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Behind The Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column
By Brian Hill & Dee Power

Murder, Muggings and Mayhem-- and this is a romance?
By Dee Power

      I’ve been catching up on my reading in the genre I like best to read for fun: romance. Before you get all riled up, I believe romance authors are up there with the best of them. I enjoy romances because I know the guy and the girl will end up together and live happily ever after. Well maybe not forever but at least for awhile.

So I went down to my local bookstore and stocked up on Nora Roberts, Barbara Delinksy, and Fern Michaels. I also bought a couple of authors I’m not familiar with, Barbara Freethy and Tara Taylor Quinn.

I got halfway into Blue Smoke by Nora Roberts and thought, there’s something different. And there was: an arsonist. No spoilers here so I’m not going to go into details, but an arsonist as the villain was a little out of the ordinary for a romance, or so I thought. Then I delved into The Jury by Fern Michaels. I like Michael’s books because she incorporates descriptions of food into her books in such a delicious way. Well the macadamia nut pancakes smothered with a banana - caramel syrup were just as yummy as ever, but the violence in the book put a damper on my appetite. The theme was about a sisterhood who dealt with revenge, graphically dealt with revenge.

I picked up In Plain Sight, Tara Taylor Quinn’s book, because the setting is Arizona and that’s where I live. Yes there was romance, but multiple murders as well. I’ve just started Taken by Barbara Freethy and we have a stalker, organized crime, and identity theft.

All of the books have been a good read, I am just surprised at the violence. Has it been that long since I read a romance or have they changed? So I decided to ask some of my author friends:

"Why do you think romance writers are including more violence in their books? Is it a reflection of the times, a way to broaden the reader base, or just a short-lived trend? Or something else altogether?"

Tara Taylor Quinn, author of In Plain Sight has this to say: “I can't speak for all romance writers, but I know that I am not consciously choosing to include more violence in my books. When I sit down to write, the stories and scenes present themselves and I write them. I've noticed my writing change, I've noticed the violence, but I'm in the know after it's happening, not before. I think the reason this is happening is large part due to the society in which I live. Drive by shootings happen in my city on enough of a regular basis that we aren't shocked. I don't stay home out of fear. I simply don't go anywhere without the awareness that I have to be careful, be observant, be smart.

“I look also at the television shows that are so successful right now. Without A Trace; Law & Order; Numbers; CSI - they just keep coming. Books and television are part of the same entertainment industry and we're all focusing more on the violence with which we live. In my opinion this is hugely due to 9/11. Those of us who lived through that horrible time will never be as innocent or trusting as we once were. We now live with the certain knowledge that there are no lines some people won't cross – they will even die to hurt others - there are no rules, anymore, governing the fight for a cause. It used to be that battle and war followed protocols that were defined and understood. That's no longer the case. In today's world soldiers aren't all wearing uniforms and fighting on pre-determined battle fields. They're living next door to us and fighting wars we don't even know about.

“In short, I think the change is a reflection of a changed society - a changed life.” Tara Taylor Quinn,

“I think it's a reflection of the times. We're surrounded by violence every time we turn
on the news or read the newspaper, so it's only natural that some of our characters would
be a reflection of this bombardment. In the case of my book, Different Roads, violence was a necessary element in order to stay true to my heroine, who grew up with violence and abuse as major factors that shaped her personality. Although she has tremendous character growth before the book's end, she continues to struggle with her temper and a tendency she has to punch those foolish enough to anger her--and the one to do that most often is the man she loves. But as physical as their arguments are, their reconciliations are just as volatile, and their love for each other is never in doubt. As long as there's enough love to overshadow the violence, I think it can be used as a literary device to make for edgy, realistic love stories that can trigger intense emotions in readers, and that's always a good thing.” Joyce Sterling Scarbrough, True Blue Forever, Different Roads

“I think it's because of a shift in the public's taste, and I think it's a trend that will change over time as trends tend to do. Perhaps it has something to do with the public perception that the world is more violent now than it used to be. There certainly seem to be more shows on TV that feature violence than there were in the past--look at the popularity of the CSI shows. Right now, it's what the public wants, and I can understand how the violence might be especially appealing in romances. After all, the violence in romances still leads to a happy ending, whereas violence in real life rarely does.” Jenna Black, Watchers in the Night, coming October 31, 2006; Secrets in the Shadows, 5/07; Shadows on the Soul, 9/'07, The Devil Inside (Bantam/Spectra urban fantasy), Fall '07,

“I think what you're seeing is more of what's been happening over the past several years--a blurring of genre lines. Romance is going farther and farther into thriller territory, capitalizing on an audience that likes a little murder and mayhem with their romance (or, in some cases, a little romance with their murder and mayhem). In my opinion, this is largely to build a reader base that includes the typical romance reader (many of whom have read so much they're also eager to branch out) while reaching out to new readers in the form of readers who are typically fans of other genres.” Brenda Novak, Dead Silence, There's a body buried behind a Mississippi farmhouse...

“The romance novel cross-pollinates with many other genre--science fiction, fantasy, thriller, suspense, and mystery to name a few. Each of these other genres bring their own requirements in world building, violence, and other elements. Violence, in particular, seems to be a defining element for many romance writers who write grittier violence to offset the softer romantic elements in these cross-genre/cross-market novels.

“Will this trend continue? In the short term, yes, but long term as these cross-genre novels become more mainstream, romance writers will no longer need to prove themselves, and the violence will fit the book, not the need to be grittier than the average thriller or sf novel.

“As an interesting aside, romance's success has also caused another form of cross-pollination--the addition of strong female characters, romance, and lots of sex to the other markets.” Marilynn Byerly, Guardian Angel, Star Crossed,

“I write about violence/adventure and romance because women are more "doer"s today and many work in professions that have risk and danger involved. Every encounter with another person is a relationship of some sort, whether friendship, parent/child, adversary, or romantic, romantic being the ultimate relationship. Put them together and you have a good story.” Elizabeth Lucas-Taylor, Unfinished Business

Are romance writers and their publishers going after more mainstream readers? With the exception of the Fern Michael’s book, the covers are definitely not the typical romance cover. And neither is the back cover copy or endorsement blurbs.

When I asked Karen Kosztolnyik, Senior Editor at Warner Books that question. She responded: “How a book is packaged affects how it can be received by the reading audience. We have an author named Karen Rose, an up-and-coming star for Warner, who writes romantic suspense in mass market paperback. (Don’t Tell, Have You Seen Her?) We package her books so they look like straight suspense, not like a romance at all. We have been hearing from bookstores that men are buying her books as quickly as women are. Part of the reason is that the packaging was designed to appeal to both men and women.”

Romances, like any other genre, reflect the world around us. Our concerns, worries, hopes and dreams are what influences the writers. As readers’ tastes evolve so do their preferences in romance novels. Now what I hope never changes in a romance is the “happily ever after.’

Dee Power (Ms.) is co-author with Brian Hill of
The Making of a Bestseller: Success Stories from Authors and the Editors, Agents, and Booksellers Behind Them, Dearborn Trade, ISBN 0793193087
Over Time, the novel, ISBN 0974075418

2007 Past Columns

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