Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Romance’s Trivialization of Issues

internetstooserious.jpg
see more crazy cat pics

A legitimate criticism of romance as serious literature is it’s often cavalier treatment of important life topics. Too often, war, separation, human indignity, are treated as plot devices, conflict mechanisms, and not given the attention and treatment those important issues deserve. How many romance books are thought provoking? How many challenge your personal concepts of right and wrong? How many portray multi hued individuals as both heroic and villianous? Surely within the umbrella of the romance genre, there is room for these books.

Now, this is not to say that I think we should be preached to. Nor am I saying that romance should be about more serious issues. What I am saying is that the lack of these types of books within the genre does not help its image as frivolous literature.

Let me provide some examples. I tend to shy away from books about war and terrorism and I think that either authors are not writing these books or publishers are not buying them because I’ve seen a decline. The Navy SEAL became, for a short time in romance literature, a shorthand for alpha male protector in the contemporary romance ouvre. The problem is that too many of our personal lives have been touched by soldiers in combat and therefore the ability to read these romantisized versions has become less easy.

On Sunday, the death toll in Iraq for American soliders turned 4000. It is more lives than was lost in 9-11. And as we passed the 4000 mark, the 4001 death will be quickly upon us. The death toll of soldiers doesn’t even begin to tell the story of loss. It doesn’t tell us of the loss of Iraqi life. Or the losses continue once the soldiers return homebound. Because mental illness is not one that is measured by CT Scans or MRIs or some other objective test, it is often dismissed as un important but a military task force reported that 38 percent of soldiers “report psychological concerns such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from deployment.”

So many books give male heroes a military background without having that experience mark them in some way. It is common for both contemporaries and historicals to feature these war heroes whose missions in battle have no affect on them when they return. Is that really plausible? I don’t believe so. Could anyone could live in combat zones with the mission of kill or be killed and come out unchanged?

There are a few books that deal with emotional traumas like Suzanne Enoch’s England’s Perfect Hero (Hero is a PTSD sufferer) or Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe (man stranded for five years). I am sure that there are others that I can’t recall at this point, but the majority of romances don’t deal with the consequences of choosing a particular backdrop such as experience in combat. It’s not dissimilar to discussions we had last week about the worldbuilding issues that are weak within the genre.

Take, for example, the villian. Almost all romances contain a villian. Some very bad, very evil character who thwarts the happiness of some character. Villians are caricatures at times and authors have employed different standard devices to show how truly bad they are. Villians usually have perverse sex (sometimes incestual sex). They often times treat women and animals poorly. They are infidelitous. The problem with using villians as a plot device is that it creates some hard and fast rules about the good and the bad. One thing that I appreciated about Joanna Bourne’s The Spymaster’s Lady was the portrayal that not all French were bad and not all English were good. Linda Howard’s villian in All the Queen’s Men killed people, wreaked havoc on lives, engaged in illegal arms trade, but all to save his daughter. It made him moderately redeemable.

It is not just with the war that romance trivializes important concepts. I stopped reading Christina Dodd because of her series of three adopted children and their search for each other. Dodd’s treatment of adoption in the book was cursory at best. I don’t know if she spent time talking to adopted children or reading books about adoption, but the characters lacked any emotional realism of the issue that could have been used effectively to move the emotional arc. However, in the first two books, it was clear to me that the topic of adoption was merely a plot device and not one that was going to be dealt with in any deeper emotional context. For me, as an adopted child, this trivialization of an important emotional and social topic was too demeaning. (I’ve since started reading Dodd again in her paranormal iteration because hers is a voice I enjoy).

The point that I am trying to make is that there are few romance books that take on serious social concerns and actually deal with those traumas. Instead of just giving a character a job or a backstory and not dealing with consequences, I want authors to choose deliberately. If you are going to make your character a soldier, ask if the soldier will have any post combat difficulties either in connecting with other people or coping with the day to day activities of life. If you are going to make a character adopted, why not use the issues of abandonment, separation, identity issues, to make a more poignant character arc. This is not to say a book can’t be frothy and light, even if the hero is a soldier. It just that I want, as Jan said last week, for authors to have thought about the repercussions of giving the hero that backdrop.

I don’t think world building is about explanations either. It’s about, as you say, adding the right amount of detail. But crucial to that detail is consistency. Writers don’t need to put the system of religion on a page unless it’s necessary for the reader to understand the story. But if a writer refers to anything religious, they’d darn well better think of the repercussions of the choice they’ve made.

In High Noon by Nora Roberts tries to address the issue of agoraphobia of the heroine’s mother and how that affects the romance between the hero and heroine. Kathleen O’Reilly tries to address the issue of loss in 9-11 in Sex, Straight Up. Can a New Yorker ever get past 9-11 when the city won’t let it. It was a very touching question.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for froth, fun, and entertainment. I love those books just as much as the next person. I am saying that the inability or unwillingness to really understand and tackle the serious issues that romance authors blithely use to further the action or create tension is a weakness in the genre. This, of course, is not an issue that is solely germane to romance. John Rickards, an acclaimed thriller writer, stated much the same thing about his own genre, urging his fellow authors to move beyond doing unspeakable things to children in writing just for the drama of it.

We’ve covered how crime can tear a family apart many times. There have been hundreds of books in which suspicion falls upon the wrong individual. I doubt there is anything more to say about the tragic loss of a child that hasn’t already been said.

I enjoy some emotional justice as much as the next person. In Lynne Connolly’s Rose and Richard series, Rose is a poor village girl who ends up marrying very well. At some point, Rose and her husband, the delicious Richard, return to Rose’s village with great pomp and circumstance, rubbing the locals’ collective nose in her good fortune. It’s a great scene. So I am not advocating for the removal of villians or the removal of emotional justice. I am advocating for more romances to tackle, seriously, hard issues and morally ambiguous characters. I think there is room under the tent for them and I think that those books would lend some grativas to the genre.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

105 Comments

  1. Diana Peterfreund
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 05:20:59

    A few years ago, I read a category romance that did an excellent job of capturing these issues: FINDING NICK, a Silhouette Special Edition by Janis Reams Hudson.

    It was the story of a NYC Firefighter who had been badly injured during 9/11, and was living with PTSD and working as a janitor in the small town. A journalist doing a book on 9/11 narrative as a tribute to her father, an NYPD who also died on 9/11, comes to take his story.

    Not many books make me cry. This was one of them. I very rarely see entertainment tackling these topics (on TV, it’s as if it never happened) and I really liked the way it was handled here.

    Here’s someone else’s review (http://www.myshelf.com/romance/06/findingnick.htm)

    ReplyReply

  2. Charlene Teglia
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 06:12:45

    I’ve read many romances over the years that dealt with some pretty big issues in a very sensitive and impactful way. Death of a child, death of a spouse, all kinds of loss, loss of reputation, adult children of alcoholics, incest survivors, I could go on and on. Seriously, I have seen romance, and often category romance, tackle these big issues and do it stunningly well. Yes, I’ve also seen issues glossed over and trivialized, but those books don’t tend to be memorable.

    I do wonder, though, if too much realism equates to less than stellar sales. I mean, Kathleen Korbel’s A Rose for Maggie was a stunning book about Down Syndrome children, but how many readers looking for entertainment passed that one over? I’m not saying the book didn’t do well, I have no idea, just conjecturing that possibly entertainment and serious issues have to balance for a book to succeed commercially as well as artistically.

    ReplyReply

  3. ilona andrews
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 06:33:04

    So many books give male heroes a military background without having that experience mark them in some way.

    One of the problems with taking a person with military background affected by PTSD and making him a hero of the romance novel is that, in general (there are always exceptions), they wouldn’t match a typical romance hero qualifications. These guys are not outwardly alpha. They rarely invite violence by their actions. A lot of them will not talk about what they went through. And a lot of them are seriously screwed up.

    I’ve known soldiers that would dump their wifes before deploying to Iraq, because they sliced off all attachments, viewing them as weaknesses. One guy, who’d come back after a tour, insisted that his entire family – children and spouse – sleep in the same room, and sometimes the spouse would wake up to find the soldier asleep sitting with his back against the door holding a gun. His wife lived for six months in a constant fear he would snap.

    There were guys who would go to a long deployment, hook up with a soldier or a local girl, and divorce their spouse after – Korea is famous for doing this to people. A year tour in Korea – boom, the couple is divorced. And if they are not divorced, they frequently end up in therapy, especially if the soldier is male. Because for a year a woman runs the household, being de facto a single parent, and then the guy comes home and wants to assume the leader role he had before, and a lot of times it causes issues.

    It’s not that those soldiers didn’t love their spouses. It’s that some men and women have a very strong response to stress that causes them in effect to start over.

    My best friend’s husband, who seemed to be a devoted husband and father prior, came home from a tour in Iraq with a sense of his own mortality. He enrolled in a local college (which he flunked), told everyone on campus he was single, hooked up with a local girl, and when confronted, told his wife in front of his children that she trapped him by getting pregnant and that he wished the oldest child was never born. Courtney was seven. She understood what he said. There is a romance hero for you.

    It doesn’t mean that no man suffering from PTSD would make a good hero. It just means that to do the social and psychological consequences justice, the author would have to research it. It would be a painfully difficult book to write and would probably result in an unconventional narrative. A lot of times the PTSD trope is used as an equivalent of rape trope: a cheap easy way to give the character a tragic past, while making him so deadly, he drops birds from the sky with his glare.

    PS. It must be said that not all soldiers come out of the combat experience irreparably damaged. There are guys who adapt well to civilian lives and are just as nice and kind as any other man. But all of them are affected by combat in some way.

    (Edited for typoes. Grrr.)

    ReplyReply

  4. Alessia Brio
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 06:46:07

    While depth of plot/characterization is, in my opinion, never a bad thing, I think shoe-horning elements into romance just to gain the respect of those who marginalize it is folly. It’s bending the genre into something it was never intended to be. It’s kissing ass. And for what? Recognition by and validation from those who look down on it. Does that EVER work?

    Why, exactly, is the most commercially successful fiction genre worried about sucking up to ANYONE?

    Those who’ve taken an elitist position–about romance or anything else–aren’t gonna be swayed by such tactics. They’re gonna ridicule them. They’re gonna point, like the playground bullies they are, and say, “Oh, look at those losers trying to fit in. How pathetic!”

    The only people romance authors should be concerned about pleasing are romance readers.

    ReplyReply

  5. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 06:48:59

    Unfortunately Jane, PTSD isn’t an easy disorder to understand, and it can be a scary violent one. I’m not sure too many writers could convincingly write a book with a hero who has PTSD and make me even remotely interested in reading it.

