Previously at Stacy's Place, romance columnist and Queen Bella Michelle Buonfiglio talked about the writing business, her take on romance novels and the benefits of reading them, as well as some of the authors that have inspired and supported her in her journey to spread the word on why love makes the world go 'round.
Now, in part 2, we see another side of her job....where she really gets her hands um, dirty......
All right Michelle, time to get serious now. Romance book covers: love them or hate them, they generate a lot of debate. What are your favorite type(s) of covers, and what is your take on the great cover debate?
Cover cheese. I rate it cause I think readers who care might want to know what they’re in for at the counter. But I’m not rating the artist’s work, nor the inexplicable reasoning that went into deciding women would be attracted to a particular style.
I know writers are very tuned-in to them because whether readers are drawn to their covers can add or detract to sales. But readers are smart girls. They turn the book over, read the blurbs and the synopses, do flip-throughs.
I actually like some of the newer clinch covers, but that could be cause I’m getting older and beautiful young bodies appeal to me. But sometimes an artist does something that speaks to me. I’m thinking of a recent Kresley Cole flat which shows the heroine from the back, the hero behind her, facing her, with his head lowered toward her face or neck. He’s got his hand fisted in her long, blond hair, and the other is holding the flesh of her shoulder , exerting just enough pressure so his fingers depress her skin. It looked very sensual to me.
Is this what you mean?
But I’m not digging the naked guy torso covers too much. And I don’t tend to be reactionary, so I think the covers are ok as is, and some will be dogs and some will look great. What I don’t like is dressing up romance to look like chick-lit or women’s fiction. That’s plain unfair to readers shelling out bucks.
Speaking of the cover models, Fabio is probably the one responsible for a lot of the popularity of male models we see today. Have you ever met him and what are your impressions? You seem to have a lot of respect for what he's done with his 15 minutes of fame.
I was thinking of him in your Barbara Walters questions, whether it would be fun to interview him. I’ll admit that I’d thought a lot about it when I first started Romance: B(u)y the Book, then it kinda fell to the wayside as things grew busier. Yeah, it’d be great to do a feature on him, but to find some really cool angle.
The original Fabio....
I’ve not met him, but I like that he seems – at least in the way he spins his pr – to take his past fame in stride. I like that he is self-deprecating, kind of like David Hasselhoff but with less money. I can’t remember if there’s ever been a Sponge Bob episode with a Fabio character – like Hasselhoff in the Sponge Bob Movie – but, bless my starfishes, there should be.
"No, no, you've mistaken me for the real Fabio..."
Another Fabio that Michelle is a fan of....Cannavaro
Doesn't he look like he belongs on one of the covers?
You knew this was coming - Nathan Kamp. You won my eternal admiration with your interview - insightful and revealing about someone who makes his living with his looks. What were you most surprised to learn about him?
I expected there was going to be something special about him because of his being Christian, and I say that meaning his discipline of practicing a religion and not implying that Christianity rocks uber alles. That’s part of the reason I pushed to get the interview; I knew in my heart he wasn’t gonna be some shallow narcissist who’d waste my time and disappoint me with an unusable interview.
Some guy named Nathan Kamp
I guess I didn’t expect him to be as forthright about his parents being his heroes because they’ve handled tough times in their marriage in ways he admired. I find the ability to admit flaws, to bare pain without fear, to be incredibly heroic.
He’s also and incredibly classy guy for reasons I can’t even share with you (You are killing me here). He’s just a good man.
Do you have a greater admiration for cover models after your experiences?
I have greater admiration for Nathan Kamp. I’ve always known nothing is as easy as it looks, talented people just make it look easy.
The biggest shocker I had in life came when I realized that good-looking and smart could go hand in hand -- but I realized that a long time ago. Doesn’t mean I don’t resent and wanna trip those brainy, pretty people, just means I understand it.
Speaking of hotties, you've highlighted a few, including the snaxy one Nathan Kamp, your boy Canna, and Beckham (bless you!) There should be no guilt involved in this because you are doing a service to the Bellas. What is it about a particular man attracts you?
Bend it like Beckham
Brains. Gesu, brains kill me, especially when surrounded by big, strapping, and lean.
