Name That Voice

Do some writers have such strong voices that we might be able to recognize them from a few lines pulled from one of their books?

I don’t know. So, in the spirit of fun and discovery, I’ve pulled a dozen short sections from romance novels written by ten of our genre’s modern superstars.

How many voices do you recognize without turning to your bookshelf (or the Internet)? Do you hear a voice similar to your own among the samples? Are there any that go completely against the grain of your writing – or that you itch to “fix”?

The first printings of these works range from 1988 to 2009. (I’d have added more variety, but my personal collection is shamefully small and the local library is closed today due to a dusting of snow on the roads. Grr.)

Honestly, I think it’s nearly impossible for anyone to guess these correctly, but I realize that many of us are devoted romance readers, so I’ll wait until 4 PM EST to post the list of possible authors. I’ll drop back again later in the evening to post the answers (and give these fabulous authors credit for their work!).

  1. “He had no idea how old the guy was. His sun-leathered face had more lines in it than a weather map. But the outdoors had a way of aging a man’s skin that had nothing to do with the accumulation of years. There was more gray than brown in in the stubble of a beard that shadowed his cheeks. [Character] rarely bothered to shave but never let his whiskers grow long enough to qualify as a genuine beard.”
  2. “I’d known [Character] since he was five. I’d gone to grade school with [Character]. We ate lunch together in grades one through three, and I would forever associate him with peanut butter and jelly on Wonder bread. I’d lost touch with him in high school. I knew he’d gone to college, and that after college he’d gone to work selling appliances in his father’s store.”
  3. “The sailor was a large man, and obviously strong as an ox, which was doubtless useful on boats. He might have been twenty-eight or thirty. His brown hair was cut close to his skull and lay in layers, like shingles. His eyes were a dark, colorless mixture of shades, like the sea itself, a sort of gunmetal gray. The lower half of his face was dark with stubble. None of this should have made him handsome and yet, to her, he was.”
  4. “He realized, as she drew closer, that she was sporting a new hairdo, and that it was this which underscored her already-pronounced similarity to her grandmother. Her dark glossy hair had been cut short in a sort of sleek bob. It was chic and obviously of the moment, and yet to him it had the look of the 1930s. It brought to mind the film stars of his youth…and the elegant [character] he had known and admired as a boy.”
  5. “[Character] looked at his beautiful wife. Spun sugar candy was what she always reminded him of. No matter what time of the day or night, she always looked like she just stepped out of a bandbox. Perfectly coiffed, expertly made up, exquisitely dressed, subtle perfume that never seemed to fade, and always with her twenty-four-carat smile that was as phony as the caps on her pearly white teeth.”
  6. “The face was charming, with its little pointed chin and its pert nose, its big blue eyes mirroring the color of the sky. A pixie cap of glossy brown hair completed the picture.”
  7. “[Character] wore black—a black greatcoat that fell to boot top and a black, low-crowned hat with a wide brim. A scarf of raw wool, colorless in the streak of light from the high, barred windows, covered nose to neck and hid what the gloom didn’t.”
  8. “He didn’t look like a damn farmer, she thought. Oh, he was tanned and lean, and his hair streaked from the sun. His jeans were old and his shirt faded blue. There were sunglasses hooked carelessly by one earpiece in the breast pocket. What he looked like, she decided, was some Hollywood director’s image of a young, prosperous southern farmer who could ooze charm and sex appeal with one easy smile.”
  9. “He wore a blue sweater, the same color as his eyes, and hanging loose over the sweater was a black jacket. His jeans, faded as if they were his favorite pair, showcased his waist and legs. His dark hair looked a little tousled, as if he’d been running his fingers through it.”
  10. “She had to be dreaming. No man hereabouts would leave his house in shirtsleeves. Or leave his shirt open at the throat to reveal a smattering of chest hair. Or wear pantaloons so tight they showed every well-defined muscle in his thighs. He was such a delicious specimen of manliness that he fairly took her breath away.”
  11. “She appeared rumpled, as if she’d fallen asleep after a vigorous hour of lovemaking and had only now awakened for more. Her eyes were slightly uptilted, the lids at half-mast and shadowed by long dark lashes. Her nose was small and dainty, her lips still red and lush. And her skin…more was revealed, smooth amber-rich, each pulse point hammering deliciously. A large cruise covered the left side of her jaw. Her breasts—“
  12. “[Character] squinted to see the medium-height woman between the redhead and the blonde. She was dressed in a dull, boxy, gray-checked suit, and her round face scowled under brown hair yanked back into a knot on the top of her head.”

52 responses to “Name That Voice”

  1. Elisa Beatty says:

    Oh, these are great, Jamie!!