    I have a friend that I was in high school with. Now this guy, let me tell you, was GI Joe. We were in ROTC together, but I did it because it looked good on my school record. He did it because he was a die-hard military type. Knew more about military traditions, customs, etc by his sophomore year than some people ever know. It was like he was born a soldier.

    Then he graduated, joined the Army and was deployed to Iraq. Now this is a STRONG guy we’re talking about. He always was. A hard guy. The one girl he ever warmed up to was his high school sweetheart~they did marry, they are still together and his wife and kids are his only soft spot.

    He came back from Iraq a different man. Yeah, we hear that happens, but most of us don’t understand, and we probably don’t want to understand, just how different.

    One night he woke up when he was trying to strangle his wife. He literally tried to kill her…and he didn’t know he was doing it.
    He is getting better, they are still together, but I honestly have to say as a mom, I’m not sure I could have stayed. I’d worry about protecting my kids.

    I’ve seen people coping with PTSD. It’s ugly, it’s sad, it’s terrifying. And it’s not really something I want to read about in a book, romance, fiction, what have you. It would take a very, very gifted writer to have it in a book and have me evenly remotely curious.

    ReplyReply

  6. Bernita
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 06:55:27

    Perhaps romance is “the most commercially successful fiction genre” precisely because it doesn’t provide this in-depth investigation of certain issues.

    ReplyReply

  7. ilona andrews
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 06:58:45

    Shiloh,

    What you said.

    Honestly, I won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. I don’t have the endurance to read one or write one.

    ReplyReply

  8. GrowlyCub
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 07:11:58

    Let me add that even guys who do not suffer from PTSD don’t necessarily make good romance heroes. The adrenaline rush that keeps them alive day to day doesn’t just go away just because they aren’t being shot at every day any longer after coming home. It takes months, sometimes years, to get back to ‘normal’ and sometimes it doesn’t happen, and sometimes relationships die or are irrevocably changed during that process of ‘calming down’ because of the emotional detachment that was necessary during their tours and that they either cannot or will not give up.

    Quite honestly, if you think there aren’t enough serious issue-tackling romance books out there, you either haven’t read widely enough or not long enough in the genre.

    That’s the type of romance novel I look for and I have 100s of them in my house. PTSD, adoption, childlessness, death of a child, anything serious under the sun that you can think of, I have a romance novel that treats these issues as central to the story and revolves solely around the solution of these serious issues.

    Apart from that, I find it extremely regrettable that you’d offer the nay-sayers ammunition by claiming that romance isn’t serious enough or lacks enough gravitas. I totally agree with Alessia on that.

    ReplyReply

  9. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 07:29:15

    Honestly, I won't touch it with a ten foot pole. I don't have the endurance to read one or write one.

    Exhausting and heartbreaking to even think about, yes?

    On a totally unrelated topic, Ilona, I read Magic Bites and I adored it. Completely and totally. Can’t wait to get the next one.

    ReplyReply

  10. Lorelie
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 07:42:00

    One night he woke up when he was trying to strangle his wife. He literally tried to kill her…and he didn't know he was doing it.
    He is getting better, they are still together, but I honestly have to say as a mom, I'm not sure I could have stayed. I'd worry about protecting my kids.

    I’ve been there and I’ve stayed. And after an Army shrink yanked him off a very high dose of Paxil cold turkey, I stayed even after an hour show down with him and a Glock. When you’re in the moment, you can tell the difference between danger to you and danger to him. And when you know having his family near could make sure he’s still alive in the morning? You stay.

    In “Forget me not” Marliss Melton takes a SEAL, gives him PTSD and tries to deal with it. I’m not sure she got it totally right, though. She’s missing the rage and fatalism present in most PTSD sufferers I know.

    (Sorry if this is a double post, but my first one seems to have been eaten.)

    ReplyReply

  11. Angela James
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 07:51:53

    Bernita said:

    Perhaps romance is “the most commercially successful fiction genre” precisely because it doesn't provide this in-depth investigation of certain issues.

    I had similar thoughts.

    On the other hand, I do think there are times when authors use something–an issue, a scenario, a moment–and trivialize it to the point where it becomes the ridiculous. I read a book a few years ago that was such a wallbanger for me, because the author had written a hero who was a POW for several years in a Middle East country. And when the heroine snuck into his cell to use him for sex, he was gung-ho, he fell in love with her and apparently when he was released, suffered no mental or emotional trauma from being a POW. No freakin’ way. In that respect, Jane, I agree with you. That taking such a serious issue and marginalizing it is a bit disgusting.

    I know that many people have issues with the heroine of a book being raped, for this reason. I think the discussion here of Patricia Brigg’s book is an excellent example of that.

    But in the end, I also agree with Bernita, and I’m not particularly eager to see romance take a turn towards tackling serious issues. If I wanted that, I’d pick up Jodi Picoult.

    ReplyReply

  12. JaneO
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 07:52:01

    Bernita: “Perhaps romance is “the most commercially successful fiction genre” precisely because it doesn't provide this in-depth investigation of certain issues.”
    Yes.
    What’s wrong with romance as escapist literature? In order to survive reality, we often need to escape at least brefly.

    ReplyReply

  13. (Jān)
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:16:48

    Rachel Lee had a great book about PTSD in her Conard County series. The hero had it, and she described it and dealt with it very convincingly.

    Like someone else said, there are plenty of romances that treat serious issues with the respect they deserve. However, it just doesn’t matter to the mainstream folks. The fact that they’re *romances* means to them that the issues are trivialized by association. So who cares what they think?

    I also think there’s nothing wrong with reading and writing stuff that ignores reality. Let’s face it, most romances take place in a world without STDs, where people are clean without bathing, and they never poop or fart. Lots of readers don’t find those touches of realism romantic. They read to escape that sort of thing.

    Everyone has a different line where realism intrudes and breaks the romance. So what if someone else’s line is way high on the side of unrealistic to me? They can have theirs. There are other books that suit me.

    ReplyReply

  14. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:18:53

    I've been there and I've stayed. And after an Army shrink yanked him off a very high dose of Paxil cold turkey, I stayed even after an hour show down with him and a Glock. When you're in the moment, you can tell the difference between danger to you and danger to him. And when you know having his family near could make sure he's still alive in the morning? You stay.

    Lorelie, you’re incredibly brave. I think if it was only me, I would do it. But if it wasn’t…I dunno.

    In “Forget me not” Marliss Melton takes a SEAL, gives him PTSD and tries to deal with it. I'm not sure she got it totally right, though. She's missing the rage and fatalism present in most PTSD sufferers I know.

    Regarding the book, that’s why I think it’s best that unless somebody understands a difficult subject well, and not just research it but understands it, it’s best left alone.

    There’s a huge difference between researching a topic, even if you know it on an educational level through and through, and actually seeing it/dealing with it.

    This may not be the best parallel, but a person could research AIDs all they want, look at as many pictures taken of patients who are dying from AIDs-related diseases/illnesses, but unless they’ve actually spent time with these patients on a one-on-one basis, they can’t truly know it and understand it enough to do the subject justice.

    And if this appears twice…. sorry!

    ReplyReply

  15. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:21:02

    I don’t think entertainment and serious issues are mutually exclusive. O’Reilly’s book tackles the provocative question of whether a New Yorker can ever move past 9-11 and the loss when the city never lets you.

    Wasn�t he supposed to be making this easier on her? She was doing her damnedest to ease him out of this, because she knew, absolutely knew that she�d end up falling in love with this man, and his wife, his beautiful dead wife was going to be forever remembered in monuments and buildings and memorials and scholarships. Maybe Daniel wanted to start over, maybe Daniel didn�t, but the city of New York would never let him move past Michelle O�Sullivan.

    In this 200+ page book, O’Reilly tackles 9/11, grief, loss and recovery and the time speeds by when you are reading it. Sex Straight Up doesn’t trivialize a national tragedy but uses it in an honest emotional way. So I don’t think that escapism and realism cannot co exist. And, I believe that if all romance is – is a genre full of escapist fiction where the backdrops of characters or the characters themselves are wholly interchangeable from book to book to book that even within the romance genre, we will struggle to achieve any semblance of respect.

    Let me add that wanting the genre to be better isn’t pandering to anyone but ourselves, in my opinion.

    ReplyReply

  16. Jorrie Spencer
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:30:27

    To my mind, anyway, there are two slightly different issues. One, that romance address serious issues. Two, that when romance does use a serious issue that it do it properly. I think the latter is more what Jane is talking about, but I could be wrong.

    Lots of books use premises that involve serious issues; goodness knows, there are a many damaged heroes and heroines in romanceland. I like angst and healing. I also think paranormals allow more leeway in what can be healed. If an author can take me from a dark beginning and/or middle and convince me of the HEA, I’m happy.

    But if an author uses such a serious issue that I can’t get past it, well, it’s not really going to work. PTSD sounds like that for a lot of people. I recall one book where the heroine’s ex killed their children. I didn’t really want to read that story.

    Otoh, you get some issues thrown out there for window dressing, and they feel trivialized. Or, the issue is addressed but in a way the reader doesn’t think realistic, depending on their background. I’ve seen the same book hailed for being a sensitive, well-thought-out treatment of X with a wonderful HEA; while another reader is angry and wants to throw the book against the wall for the way it unrealistically portrays X and the author didn’t know what they were talking about.

    Ramble ramble. I’m not really going anywhere with this, but I think it’s an interesting topic.

    ReplyReply

  17. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:31:52

    Let me add that wanting the genre to be better isn't pandering to anyone but ourselves, in my opinion.

    Jane, I’m all for improving the image of romance. I wish more people would give it a chance. I personally think everybody could use a romance book in their lives now and then. ;-) They’re good for you.

    But tackling serious issues in an attempt to better the genre is the wrong reason for a writer to do it. Tackling a serious issue should happen because the writer had a couple of characters who have serious issues. Then, the writer is more likely to get inside their characters’ heads and try to understand-that’s going to result in a better book, IMO.

    Doing it just to prove that romance can be serious, too? This is just my thinking, but that’s probably not going to result in a good book.

    And just wondering… is the spam control on full force today? My comments keep disappearing.

    ReplyReply

  18. K. Z. Snow
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:43:28

    Bernita’s right. The vast majority of romance readers don’t want to slog through weighty issues. “Da Heavy” is anathema to them. I learned that the hard way (as did Samhain, by publishing my ill-fated novel). Moreover, traumatic events and difficult situations, dealt with realistically, will usually preclude a HEA ending — or certainly the tidy kind genre readers are used to.

