Elise Rome

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Elise Rome

I recently wrote an article about how I fell in love with romance novels. Namely, how romance made me feel: the breathlessness at the beginning of the attraction, the physical ache in your chest when it seems the hero and heroine won’t end up together, and the near heart-bursting joy at the end of the book when they do. I was thinking about this, about all three of the feelings that–in my opinion–are requisite for a wonderful romance novel, and I realized something.

A lot of romance novels I’ve been reading over the past few years simply don’t meet all three requirements. And–also sadly–I have to admit that even my books to date have focused on one or two of these rather than all three.

Digging further, instead of “romance novel”, a lot of books that I’ve read in the past few years could be described as “lust-sex-heartbreak-HEA” novels. To me, they’re not the same at all. Part of it, I think, is that we as a society have become more skeptical and cynical in this first decade of the 21st century. It’s easier to believe in the heartache of a romance novel than in the actual romance (and please understand that I’m not talking about the HEA, but the journey of the couple to that HEA). I recently read my first book from a bestselling contemporary author, and I loved it. It didn’t need an intricate plot or anything extraordinary, because what made me fall in love with the characters and the book itself was how romantic it was. Imagine that. :D Yes, there was sex in it as well, and well-written sex, but the main focus of either character was not how to get into bed with the other; the focus was on their relationship and their growing love. It seems lately that I’ve read too many romance novels (and I’m not talking about erotic romances) where more attention is paid to physical desire than emotional development (i.e., turning the reader on instead of creating those warm, gushy feelings that made me fall in love with romance in the first place). I, like most readers, enjoy great sex scenes in the romance novels that I read–I believe they’re an integral part of the love story–but I want to see more from the relationship, to be honest.

This perspective has already changed my view toward my own writing. Recently I was plotting out a novella that, for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, didn’t feel right. There was something missing. I knew there would be angst (lots of it!) and sex (of course), but something felt as if it were lacking. I would like to say that this was a momentary obtuseness on my part, but the truth is that until I wrote the above-mentioned article about why I fell in love with romance novels, I didn’t realize that the plot was focused more on heartache and lust than romance. And I’m a romance writer! :)

I truly felt as if a lightbulb had gone on in my head. When did the genre start moving away from the romantic side of romance? I’m certainly not saying there aren’t any books out there that are focused on romance (other JQ authors have wonderfully romantic books!), and I’m not even saying that this is prevalent among the genre–but it is something I’ve seen increasing lately. And it’s something that I’m committed to correcting in my own writing from now on.

Perhaps this is an epiphany only for me, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, as either a reader or a writer. Have you noticed a declining trend in the romance in romance novels? What are your requirements for a satisfactory “romance novel” that truly fits the term? Thank you for your comments!


17 thoughts on “The Best of Elise Rome: Where Did the Romance Go?

  1. Shana Shana says:

    I so agree, Elise. I’ve definitely been trying to put more romance in my romance novels. Sometimes we try and do so many other things, we forget about the main element!

    1. Elise Rome says:

      Shana, I have to say–you put so much action and adventure in your books, you think this would be difficult for you; but instead, I find your books to be some of the most romantic romance novels I read. =)

  2. SoftFuzzySweater says:

    All I see anymore on blogs I subscribe to are BDSM and vampires–disgusting! I want my good old fashioned historicals back in the spotlight.

    1. Elise Rome says:

      Hi SFS! I have to admit that I don’t tend to read those books, either, but I know why they’re so popular. ;) I’m like you, though–too many historicals I’d like to read! (And since I started reading Kristan Higgins and Jill Shalvis, too many contemporaries, too!) =)

  3. catslady says:

    I think the sex has taken over. Where more time may have been given to romance, there are now more sex scenes and that’s in all the stories I read now. I’m not against reading about it but I agree it should not be the major factor.

    1. Elise Rome says:

      Hi catslady! I think this is why I tend to find a few (or twenty ) favorite authors and stick to them (although I’m always hopeful when looking for a debut!); I know exactly what I’m going to get with those authors, and romance and characterization is going to be more important than the number of sex scenes in the book.

  4. Connie Fischer says:

    Yes, Yes, Yes, Elise! I’m so glad you wrote this blog today. I’ve been reading romance novels for a long time now and I’ve seen a huge change over the years. I don’t want to come across as a prude, however, with all of the explicitly erotic sex scenes in almost every romance novel one picks up today, I would just love to read a book where some of these scenes were left a bit more to the imagination. Having written this, I’m sure there will be a lot of people out there rolling their eyes and calling me an Old Goat. So be it. Just go back a few years and see how authors zeroed in more on a plot that included lots of descriptions of the surroundings, gowns, homes, food and servants. There were several stories going on and maybe a bit of a mystery as well. Too much character narcissism can get old. Please understand that I am not pointing my finger at any one author. Just a general trend in some novels. Forgive me if I have insulted anyone as it certainly is not intended.

