Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Trashy Historical Romance

Ok, I'll admit it. I have a Google alert set on myself. If someone says something about one of my books online, I want to see it. Most of the time, when the alarm trips, it's a happy thing. I usually find good reviews or positive reader comments. Then the other day, Pleasuring the Pirate popped up with an alert on GoodReads.

When I clicked over, I was confused. My cover was posted, but there didn't seem to be anything about the book. Just a rambling post by some guy. Pleasuring the Pirate wasn't mentioned by name, but the words "trashy historical romance" leaped out at me.

Granted, Pleasuring the Pirate is easy to lampoon. The cover is old-school and the title lends itself to frat house jokes. But the love story between Gabriel and Jacquelyn isn't a bit trashy. It's funny and tender and, I hope, moving.

Trashy historical romance . . . The words grate on my soul. They are usually uttered by people who've never cracked the spine on a historical romance. They just think they know what the book's about--gratuitous, poorly written sex.

I beg to differ.

Historical romance is about relationship. The level of sensuality in the sub-genre covers a broad spectrum. If you read an inspirational, YA or sweet historical, the bedroom door will be firmly closed. If you're looking for explicit sex scenes in a historical, you can definitely find them. But when my characters consummate their relationship, it has to mean something. Most writers I know agree with me. Love scenes aren't about body parts. They are about two people connecting in the deepest way possible--heart, body and soul.

What's trashy about that?

Have you ever talked to anyone with a preconcieved notion about romance novels?

If you haven't read Pleasuring the Pirate, you can try an excerpt on my website. While you're there, check out my Pirate Pick-up lines and hilarious Talk like a Pirate page!


Penny Watson said...

Whenever someone asks me if my book is a bodice ripper, I always say "No bodices were ripped during the making of my book." Then I tell them my novel is a light paranormal spicy romance about Santa Claus, and that usually shuts them up. :)

Gillian Layne said...

"Trashy" connected with romance is, as you've pointed out, nothing more than an oxymoron label that is used by those who've NEVER read them. Or those who have no soul for romance. Either way, I have no use for those people. But it is seriously irritating, as no one can appreciate how hard authors--historical romance authors, scifi authors, contemporary authors, pretty much everyone in the romance genre--work on getting the details right. And the language right. And the plot threads. And then to top it off, they bring us a delicious, romantic, emotionally healthy and satisfying relationship in that story.

People who are hateful about it, I don't bother with, except to say "give me your opinion again when your name's on the cover of a book." People who are genuinely confused about the genre are a different matter. I kindly point out that their Debbie Macomber or JD Robb, for examples, are romance. Lots of folks really have no idea they are reading romance. It's sweet to open their eyes. :)

Jane L said...

Oh! That makes me so angry I can't even comment! I swear some people are so narrow minded and well I can think of other words for them, but being from Minnesota, I will be nice! Humph!!

EmilyBryan said...

Penelope--I still remember how Marie Force dealt with one fellow at her place of employment who kept referring to her writing as "porn." She threatened to use his name for a character in her next book and she promised to make him a gay sailor.

He was respectful ever after.

May said...

I met several people who look down at romance. Most of them do not even read it. They just feel that they knew everything about romance and passed judgment.

I am angry every time I met those people but at the same I pity them. Because romance is one of the most beautiful things that we had ever created. I read across genres, love several and still think we would miss a great deal if not for romance.

Nynke said...

Emily, did you try the links in the non-review on Goodreads? There are actually two (rather mean) reviews on there... It looks like some reading group made up of people who don't usually read romance and who were all prepared to hate it picked up your book... and hated it. Hmm. Well, it may not be Dostoyevski, but that doens't make it smut!

I guess (and I remember from when I first started reading romance) the conventions and the language take some getting used to, and are easy to make fun of, as are slightly silly jokes (which you put in there on purpose, but hey, that's easy to ignore if a reviewer is out to be mean).

Obviously, 'light-hearted historical romance', as your work is aptly called, isn't made to be taken seriously on all possible levels. But if you immerse yourself in it, and look at the relationships between charachters, there is plenty meaningful material there! You just need to want to see it - these reviewers obviously didn't. Well, that's their loss.

EmilyBryan said...

Gillian--For some reason, people have the idea that it's easier to write a romance than any other genre. I always wonder why.

Romance is character-driven which means our stories need to have growth arcs for our H/h. They must change. There must be valid psychological motivations for their actions.

