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The Most Common Misconceptions About Romance Novels (And Their Writers)

Romance is easily one of the most chastized (and yet oddly, most profitable) genres in the fiction industry.  It serves as the butt of jokes for a variety of reasons, although many of these statements are generalized or simply due to lack of firsthand knowledge of the genre.  In this week’s post, I have chosent to explore what I have found to be the most common misconceptions about romance novels and the peole who write them.

  1. Romance novels are “just fluff.”
    This is easily the most common condemnation of the romance genre.  Its critics state that romance novels have no substance.  However, just like films or any other medium, romance novels have sub-genres, and while there are romantic comedies and more light-hearted novels, romantic suspense is very popular.  Romance novels, in fact, have a lengthy history of tackling issues like domestic violence, rape, and single parenthood.  These have also been consistent themes touched on since the advent of the modern romance novel in the early 1970s, not necessarily due to media attention on a specific event or movement.  As with any book, it’s all dependent on the genre (or in this case, sub-genre), that the reader selects.
  2. Romance novels are all about sex.                                                                                        This misconception is also known as “All romance novels are like Fifty Shades of         Grey.”  Besides the fact that this can be easily disproven by the fact that the Christian romance genre continues to flourish, these generalized statements also dismiss the subgenres, which often dictate the “heat levels” of romances.  These heat levels range anywhere from no sexual activity at all between the heroine and heroine to vry explicit sex scenes, such as those in Fifty Shades and other erotic romances.  However, most romances fall into the “hot” category, where there is usually one or two descriptive love scenes and perhaps another one or two which are casually mentioned.  Safe to say that leaves another ninety percent of the novel reliant on character development rather than the sexual relationship of the characters.  While the intimacy often proves to be a progression for the characters, the focus of the story is their journey, though sex may or may not be part of that.  As a writer of the genre as well, it is also important to say that the intimacy of the characters (and the explicitness of the love scenes) is very character-driven and suited to the couples’ personality.
  3. Romance novels are predictable.                                                                                          This misconception is likely due to the fact that in order for a novel to qualify as a categorized “romance novel,” the story must have a “happily ever after” or a “happy for now” conclusion.  While that might be the case, the journey to that satisfying conclusion is often rocky.  Obstacles drive the plot of any novel, and while romantic endings generally have a “walking off into the sunset” conclusion to look forward to, that does not make the voyage less frustrating or even sad at times.  This is particularly true for series that follow a singular couple, such as Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, which took five books for the characters to reach their “happily ever after,” with an emotional, exhausting journey along the way.  While perhaps not having a ponder-worthy ending, many romance novels remain etched in the mind long after the final page is turned, be it character development, education about a social issue, or unimitatable chemistry between the couple.
  4. Romance heroes and heroines are flawless.                                                                     This assumption is slightly easier to understand, especially if romance novel covers were truly representative of what lay between the pages of these books.  However, it can also be disputed that, like all of us, the heroes and heroines in these novels have their flaws, both physically and emotionally.  It can be a scar on their face, a physical impairment, or a past trauma, and these add layers to the characters, enhancing their realism.   In recent years, there have been many authors who have further embraced this push for representation of the true female size, including heroines labeled as “plus-sized.”  This inclusivity adds for further character connections, and therefore a more enjoyable reading experience.
  5. Romance novels are written by middle-aged women surrounded by a plethora of cats.                                                                                                                                            So maybe this is little specific, but there certainly is a belief that the people behind the romance genre are middle-aged spinsters.  In fact, the irrelevancy of this can be easily disputed by the fact that there are male romance novelists as well as LGBTQ+ writers who continue to expand their reach within the genre.  People of all backgrounds write romance, and nothing about their “real world” personality need explain what they choose to write.  Of course, there is also the obvious fact that the age, marital status, sexual orientation, etc. of the author is irrelevant to storytelling, but that could be a post in itself.  I, for one, am twenty-four, but read romances written by authors of a variety of age ranges, genders, whatever demographic area chosen.  At the end of the day, it’s not what matters, but it proves to be another nitpicking point (or perhaps humoring point) for critics of the genre.
  6. Romance novels are only read by middle aged women.                                                As someone who was a mere fourteen when I began reading romances, I can dispute this fact from my personal experience.  However, most romance writers state that they began reading the genre around a similar age, which leads me to believe that the genre is read by a wide age range, from teens to people in the aging population.  This could account for romance being one of the top selling genres in the fiction industry, though this is not a widely publicized fact.  In fact, many of the heroes and heroines in these novels are in their twenties and thirties, so it makes sense that people within those age brackets would also be drawn to these stories, as it is yet another point of relatability.  These are novels full of love, passion, and overcoming the obstacles, and these are plot points that many people can connect with.

