Thursday, February 12, 2009
What's in Your Bookstore? And Where is it?
Saw this in the paper the other day. Couldn't help but think about one of the first 'romance' books I read. My mother had been visiting, and she went on and on about this great book she'd finished, and then was even more excited when she found out she'd read the second in the series (which was only two books long at that time) and could go back and read more. Diana Gabaldon said her books present booksellers with the 'where do I shelve this?' dilemma. Is it a romance? Is it historical fiction? Faye Kellerman claimed all she thought she was writing was a nice little romance when she wrote her first Peter Decker/Rita Lazarus novel. Now, they're definitely in the mystery section.
I'd never read a traditional romance when I started writing Finding Sarah, and I thought it was a mystery. Who knew there were rules? At the time, I didn't think I could ever write a romance. Because I, like so many others, was clueless about what a romance really was.
If I say I write "romance", more often than not, I get the eyeball roll, and the "I don't read that stuff," response. I was chatting with someone last night, and the topic arose. Back in the day, when romances were 'bodice rippers'. She said she and her mother used to love to toss out the vocabulary of the books of that time, words like portmanteau and reticule.
The genre has expanded. Tremendously. My books, marketed as romance, have little resemblance to the short category romances that still bedeck the bookstores. I know. I just finished reading nine of them for the Romance Writer's of America's RITA contest. Some were good, some I finished more out of obligation to the contest than because I cared about the characters (which is, to me, the whole point of reading a book).
But just looking at the categories in any romance contest proves this is not a one-size-fits-all genre. The RITAs mentioned above have the following categories:
Contemporary Series Romance
Contemporary Series Romance: Suspense:/Adventure
Contemporary Single Title Romance
Regency Historical Romance
Young Adult Romance
Novel With Strong Romantic Elements
And, I'm not touching the controversy about whether there should be categories for erotic romance, and if so, where they would belong.
Do people avoid the romance section entirely because they think all they'll find are the stereotypical stories? So, should bookstores organize their shelves within the romance section? If I like to read romantic suspense (which has it's own myriad sub-genres), how hard should I have to look? Harlequin makes it easy to find the various subsets of it's traditional lines with distinctive color coded covers. Kind of Garanimals for books. But out in the world of single title, one has to know the author to look for.
Tomorrow, it's once again time to turn over this blog to the next installment of "Homicide - Hussey." For latecomers to the series, be aware, I didn't write these. They're posted here due to the kindness and generosity of a local homicide detective. Please come back.