    Some of us do crave a little more meat on our romance plate. But I doubt this is generally the case. So, natch, publishers are also going to shy away from issue-oriented romance and stick with what’s been proved popular.

    ReplyReply

  19. Nora Roberts
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:50:09

    I don’t write or read ‘issue’ books. If an issue is addressed in one of my books it’s because–as Shiloh said–the characters had an issue, or the issue wove itself into the plot. But I don’t want to write about issues. I want to write about people and relationships. Serious stuff often comes into it, and I’d try hard to address the serious . . . seriously. But first and foremost it’s going to be about the people, and the journey of the relationship.

    I don’t think that automatically equals escapism. But I’m perfectly okay with escapism.

    ReplyReply

  20. Shiloh Walker
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:51:08

    Bernita's right. The vast majority of romance readers don't want to slog through weighty issues. “Da Heavy” is anathema to them. I learned that the hard way (as did Samhain, by publishing my ill-fated novel). Moreover, traumatic events and difficult situations, dealt with realistically, will usually preclude a HEA ending -’ or certainly the tidy kind genre readers are used to.

    I think that’s an overgeneralization, KZ. I had a book out with Samhain that had some pretty serious issues, namely the heroine’s rape when she was a teenager. Pretty much the entire book revolved around her coming to grips with what happened and moving past it~she did so on her own, but with the hero at her side, and she got her HEA. The book stayed on Samhain’s top ten list for more than a month.

    Readers can and do get into books with serious issues. But it’s probably going to depend a lot on each individual book, the writer, shoot, even the blurb.

    ReplyReply

  21. Nora Roberts
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 08:53:36

    See, I think there can be plenty of meat on the plate without the book being issue-oriented. And I think an issue-oriented book could work–if the writer doesn’t forget it’s a romance, and the key is relationship.

    ReplyReply

  22. Patricia Briggs
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:07:35

    I’d say this was an accusation that could be leveled at any genre. Maybe it is more visible in romance because romance specifically is about people rather than ideas.

    There are certainly romances — oddly enough especially catagory romances (maybe because they are so restricted in other ways) — that deal very well with big issues. For PTSD I also thought of the Rachel Lee book — and Karen Korbel’s (Eileen Dryer) A Soldier’s Heart. Ms Korbel also has taken on adult illiteracy (and in her thrillers as Eileen Dryer she deals with mental illness, alcoholism and the unattractive reality of what happens to severly abused children). Linda Howard’s classic Sarah’s Child had a hero who had lost his whole family. It is a little dated now, but captures the damage that something like that would do to a person — and the result isn’t pretty or romantic. Naomi Horton has a book with a hero who has lost both of his legs. I read a very good Superromance a long time ago with a heroine who had arthritis. As long as these things aren’t “romanticized” I think it is a healthy thing, allowing readers to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”.

    There are more people with problems in this world than there are without — and one thing that recent romance books have been doing very well is pointing out that these things don’t mean you can’t find someone who can accept and love you. Sounds healthy to me.

    ReplyReply

  23. Keishon
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:19:20

    I know for me, I can’t read Catherine Anderson’s books because she tends to sugar coat the issues in her books but for some people, that’s just the way they like it. I know me, I can’t read such novels that doesn’t address the serious issues in a realistic matter. I like escapism too and avoid most books that deal with certain issues. I thought the late Sandra Canfield’s novel, Night Into Day was excellent. It’s about a woman who suffers from deforming and debilitating Rheumatoid Arthritis. She finds love and the hero does makes some mistakes, a few fumbles but thinks long and hard about what it would mean to be with someone who is handicapped. Once he thought things through, he decided it was a relationship worth pursuing.

    I couldn’t say how many romances actually have social issues in them, but I doubt that I have very many on my shelf. Also, Suz Brockmann’s Heart Throb had a hero who was an alcoholic, she more or less addressed it casually but it was still a pretty good read. Maggie Osborne’s The Wives of Bowie Stone, had a heroine who was an alcoholic, again, casual yet serious take on the issue. I think there has to be a balance there but all of us as readers just want to be entertained.

    ReplyReply

  24. Jaxon
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:21:58

    I don’t know about anyone else, but I like reading the romance books because they don’t deal with the serious issues. I like being able to escape into a world where everything is happy and bunnies and whatnot. If I wanted something to be serious and real, then I would go pick up a nonfiction novel. In my own opinion, we get enough reality through the nightly news.

    And I have to agree with Shiloh…adding more serious content to the romance genre just to lose the trivialization mentality would be a disservice to the genre. I can maybe see adding a little, but if you make a book surround that issue, then you’re loosing the happy sunshine feeling the books are all about. There is always a rainbow at the other end, the hero gets the girl, the villain is captured or killed….that’s not the case with the serious issues. A condition may get better, but will it ever go away?

    ReplyReply

  25. Gennita Low
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:23:40

    It’s a delicate balance, Jane. I write pretty heavy books and work very hard not to sound preachy or issue-emogothic, but I still get quite a bit more criticism from readers than most authors about my choice of subjects. I’ve even been called a pimp for realistically portraying a rape scene inside a KLA/Serbian bordello.

    My books are heavy on political war nuances because I believe in a current, immediate background for my combat and covert heros and heroines, and I rarely skim on the grayness of certain actions by the good side, but it’s a romance, after all, and I have no desire to portray the really dark side of warfare. For instance, many readers don’t really want a female killing machine for a heroine (Linda Howard’s assassin in Kiss Me While I Sleep took quite a bit of heat). What I found I could do is to take an emotion that I myself understand and work from that, such as anger and its many facets in the SEAL, the secret agent, the bureaucrat, the victim(s), etc., and hope that in doing so, my readers would enjoy the book for both the romance and the human condition.

    Bad reviews of my books don’t bother me much but being called a pimp and dismissing my research as pimpage really did, for some reason. That accusation had made me second-guess myself when I start on controversial topics–whether romance readers would think that’s “too much”–which is not good for a “pantser” writer like me. I end up deleting scenes that I feel are good but my readers might not want to read about them.

    ReplyReply

  26. Karen
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:25:50

    I’m a reader who likes “issue” romances. Although I read many types of romances, the ones I really remember, the ones that fill my keeper shelves, are the ones that go beyond “girl meets boy” and deal with more serious subjects. There’s a fine line in romance – one reason I read romance, rather than general fiction, is because I want to know that, however difficult the characters’ journey, it will end hopefully. That’s the appeal for me – the characters might go through hell, but they’ll find a way out.

    However, I agree with Jane about authors who put issues in their books, and then trivialize them. I give authors a lot of credit who try to deal with issues in their books, even if they aren’t perfect, but I have a hard time with authors who seem to throw an “issue” into a book for no reason. I remember one author who wrote a book featuring a heroine who was raped – but her background was only used as a way to instigate “hot hot” sex. It left me feeling a bit nauseous, and I’ve never read that author again. Either put it in and deal with it, or leave it out altogether.

    I know many romance readers don’t want to deal with “issue romances”. But I think there are also a lot of readers who do. (I seem to meet lots of them every time I go to a conference or start talking about romance online.) I wonder if the short shelf life of romance makes it more difficult for these books to find an audience – these books aren’t necessarily easy to describe or sell, so a lot of readers hear about them by word of mouth. But by the time readers hear about these books (particularly the series titles), they’re often off the shelves. I’m sorry to say that many of the “issue books” on my keeper shelf were bought used, particularly the series titles, because I didn’t necessarily hear about them until they were gone.

    ReplyReply

  27. Kalen Hughes
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:33:59

    Quite a few of the books I've read over the years seem to deal with very serious issues. Jo Beverley has taken on everything from PTSD to drug addiction to rape. Mary Jo Putney's The Rake and the Reformer deals with alcoholism. Pam Rosenthal's The Slightest Provocation deals with the trauma of a marriage that has fallen apart, as well as the serious political issues surrounding the Peterloo massacre. Susanne Enoch's England’s Perfect Hero deals with PTSD and other issues arising from the hero's military service. The list just goes on and on . . . but I don't think that every book needs to be built upon such a heavy foundation. Sometimes this is what I'm looking for as a reader, and sometimes I just want a romantic comedy.

    ReplyReply

  28. Lynne Connolly
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:45:21

    It’s a really difficult thing to do.
    I write primarily to entertain, but I’ve found in the books I read and write that if there’s a little substance in the stories, I enjoy them more.
    But I hate books that preach. A book that has a point of view is one thing and can be done really well, but preachy books, that’s not why I read romance.
    My paranormals all have one theme, deep down – that prejudice based on literal ignorance, ie not knowing something, is one of the most dangerous things in the world. Too many people make wild generalisations or blame a whole class of people because of what they are or what they think they are. But I don’t like to preach, so I created a class of beings – Talents – that don’t actually exist.
    I’m not alone. A lot of successful authors of paranormal romance do much the same thing and set bigoted, fascist organisations or individuals against their heroes. The best, IMO, are the ones that give the enemies their own points of view. Nobody thinks they’re the baddie, even the “I am so EVOL” villain, they all have their own story and their own reasons.

    The historicals are a bit more varied, but really, I love to deal with the problem of being a woman in times past, when all the power devolved on the men. Resilient, resourceful and adaptable, women have always produced outstanding examples of their sex who come out on top, but not always in the same way.

    Rose found that marrying a gorgeous, rich aristocrat wasn’t all – ahem – roses. She became a public figure when her natural reticence was against it and she had powerful enemies who hated her just because of her status and who she’d married.

    In my most recent book, and the one I really should be editing right now (another historical) my heroine marries well, only to find that enemies who persecuted her years ago now are doing it again because she’s a better mark than she was before.

    As for PTSD – Laura Kinsale’s “Seize the Fire” does it beautifully.

    Oh yes, and I wanted once to write a story from a woman’s pov about a soldier husband who beats her. He hasn’t got PTSD, he was just brought up in a military household and thought that was the way you treated your women. (I did some voluntary work at a women’s shelter and guess what – military households have a far higher incidence of battered wives than the norm). But I got no takers for that one.

    ReplyReply

  29. GrowlyCub
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:45:45

    Different people come to romance for different things. I do believe, however, we all come to it because we are guaranteed a HEA, regardless of what the issue is that stands in the way of the couple’s happiness at the beginning of the book.

    I personally love what used to be called angst and what I think we’ve called issues in this thread. That is however no less escapism for me than a less angsty book is for others. Quite honestly, I cry my eyes out reading about the difficulties these characters have, and it’s like a pressure valve which leaves me a happier person who’s more in equilibrium in her own life. ‘See, things can get fixed.’ I feel better after an emotionally strong read and while I read nice fluffy easy stuff on occasion it’s nowhere near as ‘therapeutic’ for me as the deep issue books. But all the books that are on my keeper shelf, while deeply emotional, are not issue books in the sense that you either think the HEA was unrealistic or that ended in a non-HEA (literary or realistic or whatever your buzzword is) way.

