Why Do I Write Romance?

What is Genre, Anyway?

By Jeff Salter

What is Genre?

The “rules” about genre are no longer as clearly defined as they were a generation (or two) ago. Sure, we still have Westerns and Science Fiction and Romance. But these days most of the books that formerly would have been lumped in with the traditional ROMANCE authors / titles… are now hybrids or blends. And some of the blends which have taken off… have later developed hybrid branches of their own. I like that flexibility – both as a reader and writer – because I don’t like being pigeon-holed. Also, I don’t care for labels. I’m an author and I write believable characters in interesting situations. Who cares if it’s Western, Sci-Fic, or Romance?

Can Romance be Compartmentalized?

Some 30 years ago, I was selected to make a presentation – part of Shreveport’s Artbreak – to several school kids who were aspiring writers. To make one of my points, I mentioned the film “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. I said it was an adventure story, an action film, a historical (and archeological) treatment, it had religious themes, and it centered on a romantic relationship. “So,” I went on to ask, “how would you classify it?” In other words, where did it FIT? Furthermore, did it NEED to fit some particular pattern? I thought it was a brilliant question about a ground-breaking film… and should have generated a spirited discussion. However, I made the cardinal mistake of citing a movie that was released (1981) when these middle school kids were mere toddlers… and none of them had even heard of it. LOL.
But my point is still valid: a great story – whether on film or in book pages – can (and likely should) involve MANY different threads. Would that episode of the Indiana Jones franchise work as well if he’d had NO ex-girlfriend (Marion) to rescue and woo back?
As other examples of romantic themes featuring prominently in atypical settings, consider these:
* Most of the popular western movies I’ve ever seen – and that’s a bunch – have featured a romantic relationship of some sort. [Often, the standard formula: dastardly villain trying to cheat lovely maiden out of her inherited property… until the traveling cowboy deals with the bad guy and falls in love with the girl.]
* Almost every “war movie” of the 1940s and 1950s also had a substantial thread of romance. In many cases, it was a jarring disruption to the primary battle story, but the audiences of that era wanted it and needed to see romance on screen.
* Would the action film “Die Hard” be as interesting – and tense – if John McClane didn’t have an estranged wife (whom he still loved) to rescue?
Do those oft-featured romantic threads turn the “genre” movie into a love story? Not really. But it does demonstrate that viewers/ readers want a BLEND of plot threads… and one of these threads is almost always ROMANCE.

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A Little History

I’ve been writing since grade school – beginning with little poems or very short stories – never truly imagining I might one day write novels. Back in the mid 1970s I decided to see what romances were all about… so my wife handed me a Barbara Cartland paperback. [No longer remember the title, but it featured a beautiful heroine who encountered a sheik.] Frankly, I was not impressed… and I told my wife that “I could write that” — which are famous words almost every writer has at least thought, if not spoken.

Why Romance?

Years later, in my career as a public library administrator, I read many articles about publishing, book purchasing, reading, etc. I no longer recall the exact percentages, but I think it was about 75% of the books borrowed from public libraries were checked out by females. And about 75% of those borrowed books were categorized as Romances. The statistics in books being SOLD were similar: the vast majority were purchased by females… and a huge proportion of those were Romances. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where the market was.

Will Anybody be Able to READ it?

More years later, after I’d retired, my inner muse nudged me toward writing long fiction: novels and novellas. But if I managed to complete a novel, what were the chances it would ever be published? I already knew the general numbers about books being published, what was selling, and what library patrons were borrowing. But I didn’t totally comprehend all the MANY roadblocks to getting “general” – i.e., non-genre – fiction published.
First of all, in earlier times – before self-publishing evolved into accepted practice – you couldn’t get anywhere without a literary agent. In generalized figures, I learned that a completed manuscript’s synopsis and cover letter had about two chances in 100 of finding favor with an agent. [That’s assuming the agent’s intern even liked it enough to pass it along.] Once an agent “liked” your story enough to request a “full” manuscript, you had about two chances in 100 that she / he would offer to take you on as a client. Once you secured a contractual relationship with this agent, your manuscript had about two chances in 100 that any publisher would be interested. You see the challenges here?

