Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives

Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

February 10th, 2016 by Evangeline Holland

Romance for Newbies

It’s obvious to readers of romance that the genre is comprised of endless variation. To outsiders, every book looks the same: naked chests, clinch covers, sometimes flowery titles, and sometimes uniform color schemes. So let’s break it down:

Sub-Genres

These are the basic umbrellas under which romance falls:

  • Contemporary Romance
  • Historical Romance
  • Paranormal Romance
  • Romantic Suspense
  • Erotic Romance

These sub-genre umbrellas can often overlap: for example, Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series is paranormal historical romance. Kate Pearce even tackled Tudor vampires.

There’s also the Inspirational/Christian romance market, which, encompasses all major romance sub-genres; however, since these books are forced to follow specific content guidelines, they are often treated as a genre in and of itself. Some Inspy authors exist outside of this rigid market (Piper Huguley and the ladies of Black Christian Reads, or “edgy Inspirational” author Deeanne Gist).

Sometimes Western/cowboy romance can exist in its own bubble (Genevieve Turner, Amity Lassiter, and Francis Ray, to name a few).

Science Fiction romance is sometimes lumped beneath the Paranormal romance sub-genre: see The Galaxy Express, the mother of sff romance Linnea Sinclair, Ann Aguirre, Cathy Pegau, and Alyssa Cole’s Off the Grid series.

Should we consider LGBTQIA+ romance its own sub-genre? Either way, it exists: Rebekah Weatherspoon, KJ Charles, and Joanna Chambers are some great authors to begin with. Riptide Publishing is another source for great works.

Covers

These sub-genres of romance shout who they are on the covers, which is why non-readers never “get it;” they aren’t attuned to the specific language these covers express.

A shirtless man in breeches and a lady with a ballgown about to slide down her back is–you guessed it–historical romance.
the-tattooed-duke

Got a sword? A tattoo? A broody color scheme? Tough looking characters? Paranormal or SFF romance.
Archangel's Shadows

A couple in contemporary clothing, gazing deeply into one another’s eyes–contemporary romance, of course!
zuri day

Romantic suspense is where things can get murky. Usually, if there’s a man or a couple on the cover, the book is going to be about 60/40 of romance to suspense. If it’s just a woman and the cover seems kind of vague, the suspense plot is going to dominate the story.
karen rose

pamela clare

Fifty Shades of Grey’s simple, textured book covers made a huge impact on how erotic romance was packaged. You can clearly see the before and after with the cover for Sylvia Day’s Bared to You.

bared to you

Tropes

Romance readers discover what they like to read like everyone else: by reading. Some love road romances, while others loathe them. Some readers will read anything that features a marriage in jeopardy, while others prefer characters to be strangers when they first meet. Military heroes may be your catnip, while for another reader, they only want blue collar handymen.

All About Romance has a long-running list of popular books by trope, but thanks to Amazon, you can type in whatever trope you like and find a variety of books to purchase.

Language

Non-romance readers love to mock the genre by reading snippets of the prose. Taken out of context it does sometimes read breathy, overwrought, and hit-you-over-the-head. But the function of romance prose is to immerse the reader in intense sensation: you feel the hero’s anguish when he’s lost the hero. You feel the heroine’s triumph when the man of her dreams lays his heart at her feet. Romance is supposed to stimulate your emotions as well as your mind.

Sex

Don’t worry if you squirm while reading sex scenes–some authors have admitted they squirm whilst writing them! Yet, their existence is consistent with the genre’s adherence to creating intimacy between the reader and the text.

And can you honestly sit there and say you haven’t ever perched on the edge of your couch while watching TV, urging your ‘ship to Do It!!?

Readings

Lest you think the romance community gulps down what it sells uncritically, and that it isn’t a “serious” genre, I point you to the amazing scholarship being done in Popular Romance studies. For a more accessible overview of the genre, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan of Smart Bitches published Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels in 2009. Top romance authors of the 1990s published the still readable and thought-provoking Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women: Romance Writers on the Appeal of the Romance.

And hey, if you want to watch something, find (or set up) a screening of Love Between the Covers, starring Beverly Jenkins, Eloisa James, Celeste Bradley, et al.

Looking for African-American romance? Try Romance in Color and Girl Have You Read?. Saris and Stories are a group of Indian-American romance writers.

Happy Reading!

April 7th, 2015 by Evangeline Holland

On Diversity in Historical Romance

NYT Best-selling historical romance author Sarah Maclean tweeted a link to a Tumblr conversation about the historical accuracy excuse in regards to period dramas erasing people of color from its cast of characters and its general landscape. It is a powerful indictment against lazy history and the laziness when it comes to building a diverse cast in our media. Yet, it also made me sigh.

There was a discussion about diversity on the Romance Divas forum a few weeks ago, and I believe #WeNeedDiverseBooks took off where #WeNeedDiverseRomance fizzled because diversity is treated as a “lesson.” We want our children to learn and accept everyone in order to become “good” people (this fostering of tolerance and acceptance also keeps order in the classroom and on the playground).

When it comes to the romance genre, it is built on the premise of escaping from life’s burdens. The hyperinflation of the fantasy is another pervasive aspect of the genre. Fantasy and escape does not include elements that discomfort and discomfit, nor does it include elements you don’t consider a personal fantasy (hence why some readers will never tire of billionaires or Navy SEALs or rakish dukes).

