Over the summer I wrote a blog entry at All About Romance listing my top ten romances. Among the responses was one from a reader unfamiliar with “historical Garwoods.” It reminded me of an old Billy Crystal joke about his daughter’s dismay that Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings.
It’s hard for me, as a romance reader since the 1990s, to reconcile that readers who came to the genre less than a decade later might know Julie Garwood only for her romantic suspense novels, never realizing she wrote twenty historicals romances beginning in 1985, primarily set in Medieval Scotland, Regency-era England, and occasionally—and less successfully—the old American West. Which is an incredible shame, really, because she was among the pioneers of the funny historical romance. The ten of her historicals you see
below (ETA: at the bottom of this post) are all among my all-time favorites, on a list of just under one hundred books (only Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, whose own switching began in the mid 1990s, tops Garwood, with eleven titles).
When Garwood switched gears and moved into romantic suspense, she returned only once to her historical roots, with 2007s Shadow Music, which I’m ashamed to say I never read (my interest in romantic suspense is almost nil). When she made the decision to move into the then-burgeoning romantic suspense market, I never begrudged her, but knew my days of buying Garwood were over. She’s done fine without me; her now eleven-book Buchanan series of romantic thrillers regularly lands on the NYTimes Bestsellers List.
She’s not the only romance writer to have jumped genres in such a way that newer readers remain totally unaware of their favorite authors’ pasts. J.R. Ward, for instance, once wrote Harlequin/Silhouette category romances under the name Jessica Bird. Unlike Garwood, Ward did not leave behind much of a legacy with her nine books as Bird. That said, though, readers may recognize by type the hero in A Man in a Million (2007), written after she’d already begun her incredibly popular Black Dagger Brotherhood series. But it’s The Billionaire Next Door, also published in 2007, that left the strongest impression. The hero isn’t urban or tattooed—or into BDSM, as you’d expect from a book of the same name in 2013—but he’s as dark and tortured as you want him to be. TBND supposed to have kicked off a series about the three O’Banyon brothers. I waited in vain for years for stories about the other two brothers. At this point I’ve given up.
The queen of the genre jumpers, though, may just well be Meg Cabot. Her first books were published under the name Patricia Cabot, with 1999s Portrait of My Heart—her second—being my favorite. The book manages to be part screwball comedy and black comedy, with a nice dollop of sex on the side.
The very next year, while still writing historical romances, she began to branch out. In 2001 she published the Mediator series as Jenny Carroll. The fresh-mouthed heroine of the YA series talks to dead people; my daughter inhaled it. The next year she published the 1-800-Where-R-You series, in which a lightning strike transforms a[nother] adolescent heroine into a psychic. Again, my daughter inhaled it, as she also did with Cabot’s first “Meg Cabot-published series”...The Princess Diaries.
Since then she’s written other YA books and series, a series—Allie Finkle’s Rules for Girls—for tweens, a series written entirely in email, texts, and journal entries (The Boy series), at least one Chick Lit series (including a Paranormal/Chick Lit hybrid), a Chick Lit/New Adult series (Queen of Babble) before they invented the “New Adult” category, and the on-going Heather Wells Mysteries. The most recent book in that series, The Bride Wore Size 12, was just published.
The take-away? Cabot has had her finger on the pulse of pop culture for fifteen years, and her output is prodigious, but you may have missed her if only your daughter read her...or vice versa.
Here are a couple of names to drop: MaryJanice Davidson and Angela Knight. Unlike J. Kenner and Kresley Cole, who are moving into erotic romance after writing more for the mainstream, Davidson and Knight both got their start writing erotic romance. Davidson, best known for her [too]long running Queen Betsy series—she’s less well known for her fabulous Alaskan Royal Family alternate reality romance trilogy—first wrote some erotic short stories in the early 2000s that you may wish to add to your collection: Love’s Prisoner (Secrets Volume 6, 2000-non-P.C. werewolf sex in an elevator) and Jared’s Wolf (Secrets Volume 8, 2002). Both stand out because they were not written in her rapid-fire, funny style, and, in fact, many find the behavior of Michael Wyndham III on more than one occasion quite beyond the pale...Jared Rocke has his own rather rude moment at the end of his story. Another quite sexy, and fun, short story, and part of her Wyndham Werewolves series like the previous two mentioned: Santa Claws (first published in 2004 by Loose-id, republished in 2006 by Berkley).You’ll recognize Davidson’s breezy writing in that one, and also in Really Unusual Bad Boys, her anthology starring three princes...did I mention they were puma shifters living in a fantasy realm? The anthology in its entirety was published in 2005, although the first story (Bridefight) appeared in 2004 at Ellora’s Cave.
Next up: Angela Knight, whose Mageverse series was certainly sexy, but it’s nothing compared to the erotic romances she wrote beforehand. My two favorites from her feature aggressively dominant heroes whom some may think are total asshats: Jarred Varrain (Bound by the Dream) and John Hawke (Stranded). Both definitely behaved like asshats at times, but both had reasons for their dirty-nasty behavior that I craved. Bound by the Dream is one of two intertwined stories in 2002's Captive Dreams, which she co-wrote with Diane Whiteside (who wrote the other story, Bound by the Dragon). Jarred’s story is easiest to find as it was republished by Berkley in 2006. John’s story may be more elusive for print readers, but Kindle readers will have no trouble downloading the 2004 stand-alone (the story was republished in print by Loose ID in the Out of This World anthology).
Finally, there’s Kate Cross. Her steampunk romance Wardens of the Realm series started in 2012 and I’m thoroughly enjoying it, having read books one (Heart of Brass) and three (Breath of Iron). I don’t know if she plans further books in the series...so far there are three. If you’ve been reading Cross’s books, what you may not know is that she wrote some 20 books (historical romances, YA historical romances, and paranormals) between 2001 and 2012 as Kathryn Smith. I can’t vouch for her books as Smith as I’ve not read any, but her WotR series is not her first foray into steampunk. She’s the author of a YA steampunk series—The Steampunk Chronicles—written as Kady Cross. And as Kate Locke she’s written/writing the Immortal Empire series. Two friends of mine, both harsh critics, like this urban fantasy series that I never heard about until today.
Authors who switch are doing so like never before, and keeping up with all their name changes, genres, and subgenres is tough to do. I hope this helps you along the way.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and [probably too often] politics.