We’ve come a long way, baby
Many of us are old enough to remember the beginnings of the romance novel as a popular genre in American literature. Although romance novels have been around for centuries – just pick up a copy of Jane Austin or the Bronte sisters – the notion of romance as top selling fiction is a recent one. In the 1970s the “Avon Ladies” began the trend and included such greats as Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, and Rosemary Rogers. Those were the days of “bodice ripper” covers, pirates and captives, older men with virginal heroines to conquer, and the concept of no means yes. These books sold well, almost as if contemporary women had been waiting for fiction to titillate their senses and validate their need for recognition as sensual beings.
But what about the lady who read these books on the bus? Was she embarrassed by the cover of the book she’d chosen? Did she have the novel hidden in one of those cute flowery cotton book covers? Did she hide her novel behind the pages of Life Magazine? Did she hide the book from her husband and children? Yes, she often did.
But times have changed folks. Today’s romance authors are lawyers, university professors, savvy retirees. And their heroines are no longer virgins, repressed maidens, teachers, nurses, and secretaries. Today’s heroines are pilots, ship captains, explorers, real estate execs, almost any occupation you can think of. Heroines in historical romance fiction are educated, willful, brave, and verbally equal to their male counterparts. And guess what? They like sex! Thank goodness!
Today’s romance novels appear in several sub-genres, enough to satisfy any taste and reading level. Romantic suspense, intrigue, comedy, chick lit, inspirational, or blazing hot – the boy meets girl plot can leave the reader crying into a hanky or turning her light on through the night. And no longer are the plots just simple “catch a rich guy” or “tame the cowboy” themes. Today’s heroines suffer through divorce and battle breast cancer and weight gain. Their children become ill, they experience deep regret and redemption. The stories are full and meaty and true to life. Again, thank goodness!
Marketing departments at major publishers have recognized these trends and have kept pace. Book covers today are often comprised of inanimate objects. Heroes and heroines are most often clothed and resemble the boy and girl next door, though maybe slightly better looking than that gangly guy with braces. So write on, romancers. There is a genre for you and the plot is waiting. Just remember that happy ending. Some things never change.
Cynthia Thomason is an award winning, bestselling author who is active in the Florida Romance Writers. She started writing in the mid 90's and have since published more than two dozen books in the romance and mystery genres.