Friday, May 9, 2014

How Romance Is Like Lacrosse

How Romance Is Like Lacrosse

Bear with me. I know these two things seem totally unrelated, but based on my personal history, they're actually quite similar.

I coached girl's lacrosse for fifteen years. It was my favorite sport in high school, I started the club team in college, and then after I graduated I coached. When I started playing we had wooden sticks, no headgear, no sidelines, and set offense and defense. It was an elegant, skilled, exciting game.

I coached "old-school." I taught the girls that "cradling" (a motion where you cradle the stick back and forth to keep the ball secure) was the most important skill.

And then something happened. The sport started to change. The wooden sticks were replaced with plastic. Then, they instituted sidelines, and offsides on the field, the positions disappeared as the game turned into a fast-break for the whole team and zone defense replaced man-to-man. It got more physical, like the boy's game, and the girls were required to wear headgear. Cradling sort of disappeared, as it turned, more or less, into the boy's sport.

Fast, physical, structured.

So, what happened? I stopped coaching. This was NOT my lacrosse anymore. It was new, it was like men's lacrosse, and it wasn't fun for me anymore. I was sad, but I figured it was time to move on.

About fifteen years ago I started reading romance. My son was one, we had just adopted him from the Philippines, and I was an exhausted new mom. I needed some light-hearted entertainment that would make me feel good. I discovered romance novels! Happy endings! Real heroes! Lusty sex! Romance!


I devoured Julie Garwood historicals, Amanda Quick, vintage Julia Quinn. I fell in love with the Carpathian world of Christine Feehan with the super romantic notion of one mate for eternity. The stories were fresh and new, the writing was excellent. I didn't love contemporary romance--too much like real life. I stuck with mostly historical and paranormal, which had that added element of creativity or historical detail which transported me to another world.

I loved it.

And then something happened.

It started to change.

Contemporary romance and erotica began to take over the market. Real heroes--men who had integrity, loyalty, protective qualities--were replaced with abusive motorcycle guys who passed their girlfriends around to their buds.

The old-fashioned romance was replaced with BDSM, orgies, and cheating.

As paranormals/historicals fell from popularity, books catering to a younger crowd--YA and NA--surged. And books with violent behavior toward women became commonplace.

The excellent writing became something special, not the norm, as typos/grammatical errors, and generally piss poor writing started to crop up frequently.

Instead of fresh, new, creative ideas, copycat books sprouted up like weeds. 50 Shades is popular? Great, let's crank out 100 books with the same cover and concept.

Here I am, 15 years later, wondering what the hell happened to my romance novels.

I'm sad. But the truth is the best books I've read recently are mysteries, horror, humor, literary fiction.

I spend a lot of time doing re-reads. My Julie Garwood books are falling apart.

If this is the "new" world of romance: copycat books, degrading behavior, sloppy writing, and a distinct lack of romance, then maybe it's time to cut my losses. Just like I did with lacrosse.

The game has changed, and I'm not sure I want to hang out here anymore.

There are still some wonderful authors and books coming out, but they are lost in a sea of mediocrity and flat-out porn.

And I wonder if the whole concept of "romance" the way I see it is so hopelessly old-fashioned that it no longer exists.

That sort of breaks my heart.

I hope the romance genre circles back and a renaissance occurs. I'm not sure if that's going to happen or not.

In the meantime, I have my old copies of Julie Garwood and Amanda Quick, and I'll keep taping the pages back in.

Old-school and proud,


Julia Barrett said...

There you go. You and me, girl. You and me.

KT Grant said...

I'm sick of douchey, emo heroes. Give me more loveable, cuddly types like Roarke ;P

Unknown said...

You're not wrong, not even a little bit. How I miss like the ones julie Garwood and Judith McNaught used to write...
Wise words, Penny!

Unknown said...

I'm with you, Penny. I'm re-reading and going back to only buying my old favorite authors more and more lately. I'm starting to feel like the old lady wearing a ratty robe and curlers giving the evil eye to the kids playing on the sidewalk though.

Laura K. Curtis said...

There's a lot of "noise" in the romance market right now and it's definitely harder to find the better books. I haven't given up on them. I still hope they're out there. Whenever I see someone say something's a "cracky" read, it immediately gets crossed off my list--I have no desire to read that stuff.

I like books where bad grammar, bad spelling, don't toss me out of the story. I like books where the problem with the romantic relationship having a HEA isn't that the hero is an irredeemable jerk.

I actually love contemporary romance. I think it's probably my favorite genre, tied with romantic suspense. But finding the KIND of contemporary I like has become more difficult. I don't want billionaires, bikers, or BDSM. It eliminates a LOT of books.

But there are some good books still out there. It just takes longer to find them. I have to believe that, because I still love romance.

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

Is most of the "noise" selfpubbed or are you guys finding this same type of book you don't like everywhere?

Stephanie said...

What a relief to hear someone else say this. I must be old fashioned, but I don't find most erotica romantic. 2 or 3 or 4 people having sex isn't romantic.
I've become very picky about what I read.

Kat said...

Totally agree with you. I don't mind if a hero starts out a kind of jerk, but then realizes the errors of his ways, cause I love a good grovel. But, I don't like when the hero is OTT and filled with rage. I want a balanced of alpha and cuddly. Why can't we have that?

On another note, I was at the library used book sale last week and saw several old school Garwoods for sale. I nearly ran over a woman to get to them. It was a total Gollum moment as I hugged them too me. "My Precioussssssss!"

