This month in the Romance Academy, PHS columnist, Tara Taylor Quinn, takes a closer look at the romance genre and how well it represents the modern-day world its readers inhabit...
When I was in college my English professor – who was also my advisor – told me what set literature apart from other writings was that in years, decades, and centuries to come people will read those pieces of fiction and learn about the times, the lives, norms and mores, of those who lived when the writer penned her fiction. I was a closet romance reader then, studying Mark Twain, Robert Frost and Ernest Hemingway, and already planning to write for Harlequin Books.
I was young. Naïve. And driven by a force inside me to write romance for the largest romance publisher in the world. I knew if I wanted to leave a positive mark on the world, if I wanted to effect positive change, if I wanted to keep love and hope alive in a changing society, I had to write what I knew and believed.
I'd been reading Harlequin romance since I was fourteen and knew, first hand, how those books had helped shape my life. I knew what to look for in a mate. Certain qualities I considered heroic. I knew not to settle for less than what fit me. I knew what I, as a woman, deserved in a relationship. I also knew the type of person I had to be to be a heroine. I learned to think of others. To put love first. And to never, ever give up.
I took a lot of pats on the head during those years. I worked other jobs – including teaching junior high and high school English for a brief time. And I wrote. Submitted only to Harlequin. I lost a brother to a tragic car accident and then, instead of writing, I read. I turned to my Harlequin romances to remind myself of the hope…the love…which exists in the midst of pain and suffering.
In 1992 I sold my first book to Harlequin. And now, more than 80 books later, I’m still contracted with them.
I know first-hand how these books reflect the world in which we live, how they change as the world changes, because the words come from within me. I spend more waking hours each day creating these stories than I spend doing anything else.
From my own work, I can give example about the real world these books represent. I am currently working on book 14 in a series, Where Secrets Are Safe, that revolves around a unique women’s shelter off from the coast of California.
Domestic violence is nothing new, but the fight to eradicate it has become more pronounced in recent years. This awareness continues to grow as sports stars and other celebrities are now openly accused – and many found guilty – of partner abuse, because women can now trust that we live in a world that will support them. In a world where there is funding for programs to support them. One in four women are victims of domestic violence in the US.
That’s one in four readers of romance.
My hope is my books reach women who have not yet found the courage, strength, or hope to get out of an unhealthy relationship. That, through my heroines, they can find a piece of themselves, find the hope and the trust to believe they do not deserve to be mistreated and are able to reach out for change. I hope these books touch the lives of women who are friends and loved ones of those being mistreated, that they share their own strength, their support in helping those they love to get help. All while being entertained.
The books are, first and foremost, entertainment. They are larger than life, as entertainment must be, and yet, at their core, they are stone cold fact, too. Domestic violence is not the only reality in my books. The basis of them, the foundation, the be-all – love – is also fact.
In our changing world, with a society that sometimes feels out of control, the one thing we all, as human beings, need – really need – is the ability to love and be loved. It’s the human condition to need relationships. It’s on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and in every psychology book I’ve ever read. And in songs, too…people need people.
With our technological world it’s easier than ever to ‘meet’ hundreds of people. And in some ways, harder than ever to have meaningful relationships. Romance novels are the road map we need to keep us ever aware of the hope and the love upon which our society survives. Romance novels keep the love alive.
These books include all of the newest technologies. They include all of the current challenges facing children, young adults, new adults, parents, entrepreneurs, career-minded successful adults, fifty-somethings starting over, fifty-somethings in love with twenty-somethings, same-sex choosers – and in every single one of them, they find the path that allows them to live with who they are and still find their way to love. To successful, healthy relationships.
On a more practical level, I can give purely business proof to the fact that romance novels represent the modern day world. Part of my job is to fill out art fact forms for every book I write. This entails going on-line to a series of forms requiring information about my characters, their looks, their occupations. I’m required to give three scene suggestions. And to write a one-page synopsis of the story.
The purpose of these forms is two-fold. The art department uses them to create covers for my books that accurately depict the story. And these forms are also used for foreign sales. The only thing foreign markets use in determining whether or not to buy my book are these forms. Some places on these forms are open space in which I can input up to five-hundred words. And some of the pages are drop down menu only. I have to choose from only the choices the company provides. These drop down menus must be used for all character traits, descriptions, and occupations.
Hairstyle choices used to be long, short, things in between. Now they include ‘microbraids’, and ‘just got out of bed’ among others. In hair color we now have ‘multi-colored’. Careers include ‘creativity coach’, ‘video game creator’, ‘party girl’ and ‘house-husband’ among many many other new additions. A trait includes ‘in debt’ and disabilities now include ‘vaginismus’. These are only a brief sampling of the indicators of the reflection of the modern world in our books.
As a past president of Romance Writers of America, I can attest to the fact that romance novels reflect the world in which we live. Just in ten years’ time, the changes in policy due to changed story content, down to the basic definition of a romance, is equal to the changes we’re seeing in our news every day.
Same sex relationships are welcome and prominent in romance – though they were previously, too, to some extent. I wrote my first same sex relationship as a secondary plot back in 2002 in White Picket Fences, a Harlequin Superromance. Multi-cultural relationships are also now commonplace, as are greater age difference romances.
When I received copies of my first published romance novel, I sent one of the first ones off to my college professor, along with a letter that asked him to read the book, and then tell me if, by his definition, it was literature. I reminded him that it had to reflect the mores of the times so that, in future generations, readers would gain insight into our current society. He did so. And acknowledged that, yes, the book did exactly that. He said it was a good book.
It's my opinion that romance novels not only reflect the modern world in which we live, they are a vital part of refining our world. They take our challenges and our changes and show us how to find within them the one thing we all need. Love.
Because love doesn’t change.
How do you think that romance novels fit into a discussion about #changingtimes? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Tara's latest release is Her Secret Life:
It takes courage to choose love…
Internet security expert Michael Valentine knows his place in Kacey Hamilton's life. The soap opera star lives in two worlds: glamorous Hollywood and small town Santa Raquel, where she volunteers with him at The Lemonade Stand women's shelter. The key to their friendship is maintaining boundaries. And after an accident years ago left him badly scarred, he won't expect anything more. But when threats against Kacey escalate, Michael will stop at nothing to protect her. Even if his investigation means confronting more than just her attacker as Kacey's interest in him starts to go deeper than friendship…
Tara Taylor Quinn is a USA Today Bestselling author of intense, emotional fiction. For more information about her and her writing, check out her website and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest.