Quickie with Katherine Deauxville:

Where Has All the Romance Gone?

(January 8, 1998)

Katherine Deauxville is a long-time reader of my column and has contributed to All About Romance in the past (see the links following this quickie). When she read Issue #38 of my column, in which I talk about certain authors who might be changing some of the best aspects of their writing in an effort to attract a more mainstream audience, she wrote and said she would like to comment.

Here's what she had to say:

A reader complained to me the other day that she picked up a book by her favorite, best-selling romance author, looking for the kind of story that had made this author famous, and instead got quite a jolt.

The first chapter was about a hit man getting bloodily mowed down by a mysterious assassin. That was the first chapter. In the second the dead hit man's mother was taken sick and died in a hospital in her daughter's arms. The story was so grim, with so little of the romance my friend remembered, that she didn't finish the book.

Another loyal romance reader picked up a book by a mega-bestselling author who'd established her fame writing steamy, exciting category romances. But after a few pages the reader found herself deep in the author's new "mainstream" style. The Hero, after making love to the heroine, turns and says that "for a virgin she wasn't a half-bad f---k."

Now this loyal fan says that her once-favorite writer includes so much "tough" language - as well as "tough" action, that's she's turned away from her books. They may still be best-sellers but they don't fit with the way she thinks of romance.

I know how she feels. I once bought a book by a famous romance writer that opened with a serial killer hacking off the breasts of the woman he'd just murdered. I never got past that first chapter, either.

Why is there so little "romance" in what the best-selling romance authors are now writing?

For one thing, publishers have never had much confidence in the romance readership. When they sign a big contract with a romance author they generally decide they want a more "upscale" audience for an author they're going to promote.

Also, since most romance authors work fairly cheaply compared to the rest of the industry, when publishers sign romance authors to multi-book, six-figure contracts they want more for their money. "More" being something more serious, more likely to be reviewed, especially in hardback. These are the books the Authors Guild Bulletin calls Flavor of the Month Books. They don't linger in those pyramids on the upfront tables too long in bookstores - either they hit the best-seller lists in a few weeks or they are returned in large numbers.

Then there are the successful romance authors. In spite of good intentions and considerable skill, often the result of their "new" books is neither one thing nor the other. Not many are real thrillers. Not many would qualify as mysteries. Nor, alas, romance novels. Too often, by leaving out almost all of the romance elements, the writer believes she has at last achieved professional respectability. That is, she can't be humiliatingly labeled a "romance writer." (We all know how that goes.) She has become, instead, a "best-selling" author. Or even better a "New York Times" best-selling author.

It's too bad what made the writer famous in the first place - romance - is dumped in favor of something the author is frequently not well prepared to do. That is, write mystery, "glitz", or a thriller, or a combination of all three.

One sad case is a famous writer who once wrote popular gritty cowboy "romance" novels and did it well. Until she became such a profitable property that her publisher decided to "upgrade" her to glitz writing - about which she knew little or nothing. Her novels about the high flying jet set were rather dreary, as one of her colleagues recently described them.

How do we get our favorite authors to go back to writing romance?

My own personal opinion is that the barrage of big money contracts, national book tours, editorial lunches in New York and general "stardom" has caused these writers to lose the knack of simple romance. I think they've forgotten romance is a delicate, elusive genre, far more difficult to write than anyone gives us credit for. A good romance novel can be sublime. A bad one a silly disaster.

We need some good new writers with good new romance ideas. If there is a time to break out of old romance plot restrictions as we did in the Eighties, it is now.

And last but not least, we can always go to the used book stores and read the old books of the romance stars - as we remember them.

You can access Katherine's web site at http://members.aol.com/madav1/mdavis.html
E-mail Katherine
Katherine's Quickie on the Mid-list Crisis
Katherine's Desert Isle Keeper Review of Laura London's Lightning that Lingers
Read an AAR Review of Katherine's Enraptured
Read an AAR Review of Katherine's The Last Male Virgin
Read an AAR Review of Katherine's Out of the Blue