The adopted daughter of the most powerful man in town, Schyler Crandall had left Heaven, Louisiana, a broken-hearted girl. Now a crisis brings her home to a family in conflict, a logging empire on the brink of disaster, and secrets that make Heaven hotter than hell.
Wendy & HelenKay: We love discovering a new release or new author but we have some old favorites too. About once a month we’ll each take a turn introducing a book from our keeper shelf. You’ve probably heard of these titles and know the authors. Well, see, there’s a reason these books are considered oldies but goodies. They stand the test of time. Now, what may be a favorite for one of us might not work for the other, but half the fun is in finding that out. It also may turn out that a book that meant so much at one time no longer thrills us the same way. We’ll have to wait and see. The first favorite is Wendy’s choice.
W: Sandra Brown’s Slow Heat in Heaven is a tightly woven and surprisingly complex tale of love, betrayal and redemption; with it, Ms. Brown kept one foot firmly planted in her romance background and with the other she sought purchase in—what would become her future—suspense. It is simultaneously my all time favorite romance and a bittersweet break with a once favorite author. In terms of Ms. Brown’s body of work, I often think of Cash and Schyler’s story as a good-bye love letter to romance because after Heat, each successive work of Ms. Brown’s has moved further and further from the genre.
Heat’s family drama and archetype characters are clearly products of eighties romance, however they are not so firmly tied to the time period as to be dated. At the core it’s a timeless love story of opposites attracting, long unrequited fascination, rich v. poor, and feuding family entanglements. Schyler is bitchy and arrogant; Cash is hard and mean. Despite the disparities of their births, their backgrounds, their current standings, each manages to look down their nose at the other, all while being consumed with lust for one another and caught up in events larger than either of them.
* * *
W: This work was a departure for Sandra Brown. At its core Slow Heat in Heaven is a romance but there’s a lot more to the story. For you, is enough of the central focus on Cash and Schlyer for it to be considered a romance?
HK: This book fits squarely into the single title romantic suspense mold. The thriller wraps around the romance until the two storylines cannot be separated. Admittedly, Cash spends a good part of the first half of the book sleeping with someone else. That is not usual in a romance and not something I generally like to see. But, Brown makes it work because Cash’s time with the other woman is both integral to the suspense portion of the book and so mechanical that when Cash is later with Schyler their attraction feels more alive and real.
W: When Heat was released in 1988 it was more strongly and graphically sexual than its contemporaries. For me those elements have not faded over time, it’s less explicit than today’s steamier offerings, but no less erotic. Whenever discussions about romance’s ever more detailed sexual nature come up, Sandra Brown and Heat spring to my mind. Do you believe Ms. Brown deserves some credit—or blame—for the heat in today’s releases?
HK: The story is very sensual. Sure, the sex scenes are traditional compared to some of the scenes in current romance reads, but Brown is one of the authors who made steamy acceptable. The world she created vibrates with sexual tension without feeling overdone. One of her strengths, and probably the basic reason her stories do not feel dated, is her willingness to insist that it’s healthy and normal for people to be attracted on a sexual level before, or even without, being madly in love. She took a much more realistic approach to sex and opened the door for other authors to follow her lead. To me, Brown deserves some of the credit for pushing the boundaries and opening the romance genre to a broader range of acceptable sexuality levels.
W: Cash Boudreaux, Cash Boudreaux, Cash Boudreaux; oh, how I’d like to conjure him up. He is more anti-hero than hero; he’s gritty, base, and a bastard in the truest colloquial sense of the word. In the pantheon of romance heroes, where does Cash rank for you?
HK: He is a true alpha – domineering, tough, imperfect, sexy and untamed. He does not waver. He does not apologize for who or what he is. He fills every page on which he appears, almost to the exclusion of every other character. By today’s standards, he may seem too heavy-handed. Too, well, everything. Not to me. He works on just about every level. Some might find him harsh or even use words like abusive. I think he’s pure earthy male. In fact, he and a few heroes who came after in other works set the tone for the kind of hero I enjoy to this day. One who is fully in command. The ultimate bad boy who needs the right woman to show him what a truly good man he is.
W: I’ve always loved Cash’s capitulation to Schlyer because there’s no actual capitulation involved. He’s rarely kind to her, never apologizes for anything, and dares her to love him while presenting his worst to her. Would you rather see him bend, be humbled and surrender to Schlyer?
HK: No. One of the Brown’s strengths in writing Cash is that she never takes the easy road to redemption. His character doesn’t grow into a perfect male hero. He deepens but doesn’t break. Brown shovels flaw after flaw into Cash until he becomes this larger than life guy. Making his actions prettier or less extreme would have done a disservice to the man and, eventually, to the romance which depends, at least in part, on an opposite side of the tracks attraction.
