A little over a year ago, research called for me to immerse myself in the genre of category romance. As luck would have it, my local library was holding their annual book sale at the time so off I went, $5 bag in hand. I stuffed it to the brim with every romance/category romance I could pry from the hands of little old ladies and lonely housewives, (note: sarcasm intended because I truly hate this very untrue stereotype) and headed home for some sexy, steamy, trashy, OH, BABY! research.
Since I had never been much of a romance reader, the next few months were, let's just say, eye-opening. I love category romance authors. Truly, I do.They're not often enough given the credit they deserve as valid writers. Having now completed an experimental yet viable romance novel, I can honestly say they have their work cut out for them. To take a formula, a rather strictly defined one, and to turn it into something new is not as easy as it might sound. Matter of fact, I think it's harder to write when given such specific rules which confine you far more than any other genre.
That said, I do have a few complaints. For the sake of all things super fun, my grumbles are centered around men! Don't get too excited. I don't know all of your husbands/boyfriends, and if you are a man, you're off the hook...this time. I'm talking about the men of romance novels. The mighty Hero.
1. ) Apparently, in order to be the hero, the man had to have slept with half the country. It seems a prerequisite for the hero to be a reformed man-whore in order to gain his HEA, (happily ever after) with the girl next door, who is a virgin herself but has no qualms about the possibility of contracting syphilis.
2.) At some point, there will be accidental nudity. Or...
2 1/2.) Not so accidental nudity where said hero goes flasher on little Miss Plain Jane. Of course, she appears aghast, but she is internally thrilled at his perverted and completely inappropriate display of length and width. Her thoughts baffle me more than his at this point because--hey, who could blame him for being proud of his obscene girth, right? But her...she acts more like an infant chewing on her favorite teething toy than the lady she's supposed to be.
3.) Alpha-male confusion. I'm not so sure about these heroes who think alpha means being an egotistical jerk for the first hundred or so pages. I think we're, somehow, supposed to get past his arrogance because he is so gorgeous and wealthy and popular and funny. Sure, it's fun watching a woman resist admitting her attraction to such a man, but about halfway through I find myself hoping the publisher got it all wrong. I recheck the binding, thinking the genre marker on the side will have changed from Romance to Action and she'll go Lara Croft on his ass. A few roundhouse kicks to the head will do this guy some good.
4.) So what if she has a massive scar or major deformity? He's never been more attracted to anyone in his life! Really? Really really? I find this hard--no, impossible--to believe. Can't he just admit she's not all that hot and let the chemistry grow as they get to know each other? I'm not dissin' girls with severe imperfections, but if I met a man with a third arm growing out of his face, it might take me a while to see the centerfold in him. Besides, men are far more visual than women, and we need to keep them that way. I spend my days in frumpy house clothes, chasing kids and cleaning up messes. On the occasion I throw on some sparkly lip gloss and jewelry, I need my husband to have his typical fish-syndrome reaction. Ohhh, shiny, flashy. Pretty. Keeps me from having to workout.
Really, I could go on and on. But here's my final observation:
5.) Unlikely and bizarre hang-ups. Oh, yes. We've all seen them. And they range from huh? to creepy. Like... "The reason I can't let myself fall in love with you is because my puppy died when I was nine." When these two finally get their HEA, they are walking hand in hand through a poppy field with a golden retriever running beside them. Ahhh. Okay, so I made that one up, but you know what I'm talking about.
Oh, and there's my favorite hang-up. "I'm not good enough for you." And then he saves her from himself by sleeping with her big-chested, slut sister. Yep, that will seal the deal, buddy. Way to be selfless.
This concludes my rant. Luckily, authors who go their own way and don't hold themselves to these standards (if they can be called that) are plentiful. Editors and authors are actively veering away from the old style of Fabio-on-the-cover romance and aiming for more realistic love stories between credible men and women. These editors and writers are shaping the rules of category romance every day, and I can't wait to see where they'll take us next!