Course, when I was young, to get my notice a guy had to a) be a smart-ass, b) treat me like crap, c) be non-communicative, except when making sure I understood he was treating me like crap.
Then I met my husband, and things got much better. Did I ever mention I met him when he interviewed me a couple weeks before I went to Miss America? (How romantic! Just like one of those sexy books!)
Anyway, purely for the Bellas, and now that I realize it’s OK for married women to have crushes (I know, pathetic late-bloomer here), I guess it’s the eyes first, but they have to belong to a guy with a totally whipcord body. Athletic, but no poofy steroid muscles, just tall, lean, and strappin’. I like a guy who doesn’t deny he looks hot, but loves women too much to spend time obsessing about his own appearance.
Clearly, the European thing, especially dark hair and eyes, does it for me and has since I was a kid. The Italian thing.
And, ok, if we’re talking fantasy, I likes em tall and big in all ways. And strong. Strong enough to take a, oh, I don’t know, a 5 foot 3 romance columnist up against the wall. More TMI? ('s okay, QB - we live for this stuff).
Guilty pleasures. God bless 'em. Which ones will you admit to?
If I could, I would eat absolutely every meal out, diner or fine dining, don’t care. Room service. Finding hot guy pics to post on RBtheBlog while pretending it’s research. Flying first class. Pedi/manicures. Spending an entire weekend reading romances that aren’t for "work." (I just read "The Windflower" this weekend at the suggestion of a Romance: By the Blog Bella. It was Old School nirvana! Pirates, arrrrgh.)
Favorite romantic movies.
"French Kiss," "Far and Away," which I know is incredibly cheesy and has that goofball in it, but there you have it. A & E "P & P," "A Room with a View." God, I’m so bad at these "favorite" questions, aren’t I? (Nope - I love all those movies, too.)
Music - what gets your groove on?
I actually feel guilty that I don’t listen to more music. I have a tendency toward obsessive compulsion. So I buy a cd and listen to it forever, I kid you not. My poor kids call the first 3 months we moved to MN my "Dave Matthews Band period."
I tend to listen to the radio. But I love going anywhere there’s live music like jazz or just a piano. I adore medieval and renaissance stuff. Oddly enough, when I’m really stressed, I drive around alone listening to metal w/ the volume up. It’s very soothing. But generally, I crave silence.
What one beauty item can you not live without?
Really great face cream. And lipstick. Can I have two items, please?
Michelle, do you have any bad habits? So? What are they?
Procrastination. Insidious self-doubt. Ingenuous trust in the goodness of others. Taking every flippin thing way too seriously, like this question, for instance. Not unpacking my suitcase immediately when I get home from a trip.
What do you enjoy most about your job? The least?
I love interacting with people who love romance: authors, publicists, and especially readers. I get totally jazzed when I put together something I know readers like, a GuestBlog or, maybe an interview with really big icon authors.
And I have an ego, too. So when someone gets what I’m trying to do – to entertain readers, promote authors, talk about romance "like it matters" – well, I glow.
The worst part? I hate conflict of any kind, so if my editor or a fact checker or someone changes something big, it drives me nutty. Truly, I’m not in love with my writing. I write short and sweet, and incise a ton, so what is left in the final draft is pretty spare. And I work hard on research so there shouldn’t be questions on sources, etc. But it’s the nature of the beast – the editor gets the final say, and that’s that.
Of course, I made a mistake once in defending a link to an author’s site. My editor said it was pornographic. I wrote back a treatise defending a woman’s right to read intensely sensual lit, etc. Turns out, the author had links to porn on her site which I thought were PayPal or Verisign icons. My bad. (Please understand, I’m a First Amendment freak, but in this case, the company couldn’t promote that within their "wrapper." I agreed with the decision, because their viewers expect not to view that type of content.)
Does your family have any influence on what types of books you read/review?
No, not influence, but my 9 year-old son always asks me what I’m writing about each week. It’s really fun telling him about the stories in a way that keeps it all appropriate. He’s looking forward to reading JR Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood novels when he’s old enough since I told him Eve Silver’s son wrote an 8th grade book report on "Dark Lover." I also intend to introduce him to romance at some point in his teens, if he’s interested. I think just the right selections may help him make good choices about dealing with women, as well as clear up some of the mysteries about our gender.
