PHS columnist, Tara Taylor Quinn discusses whether there are any topics that romance simply can't discuss...
Please note that there are triggering issues mentioned in this article.
In a world where taboo seems to be a nasty word, this is a tough article to write! I’ve always chafed at the idea that some hold the perception that because I’m a romance writer I can’t write everything I want to write – that there are things I can’t put in my books.
My general response is to the list the topics I’ve covered in more than 80 published novels. I had a heroine who’d been a prostitute until she wound up pregnant in Her Secret His Child. And there was the woman who’d been a pole dancer, (The Good Girl which you can read in its’ entirety for free here . Just a note on this one…it’s the prequel to a three book series revolving around a cold case involving a toddler who’d gone missing 30 years before in It Happened in Comfort Cove).
Then there was the one where the one where the heroine had been gang raped and the hero was one of the men who’d been convicted for the crime. (Sara’s Son) Most recently I’m writing a fourteen book series (I've just turned in book 13) that revolves around domestic violence called Where Secrets Are Safe.
I tackle tough subjects. I write ‘taboo’ characters. I want to tell the world that there are no taboos in the romance genre. And maybe, for some, there aren’t. Many of the old stereotypical taboos have gloriously faded away. From sports heroes and dancers, Hollywood, zombies, werewolves, tats and erotica, we’ve brought the romance genre up to date so that our readers find themselves in our books. The truth is, though, that in my world, and the worlds of my readers, there are basics that define our genre. Which means that to stay true to that definition, there are things that don’t belong. Or at least one of them.
The biggest taboo, maybe the only true taboo, is an unhappy ending. It’s just taboo. Romances are about love. About hope. About things that are real and sacred. Love doesn’t fail – only the people gifted with it do. In romance books, while the people fail, they are also rescued by the greatest force of all – love. Man has no power to destroy the force of love. We can turn our backs on it. We can choose not to open our hearts to it. We can choose to destroy its presence in our loves – but no one, not even the most hideous living creature, can destroy the force of love. So…in romance novels, the celebration of true love, ending a book without love as the victor is taboo.
There are other kind of obvious, to me, things that are not romantically heroic. Abuse being one of them. I think an abusive hero or heroine is taboo in romance novels. And as I say this I also have to say that I’ve written a romance novel with a previously abusive man as a subplot who finds his happy ending with the family he hurt. (The Good Father) I’m not saying that someone who made a mistake, even a huge one, can never be a hero or heroine (see above!) – only that that person needs to have come to terms with him or herself, needs to have done his or her own personal work, needs to have fought for change and to have convincingly won the fight, before he or she can star on the page.
You could list all kinds of sins to fit in the above paragraph. A person whose way of life, whose life choices, are unheroic, damaging, or hateful doesn’t belong in a romance novel until or unless he or she is redeeming him/herself. This really goes back to the basic taboo. Romance novels are about love. People who choose hate can’t star in them.
Another obvious to me…you can’t very well have a romance novel without a relationship. So a book about a guy playing baseball and winning or losing on the field, and only about that, would be taboo in the romance genre. Common sense here! If it’s central story is not about love, it’s not a romance!
The only other taboos, to my way of thinking, involve particular publishing programs. These programs make promises to their readers in terms of what kinds of stories they’ll find between the pages and the programs have guidelines, some with very strict taboos and other with requirements for a lack of taboos, that must be met. From clean reads to erotica, heartwarming to edge of your seat suspense, same sex couples, multi-cultural couples, or even, in some cases, three-somes, a reader, and writer, can find his or her niche in the romance genre. But what she can’t do is find erotica in clean reads, or a clean read in an erotica novel! It’s a matter of promise. Of trust. A reader deserves to know what kind of story they're spending their hard earned money and precious time to read. They deserves to be given the choice to read what pleases them, entertains them, fulfills them. Publishing program guidelines are available for both reader and writer and both are free to choose where best they fit. But in the genre as a whole – we all fit just fine!
Love is about acceptance. It’s about forgiveness. It’s about hope. It’s about the right of every single individual on earth to find redemption and happiness. The romance genre didn’t create love. It doesn’t control or define love. It just celebrates the fact that love exists. Love welcomes. And, to be true to its core, so must the romance genre.
How do you feel about taboo issues being explored in romance novels? Share your viewpoint with us in the comments or on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Tara's latest book, The Fireman's Son, is out now. To find out more about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest.