Times, They Are A-Changing

I grew up reading romances novels that had a predictable formula. I knew the heroine would be pure of heart, and as beautiful as an angel. In fact, they were so bloody perfect that sometimes you wanted to gag. The heroes were hot Knights in Shining Armor. The sort of perfection we all dreamt of; a man who would risk his life for his soul-mate, and would never even think about cheating. Ahhh, true love! And you better believe that the ending would have a perfect happily ever after. Thank you Julie Garwood!

Those were the romance novels of the 80s and 90s. The romance novels I devoured as a teen and young adult. In the past decade or so paranormal took over the historical romance market. With the surge of paranormal, those sweet pure-of-heart heroines morphed into a darker heroine who could kick ass as well as any man. I thought that was a drastic change.  

But my friends, times are a-changing again, partly because of erotic romance, with not just one hero, but two, three, hell, even four. Bondage has always been around, but it wasn’t until that little ole book called Fifty Shades (you might have heard of it?) that erotic really took off into the mainstream. Dying to know what Fifty Shades was all about, I decided to give it a go. I made it to the part where our hero wants the heroine to sign a contract and that’s when I said, “Oh hell no. I don’t think so. No man is telling me what to do.”

Of course, my curiosity is still strong and I just may have to go back to the book. But still, given the popularity of these kickass heroines in the past few years, I was surprised that a book which has a submissive heroine is so praised. Perhaps those domineering males and quivering females from the 70’s and 80’s (Bodice Rippers anyone?) never really went out of style; they’ve merely been repackaged into something new.

Romance isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Step aside Young Adult books, there’s a new genre in town and she’s not afraid to go where Young Adult dared not tread…the bedroom. New Adult books usually involve college-aged kids and they…gasp, actually do it! Okay, so the sex scenes aren’t as detailed as in romance novels, but it’s still there in all its naked glory. I haven’t read many New Adult books but the ones I have purchased seem to have a common theme: a hero who is dark, brooding, tortured and rather commanding.

Sound familiar? Are we back to Bodice Rippers again?! I’m not so sure. A friend of mine decided to write a New Adult book and gathered some data for research. Here’s what she found: one book had a tortured hero who spent his time fighting… a lot, and they weren’t exactly fair fights. At one point he actually kicked someone in the back. Kicked a man in the back?! That’s not very Knight in Shining Armor.

But I’m just getting started. There were multiple books in which the hero or heroine cheated. What? Wow. Yeah, that would never happen in your stereotypical romance novel. And these tortured males take things to a new level. What many young readers consider controlling and loving, many others have considered mentally abusive.

For most readers Romance novels have always been that great escape. But perhaps we don’t want to escape anymore. Are we looking for more realistic reads? And if we are, what does that say about society when our idea of realism is fighting and cheating? Maybe we are merely redefining what a romance novel is, or should these books be placed in a different category altogether?

Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about these new fighting, cheating, and mentally abusive characters. I try very hard no to judge (can’t you tell by my very non-judgmental blog??) because it always seems to come back and bite me on the ass. But whether you enjoy these more “realistic” romances or not, one thing is clear, romance (whether it’s New Adult, Erotic, or just plain ole romance) is definitely becoming more mainstream, which one could say is a benefit to us all.

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8 Responses to Times, They Are A-Changing

  1. Edie Ramer says:

    I just flat out wouldn’t read any of those books, and I have zero desire to write them. It’s actually icky to me. They makes me feel kind of sick. And I think they’re boring. I couldn’t get through the beginning of Twilight. The heroine was too whiny and passive. I can’t remember if I got as far as Edward.

    And honestly, I like a hero who smiles and laughs. What a pita to live with the guys in these books. You’d always have to tiptoe around them because they might blow up or go into a depression. Not exactly a fun person. Not that I feel strongly about this. lol

  2. Amy R says:

    I don’t read a lot of young adult books and don’t think I would like the new adult books. I prefer my hero and heroine to be a little more mature (possibly since I am 36) and act more mature. I know that even older heroes/heroines can be troubled/broken but they handle it differently than someone in their early 20’s. I like to get away when I read romance – not live reality. I can’t stand reality TV for that reason. I think sometimes romance books get bad press for putting ideas in young girls heads that their future husband will act like they do in the books. I can understand that some impressionable girls can take that into reality but we as parents need to watch what they are reading and still be a parent in reality. For me, what I have found is if I treat my husband like the heroine in the books treat their heroes my husband in turn treats me like the hero he is. It goes both ways. Thanks for the post, Lori!

  3. I know of teens who read Fifty Shades and that disturbs me! lol. But that’s not the author’s fault (although I wish her heoine wasn’t so young in the book), its up to the the parents to parent their chidlren. But it’s another thing when the books are targeted toward teens. I guess since I started writing YA i feel more of a responsibility. It just makes me very sad to think of young girls letting their boyfriends manipulate and control them because its “romantic.”

    I do have to say though… when I first started writing romance books I was a bit ashamed of the sex scenes as I have some pretty straight-laced relatives. But these same relatives are now reading Fifty Shades. So i’m glad for the book because I sure as heck am not ashamed to tell my relatives about my books now!

  4. Amy Atwell says:

    While I love the tortured Gothic hero, I love him because he may be flawed but beneath it all, he’s noble. I’m sorry to see too much reality bleed into romance fiction. Editor Kate Duffy once told me that romances are all, at their heart, fantasies. Heroes and heroines rose above the real world, true love always won out, and you knew the hero and heroine would always remain loyal, steadfast and faithful to each other.

  5. Misty Evans says:

    I couldn’t have said it better than you guys already did. A hero should act like a hero. Ditto for heroine. I love damaged characters, but the point of the story is to watch them face their inner demons (and sometimes outer demons, too) and change, grow and find love. I like a little angst, but the hero/heroine should still be trustworthy and do the right thing in the end.

  6. Dale Mayer says:

    Hi Lori,

    Flat out UGH! I read for escape – I can get all that lying cheating back kicking in real life – why would I possibly want to read about it. I struggle with the whole Fifty Shades of Gray thing. One of my sons finds the whole book laughable and can’t believe how quickly it’s being gobbled up.

    I also write YA and find, as I also have a teenage daughter, that I feel VERY for responsible to what I put in those books. So far they are all sweet age – ah yeah, I don’t want my daughter reading hot sex or bondage scenes.

    A hero is a regular damaged character with noble intentions and actions – damn right!
    Dale Mayer`s last blog was …Maddy’s Floor is on Free for 2 days!

  7. Lori,
    I’m going to have to read one of the New Adult books… I’m really curious now ;).
    As for 50 Shades, I haven’t read it yet, but a friend loaned me her copy, so it’s on my list!! We’ll see how far I get, LOL.

  8. Lori, I think going more mainstream isn’t a good thing. Romance has always out-sold mainstream by quite a bit, and supported the entire fiction publishing industry, apart from a few stand-out authors in crime / horror.

    I think we’ll never stop wanting a true escape, and I’ll be interested to see what new sub-genres come to the fore in the next few years.
    Michelle Diener`s last blog was …Visit to Ellenbrook Library, Saturday October 13th

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