I’m excited to have an opportunity to visit the Contemporary Romance Café today and share my love (obsession?) with a book that I consider a life-changer for me. I hope you will bear with me as I explain and extol!
New York bibliophiles were a very lucky bunch before 2007 when the 30 year old, independent bookstore, Coliseum Books, was alive and well on 57th and Broadway. I lived down the block and every Sunday would stroll down to shop (and spend). One day a beautiful trade paperback cover caught my eye (yes, covers matter!).
After noting the delicious image, I was captured by the title: Possession, a Romance. I picked it up and read the back blurb, which began “Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story.” Yes, all elements I crave in a book! And it ended with “. . . what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.”, which drew me in even further. I bought it. And a love affair began. Now, more than twenty years after I bought this book, I have multiple copies, dog-eared all, and have read the novel nearly a dozen times.
Byatt’s novel is literary fiction – winner of the prestigious Man Booker prize – but at its core it is a love story. Two human love stories, in fact, all wrapped up in a wonderful literary mystery. With evocative, breathtaking prose, Byatt crafts these two tales of passion and obsession. One, a pair of contemporary academics who fall in love as they attempt to unravel a century old mystery involving two Victorian poets who ostensibly have never met. But a tantalizing clue may prove otherwise.
Woven majestically, her story intertwines the two pairs of lovers and by crafting marvelously mythical and magical poetry as well, which is presented as the work of the two Victorian poets, she adds complexity and flavor and atmosphere to the back and forth of the novel. I was utterly seduced and remain in the thrall of this novel.
While Byatt herself – a literary critic and academic in addition to novelist – has been dismissive of the contemporary romance genre – I have chosen to forgive her for this transgression. Because, you see, the irony amuses me: Byatt was the inspiration for me to become an author of romance.
I’ve always read romance. I started with the old Gothics of Phyllis A. Whitney, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt. When the current genre of romance burst forth from the pens of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers and Bertrice Small, I was likewise captivated. Once addicted, I never stopped reading romance. Even as an adult stage actress in New York City, my favorite plays were the heightened and romantic ones (albeit few HEAs to be found!) of Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neil, William Inge and William Shakespeare.
Possession, which was published just as my stage career was winding down and I was casting about for another creative pursuit, drew me back to romance. It reawakened that love and now that I am published and continue to write, each time I re-read Possession I am inspired and challenged anew by the lush eroticism of this story.
The sweep, the heart, the yearning she conveys. The delights of the flesh. The passions of the mind. They are all there in this luminous book. All the elements work together to make the book pulse with life. They are all the things that make a romance a perfect read for me. And they are all the things I strive to include in my own stories, be they contemporary erotic romance, urban fantasy or my erotica short fiction.
Because, in the end, romance is a package deal. It is the hearts, the minds, the souls – and the physical. All working in tandem like a majestic composition, be it a soulful serenade or a tempestuous overture. And Byatt achieved this perfection with Possession. I have read all of her works yet it remains my favorite.
Possession is not a genre romance, but Byatt opens her novel with a definition of a classical “romance” as defined by Nathanial Hawthorne, which begins, and ends, as follows:
“When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material …” and “. . . The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us.” [Preface to The House of the Seven Gables]
For me, this is the very essence of a great romance. To engage our hearts in possibility, even as we dwell in a present, often strident, reality.
Following a career as a stage performer and award-winning cabaret singer, Lise turned her untamable creative energies to writing romance. She has worked at everything from magazine marketing at Psychology Today and Rolling Stone, as a contracts coordinator for the stage directors’ union, as a “garmento” in the fashion district and as a bartender and apprentice diamond gemstone grader. She now works in New York City at a
prominent entertainment law firm. Words of Lust is her first novel. When not writing sizzling-hot, New York-set romance, she reads and gardens in her National Wildlife Federation official habitat yard.
She lives in a suburb of Manhattan. She dedicates all of her writer to her beloved friend, the late writer Milton T. Burton. She loves visitors to her website where you can also connect with her on social media, at www.lisehorton.com