Friday, September 12, 2008

Interview: Michelle Buonfiglio

We at the Morgan Diaries are always ready to step outside the box, when we can afford the box that is, to bring you our readers the scoop on Romance. Today, we’ve gone a totally different route. We’ve jumped so deep inside the proverbial box it’s scary. As The Diaries proves, blogs are the hottest thing around. What better way to get inside the mind of an author than hearing what they have to say straight from their mouths? Well, blogs aren’t just for authors. Everyone has their finger in the blog pie. We’ve been lucky enough to have one of the most informative bloggers you will ever meet stop into our offices for a chat.

Michelle Buonfiglio is the successful host of myLifetime.com’s Romance: B(u)y the Book blog. If you haven’t stopped to check it out, shame on you! RBTB offers everything from review columns, and the inside scoop on the romance industry, to video interviews with the heavy weights making their mark on the genre today. Jmo was so excited to have her here today, he broke out the Double Stuff Oreos just for the occasion.

TMD: Michelle welcome to the Diaries. Before you dip that cookie, would you mind letting our readers know a little about Romance B(u)y the Book?


MB: Mmmph? Jusht a sheck. (gulp) Wow. Lifetime never gives me Oreos. They’re all, “Have some heart-smart snack bars and a couple hair-care tips.” I like hanging with you two...

OK. First, let me thank you, MorganO, and Jmo for inviting me to interview with you. As a mom of two, I’m pretty used to nobody much caring what I have to say. So it’s nice that you’re at least acting interested. Now, RBTB http://www.mylifetime.com/lifestyle/entertainment/romance-buy-the-book/blog ? It’s all about giving women who love romance novels a fun, positive, supportive place to get together to talk about the books, sex, family, sex, pop culture, sex, heroes who are larger than life and…you get the picture, no? My job is “E & E,” to entertain and engage folks by writing about romance and related stuff, and to do the on- and off-camera interviews.

But the best part, really, is getting to meet other women (and men) who like to read romance and make friends online. Folks who really need to make connections with each other, and build a sort of community of caring and laughter and, often, intimacy. At the heart of RBTB is trust and respect – mine for my viewers, and theirs for one another.

TMD: You don’t refer to yourself as a “reviewer.” Why is that, and what makes your column different from some of the other review sites out there?

MB: For me to consider myself a reviewer, I’d have to be writing traditional literary criticism. I’ve studied it, as well as writing. So I sure do understand the “craft,” as they say. But balanced, scholarly reviewing or “trad crit” is a bor-a-thon for those who aren’t Lit hounds. And I wanted to write for all kinds of folks who read romance, not just those of us who sometimes are too smarty pantsy for our own goods.

Because I chose to go “digital,” I wanted to produce a product that simply helped some reader surfing on lunch break, for example, decide what book she might like to buy. I wanted to write brief and snappy and entertaining about the very best books I could find in the various sub-genres of romance. And I figured I’d be wasting the time of Ms.Reader-at-Her-Desk if I only told her what not to buy. Hence, “b(u)y” the book was born.

Finally, I’ve been lucky enough to write for two companies who entertain viewers who aren’t all romance readers – one of which had a 50% male viewership! I’ve had the honor of defining romance fiction for folks who’ve never read it, or misunderstood it before coming my way.

TMD: What do you think the role of online reviewers/columnists should be in promoting the romance genre? What is their responsibility to readers? To writers?

MB: The beauty of the Internet is its being a conduit for First Amendment-type discourse at its “freest.” The Internet’s also ugly for that same reason. But I wouldn’t give up the former to eradicate the latter for a date with Nathan Kamp and another bag of Double Stuffs.

I guess the role of each Inet reviewer or columnist, etc., who owns their URL should be whatever they make it. If someone has a personal blog or site, they get to make the rules and change ‘em as they go along, if desired. Lots of bloggers call themselves journalists, but I’m guessing a lot of professional journalists might disagree with that. Yet some would applaud it.

When one writes professionally for a news organization or entertainment company, standards or guidelines are generally set by the parent company, a style book is created and policies are suggested or asked to be observed. The best companies to write for are ones that allow a combination of this, a healthy respect for the First Amendment and journalistic integrity, along with a standard that respects writers’ creativity.

Perhaps another similar question that bears discussing is, what responsibility does the romance industry have to its writers, readers and the genre when choosing where they send their authors online to interact with viewers, or where to spend ad dollars? Should they support only those Inet romance sites that promote fair discourse about authors and the industry? Should they support all sites, regardless of how reviewers/columnists/commentators write about and interact with authors and readers? Should the industry only support sites and blogs that have the most viewership? Perhaps this also could be asked in terms of authors’ responsibilities to genre and readers.

