I have an embarrassing confession to make. Back in my stay-home mom days – amidst volunteering, chauffeuring kids about town, cooking, cleaning and practicing the highly-skilled art of blending interior design with obtrusive, neon-colored plastic play structures – I had the brilliant idea of writing a romance novel.
I am not a fan of romance novels, mind you. Really, I promise. I haven’t even read one of those 50 Shades of whatever books. Not because I don’t enjoy steamy sex scenes, but because I do enjoy good writing. Actually, the reason I decided cheesy romance was my genre was because I figured I wouldn’t have to be especially good at it, and it was something I could churn out during naps or the occasional away playdate.
Needless to say, I’m glad my novel was never completed nor published, because I would not want that crap forever floating around haunting my novel aspirations. Also in hindsight, I realize as a romance novelist, I would never have been able to keep up with the ever expanding boundaries of taste. It’s one thing to be a writer of banal, silly fantasies, but it’s another to make Penthouse Forum seem downright quaint in comparison.
So let’s examine both the evolution and the de-evolution of the romance genre from the 1950s on, shall we?
Pulp fiction was a harbinger of modern day romance, pushing the moral envelope with dime store novels featuring murders, mysteries, and minxes. Even in the early days of the Harlequin romance, when their books were primarily authored by men, romance novels had more of a “True Crime”, hard-boiled detective feel. The formula was pretty simple – characters like Vic Malloy, Fats Pulaski and Jigger Moran solved crimes and captured dame’s hearts.
When women starting writing for other women, the genre got a little less murdery but no less weird. In the 1950s and ’60s, practically every Harlequin Romance featured a handsome but arrogant male doctor and an earnest, young female nurse in a starched white uniform. For me at least, there are some scenarios in this sub-genre that simply don’t work. Psychiatric Nurse is a romance set in – you guessed it – a psych ward, and one housing the protagonist’s mentally ill sister. Remember that this was also around the time people would end up lobotomized for being slightly odd. Horny yet?
Next came the Bodice Rippers, which nine times out of ten had a windswept cover featuring a dumb but uber hot Fabio. There he would proudly pose, golden mane flowing, muscled chest gleaming, clutching a fiery, heaving-chested beauty whose pouty expression silently spoke “Let me go, Rogue – but only after you ravish me.” I came of age during this time, and I can assure you that, much to my dismay, I never saw a single long-haired pirate other than Prince, and, although admittedly hot, he was far too short for me.
This leads us to our current state of the genre… which is inarguably pretty twisted. I won’t even blame E. L. James, whom I’m sure still pinches herself everyday for managing to hit the pop culture jackpot with her inane drivel. Yet we lapped up her slop with a giant ladle, and begged for more. Mr. Gray might be a shocking character to a middle-aged, midwestern housewife who thinks removing her flannel nightgown during sex is kinky, but really he is just the tip of the fetishist iceberg. There is some seriously strange stuff out there that is now considered “mainstream.”
Meet Kylie James…author of such books as “Doug, My Best Friend’s Dad”, “A Sitter For My Best Friend’s Dad”, and “A Tight Fit For The Sitter.” Huh? Unless your bff is the adult daughter of Bradley Cooper, me thinks you have a bit of a weird daddy complex going on. Did I mention that the main character also has sex with her female best friend while lusting after the dad? Eww. And I have questions – lots of them. Is this guy also a time traveler? Because that’s the only way the man on the cover could be the billionaire father of a college student. Why is he so oily? Also, please explain this title to me…what does it even mean? Shouldn’t sitter be the tight fit for billionaire dude, not the other way around?
There is also an interesting sub-genre dealing with wolves and romance. They call it fantasy fiction, I call it bestiality. I wouldn’t even accept a drink from a guy with a hairy back, let alone have sex with a wolf hybrid.
Even more disturbing is the Centaur themed romance novels. Yes – you heard me right. Centaur. Themed. Romance. Novels. I didn’t have the stomach to research any of the sex scenes so I can only speculate. Call me old fashioned, but that’s not at all what I want to picture when I think of riding a horse.
With the aid of self-publishing, and as writers continue to test the waters of what romance fans will dive into, one can only speculate what comes next. One thing I do know however, is that – at least for now – I’ll be sticking to Jane Austen.