From the first time my mother caught me reading naughty books in bed as a teen and asked me, “Let me see your hands,” romance novels have always been my little secret. In college I read romance novels as an escape, but it has taken me awhile to get over the embarrassment of reading romance, the stigma that romance fans are Oreo munching fatties that read about other people having sex but aren't actually getting any themselves.
Even now I find it hard to admit my reading affair. At book events or workshops with other writers, I’ll repeat the names of award winning authors they’ll recognize, but I secretly stack the “serious” novels between my “fluffy” romance. Why? Because romance novels have a tried and true plot: boy meets girl, boy bangs girl, boy and girl fall in love. And from a writer’s stand point, there is no better exercise in description than 300 pages of steamy romance!
But I’m outing myself here. Yes, I, an educated woman, a writer, a journalist, professor, wife, avid reader, and fan of serious drama and fiction LOVE romance novels!
I love the verbs: passion, intrigue, scandal. The pictures of bare chested men and perfectly formed women. I love the fact that I always know what's going to happen. I've even used the books as a guide of sorts--come on! After years in a relationship sometimes I need a little advice, a trick or two, a move. I love it all!
And romance novels love readers. Naysayers may blush at the Blaze series or get huffy over Harlequins, but the estimated $1.37 billion industry is publishing gold according to the Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2009.
- Romance fiction generated $1.37 billion in sales in 2008.
- Romance fiction was the largest share of the consumer market in 2008 at 13.5 percent.
- 7,311 new romance titles were released in 2008.
- Romance was the top performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly best-seller lists in 2008.
- Romance fiction sales are estimated at $1.36 billion for 2009.
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
But you can’t just throw any hot sheet mess at serious readers and expect good financial return. On their web site, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, “a couple of smart bitches who will always give it to you straight,” talk about their favorite writers, novels, review recent releases and share their love of romance with thousands of readers—the site gets anywhere from 3 to 6 million hits a month.
In an interview with USA Today, Tan—a third-year law student at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Ore.—said when people learn she reads and review romance novels they automatically assume the worst, “I can see it in their eyes that their opinion of my intelligence is just being revised downwards,” she told the paper. "I feel embarrassed for them."
"For the price of a romance novel," Wendell told NPR, you get "something that's going to end in contentment and security, and that's in short supply right now."
Fort Worth television/movie critic and local radio personality Candace Havens of the Big 96.3 is a seasoned romance writer. With six books on the shelf and a new contract with Harlequin, she bewitches her readers with steamy sex scenes and vampy flame-throwing female characters that cast spells and kick demon ass, all in four-inch Pradas.
I spoke with Havens during a recent interview with DFW.com
and talked about her writing.
"I create lives for people I see," she said. Like Austin waitress Aspen, who found her way into Havens’ latest page-turner, Dragons Prefer Blondes. Or Zane in Charmed and Ready, a hot humanitarian rock star in need of witch Bronwyn’s protection. "He’s one of my favorite characters ever," Havens says.
Though what she writes was once considered fluff in the writers’ world, even trashy by harsher critics, Havens is part of a growing number of romance writers who are changing the genre one steamy cover at a time.
Romance writers and their readers aren’t just bored housewives anymore. They’re women like Julia Quinn
, a Harvard graduate who dropped out of Yale medical school to write romance novels, and Sandra Brown, a former model and weathercaster on WFAA-TV who now lives in Arlington. Both are New York Times
And they’re women like Havens, a college-educated Fort Worth mom who has a full-time job as an entertainment columnist and writes books on the side.
Yes, they all still write breast-heaving, tongue-sliding scenes that set your loins on fire, but the women they write about and for aren’t faint characters in need of saving by a Lord Dashing in tight breeches. There are plots, suspense, intrigue, magic, humor — and romance. Not just sex.
“I’m not comfortable with [pure erotica]," says Havens, who’s working on a contemporary romance novel for Harlequin Blaze series Take Me if You Dare
(her jacket cover mockup is shown in the picture) is set for publication in February 2010).
"I write like I talk."
And her fans love reading her books.
"They’re hilarious, and they are addictive," said Liz Rivera of Frisco.
She has "heroes that are saving the world but still have boyfriend problems," said Denise Barker, also of Frisco, who recently attended a Havens book-signing at Legacy Books in Plano. "Candace is good for a laugh."
That’s the reaction Havens is going for.
"In most romance novels, the romance is at least 50 percent of the story. The stuff that I write, the romance is probably more 30 percent. It has to be sort of organic to the story — I hate that word, organic — the relationship has to naturally come together. You cannot force people together in a book," said Havens, who doesn’t draw a distinction between her storytelling, preparation and techniques as a romance writer and that of any other genre.
"I write strong female women," with strong personalities, she says. "I won’t write weepy women."
Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell will be in San Antonio at the Barnshop Jewish Community Center
for a lecture on Shiksas, Break Ups, Romantics & Hook Ups.
Writers’ Guild of Texas, 7-8:30 p.m., Richardson Public Library (basement conference room), 900 Civic Center Drive, Richardson. Havens’ topic: Revision Hell and How to Get Through It writersguildoftexas.org
First Tuesdays: Romance Book Group at Legacy Books
meets every first Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Plano.
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