Listen, I think a person’s first responsibility is to herself (and publishers and authors, perhaps to their bottom lines). I’d have zero self-respect if I did what I do any other way. That encompasses my personal and professional ethics, between which there’s just no difference. So I’m confident saying my responsibility – and honor – is to promote romance fiction to my viewers in a manner which applies journalistic ethics to the work I produce, and moral ethics to the way in which I interact with – and represent – viewers, as well as authors, romance industry professionals and anyone else about whom I write.

TMD: Pardon me while I cover Jmo’s ears for this one. He’s so innocent he closes his eyes when writing love scenes. You’re a strong supporter of authors of erotica – how do you deal with the criticisms that all or some erotica is just legitimized women’s porn?

MB: Funny you should ask that. This morning I received an exclusive excerpt from a book that’ll be one of the hottest of ’09, “Under Fire,” by Jo Davis. And the excerpt is smokin’. It’s only 200 words, but it’s raw and intense and speaks to just about every erotic fantasy RBTB viewers squee over – and it does it with profanity and a hot, wet guy taking himself in hand. And I’m thinking, we’re all adults at myLifetime, but I’m still not positive we’ll publish it, cause some people have a lower tolerance for explicit language and sexual imagery than others. That’s one of those things that get a nod when you’re entertaining a large cross-section of viewers, not just readers who like their romance erotic or even are romance readers to begin with.

My way of dealing with what you’re talking about is simply not to deal with it. What I mean is, I let my presentation of erotic romance speak for itself. The core mission of RBTB applies to erom and all romance: Define, don’t defend. That’s what I try to do, in a literate and level-headed way.

(Note: the excerpt discussed above, was posted yesterday on RBTB, in an edited format)


TMD: How did your relationship with Lifetime come about? No, Jmo, she doesn’t need help dipping her Oreo! Sorry, but you have to watch him like a hawk. He gets little strange when it comes to double dipping.

MB: Oh, man, Jmo. Where’s the Purell? Thanks. I got the gig at myLifetime when my RBTB content was shown to the V.P. of Online at the company. Lifetime was planning to relaunch their website and was looking for new ways to entertain women viewers. The V.P thought RBTB would be a perfect fit because Lifetime is all about women who love romance, family, sexy stuff and fun. And, that’s the way romance got a national entertainment company like Lifetime (in 92 million homes nationwide) to promote the genre to the company’s already-established fan base.

TMD: Has the partnership with Lifetime offered you a wider range of opportunities to meet the authors and industry mainstays you might not have had a chance to approach before?

MB: Well, it certainly makes some folks return my calls a little more quickly!!! And, yes, surely I understood that when I moved RBTB to myLifetime they were offering me the respect the Lifetime Network has garnered in the entertainment industry. That’s been extremely beneficial to me, and I think, to romance.

But the truth of the matter is that romance authors and industry folks are pretty eager to interact with folks who want to help promote the genre, as well as readers.I will say that having a great producer at myLifetime in LA helped score the on-cam ‘In Bed with Fabio’ series. He and I worked pretty diligently to make our cases to the right people, to prove we wanted to present Fabio to romance readers in a respectful way (for a change!). And the way myLifetime’s fronted the resources to present romance fiction to their audience is unbelievable; really amazing.

TMD: You’ve had some fantastic interviews. JMo is still having heart palpitations from watching the one with J.R. Ward. He’s such a fan boy. Which author most intimidated you as you prepared for their interview?

MB: You’re so sweet, J-man! She’s very cool to hang with. Feeling anxious to do a good job, not wanting to waste anyone’s time by not being prepared and feeling some pressure to please one’s producer and bosses is pretty healthy. As my son’s favorite computer game, Portal, puts it: Courage is not the absence of fear.

TMD: With your birds-eye view of the Romance industry how do you see the landscape of the genre changing over, let’s say, the next five years?

MB: Well, you guys probably heard while you were there, the big buzz at the national conference of Romance Writers of America was all about “genre blending.” Authors are infusing their romance novels with elements from other genres that are big among younger demos: urban fantasy, young adult, fan fiction – you name it. This is especially exciting because some believe it’ll bring a younger demo to the genre, hence, folks who’ll buy more books and get hooked on romance reads as a whole. I want to see publishers approaching the organization and labeling of these thoughtfully, however, so readers don’t have the confusion they had when the erotic romance boom began and labels were inaccurate. In other words, if it’s urban fantasy with romantic elements, please don’t label it romance unless the central love story overrides every other plot consideration in the novel. You may sell a book, but romance readers will feel duped.

