Recently someone on FACEBOOK asked the question, ‘What was the first book you read and loved when you were a kid?’ My mom read to me when I was really small and I’m sure I had my favorites, but I don’t recall them. I remember sitting on my dad’s bench reading Mr. Popper’s Penguins to my dad who was building a small wooden sailboat when I was ten or so, but the one book that stood out most in my mind was Heidi by Johanna Spyri. I was totally in love with that book and at least half in love with Peter.
Looking back on it now, I realize that was the beginning of my love affair with romance. Even though it was a child’s story about an orphan, there was something appealing about her friendship with Peter, and in the sequels Peter and Heidi grew up, fell in love and married. My first romance for sure. I grew up as well and graduated to Georgette Heyer who wrote dozens of Regency romances and set the standard for all who followed her.
Since the days that Heyer kept me enthralled, romance has changed significantly. There are so many genres and sub-genres. Whatever catches your fancy: military heroes, cowboys, wealthy CEOs, vampires, time travel, suspense, mystery, historical, Regency, medieval, inspirational, sweet romance or hot and sexy there is a romance out there to please. The advent of e-books and then the explosion of self publishing has shattered the grip that the big NY publishing houses had on the romance genre and everyone is pushing the envelope. And I think there is a place for all of them.
Romance has also become more diverse and inclusive. When I was young and nearly innocent myself, all the heroines were just that – young and innocent. Now they are all ages, from young adult teenagers to college women, and career women, women who have been married and widowed or divorced, and even older with grown children. And the heroes who were once always older, wiser, wealthy and more worldly have become more diverse. They might be wealthy or they might be farmers, or carpenters or policemen. And both heroines and heroes have begun to represent all of America. Instead of always being white, they are men and women of all ethnicities, skin colors and faiths. That surely has to be a plus for everyone. America is strong because she is diverse and to represent that diversity in romance just makes our reading experience better.
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen though is in the stereotypes. Heyer surely started the feisty heroine with a mind of her own trend and most readers of romance have little patience for heroines who simper and sigh and let the heroes make all the decisions. Heroines have become career women and soldiers, politicians and FBI Agents. A healthy reflection of the freedom that women have today to pursue their dreams independent of men. And our Heroes have changed as well. Once upon a time heroes were all stoic, strong, smart and capable. All of those characteristics are still part of our favorite heroes, but we’ve moved beyond that to accepting men who have been hurt and are struggling and sometimes even being willing to share their pain, especially with the heroine. Instead of standing, legs spread and arms folded across his manly chest on the rolling deck of his ship, untouched by the mayhem of a pirate’s life, he can be hurting inside because of the man he didn’t save, or the mother who turned her back on him. And even more recently we have navy SEALS, soldiers and Marines who can pull off the most amazing feats of heroism under fire and yet be gentle and loving and struggling with the things they’ve seen and done. Just as I loved Peter back when I was ten, I love these men who push themselves to the limit physically and mentally, who would move heaven and earth for the woman they love and are yet able to admit to the things that haunt them and reach out for help from those who care and be humble with their heroines. This softer side of today’s heroes makes them more complex, more complicated and more loveable.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is that romance is here to stay. More than any other genre in print or e-book, romance tops the list in sales and distribution. Love really does make the world go around, and I doubt we’ll ever get tired of reading happy endings.
Check out these other authors to see what they have to say about Romance today:
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://connievines.blogspot.com/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/
Margaret Fieland http://www.margaretfieland.com/blog1/
Helena Fairfax http://helenafairfax.com/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
Marci Baun http://www.marcibaun.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rachael Kosinski http://rachaelkosinski.weebly.com/
Rhobin Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com/