    Some people have already mentioned books I was thinking about when I wrote my first post. Lee, Korbel, Howard. Putney wrote several fabulous books dealing with issues (Rake and the Reformer is my absolute favorite), Emily Richards has one about a childless couple that’s heart-wrenching. Binnie Syril wrote about a blind woman. Paula Detmer Riggs’ whole oeuvre is about redemption and she’s got some heavy duty stuff going on in her books (anybody know what happened to her btw? I haven’t seen a new book by her in forever and I MISS her). Creighton, Kantra, Collins Smith, Lynn Turner, Wind. I could name many more.

    Lots of heavy hitting issue books out there if you know where to look. That’s why I love talking to other romance folks. I’ve made a couple of notes to look for books I was unfamiliar with from this thread and can’t wait to go out and find them for myself.

    I don’t think we have to improve the romance genre to include more serious issues, those many books are already out there. There’s something there for everybody, be it light or heavy reads.

    Although I will admit, as far as I’m concerned there isn’t enough good (new) angsty stuff out there for my taste (darn all those SEALs and dumb suspense plots, give me pure relationship stories every time :).

    ReplyReply

  30. DS
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 09:49:10

    I wasn’t really thinking about issue books when I read Jane’s essay. I was thinking more about the treatment of issues when they are used in books. I remember Mary Jo Putney’s book that became the wife battering book rather than a book in which the hero had a problem with anger management.

    It seems more like when someone somehow popularizes social practices like mail order brides, orphan trains, etc., but then just uses the idea as a jumping off place without serious consideration of what it meant to be a mail order bride or an orphan placed in the power of people who essentially took them in because they needed another pair of hands. I like authors who examined all sides of a practice or problem– but the two authors I can think of right now (and whose books I read and reread) are no longer writing romance although they were both lauded in their time.

    I’m not at all adverse to light and fluffy but a diet made up of only meringue is also dull.

    ReplyReply

  31. Amie Stuart
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:16:41

    Bernita…I think Jane’s issue was in using serious issues as a plot device and nothing more. I probably said that wrong.

    For me, as an adopted child, this trivialization of an important emotional and social topic was too demeaning.

    HERE HERE!!!!!!!! It’s why, nine times out of ten, I won’t read a book where it’s an issue because it’s usually done wrong. I think issues can be done, and done well, but as Shiloh (?) said it’s all in the execution.

    but a diet made up of only meringue is also dull.

    again…I totally agree DS

    ReplyReply

  32. Keishon
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:21:54

    Another one good one is Laura Kinsale’s Flowers in the Storm, where the hero has a stroke but then a lot of Ms. Kinsale’s books tend to have characters with flaws so that is a bit more of an off-shoot to this discussion.

    ReplyReply

  33. Jennifer Estep
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:30:55

    I don’t think this is limited to romance. Thrillers, mysteries, fantasy, science fiction … they all have their issues or topics they deal with, some books better than others. Serial killers, anyone? They’re a dime a dozen.

    It’s like anything else. If the issue makes sense in the context of the story, then it adds to the story and usually my enjoyment of it. If it’s just put in there as window dressing, not so much.

    All genre fiction has it advocates and detractors. Always has, always will. People who don’t read romance (or whatever genre) or look down their noses at it don’t know what they’re missing. I feel sorry for anyone who won’t pick up a book just because they have preconceptions about the genre or where it’s shelved in the bookstore.

    That being said, I think we spend too much time worrying about what other people think of the genre and not enough time celebrating our accomplishments.

    I read enough weighty, serious books in college. Issues or not, bring on the HEAs. Because that’s what romance is really all about — the hope that good things happen to good people and everything works out okay in the end. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    ReplyReply

  34. Kalen Hughes
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:37:15

    It's why, nine times out of ten, I won't read a book where it's an issue because it's usually done wrong. I think issues can be done, and done well, but as Shiloh (?) said it's all in the execution.

    I always wonder about this. I have several friends who are adopted and they all have REALLY different takes/approaches to the issue. Some are traumatized by having been given up, others take strength from the fact that they were “chosen”, for others it's a non-issue. Some are desperate to find their birth parents, some don't have any desire to hunt them down.

    ReplyReply

  35. Bev(BB)
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:40:03

    I'm not saying that there isn't a place for froth, fun, and entertainment. I love those books just as much as the next person. I am saying that the inability or unwillingness to really understand and tackle the serious issues that romance authors blithely use to further the action or create tension is a weakness in the genre.

    I like what several have already said about how difficult it would be to do justice to PTSD or to actually turn a true victim of it into a romance hero or heroine because that’s the major problem with shoehorning most “issues” into any storyline. When you get right down to it, there is reality and there is fantasy, as in not-reality, and sometimes we honestly don’t want the two to mix in our fiction. Oh, we want the “illusion” that they’re mixing, but not the actual fact because true Reality is usually pretty grim and ugly.

    Don’t misunderstand; I do understand what Jane is trying to say. Sometimes the superficial treatment to an issue in fiction just isn’t enough. Real life can have its bright moments of glory and brilliance, however, why do you think romance gives so much hope and escape to so many? Because their lives are beautiful every moment of the day?

    Oh, get real.

    ReplyReply

  36. Ann Bruce
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:52:44

    If you are going to make a character adopted, why not use the issues of abandonment, separation, identity issues, to make a more poignant character arc.

    I wrote a story with an adopted heroine who went through those issues–and was told by an editor to “lighten up” the character, make her a little more quirky, a little more “frothy.” So, is too much realism simply not profitable in romance?

    ReplyReply

  37. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:53:00

    It seems more like when someone somehow popularizes social practices like mail order brides, orphan trains, etc., but then just uses the idea as a jumping off place without serious consideration of what it meant to be a mail order bride or an orphan placed in the power of people who essentially took them in because they needed another pair of hands. I like authors who examined all sides of a practice or problem- but the two authors I can think of right now (and whose books I read and reread) are no longer writing romance although they were both lauded in their time.

    Yes, this is exactly what I was saying.

    ReplyReply

  38. Bernita
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 10:53:24

    Amie, I haven’t taken a position on the issue of issues.
    I tend to dislike them when they are the plot, ie. when the writer decides a topic is a hot issue and then constructs characters to illustrate its various angles.
    I prefer the form (I think Nora described it) wherein issues arise with and from the characters.

    PS. Lynne Connolly: I have not read your stories, but I have an urban fantasy WIP that utilizes the term Talent. It looks like I need to find another word, since this one is obviously taken.
    ~groan~

    ReplyReply

  39. WandaSue
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:00:36

    Romance novels do tend to “trivialize” deep issues such as disability. Usually, they get it wrong, and more often than not, the disabled hero is “cured” at the end — he can see! He can walk! He is “normal” again!

    Bleh.

    As the wife of a paraplegic, I resent the lack of research that goes into MOST romances with dis heroes. They gloss over the deeper, physical, emotional, and mental issues (my hubby continues to manifest symptoms of PTSD, even after 27 years in a chair.)

    That said, I was caught off-guard by the detail that went into a Superromance years ago — “A Man like Mac.” A paraplegic, Mac’s leg bag leaked, and he made a mess in bed. Seriously, this does happen. But I wasn’t sure I wanted my “romance” with Mac to be so … well, tainted. I mean, such events are stark enough in real life. Do I really need this harsh of a reality in my romances? I still haven’t found the answer. (As an aside, my husband was horrified when I read that passage to him aloud. “Is that what passes as romance these days?” he asked, embarrassed.)

    So what IS the fine line? Glossing over the flaws is unacceptable. Yet too much detail is not much better — at least in a romance IMO.

    ReplyReply

  40. Bev(BB)
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:14:45

    That being said, I think we spend too much time worrying about what other people think of the genre and not enough time celebrating our accomplishments.

    Yes, yes, yes. I love you. :D

    I will say this. Life experience can definitely color one’s perceptions of how issues are handled in fiction.

    For instance, I make no bones about the fact that I prefer humurous romances. Most people probably think that means I don’t like “issue” books and they’d be both right . . . and wrong. I don’t go out of my way to avoid them just like I don’t particularly avoid actual tear-jerkers either. It’s just that from experience I usually know what things I can handle and what I can’t. Just like anyone else it’s the books with elements that I’ve actually lived through that are the most uncomfortable because they’re unusally the most unbelieveable to me. So, it’s not the “heart-rending” stuff that gets me, it’s the “oh, give me a break” factor. Most aclaimed tear-jerkers rarely make me cry, they make me grit my teeth in agony.

    Not from any fault of the author

    Let me repeat that.

    Not from any fault of the author.

    It’s just like having a career in a certain area and then trying to enjoy a book featuring a character with that career. Nit-pick city. There’s usually no way it will work. The reader and the author almost have to be joined telepathically for it be a good experience. It does happen but rarely. How much of a comfort zone can a reader have when they’ve lived through the issue themselves no matter how well the author deals with it? That’s the question a lot of the time.

    ReplyReply

  41. Teddypig
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:19:45

    I was catching up on an author I highly recommend Josh Lanyon this weekend. He did a short story for called “Ghost of a Chance” for an anthology where he presented an imperfect hero who was Alcoholic and in severe denial about it.

    I got to the end and Josh did not simply throw the two guys together and rely on the healing powers of love to fix everything but gave the issue proper weight and simply left them with a hope of further involvement. I wanted to give Josh a standing ovation right there and Josh has gained my trust on handling serious issues in an understandable way while also being willing to back the story down to “strong romantic elements” if the issue with one of the heroes is serious enough.

    I was reading another author earlier this week who used a hero that was an LCDR in the NIS in Washington DC. In the story he gets involved with a man and they end up at a gay bar. Pictures get taken and shown to his CO and he is called into the office. The CO basically covers it up with a don’t do it again and go get a HIV test and if it is negative we will never talk about this again.

    I was like WTF? Not only do I know that ALL Navy personnel are constantly screened for HIV in routine tests given but he was also disobeying a direct order by going to that gay bar since I also know there is a published list of businesses you cannot be caught going to which usually includes all the the local gay bars and some known car dealerships that rip off sailors. How do you think I always knew where the gay bars were when I was in the Navy? FAIL!

    Then there was the story I read from another author about a guy with HIV who got it because he was cheating on his wife by having unprotected anonymous sex in a public park mensroom. During the story he spent a great deal of time bashing his ex-wife who was understandably upset about his actions since she was now HIV + too. This was supposed to be the story’s romantic “hero”. FAIL!