The trend I’m ultra-psyched about is the return of the, for lack of a better term, authentic romance. It’s the book of an author’s heart, written and edited fearlessly with no concession to offending the sensibilities of folks uncomfortable with allowing every reader her fantasies. Don’t like the program? Switch the channel. Don’t like the romance fantasy? Ask for your money back, don’t buy the author again. But do not any longer expect that it shouldn’t be created in a fictional work. I think it took a while for folks to understand the vocal minority they were paying attention to online in no way represents the average romance reader. Online, perception ain’t nearly reality.

TMD: Writers hear all the time that one sub-genre or another is out of favor i.e., “historicals are out,” “contemporaries are dead.” Do you, as a reader/journalist, see any trends?

MB: The trends I think folks see online are closer to “Whisper Down the Alley.” One writer at a loop says, “They didn’t buy my futuristic neo-medieval romance about virgin male warriors.” Then somebody goes to another loop and writes that Publisher X won’t buy books with virgins (with, not from). Then somebody on that loop reports on her blog that Publisher X’s line is in trouble. So the best way to learn about “trends,” which are less existent than one might think, is to find out where industry professionals are blogging and ask them. Ask your favorite bloggers to invite those professionals to guest blog so you can ask questions. You gotta go to the horse’s mouth.

TMD: The print side of Romance has changed so much over the last few years. Do you see the growth of e-publishing as one of the factors in the change we’re seeing in the print industry?

MB: I guess the print side has changed because of the economy mostly, but it’s been influenced greatly by e-publishing. Take Kensington’s acquiring Samhain, for instance. Brilliant. Almost as brilliant as Jaid Black was in paving the way for women to fantasy on demand with Ellora’s Cave.

But I like to consider myself savvy enough – and hip enough, even for a 43 year-old -- to understand that digital publishing hasn’t yet hit its stride. I read an interesting article the other day that said a large portion of 20somethings think printed word will become obsolete. I don’t buy that prediction, but I urge anyone discounting a continued growth in digital publishing and attendant technology to do so at their folly. I mean, that’s just scary short sighted.

TMD: Okay, now the big invade-your-privacy question. There always has to be one when we do an interview. It is known that you have a thing for Italian soccer player Fabio Cannavaro. We also know your Bellas like to dish on who they think is hot. So what’s the latest scoop on hot men? And how is Fabio C. these days? Have you had a chance to meet him yet?

MB: Well, Canna always will be my first love, but no, unfortunately I haven’t met him. But maybe that’s best. Cause I’m afraid he’d be all alph-Italian male (AIM), and it’d really ruin it for me. But I’m happy to keep him all AIM in my fantasies. At first, we were all bummin’ cause I couldn’t do the “blogger rights” thing at myLifetime, and pull hot, wet mens photos from the ‘net. You can imagine what might happen if someone decided to sue. (We can leave a chat about online rights to work product and output another day).

Anywayz, I just heard from my editor that I can start scoping out sharing sites that aren’t bound by copyright restrictions. So when things settle down, I’ll be throwing myself into the “research” again. Oh, how I’ve missed trawling the ‘net for hot, wet mens.

TMD: This is purely for Jmo, but is there any chance you could hook him up with Carson Kressely for a make-over? As you can see, he’s in some serious need of a new look.

MB: Oh, I dunno; I hear Double Stuff crumbs are the new cheese puff stain in some fashion circles! But, the next time Carson calls to tell me that his goal for me is keeping me not naked, I’ll put in a good word for Jmo.

TMD: Michelle thanks so much for joining us today. Before you go, could you let our readers know some of the great things you have planned for Romance B(u)y the Book in the near future? And Jmo wants me to let you know if you can make the Carson thing happen there’s a bag of Oreos in it for you. Please be sure to leave us your link!

MB:Sure! First, just let me thank you again for inviting me to join you here, today. I’ve really been looking forward to meeting your friends, especially because I haven’t been able to spend much time cruisin’ the Inet s usual. See, myLifetime’s been makin’ lots of changes at their own digs, and it’s kept everybody wicked busy.

