Friday, July 16, 2010

Contemporary Romance – Contemplating the Sub-genre

Exactly what is a contemporary romance? Why are we so drawn to them? And why do we expect a “happily ever after”?

Let’s explore the definition of a romance novel. The very helpful folks at Rainbow Publishing state it in easy to understand terms:

A romance novel is a literary genre developed in Western culture, mainly in English-speaking countries. Novels in this genre place their primary focus on the relationship and romantic love between two people, and must have an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."

Okay, that takes care of romance, but what makes it a contemporary? Again they had a good answer ready for me:

Contemporary romance, which is set after World War II, is often what people mean when they refer to a romance novel. The largest of the romance novel subgenres, contemporary romance novels are set in the time in which they were written and usually reflect the mores of that time. As contemporary romance novels have grown to contain more complex plotting and more realistic characters, the line between this subgenre and the genre of women's fiction has blurred. Most contemporary romance novels contain elements which date the books, and the majority of them eventually become irrelevant to more modern readers and go out of print. Those which survive the test of time, such as the works of Jane Austen are often reclassified as historical romances.

Information courtesy of: Rainbow Publishing

It is difficult for me to imagine the works of Jane Austen ever being considered contemporary romance. Does this mean in several years my novels will be reclassified as Historical romances, if they survive that long? My two young granddaughters will hopefully someday read my novels. Will they giggle at the old-fashioned terms and ideas while they wonder about the antiquated vehicles and communication devices? Will I have described the settings and the particulars of my place in time enough for them to envision what life was like for their grandmother?

In considering why I write contemporary romance, I wondered what it is about the stories that appeal to me and to readers. Why are we drawn to a modern story when we are living it?

The truth is most of us don’t live exciting or adventurous lives. We work, care for our families, eat, sleep, and vacation once or twice a year. We struggle to pay our bills, take care of our responsibilities, and get ahead in our little corner of society. Our lives are spent rushing from one appointment or obligation to another or in endless tasks we repeat over and over. Does anyone else hate doing the laundry and dirty dishes as much as I do? Not to say we don’t enjoy life; we do. But in most cases our lives have a sameness, an ordinary day-to-day rhythm and flow, a continual cycle we fall into whether from necessity or habit.

When we take the time to relax, many of us want to read about someone who has taken our life and done something extraordinary with it. We want to escape into entertaining situations and page-turning plots. I reach for a contemporary romance 90% of the time. A setting and a time period I can identify with are necessities. Then I require well-developed characters. Not just hero types, mind you, but people with flaws and weaknesses they can and do overcome to become a better person by the end of the story.

And what better way to evolve into a better person than by meeting, and struggling to be with, their true love? I like secondary characters similar to my friends and neighbors who are part of that life, keeping it down-to-earth and homey. I want to discover ordinary people, like us, dropped into extraordinary circumstances and how they deal with it while they grow as a person, fall in love, and live happily ever after.

Why do we expect a “happily ever after”? Or as the definition at the beginning said, we require an "emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending."

I believe the concept goes back to the centuries’ old battle between good and evil, the dominating human spirit that believes we can attain true happiness against all odds, and our striving toward that goal. We want situations to work out for the best, we insist the couple wins over all obstacles, and we have to believe it is possible for not only the characters in the book, but for us as well. For me personally, I always regret putting my effort, time, and money into a read with a parting of the ways at the end, or a so-so, maybe they will, maybe they won’t resolution. I want a definite description, a defining moment when I know it will be all right, a no doubt about it “happily ever after.”

I write what I know and enjoy which is primarily contemporary romance. I hope you will find my books prime examples of contemporary romance in many of its sub-genres.

Surviving With Love – nominated for LASR’s Best Book of 2009

An independent female tracker must join forces with an ex-military hostage rescuer to save two boys. Sparks fly from their first meeting. Then when they think the mission is over, fate steps in...

Looking Through The Mist

Psychic Jessica Wilder was a consultant for the FBI until she suffered burnout. She starts a new life for herself. Suddenly, the visions are back with a vengeance — children are being kidnapped. How can she not try to save the children? Detective Jonathan Lansing doesn't believe in psychics. Can the woman in front of him help? Or is she involved?

Following Destiny

Down on her luck, Andrea Duncan inherits a house and a very special ring from her grandmother. Suddenly she is hearing voices and discovers the ring opens a portal allowing her ancestors to speak to her. A friendly local Sheriff and a mutt named Heidi bring laughter and love into her life. But then she crosses paths with a serial killer. Must Andrea die in order to follow her destiny?