    Anyway, in regards to using serious issues as a plot device or to create an imperfect hero, it is best to not only know how to use them but also know the weight or the problems they are bringing to the romance. As someone stated above it is a “balancing act” that can fall over easily.

    ReplyReply

  42. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:26:43

    That being said, I think we spend too much time worrying about what other people think of the genre and not enough time celebrating our accomplishments.

    Yes, yes, yes. I love you. :D

    I think critical self examination of our genre is important otherwise we’ll grow stagnant which is what I think happened to historicals for a time. The 90s was really a wonderful time of romance and in the late 90s, early 2000s, the genre became stagnant.

    ReplyReply

  43. Teddypig
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:36:59

    Oops! Sorry wrong story, it was not A Ghost of a Chance, it was In A Dark Wood. Need more coffee.

    ReplyReply

  44. Jody W.
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:47:05

    I would say romance trivializes and/or addresses social issues in the same proportions as most other commercial fiction. This reminds me of the argument that the writing quality in romance is worse than any other genre. When you think about it, this is the same argument with a new slant — a lot of romance is ‘bad’, with one definition of a bad book being trivialization of social issues. One definition of “good” would therefore be a romance that succeeds as a genre romance (one assumes this part still matters) but also addresses social issues with sufficient gravitas, as measured by — well, not sure who gets to measure whether a romance has sufficient gravitas, but Jane does express concern that “the lack of these types of books within the genre does not help its image as frivolous literature.”

    The essay suggests the problem is caused by lack of skill and depth on the part of authors; the summation blames their “inability or unwillingness to really understand and tackle the serious issues.” Not sure I agree with that, but it’s not my essay :).

    I guess my question is whether publishers would publish an increased number of issue romances. Do they make a profit? Do publishers encourage authors in this respect? Do they receive submissions like this? Is that what the majority of romance readers want?

    ReplyReply

  45. Kerry
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:49:30

    I don’t think that it’s just romance that has a preponderance of characters or stories structured around issues that are meant to titillate but either gloss over the realities of the situation or function as a “woe is me!” kitchen sink. Plenty of mainstream fiction does the same thing.

    And no matter where you find it, it’s always annoying and usually a shortcut on the part of the author to try to create character/intimacy/connection with the reader without doing the work of thinking and writing it out.

    (As for me, one of my big pet peeve shortcut is treatment of mental illness.)

    ReplyReply

  46. Kerry
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 11:51:30

    Hi, Jody W.! Nice to see we agree so well!

    Issue books totally sell. Case in point: Jodi Picoult, although her latest has been trashed in 3 different reviews I’ve read this week.

    ReplyReply

  47. Leah
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 12:02:50

    I have to say that I am one of those who, if I pick up a book and see anything that has to do with a child’s death, injury, serious illness, addiction, or criminal conduct, I will put that thing back in a hurry. The same with any book that deals with a parent facing the end of his/her life. There are some places I just don’t feel like revisiting. I kinda like tawdry,frothy, and silly. If I want issues, I’ll just call a family member.

    As far as the military hero goes, like lots of the posters, I have several relatives in the Army, Navy and Guard. My BIL will go for his 3rd tour in Iraq late this summer. When I talk to my sister, I hear plenty of stories of how messed up families on base can be, how hard it is for her kids to adjust to Daddy being gone for so long (and that includes in the field and training, not just deployment), how hard it is to build friendships or cobble together any sort of career when you move all the time, and how difficult your financial life can be, even though your spouse has dedicated his/her life to the nation. Eric is not the same happy geek he used to be, and my sister can’t share in some of his experiences the way his buddies can, which is a sore spot for them at times. Even without a serious injury or PTSD (my mouth to God’s ears), life in the military is far from “romantic”

    ReplyReply

  48. Jody W.
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 12:03:41

    Well, I know issue books sell outside the romance genre, but what about romance genre issue books?

    ReplyReply

  49. Bev(BB)
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 12:05:48

    I think critical self examination of our genre is important otherwise we'll grow stagnant which is what I think happened to historicals for a time. The 90s was really a wonderful time of romance and in the late 90s, early 2000s, the genre became stagnant

    Uh, Jane, you do critical self examination of the genre every day by reviewing the books in an honest manner. Don’t you? Or did I miss something? I have no problem with that.

    What I have a problem with is that the genre needs to “change for respect” which was a mantra well before that fairly small 1990s era you’re referring to and will be a mantra decades from now.

    As to stagnation, I’m not seeing it. What I am seeing is evolution. Change. Sometimes it’s very visible and explosive and sometimes it’s subtle but it’s always there. And that’s happened in every single decade of the genre in the last century. Yes, I said the last century.

    ReplyReply

  50. Robin
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 12:10:03

    I’m never sure why this discussion tends to split into issue books v. fun entertainment, but I think it might have something to do with the way different readers register authenticity in the genre.

    Like several others in this thread, I think Jane’s talking about books where potentially serious things are introduced and then rendered completely devoid of depth or logical implication. For some readers this clearly isn’t a problem, whereas for others it is. Since I tend to be of the latter group, I’ve been giving some thought to why it does bother me, and I think it has to do with how I perceive authenticity in books.

    For me, it’s not enough to find the main couple’s relationship emotionally moving because it’s there; for the most part I need all the elements of the characters, the setting, and the emotional bond to be rendered with a certain level of thoughtful deliberation. So I tend to steer clear of military Romances that completely avoid some of the uglier and more dangerous aspects of the real-life military life. And I’m frequently amazed at the appeal of sheik Romances when there’s so much hostility toward real-life people of Arab origin. And I’m definitely one of those readers who hates reading forced sex scenes when they’re used simply to a) titillate the reader or b) facilitate a marriage or the sexual loosening up of the heroine.

    That doesn’t mean I want to read only heavy books; it simply means that if the author includes something that in real life would have a substantial impact on the relationship, I need for that to be dealt with thoughtfully or the emotional impact of the relationship itself won’t register for me as a reader. For example, Christina Dodd’s A Well-Pleasured Lady didn’t work at all for me because of the early forced seduction scene and the way we were supposed to see the heroine as traumatized, when a few scenes later she was acting dom to the hero, to whom she’s magically now married. Sorry, but that felt really sloppy to me, and it undermined my ability to connect to the relationship between hero and heroine.

    Not that the answer for me as a reader is to have only frothy books or “issue” books, because I think there are authors who do a great job of balancing the heavy and the light. Case in point: Loretta Chase. One of the reasons I so love Miss Wonderful is the way she takes some very serious issues (PTSD, depression) and renders them with both humor and poignancy. Alistair has a very serious condition, and it has to be addressed in order for he and Mirabel to be happy together. Now, if I were reading non-fiction, I’d expect a much more “realistic” treatment for Alistair. But just because I’m reading a Romance doesn’t mean I expect that this serious condition will be merely backdrop or the eccentricity of a character. So there’s a bit of fantasy in the resolution of Alistair’s condition — that’s okay, since I’m in a genre where love functions as the answer to many problems. But the fact that Alistair’s condition is regarded as a serious issue without the book becoming a dark and depressed morass demonstrates, IMO, the fact that serious issues don’t necessarily equate to dark, dramatic, heavy, “issue,” downer books. Although, in the case of the wrenchingly beautiful Seize the Fire, they can, and thank goodness for that variety within the genre.

    Anyway, as a reader what I appreciate most is a sense of mindfulness in a book, the invisible hand of the author drawing me farther and farther into the characters and the plot and the romantic relationship. So when an author introduces something serious and then blows it off, I always wonder ‘why’? Why even have it in there if you’re going to smash it flat and dead — because that, for me, at least, makes it far more intrusive than if it wasn’t there at all. I understand all about not wanting to make it too heavy, but why use those heavy elements without any intention of noting their weight? To me it’s like trying to mix buckshot into angel food cake batter.

    ReplyReply

  51. Leslie Dicken
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 12:21:46

    I have to say that I am one of those who, if I pick up a book and see anything that has to do with a child's death, injury, serious illness, addiction, or criminal conduct, I will put that thing back in a hurry. The same with any book that deals with a parent facing the end of his/her life. There are some places I just don't feel like revisiting. I kinda like tawdry,frothy, and silly. If I want issues, I'll just call a family member.

    I agree…while I want a book to be well-researched, I don’t reach for a ROMANCE in order to read about issues. I want my happy ending. In fact, often times I can’t even read Romantic Suspense because of the killing (and often it’s children being killed). I’m not saying conflict shouldn’t be legitimate and characters well-rounded. But I, for one, am not going to pick up a romance about an Iraqi soldier returning from the war. Not going to do it.

    Besides, isn’t a lot of this dependent upon the publishers and what they will buy?

    ReplyReply

  52. Teddypig
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 12:54:40

    a sense of mindfulness

    Can I quote you Robin?

    I like that!

    ReplyReply

  53. Lorelie
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:04:01

    But I, for one, am not going to pick up a romance about an Iraqi soldier returning from the war. Not going to do it.

    Iraqi soldier? But he could be a sheik!

    Sorry, couldn’t help it. Please return to serious discussion.

    ReplyReply

  54. Bev(BB)
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:05:48

    I agree…while I want a book to be well-researched, I don't reach for a ROMANCE in order to read about issues. I want my happy ending.

    You know, I think that may be the crux of the matter that we’re all dancing around in a nutshell. Call it cynicism or call it life experiences, but I think quite a few of us have a difficult time believing in that “happy ending” once some of these issues are introduced. Depending upon a reader’s point of view, they may not ever believe. They simply may not want to.

    ReplyReply

  55. Becca
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:20:50

    As an adoptive mother in a close relationship with my children’s birth mother, I appreciated the way Nora handled adoption issues in Birthright – but I admit that it took me a long time to be able to read it, because it spoke to some of my insecurities (who will my children see as their “real” mother?) even though those insecurities seem to be non-issues for my kids.

    Teddypig, have you read Suzanne Brockmann’s latest few books? how realistically do you think she’s handling gay issues?

    ReplyReply

  56. GrowlyCub
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:28:47

    I agree…while I want a book to be well-researched, I don't reach for a ROMANCE in order to read about issues. I want my happy ending.

    I want my HEA too, but I want the issue books. And that’s what’s so great about the romance genre, there’s room for both lighter and darker reads. Issues and HEA are not mutually exclusive, but it’s most certainly true that it’s harder to pull off a believable HEA in an angsty book.

