first published the Brisbane Courier-Mail 17 December 2006
Writing about the trends and events that defined the year in romance has been a struggle. In many ways, 2006 is a place holder year for the romance market. The big stories in the past couple of years have been the ‘spicing up’ of romance with the recognition of the popularity of romantica and erotica, and the popularity of both gay and inspirational romances. Publishers have jumped on the bandwagon, as each major house announced new, hotter lines to keep up with public demand. As to whether these lines succeed or not, well, that’s a story for 2007.
What is unusual, however, is that there is a bandwagon. Romance has subgenres that are eternally popular, historicals being the main one. But what has become more evident in 2006 is that publishers have been chasing the trends, rather than blazing new trails. In fact, there’s our theme for 2006: been there, done that.
Firstly, there has been a deluge of derivative novels. Instead of new and innovative writing, publishers have been hedging their bets, flooding the market with mediocre novels in the ‘it’ subgenre.
Then there are the copycat novels, those written in the style of the author thinks the reader wants. These are the novels that throw in an extra sex scene or a gratuitous vampire at the expense of staying true to their characters or their stories.
Unfortunately, the theme travels outside the genre and into the social and political arena as well. I have argued that romance remains at the forefront of the publishing market when it comes to positive representation of women. However, this has been the year for dredging up old stereotypes. The most prominent has been Romance is porn. The sheer range of media attention on an otherwise ignored genre raises a few questions. Why is a little sex such a big deal?
Unfortunately, with the ‘porn’ issue comes related criticisms that readers can’t seem to shake. First, there’s the ever popular ‘romance readers are sexually deprived’. There’s also the suggestion that romance readers are deviant. And finally, my personal favourite, the insecure and somewhat telling ‘romance readers can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality’. In a world overcome with violence, stories depicting the power of love should be celebrated. Sadly, however, when the language of violence is the only one spoken, the language of love becomes inaudible.