Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quality Romance is not an Oxymoron

Ten years ago, a good friend and excellent romance writer told me, “You have to be better than romance to write romance.” As I was just beginning my writing career and had the notion, as many novice writers do, that writing romance was a low rung on the ladder, my friend wanted me to know that there’s much more to writing bodice rippers than bodice ripping. She was so right.
This Christmas, I ran into a former business colleague in Orlando who told me he’d heard I was now writing romance novels. “I think I’ll give that a crack,” he said. “It’s a simple formula. How hard could it be?” I smiled at him and decided I’d let him live with his delusions. Let him see how difficult it is to create believable characters and make his readers’ hearts pound. How will he navigate point of view? And I can’t wait to read his sex scenes. They’ll undoubtedly drone on like an anatomy lesson. But let him have his fun. If he’s astute (and serious), he’ll pay attention to the rejection letters. He’ll realize the “simple formula” of writing romance isn’t so simple.
How do you suppose he’ll handle conflict? Heaven knows, he’ll probably have his h/h dueling it out with antiquated pistols. Of course, he’ll be proud of himself because he’d have researched the correct firearms for the job. But would he put us in the head of the duelers? Would we feel their anguish? Would our finger twitch and our heart beat in our ears as we squeeze the trigger? Oops, he just killed off the heroine. Now what?
Not that accuracy isn’t important. For my first print book, Love Fang, I asked a dentist friend to read over the scenes where my dentist heroine was practicing endodontics. I didn’t want any hygienists, dental assistants, or dentists to call me on inaccuracies as my heroine performed a root canal. My friend was happy to oblige. He returned the scenes to me with his stamp (or should I say drill) of approval. I hadn’t told him previously that the book was a romance, so this was the point at which I recounted the plot. He guffawed. “Oh, a romance? Why would you care whether it was accurate?” I guess I wouldn’t be thanking him in the credits.
As the lovely Sarah at Smart Bitches/Trashy Books says, educating the public about the quality of romance has to be done in baby steps. Sure, there’s still bad writing out there and there are writers who don’t do their due diligence, but that’s true in any genre.
We can change the public’s perceptions. The more we write quality romance, write about the attributes of good romance, and celebrate the writers who excel in this genre, the more people will realize how wrong they’ve been. Won’t you take a few minutes to blog your views? Or, the next time you’re in Barnes & Noble, how about siding up to someone with one of your favorite romance novels in hand and expounding on its exceptional prose? You might enlist a convert.

Susan Blexrud has five e-books currently available through DCL Publications. She is in print with a story in the anthology, 7 Sins, and her first full-length print novel, Love Fang, will be available later this month from Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit her at: www.susanblexrud.com.


  1. Thanks, Miriam. It's frustrating to see some of the pap out there that gets published, but I think the movement for quality is gaining momentum. The more Miriam Newman books out there, the better! Hear, hear!

  2. Very well articulated, Susan! Trust me...being an editor, I have seen where someone follows that "formula" and it fell flat. My hat goes off to anyone willing to put words on a page for someone else to judge, but it has to be a well told story to win favor with me.

  3. Brenna, great comment! Icky? No way!

  4. And to editor-par-excellence Jean...Thanks for all you do for the writers at DCL, lady! You're amazing!

  5. Romance writing is just as important than any type and I truly love my romance books. This world is so full of bad stuff..a great romance is needed to even things out and give readers a book that shows love, kindness and all those good things. An author has to put things in correct order so whoever has now respect for romance writers or books needs to set down and read about a dozen good romance books. susan L.

  6. @ Anthony, so true. Spare me from literature snobs. I like your axiom. @ Susan L. I totally agree. Many of the most vocal critics have never read a romance. They just assume the writing is poor. Well, they're missing out on some great stories.