    This comes all down to our individual threshold for suspension of disbelief. We all have different experiences and it’s sometimes hard to believe that just because we feel a certain way about something (like Jane about adoption) that doesn’t mean that everybody else feels or has to feel the same way about the issue. It also doesn’t mean that a depiction that’s different from our own reality is less valid, it just means that for us in that particular story the suspension of disbelief doesn’t work.

    And while it’s also true that reality is probably a lot less HEA than we would wish, even the issue real life stories do come with HEA in real life. Not as often as we might like, but they do.

    I have happily read stories about alcoholism, PTSD and other issues (matter of fact I’m reading a great story about infertility and what this can do to a person and a marriage right now, Anne McAllister’s A Cowboy’s Tears, and I hope the rest is as good as the first half!) and I hope to find many more great issue reads. Always open for more recommendations. :)

    ReplyReply

  57. Keishon
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:34:10

    Teddypig, have you read Suzanne Brockmann's latest few books? how realistically do you think she's handling gay issues?

    I’m curious too and I’ve been remiss in reading her latest stuff. She’s been more miss than hit for me lately but I see where a few readers whose opinion I respect enjoyed her latest Navy SEAL novel. I’m tired of Navy SEALs,may I just say that much? Thanks. Moving on.

    ReplyReply

  58. Bev(BB)
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:44:50

    Yeah, what is it with the overabundance of Navy Seals? I mean there are other Special Op forces in the military. Must the shine off those wet suits that blinds everyone. ;D

    ReplyReply

  59. Leah
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:51:15

    And I'm frequently amazed at the appeal of sheik Romances when there's so much hostility toward real-life people of Arab origin

    I have never read any of the sheik stories, and was surprised that they’re still around. I dated a guy from the Middle East for almost 6 yrs, and I kind of doubt any of the sheik stories address the situations that intercultural and interfaith relationships involve! Oh, and, the doctor romances? Also not a very accurate depiction!

    (Sorry, just had to break in. Return to more intellectual discussion)

    .

    ReplyReply

  60. Robin
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 13:55:13

    Can I quote you Robin?

    Sure. But tell me, should I be scared, lol?

    ReplyReply

  61. Robin
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:03:22

    This comes all down to our individual threshold for suspension of disbelief. We all have different experiences and it's sometimes hard to believe that just because we feel a certain way about something (like Jane about adoption) that doesn't mean that everybody else feels or has to feel the same way about the issue. It also doesn't mean that a depiction that's different from our own reality is less valid, it just means that for us in that particular story the suspension of disbelief doesn't work.

    I definitely think this is part of the equation. But there are plenty of issues I have no personal experience with but can’t stand to see as wallpaper in Romance.

    Which is why I don’t think this is an “issue” book v. “fun” book distinction — the books I think Jane is talking about are not supposed to be “issue” books, even though they contain what in RL would be big issues.

    So I guess I’d approach this from another direction: for those readers who don’t want so-called “issue” books in Romance, how do you feel about books that aren’t issue books but include the mention of something that in RL would be quite serious? In other words, if you don’t want issue books, why have mention of issues at all? Doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole “non-issue book” purpose?

    ReplyReply

  62. rebyj
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:12:20

    I’m also with Wanda, my honey is also wheelchair bound and I’ve often rolled my eyes at MIRACLES in romantic fiction. If a writer is going to address a physical issue, do the research and address it realistically , believe it or not, some of us with physical limitations or mates with them do have happy ever afters!

    I suffer from PTSD, my trauma was a bad abusive marriage and divorce, I can’t read stories with similar backgrounds as mine. Either the heroine gets some delicious outrageous revenge or her ex dies in a freak accident. Neither are realistic scenarios in life. If you’re truamatized in war,marriage or accidents or whatever, you usually have no recourse , no revenge, no action that will “make everything all better”. You just move on and live day to day and hopefully find a good support system in the psychological health community or with your loved ones. Not as exciting as kicking some assholes butt or watching him free fall off a cliff of course but it’s life.

    Romance is escape and entertainment, if you delve too deeply into serious issues you’re really moving out of the romance genre and into plain old ordinary, boring, dr phil, oprah bookclub fiction.

    ReplyReply

  63. Jill Sorenson
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:20:51

    I like to read about characters with heavy emotional issues as long as they overcome them, or reach some kind of peace. One of my favorite books, SEP’s DREAM A LITTLE DREAM, features a hero who has lost his family and contemplates suicide. It takes a very gifted author to deal with such serious subject matter. Take Nora, for example. I loved the heroes from her Chesapeake Bay series.

    It’s not easy to create multifaceted characters, strong men who are also wounded. It makes sense that authors, especially inexperienced ones, struggle with realistic potrayal.

    What’s better, to make mistakes or avoid deep issues altogether?

    I also agree with those who’ve said they don’t want their heroes to be too real. When I discuss my characters with my husband, he often says, “No guy would ever do that/say that.” Sometimes I listen to him, but others times I say, “This isn’t a guy. It’s a romantic hero.”

    ReplyReply

  64. K. Z. Snow
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:21:05

    Any good “issue book” (what an odious phrase!) is going to be, first and foremost, about the people and relationships in it. It’s likely going to cover a gamut of emotions, including — and often especially — love. I can’t emphasize this enough. But that doesn’t mean readers will feel comfortable with the story.

    Rape is, I think, a different breed of “issue” in this genre–and, oddly enough, a more palatable one. Romance readers have generally become accustomed over the decades to all manner of rape scenarios and their aftermaths. It’s also a topic most women can relate to. It also allows a hero to shine by being simultaneously strong and senstive and contributing to the healing process. (I certainly don’t mean to diminish the topic’s significance, I’m just sayin’.) Other thought-provoking subjects may not have these built-in “benefits” if they’re incorporated into a love story.

    ReplyReply

  65. Jill A
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:38:28

    So when an author introduces something serious and then blows it off, I always wonder ‘why'? Why even have it in there if you're going to smash it flat and dead -’ because that, for me, at least, makes it far more intrusive than if it wasn't there at all. I understand all about not wanting to make it too heavy, but why use those heavy elements without any intention of noting their weight? To me it's like trying to mix buckshot into angel food cake batter.

    Yes yes yes! I have nothing to add, except that I love the buckshot analogy.

    OK, I lied – I had to add about the rape thing. I really don’t like forced seduction/rape scenes/books, and have doubts that any author could make me accept the aggressor as a hero. And I don’t have any trauma related to this, it’s just repugnant to me. Then again, I didn’t read any of those rape romances in my early romance reading, so I never got used to them, maybe that’s why I can’t read them now.

    ReplyReply

  66. Chicklet
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:46:55

    How do you think I always knew where the gay bars were when I was in the Navy? FAIL!

    Teddy, it took all my strength to keep from laughing out loud in my work cubicle at this. You win! \o/

    ReplyReply

  67. Chicklet
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 14:49:51

    Yeah, what is it with the overabundance of Navy Seals? I mean there are other Special Op forces in the military. Must the shine off those wet suits that blinds everyone. ;D

    It’s those dress whites. :-) Actually, I have no idea why the scales tipped so heavily in favor of Navy SEALs. *is ignorant*

    ReplyReply

  68. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:01:26

    Actually, I have no idea why the scales tipped so heavily in favor of Navy SEALs. *is ignorant*

    The way that it happens is that one author (in this case probably Suzanne Brockmann) makes a world of characters so believable, so rich, so intriguing and ultimately so successful that publishers seek out the next Brockmann and the next and the next and many of the subsequent authors don’t have the depth of knowledge or maybe even skill and use SEAL as a shorthand that allows readers to draw upon the store of emotional response that was cultivated during the Brockmann experience.

    It’s really nothing more than a brandname for some. I.e., if I drop in a few guccis and dolce and gabbana references my character will be a hip New Yorker.

    Similarly, some authors issue drop, instead of name drop, hoping that the reader will fill in all the necessary emotional responses without the author having to go to the trouble of fleshing the issues out.

    ReplyReply

  69. Jennifer McKenzie
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:11:04

    One of the problems with taking a person with military background affected by PTSD and making him a hero of the romance novel is that, in general (there are always exceptions), they wouldn't match a typical romance hero qualifications. These guys are not outwardly alpha. They rarely invite violence by their actions. A lot of them will not talk about what they went through. And a lot of them are seriously screwed up

    I believe THIS is the issue.
    I once had an editor criticize me for including a heroine getting drunk after a break up. She said it didn’t seem “heroic”. Sometimes people do “unheroic” things. Sometimes Alpha men aren’t strong and perfect. Sometimes reality and romance can coexist.
    What frustrates me is when a serious issue, easily dealt with, is completely ignored.
    I’ve covered rape, death of a spouse and a brother “lost at sea”. I don’t gloss these over, though I don’t detail every second of a character’s growth through the experience.
    Real people aren’t always pretty. I like escapism that shows me they’re not perfect, but they can have a perfect romance.

    ReplyReply

  70. JaneO
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:12:16

    Many, maybe most, readers have specific issues they don’t want to read about. If the treatment is realistic, it is too painful, and if it is trivial it is insulting. This is true whether we are talking about romance or any other genre or mainstream fiction or classics. And what strikes one reader as realistic may strike another as insultingly trivial. This is not a problem for romance only, but the problem s exacerbated by the need for a HEA. It would perhaps be easier to handle issues indirectly – when the victim is a friend or relation, not the hero or heroine.

    ReplyReply

  71. Ciar Cullen
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:12:19

    Honestly, if I’m going for “issue” books, I’m unlikely to pick up a romance. The baggage the hero and heroine struggle with (a divorce, a confused child, a fear of heights, or the forementioned Chesapeake men type wounded souls) on their healing journey to a HEA is enough for me. I just reread Angela’s Ashes. The first time I read that, the only thing that got me through was knowing that the protagonist survived, went on to become a prize winning writer. I don’t want that level of heavy in a romance. If it’s there, then the book has actually become something else for me…

    ReplyReply

  72. Nora Roberts
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:15:02

    I guess what I’m saying is I don’t particularly like books where the issue is the story, is the key, is the crux. Part of the plot, characterization, motivation, conflict, that’s a different matter for me. I don’t much care for books when I feel the author decided: Oh, I will write about PTSD–and the book revolves around that. Rather than the author thinking: Oh, I’m going to write about this guy/woman who’s had this horrific experience, and how he/she deals with it, doesn’t deal with it, fights his/her way back, finds love again, etc.

    For me an issue book makes the issue the star. A book with characters dealing with an issue keeps the characters and their relationship as the star.

    ReplyReply

  73. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:18:43

    I like escapism that shows me they're not perfect, but they can have a perfect romance.

    I love this statement.