    1. Elise Rome says:

      Hi Connie! I do tend to think that the bigger focus on sex has come from the popularity of erotic romance–especially, more recently, 50 SHADES. With that said, I also think it’s possible to find the types of books you’re talking about–just as there’s such a diverse array of readers, there’s a diverse array of authors. However, because of this trend, it might be a little more difficult than it used to be. =)

  5. Cindy Kirk Cindy Kirk says:

    <>

    This is what I’d like to see more of….

    Great post, Elise!

  6. Barbara Elness says:

    I agree “lust-sex-heartbreak-HEA” is not romance and I have noticed that trend in some of the books I’ve read. I commend you in your determination to keep romance in your books, that’s why I enjoy them so much. :D

    1. Elise Rome says:

      Thanks, Barbara! =) I found it interesting to write the beginning of THE SINNING HOUR just for this reason–I didn’t either the hero or heroine to fall in lust instantly. And they don’t–and when they do, it’s a reluctant sort of fascination. I have to say, I found that much more fun to write. =)

  7. ki pha says:

    I feel the same way about books I’ve been reading lately and it’s becoming really hard to find a good romance book. There’s so much sex in them now that is taking up the whole book, like literally, ten pages worth just for a sex scene. Then every other chapter is another scene. Argh! I love my historical romance novels but where is the romance in romance novel, for reals. :x

    1. Elise Rome says:

      Hi Ki Pha! I’m right along there with you. Honestly, I don’t mind a sex scene having ten pages–but it should usually (for me as a reader) be the first or most important sex scenes. I’m okay with other sex scenes as long as they’re not gratuitous–there should be both plot and emotional development for each one–but I also don’t see a reason to devote as much page time just to titillate the reader. That’s another type of romance: erotic romance. =)

  8. Polly says:

    Add me to the list of readers who agree with you, Elise. Too many romances focus on physical attraction and reaction and then somewhere in the middle of the book there are “Gosh, we should probably get to know each other, what do you think?” scenes and a tally of the lover’s endearing qualities. Nothing makes me put a book down faster than “romance” based on a physical attraction with nothing else to justify why these people should be together. I don’t have a problem with sex scenes, I’ve written plenty of them and love reading well crafted ones, but I want characters in bed with each other because they’re falling or have fallen in love, not just because the guy has sculpted abs, chisled chin and hair to die for and he’s drawn to the gal with perfect breasts, heart-shaped butt and legs that go on forever. Thanks for a great post!

  9. Karen H in NC says:

    Chiming in a bit late here, but I think it could be called ‘the band wagon effect’. Think about it…there’s so many historical romances out there today that have plays on fairy tales as their theme (don’t hate me if I’m wrong but I think Eloisa James started this craze with her Fractured Fairy Tales series). There are book titles using plays off film and music titles (that’s not saying they’re not cute and I love them…even Shana has ‘Good Groom Hunting’…what does that remind you of?). Since the 50 Shades trilogy hit, how many copy-cat titles do we see now? The phrase is being used everywhere giving the PTB the impression that EVERYONE is interested this kind of stuff/smut! FYI…I don’t plan on reading those books based on some of the reviews I’ve read…it’s my impression that the books, rather than being erotic, border on pornographic. I like sex in the books I read, but not to the point of feeling dirty when I’m done reading. And no, I don’t believe I’m a prude about this either. I would rather read a slightly hot story with more romance than sex any day. It’s the story and the characters that I’m interested in.

    I think the publishers have pushed the authors into writing the kinds of stories that they think will be the next big seller. Screw romance…romance doesn’t sell anymore….it’s sex all the way, baby! But is it really? It’s like bad language on TV. Twenty years ago, they couldn’t say a whole lot of the words that are just thrown out there like an everyday, part of our language/culture. That (and nudity) pretty much started with NYPD Blue when that program first aired on network TV. Before then, bad language, nudity and sex were limited to the paid for cable channels like HBO, Cinemax and Showtime.

    I’ve said my piece…I’ll step off the soapbox and let someone else have a say. Thanks for a very interesting post!

  10. I recently heard that eight out of the top ten romance novels on the British charts were erotica. I find that sad. Not that I don’t mind a good sex scene, like you pointed out, but there should be more to it than that. And the increase in romances with sadomasochism and menages depresses me, too, (although I’m not judging anyone who writes in that genre). I just don’t get the menage as romance. It seems anti-romance to me because the whole idea of a romance is to find that ONE person you can’t live without, that singular connection. I get the menage as a steamy sex scene, I’ll admit, but there’s also something really, really hot about love between two people committed solely to each other.

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