What is a Romance Novel?

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.
    Jane Austen: “Northanger Abbey”


Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I read (gasp) Romance Novels. For most people when you say those words they think immediately of the gaudy books published by Harlequin and Silhouette, which is not what I read. Oh sure, I’ve tried a few, and each time ended up wanting a refund of the time I spent on them. At least they don’t take long to read. I suspect there’s a computer program somewhere that churns those things out. How else could you come up with hundreds of books with almost exactly the same number of pages.

Despite the shadow cast by H and S and their ilk, there are a lot of very good authors writing very good books in this genre. After all, the first Romance books are said to have written by Jane Austen. So for those who say ‘I would never read a Romance novel’ –  you already have. Now get over it.

A lot of accomplished people are writing Romance fiction today. Here are a few of the contemporary authors and their provenances:

Julia Quinn; graduated from Harvard and entered the Yale School of Medicine. She dropped out to write Romance novels.

Stephanie Laurens; has a PHD in chemistry. Before she started writing she was the head of her own cancer research lab in Melbourne.

Victoria Alexander; was an award-winning television news anchor who found reporting on fictional romantic liaisons was more fun than reporting the news.

Radclyffe; was a plastic surgeon before quitting her day job to write full time. Not surprisingly, most of her works have a medical setting.

Jae; was a practicing psychologist before becoming a full-time author of lesbian romances. Although a native, and resident, of Bavaria she writes in American English and are her books are mostly set either in the Pacific Northwest or the Los Angeles area. She has also written several lesbian Westerns.

Eloisa James; is a tenured professor of English Literature at Fordham University where she lectures on Shakespeare. She is married to an Italian count, which is a nice touch for a Romance author. She started writing as a graduate student to pay off student loans and kept her Romance writing a secret from her professional peers for years until she finally ‘came out’ during a faculty meeting. Many of her books have Shakespearian overtones.

These are not starry-eyed maidens overcompensating for their lack of love-life. These are highly educated professional women. They don’t write crap.

Well, mostly. A lot of what Ms. Laurens has written I would nominate for the Crap Award. If you read her books on an e-reader you’ll notice that at about the 30% mark they become more about the sex than the story. She writes Regency Romances in which the female lead is a strong woman in her late twenties who is burdened by her virginity. (In one book her heroine is a virgin/widow whose husband had been so intimidated by her beauty he was unable to consummate their marriage – yeah, right, that happens all the time.) About a third of the way into every Laurens book the heroine cedes her maidenhead to an Alpha Male, often thanking him for the service afterward. The books tend to go downhill from there. Despite any accomplishments the women might have had prior to their defoliation, they cannot reach their potential until exposed to the Alpha’s magic penis. To make sure we get complete exposure to that magic, some of her sex scenes stretch over several chapters. Ms. Laurens never met an adjective she didn’t love, or over use. At some point all of her heroines will be described as having ‘ruched nipples.’ Matching the material of their skirts I suppose. I personally don’t think I’ve ever seen a nipple ruch, but maybe I’m not alpha enough to cause that reaction. Or maybe I just haven’t known that many virgins.

Oh, and speaking of less than stellar writing, in one of her books Eloisa James referred to the waltz as ‘that German dance.’ It’s hard to understand how a classical scholar could have made that mistake, and even harder to understand how it got past an editor. To her credit she owns up to the mistake on her website, but still . . . come on professor.

In contrast to the accomplished women above, one of the most successful and prolific Romance authors is Nora Roberts, who also writes as J. D. Robb. She has authored over 225 books and won numerous awards along the way. She was a stay-at-home mother who started writing while snowed in with her kids for several days. Nothing says romance more than a couple of cranky pre-schoolers.

With a wide range of authors comes a wide range of sub-genres. I started with Victorian and Regency stories. Before that I didn’t even know the difference between the two periods, or where they fell in the historical timeline. Reading Romances can be educational. There are also Elizabethan romances and historical (prior to Elizabeth I).  On this side of the Atlantic are American Western Romances and all those books with a girl on the cover wearing a little white bonnet. I’ve not read any of the Amish books but they are extremely popular, especially among older women of a religious bent. I was told by a young Mennonite lady that they badly characterize the Amish, but that may just be her opinion. Contemporary stories, gay and lesbian, and para-normal Romances (usually featuring were-creatures and vampires) can be anywhere in the world, although most seem to take place in the U.S., the U.K. or Australia.

The only one I’ve ever read that took place in Canada was Georgia Beers’ “Ninety-Six Hours” which was set in Nova Scotia, although the characters were Americans stranded there after 9-11. It’s a wonderful story about a community coming together to care for thousands of travelers stranded when all flights in and out of the U.S. were grounded – with a love story thrown in for good measure.

In summary, there are a lot of intelligent people writing interesting, and in some cases insightful, Romance novels. And, whether it’s a piece of formulaic fluff from Harlequin or a neo-Shakespearian tale from Professor James, every one of them has a happy ending.



Writing on my novel progresses ever so slowly. It now stands at 59,481 words. Unfortunately there are a couple of pages I’m going to take out, but they will be put back in at a later in the story.



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