    I really only read Regencies and ’round about that era, so I will epic fail at this game. #11 feels strangely familiar… but that’s really the only one. Lisa Kleypas, maybe??

    Also, I HAVE to know what #7 is, because just based on that sound bite, I want to rush out and buy the book.

    Oh, Julia Quinn tells a story about trying to enter a contest (or maybe it was send a query to her editor) under a different name, and the editor caught it in just a few paragraphs. She’s got an undisguisable voice.

    Fun post!


    • Not Kleypas for #11, though I can’t wait to tell you who it is!

      #7 won’t disappoint you. Let me just say that you’re true to form…


      • Elisa Beatty says:

        Oh, how funny, Jamie! I did cheat and go find out what book #7 was from…. I won’t reveal anything now, but OF COURSE that’s the source!!!

        One of my absolute, absolute faves of the past few years…. I’m embarrassed I didn’t recognize it outright.

        Clearly, my tastes are consistent! (And #3!!! I greatly admired the prose style reading the little clip, but again, didn’t recognize it specifically. I’ve gotta go do some re-reading now….)


  2. Vivi Andrews says:

    This is fun, but I’m clueless. Someone could probably show me an excerpt of my own and I wouldn’t recognize it.

    #12 is referring to Min from Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie. Pretty sure about that one.

    I know I’ve read #10, but I can’t place it. #3 & #6 seem familiar. I want to read #5, but I’m sure I haven’t…


    • Ding ding ding!

      We have our first correct guess!

      #12 is Jennifer Cruisie, “Bet Me,” St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2004, p 12.

      #6 is probably the most obscure, in its way. I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of people had read it, but I’d be shocked if anyone could pull it out of their heads.


  3. Katrina says:

    What a great idea. I definitely got #12, but only because I’ve read the book, not because I caught the author’s voice. Also interesting to see the different ways authors describe characters.


    • I suppose it’s nonetheless to Cruisie’s credit that you remember that specific description. How many other authors are so willing to let their heroines look unattractive in the hero’s first glimpse of her? I’d be over the moon if my readers actually remembered a few sentences I wrote months after they read them.

      “Bet Me” really saved my butt this year. A friend mailed it to me when I was down in the dumps after my shoulder surgery, and it lifted me back up. I didn’t think I’d like such light romantic comedy, but I’m a diehard Cruisie fan now!


  4. Kim Law says:

    How fun!

    I might know a couple…hmmm…is there a Susan Elizabeth Phillips one in there? Not positive. I don’t recognize where it’s from, but #8 reads sort of like SEP. And #2 sound like Evanovich to me.

    Another couple sound familiar so I’m guessing I’ve read things by those authors, but I can’t place who they sound like.

    Can’t believe I didn’t get #12. That’s one of my favorite books!

    Looking forward to seeing the answers!


    • Ding ding ding!

      We have our second winner!

      #2 is Janet Evanovich, “One For The Money,” St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2003, p 67. First printed 1994.

      Nicely done, Kim. That’s an oldie but a goodie, though still not our oldest selection of the day.

      And there may or may not be any SEP quotes. You guys are doing to well for me to give any more hints!


  5. Tamara Hogan says:

    What strikes me is how evocative the descriptions are in each of the excerpts. Wow.


    • Kim Law says:

      Yes, I noticed that too.


    • Absolutely. I wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to do this post, like, what sections from each book I’d pick. I figured it’d be fun to see how different authors describe people, as that’s where voice might really come into play. Some authors really “do” dialogue, but I thought it’d be hard to keep from revealing character names and information that would give away the book’s identity.

      The results are very interesting, even if you aren’t able to figure out who any of the writers are. I think it’s fun to have the words separated from the names for a while.

      Not too long, though. I don’t want any lawyers on my back…


  6. Diana Layne says:

    Totally absolutely clueless–old age steals your memory, y’know. 🙂 I’m kinda like Vivi and forget my own stuff. Sometimes when I go back and look, I’ll think, “damn, did I write that? I don’t remember doing that.”

    Can’t wait to see the answers!


  7. I’ve got to go to the zoo and enrich the animals’ lives (poor me!), so I’ll be out for a few hours. I’ll be back by 4, at least. Rubies, if the natives get restless and someone wants to check on the answers, I’ve left a link on our Yahoo loop to a page on my website that contains them. Use them wisely.



  8. Oh, Jamie, I need a lot more time than your zoo trip to come up with any of these. I’ve read “One For the Money” and didn’t get that, and all of SEP’s stuff so if anything is from her, either my memory is failing or I’m reading too fast. Looking foward to the answers!


    • I really wonder how I would have done on this quiz. Poorly, I think.