For instance, RBTB just went to all-blog format.
http://www.mylifetime.com/lifestyle/entertainment/romance-buy-the-book/blog There’s a fab new video player where folks can watch my one-on-ones with fave authors. Oh! I hope everyone will check out my “In Bed with Fabio” series http://www.mylifetime.com/lifestyle/entertainment/romance-buy-the-book/video/1641831768/1670008104 http://www.mylifetime.com/lifestyle/entertainment/romance-buy-the-book/video/1641831768/1670007947 ! It’s gotten more than 100k views on YouTube!

And we’ve got a really funny set of interviews with Lois Greiman up now. That’s all at myLifetime.com under the Entertainment button on the nav bar. Or you can get directly to RBTB here: http://www.mylifetime.com/lifestyle/entertainment/romance-buy-the-book/blog.

We’ve also got new archives and links to FOBs (Friends of Bellas – Group blogs of authors who are particularly supportive of the Bellas and romance), and a new AUTHORLINKS page coming soon. If authors want to be linked from it, they just need to link RBTB to their blogs/sites, etc., then send me their URLs.

As for Jmo’s “How to Look Good Naked” gig…can you make the Oreos Double Stuffs???

12 comments:

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

'mornin, Morgan and Jmo! Thanks for the fun interview (and the cookies). I'm happy to field any other questions or comments! Just having some fun surfin today. :)

Morgan O'Reilly said...

And by surfin' she means hunk in blue trunks on the beach. Almost sounds like a drink...

Jmo is off at the Evil Day Job and then has a Daddy / Daughter thing this afternoon. Hopefully he'll find time to drop in and say hello. Maybe he'll have double stuff with him. We can always hope!

Portia Da Costa said...

Fantastic interview, Michelle!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Well, thanks, POrtia! Glad you stopped by!

LizeeS said...

Hi Michelle and Morgans. Hi Portia! Fantashtik (mmm, yum) interview - I had to go buy me my own double stufs because even tho' I live very near one of the Morgs I rarely get offered any :-P

You always have such fantastic insight Michelle -- and the phrase that stuck with me most strongly from all your great answers was: "define don't defend." Defending (and by extension attacking) sub-genres can lead to such hot topics -- because everybody's "line" as to what defines romance is in such a different place. You've done a wonderful job throughout your career of keeping all of us readers/writers who like or are comfortable with different sub-genres, at peace and luvin' each other. It's a valuable lesson to learn.

Thanks for taking so much thoughtful time between the oreo bites!!

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

That's such a kind thing to say, lizee, and nice to be thought of that way. If what I do works or not, who's to say? But if you get where my heart is in the whole thing, then I feel like I've gotten it right.

Playground Monitor said...

Teeee-rific interview. Anybody ever tell you that you have a way with words?

Marilyn

J. Morgan said...

Thanks Michelle so much for joining us this week. It was truly a privilege to bask in your Fabio afterglow.

Sorry, I'm so tardy showing up but a father/daughter shopping day only comes along every once in a while. We had a blast and I found an amazing deal on a fantastic pair of shoes, so it was like Christmas morning in September.

Morgan as for the Double Stuf, unfortunately it came down between something to read and Oreos. As all addicted readers know, books before delicious creamy and chocolate cookies. Yes I'm crying a little bit.

I can't tell everyone how much fun we had interviewing Michelle, even though my Carson make-over didn't come through, I can still hope and bribe for a later date. I have a buy one get one free coupon for a spiffy tire rotation, if that'll do anything.

Jmo

Jmo

Sutton Fox said...

Thanks, Michelle for a very insightful interview. I've really enjoyed following along this week.

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Thanks, Play! I'm going to keep those nice words on file as sort of "letters of recommendation." Thanks for stopping by and reading.

I'm really glad you had a good time, Sutton. I'd offer you an Oreo, but all I have left are the chocolate cookie parts. It's too true; I eat the cream filling and waste the rest (or simply let them fall to the bottom of the glass in a brown, mushy clump). :)

Jmo! Father/daughter shopping. Either that's really cool or really scary. You didn't drag her to Home Depot, didja? Cause girls dont really dig doing back-2-school shopping there.

Hmmm, tire rotation...willthey change my oil, too?

Stacy~ said...

Great interview Michelle. It shows your love of the romance industry and your respect for others along with you fun side.

Uh, guess I'll be bringing the Oreos next time I see you, huh?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Well, since you mention it, Stacy, we need sustenance on the way to all those book signings we've been attending. I mean, a girl cain't live on McDonald's fries and icy Coke alone. :)