://amzn.to/12HSoE5
Amazon US: http://amzn.to/11BS6gO
(coming soon to other retailers)
WHERE TO FIND THE CYPRESS BRANCHES TRILOGY ONLINE:
As part of the book tour for this book, there is a big giveaway going on! Enter and get a chance to read the Cypress Branch books or win a gift certificate.
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