CONVERSATION: Alaska is the New Texas
Recently a Berkley publicist sent me an email highlighting several books coming out in December 2021. I was struck by the number of books mentioned that were set in Alaska. Here are brief excerpts from their descriptions on Amazon:
Love and Let Bark by Alanna Martin (Hearts of Alaska Book 3):
When Nate Porter left Helen, Alaska, to become a firefighter with the Forest Service, he claimed it was because he craved adventure. The truth was, he couldn’t stand to hang around, pining for a girl […]
Finding Paradise by Barbara Dunlop (Paradise, Alaska Book 2):
Accomplished Los Angeles lawyer Marnie Anton has always been sensible, but when her friend Mia Westberg asks for help with a ridiculous matchmaking project, she can’t say no. The idea of transporting city girls into the small town of Paradise, Alaska, is so crazy […]
Bold Fortune by M. M. Crane (The Fortunes of Lost Lake Series Book 1):
Violet Parrish is a thinker, not a doer, but desperate times call for extraordinary measures—like taking on the Alaskan wilderness. In January. Off the grid. With a mountain man hot enough to melt a glacier.
(I don’t know if I should give that last one points for not including Alaska in its series title; I spotted six instances of “Alaska” or “Alaskan” in the blurb.)
I must live under a rock because the Alaska trend hadn’t registered with me until I read that email. But when it did, I shot off this email to the DA loop:
“What is it with Alaska? Fully four of the nine books (44%!) they’re promoting to us take place in Alaska. Is this a new popular trope I’m unaware of?”
“I noticed that, too,” wrote Jayne, “It seems to be a growing trend over the past 2 years.”
“I’m not sure what’s with Alaska but there are definitely a lot of books set there lately. Have been for the past year or so,” Kaetrin said.
The trending of Alaska makes me think of Texas. From the 1980s until now, the romance industry has had a passion for Texas. Love, Cherish Me by Rebecca Brandewyne (“On her way to Texas to marry Gabriel North, she was captured by outlaws,”) was a hit in 1983; Texas! Chase by Sandra Brown and Heaven, Texas by Susan Elizabeth Phillip were Romancelandia darlings in 1991 and 1995, respectively; Lisa Kleypas’s series about the Travis family, set in Houston and a town named Welcome, Texas, was much beloved in 2007, 2008, and 2009. And Amazon tells me that Diana Palmer has published, from 1988 through June of this year, 52 books in a series called Long, Tall Texans.
The romance industry seems to be trading in the cowboy hats for ski hats and the pickup trucks for Bush planes, but the two settings have much in common: open land and severe landscapes, isolated ranches and isolated cabins, men who know how to survive in harsh conditions, all lend themselves to the tropes of soon-to-be lovers stuck together with only each other for company, and professional or pampered city women learning to rough it under the tutelage of blustering and sexy men. But above all, they have popularity.
As for Berkley’s new Alaska novels, there’s one blurb that until now, I haven’t shared:
Once Upon a Cabin by Patience Griffin (Sweet Home, Alaska Book 2)
Two sisters from Texas find themselves exiled to Alaska . . . and thrown into the arms of two very different men.
Tori and McKenna St. James have been living comfortably on their trust funds in Dallas. But their uncle Monty, keeper of the purse strings, decides to push them out of their comfort zones by requiring them to spend one year in Alaska or lose their inheritance.
I rest my case: Alaska is the new Texas.
I must own that I was never a huge fan of Romancelandia’s version of Texas. As a vegan, I don’t go weak-kneed for cattlemen; dusty towns have never been my thing. And now, as far I’m concerned, a complete turnover in austere settings couldn’t come sooner. Because now What if that condom breaks! will be what’s in my head, and those of many other readers, when things get steamy between men and women in Texas; the unplanned pregnancy trope, when set there, has already begun to take on a whole new meaning.
I’m relieved that fans of the tropes I mentioned can be transported to Paradise, Alaska rather than Heaven, Texas. I prefer rugged outdoorsmen to rugged cowboys and though I enjoy reading about temperamental stallions, loyal huskies are okay. I’m not into the stereotype of incompetent-at-survival women either way, but who cares? Alaska is still romantic. Texas is a premier setting for horror novels now. Attention, Ira Levin! The Lone Star State is calling your name!
What about you, readers? Do you have any thoughts on the popularity of these settings? And will you view Texas romances differently now?
Well, Alaska is also Republican, so it’s not exactly paradise either…
I grew up around cowboys and therefore don’t find them romantically appealing at all.
