“If you can take out the romance without altering the story, it’s not a romance,” said Vicky Burkholder of Lititz, Pa., a romance author and editor.
Burkholder has published 13 stories; five are still in print, and four of them are e-books. She belongs to a group of 34 romance writers who live in central Pennsylvania and meet monthly in Mechanicsburg, Pa., to talk about writing and publishing. The group, Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers, includes veteran writers like Burkholder, new writers and best selling authors.
As one CPRW member put it, “This is not a hobby thing;” they are totally focused on their writing careers. They eschew the stigma attached to the genre that labels it “trashy.” They especially despise the term “bodice rippers,” a derogatory appellation, Burkholder said, left over from the ‘70s and used by people who don’t understand romances.
“They can be set anywhere, anywhen and have varying levels of heat, from sweet (holding hands) to extremely hot (graphic sex),” Burkholder explained.
The Heat Scale
To give readers a clue about content, the genre uses a loosely established rating scale with “sweet” at one end and moving through “warm,” “sensual,” “spicy,” “hot,” “scorching” or “burning” at the other end.
Not all romances are traditional love stories between a man and a woman. They can be between two or more men and/or women.
Andrew Grey from Carlisle, Pa., writes contemporary gay romances and has more than 80 published titles. He is the only man in CPRW, a fact reflective of the genre as a whole — most romance writers are women, as are their readers.
In 2012, Romance Writers of America commissioned Bowker Market Research to conduct a survey about the genre. It showed romance novels held the largest portion of the publishing market in 2012 generating $1.438 billion in sales. Books in the romance category held the top spot on bestseller lists and women make up 91 percent of buyers.
Romance subgenres span the spectrum. If it’s a fiction category, then just put “romance” with the name and you’ll find your favorite — mystery romance, science fiction romance , paranormal romance , inspirational romance, romantic suspense and so on.
Why Readers Like Romances
Stephanie Riekers of Lancaster reads all kinds of literature, but she reaches for romance when she needs to decompress.
“I like happy endings,” she said. “In your daily lives, there’s struggle. It’s a nice getaway. It emulates, ultimately, what I would like life to be.”
Riekers became hooked on romance in high school after reading “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen. She loved Austen’s style, her strong female characters and the way couples worked through conflict in their relationships.
Riekers also classifies William Shakespeare’s comedies as romances, such as “Much Ado About Nothing” and “The Taming of the Shrew.” They are the type of novel she goes for —“hysterically funny dialogue” and “witty banter.”
A Lancaster County author who writes under the name Delynn Royer writes just that kind of novel.
“Even a serious story can have funny moments,” Royer said. “The humor comes out of the situation and the characters and how they’re interacting.”
Royer just published her fifth book “It Had to be You,” a historical mystery set in the 1920s. Her inspiration came from Myrna Loy and William Powell in the “Thin Man” movies, whose interaction inspired her to create her own “snooping couple.”
Her advice for aspiring romance writers is, “Write for yourself, what you’re inspired to write,” she said. It’s what she does.
“I have to make sure I’m entertaining myself first.”
Pseudonyms are common among romance writers for several reasons, not least of which is the desire to be discreet.
“For some people, especially erotic writers, if their bosses knew what they wrote, they’d be fired,” said Burkholder who adds she knows of a case in which this happened. Writers also might receive messages on the Internet that can be “jarring,” they say, akin to cyber assault.
Different pen names make it easy for readers to distinguish the different types of books written by the same person. Assuming a different name allows writers to help readers know what they’ll be reading, so they assume an alternate name when they venture into a different genre. For example, the popular Nora Roberts has written hundreds of classic contemporary romance novels, but she also writes futuristic suspense as J.D. Robb for a different set of readers. Robert’s given name is Eleanor Marie Robertson.
To learn more about romance writing, check out www.rwa.org, the website for Romance Writers of America. The organization has 145 chapters across the United States.
In the meantime, members of the Central Pennsylvania Romance Writers recommend these authors and novels to make the season sizzle! CPRW is a chapter of RWA.
Seven Sizzling Reads
- “Waiting On You” by Kristin Higgins, contemporary
- “Between The Sheets” by Molly O’Keefe, contemporary, third in Boys of Bishop series
- “Heroes Are My Weakness” by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, contemporary
- “Aaron” by J.P. Barnaby, the audiobook version, contemporary gay
- “With Every Breath” by Elizabeth Camden, inspirational
- “How the Scoundrel Seduces” by Sabrina Jeffries, historical
- “Written In My Own Heart’s Blood” by Diana Gabaldon, mix of time travel, history, eighth in the Outlander series
Authors that always satisfy
- Debbie Macomber—Sweet contemporaries
- C.J. Lyons—Thriller with heart
- Francine Rivers—Inspirational
- Marie Force–Suspense
- Julie Garwood—Historical
- Barbara Freethy—Contemporaries
A version of this story was first printed in Lancaster Newspapers in July 2014.
©2014 Donna Walker