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Tag: Bookshop

Clockwise from upper left, book covers for “Nine Coaches Waiting,” “A Place to Call Home,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “Real Men Knit,” and “Heroes Are My Weakness.”

Pickup Lines: How to Start a Romance

By G. S. Norwood

Good opening sentences are like pickup lines at a bar.  An author wants you to spend some pleasant time with her book.  Maybe develop a lasting relationship with her characters.  What can she say in that moment when your eye first meets her page?  How should she start a romance with her reader, as well as a romance between her characters?  Today I want to look at some of the pickup lines that helped me start a romance with some of my favorite books.

Universal Truth

Cover: Bookshop. Background: Kseniya Romazanova/Braxma, 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

Romance is a genre created and shaped by female writers and female readers. With what is probably the most famous first line from any romance novel, Pride and Prejudice opened the door for authors like Georgette Heyer and Julia Quinn to write about the manners and morals of the Regency period. 

While today’s historical romance authors bend the past to suit their needs, Jane Austen herself wrote contemporary novels.  Hers was a society where women could not own property, vote, or have any real agency in the choices made about their lives. Society damsels needed husbands to get through life in a respectable manner. Good ones. Bad ones. It made little difference.

But Elizabeth Bennett, the main character in Pride and Prejudice was not some simpering maid.  Never mind that her family had no money and four other daughters to find husbands for.  Our Lizzie set the style for romance heroines right from the start.  By being independent enough to laugh at Mr. Darcy’s starchiness and turn Mr. Collins down cold, Ms. Bennett showed she was not looking for just any old husband.  She was looking for the right life partner. If she couldn’t find him, she was willing to take her chances as an old maid.

The Independent Woman

“I was thankful that nobody was there to meet me at the airport.”  Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting 1958
Cover: Bookshop. Background: Sergei Koshkarov, 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

The romance heroine’s sense of independence only grew through the 145 years between Pride and Prejudice and Mary Stewart’s Nine Coaches Waiting. In that time, women of Elizabeth Bennett’s class survived two world wars and the Great Depression, gained the vote, and entered the workforce.

The memory of all that shadows our heroine, Linda Martin, who comes to Paris to help a young boy from a wealthy family perfect his command of English. Aware that intrigue and betrayal might lurk beneath the sunniest of surfaces, Linda steps off her flight from London to launch a whole new genre: romantic suspense. 

Smart enough to spot a plot against her new pupil’s life, Linda is also resourceful enough to help him escape over the border into Switzerland. And capture the heart of her charge’s charming cousin in the process.

The Determined Woman

“I planned to be the kind of old Southern lady who talked to her tomato plants and bought sweaters for her cats.”  Deborah Smith, A Place to Call Home 1997

Cover: Bookshop. Background: Cristina Ionescu “cristionescu,” 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

With one of my favorite pickup lines, Deborah Smith takes the scrappy, independent romance heroine a giant step forward. In A Place to Call Home, five-year-old Claire Maloney violates strict social divides to befriend ten-year-old Roan Sullivan. When family tragedy drives them apart, Claire’s heart is broken. As an adult, she builds a life for herself based on the notion that, if she can’t have the man she loves, she’d rather not start a romance at all.

Claire Maloney’s determination is a bit extreme.  But, when you think about it, your choice of partner is the most important choice you make as an adult.  It shapes your life in every way, from where you live to the jobs you take and the children you have. Isn’t that worth fighting for?


“Annie didn’t usually talk to her suitcase, but she wasn’t exactly herself these days.”  Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Heroes Are My Weakness 2014
Cover: Bookshop. Background: “linux87,” 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

Most contemporary romance heroines, like Annie Hewitt, aren’t really looking for a man to marry. They’re looking for what any adult wants: respect, a career, a voice, and some agency in a world dominated by wealthier, more powerful people. 

In Heroes Are My Weakness, Susan Elizabeth Phillips uses Annie’s plight to spin the tropes of the classic gothic romance, as written by Daphne du Maurier and Victoria Holt, into a comedic delight.  Dark family secrets and a brooding Victorian mansion? Yep. Puppets, ventriloquism, and lots of witty repartee? You betcha. There’s even a haunted clock.  You need to read it.

