Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Romance rules OK!

Yet another post on another blog (no, I'm not linking to it) saying that romance is rubbish and formulaic. Why is it only romance that is judged by its poorest examples, instead of its best?

Romance is seen as the lowest of the low by many people, and invariably, those people haven't actually read any, or have read a couple and decided it's not for them. From this you get the view that "Harlequin is boy and girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl, no sex involved, the end." You see that all over, but anyone who's read a good Intrigue or Blaze can tell you just how wrong that is.

The other is that romance is the single largest genre in paperback sales (I don't know about hardback, so I'm leaving them out). And in ebook sales, too. So it's a lucrative market, if you can break into it. That inevitably leads to a slew of 'also rans,' writers that are just okay, writers who are cynically exploiting the genre (yes, shock,horror, they do exist!) and writers who think, "well, it's only romance, so I can get away with stuff."
Well, in the long run, they can't. Romance books have to be deeply felt, original and exciting to truly make the grade, although, as any romance reader will tell you, she will read a bit of fodder just to keep her habit running comfortably.

Romance is no longer "boy/girl," it can be "boy/boy," "boy/girl/boy" or "vampire/girl," and so on. So "boy meets girl" no longer applies. Romantic suspense has also enlivened the genre, so some romances read more like a James Bond novel or even a police procedural. The romance still has to be upfront and centre, but the story can feature catching a serial killer, exploring vampire society, and the darker elements are really hot at the moment.

But look at the keeper shelves. I have a healthily sized keeper shelf. Not every book by a favourite author makes it there, and they don't make it for the same reasons. Sometimes, when a book that's part of a series doesn't come up to par, I keep them for the sake of the others.

I can think of only two authors whose books invariably make it on to my keeper shelf. Laura Kinsale, who writes historicals, and Robin Schone, who writes highly erotic romances set in the late Victorian era. Both these authors are original, and far from prolific, so everything they release is a treasure, and because they push boundaries, even if the book doesn't work entirely, it's always worth a look.

Then there are more prolific but equally talented writers like Linda Howard, Elizabeth Lowell and Suzanne Brockmann, as well as Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Liz Carlyle. Great writers, but not all their books are keepers for me. They are more prolific, sometimes they try something that doesn't work for me, but I don't want them to stop trying, because even if it doesn't work for me, it will work for someone else, and it develops them as writers.

Since I love reading paranormal romances, I find it surprising how few paranormals make it. At the moment I'm keeping them all, but really, I haven't found a resonance and a depth that I think I'll stick with. I'm working hard trying to add that, but it's not for me to say if I succeed or not.