The Rise of Independent Publishers

Cue the rise of small publishers, digital-only publishers, or digital-first publishers. Suddenly there were numerous independent publishers who were willing to consider your novel’s synopsis and cover letter — even withOUT an agent!
But what were 98 per cent of these independent publishers publishing? Well, NOT poetry, (mostly) NOT short stories, and NOT general – so-called “literary” – fiction. They were publishing Romance novels. But not only the romances your grandmother and mother read! Remember my discussion about hybrid romance and blended romance? Suddenly there were all kinds of possible TYPES of stories being published… without an agent’s involvement. The gatekeepers had been bypassed. And these new, smaller publishers cared more for the CONTENT of the story than parsing which specific market niche it represented.

Shifting the Angle & Perspective

Actually, however, this hybrid trend was not as brand new as my wording might suggest. It harkens back to those war movies, western films, and the more modern action flicks. In many ways it was the same TYPE of story, but a difference in the point-of-view. Yeah. Shift the POV from the cowboy drifter TO the beleaguered maiden — and you’ve got a romance-driven western. Shift the POV from the soldier bracing for battle TO the kindly barmaid who notices how frightened he is — and you’ve got a romance-driven wartime story. Shift the POV from the male scientist on the mission to dock with the orbital space station TO the female physicist who knows how to make the trajectory correction — and you’ve got romance-driven Sci-Fic.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple or simplistic. Not only can the POV shift, but the camera angle can vary. Plus, you can focus on what’s happening way over there in the corner of the background… instead of the louder, splashier stuff up front. All these factors add interest, and allow the reader / viewer a DIFFERENT experience than what we saw – for instance – in the 1950s B-Movie Sci-Fic films. Or the westerns and war movies of the 1940s and 1950s. Or even the gangster films of the 1930s.

I Write What Interests Me to READ

Often a story concept comes to me in this fashion: I think “what if” the ghost was a woman and the man was not afraid? Or “what if” the heroine takes the wrong pill and finds herself only 11 inches tall? Or “what if” the girl who was not allowed (by neighborhood boys) to play in their tree house… grows up, builds her own tree house to live in, and won’t let any MALES visit? Or “what if” a 2014 woman who LOVES Jane Austen’s Regency stories wakes up after a car crash and thinks she’s in 1814 England?
Each could be a totally different story if the primary POV was different… or if that POV had unusual camera angles. And that’s what I do — I look for those unusual angles… and I write them.

Question: What “blend” of genres do you enjoy writing or reading?

[JLS # 425] — corrected

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About Jeff Salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Fourteen completed novels and four completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Cowboy Out of Time" -- Apr. 2019 /// "Double Down Trouble" -- June 2018 /// "Not Easy Being Android" -- Feb. 2018 /// "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 /// "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 /// "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015 /// "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015 /// "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015 /// "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014 /// "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014 /// "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014 /// "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014 /// "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013 /// "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013 /// "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013 /// "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012 /// "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012 /// Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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19 Responses to Why Do I Write Romance?

  1. kathleenbee says:

    That was an interesting article, Jeff.

    Lately I’ve been blending romance with a women’s fiction slant, where the woman learns things about life, not just about romance. It seems to be working for me now after my 3-year burnout and block. I’ll see where this goes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks, Kathy. Yes, in most of my stories the heroine also discovers a lot about herself… often realizing that she’s a lot stronger and more resourceful that she’d been conditioned to believe.
      I read your recent blog just now about the burnout and Cameron’s book. Left a comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. jbrayweber says:

    Great post, Jeff!
    Once I began to enjoy reading for pleasure in my 20s, I found that I really enjoyed the macabre, horror, fantasy and suspense thrillers like King and Koontz. I somehow made a switch to Anne Rice. These were my building blocks. I didn’t read romance until I found paranormal romance. So there is a theme there. LOL! Today, paranormal and urban fantasy romances are still my favorite books to read.
    However, I cut my teeth as an author writing historical romance. I love history. I love action adventure. So I blend the two. Think Romancing the Stone and Pirates of the Caribbean. That’s what I write. But soon I will be taking the leap into paranormal/urban fantasy romance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks, Jenn. Yes, paranormal, fantasy, horror, steampunk, dystopian — all are ripe territory for a good story with great characters who fall in love during their journey.
      I love that we are no longer confined to “cookie-cutter” mentality.
      I also appreciate that all those sub-genres can also be written in a “clean” fashion… without graphic violence, overt bedroom scenes, and bad language. Of course, they can also be written WITH all those features, because that’s a big market in itself. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Nice dissection of the progression of romance as a thread, a genre, and separation into sub-genres. To answer your final question, I like romance stories that involve a mystery of some kind. It’s fun to see how the couple solves the problem while getting to know and like each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      I agree, Patricia — a thread of mystery is usually in my stories. Though I have yet to complete what might be considered a bona fide “mystery” novel, I have started a few. Would love to have the time / energy / focus to complete them.

