Guest Post: The Changing Face of Romance Novels by Marie Ferrarella
On February 3, 2015, Marie Ferrarella published her 250th book which is a tremendous achievement. I asked if she would write a post about how the genre has changed in her opinion and she delivered an interesting look at the evolution of point of view.
First, a little about that 250th novel:
When Elizabeth Shelton finds her boss murdered, her life is thrown into turmoil. But nothing shocks her more than learning she’s pregnant by the man’s son. She kept her attraction to mogul Whit Adair hidden for years before their one-night tryst—and now she must keep another secret…
When the killer targets her next, Whit goes from her one-time lover to her full-time bodyguard. Taking her to his ranch for safekeeping, Whit discovers the truth about the baby. He offers his protection, but Elizabeth wants more—his love. For his child and its mother, he’ll do anything—even take down a murderer…
When I first began writing (and selling—yay!) romance novels, one day my six year old daughter came home with a long face. Since she was supposed to be playing with the little girl next door, I asked her what happened. She said the girl’s mother wouldn’t let them play together anymore because, according to my neighbor, “Your mother writes trash.” (Not to worry, Jessi went on to have better friends).
That, pretty much, was the reigning opinion voiced by people who had a passing acquaintance with the genre of category romance at that time. And, while not trash, admittedly when I began working in the genre, the scope of the world within those books it was rather clichéd and limited. It revolved around predominately hand-to-forehead situations, sweet little, naïve heroines and big, strong brooding heroes. And (to me) equally as constricting, the writer was allowed only one point of view to work with: the heroine’s. I have, from time to time been accused of “head-hopping.” Anyone who has ever spoken with me (or, as my husband maintains, stood there and listened to me since, according to him, I talk too fast to allow others to get in a word edgewise) know this is the way I think. I have never been able to think in just a linear, straight forward fashion (the previous sentence is a prime example). I am, truthfully, “all over the map” until I finally arrive at the spot I’ve been aiming for, otherwise known as “home.”
Happily, I have lasted long enough in this field to witness the much needed change. These days, not only is the reader allowed to be privy to the heroine’s and the hero’s points of view, but on occasion, some of the minor characters’ (or, as I like to think of them, the supporting cast’s) points of view. I did not pioneer this (although I would have liked to take the acknowledgment for it and, to my possible credit, I have worn down many an editor who has thrown up her hands, cried, “I give up” and allowed me to have my field day on occasion). To any and all who will listen, I will proudly point to Nora Roberts’ long ago book entitled Local Hero in which in one or two occasions (I forget), the dog interjected with his point of view. No, that’s not a typo, I said the dog. To me (and millions of others), Miss Roberts was (and is) the standard by which the rest of us attempted to measure up. I held fast to that. “If Nora can do it, so can I.” (To which the obvious was always pointed out: “You’re no Nora Roberts.” But I was stubborn and fought on).
To me, this evolution was the singular most important one in the genre. It allows the author to be more expressive, to view a scene from multiple sides, giving the story and the characters more depth and substance. It also allows the reader more insight into what’s happening—plus a chance to develop a relationship with more than just one person in the book. I have always had more fun writing interaction between the protagonists and minor characters than with each other. The pressure is off and when that happens, the words just flow. There is nothing more wonderful for an author than having something all but write itself. It is one of the greatest natural highs I know of (other than loving someone who loves you back).
There are other things that have changed in romance novels since I first sat down to try to envision a world trapped within my typewriter (yes, I go back that far). For instance, sex has come into the picture. When I first entered the field, category allowed for heavy breathing, long, arousing kisses—followed by springing apart. No consummation until after the last dance at the wedding reception. When lovemaking finally did make an appearance, it did so tied to prescribed numbers (so many scenes within a book were required). Now, happily for me, anything goes (no, not kinky sex, I leave that to others). And, by that, I mean that the heroine now can hold down any sort of job she wants to, as can the hero. The only limits on either of them are the ones I choose to impose. The genre in general has become a freer—and in my point of view (pun intended)—warmer place. It has gone from a restricted, two dimensional world to a fleshed out, 3-D one with real people who have a sense of humor as well as flaws (humor, to me, being one of the most important things in life, allowing us to cope with said life).
But, with all these changes within the last thirty-one years (I began writing at the age of three), one thing, happily, has remained the same: there is always a happy ending. And I for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.