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  • CeCe Downs

Beyond the Ripped Bodice: Romance Writing in the 21st Century...sort of

A couple of weekends ago, I attended the Desert Nights, Rising Stars Literary Fair hosted by ASU's Virginia G. Piper Creative Writing Center.

Virginia G. Piper Writers House, ASU Campus

The literary fair was part of the annual Desert Nights, Rising Stars Writer's Conference, held on the Arizona State University campus. The literary part of the fair got rained out, so this portion of the conference was held inside the Virginia G. Piper Writers House. The first panel of the afternoon was Beyond the Ripped Bodice: Romance Writing in the 21st Century:

While romance of yesteryear may have conjured images of Fabio-like men with muscles and flowing hair, and breathless women suffocating in constricting bodices, the new millennia has heralded in a new age of romance. From sweet to heat and everything in between, romance has something for everyone! Discuss love, romance, smooching, and more with the Romance Writers of America Phoenix. Featuring national best-selling and local authors HelenKay Dimon, Cathy McDavid, Deloris Nash, Willow Sanders, and Kris Tualla.

l to r (from "sweet to heat"): Willow Sanders (glasses), Cathy McDavid, Kris Tualla, HelenKay Dimon, Deloris Nash

I personally am a fan of HelenKay Dimon's books, so it was a real treat to see and meet her. The moderator got through one question on his list before it escalated into a lively, free-for-all discussion on topics of racisim, inclusion, and a succint statement from HelenKaynon the RWA controversy currently rocking the romance industry. Here are some of the highlights:

~ Romance meets a woman where she is, young woman to 80-year-old grandma, no matter the stage of life.

~ The romance genre allows women to get to be the heroes of their own story. The genre makes it okay for a woman to ask for what she wants and to demand the kind of relationship she wants.

~ Short but sweet, the definition of the genre is a "central romance and a satisfying ending" whether it be a happily ever after (HEA) or a happily for now (HFN).

~ The difference between genre fiction and literary fiction? Genre fiction is writing to reader expectations. With romance novels, readers expect the story to end with the characters getting an HEA or an HFN. With mysteries, readers expect someone to die and to find out "whodunit" at the end. Literary fiction isn't bound my reader expectations.

~ HelenKay believes that any form of societal change occurs first through romance books: human trafficking, domestic violence, mental illness, etc.

~ Book covers are market-driven. The recent uptick in cartoonish/illustrated covers you've been seeing lately? Driven by what readers like and want to see. When readers' taste change, so too will the covers.

~ When it comes to people of color, there are many shades. But for white people, there's only one shade. Which is why they tend to get uncomfortable when reading about people of color and feel the story "isn't for them." I'm super paraphrasing Deloris's answer there, but it was in response to a comment brought up by a black male attendee in regards to an incident that occurred in his book club. That man's comment had me thinking and it's a topic I plan to address in another post.

Overall, I'm glad I attended. We didn't get to discuss the love, romance, smooching part of the program, but instead veered wildly off into the "and more" side of things.

And I was perfectly okay with that.