Thoughts on this?  Have you encountered any other misconceptions about romance, or do you have any others you’re aware of that you would like addressed?  Sound off in the comments below!

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Literary Elitism: The Demonization of the Romance Genre

As a romance writer, one of my biggest frustrations continues to be that romance is one of the most ridiculed genres in literature, despite that it is one of the top selling genres in the realm of fiction. This is due to elitism within the literary community and a variety of misconceptions about the romance genre. It can be frustrating and tiring for readers and writers to be ostracized and teased for what they read or write about, and this shaming needs to stop.

I began reading romances when I was fourteen. In high school, I received funny looks from teachers when I carried one of my books with me to class. The shock and judgment grew even worse when I wrote my first romance novel in my senior year of high school. That was the year after Fifty Shades of Grey exploded and thrust the romance genre into the spotlight, both in positive and negative lights. It showed that people did read romances, but it also displayed the fodder romance was, labeled fluff and compared to pornography (a rather interesting paradox, if one were to think about it). I always felt that the novels I read were being put down in favor of literary fiction, as though those books were somehow more valuable.

While I was proud when I released my first romance novel, I also felt judged. I got a lot of questions like “Is your book like Fifty Shades?” There was an assumption that just because I wrote romance, I automatically wrote a book like that, though romance is more complex than simply BDSM novels.

What many people do not realize is that there are a variety of romance types. This consists of sub-genres and heat levels. Most romances are categorized by “heat level” secondly to their sub-genre. This term indicates the sexual content of the novel. “Sweet” is the term for novels that contain no sex scenes or minimal ones, such as the bedroom door closing behind a couple in a film. “Hot” is usually where most romance novels fall in the spectrum, which means that there are a few sex scenes throughout the book but not in graphic detail. “Spicy” romances, more commonly referred to as erotic, are where novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey would be categorized, which indicates that the sexual relationship between the couple is a more integral part of the relationship and that there will be more than a few sex scenes within the book.

Love scenes are a part of romance novels, but these books are so much more than that. The purpose of a romance novel is to explore the development of a romantic relationship between two people and the journey that it takes them on together and as individuals. Depending on the writer, this can be explored in a variety of ways.

I am lucky that people have not been as judgmental about my reading or writing romances as time has gone on. However, among academics, I still sense a feeling of bias towards literary fiction and classic novels, almost as if one is not a serious reader if they do not read “something of substance.” Romances are not considered to be quality reading and are passed off as fluffy, predictable, and pornography.

My trouble with these labels is that they are untrue. Calling a romance predictable is only basing the book simply on the far that it will end happily (a requirement of the genre label), and what is wrong with that? Romances are all about a journey, and oftentimes, it is very complex. Sometimes, it takes more than one book for a couple to work through all of the complications that separate them. While it is a requirement for there to be a “happily ever after” or “happy for now” ending for a book to be considered a romance, the journey can still be surprising and gut-wrenching.

As far as romances being fluffy, it depends on the sub-genre a reader chooses. Many romances, particularly those in the erotic and romantic suspense sub-genres, can be quite dark and intense. Sweet contemporary romances tend to be more fluffy, but there is nothing wrong with a book being enjoyable. Books are entertainment, after all. It’s like enjoying a good romantic comedy, just with a little more elaboration.

The pornography accusation infuriates me. People demonize the genre simply because of sex scenes. Some may be gratuitous, but many times, romances use love scenes to further enhance the emotional connection between the characters. In some cases, it may also provide the reader with some insight into past physical or sexual traumas that a character has been suppressing. Not all is for titillation, as often suggested by the genre’s critics.