With regards to historical romance, it is hit with the double whammy of fantasy and escapism, which is deeply entwined with what readers think they know about the past. The average American mostly encounters people of color in history through lessons about Native American extermination, slavery and Jim Crow, Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, etc. We are taught history from the outside in, from the top down–by and about oppressors, in literal oppression–which completely erases the inner lives of POC. Since romance is hinged on the inner lives of its characters, it is very difficult to see POC in the past. We only see what “they” said happened to them in the past.

Even though I am a black woman and an historian, I am not exempt from this difficulty in scooping the inners lives of POC from the fog of time. I can easily turn to a biography or a book of letters when I want to craft a white British character. It takes more work to build a solid understanding of who my POC in my books are because the written record is often missing, it is often coded–for the consumption of white audiences–, and it is often scattered in bits and pieces across a variety of mediums.

For example, I’ve been researching black women in WWI and the Spanish Flu in the US. I have been flipping back and forth between primary and secondary sources, obscure books, and general histories to get a proper picture of what they did. The primary sources are chock full of patriotism and keep-your-chin-up. The emotional ups and downs, the political reaction to war, etc seen in contemporary works by white women can be muted or absent absent from black writing. We don’t have books of letters written by a black mother to her son overseas, or memoirs of black women war workers.

This shaky historical foundation can often make it difficult to go “What If…?” (that old writer’s block standby) because you fall back on assumptions–“my heroine can’t do XYZ, it was racist back then!” Or, when desirous of including POC, you only frame them in the context of race and racism.

But this is where I tell you–and remind myself–to dig deep. Read the words of POC. Look at your setting and find works written by POC in that time period–plays, novels, poetry, autobiographies. Don’t be intimidated by academic dissertations and texts. Email professors specializing in a particular cultural group’s history. Read broad histories of these people. Seek photographs and paintings of these people. The same way you’ll eagerly seek information for the weather in London of August 1834.

And then go read historical romance written by AOC about POC.

September 6th, 2013 by Evangeline Holland

Twilight, P2P, and the Future of the Romance Genre

I’m a fan of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy, and after reading it last year, I perused the spate of P2P romances thrown into the self-publishing arena. While I soon realized I didn’t seek to replicate the billionaire dom/inexperienced twentysomething of Fifty Shades, but the sweeping emotions of the books, I did find it interesting to flick through all of the passionate fan-fiction that came out of the Twilight fandom. The rise of New Adult contemporary romance over the past year also piqued my interest–my unpopular opinion is that New Adult does have its roots in Young Adult romance. After all, the early writers like Jamie McGuire and Colleen Hoover explicitly categorized their books as Upper YA/Mature YA in their Kindle descriptions and on their websites. There’s a knee-jerk reaction against claims that NA is “sexed up YA,” so this tends to be forgotten…but I digress. Entangled Publishing’s foray into category romance, and the subsequent explosion of Jennifer Probst’s The Marriage Bargain, was also a noteworthy accomplishment, as was the sudden change in fortune for contemporary romance in the wake of FSoG.

It seemed that overnight, contemporary romance went from dead last behind historical romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance (all of which switched places for the #1 spot in sales/buzz), to absolutely killing best-seller lists. And contemporary is still going strong, whilst historicals, romantic suspense, and paranormals are experiencing a slump, with the exception of the super top best-sellers like Julia Quinn, Linda Howard, and J.R. Ward. Before FSoG and self-publishing, one romance sub-genre dominating over all was practically unheard of–even during the furor for paranormal romance and urban fantasy between 2005-2009, sales and buzz were still spread evenly over other sub-genres (save contemporary romance–it was just in 2009 that Jane of Dear Author and Sarah of Smart Bitches launched their “Save the Contemporary” campaign–bet they didn’t foresee this change!).

When Entangled Publishing launched their Indulgence line, they rankled many in Romancelandia with their claims of “this is not your mother’s category romance”–but in a way, this is kind of true. The same way Fifty Shades of Grey sold erotic contemporary romance in a slick, non-romance genre-esque package, which then changed the face of how romance publishers packaged their erotic romance, Entangled sells their category romance without the “trashy Harlequin” stigma. I see the influence of Entangled and New Adult covers in Penguin’s Intermix line here and here (interesting that they keep tried-and-true romance covers on the books published in their print programs). Covers that were created by artists outside the traditional publishing marketing/art department arena.

My thoughts on this topic didn’t coalesce until I read Jane’s review for Hydraulic Level Five by Sarah Latchaw, another P2P Twilight fan-fiction. The Twilight fandom (YA in general) seems like an entire cottage industry of romance writers working outside traditional romance genre channels. I think we ought to keep an eye on them; these are present and future romance readers who didn’t grow up on Heyer and traditional Regencies, or were passed their mother’s Harlequins, or snuck “bodice rippers” behind books in class like many romance readers who came to the genre between the 70s and 00s.

This new crop of readers (and writers) are likely to bypass the genre altogether because they’re consuming and creating the types of books that speak to them–even if they use the same romance genre tropes. The ethics of P2P aside, the contents and packaging of these super popular fanfics ought to be studied and assessed. The impact of the Twilight (or Harry Potter, or other huge YA books) fandom may not hit the overall romance genre right now (or…maybe it will; self-publishing and the intensity of internet-fueled fandoms have drastically changed the game), but it has hit contemporary romance quite hard in a very short period of time. It behooves us–writers especially–to keep an ear to the ground, and eye on the mood of various readerships, in order to keep abreast of where romance is heading.