W: So clearly, I’m in love with Cash Boudreaux, but he wouldn’t have been Cash without Schlyer. Even though I’ve often read Schlyer as a way to get to Cash, I believe as a heroine she deserves some acknowledgment. She’s a compellingly flawed character, intelligent, yet misplaces her trust; open minded, yet judgmental; strong, yet vulnerable. How did you find her?
HK: This is one of those books where the heroine could easily fade into the shadow of the hero. Schyler doesn’t. One of the reasons she works for me is that she grows. She goes from a spoiled belle who let a dumb misunderstanding (or lie) shape her existence to a woman who refuses to back down or apologize for being who and what she is. Or, for loving a guy who appears to be Mr. Wrong. She matches Cash’s strength but doesn’t necessarily know it. She acts outside her comfort zone, like with the scene with the pitbulls, but still keeping inside her societal role when she looks back on what she’s done. If she were any more perfect or any less imperfect, she wouldn’t have made sense with Cash. As written, she fits.
W: Unrequited love stories, wherein the hero has long loved or lusted after the heroine have always been a favorite of mine. I just love that idea of the hero pining away for the heroine. In Cash’s case he’s been obsessed with the idea of Schlyer since the first time he heard her name. He even tells Schlyer that he lusted after her while she sipped sodas at the local drugstore with her girlfriends. But, the fact that Cash is eight—or so—years older than Schlyer brings a serious ick factor into that drugstore story, as he’s 18 or 19 at the time. Did it bother you?
HK: Usually it would but I have to admit it didn’t here. The answer may be that Cash is one of those heroes from whom I will forgive most anything. The more likely answer is that romance novels often use the device of older guy being attracted to younger girl but knowing it’s forbidden, so he waits until she’s older before he admits his lust. Also, from the beginning Brown presents Cash’s obsession for Schyler as part of a greater obsession for the life she has that he feels was stolen from him. In that context, the scene felt less sexual to me and more an aspect of Cash’s dominant I-want-what-she-has persona.
W: Cash and Schyler are one of the few couples I wonder about after the last page of the book. I’d almost like an epilogue (you throw this in my face and my next oldie-but-goodie will be a time travel, Scottish romance). Even in the last scene of the book, Cash is without manners, vulgar, and still wears that great, big chip of insecurity on his shoulder; Schlyer is haughty, defensive, and effects her “reigning princess of Belle Terre” mask. Do you believe their exchanged “I love yous” are enough to make their relationship work? Does this pair really live happily ever after?
HK: I absolutely will make sure that admission comes back to haunt you. I just need to wait for the right moment. As for Cash and Schyler, their ending is as believable as the romance that preceded it. It’s not so much happy as it is satisfying and real. They didn’t morph into perfect people or even into different people. They stayed true to who they were for all 400 plus pages of the book so that when the last chapter closes the sense is that they will continue to fight and argue and love, to push each other without losing that spark between them. At least, that’s how I’ll always think about them.
W: Have you read any romances, released after Heat, that you felt were influenced by it? Perhaps borrowed from it?
HK: Whenever I think about Heat I think about two other books that are also keepers for me – Tami Hoag’s Lucky’s Lady and Linda Howard’s After The Night. Both books are set in Louisiana, have a sprawling family drama feel, have strong and domineering alpha males, have imperfect characters who feel real and leap off the page thanks to their flaws, have heroes who refuse to apologize and are very sensual love stories. I can’t say if Hoag or Howard were influenced directly by Brown and her work, but the vibe for the reader is the same, or it was for me. Where Brown’s influence is obvious is in the rise of steamy romantic suspense. Try to find a romance author who hasn’t read Brown’s early works. That is not an easy task. Most of us can point to at least one, and in my case about ten, Brown romances that still sit on the home keeper shelf. Brown’s willingness to challenge the boundaries of conventional romance writing continues to challenge all of us, even though Brown has moved on.
W: Is Slow Heat in Heaven a genre classic? Has it earned a place in the canon of romance?
HK: Seems to me the test should be whether the book still is compelling more than fifteen years later or whether you read it and think: yeah, it was great for a book in the late 80s. This one stands up as a classic regardless of the decade. Cash hasn’t lost any of his appeal. Schyler still is a real woman, with all the warts that go along with that title. The romance is hot, the story interesting and readable, the characters strong and believable. On the fifth reading I liked it as much as I did all those years ago on the first. Even though Brown may have changed her writing emphasis from romance to suspense, something I regret, Heat reminds me where she started and why I like reading romance so much.
W: Slow Heat in Heaven became my favorite romance the first time I read it and remains so with each rereading—and I’ve read it, perhaps, more obsessively than HelenKay. It is one of the few books—from any genre—that calls to me from the bookshelf, tempts me back into its pages, and compels me along as though I don’t know what comes next.
We’ve decided to forgo assigning grades to this oldie-but-goodie. We both love it and really there just isn’t enough space for all the pluses we’d put after the A anyway.