The point of books are that they should be an escape from reality, and the reader should enjoy them. Reading should not have to be focused on searching for some deeper meaning that an author may or may not have intended for a reader to see. No one should be judged for what they read, and it is frustrating that individuals still feel the need to make others feel as though they are less because they prefer to escape in a romance. These novels took just as much time to create as any classic novel from English class, and people should think about that before they start to judge someone for what they are read. After all, what is the alternative? Not reading? Is that a better lesson than people reading about relationship development with a little sentiment attached, or has our society become so cynical that we judge anything with even a hint of happy ending to it?

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Spotlight: Hell in Heels

Completing and publishing a novel is the life’s goal of any aspiring writer. However, finding the right project with which to pursue that journey is often the struggle. Six and a half years ago, I began my own road to publication with a novel set against the glamorous background of Chicago society, which has spawned an ongoing series as well as two standalone novels. Over half a decade later, the love story between Nathan Sinclair and Amy Raines reminds me of a simpler time, and telling their tale reminds me of many fine yet hardworking days.

Hell in Heels was a novel several years in the making, though it was also one of the fastest novels to come to fruition, especially now when I find novels take months or years to complete. In this week’s post, I look back on the development and release of my first novel, as the sixth anniversary of its publication is this week.

The cover of Hell in Heels by Covers by Robin

The origins of Hell in Heels likely go back about seven or eight years before I even put a pen to paper. Truthfully, I cannot even take full credit for the idea. My grandfather, who’d always been a master storyteller and one of the few people in my life to actually encourage my writing, originated the story at some point during one of our countless storytime sessions. Where he derived the idea from, I cannot say, but the arc remained a mainstay, a general dea I often came back to and tried to build on when my grandpa and I would have story sessions where I begged him to continue onward with the story.

For about a decade, I’d tried my hand at multiple genres, none of the storylines intriguing enough to keep me interested. I’d even finished a full-length novel during my junior high years that remains drafted in the deep vestiges of a jump drive somewhere. However, a sequel I made it no more than two chapters into and perhaps a burnout from three years with the same characters proved it was not the story to propel me onward. Here and there, I’d begin another story, but as was always the case, I never had that feeling that it was “the one.”

After a several year battle with cancer, my grandfather passed away in February 2012, and though even at that time our story times had long since faded away, his encouragement toward my writing never faltered. When he passed, I developed a need to preserve his memory, and the only way I knew how was to write and show the incredible creativity he possessed, though I was certain he never really knew it. So, I decided to put the clandestine love story between a high powered CEO caught in a twisted love triangle on paper, beefed up with elements of a heated romance novel, and give romance, my favorite genre to read, a try with me as the author.

I began writing Hell in Heels actively in August of 2012, the beginning of my senior year of high school. My study halls and any free time throughout the day was spent writing, penning anywhere from three to six pages a day. The first draft was entirely handwritten in pencil in two college-ruled Five Star notebooks with a makeshift draft of a cover idea. I wrote the initial draft in about four months, completing it by the end of the year, when I drowned myself in edits with critique partners who assisted me with ensuring the novel was the best it could be.

Hell in Heels follows publishing CEO Nathan Sinclair, a single father caught between two women, one the overzealous Esmerelda Stoker, a cougar with her eyes set on Nathan for decades, and the other Amy Raines, a career woman with a buoyant spirt and killer taste in shoes. Ironically, both women also wish to be the architect for Sinclair Publishing’s expansion, and while an undeniable chemistry between Nathan and Amy sizzles, Esmerelda’s desperation drives her to extremes, and the lengths she will go to for the contract and Nathan soon know no bounds.

2012 was the year of self-published romance, with the Fifty Shades phenomenon blowing open the door for writers unable to attract an agent and dozens of similar novels not backed by a major publishing company placing on bestseller lists. This was my chance, though my novel was much more on the contemporary side than erotic. There was no fear of rejection, and if 2012 was the year of the e-book explosion, 2013 could only be the year it spurred on.