You know, he helps me with the surveys for my column sometimes – or tries to. He came up with "Who’s the hottest (my word, not his) Star Wars hero?" It was the most-answered survey ever. Totally freaky, but Yoda came in second, just behind Han Solo!
Have they inspired you to do what you do? What have they taught you?
Throughout this, my kids have taught me that there’s a lot of guilt two little beings can lay on a work-at-home mom that they never lay on my husband who travels a couple days almost every week. But I know they think it’s kinda cool, too. My 7 year-old daughter sometimes sits next to me reading Dr. Seuss or something and says, "look, I’m working, too."
When I first started writing RBtheBook, I think my husband kinda thought it was a little hobby, you know, read a book a week and write about it. But I always had goals for the column – what it could do for my career and for the romance genre – and I hope I’ll be able to achieve those. My husband is on track with what it means to me now, but it’s been a learning experience for us that’s brought us closer at a time in our lives when we we’ve been so busy, we didn’t have time to really see each other clearly.
I think a lot of writers experience this issue of folks around them discounting how much their projects mean to them. Sometimes getting paid to write doesn’t change that the way we’d hope, so it’s really important to hang in there and pound out the daily goals for our own spirit’s sake.
Name your five favorite books of all time.
Oh! This is such a hard one. I tend to think of books as memorable, with snips and snatches that haunt me or tickle my memory depending on situations. When pressed, I come up with "The Witch of Blackbird Pond," A.S. Byatt’s "Possession," "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," Atwood’s "The Handmaid’s Tale."
Favorite couple of all time.
Oh, man, another hard one. Bert and Ernie?
I don’t worship at the altar of Bennifer, Branjolina, Tom and -- what’s his little sister’s name again?, and other celebs. I look at real-life couples in terms of how well they’re weathering the stuff that makes relationships strong, the stuff M. Scott Peck says we go through after we fall out of infatuation, and begin grow toward mature love.
Now, if you asked my husband, Dave, his choice would be John and Abigail Adams…
Which author's books are you currently addicted to?
Part of the problem of my job is I read so many new authors – and authors who are just new to me – that I have to resist binge reading. Before RBtheBook, if I found a new author, I’d just read everything she ever wrote. Total gorge read. Now, I feel obligated to read newbies, and experienced authors in as many sub-genres as possible, which is a rare treat. I guess I give up some things in doing what I do, and freedom to get addicted to just one author is one of them.
But here’s an example of what usually happens. I just finished a novel called "Dirty," by Megan Hart, which I found striking. The writing is sharp, and the subject matter is dealt with in a way I’ve never read. The novel is erotic, but the hypersexuality of the heroine actually is given context. The emotional road this character travels throughout the novel is harsh and raw. And while the erotic imagery is titillating, the highly effective sensuality is secondary to the heft of what’s going on with the folks in the erotic scenes.
Now, I’m looking forward to reading more of Hart’s work.
What is your favorite type of storyline? Give some examples.
In my "off-time," reading, I generally like plots with smart virgin heroines who attract overbearing alphas. The guys save the women in some way, emotionally, physically, or both. It’s great if the chick saves him, too, but absolutely not requisite for me. I love the Old School heroes who were total bastards – I mean real jerks -- but who were brought to their knees in the end. A writer who still unapologetically creates these jerks is Brenda Joyce, and I adore her for that.
I like beefy historical plots with lots of backstory, and pray that someone will write a big, fat Medieval in the near future. I like older woman/ younger man stories.
Frankly, I just love romance. The most enjoyable for me are ones in any sub-genre, and in which the author’s set up a heart-wrenching plan to rip apart the h/hn, one which makes me crazed to know how she’s gonna get them back together.
It’s all about the storytelling for me, even more so than the writing. And there are so many I haven’t read I’m positively giddy over all the storylines I haven’t yet discovered.
How do you relax and unwind? Share with us a day in the life of Queen Bella.