@Jennifer: I know, it’s not good there either. I didn’t want to get overtly into partisanship in the piece but since you bring it up… In Alaska, the Republican party doesn’t have so strong a chokehold over the state government as they do in Texas. Alaska’s legislature is run by a coalition that’s majority democrats so for the moment, at least, the rights of women to have autonomy over their bodies are safer there than in many other Republican states. Not that that’s much consolation; the ruling party in their statehouse could easily change next year. Still, even scant comfort is better than none. And I would take Lisa Murkowski over Ted Cruz any day. If I were a woman of childbearing years residing in Texas and could afford to leave the state, I’d move or at least start to look for a job in a blue state as soon as I possibly could.
More to the point of this post, I can still stand to read a romance set in Alaska but I can’t imagine enjoying a romance set in Texas until that horrific law is repealed (if that day ever comes). How do you think it will affect your own romance reading?
@Jennifer: @Janine Ballard: I agree with both of you. For me, reading historical romance novels set in Russia before (or even after the Revolution) is a struggle because I’m always thinking about poor, starving people, Jews in shtetls and the horrors to come. It’s my “what if the condom breaks” distraction, deserved or not. So I can add Texas to that short list of places and times that drop me right out of the story.
Crime novels have frequently been set in Alaska–Dana Stabenow, John Straley, Susan Henry, etc. And now Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton series (my love for which is boundless) takes place there as well. Romance could happen and I probably wouldn’t think of Sarah Palin.
Megan Crane’s (aka, Caitlin Crews) romantic-suspense series Alaska Force is set in Alaska, as is Jackie Ashenden’s Deep River series. The Crane books are pretty pricey as ebooks, so I’ve only been reading them when they go on sale. The Ashenden series isn’t quite as angsty as some of her other books, particular those she published through Harlequin Presents or Dare.
As for what is currently going on in Texas, it’s awful—and the worst part (among many really dreadful parts) is that the law deputizes every Texan (specifically every male Texan) to stalk and harass women of child-bearing age. It’s like ringing the dinner bell for every MRA/incel/misogynist/pick-up artist/toxic male in the state—all under the guise of “protecting the unborn.” But take it from an old lady (I was 15 when the Roe v. Wade ruling was handed down) who lives south of the Mason-Dixon Line: this shit has been going on for almost 50 years and every red state is salivating to pass Texas-type anti-choice legislation. Roe v. Wade really has been the gift that keeps on giving for the right-wing in this nation for half a century.
@Darlynne: I’ve wanted to write a romance manuscript set in 1920s Britain, but I struggle even with that because of the rising antisemitism of that period. It’s a shame because in many ways it’s a great time period to write about.
But this, I have to say, is even more immediate to me than that, because it’s happening during my lifetime and in the country where I live. I don’t see how a Texas romance with the unplanned pregnancy trope set in say, 2022, can possibly avoid drawing this kind of association in the minds of many—perhaps a majority of—its readers. I predict that even some Republican authors who support this law will see their Texas book sales drop some because of it.
Alaska, yeah, for the moment I can still deal.
Hard to say because I am so not into Alaska (I’m a tropical girl) in general and reading about tons of ice and snow does not appeal to me. I would not be into a Texas romance anyway in general (though I’m sure I’ve read a few SEP novels), but now especially would be a buzzkill.
@DiscoDollyDeb: I know, it’s horrifying. When I was a kid in Israel I heard from adults that (and I don’t know if this is true, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is) that in WWII Poland, the government offered its citizens a sack of flour for every Jew in hiding whom they turned in or ratted out. It was a war, there was a lot of deprivation, people and their children went hungry, and the expected consequences took place. That’s what the deputizing in Texas makes me think about.
I hope Planned Parenthood starts offering the women of Texas free or subsidized IUDs and tubal ligations.
@Jennifer: I’m pretty much like you; not a fan of either setting. But Texas for me is right out at this point. I do wonder how this will affect the romance industry and for that matter other industries.
Though a large part of Sugar Daddy takes place in Welcome, the location for Lisa Kleypas’s Travis books is primarily Houston.
What I’m looking for is locations written in a way that seems authentic rather than a fantasy version. For Texas-set books, that can be series like Tammara Webber’s Contours of the Heart, Roni Loren’s The Ones Who Got Away, or Laura Griffin’s Tracers; I think all three authors live or have lived in Texas, so it’s just a part of the book and not some “OMG Texas!” kind of thing. Books that fail the authenticity test for me are sugary small town romances, anything that has a fairytale/touristy version of Paris rather than the real thing, and most books set in the Middle East.
I’m trying to remember the last time I read a romance novel set in Alaska and drawing an absolute blank.
