Evangeline Holland

Sweeping Drama ⚜ Larger than Life History ⚜ Exquisite Romance ⚜ Diverse Perspectives
September 6th, 2013

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.

August 15th, 2013

The Three Types of Conflict in Romance Novels

As I brainstormed the revision for Yours Very Truly, I happened to stumble upon this bit of writing advice I saved to my hard drive two years ago. I had an “Ah ha!” moment, because I realized this was the missing ingredient in my MS.

I am so upset that I cannot find who wrote this article/blog post–a Google search (and with multiple phrases in quotation marks!) turned up no trace of the author. So if you recognize this as your own or that of someone you know, please leave your/their name in the comments so I can attribute this to you/them!

1) There are three types of conflict in romance novels.

To be honest, I feel like I should have known this already. I’ve read the books everyone always recommends about conflict (such as GMC by Deb Dixon), and as a writer, I definitely understand the concept and importance of conflict. Still, I’m pretty sure a light bulb went off in my head when I heard that there are THREE and not just TWO types of conflict:

a) Internal conflict

b) Conflict between the romance hero and heroine

c) External conflict

The “aha!” moment for me was in discovering that the conflict between the hero and the heroine is not enough to act as the external conflict. I’m usually not the sort of authors who writes about murders and mysteries, so I’ve been pretty happy with having my external conflict come from the hero and heroine. To know that there is something else expected and that the external conflict doesn’t have to be a murder or mystery is truly eye-opening to me. This has also done amazing things for the book I’m currently working on. After going to this workshop, I brainstormed with my critique partner about the external conflict and can already tell that it’s a much stronger story.

Think of the external conflict as another layer to the story. For example (and I’m pulling this out of thin air), imagine that Joe and Sue already have conflict between them as hero and heroine because he’s upper class, she’s lower class, and neither trust each other because of their backgrounds. This type of conflict increases the emotional and sexual tension. Then throw in the external conflict–Sue wants to pretend to be higher class because she’s in love with another man, but Joe knows the truth and is determined to reveal her true identity (of course, he later decides he doesn’t want her to succeed because he loves her 😉 ). Make her circumstances dire so that she HAS to win the other man not only because she thinks she loves him, but because her family will lose everything (of what little they have) and the crass truth is she needs his money. Make this urgent, and make Joe’s determination to prevent her from succeeding just as urgent. This is real external conflict. The conflict between hero and heroine come from a personal level (what has happened between them that they are at odds at the beginning?) and the external conflict adds a layer of depth to the story that increases the tension between the two (even if Joe and Sue realize they’re in love, maybe she can’t marry him because he’s impoverished).

Again, I swear a light went off in my head as my brain wrapped around this concept.

2) To resolve conflicts, TRUST is more important than LUST.

Another simple concept, but also eye-opening for me. I have to admit that writing conflict between the hero and heroine is very easy for me (and fun!), but resolving that conflict is not as easy. Having someone say that the hero and heroine need to trust each other at the end of the book is something I believe I *knew*, just not something I fully understood. The romance reader wants to close a book believing in the HEA, and it is our job as writers to give that HEA to them by showing that the hero and heroine have a future together not just because they feel like they’re in love or because they can have a dozen babies, but because they’re able to trust each other and stick together no matter the downfalls throughout a future relationship. (If you haven’t read UNLOCKED by Courtney Milan yet, I highly recommend it; you’ll see how she masters this toward the end of the novella.)

The fantastic thing about becoming a plotter (which I’m slowly working toward) is that if you know your conflicts ahead of time, then you can draw upon these to plan the perfect way to resolve them–a resolution that is meaningful to your characters’ fears and motivation, and one that ends with the characters trusting each other despite the conflict that has occurred between them in the past.

December 16th, 2012

Why I Write WWI Romance Novels

Stretcher-Bearing in Difficulties

Stretcher-Bearing in Difficulties © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3801)

The words seem incongruous–“Romance” and “WWI”. To many historians (academic and family), it might seem insulting to situate a “bodice ripper” in the midst of a violent, tragic, and heartbreaking war, and to many readers, it might seem too sad and hopeless a setting to believe in the fantasy elements of the genre. As I fill my hard drive and bookshelves with research books I live with the carnage and blood and despair, but I also live with the bravery and pluck and determination of WWI society, and yes, also the humor.

What attracts me most is that women have an even greater agency than before. Things loosened up considerably during the Edwardian era, but the war showed women what they were made of, whether they became a VAD nurse or ran large charities. Another attraction is the shaking-up of the class system. It wasn’t entirely demolished, but the foundations of the upstairs/downstairs life, as well as the divide between the have and the have-nots, were tested and challenged. After all, what does rank and wealth matter in death or in perilous situations?

When it comes to the actual romantic life during WWI, from the outside looking in (or rather looking back from today), it seems depressing, but do people ever stop falling in love? Does hope and joy absolutely end? I think not, and all of that–particularly wanting to honor the living, the survivors of that time–is what I hope to capture each time I write a romantic novel set during the Great War.