      Like

  4. As you know, Jeff, I write Christian Romance Suspense. Even worked in a little mystery in one of my novels, and plan to do that with future stories, as well. Humor is something I always add. I believe even the most suspenseful books would be boring if a little levity isn’t there to break the tension every now and then. So my books are a true blend of genres. It’s true that the rules no longer apply to genre, and that’s a good thing. There aren’t too many who like being pigeon-holed. To me, it’s like stereotyping an actor. So far my blend of genres has been received very well.

    Your story about the talk you gave the younger generation is hysterical. Apparently you hadn’t yet read the tip, “Know your audience.” LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      yeah, I was really caught short on that example for the kids’ program. However, the Indy Jones franchise was so popular that I truly thought it was part of the public consciousness at that point. [I know the first two were out by then and possibly the third.]
      At any rate, I greatly misjudged that — and learned a good lesson in the process.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very well written post.
    I truly enjoy all your books. I love the blend and twists in stories that you put there. There’s no need for an author to limit themselves to one genre anymore. Like you said Romance is such a broad term that covers so much now and as a reader I love having those choices. Its even better when an author that you enjoy writes in more than one subgenre.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Thanks, Angie. I really appreciate your support.
      I also love blends and twists when I’m reading.
      And it’s wonderful that we no longer have to confine ourselves to rigid “formula” stories just to get our work published.

      Like

  6. Let’s blow something up!
    I love romantic suspense- the bigger danger, the better! And yet, I write contemporary romance edging close to women’s fiction. Sigh. One day I dared myself to write a book about nothing. No guns, no ticking time bomb, no nuclear threat…zilch. (I just couldn’t really figure out why Nicholas sparks was so darn popular with so many people.) Of course, I finished it, shopped it, sold it. Dang! So now I’m trying to finish the last one in the contract.
    On a more serious note, I love romance. I believe it appeals to most all people on some level. It is the heartbeat of our collective DNAs. Without it, this world would be devoid of color and joy. So whether it’s wrapped into a Die Hard or right out front in Romancing The Stone- it has universal appeal.
    **I also read Barbara Cartland when I was 13-15 and I couldn’t wait for her next books to come in! Cheesy? Absolutely! But to a neophyte like me- bliss!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jeff Salter says:

      So, Stacey, what are the titles of your books “about nothing” a la Sparks?
      I’ve only read one of Sparks’ novels and I have to say I was not impressed.
      My late mother-in-law just adored Barbara Cartland and at one time possessed every single one of Cartland’s paperbacks. Then one day — out of the blue, it seemed to me, but it may have been connected to their move from Dallas to Somerset — she donated the entire batch to the library system where I was working.
      Of course, she read other Romance authors… but Cartland was special to her.

      Like

  7. Anonymous says:

    HEY! I like this!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s been a long day, but I finally got here.
    I agree; even a short time ago it was hard to get anything read at the big publishing houses and even then, they had a finite number of any genre they published, anyway.
    With romance and mysteries, there is often a fine-line between them: all good romance have a mystery, all good mysteries have some romantic elements, and as you pointed out, so do westerns, war movies and the like.
    Barbara Cartland…egads! At least her works were not bodice-rippers!
    I am glad that you found your niche.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Salter says:

      Cartland and several other authors (who wrote very “clean” romances) were VERY popular among readers in the public libraries.

      Like

  9. Elaine Cantrell says:

    I hope that lines are being blurred, but I’ve had editors to criticize me and say that something didn’t fit the romance genre, which I clearly thought it did. I like the lines to blur between genres.

    Liked by 1 person

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