Why She Writes Romance
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
January 2019
Contributor
Written by
She Writes
January 2019

Recently we have been drilling down into particular genres of writing and exploring tips from the biggest authors writing in that arena. Check out tips from top romance writers in this edition of Why She Writes.

Nora Roberts

Arguably the queen of modern day romance, Nora Roberts has spent a total of 16 years on the New York Times bestseller list. Not only is she unflinchingly unapologetic about writing in the genre, but she is also one of the people who has helped to elevate it.

In this interview with The Guardian they break down her approach to the genre:

"Roberts writes what she refers to cryptically as "the big R". Romance. All genres are scorned by literary types, but none more so than romance. In lit-land, it's lower than crime, lower than horror, lower, even, than sci-fi. But then, it's a genre written by women for women. Unless "a guy writes one and they call it something else. And it gets reviewed and made into a movie," says Roberts. She doesn't actually say the words "David Nicholls" or "One Day", but they hover in the air. One Day was a breakthrough romantic novel, taken seriously by publishers, given a non-chick-lit cover, and treated as a worthy subject for reviews in broadsheet newspapers. "A woman writes it and it's just one of those," she says. "I mean, how long are you going to fight that battle?"

[…]

What does she think of the recent news story claiming that romantic fiction gives women unrealistic expectations? "Because women aren't supposed to have expectations, right? We're pretty smart. I think we know the difference between reality and fiction. I don't think that people read Agatha Christie, and then think: I know, I'll go and murder someone."

[…]

There is, she says, "more than a streak of misogyny" in the way romance is viewed. "All some people see is the big R and dismiss it. But I've made my career on my own terms and that doesn't necessarily suit the likes of the New York Times book review."

Sonali Dev

Has carved out a niche within a niche with her Indian-infused novels centered around Bollywood. Proof that there is a lot of room to grow within a genre that some claim is already overrun.

Sonali sat down with All About Romance to talk about the typical tropes within the genre and how they apply to her writing.

"I only became conscious of the concept of tropes in romance when someone read A Bollywood Affair and remarked on how it was the Rake and Virgin trope. I was appalled at first, but then I realized that it was true. Then I started thinking about how such a thing could have happened unconsciously. I guess given that romance is such a prolific and voracious genre and that we’ve analyzed it for so long, every type of conflict and situation has been labeled, and no matter the story you write it will fall into one of those categories. To me it’s more about the issue the characters are dealing with. That’s where I start from and as I said earlier the issues that call to me are personal freedom against the need for family, and personal choice against conditioning. Having said that I love reading about second chances at first love."

Sarah MacLean

In an age where sexual consent is front and center, the romance genre has fallen under some scrutiny for its sometimes less-than-perfect handling of sexual engagement. Sarah MacLean discussed with Bookish how she, as a modern romance writer, handles this and considers it as she writes.

"People criticize romance for its handling of consent, often because in the early days rape was present on the page. Many people don’t understand that it was written as social commentary. Rape was something happening to real women, and it was also happening to heroines. In those books, it was perpetuated by the heroes, and the heroines pushed back. Heroines said the word rape, writers wrote the word rape, and it wasn’t an easy transition from hero as aggressor to hero as a hero. Consent was on the page, even when nonconsent was being represented. I think that’s what makes the genre so powerful: Women understand that in the world consent isn’t always asked for, and it isn’t always valued. Romance was able to say that from the beginning, from the very first book. It’s not new, not even a little. Some writers are being more overt about it, but it’s not new."

Beverly Jenkins

Beverly Jenkins is a beloved historical romance author who talks about writing in this subgenre and the need for more thoughtful categorization within the space with USA Today’s Happily Ever After blog.

"Madeline: What about historical romance keeps you writing them?

Beverly: The scope, and being able to share with readers the little-known facts about the contributions made by people of color to the history that shaped our nation.

Madeline: If you could change one thing about how your books are published, marketed and/or read, what would it be?

Beverly: Avon does a great job of publishing and marketing me, but some of the other authors of color are having difficulty being discovered by our readers because their works aren’t being marketed or sold as romance. African American is not a genre. Their books should be in the romance section."

Alisha Rai

Alisha Rai is known for writing some seriously steamy books. And as a woman of color, she is pushing the boundaries of the typical “white” characters as well as addressing how she navigates consensual sex within her novels. In an interview with Shondaland she covers these topics.

"JL: Your books are very sexy. How do you know as an author that your hero or heroine is sexy? How do you make sexy characters?

AR: I think sex positivity is really important, as a person and as an author. And I think a lot of people interpret that to mean "Women should have lots of sex." But for me, what sex positivity means is that people should just do what feels good for them. And as long as it's consensual and you're adults and all of those caveats apply, if you're honoring your own desire, that's good, and that's positive. And if that means abstaining from sex, that's fine. If that means having lots as one, that's fine too.

JL: On that note, how do you bring consent into how you write sexy scenes?

AR: When I'm writing, I'm very conscious of whose point of view I'm in, and who's holding the power. And if it's a man and a woman and the man is in the dominant position in whatever way, I'll write it from her point of view, just to show that her head's fully engaged and she's consenting. I think it's important from a craft perspective to make it very clear in whatever way you can that [both characters] are digging it."

Bella Andre

Bella Andre went from having a traditional deal to full on indie success within the romance realm. She didn’t do it alone though. In a chat with Romance Rehab she talked about the importance of a team and community.

"Becoming a NYT and USA Today bestseller is no easy accomplishment. What advice do you have for all the authors and aspiring romance writers out there who hope to someday achieve your level of success?

First, remember you aren’t alone! It’s really important to have a good team behind you. I have an amazing team of editors, proofers and digital file producers. I work with great bloggers and marketing professionals and I also have the love and support of my family. Everyone thinks “indie publishing” means being independent, but it’s not the case at all. While you get to be in charge of your own career and your own vision, you also work with lots of great people to put your book out there!

And second, remember that in the end, it’s all about the book. How much you love writing what you’re writing matters. Plus, you’ve got to do the work every day by getting the words down."

Lauren Blakely

Lauren Blakely is a prolific romance author who found great success when she found the genre that was calling to her all along. She broke down her strengths and why romance is so readable in a conversation with Cosmopolitan.

"On realizing her strengths

Before I started writing romance I was writing young adult novels under another name, and the biggest hurdle for me was actually realizing and accepting that self-publishing was ultimately going to be the better way for me to go. I was trying in young adult and I had publishing deals, but those books were never successful and they never found an audience. The biggest challenge was finally realizing, "OK, it's not going to work, and I need to do something else and I need to return to my first love." Because I was that girl who loved Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon growing up and devoured all of those stories. I realized, "Oh, this is the genre I’m supposed to be writing in." Not the one that I'm banging my head against the wall trying to get published in and then not finding an audience in. Once I did that, I was much happier and much more successful.

On why everyone loves romance

Because it's so yummy! Who doesn't want to be in love or fall in love? Yes, I know there are plenty of people who don't, but it's really connected to this basic, human thing that we're all aspiring to. We all want to fall in love, we all want to give love and feel love, and I think that's what it delivers on. The other reason that it's perennially popular is that we know ultimately there's this promise of a happy ending."

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