Friday, September 16, 2016

Romance Books - Observations on their writing, on the trends, on reading, on reviewing,

These are my musings and I take responsibility for them.

The romance books out now skew heavily toward contemporaries. Characters are concentrated in the world of WTF as far as I can see. Look, I know romance is about the fantasy, the possibility of romance between all kinds, for all kinds, but the premises just keep getting wilder and weirder. Writers are pushing boundaries to shock readers, make bank and to outdo each other. The character who is now seen as the “hero” has taken a one-eighty, or is that a three-sixty? A “hero” today in contemporary romance could be the violent, “misunderstood” parolee on the block because the writer shows his true humanity when he takes in a box of abandoned kittens he found in the alley behind his squat. Or he could be the grating, obnoxious, sexist, corporate-raiding asshole who gets off on humiliating his employees but who really just needs the “right” woman/man/both to set his stony heart free. There is also the murdering, drug-dealing, gun-running motorcycle member who just needs an understanding "princess" and a home-cooked meal. Preferably not made in the same kitchen he cooks his meth. Oh and let’s not forget the tattoos and beards and abs. The list could go on forever. Look, everyone needs to be seen. But I admit I have not read a contemporary all the way through in 3 years. I can’t take them. Mix in New Adult to the aforementioned shift, and well, I. Just. Can’t. 

Seems folks, yet again, rather read about, and find it credible that the “outlaw” as a hero (a monosyllabic person with no people skills, questionable ethics and an eff-everyone-over-before-they-eff-me-over ‘tude) is more appealing and acceptable and credible than a sexy, black bio-geneticist with an interest in Tai Chi. Oh, well. I suppose it is an improvement over the reading public finding vamps, weres and spectres more believable than a sexy, black bio-geneticist with an interest in Tai Chi.  An “outlaw” is human at least. Well, barely.    

Possibly the writers are writing for the newbie readers who flocked to romance after 50 Shades came out? I guess people thought romance was all Georgette Heyer and Harlequin. The industry did note an uptick in overall sales after the E. L. James books/movie came out. Sex does sell. But it kinda ruins some stuff too. Chiefly when it’s stuffed (pardon the pun) into a book for no apparent reason. Like a 200 pg book with 50 pages of sex scenes. Like a scene where a couple are in a public place where it’s impractical, impossible and implausible to be having sex. Because in real life, you’d get written up, arrested or a hose turned on you. It sounds sexy on paper but it’s truly skivvy. I had a friend whose house was on a dead-end street that seemed perfect for impatient lovers.  The dead-end was perfect for “parking” out of the way. And that is what people did. They “parked” in that dead-end on that street and did everything under the sun in their cars. More times than not, they parked the cars right up next to my friend’s property so passing cops couldn’t see them but all my friends had to do was look out their side windows. That’s not SEXY. Anyhoo, these romantic interludes, drove my friends crazy. The disgusting debris they had to clean up Sat. and Sun. mornings that had been tossed by these couples would have gagged a maggot. They finally invested in motion sensor lights and when they clicked on, my friends used to come out and turn the hose on the cars. I LOVED IT.

“So why is she telling us this?” you ask. Because someone needs to get real and put that in one of those unreal contemporaries when an over-heated couple decides to get busy in public in a private place. How about having the hero or heroine say “No, Cheap Ass. Take me to a motel.” Revolutionary, right? Also because in real life, folk don’t want you screwing in their side yard, backyard, or alley no matter how quiet you are, or how struck you were by the pretty moon that night. Take that mess elsewhere. That’s common sense. That’s my beef with modern romance books. No common sense. Instead of using the logical to spin a story, writers go the path that takes me out of the story period with its silliness and crassness. And I’m not talking paranormal or fantasy.

Now, I cannot say much on the SciFi romance front except to say, I do write it. The authors I interact with have been penning unbelievably great work. And they use fantasy but it works in that space. Even the sex slave planet books and the captive books and the goblin vs. imp books have way more plot, and make way more sense than a contemporary. I expect the WTF to occur in these books as they are not about real events. I am proud of my SFR colleagues.

The historical romance. What can I say about the historical romance? Maybe, it would be easier to speak on what not to say about the historicals being written. I will say this. OH FRIGGIN’ MY. Well, industrious authors have found a way to incorporate 50 Shades shenanigans into them to draw new readers. A few are doing it with thought and wit; others are simply finding another reason for the Duke of So-and-So to visit the salons of repressed spinster neighbors, or the rectories of hunky vicars for rough hanky-panky. Some authors, who are mainstream, have “discovered” that minorities were living in centuries other than the 21st, Imagine that. We lived in other times and other people have just found out.  In any case, they have been blending minorities into historicals. Good. But they seem to prefer writing about minority men as opposed to minority women. Fine with me. I don’t need to read about another “confused mulattress” who is “pretty in spite of her tainted blood and who has no trace of it in her person.” Deliver me from good intentions. That path to Hell is already crowded with them.  And the name historical is taken with a shaker of salt. I read one recently where I only knew it was a Western because the author mentioned a horse and that the heroine could see the Sherriff’s Office from the saloon’s upper window. Let us not forget the voluminous attire on both figures on the book cover. Big blouse, big hair, big dress, shirtless? Historical.  Sailing ship, mountains, prairie, river, castle, forest, shirtless? Historical. Thank goodness for those markers because there is nada historical going on inside those books. You know what? I shouldn’t have to guess if I’m reading a historical. I’m picky that way. Call me old-fashioned. I believe that if there is no history in your historical romance, it ain’t a historical.

