All blogs are property of authors and copying is not permitted.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Wherefore Art Thou .... Real Romance?

I read a fascinating blog post about the restrictions placed on "romance books" by various entities, readers, reviewers, critics and even some of us authors our own selves. It's a very thoughtful and "literary review" type, long blog post (a rarity because we all know I have your attention for something like 2.3 minutes here today thanks to all the blog post options out there at any given moment).

It recalls historical precedent for calling something "romance" or not, and states the case for lightening up on the "formula" when you pick up your next book to read or open up a fresh document to write.

I have long been in favor of this and in fact have been on the receiving end of praise and not-so-nice commentary for it.

 It has been argued that "breaking into publishing" via romance writing is "easy.

I will wait, whilst you take a deep breath, count to twenty, sip your coffee, and calm down when you realize that I don't believe that either.  In fact, I think the ability to break through the huge amount of noise generated by all the books classified as "romance" is mind-bogglingly difficult.

It has also been stated in the past 12 months or so that the mainstreaming of erotic romance thanks to Ms. James' extreme marketing savvy, combined with Ms. Ward's ability to do what she does with a set of well-endowed vampires who are made less icky because they "only" drink each other's blood and are still smoking hot, along with the various coat tailing on those two extremely successful projects--including the invention of a Brand New Genre! New Adult--twenty something's getting it on or whatever--will drag our genre kicking and screaming away from all the formula.

I would disagree with that wholeheartedly but that's a whole 'nother blog post.

I know the formula is there: I've been told to "use it or else" by one publisher, and I have used it to some extent, because they know "what readers want."

 Take a broody, handsome, over the top successful bad boy (who is at least 6'2" tall), combine with sassy, down on her luck in some way either financially, emotionally or in possession of her virginity perky young woman. Toss them in a room, slam the door, hold it shut, peek in every now and then to watch them fight, then have make up sex, then open when she's wearing a giant engagement ring and is very possibly pregnant. The end.

Don't deny it--it's there. I know because I've been told that I couldn't do it if my life depended on it by none other than RT when they were given Floor Time to review.

It got me thinking about how I describe myself as an author. When you are at a cocktail party and admit "Yes I am a published author." What is your answer when that total stranger's eyes light up and they ask "Wow! What do you write?"

Like it or not and especially in the rarefied atmosphere of a Major College Town, answering "romance" or even "erotic romance" draws a whole lot of raised upper lips and "Oh, well thens...." that pisses me off.  And I will confess here and now that I am not, nor have I ever been a consumer of traditional romance books.  I jumped on the bandwagon just a few years ago as a reader of erotic romances starting with Lauren Dane, Desiree Holt and Shayla Black and have worked my way through many others both good, bad and in between. (I avoid the vamps and werewolves mostly). But I also consume a ton of mainstream authors. So I see it: The Formula exists without a doubt. In fact, when I'm reading mainstream novels lately I see the "romance" coming from a mile away, way early in the book, before the author likely intended for me to see it.

My argument against pigeonholing and by extension unnecessarily vilifying "romance" or "erotic romance" (50 Shades monetary success aside--that's a different post, remember?) has lead me to describe my books as "novels of fiction, many of them with a love story at their core, an most of the time I leave the more explicit sex parts in but not always, depending on if it moves the story along." And I ask people how many books they've read lately no matter what genre they claim to be, that do NOT include some sort of human connection (be it with a villain, a vampire, an alien, a cop, someone utterly unsuitable or otherwise).  Ok, I'll admit there are some hard core horror stories and mysteries/cop procedurals that don't but they are rare.

Damn do I ever need a shorter description, or catchy acronym.

What I use is "Romance for Real Life" because romance, in all it's forms, formulas and formats exists in our real lives.  Call it what you will--be it chemistry, magnetic attraction, forbidden fruit, or just plain old love at first sight--it's there for all of us. We may not fall madly for a 6'5" rake with a head full of dark hair, flashing blue eyes and the physique of David Gandy. But we do fall. My books include a fair number of attractive people yes, but their stories are rarely, if ever formulaic. It even takes some of them years to sort out their issues before figuring out they are meant to be. Which lead to one of my favorite tweets ever: "WTF it took Liz Crowe's Jack and Sara something like 10 years to be happy? #lame #notromance #avoidthisauthor"
Still just .99 at Amazon and one of Desiree Holt's new favs. Just ask her! 

But if anything I'm pushing that even further with some new projects this year.

Be proud of what you write. Don't let anyone take from you, with an upturned lip or breezy, "Oh that must be pretty easy to do," comment the thrill that you Wrote A Book (or a story or whatever) and people are Paying Money to read it. I am in no way trying to pile more scorn on the very genre we are here today to celebrate. I'm just here to say that when you read, don't assume something that is "categorized" and tagged as romance is sticking to a set of rules you expect--because we all love a good yarn, if it's spun well.  And you might find that you enjoy going outside the Formula Room a little.