I suspect that one attraction of Texas and Alaska as book settings has much to do with how dissimlar they are from other states. We label vast areas as midwest, south, northeast, northern plains, southwest, mid-Atlantic, Pacific northwest. While there are different ideas regarding which states make up each area, in my experience people from Texas say they are from TEXAS. They don’t say that they are from the southwest. I haven’t met anyone from Alaska yet…
Shoot. Lost an “i”.
@Rose: If you hate sugary small town books you might like Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark. It’s a rare exception and terrific. Sunita reviewed it and spoke a lot about the small town aspect:
I’ve never read a single one of those Paris books and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about why. My dad and my grandparents lived there for a time and even though I’ve never been, every impression I’ve had of it is nothing like that.
I couldn’t agree with you more on the Middle East. Even on the rare occasion when I’ve enjoyed a romance set there, I’m aware that it’s the Disney version of the Middle East I’m reading about, a cartoonish fantasyland.
“Good Time Bad Boy” was wonderful, and I liked that Clark wanted to tell *this* story, about *these* characters, and not set up a series. The series situation is out of control. But that’s a different conversation ;)
I don’t expect to see the legislation in Texas addressed in any romance novels until it becomes clearer whether that law will survive the many challenges it’s likely to face. I don’t know that it will (and how do you prove someone had an abortion given HIPAA?) but with Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization coming up, it may not be just Texas where unplanned pregnancy plots will take on a different meaning.
@LML: Good point, I agree. But the same is true of Hawaii and California and you don’t see the same industry excitement around them.
Texas has had this mythos around it that extends beyond the romance genre. The siege of the Alamo has captured imaginations, Texas was an independent nation before it joined the US, and then you have the oil and the TV show Dallas. But I would argue that California has a mythos to equal it, between the Gold Rush, the American ethos of “Go west, young man,” the distinctiveness of San Francisco, even its 1906 earthquake, but more than anything, Hollywood and the dreams of striking it rich and famous that are associated with it.
My conclusion is this: distinctiveness helps popularize a setting (see also: New York City and New Orleans) but it may not be enough by itself. The romance genre is (or at least has been) conservative and traditional at its heart. That’s a factor too. I’d love to read an Alaska romance with (an) Inuit protagonist(s)–portrayed with respect and authenticity, of course–but I doubt we’ll see one in the near future.
I’d much rather read about Alaska than Texas. I lived in Texas when I was little, my parents hated it there. They were immigrants from England and never understood the Texas lifestyle! LOL.
The only novel I’ve read recently set in Alaska is Northern Lights by Nora Roberts. It is one of my favorite standalone books by her, but since I’ve never visited Alaska I can’t comment on the authenticity of the setting. Basically, it seems like more than half the characters are crazy, which is to be expected in a town called Lunacy! While I never watched Northern Exposure, didn’t it have a similar premise?
I had a college roommate from Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula. She loved it there but the weather is pretty brutal and you always have to be cautious about natural hazards such as bears and moose. Plus the growing season is really short, which would frustrate gardeners like me no end.
I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and it totally mystifies me that I keep hearing about people moving from here to Texas…
The Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews is set in Texas, but it’s a fantasy Texas. Those authors actually live there as well, but judging by some of the things I’ve read on their blog, they’d like to move!
@Rose: I doubt the legislation will be acknowledged much in romances at all for a long time (unless/until it is normalized, shudder), whether or not it sticks. It’s too dark a theme for that and not very romantic. But it will affect the desirability of the unplanned pregnancy books for some readers.
@Wendy Williams: It’s hard to grasp for me as well. I preferred Alaska (at least in theory) even before this.
@Kari S.: I haven’t read any Alaska books at all as far as I recall, LOL. But the trend is relatively new and I’m not into comedic books with the inept city woman / competent mountain man trope. I do like stories about struggling to survive the elements or taking shelter in a cabin together, though. If I hear of a book that uses those tropes I’ll check it out.
I wasn’t keen on Northern Exposure but it was very popular. I wonder if it had a hand in inspiring that Roberts book.
Do you have any links to the Ilona Andrews blog pieces that hint at that? I’d love to read more about it (I’m a fan of the Hidden Legacy books, although I wouldn’t mind a change of setting).
@Rose: I added Houston to my description of Kleypas’s Travis books. I’ve probably recommended Good Time Bad Boy to you before–sorry about that.
To elaborate on my last post in the thread, I’d also enjoy an “on the run from bad guys” story in a hard-to-survive climate like that, as long as the bad guys weren’t foreigners.