Today, author Maris Soule joins me with a look back into the history of romance and mystery writing. Welcome, Maris.
Thank you, Terry, for asking me to be a guest on your blog. I tried to come up with something exciting to write and failed, but since I have been around this business for centuries (okay, maybe it’s only been a few decades), I thought I’d mention a few of the changes I’ve seen.
I started writing in 1979 with lots of desire and no experience, not even a major in English. (I have a BA in art.) I didn’t even know what kind of book I wanted to write; I just knew I liked happy endings. And boy were my first two tries terrible. But I was lucky. Within a year I found an agent willing to work with me (yes, they did that back then). She was wonderful, and I learned a lot from her. Because of her help, within three years she’d sold a romance of mine based on a synopsis and three chapters. Nowadays, most new authors need a completed manuscript.
Back when I started, romances were told in third person, solely from the heroine’s point of view. The hero was older and wiser and there to rescue the heroine. They didn’t make love unless they were married, and then it was primarily behind closed doors. My first book was the giveaway to introduce Harlequin’s “hot and sexy” Temptation line. In 1983, this was a big breakthrough; today that book would almost be considered a sweet romance. Today there are no restriction on point of view, the heroine is more apt to rescue the hero than the other way around, and she might even be older than he is.
In the very early 80s, RWA and Sisters-in-Crime didn’t exist. Women mystery writers were ignored by reviewers and romances were routinely called “bodice rippers.” Through the efforts of many female writers (and a few men) both organizations have flourished and done a great deal to change the public’s perception. (Not that they’ve completely eliminated the stigma against romances or female mystery writers.) Conferences, contests, articles, and specialized groups within each of those organizations have allowed new writers to learn the craft and hone their skills. What pleases me is rather than being a cut-throat industry, it’s become supportive.
In 1984, I bought my first computer. I was delighted. Cut and paste no longer involved scissors and tape.
My IBM’s 128 K of memory (which cost a mere $4000) allowed me to change or delete sentences at will, and I could save an entire book on half dozen floppy disks. Whoopee! Sending out a “clean” copy didn’t mean using white-out or involve a trip to Kinko’s. By comparison, last Christmas I received a new computer (I’ve gone through 4 so far). This computer has 288 GB of memory, cost much less, and I can copy all twenty-six of my published books (along with several unpublished manuscripts) on a flash drive no bigger than my thumb.
I ventured onto the Internet in 1994. I remember looking for a romance writers group and finding myself in a “chat” room with some rather suggestive types. I wonder where I would have ended up if I’d typed “mystery writers?” Back then, on-line groups were just forming, writers’ Web sites were a rarity, and blogs unheard of. Up until the mid-nineties, correspondence with agents and editors was by telephone or letters. The Association of Authors' Representatives, Inc was just being formed, and anyone could claim to be an agent. (Actually, I’m afraid that hasn’t changed.) For a long time there was no way to check the person’s credentials (other than ask around). Now a new writer can go to Preditors and Editors or check with MWA, SinC, or RWA to see if any complaints have been lodged against an agent. And most agents and publishing houses have Web sites.
The biggest change, in my opinion, is that publishing companies have been gobbled up by huge corporations, massive numbers of small publishers, distributors, and independent bookstores have disappeared. Book cover prices have soared. On the positive side, trade paperbacks have become more popular and e-books are showing respectable sales. However, cuts in staff have left editors with little time to edit, which means that job is being left to agents…and to the writer. Writers are being asked to do more and more promotion and to get at least one book out a year. More if they want name recognition.
In the last thirty years, the Industry has changed and so have I. I’m older and hopefully a little wiser. When I started, I wanted to capture the tension and excitement of a new romance, but I’ve always loved reading mysteries and even my romances started including a bit of suspense. Lucky for me, the mystery genre, as well as the romance genre, has grown and changed. Writers of thrillers have formed a new group. Mystery categories have developed sub-categories and crossed genres. There’s a spot for everyone…even me.
There are times when I think twenty-six published books is enough, but then a new story idea starts playing in my head and characters refuse to be ignored. I know then that I have to write down what they say because the one thing that hasn’t changed is my desire to write.
You can find out more about Maris, her books, including her most recent release, THE CROWS, on her website.