    Nora, I don’t really understand the difference that you are articulating. In fact, I kind of giggled this morning when I read your original comment because I thought to myself that your books are always about issues/themes/motifs. In fact, it’s one reason I like your books so much because you tend to focus on a couple of issues or themes or memes for a book and wind it through the characters and the plot.

    ReplyReply

  74. WandaSue
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:24:26

    Personally, I’m sick of Navy SEAL books. I work on the same base as the SEAL teams in San Diego, have known and dealt with them professionally, and not one romance author has gotten it quite right. Least of all, frankly, Brockmann (though, bless her, I give her credit for improving over the years). The US Navy (my employer for over 20 years) is a very complicated culture, and unless you’re actually a part of it, you’ll end up laughing at the nonsense in romances that is supposed to pass as “gouge” (Navy term.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened a “Navy romance” and ended up laughing two seconds before the books hits the wall. Ah, but there ARE exceptions! Not many, but because of those rare bright lights in Navy romances, I continue to hope…

    It comes down to the old adage: write what you know.

    Sometimes all the research in the world won’t quite get you there — not if you aren’t balls-on familiar with what you want to say.

    Because of this personal belief, I’ve begun writing a “romance” with a paraplegic hero. But too few readers want to “experience” the lifestyle — even if, as I know for a FACT, an HEA IS most definitely possible!

    ReplyReply

  75. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:30:08

    WandaSue – I think that part of Brockmann’s problem was that she had some inaccurate resources upon which she was relying.

    ReplyReply

  76. Nora Roberts
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:31:18

    Jane, I guess I’d never describe my books as being about issues. I feel they’re about people. The people may or may not have issues. I often think of them as conflicts or themes rather than issues.

    It may just be a different way of defining ‘issue’ here. I think about an issue book as one that’s about the loss of a child–that is the key element. Or about PTSD–and that is the center of the book that the rest revolves around. I think of the characters as the key, as the center, and if there is an issue it comes out of them, or revolves in some way around them to screw things up.

    ReplyReply

  77. Bernita
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:37:39

    “One of the problems with taking a person with military background affected by PTSD and making him a hero of the romance novel is that, in general (there are always exceptions), they wouldn't match a typical romance hero qualifications.”
    For me, a soldier(or a cop or firefighter) fulfills the most basic quality of a hero.
    For they are willing to lay their bodies down.

    ReplyReply

  78. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:39:35

    When I reflect on Carnal Innocence, it seemed to me that the whole theme or motif (or to use a political term, the metanarrative) of the book centered around family. Caro and her mother issues, Tucker and the importance of his family. The Longstreets were the founding family of Innocence. And at each level of the book, we readers were discovering more and more about the meaning of family and what we owe to those we are blood related; how we break free from the bonds of family; how creating new families can help to leave behind the hurts and wounds of the old families. So that to me seems like an issue book. It’s a book about the issues of family.

    ReplyReply

  79. Jane
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:42:01

    Let me also add, I am not challenging you, Nora, on how you write, just how the books appear to me, as a reader.

    ReplyReply

  80. Jill Myles
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:42:46

    I guess the glossed-over PTSD and violence issues with the ex-soldiers is all part of the ‘fantasy’ of a romance.

    Kinda like all those rakes in Regency England not being riddled with pox or crabs or herpegonosyphaloids.

    ReplyReply

  81. Lisa
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:54:20

    I haven’t read through all the comments, but wanted to add my $0.02 in here.

    My romance reading trickled down to almost nothing 7 years ago, when the fluff and romantic comedies started taking over the market. I love romances that have issues, and I read primarily romance because I need to have the HEA. But I noticed a huge decline in romances that dealt with serious issues more realistically. There were regencies with heroes who were abused, but sure as heck didn’t act like it other than to say “My daddy was mean. Wah.” Then the “serious” issue is dealt with quickly and easily, like a wave of a magic wand, and they live HEA. Maybe an aunt comes to the hero and sayd “You’re not really his son” and suddenly he’s just peachy-keen.

    But the audience seems to want the more light-hearted romances. Any serious issues are swept under the rug because the majority of readers find them too difficult to read. I can emphasize with that, as I have difficulties watching movies that are sad or deal with hard issues.

    In the past I’ve enjoyed books like Megan Chance’s THE PORTRAIT, with a bipolar hero (and a bit of a pansy heroine, but still an enjoyable book) and Mary Jo Putney’s THE RAKE AND THE REFORMER (aka THE RAKE). Justine Davis had a trilogy of SIMs with disabled heroes. Those books were gems to me because, while they may not have been 100% realistic, they did bring out the issues and how it affected the relationship.

    I do know men who have/had PTSD. It’s scary stuff. ONe nearly choked his wife to death in his sleep after coming back from Vietnam. He slept with a gun under his pillow. Scary, scary stuff there. They’re still together after 30+ years. So there is some romance there, don’t you think? She managed to stick by him, and he managed to pull it together and recover. It wouldn’t be an easy story to read – not by a long shot. But to watch a couple overcome that kind of trauma – yeah, that’s romantic to me.

    ReplyReply

  82. Keishon
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 15:59:49

    I guess the glossed-over PTSD and violence issues with the ex-soldiers is all part of the ‘fantasy' of a romance.

    Kinda like all those rakes in Regency England not being riddled with pox or crabs or herpegonosyphaloids.

    You got it. [g] I had to laugh because of the celebrated promiscuity of these rakes without suffering the consequences – too realistic? You bet. Still funny, tho.

    ReplyReply

  83. Robin
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 16:03:58

    Kinda like all those rakes in Regency England not being riddled with pox or crabs or herpegonosyphaloids.

    And the thing is, Romance authors don’t frequently mention these things and then drop them; they’re absent in Regency Romancelandia, for the most part. I think the equivalent to what Jane’s talking about would be a book that brought up that the hero was riddled with pox and then never mentioned it again or had it magically healed after the first touch of the heroine with absolutely no aftereffects or scars or simply had the hero go about his life normally in the midst of the disease.

    ReplyReply

  84. GrowlyCub
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 16:21:47

    I think we are talking past each other a bit. When I say issue books, I don’t mean that in the way Nora described it above. I mean it as part of what the hero or heroine have experienced in the past and how that influences their relationship(s).

    All romances at heart have some kind of obstacle. Some of them are more serious than others. I personally do not enjoy sub plots that take the focus away from the hero/heroine (suspense, women’s fiction, etc.), I’m more interested in the characters’ inner life and the development of their relationship with each other and the people around them.

    ReplyReply

  85. Nora Roberts
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 16:30:59

    No, I understand, Jane. I just would never term a book that uses family as theme or conflict or foundation as an ‘issue’ book. As I feel a lot of Romance speaks around family, and the continuity.

    I think of Issue: Woman faces breast cancer. Man deals with loss of wife and child. So this, then is the raison d’etre (did I spell that right) for the story, rather than the relationship evolving, and that conflict or obstacle serving as an element in the story.

    So, I think we’re just using the term differently.

    For Carnal Innocence–if I’m remembering right as it was long ago–I wanted to do a story about a woman, lost, exhausted, trying to find herself and her balance and a man who, on the surface, was content just to let things slide on by. A man who knew himself and was fine with that, and a woman who wasn’t sure of herself and wasn’t fine with it. How will they deal with each other, grow, change as the relationship evolves–esp when eek! somebody’s killing people!

    If I’d been approaching it as an issue, say, how does family define us, scar us, save us, I expect it would’ve been a very different book. So I think we’re not disagreeing so much as I’m speaking to approach as a storyteller.

    ReplyReply

  86. Amie Stuart
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 16:32:36

    I think there are authors who do a great job of balancing the heavy and the light.

    Another great exmaple is Lolly Winston’s Good Grief–it’s got a romance but it’s NOT a romance; it’s about what happens to a young widow after her husband dies. It’s a perfect example IMO–it’s NOT a heavy/angsty issues book but still deals with the matter of grief and loss in a way that’s funny and poignant :)

    ReplyReply

  87. GrowlyCub
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 16:36:48

    Lisa,

    the exact same happened to me. I started again last summer (no idea what prompted it) and in between filling up back lists of old favorites I’ve managed to discover some really good newer authors.

    Please email me at [email protected] if you want to exchange recommendations. Sounds like our tastes jive!

    ReplyReply

  88. MoJo
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 16:39:45

    Re: Paraplegia

    I bought an ebook from Cerridwen Press oh, months ago, The Write Man for her by Christie Walker Bos that’s STILL haunting me (that very rarely happens) about a paraplegic hero.

    I don’t know anything about paraplegia, don’t know what it’s like to live with a disabled person, so I can’t even say if this book was true to life or not, but dangit, the author gave me something DIFFERENT and I LOVE her for it. I can’t even tell you if it was a technically “good” book or not; I got sucked in and I liked it. That’s what I know.

    There was no miracle end (well, there was a miracle that I found eye-rollable, but it wasn’t that the hero got up and walked–because he didn’t). Just a woman and man in love dealing with life and disability in what I thought was a matter-of-fact way.

    Okay, carry on.

    ReplyReply

  89. Teddypig
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 16:57:56

    Teddypig, have you read Suzanne Brockmann's latest few books? how realistically do you think she's handling gay issues?

    I actually qualified for Navy Seal Training in bootcamp in Great Mistakes (that is Great Lakes to all you civies). But I decided to spend my time with several years of training to become a Radioman Submariner. Oh well, we used to have those SEALS on board though and I must say they filled out those Navy swimsuits very nicely. Hairy legs and buns so tight they were bouncing off the bulk heads.

    Anyway, tell me the books and maybe I will catch a few.

    ReplyReply

  90. DS
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 17:37:42

    I would compare books that raise issues then dismiss them to wallpaper historicals. The serious issue is just wall paper for the romance.

    ReplyReply

  91. Maya Reynolds
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 17:44:24

    But I wasn't sure I wanted my “romance” with Mac to be so … well, tainted. I mean, such events are stark enough in real life. Do I really need this harsh of a reality in my romances? I still haven't found the answer . . . So what IS the fine line? Glossing over the flaws is unacceptable. Yet too much detail is not much better -’ at least in a romance IMO.

    WandaSue put her finger on the issue for me.

    I think all genre fiction is about the feeling the reader is seeking when she picks up the book. If I want gritty realism, I’ll pick up a Carol O’Connell or Andrew Vachss book. If I want an exciting read, I’ll pick up a thriller. If I want families tackling real-life problems, I’ll read Jodi Picoult.

    When I pick up a romance, I’m usually looking for escapism. Too much realism knocks me out of that mood.