Seeking Shelter

Brigham Montgomery buys a rogue stallion and a world of trouble. Being the boss of a working ranch isn't easy either. Loss and fear sends Kat to South Dakota searching for the one friend she has left in the world - a special horse - a horse someone wants dead. A stable fire, gunshots, and two greedy men bring Brig and Kat together in a way neither would ever imagine.

Find these books by Rebecca J. Vickery at the following locations:
Barnes & Noble

Contact Rebecca at


Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Rebecca,
Nice blog, My sentiments exactly. I need a happy ever after ending, in fact I feel cheated when I read a book that doesn't provide one.



Diane Craver said...

Hi Rebecca,
I love happy ever after endings, especially yours in SURVIVING WITH LOVE. Perfect ending to a great read!

Celia Yeary said...

REBECCA--you've given a compelling argument for writing contemporary. And with this analysis, I have finally discovered why I prefer to write--and read--historicals, specifically, Western. Because of the modern trappings we put in our contemps date the book. In a WH, nothing is out-of-date, in the same sense, at least.
However, I do read and write comtemporaries, but never feel comfortable.
I think I lack your inventive modern mind, writing a story about "an indepdendent female tracker." Huh? I wouldn't have thought of that in a million years. Bottom line--I don't view our modern world as full of adventures as our contemporary one. BUT! You do!! And that's why you succeed. And I applaud you. Now, back to writing my current short--yep, it's a contemporary. I don't know when to give up. Celia

Miriam Newman said...

Heck, Celia, don't feel bad! I dislike our modern times so thoroughly that I almost never write a contemporary. But Becca's right, people need their escape and HEA and she does a fine job of giving that to them. Rock on, Rebecca!

StephB said...

Rebecca, nice post. HEA is essential to the romance novel. Like Margaret, I feel cheated without one. I love the defination of contemporary romance you gave. I haven't read much, but I enjoy Mona Risk's contemporaries. And here's a shout out to Diane Craver *wink* - I enjoyed her "Whitney in Charge" very much.

I think for me, what appeals is going to an exotic setting. That's why I liked Mona's stories so much.


Diane Craver said...

I love you, Steph! Thank you for the shout out about my contemporary romance, WHITNEY IN CHARGE! I enjoyed writing about Whitney, her romantic interests, her relationship with two busy sisters, and of course, it has a happy ever after ending.

Bekki Lynn said...

I never thought about what future generations might learn of our era through reading our books. That's an interesting perspective.

In that respect, I think using points of interest which date our stories is a mega good thing. I'm sure most won't be found in history books and they'll find it interesting enough to talk about it.

Lindsay Townsend said...

Hi Rebecca! Thanks for the thoughtful and inspiring essay on the contemporary. I love the idea of your grand-daughters reading your work and hope they do so. I also agree about the epic quality of the happy ending - I think if characters have strived and done their best a HEA is a beautiful reward.

Sylvie said...

Loved your comment: Does this mean in several years my novels will be reclassified as Historical romances, if they survive that long?
I too write contemproary and it's something to consider, if they survive that long? :)
I definitely need the HEA. when I went to the movie to see Message in a Bottle, I was waiting for the hero to come out of the ocean and was disappointed when the light came up to signal the show had ended!

Cheryl said...

Great post, Rebecca, and so true! I love reading about ordinary people who do something extraordinary! LOL I think I probably hate doing the dishes and laundry about as much as you do...for sure! Sometimes, it just doesn't get done at all. I have to have the HEA. I think readers DO feel cheated, as Sylvie mentions, in MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, and angry, if the HEA doesn't materialize in a romance, no matter what sub-genre you write. You do a great job with your stories and wrapping everything up with the HEA for everyone--a true "must have" in my book! Thanks for a very thought provoking post.

I hope you are feeling better, Becca, I know you have really been sick. Take care of yourself, girl.


Savanna Kougar said...

Rebecca, an absolutely excellent explanation of contemporary romance. As a reader I must have a HEA!!! Why? For one thing life is tough and endlessly routine, and there's not enough happiness, imo. And, HEA is a fantasy I want to live since I've always been in love with love.

As an author whenever I write in current times, except for my shapeshifter novella, I identify the actual year and month, etc. Given the quantum rate of change in technology. And, given, our times are called the Quickening by some, every story is outdated once it's written.
There is no way to make stories endlessly current, or contemporary.
What? Is she talking on an old-fashioned landline princess phone in the 60s or on an iPhone that won't compute and needs duct tape.
Music changes year to year. The lingo I used when I grew up isn't the current lingo. This is a vastly different world. Look at the economy during the late 90s and look at it now. Vastly different. Therefore, you have a totally different worldview and reality.
I always write with an eye toward future generations. [not that any of my books will survive]
However, I give what is actually current in the context of my story because, by then, it will be history/herstory.