In a plot-driven thriller, the hero is invariably the all the way through the story. Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt, for example, is unchanging, not only from beginning to end, but from one book to the next.

Really, which sounds easier?

EmilyBryan said...

Jane L--I'm glad you're nice.

EmilyBryan said...

May--I read other genres as well, but I return to romance because I love it. The dance between two souls fascinates me.

EmilyBryan said...

Nynke--I didn't click on the links and I won't. Thanks for warning me of what I would find.

The thing is if someone doesn't like my work, that's ok. I'm obviously not writing for them. There are lots of books to choose from and I hope they'll find what they're looking for.

But I object to someone tarring a whole subgenre with the label "trashy" just because my book didn't speak to them.

Nynke said...

And right you are!

Then said...

The dance between two souls... how perfectly put, Emily! Exactly why I read and write romance. Sigh!

A friend once asked me if I write "salacious" fiction. I responded with graceful professionalism: "I write love stories," adding only in the mischievous silence of my mind, "But if you get off from my books, hon, that's nobody's business but yours." ;)

EmilyBryan said...


The thing is, explicit sex scenes are not just the playground of romance authors. My first experience with it was in John Updike's Rabbit Run. Literary fiction abounds with sex.

I think the difference--and this is one thing we romance authors need to work on--is that in literary fiction, the sex scene is important to the plot or character development. We need to make sure our sex scenes work as hard to advance plot and deepen character as the literary versions.

Anna Carrasco Bowling said...

I am a magnet for people with this viewpoint, but it's fun to watch them furiously backpedal when they admit they haven't ever read a romance. The open minded leave with recommendations for romances based on what they normally read, and the others, well, they leave fast.

Then said...

You are so right, Emily! Sex in a romance novel should both advance the plot and develop character.

EmilyBryan said...

Anna--Romance is such a broad tent, I'd be surprised if a reader couldn't find something to their taste.

EmilyBryan said...

Katharine--I had to pop over to see your new website. Lovely! Congrats on your upcoming debut!

Then said...

Thanks, Emily! :)

librarypat said...

I think PLEASURING THE PIRATE is on the TBR shelf upstairs.
I fought the "Trashy Romance Battle" the whole time I worked at the library. I was the only one of 6 employees that read romance. The others sadly would look down on it and say they read better, serious books. They just flat out refused to even try. One's comment was "I don't like that kind of book, so why waste my time reading it." How can you know if you haven't tried?
I read just about everything. I've tried a few new genre lately because I was helping ordering books and like to have an understanding of what they are like.
I put up with a lot of the men making the kind of comments that person did about PLEASURING THE PIRATE. Most of them read the serial Westerns - the men's version of Harlequin romances. Before I responded to them, I read a sampling of those westerns. A couple of the authors were pretty good. However, the serial books that take the same characters and follow through one adventure after another, were awful. Stereotypical characters, sex not love, improbable plots, impossible feats of daring-do, and laughable dialogue. I have read a few romances almost that bad - a whole book of them doing it, trying to figure out where they can do it next, etc., and no real plot line in sight.
I'll sneak a book in to someone who doesn't read a particular genre, just to have them try it. I never had many complaints, except from the coworkers who wouldn't try.
Lets face it, there are well and poorly written books in all genre. Get to know the person you are recommending books to and try to pick an author that will fit with what they usually read. I do a lot of audio books. My husband started listening to them too. Many of them were romances and he enjoyed them. There are some good stories out there. He just requested a warning if there were any hot scenes. The first time he wasn't expecting it and nearly drove off the road. Men just can't multi task as well as women can.
The old style bodice ripper covers and some of the titles don't help the image of romance as serious writing.

EmilyBryan said...

Pat--You are my dream librarian! You sample a little of everything so you can help patrons find what they're looking for.

I agree about the covers. Personally, I loved my Diana Groe MAIDENSONG and ERINSONG covers. They were classy enough to hang up in my office when I worked at the bank. Unfortunately, clinch covers outsell the classy ones by a large margin.

What do you think about my STROKE OF GENIUS cover? It's not at all like the headless torsos and clinches out there now. Personally, I love it, but I'm a little worried because it's so different.

librarypat said...

I like the cover for STROKE OF GENIUS, but am not sure how it will go over. I still like your "working picture" of Crispin, that would certainly catch a browser's eye. The cover is different enough from what is out there, it should attract attention. The pastel colors could work both ways, either fade beside the others or stand out because it isn't as dark/bright. It is so hard to tell when it is so differnt from what is out there.