Thursday, April 07, 2011

Out on a Limb

I know my place. I'll admit it. I've been reading romance novels since I was thirteen...longer than that if you count the preteen/teenage angst of the Sweet Valley High series as romance (I'm not sure I do but that's another discussion for another time). I exclusively read romance novels. I enjoy my happy endings. I have enough disasters and stress in my daily life, I turn to books for an escape not to be beaten over the head with what else could go wrong. I suppose there might be value in that - my life suddenly looks pretty darn good in comparison - but I don't usually fixate on that angle of things. Apparently, I'm a book snob and just never realized it.

I recently stepped out of my comfort zone and read a genre I don't normally read. I won't tell you what genre or the author of the book (I will say it was published by a well respected publisher) because frankly, I wasn't impressed. And I have no desire to bad mouth another writer or publisher. I realize that some books just aren't designed for some people. As an author I know that when I send my work in not everyone will like it and I have to be okay with that. But I think this goes beyond just my preferences.

The writing was okay but it wasn't original or spectacular. The plot was fairly weak. And my major problem was that the motivation of the main character vaguely resembled swiss cheese. From basically the first chapter I knew I wasn't going to be happy with the book. So why did I finish? Idle curiosity. Research. And my ego probably needed a nice stroking.

But it made me think. From speaking with someone else who's reading in this genre, the problems with this book aren't unique. I can't claim they are genre wide because I haven't read widely within the genre, but I think I can safely say this wasn't a one off deal of a weak book. It made me appreciate the caliber of characterization, motivation and unusual plot that I've come to expect out of my beloved romance novels.

So my question is, do you read outside of romance? If so have you found that one measures up to the other (as much as an orange can be compared to an apple)? Do you find that romance novels are stronger in technique? I'm wondering if this is the case, if it's because we're so well connected within the genre. If it's because we support our unpublished and teach them the skills they need before they're published. If that we expect more and therefore deliver more. Or if maybe I'm just biased.

What do you think?


P.S. I'm at RT today so I don't know when I'll be able to check in, but I'll try. Miss everyone!


Stephanie Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean Hovey said...

Okay that was me who deleted that comment. I was signed in under Stephanie's name. Luckily, I could copy and paste before deleting.

I read extensively across the genres. I think there are weak and strong in all of them--including romance. Like you, it goes beyond personal preference. I can't explain why some authors who write trite contrived plots are favorites with the public.

I do think the romance industry has a higher standard.

A wise multi-published author said to me recently, "The good news is RWA teaches us how to write. The bad news is RWA teaches us how to write. That's why,in the end, it all goes back to voice. You've got it or you don't."

Playground Monitor said...

I don't read much across the genres (except for the occasional self-help book) so I don't have a point of comparison. I think the last non-romance novel I read was Dan Brown's Angels and Demons. Thought it was better than The DaVinci Code.

I think there are some authors who started out strong and won a lot of fans and then let things slide but the fans keep reading. I can think of one in particular who could probably publish a grocery list and have it hit #1 on the NYT list. Sad, but that's the way it is.

PM's Mother said...

Romance fiction is really not my bag (Sorry, Marilyn), but I do read across the genres. As to authors who have best sellers that are not really deserved, I'll have to nominate Nicholas Sparks -- His "The Notebook" was wonderful and his later novels are crap in my opinion; the same goes for Robert Waller -- "The Bridges of Madison County" was superb and his later books stunk (stank?). I have just finished reading PatConroy's "South of Broad" and it is right up there with "Prince of Tides" -- great! Although his novel "Beach Music" was not one of his best. I highly recommend that anyone read "South of Broad" -- it's a good read regardless of the genre.

Maven Linda said...

I read a lot of thriller/suspense/spy stuff, and I LOVE Vince Flynn, Barry Eisler, and a couple of others. Barry Eisler is the rare guy who can write a love scene that a woman (this one, anyway) likes to read. I like Urban Fantasy, too, as long as it has a romance element. Some mystery, some science fiction. No-fiction. Okay, I pretty much read everything except horror.

catslady said...

I pretty much read it all and enjoy the variety. A good book is a good book. What's great is that there is something out there for everyone - it's just a matter of finding it lol.

Angel said...

I have to join the "mostly romance" club. I really like the fact that romance guarantees me a happy ending. As an English literature major, I read a ton of classics and notable fiction, but while fascinating to discuss, it wasn't something I indulged in for enjoyment. I read it for classes and disected it, but as soon as the semester was out I was hitting the library for romance books.

I keep telling myself that I should read more widely outside my genre, but I simply can't make myself do it. The books I've bought sit on the shelf while I gobble up my romance TBR pile.

Oh well.


robertsonreads said...

No, I pretty much read the Romance genre and don't really care to stray much from it. I'm with Instigator in regards to so many bad things, stress of the job and reading just lets me forget for a while, calms me down.

And yes, some of my favorites my have a one-off, but hey I have those kind of days too.

So ladies, please keep up the great works!