Now on to the reviewing of romance books. Heavens, I’ve got so much to say but I’ll keep it short. First, those who are brave enough to review…hats off to ya! You are willing to wade in waters I wouldn’t dare to. But there is an art to it. It’s called tact.  Seems it has gotten dicey lately. Reviewers have been attacked by authors who have been christened as “behaving badly.” This is really sticky territory. And gets personal and treacherous. Personally, I see authors as having no say on how their work will be received. I understand that. We just never know. BUT I have seen reviewers who have missed the boat entirely when reviewing a book. I feel reviewers need to stick to the subgenre they know. If you like and review, say, erotica. Stay in that lane. If by chance a book that is NOT erotica comes your way…bypass it. Okay? Why? Because writers who DO NOT write erotica do not need your insight on how their book could have been better with the addition of gynecological sex scenes and dirty talk. Um, er, people? Let me hip you to something. Not every book has to have ba***s-to-the-wall, sexy times ad infinitum and the constant repetition of the words “c**k” or c**t to be entertaining. Stop marking a book LOWER, OR NOT WORTH READING because of its low c- count. Be fair. The book wasn’t for you. Admit it. Okay? That was note one.

Note two. And those who follow this blog, or have visited before can look away now. I’ve touched on this before and will continue to until it sinks in. Yo, REVIEWERS, with the addition of historicals with non-white main characters being written by non-white writers, dear reviewers, (and you know who you are) I’m talking to you, son. Look, this way now. Stop! I say STOP comparing the characters and the characters’ actions in this outgrowth of the historical to the white characters in the same type of book. Non-white characters have DIFFERENT histories from white characters. Their experiences are different. There are no comparisons. So just STOP it! I’m tired of you cautioning readers about you not being able to vouch for the history. HELLO! Readers don’t need you to do that. They aren’t 5 year olds and should not need their hands held. Unless, unless reading a “multicultural” historical is “scary” to them and you feel it is incumbent upon you to walk them through. And if that is the case, THE READER needs to put down the book. BOO! Halloween is upon us. Anyhoo, your caveat is insulting especially when all kinds of bibliographic materials are included in the book to enlighten the reader. Again, as with books that are not erotica, STOP marking historicals with non-white leads, written by non-white authors, LOWER than “mainstream” historicals because YOU lack the ability to shove aside internalized stereotypes. Just because YOU can’t visualize a non-white characters as dippy, reveling in their being themselves, shrewd, evil, melodramatic or routine as any white character, does not make it a reason to down grade a book. Those aspects of personality are universal and make a character human.

Just like those “outlaws” y’all drool over.   

Homogeneity in romance. Yes, honey, the force is still strong with that one. I could go on and on about the plethora of cowboys, Vikings, MC members, sports teams, MMA fighters, gov’t agents, SEALS and of course dukes, the majority of whom are white and male. But if I point that out, people will say I’m too focused on race. Really? Have you really ever looked at the weekly new releases’ shelf on any given romance book review site? It’s so homogenized it should be in the dairy section of the supermarket. 

Okay. I'm done. or more like spent. What will next quarter bring? Besides my new book? Shameless plug, I know but it's my blog. Really, who knows? I still believe in hope and change. But in the romance business, habits die hard.


  1. I laughed while reading this, though it raises serious issues. Things go in trends-contemporary has not been my favorite and definitely not lately for many of the reasons you have mentioned. But I can't tell others what to read or what to like so I just look for the things that appeal to me. I gave one of those BDSM billionaire things a go recently..didn't make it past 25%. Not for me. As for reviewing, it's tough. I stopped for a while because I got tired of authors-behaving-badly and the I deserve five stars mentality. Also, too many writers are unwilling to hone their craft so they indie publish underdone books. Not losses, but books that 'could have been better' had they taken more time to develop a voice and style. Some reviewers are snide and mean because that gets more blog hits, believe it or no. Some just like to let off steam by putting someone else down. The erotic genre is over the top. Few can write it well; most just write a mess. I can read erotic, but I've read too many bad ones or just plain porn.
    As a writer, I'll stick to what I like and work on getting my craft up to par.

  2. Thanks, RK. I agree with your points. Reader tastes are reader tastes; they do buy what they like. (possibly told to like? Reviewing is rough. And reviewing crap is even rougher. And yeah, a number of reviewres live to be snarky and for "hits." Yes, I forgot about the oh-so-important "trends." Oy. Self-pubbing has given us many good books but the rest of those authors are chasing those trends. And doing it pretty badly. Sometimes I believe it's someone who just wants to hold a book in their hand with their name on it, or see an ebook book version on the screen. I admit it's a rather nice feeling but good gravy! People, hone your craft and stop unleashing crap on the public first. It would make lots of folk happy.