New Voices, New Pickup Lines

“There was nothing cute about the first time Kerry Fuller met Jesse Strong.” Kwana Jackson, Real Men Knit 2020

Cover: Bookshop. Background: Robert Liptak, 123rf. Design: Jan S. Gephardt.

Jesse Strong has plenty of pickup lines, but none of them work to start a romance with Kerry Fuller in Kwana Jackson’s novel, Real Men Knit. Nor is the “meet cute” trope the only romance novel tradition Jackson overturns.  Jesse and Kerry have known each other since middle school, but form their romantic bond over their efforts to save a yarn store that has become a Harlem mainstay. 

Jackson tells their story with affection for a neighborhood that is far from the dysfunctional ghetto of White stereotypes.  Her characters are flawed but admirable people of color who learn that love—for family, community, and life partners—is the only thing that counts. A leader in the new wave of Black romance writers, Jackson is a vocal advocate for #WeNeedDiverseRomance. With Real Men Knit. she makes a strong case.

Ready to Start a Romance?

With so many great romance reads out there, I have to wonder. Why do people still sneer at RO-mance novels as if they are smut or trash? Are they are embarrassed by the things adults do, like fall in love and enjoy sex? Do they honestly believe the tales of war, carnage, and vigilante justice found in men’s adventure novels are intrinsically superior to stories about forming family bonds of mutual support? Why? Because they’re written by men?

Whatever the critics think, romance is the top-selling genre of adult fiction, earning $1.44 billion in 2019.  That’s almost twice as much as the second-place genre, crime and mystery. Roughly four times as much as science fiction and fantasy. If you haven’t read a romance novel lately, you should pick one up. You’ll be surprised by the wonderful stories women have to tell.


See individual cutlines for more specific credits, but in general: Many thanks to Bookshop for all of the cover images used in this post. Bookshop is a great way to support small, independently-owned booksellers. Started at the start of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, it provides a way to shop local, online. Or, if you’d rather, IndieBound supports a similar niche. We’re also grateful to 123rf and their talented photographers, for the background images. The marriages of book covers with backgrounds was the result of Jan S. Gephardt’s graphic design “matchmaking”.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.

A season of small bright spots

We’re back at the nadir of the year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), and looking for a few small bright spots.

This year, especially, those can be hard to find. Relative lacks of urgency from certain Senators notwithstanding, this winter will be a very deep nadir indeed.

People are out of work. People are hungry. They can’t pay their rent, and a national moratorium on evictions ends soon. Death tolls from Covid-19 have surged higher than a 9/11 every day.

Spiky white coronaviruses like snowflakes dot the sky of a snowy landscape in this uncredited illustration.
(Uncredited illustration/Medpage Today)

Political division and controversy haven’t taken a break, either. The Supreme Court only recently turned down an appeal–backed by 17 state attorneys-general and 106 Republican members of Congress–that sought to overturn a legally-conducted election and disenfranchise millions of US voters. Anti-maskers and a rising chorus of vaccine-resisters threaten to prolong the pandemic yet more.

And yet there are small bright spots

Amidst all the gloom and dire predictions, few could blame a person for feeling daunted. But small bright spots do pop up.

There’s the stray puppy who took a nap in a nativity scene, caused an online sensation when someone photographed her, and who in the end found a forever home.

The Black family in North Little Rock, Arkansas who received a racist note after they placed a Black Santa Claus in their outdoor Christmas display–but whose mostly-White neighbors, once they learned about this, put Black Santas in their yards, too, in solidarity.

Chris Kennedy’s yard sports a string of white lights, a large, multicolored sign that proclaims “JOY,” a Christmas tree, and an inflatable Black Santa Claus in the middle.
(Photo by Chris Kennedy, via the Washington Post.)

The “world’s loneliest elephant” finds a new home and a small herd (parade?) of elephant friends, thanks to a court order, international cooperation, a pop star, and a well-prepared animal rescue operation.

Hope in a time of darkness is what humans do

Love does (sometimes) still triumph. Kindness (sometimes) shines through, and we humans do (sometimes) rise to the moment to share good works, generous acts, and gentle treatment. After all, ‘Tis the season.

Last year I published a post about the many holidays that happen at this time of year. It’s no accident that they do, since they all originated in the Northern Hemisphere.

