September is coming to a close, and October beckons. With autumn now official, the school year in full swing, it’s time to look at what we’ve learned about romance novels. There’s no pop quiz, but there is a look ahead, because one thing we’ve learned about the romance genre is that it’s constantly growing. Can studying the romance genre’s past give us a clue to its future? Only one way to find out.
Whether our moms read romance novels while they were expecting us (or before) or we finished our first romance novel literally a minute ago (and if that’s you, welcome aboard; we’re glad to have you) there’s still a whole wide world of romance to explore. Back when the writer of this post was but a wee little princess, her father, not a fan of romance fiction (and admittedly a non-reader of same) asked, exasperated, when she would have read all the romance novels. That was, um, a while ago, and the answer is still the same: never.
Reading all the romance novels ever published, or ever to be published, is not even remotely close to possible. Maybe, and that’s a big maybe, an extremely dedicated reader, no, make that an extremely young, extremely dedicated reader, could work their way through all the books in a particular line of category romance, perhaps one that has completed its run, but all of the books? Nope. Since the only two requirements for a romance novel are that the love story be the central plot, and that there must be an emotionally satisfying, optimistic ending, this is an extremely, extremely wide field. Mind blower for some of the people who claim they have never read a romance novel, and never will…:voice drops to whisper: you already have. Whoa. I know. Even some of the classics count as romance novels. It’s actually kind of fun to apply this litmus test and see what books fit under the romance umbrella.
Then there are the hybrids: romantic historical fiction, romantic mystery, romantic science fiction or fantasy, general fiction with romantic elements, and the kissing cousins (pun intended) such as women’s fiction, chick lit, and female-centered urban fantasy. Even when romance isn’t the main focus, and thus the book is not a romance novel, or the love story does not end with the parties involved together and happy about it, we still remember that brief, shining moment, and, most likely, even if we’re not all writers ourselves, (and especially so for those of us who are) imagine what could have been.
Once upon a time, there were contemporary and historical romances. Once upon a time, there were category and single title romances. Once upon a time, there were paperback romances, period. Then paperback and hardcover, paperback split into mass market and trade size (the big ones.) Now, we have paperback and hardcover and electronic books. Now, we have contemporary and historical and paranormal, including but not limited to time travel, there’s science fiction romance, fantasy romance, inspirational, YA, romantic suspense, etc, etc, etc, and new things coming along seemingly every day. Perhaps some paranormal romance will have an immortal character, who literally does have all the time in the world, who does have a goal of reading every romance novel ever written, but then when would they have time to have their own romance? Unless they fell in love with another romance reader, and then they would never be at a loss for what to do on date night. Grab a book, grab each other, good to go.
This same writer’s father once claimed he could guarantee that romance novels would never be taught in college classrooms. Once again, sorry, Dad. There are scholarships dedicated to the study of romantic fiction, romance novels are taught in college classrooms…and have been for years. Once again, central love story, with optimistic and emotionally satisfying ending. There are even high level academics who not only teach romance in their classrooms, but write it themselves, and do quite well at it.
So, for that matter, do doctors, lawyers, members of the military, both active duty and retired, teachers, corporate executives, stay at home parents, college students, laborers, actors, blue collar workers, and more, as diverse as romance readers, which makes sense. Romance writers were romance readers first, and that, more than any classroom, is the real education in romance. The syllabus is huge, and growing as we speak. A year from now, there will be more big names in the business, more ways to get books and readers together, new takes on time honored tropes, maybe even new subgenres we haven’t even thought of yet. Every day, romance writers find inspiration in any number of things; newspaper headlines, TV commercials, a snippet of a song in a language they don’t understand, the first romance novel they ever read, and the one they hope to read as soon as they’ve met their deadline.
When will a comprehensive romance curriculum be complete? Never, because each generation builds on all that have come before, and plants the seeds for those that will follow. The upside? We will never run out of books to read. I’ll take that, any day.
So, dear readers, I turn it now over to you. What have you learned from or about the romance genre in your studies…ah, I mean reading? Anything that surprised you? Confirmed something you’d suspected? Exceeded your wildest dreams? Pull up a chair in the comment section and tell us all about it. If you haven’t learned a darned thing from reading romance novels (have you really been reading them, in that case?) we want to hear about that, too. There’s room for everybody at this table.