The first several months of 2013 were filled with much work. While I was also preparing for graduation as well as beginning college in the fall, I was also working with my cover designer, scheduling promotion, and planning out my social media platforms, which were not nearly as plentiful at that time. The amount of work that went into self-publishing could not be accurately characterized, and it was easy to see how people could get lost in the shuffle no matter how hard they worked.

April 23, 2013 remains one of the proudest days of my life. The release of Hell in Heels marked the fulfillment of one of my dreams, to know that my work would be available to whoever wanted to read it gave me a feeling of pride. Sales were modest, but that was never the point for me. As long as I could affect even one person with Nathan and Amy’s story, that was enough to consider it a success for me.

The response to the novel was mixed. Some of the people who “knew” me were shocked by the content, as I was only eighteen and writing love scenes between people in their early thirties, a skill I’d simply learned from reading my beloved romance novels. Others shared in my joy, spreading the word about my publication on their own social media pages. The negative reactions were certainly difficult to swallow, but those positives certainly outshined it, allowing that first novel to feel like a true accomplishment.

Hell in Heels was followed by the release of Private Dancer in August 2013. It was the second in the Love, Windy City Style series, which followed Jake Bradley and Natalie Warner, two characters introduced in the first novel. The third novel in the series, Ideal Hero, is still in the editing stages.

I look back on Hell in Heels fondly now, though if I were to write it now I could start a list of all the things I would change. However, it is also proof that writing is an art to hone and that it must be continuously worked at in order to achieve the desired goal. Without that novel, I wold not have created anything that came after it. Nathan and Amy’s forever will be the first love story I told, and their happily ever after has put me well on the way to my own.

If you have not read Hell in Heels, please visit your choice e-book retailer to purchase your copy today!

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hell-Heels-Love-Windy-…/…/ref=sr_1_3…

Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/hell-in-heels-m…/1115222058…

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/hell-in-heels/id1140785466…

Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/309026

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The Hopeful Romantic Picks…Her Top 5 Romance Novels

I began reading romance novels at the age of fourteen, and though time has changed my views slightly on that first romance novel (Kathleen Woodiwiss’s 1972 breakthrough The Flame and the Flower, one of the original “bodice rippers), my love for the genre has only grown with time. While romance is now often generally (and unfairly) lumped as Fifty Shades of Grey knockoffs, what many of the genre’s critics do not see is the wide variety of sub-genres and niches within or the many important topics the authors are unafraid to tackle. Romance is a genre for those who wish to tag along on the journey to happily ever after and the trials and tribulations that the main characters encounter on that road.

To celebrate my love of the novels that have inspired me as a writer and person, I have compiled a list of the novels that still make me swoon no matter how many times I’ve reread them.

  1. Paradise by Judith McNaught (1991)

The ultimate romantic adventure follows Matt Farrell and Meredith Bancroft in a journey reminiscent of a sweeping romance of yesteryear, seemingly opposites attract when they meet and fall deeply in love. However, outside forces rip them apart in the cruelest of ways, but when the reunite a decade later, the spark still fly. The glamour of the Chicago society atmosphere, palpable chemistry between Matt and Meredith, and raw emotion of the intricately woven story thanks to McNaught’s enchanting prose. A must-read for lovers of an all-encompassing, classically romantic love story.

2. Perfect by Judith McNaught (1993)

McNaught’s follow up novel to Paradise was just as riveting as its predecessor, though much more driven by suspense. Wrongly convicted of murder, Hollywood actor/director Zack Benedict is desperate to clear his name, and in an effort to do so, he breaks free. He abducts school teacher Julie Mathison and forces her to drive him to his Colorado safe house where, in the midst of the snowy mountains and a cozy cabin, the two fall in love. However, their clandestine idyll cannot last, and when the law comes knocking, so do the devastating complications. The stakes are high in this romance, and through all 700 pages, the pace never slows, and the uncertainty of Zack and Julie’s future keeps you on edge until the last word.