The candles of Christian Advent, the miraculous oil lamp and steadily-brightening menorah of Hanukkah, and the bonfires of Winter Solstice and Yule all bring small bright spots to life in the vast darkness of the year’s darkest days.

The illustrated quote from the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(Design by Rocio Chavez, Your Sassy Self)

We say “where there’s life there’s hope,” and that certainly seems to hold true for healthy humans. We may say “bah, humbug!” We may indeed be pessimists as individuals (Yes, the world needs pessimists, too! They often make better leaders, more realistic managers, and outstanding comedians). But humankind evolved to band together and help each other. Cooperation is our species’ best tool for survival.

Passing the light

In many Christian candlelight services we celebrate “passing the light.” We’ve stood or sat or knelt, sang, prayed, and listened throughout the service. All while holding an unlit candle.

At the end of the service, all or most of the artificial lights go off. Then the ushers come down the aisle(s) to light the candle at the end of each row. The person next to the end lights their candle from the end candle. Then the person next to them takes the light. Then the next, then the next, until everyone’s candle burns bright, and the sanctuary is filled with their collective light.

A person lights their candle from one held by their companion, while a circle of others with candles look on.
(Photo from Hotty Toddy, via Tien Skye’s inspirational post on Medium.)

Having participated in many such services, I can tell you it’s a powerful effect. I know other religious traditions and secular groups observe similar rituals. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. My point here is not to preach the Gospel, so much as suggest we can use this as a helpful metaphor.

Creating small bright spots

How can we, as individuals or “covid bubbles,” create small bright spots for others? You may feel as if you’ve been in solitary confinement since March (and yes, you kind of have been), but it’s still possible to reach out virtually, even while reaching out physically is still dangerous.

Any day is a good day for charitable giving or volunteering. You don’t have to wait for a designated “Day of Giving” to donate, if you’re able. Shelters for victims of domestic violence and food banks everywhere are experiencing record need. And there are many creative ways to volunteer while socially distancing. Seek out a local charitable organization, and ask how you can help.

Offer a lifeline to a small, locally-owned business. Weird Sisters Publishing officially endorses buying physical books through local independent booksellers whenever possible. Pick them up curbside (this usually saves on shipping, too!). Find one near you through Bookshop (if you don’t already have yours on speed-dial).

Order carryout or delivery from your favorite local restaurants as often as you can afford to. Local toy stores, game shops, gift shops, and small but wonderful boutique designers all probably sell gift certificates if you’re not sure about sizes, colors, or tastes. And all are desperate for customers right now.

The design says, “When you support handmade you are not just supporting a person, small business, our economy; You are purchasing a small part of an artist’s heart.”
(Design by Menchua, of Moms & Crafters.)

Small bright spots for freelancers

Become a Patreon sponsor for someone whose music, videos, artwork, podcasts, or other creative work has warmed your soul and kept you company over the long months of lockdown. Don’t forget Etsy for small creative businesses, either.

Find wonderful handmade goods through a group such as the Convention Artists Guild (out of the Denver area) on Facebook. They hold regular Virtual Art Shows, where you can buy all sorts of cool stuff. My sister’s posts of this week and two weeks ago on The Weird Blog feature some of her favorite local Texas artisans’ work. But wherever you live, local artists are doing amazing work. Seek them out!

Here’s a list of seven great ways to support small artists, from a guest post on this blog by the musician Losing Lara, that originally ran in 2018. Although we can’t go to live concerts right now, many musicians and other performers are using platforms such as Twitch, You Tube, and various others to stream their events.

However you choose to do it, I hope you find that the more you share small bright spots in the darkness, the brighter and warmer and more joyous your own life becomes.


Many thanks to Medpage Today, for the “Covid-19 Winter” illustration. I really appreciate Chris Kennedy and The Washington Post for the photo of the Kennedys’ holiday yard display. I love the Most Reverend Desmond Tutu “hope” quote, as realized by the designer Rocio Chavez (check out her blog and her Facebook page, for some real mood-elevators!). Find some more heartwarming content on Tien Skye’s inspirational Medium post, as well as the candlelight photo, which came from Hotty Toddy. Thank you both! Finally, many thanks to Menchua, of Moms & Crafters, for her “Handmade is Special” design. I think it’s pretty special, too, which is why I posted it once before on this blog, back in 2018.

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