G'day from Australia! I'm traveling around Oz and looking at books (no, really) and exploring the country while attending the Romance Writers of Australia and two writers' festivals in Melbourne and Brisbane. At the Romance Writers of Australia, one of the questions that was asked frequently was whether American readers are interested in Australian characters and Australian-set romances.
Speaking for myself, I totally am. I love romances that transport me to a new location, especially where the location is almost a character in the book. I love learning about a place, experiencing a part of the world I wouldn't otherwise experience through the story of characters who live there. And since it's a 14-hour flight from the west coast of the U.S. to Australia, sometimes it's much easier to travel in a book instead of in an airline seat.
I think a lot of the more popular shows in reality tv right now reflect the place as much as they do the characters. Truck driving is extra interesting when you're driving the truck on ice (which begs the question, is Ice Road Trucker romance around the corner?). Survivor is a blend of character and location, too, as is The Amazing Race. If the contestants were racing around Perth Amboy, New Jersey the whole time, I'm not sure it would be so compelling. When I have the opportunity to travel through a book I'm really enjoying, I become as focused on the place and what more I can learn about it after I've finished the book.
I don't think this is a new concept, obviously, traveling through romances. But it's one I look for in each sub-genre. Historicals are obvious location candidates, but I love contemporaries too, especially since they're a reflection of the way people are living right now.
Since I've been here for just over two weeks, I've noticed a few cultural differences between Americans and Australians—subtle things that make the interactions between people different and unique. There's a sort of casual, laid-back attitude in Oz—"No worries, mate," is a lot like a mantra as much as it is an attitude. So I love the glimpse of that same attitude in contemporary fiction. Here are some of the books that I've learned about in Australia (to the detriment of my carry-on luggage weight):
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This book is coming out in the U.S. this fall, but no less than six different people at Romance Writers of Australia and two booksellers at Dymock's have told me this book is delightful and funny and so quirky-romantic. So I had to have a copy. I can't wait to read it.
Dead Heat by Bronwyn Parry
I met Bronwyn Parry at Romance Writers of America in 2007 when she was nominated for an award. This year, she was nominated again for a RITA for Romantic Suspense. Her stories are set in the outback, and they're unique in all sorts of ways. Though I'm not a romantic suspense reader, I've recommended her books to many people (including you right now!).
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
This is, I am told, a YA book set in Australia with a high possibility of making the reader ugly cry. It's emotional and powerful and is the other book aside from The Rosie Project that people have said, "You have to read this."
Jilted by Rachael Johns
This is a rural romance set in the Australian bush, and it is hugely popular. A few people told me about this book. The heroine is a soap star who goes home to care for her mom, so it's a mix of small community and second chances. It's being released in the U.S. soon, and I can't wait to read it.
When authors ask if readers in the U.S. are interested in romances set in faraway lands like Australia or lands even farther away, I totally am—and I wonder, are you interested, too? Do you have any recommendations?
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. She loves talking with romance readers, and hopes you'll share your new favorite romance reading recommendations. You can find her on Twitter @smartbitches, on Facebook, or on her couch, most likely with her eyeglasses turned towards a book.