3. My Sunshine by Catherine Anderson (2005)

Besides having novels with some of the most beautiful covers in the romance industry, the exterior of this sweet romance perfectly reflects the mood of the bubbly story within its pages. The plot follows Laura Townsend, a young woman whose life was forever altered by an accident that left her with aphasia, a condition that heavily affects speech. Ever the positive light, Laura is hired at a veterinary clinic, and she quickly catches the eye of Isaiah Coulter, her boss. However, someone appears to be framing Laura for mistakes made on her shift, therefore causing more than a little office drama between that and her burgeoning romance with Isaiah. Anderson’s characters are always endearing flawed, as evidenced in this novel by Isaiah’s absentmindedness, which also adds an element of realism. The pure endearment of this novel is its selling point, and likely the novel I have reread the most of any novel.

4. The Gabriel Series by Sylvain Reynard (2011-Present)

Reynard’s ongoing series draws inspiration from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, perhaps a most unusual source. The plot might seem a typical trope, an elusive professor and a student, but the intensity of the material enriched what could have been contrived or recycled, with an intertwined back story between the two characters and odes to Dante’s work. Both the hero and heroine are quite damaged, and over the course of the three published novels (a fourth is planned for release in December 2019), their scars are bared, healed, and created, each installment building on the depth of these charters and enhancing the humanity of the love story between Gabriel and Julia. This is definitely one of the finest and strongest romance series I’ve read.

5. Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (1979)

The tumultuous background of the American Civil War and Reconstruction sets the stage for this romantic journey of forbidden love between a Yankee doctor and a southern belle, who disguised herself as a boy to escape the travesties of war ravaging her home. The novel embraces the classic pitting of North and South in the context of love while remaining original, perhaps because of Cole and Alaina’s deep passion for each other and the lengthy, tragedy-filled road they take toward happily ever after.

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If you have not read any of these novels, all of them are still in print and available in print and digitally.

Sound off on your favorite romances in the comments below!

If you

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Welcome

Life is about adventure, and the spring is the perfect time to embark on new journeys…

It is with that sentiment that I announce the launch of the The Hopeful Romantic, a blog that will highlight love in many forms, particularly throughout pop culture. Tales of love are always my favorites to watch, read about, listen to, and ultimately write about. This blog will touch on all of those aspects of love and so much more.

I am beyond proud to begin this new adventure in my career, and I thank each and everyone one of you for being part of this journey.


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The Myth of the “Hopeless” Romantic

The term “hopeless romantic” has become synonymous with those who believe in love and romance in its most idyllic sense. According to the Urban Dictionary, it is defined as those who “…believe in passion, chivalry, and true love…Hopeless Romantics are usually dreamers, idealists, and sincere, however what they expect in any relationship is a full return for their effort and caring, to be loved as much as they loved.” A “hopeless romantic” is that person you know who believes in soul mates, destiny, and loves absolutely anything to do with love.

Those who know me well know that the definition suits me well. Ever since I can remember, love stories were a large part of the fabric of my life. It began early with entrancement with fairy tales and Disney love stories, waiting for the epic kiss at the end. As the years progressed, so did the fascination. My early teens were fraught with the discovery, between my burgeoning appetite for romance novels and my earliest feelings developing for members of the opposite sex. With that came my desire to write about love, which has borne four self-published romance novels since then. Though I have yet to experience relationships like those I have read and written about, I still cling to optimism that someday I will, and that the love I experience will be greater than anything I could ever create.

You might have noticed that the title of the blog is “The Hopeful Romantic,” not “The Hopeless Romantic,” and no, it was not an accident. The “hopeless” part of the sentiment is what has always been the flaw with what I label myself. In fact, any definition easily disputes it. Hopeless romantics are often full of hope, full of the belief in the possibility of love, no matter the risks or circumstances. It is why the sentiment of being a “hopeful romantic” struck me when I first heard it in the film Romancing the Stone some years ago, and why since then I’ve always thought it to be the perfect description of myself. Love is all about continuing to have hope when there is none, therefore why should the word “hopeless” even be part of it?

This blog will be a place for all of you “hopeful romantics,” the ones who still believe in true love, in both its most sweeping and cheesiest forms, for love is both of those things and so much. The posts will be both fun and serious, both sweet and sexy, but most of all, romantic. Thank you to all of you who have read this first post from “The Hopeful Romantic,” and I look forward to pursuing and discussing love with all of you.