Penny Watson said...


Penny Watson said...

KB--You're goading me, I see. ROARKE! Button man!

Penny Watson said...

Gisele--Thank you for stopping by. I have not read any Judith McNaught! Sounds like I better add her to my TBR pile.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Barbara! I'm right there with you in the old lady club. I sort of like it. You can get away with being super eccentric when you're old! BRING IT!

Penny Watson said...

Laura...good point about the noise. There are still good books out there, but I have to search for them. I love romance, too, which is why I'm so sad the genre has taken this "harder-edge" turn. I see a lot of these books as being "relationship" books but not necessarily "romance." There's a big difference.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Jody. No, it's not strictly self-pubbed. In fact a lot of the copycat books are trad-pubbed. I think the NY publishers see something selling, and want their authors to jump on the bandwagon.

Penny Watson said...

Stephanie...I am picky, too. Picky is fine!

Penny Watson said...

Kat....I am ALL for alpha cuddly guys. Maybe a lumberjack? Hee!

Also, if I saw vintage Garwoods at a book sale, I would fly over the table and scoop them up in a heartbeat.

Barb Wallace said...

You're not alone, Penny. I am an old-school reader too. BDSM, etc. just isn't for me. And I dislike intensely how marketing formulas have displaced good writing as the key to success.

BUT, I will make one comment for all you people lamenting the days of old. PICK UP A CATEGORY ROMANCE! We're still trying to write quality stories with happy endings and no bondage, Sadly though, our books are buried by the noise or ignored in a fit of anti-Harlequin bias.

Sorry - I had to rant just a bit. It kills me that my hard-written Harlequin romances (as in the Romance line - not all HQ romances) are languishing to the point of near extinction.

As usual Penny, your thoughts echo what so many of us are thinking these days.

Tales of Whimsy said...

I agree. It's definitely changed. Let's hope it comes back.

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

I agree with Barbara re: category romances.

I love contemporary...but the problem I'm having lately: The hero is apart from the heroine too much; or the romance starts too late. I've had to put down several books where we meet the hero...and then he's GONE for 20, 30, 50 pages or more. Come back, I want to see you again! I've forgotten your name!

Also having a problem with romances that are too light in the romance department. I don't mean I want more love scenes. I just want more *romance*: more kissing, more dates/hanging out, more getting to know each other, etc. Some of the romances I pick up seem more like fiction with romantic elements. They have more external plot than romance. So if the hero IS around, I'm going "Let's have more kissing!" lol

Or maybe I'm getting too picky.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Barbara! I read Harlequins every week. I like the ones that are more old-school, on the sweet and romantic side. I am also addicted to HPs lately! I love that the formula guarantees a good grovel and HEA. EVERYONE...GO CHECK OUT A CATEGORY ROMANCE!

Penny Watson said...

Juju...I sure hope so!

Penny Watson said...

HMCW--Totally agree about forgetting about the hero. That's rule #1 for romance...gotta keep H/h together as much as possible. Also, agree about the lack of truly romantic moments. That's what I love about those vintage Julie Garwood historicals. SWOONY!

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? There are "romances" where the hero passes the heroine around to his buds? WTF? I certainly haven't come across that yet. Are these in YA and NA? I must be lucky in my picks as I'm not seeing a lot of these scenarios in what I've been reading, though I don't read a lot of contemporary, so maybe that's why. In fact, the only time I do is only for particular authors.

Heidenkind said...


Penny Watson said...

Angela...I've seen the escalating violence towards women in contemporary, paranormal, YA. I think you have the right approach...stick with authors you know and trust.

Penny Watson said...

Tasha...*fist bump*

Anonymous said...

I love the romance genre so much and I don't want to see anyone give up on it. I want to read about loveable and strong characters who have mutual respect for each other. I want all the feels and the happy ending. It might not always be popular, but that will always be romance to me. And I'll do my best to buy those books to support the continuation of a genre that helped me through a lot of tough spots just by giving me a little hope.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Kinley! I totally agree about the mutual respect. An old-fashioned concept that I adore.

Fiona McGier said...

I get so upset when I see comments like these here. I write contemporary romance that my own brother and his wife sniff at, calling it "vanilla" because there's only 1 man and 1 woman involved. No beatings until it feels good, no blood, no stalking, no "dom" or "sub". I don't want to explore how "the lifestyle" works because I don't care. Do what you want in your own life, but I don't want to read about it.

I'm not sure how to get readers like you all aware of what I write: well-rounded characters who don't live in a vacuum, but have family members that they care about, who care when they get hurt by romance. "Real" people living real lives, who just happen to fall in love

Harley the reviewer named one of my books her number one choice in contemporary for 2013. She's fed up with beatings and power plays also. She's a Harlequin fan from way back.

The last review I got was from Long and Short Reviews, and it was about my book involving a biker queen (I dislike all of the motorcycle men who think of humiliation of the heroine as foreplay, so I turned the meme on its head with a female biker). The reviewer mostly like the book but thought I didn't have enough "variations" in the sex scenes...which were so frequent Harlie wrote that she had to keep fanning herself.

Which proves that you still can't please everyone, no matter what you write.

BTW, if you've never heard of the MC (motorcycle clubs) romances, you must not read Dear Author, where they're the regular fare with everyone raving about how much like "crack" they are.