One of the reasons I love romance fiction is the fact that there seems to be a story for everyone! Harlequin offers a wide range of tones, with various levels of sensuality (from sweet to scorching!) as well as lines that provide pure fantasy to real life grit and anywhere in between.
I love fantasy. There seems to be endless variations on the Cinderella theme. The movie Enchanted literally takes the fairytale and drops it dead centre of the realities of New York. An old hobo steals the princess’s tiara. A divorcing couple get nasty at the lawyer’s office. But the flavour is still deliciously light.
Then there’s Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook (yes, I know he writes ‘love stories’ but the romance in this tale is monumental.) While there are lighter moments, the deeper subject matter propelling this story is dark: unfaithfulness, debilitating illness, treachery on a level that turns your stomach even while you sympathise with the reasoning. The close of the book is poignant – we feel hope and gut-wrenching sadness as well as a frightening sense of: ‘This could happen to anyone. This could happen to me’.
I like light. I love the escape! But I think I like heavy more. Not ‘hand to the brow’ over-the-top drama but fiction reflecting real life issues, particularly in romance where a happy ending is guaranteed no matter how tough the battle to get there.
My latest Presents - Fearless Maverick - is part of an editorial-driven continuity (that is the editors create the characters and general story arcs). Early in the story we discover that the heroine was in an accident and wears a lower-leg prosthesis. Some readers/reviewers loved the story! Romantic Times awarded it four and a half stars and said,
‘This fast-paced romance will grab readers from the start and not let go, with unforgettable characters, excellent witty and descriptive dialogue and a plot that gives us incredible in-depth detail -- it reads like a much longer novel.'
But other readers felt – well, the term I’d use is betrayed. They weren’t happy that a story, which is meant to be filled with high-stakes, should get this close to reality.
I puzzled over the responses to this book being so polarised. They loved it or, well, they didn't. Which leaves me with an interesting question about how to approach future works. But I have to say that I’d much rather have a strong response to my characters and their stories than mediocre ones.
Do you have any examples of what’s too far in romance for your tastes? Or what’s just right!