      And no SEP! I have no SEP in my library at all, for particular reason. I’ve probably read something of hers, but I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot of catching up to do in my romance reading.


  9. Darynda Jones says:

    These are fantastic!!! Now I can’t wait to see who they are because I want to read at least five of these. Well, maybe seven. Hmmm…

    Great idea, Jamie!!!


    • Thanks, Darynda. Maybe when I do this again next year, I’ll get to include a clip from your best-selling debut!


      • Darynda Jones says:

        Ha! I probably wouldn’t recognize that either. I went and checked (aka, I cheated) and I’ve read at least three of these books. Sigh… 🙂


  10. Shea Berkley says:

    Love this post, Jamie, but probably for an entirely different reason than most. I’ve had this discussion before and it can get pretty heated because of AAS (Author Attachment Syndrom). (grin) God pity the person who suggests one’s favorite author is unrecognizable in print.

    Frankly, I think people WANT to think they’re writing is very distinctive, but most aren’t. I can count on one hand the people who I can read quotes like you’ve posted and can guess who they are. That said, most, but of course not all, of those distinctive authors (books) aren’t easy reads, that’s because popular fiction has to have a sense of familiarity about it to make the masses want to read it — thus homogenizing the writing to a certain degree.

    Please understand I am not saying our favorite writers are average writers. They aren’t. They’re amazingly skilled, and that’s why we love them. They make what they do look ridiculously easy (which it isn’t), and in turn inspire us to write. Their greatness revolves more around the story than the way the words are put together, and that’s because it’s the story that impacts us. I’m not saying voice isn’t important; it is, but it will and should always take a backseat to the story, which is the emotion on the page and the life-altering journey that we connect with and which touches us all.


    • Shea Berkley says:

      Ugh! Sorry. When I get passionate, I get too far into my head and can sound snotty. I could blame it on this cold, (tempting) but that would be a lie. I’m just a brat. Thank God my mommy loves me. (head hits keyboard)


      • Elisa Beatty says:

        We love you, too, Shea!

        And you’re right–a passage from Joyce’s Ulysses or from Faulkner would be a lot harder to miss. Genre fiction has to be on the “go down easy” side, or else most stressed-out, harried readers looking for a little escape wouldn’t have the energy to read it–or wouldn’t get the same pleasure out of it. (Not that it’s not pleasurable to read Joyce and Faulkner…just a different kind of pleasurable. And requires a different kind of attention.)

        And you’re also right that the “go down easy” factor doesn’t make genre fiction easy to write.

        It’s its very own special art form.


        • Elisa, when I began thinking about this post, I planned on including big-time writers of the Western canon but I thought it’d be too easy, which made me come to a similar conclusion to Shea, above.

          Besides, I really wanted to see what would happen if I restricted it to modern romance. I’m already amazed that we’ve gotten two out twelve!


      • Shea, don’t think you sounded snotty. I agree with you. That’s part of why I thought it would be interesting to have this exercise, not just because it’s fun, but because we get to see that an author’s voice is actually quite hard to pick out blindly. It brings up all kinds of possible tangential conversations. I also enjoyed reading these quotes out of the context of the author name and book cover because several are books I haven’t read yet, and haven’t been very interested in reading, but seeing them out of context makes me realize that I’m judging them by their apparent subject matter.

        Like #11 — super famous, well-respected author, but her book covers make me go “meh.” But now! How can I read that description and not want to read more of her work?


    • Darynda Jones says:

      I don’t think that was snotty at all, Shea, and we do love you!!!

      “but [voice] will and should always take a backseat to the story”

      100% with you on that!!! And you are right, the more recognizable voices are the more difficult to read. Homogenity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the story is good, the story is good.


    • rita says:

      Well said.
      BTW I can’t ID a single one.
      But then I probably would have trouble IDing something of mine you put in.
      I only remember the story, a joke, or something terrible that happened. I have an excuse -I’m old!


  11. Shoshana Brown says:

    I know 12 is Jenny Crusie, and 8 sounds really familiar, but I can’t come up with a book or an author. Who is it??? I must know!!!


    • You’ve probably read that one, Shoshana.

      I don’t have any YA romance on this list, BTW. I actually don’t own any YA romance, period, except what I might have squirreled away in boxes from my own YA-hood. I probably have a dogeared copy of Blume’s “Forever” somewhere…


  12. #6 makes me think of Judith McNaught and #3 Lavyrle Spencer for some reason. I doubt either of those are right, but that’s what jumped out at me.


  13. Okay, ladies. It’s time for a little help.

    You’ve guessed 10 out of 12 quotes correctly. There were only ten authors, total, so eight remain:

    Fern Michaels, Nora Roberts, Sabrina Jeffries, Christie Craig, Janet Daily, Joanna Bourne, Barbara Taylor Bradford, and Gena Showalter.