    Having said that, cardboard characters or stereotypes will also knock me out of the book, but for a different reason. I resent a writer who tries to capitalize on a serious issue with a superficial treatment.

    I spent ten years as a psychiatric social worker. If you’re going to give a character a psychiatric illness or a disability, you damn well better do it right if you’re going to hold my attention. I can remember picking up that Oprah-recommended “memoir,” A MILLION LITTLE PIECES, by James Frey. In less than fifty pages, I threw it across the room and told my BF it was a crock. Frey was simply too gleeful about his addictions. He came across like a sociopath having a great time spinning a story, not someone who went through the hell of a serious addiction and came out on the other side.

    You simply cannot give a heavy, heavy problem to a character and then cure it with a good night of sex.

    Just my opinion

    ReplyReply

  92. Claudia Dain
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 18:16:58

    I’m following this discussion with interest, particularly in how readers perceive a books thrust or core and how an author would identify the same core. I view it the same way Nora R. does–a book that starts out with an issue as its foundation is going to be a very different book from one that deals with issues as a result of character growth.

    Jane, your adoption example really resonated with me. As a fellow adopted child, I can’t count the times I’ve been offended in the way the subject was handled in fiction. Non-fiction; fine, that’s how someone is *really* handling it. But in fiction, the predominant trend seems to be that the driving force of both the character arc and the action is for the adoptee to find her “real” mother. Why this is romantic or poignant or resonant is the basis of the offense since it relies on the implicit “fact” that this is a truth universally acknowledged–that an adopted child would feel this way.

    ReplyReply

  93. Lynne
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 18:55:25

    The WORST romance I ever read featured a plot that revolved around the villains’ use of a date rape drug to manipulate the heroine into thinking she was losing her mind. In the first scene of the novel, the heroine wakes up buck naked in a strange bed and can’t remember how she got there. This happens to her more than once in the story, and unlike what usually goes on when people are given Rohypnol and their clothes are removed, nobody had sex with her. Yeah, right.

    This book was a disservice to victims of date rape, and it trivialized everything about the trauma and shame these people experience. I will not read ANYTHING by this author, ever. I know there are decent Harlequin Intrigues out there, but this book was so abhorrent to me that it put me off reading that whole line, sad to say.

    ReplyReply

  94. Shayne
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 19:18:08

    To me the characters dictate their own strengths and weaknesses. They also dictate how they handle what comes their way and what happened to them in the past. Though I’m not sure if I can explain it.

    Best example is, in writing The Power of Two, I didn’t start out with a character who had been abused by a former master. I had no plans on writing anything like that. I was writing a BDSM tale between two vampire doms. Except it did turn out that my character had been abused, and it became a definite part of the story as he struggled to deal with his own pain and what he perceived to be weaknesses. To the point where his sanity came into question a few times. It wasn’t solved by the end of the first novella, nor fully solved by the end of the 2nd. But the character became stronger and more capable of dealing with his own pain and could find a form of happiness with his lover.

    An HEA of sorts, but not all sunshine and roses. I think I prefer to write that way to the everything is completely solved happily ever after. It’s always what I prefer to read.

    ReplyReply

  95. K. Z. Snow
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 22:25:32

    Teddy ~ Great Lakes Naval Base, hm? Ever take a daytrip to Milwaukee and cruise the Avenue? Damn, you sailor boys were everywhere.

    ReplyReply

  96. K. Z. Snow
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 22:30:43

    I actually qualified for Navy Seal Training in bootcamp in Great Mistakes (that is Great Lakes to all you civies).

    Ever take a daytrip up to Milwaukee and cruise the Avenue? Ooo, you sailor boys were everywhere. It’s unfortunate there were no bulkheads from which to bounce those buns. (Then again, it never occurred to me some of you might be gay!)

    ReplyReply

  97. Teddypig
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 22:34:08

    Sailors not gay? That’s like Marines not liking beer or raising their legs.

    ReplyReply

  98. lisabea
    Mar 25, 2008 @ 22:42:06

    Josh’s books are never trivial and always romantic. Good call, TP

    ReplyReply

  99. Lorelie
    Mar 26, 2008 @ 07:34:03

    Oh well, we used to have those SEALS on board though and I must say they filled out those Navy swimsuits very nicely. Hairy legs and buns so tight they were bouncing off the bulk heads.

    Anyway, tell me the books and maybe I will catch a few.

    Teddy, the gay arc in Brockmann’s books does not involve SEALS. Jules is an FBI agent and Robin’s a movie star. Their story starts in Hot Target, continues through Force of Nature and wraps up in All Through The Night. Both Hot Target and Force of Nature have a hetero lead couple but Jules and Robin are the main focus of ATTN.

    There have been hints of Jules’ ex hooking up with one of the newer SEALS though. Character wise, Adam (the ex) needs to suffer some more but once that’s done I’m quite interested to see if Brockmann intends to follow through with the hinting and how she handles it if she does.

    ReplyReply

  100. MissKitty
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 14:07:03

    Issues and Romance….
    First of all, Romance is ALL about issues. C´mon, what fun is a book, where Hero and Heroine fall in love and then… yes.. well…. have sex.
    What we call issues here, is usually called plot. And no matter how much I hate to admit that, some romances seriously lack this.

    I´m German, English is not my native language. I started to write Romance, after reading a book, where the heroine beheads her (evil) mother and then shrugs it off with the words “It´s sad, I loved her, but she was evil”
    HELLOOOOO?!
    That was the point, where I decided, that if this kind of crap gets published, I can make it as well.

    So, Romance evolves around two people, dealing with their issues ( no matter how serious they are) and find their HEA.
    But and this is the major But here, often times it´s handled poorly.
    And that´s a shame.
    Many authors could do it so much better.
    Not all of us are a Joey W. Hill (who I admire deeply, just for that reason), but having a Heroine raped and then happily humping her way around some super dominant guy, isn´t something I want to read.
    Unless of course, it´s explained in a plausible manner, e.g. as part of a deeper psychological issue and not just some sex for the sake of sex.

    I love so called Issue Romance, perhaps I´m strange here.
    I´ve had my life trashed by a severe case of Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 23, I met and fell in love with an Ex- Special forces Soldier who had and has PTSD and I woke up one night to find his arm around my neck. ( oh and for those who say this isn´t Romance material, we got together because of it, but that´s an entirely different story) He´s dominant, obnoxious and an idiot sometimes, short he´s male, yet I love him still, 7 years later and with love and a good amount of tears and work even managed to get the PTSD managed.
    As a child I lived alone for several years with a severely alcoholic mother and suffered through some heavy neglect.
    I know all about issues. *smirks*

    Isn´t that tragic?
    Well, to those who hear it, it is, to me it´s my life.
    Which brings me to another version of poorly handled issues.
    Writing it to death. I´ve been told I´m not normal by several people, they can´t seem to understand that you don´t nessecarily need to have severe problems, just because you´re life wasn´t all fun.
    That´s called pop-psychology and sadly that is all, many authors rely upon.

    I think that is, what Nora calls a book evolving solely around the issue.
    Oh, misery, oh misery, oh woe is me, oh misery.

    Life is about growth and developement, and that´s what made humanity what it is today, the ability to adapt, given the rigth support.
    It´s not about wallowing in self-pity.
    And honestly, isn´t that what romance is about, too?

    Heroes and Heroines with issues are fine and great, nobody´s supposed to be perfect. And there are alot of them out there.
    It´s not a question if we need more issues in the romance genre, what we need, is authors who can handle them. And that is, what we lack.

    There are some gems out there and sadly alot of simple dust.
    It´s pretty easy. If you introduce an issue take it serious, do some good and hard thinking how your Hero/Heroine copes and why. But please, please don´t over use it.
    That shouldn´t be too hard.

    Post Scriptum: What is it about the Navy Seals? Well, Alpha males and Uniforms, do I need to say more?

    ReplyReply

  101. Bev(BB)
    Mar 29, 2008 @ 14:37:30

    Isn´t that tragic?
    Well, to those who hear it, it is, to me it´s my life.
    Which brings me to another version of poorly handled issues.
    Writing it to death. I´ve been told I´m not normal by several people, they can´t seem to understand that you don´t nessecarily need to have severe problems, just because you´re life wasn´t all fun.
    That´s called pop-psychology and sadly that is all, many authors rely upon.

    I think that is, what Nora calls a book evolving solely around the issue.
    Oh, misery, oh misery, oh woe is me, oh misery.

    I was thinking about this point the other day when this topic was hot and then I had to go to the doctor and it sort of slipped away into the ether. I think it’s largely a matter of perception and point of view.

    What one person may see as an issue, another may simply see as a normal part of their life. This is probably especially true when we’re talking about various disabilities. Once someone enters a more advanced stages of coping with what’s going on in their life it isn’t an “issue” but simply who they are and yet to a reader it might seem like an author skimmed over important aspects of the story if those elements weren’t given more importance. The author may actually be writing realistically and be penalized for it by some readers.

    ReplyReply

  102. The Romance Genre & Serious Issues | Literary Escapism
    May 05, 2008 @ 14:16:34

    [...] was reading the Dear Author site and one of the Janes posted an editorial on how the romance genre trivializes certain serious [...]

  103. Seriously Romantic…or Not « Jenyfer Matthews
    May 25, 2008 @ 07:19:26

    [...] Romantic…or Not Last week Dear Author posted a blog topic that got me to thinking. Basically Jane was wondering why it was [...]

  104. Davia
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 17:34:24

    Very interesting post and so true. I stopped reading romance, for the most part, because it seemed there wasn’t much to what put out today besides grunts and thrusts and boiling love juices. Ugh. Then I was given a m/m romance for my birthday last week and, honestly, I started it with reluctance. But it started out with a two young boy in poverty and an abusive home in late Victorian London and before it’s over with there is murder, vengeance, insanity and cruel choices. Beautifully written and vivid to the point of pain, I was hooked and read the darn thing in two days, and it’s not a short book. The title is The Phoenix and the author is Ruth Sims, put out by a press I never heard of, Lethe. Maybe it’s self-published, I don’t know. I just know it’s an A#1 story and I’ve looked in vain for something else by the author. I’ve also hunted DA for a review of it. Can’t believe a great review site like this one has missed such a terrific read. Will you be reviewing it???

    Anyway, I love books like this that really have something to say and say it well. I have to read older books to find what I really want. There aren’t enough new writers doing it. I want flesh on my literary bones!!!

    ReplyReply

  105. Jane
    Feb 18, 2009 @ 21:05:19

    @Davia I’ve never heard of it, but we have reviewed a book from Lethe publishers before. Dr. S reads much of our m/m romance. I’ll have to check with her.

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply


2 + = 6

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: