If there’s one genre I absolutely can’t stand, it’s romance. Growing up, I remember you had two basic romance choices: the Harlequin “genteel” love story, and the bodice rippers with the lurid covers. Neither appealed to me. I winced at the lurid covers with impossible poses (Jim Hines has a hilarious photo comparison blog post here on this very topic, though not specific to romances). I reeled from the absolute, dumber than a bag of rocks thought processes, reactions, and storylines the supposed “heroines” went through–why yes, of course since this pirate kidnapped me, he must value my thoughts and feelings.
Romance has always had a bad reputation: just searching on romance novel sales statistics, I found other related stories such as “Romance Novels Seduce Women into Unsafe Sex”. Book covers were touted as a way to keep prying eyes from realizing you were reading “smut”. Romance novels were an embarrassement, a guilty pleasure, something no one admitted to reading. Quite the baggage for a genre that made 10.11 billion dollars in 2010.
A few weeks ago, reading some writing blogs on Facebook, I saw the names of a few authors who write urban fantasy. They were attending the Romantic Times conference this year; hmmm, well, it’s always worth trolling to see what helpful tidbits of information I can pick up for my writing. I can ignore the stupid romance stuff.
But 10.11 billion dollars…that’s a lot of books. And while competition is fierce in any genre, Romance was one of the only categories that INCREASED sales during the recession.
So, I started reading the romance RSS threads. And since we have a wonderful library system in King County, it costs me nothing to give a few books a try. I felt no obligation to try and read them all the way through if they made me cringe–the only loss was time.
What am I finding? Based on the Romantic Times RSS, the Harlequins and bodice rippers are still out there. They have their audience, and they always will. But the books I’m reading now? They’re urban fantasy will a little bit of sex–and sometimes less sex than books that get published in other genres, such as Sci-Fi, regular fantasy, or plain fiction. It’s a joy to find this genre so fragmented, for so many different reasons. Creative stories, completely new worlds, strong female characters with careers, drive, and passion that extends beyond the bedroom. In one book I read, the female lead told her “hero/love interest” that she wasn’t willing to commit to him, and give up everything for his way of life. In a novel I’m reading now, there is a female werewolf with OCD and a hoarding disorder.
I can’t imagine a greater disparity between the fainting damsels of the old Regency Romances, and a 21st century nurse who does in home hospice. Long live Romance–it’s a delight to see how far you’ve come.