  14. Fascinating post, Jamie. I have no clue who these authors are (though I have read the one by Jennifer Crusie). I would venture to guess that 10 and 11 are historicals??? Some of the language makes them sound that way to me, but I’ll admit I’m stumped.

    And I agree with Shea, though I hadn’t thought much about it before now – there has to be a certain homogeneity so these books will appeal to the masses, and yet there has to be a uniqueness that brings people back to certain authors. Must be why describing “voice” is such a challenge.

    Is it any wonder our job as writers is so darn hard?!?!


    • Whoops – looks like you were posting the author names above as I was posting my comment… but even so, I wouldn’t be able to match the descriptions to the authors. 🙂


    • I haven’t read either #10 or #11 yet, so let me check to be sure…

      Yes, #10 is a historical, but #11 is not. Not exactly. If it were entered into the Rita, it wouldn’t be entered as a historical — or a Regency.

      I hope this post isn’t making anyone sad for our genre for not being more arcane. If anything, it should give us confidence that we CAN sound and probably already DO write like “real” best-selling romance writers. This ain’t Joyce (and thank God for that — “Dubliners” hit the wall several times before I finally finished it — for school — and now I can’t remember a thing about it).


  15. Tina Joyce says:

    Wow, Jaime, great exercise. I’m laughing because I would have pegged the first one as being a Western (which my hubby likes). But since you said they’re romances–modern, even…I’d have been dead wrong. I’ve read several of the authors you listed above, but I couldn’t for the life of me match them to the corresponding passages.


  16. Liz Talley says:

    Well, I suck at these kinds of games because I don’t read romance exclusively. Yeah, I know. You’re shocked. I’ve read Jefferies, Roberts, the others I’ve read, but nothing recently.

    The most intriguing to me is #5. I really want to know that one.

    I’d guess #8 is Christie Craig? Sounds sassy like her. But I couldn’t really distinguish the voice all that much.


    • I like the quote from #5, but the book was actually a DNF for me. I was so upset by it, too, because I’d enjoyed the author’s books in the past. And reading that quote now, I wonder why I didn’t like the book.

      Oh, yeah. Now I remember.

      and #8 isn’t Christie Craig, but the author is sassy! One of our sassiest stars, though I’m not sure I’d say that to her face.


  17. Elise Hayes says:

    Is #8 Nora’s? It definitely sounds like her voice to me, although I don’t recognize the book…


  18. Alright, it’s getting late over here. Thanks for playing, friends!

    Here’s the answers:

    1. Janet Daily, “Something More,” Zebra Contemporary Romance, 2008, p 20.
    2. Janet Evanovich, “One For The Money,” St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2003, p 67. First printed 1994.
    3. Joanna Bourne, “The Spymaster’s Lady,” Berkley Sensation, 2008, p 185.
    4. Barbara Taylor Bradford, “To Be The Best,” St. Martin’s Press, 2005, p 36. First printed 1988.
    5. Fern Michaels, “Sweet Revenge,” Zebra Books, 2006, p 35.
    6. Nora Roberts, “Charmed,” Silhouette Special Edition, 1992, p 9.
    7. Joanna Bourne, “My Lord and Spymaster,” Berkley Sensation, 2008, p 85.
    8. Nora Roberts, “Carolina Moon,” Jove Books, 2000, p 74.
    9. Christie Craig, “Weddings Can Be Murder,” Love Spell, 2008, p 202.
    10. Sabrina Jeffries, “Don’t Bargain With The Devil,” Pocket Books, 2009, p 9.
    11. Gena Showalter, “The Vampire’s Bride,” HQN, 2009, (forgot the page number).
    12. Jennifer Cruisie, “Bet Me,” St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2004, p 12.


  19. Elise Hayes says:

    Man, I almost guessed Sabrina Jeffries for #10 in my last post! I should have gone for it! 🙂


  20. I’m coming in real late. Fun post, Jamie. I would’ve guess #3 to be Susan Wiggs, but I see it’s not.

    Shea, I don’t think you sounded snotty. You made a great point.


  21. Kathy Crouch says:

    Sad to say I didn’t recognize any of them. It’s been a while since I read Carolina Moon and I don’t remember Charmed at all. I can’t say as I have read any of the other authors. I’v eheard of them just haven’t read their works. Not sure why just never picked one up-lol. My sistere has many SEP I have only read one of hers that was for a class I took online. Other wise I tried another one but it just couldn’t drag me into it. Interesing the way you did this Jamie. Fun to see how every one writes things. Look at an older 1980’s book and compare to a 2000+ book. More descriptions in the 1980’s than nowdays.


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