 But it takes a special sort of perseverance, very thick skin, ability to consume massive amounts of caffeine and/or alcohol, and pure talent to get something published. Kudos to all of you who've done it, who keep doing it and love to read no matter what your chosen genre.

Excuse me I need to check in on the plot room--my heroine is banging on the door and demanding I let her out so she can find a guy who's less bossy.

Microbrewery owner, best-selling author, beer blogger and journalist, mom of three teenagers, and soccer fan, Liz lives in the great Midwest, in a major college town.  Years of experience in sales and fund raising, plus an eight-year stint as an ex-pat trailing spouse, plus making her way in a world of men (i.e. the beer industry), has prepped her for life as author. 

When she isn't sweating inventory and sales figures for the brewery, she can be found writing, editing or sweating promotional efforts for her latest publications. 

Her groundbreaking romance subgenre, “Romance for Real Life,” has gained thousands of fans and followers who are interested less in the “HEA” and more in the “WHA” (“What Happens After?”)

Her beer blog is nationally recognized for its insider yet outsider views on the craft beer industry. Her books are set in the not-so-common worlds of breweries, on the soccer pitch and in high-powered real estate offices.  Don’t ask her for anything “like” a Budweiser or risk painful injury.

Coming soon.....


Harlie Reader said...

Great post Liz. I like real romance in a story, too.

I also like the "fantasy" romance in my books, too. The only thing that I'm shying away from now is BDSM. It used to be my favorite sub-genre to read but now with the 50 Shades rip offs out there, I've soured on it. Too many bad books out there to read and I won't spend my money on them.

Does that make me a snob or not in the "Know" when people start talking about certain books? Yes, it does but since I still read Harlequin's, I guess I'm still behind the times.


Lynda Bailey said...


Thoughtful post. For me, I don't run into many blatant lip curlers when talking about my writing. Most folks (at least to my face) aren't deliberatly insulting. However, I did have a rather unfortunate experience early in my writing career with a "literary" critique person. (You can see where this is going, right?)

She sniffed her nose, declaring she just didn't know how I was ever going to get published writing such insipid garbage. To my happy surprise, every other CP in the group (and there was like six of them) disagreed with the b*tch's assessment.

(BTW, the manuscript she dissed went on to final in the Golden Heart© in 2010. Just sayin'...)

As you said, whether you write sweet, spicy, with gansta vamps or purple aliens, BE PROUD!

Sandy said...

Liz, since you live in the Midwest, a college town and own a brewry you might be very close to me. A very thoughtful post, and I've received a lot of criticism about what I can do and not do.

Liz said...

i'm in Ann Arbor, Sandy.


Hi, Liz! You said it all in this post. I recently told someone I write romance and instantly, their thoughts so all erotic. You can see it on their faces. I write romance--sweet, sexy, and sensual, all kinds.

And no, not going to read 50 Shades nor do I write like that.

Congratulations on your upcoming book.

Melissa Keir said...

Great post Liz. I find that we are pigeon-holed about what we write. I love stories where I can connect with the characters more than the storyline.

Congrats on your new release!

Katalina Leon said...

No profession gets more criticism than authoring.
No genre receives more criticism than romance.
A woman who speaks her mind will be criticized.
Do the math.
All you can do is be true to yourself, nurture your author's voice and stand tall in front of critics.

Carrie Ann Ryan said...

I read all types of romance, your "type" (since you know, we all have to have labels LOL), historical, tortured, paranormal, small town contemp, real life it hurts contemp, and so many more.

I write paranormal romance and the heat level is high because that's what I like writing. But when I write my outlines, it's not "Okay, so how am I a going to get them together" it's "Let me find out what's going on around them and what things are going to blow up" Then my H/h get together though that. I'm okay with that formula. I LOVE that formula.

But I like your formula as well, so really, as long as I can read it, I'm happy.

Carrie Ann--your werewolf writing romance author who likes to blow things up before and after her H/h get locked in that plot room.

Cara Marsi said...

Excellent post, Liz. I really enjoyed it. I love your tagline, "Romance for Real Life." Your books are great and your writing's great. I'm glad you decided to break the rules and write what you wanted.

I've gotten my share of snarky comments and looks when I said I write romance. My neighbor even found it strange that I'm a churchgoer and I write romance, as if they're mutually exclusive.

Molly Daniels said...

I've only run into a few people who turn up their nose when I tell them I write romance, and in the case of one person, they read my 1st one and said I surprised them. It wasn't the formulaic they expected. And it's refreshing sometimes to read books where they H/H aren't in bed by the end of the 1st chapter.

Keep doing what you're doing! Looking forward to reading more of your books!

Share buttons