Em, what is this "relax and unwind" of which you speak? I don’t know how to stop thinking or stressing, unless I’m reading.
I get up, get my children together and off to school, answer email and hang on the blog a little. Make calls, set up stuff. Try to get some reading done. Get the kids off the bus. Do homework or appointments or activities. I try to keep my kids’ outside stuff to a minimum, cause we like to spend some family time just hangin, you know? Dave gets home, dinner. Kids to bed, write and set the next day’s blog. Bed. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I miss that in the last couple months things have gotten too hectic and I haven’t gotten to spend much time with my girlfriends, which is kind of the best part of life. And I don’t get to hang on the blog as much, either, which really kinda sucks, too.
Writing? It’s become secondary to all the other stuff, but since I love the organizing, I guess that’s ok. But the stress and time contstraint can be a pain, and weekly writer’s block is often a product of those.
You are a strong advocate of being an organ donor, having had a kidney transplant yourself. What do you want the public to know about organ donation and why is it so important?
Well, there are just so many people waiting for organs that can save their lives, and signing a card to donate is such an easy thing to do. I mean, you sign the card and let your family know you want to donate your organs and tissue when you die.
UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing, makes sure that "donated organs are placed in the most equitable way possible." I’ve done work with them and their regional orgs in the past, and I encourage you to check them out at UNOS.org
None of us is getting out of this thing alive, so it’s kind of nice to know we can keep someone else alive, give them their own joyride, when ours is over.
What drives you?
Fear. Plain and simple, once I’ve achieved one thing, I hate the idea of going backward from there. And it’s not just "spotlight" success. If I’ve promised a publicist or writer or reader something, I want to see it through.
I’ve been successful, and I’ve lost success, and have learned a great deal from each. And I do believe things fall into place for a reason I’ll figure out at some point. But I really enjoy knowing I’m getting it right.
The other thing that drives me is an innate need to laugh.
And I think the best way to do that is to make other people laugh, too. But I love most that I get to deal with people who are mostly happy about what they do, so there’s a lot of joking and funny communication going on.
It’s also why I love Romance: By the Blog. I can’t get over that people just show up and say this remarkably humorous stuff every day. How cool is that? (Tres cool. The Bellas constantly crack me up - they are some funny smart cookies).
You had seriously been writing your own book awhile back - can you share with us what that's been like and what you've learned about writing in the process?
Actually, I’m not writing it any longer. I pushed it to the back burner when I started writing RBtheBook, and realized I like this way better. And, I’m not sure I was particularly good at fiction writing.
I’d much rather communicate and educate about romance. But I think the attempt at novel writing makes me better at what I do. It gives me insight into what authors go through, which I never forget. It’s why I treat every novel I receive with respect, and I think that makes authors trust me more.
However, I would like to compile and edit an anthology of author essays about writing erotic romance. Similar to Krentz’s "Dangerous Men, et. cetera."
Stealing a page out of your book, what is the one question you wish an interviewer would ask, and what would the answer be?
Answer: Kirk Herbstreit, the Jaguar XK series, and an icy-cold Coca-Cola.
Question: Name three things you’ve fantasized about within the last hour.
Any parting words?
Just, thank you for inviting me to do this. It’s really, really hard, and gives me even more respect for the authors who interview for RBtheBook every week. I have enough trouble imagining that folks care what I have to say about romance novels, let alone what I have to say about anything else. But I managed to give saga-like answers anyway, no? (And thank God for that - love the detailed responses.)
I will, however, take one more opportunity to let any Bellas and RBtheBook viewers know how really amazed I am that I get to do what I do, and that you all share so much of your lives and selves with me every day. And I can’t thank you enough for all you teach me.
Oh, and thanks again, Stace, for turning me on to your boy, Nathan Kamp. Suh-NAX-y. [My pleasure ;) ]
Michelle, thank you again for taking precious time out of your schedule
to grant me access into your busy work and home life. It's been
a wonderful experience, once I truly appreciate.
See ya @ www.romancebytheblog.blogspot.com
And stayed tuned tomorrow, Tuesday, December 12th for a contest giving
away a book of Michelle's choice!