The romance novel has come a long way since I read my first Harlequin in the ‘60s, but I have to confess I loved those early stories. They transported my small-town teenage self to exotic locales, from London to the Mediterranean to Africa to the Australian Outback. They portrayed young, inexperienced (in every sense of the word) heroines, many of whom were only several years older than I was at the time. Best of all, they introduced me to handsome heroes, men who were business tycoons, doctors and sheep farmers, although they’re probably not called farmers in Australia.
Back then no one called them sweet romances, they just were. There was no sex, not even behind closed doors, but every story ended with a kiss and a promise of happily ever after. I suspect a little alcohol may have been consumed, at least by the men, although I don’t specifically remember that. I do recall some sardonic, cheroot-smoking heroes, though. And while plain old cigarettes were just plain nasty, the teenaged me imagined cheroots were the epitome of elegance.
In the ‘70s I stopped reading romance and when I got back to them in the ‘80s...well, times had changed. The focus was still on the romance but it seemed to me that every book I read included a love scene. So in the late ‘90s when I decided to try my hand at writing romance, that meant I had to write love scenes, too. In the very first rejection letter I received for my very first manuscript, the editor said the love scene was clichéd, and she was right.
My first published book, The Man for Maggie (Harlequin American Romance, 2006), was the sixth complete manuscript I’d written and, interestingly, it did not have a love scene. If I had tried to include one, it would have been forced and, yes, clichéd. Many readers have told me they loved the sexual tension between the hero and heroine, and for them it was enough to fuel the love story.
Last year I was thrilled to get a call from Senior Executive Editor Marsha Zinberg at Harlequin, saying they would like to revise and reissue The Man for Maggie as part of their new Heartwarming line of wholesome tender romances. Of course I said yes, and Maggie’s Way was released on May 1st.
Marsha says, “Our Heartwarming stories, which have enjoyed growing success, give readers a novel very well-developed in terms of conflict and plot, so that it satisfies on multiple levels and does not necessarily depend on the romance to move the story forward. The romance is present and satisfactory, but the readers’ ultimate satisfaction derives from all the other elements we usually attribute to great story-telling, as well as an upbeat ending, of course.”
As a writer, I find it gratifying to know that many readers want romances that exclude sex and profanity. Inspirational author Merrillee Wren supports this by saying, “I have many readers write and tell me they like my stories because there aren't any swear words or explicit sex scenes.”
Debra Holland, USA Today bestselling author of western historical romance, says, “Historically, women needed to remain chaste (to use an old-fashioned term) in order to avoid a pregnancy outside of marriage and to keep their reputations unsullied. Having premarital sex meant they risked being socially ostracized from the community, which in turn, could impact their survival.” So along with meeting readers’ demand for sweet romance, there’s also a cultural authenticity to her stories.
According to Marsha Zinberg, “there is a growing niche readership of women who really enjoy a wholesome romance...they may have just become weary of love scenes that to them become repetitious after overdosing on them, or simply be more private people or no longer interested in a depiction of the physical aspects of the relationship...and they do not necessarily want to have to rely on faith-based romance in order to read this type of story.” For writers who want to explore this niche, the guidelines for Heartwarming are on
Merrillee says, “Many readers don't want sex scenes in their books, and others like all different kinds of heat levels--from sweet to spicy, as long as the story is a good romance.”
I’m one of those readers who enjoys the full spectrum of sweet-to-spicy romance but as a writer, I’m thrilled to have moved away from the expectation that every romance novel should include a love scene.
I’m also offering a copy of Maggie’s Way to blog readers today. To enter the draw, simply leave a comment and share your reading preferences. Sweet? Spicy? Sweet, spicy and everything in between?
And to all the mothers out there, I wish you a heartwarmingly happy Mother’s Day!
Lee McKenzie…writing fifty shades of pink!
From the time Lee McKenzie was ten years old and read Anne of Green Gables and Little Women, she wanted to be a writer like Anne and Jo. In the intervening years she’s written everything from advertising copy to an honors thesis in paleontology, but becoming a Harlequin author is her proudest achievement yet. She’s written seven books for Harlequin’s American Romance line and now she’s excited to be writing for Heartwarming, too.
I loved your post and am looking forward to reading Maggie's Way. In romance books I look for interesting characters and a compelling story. As long as the sex scenes fit, I barely notice them.
That being said I still catch myself hunching in my chair hoping no one's looking at me when I read those scenes lol. Isn't it great that the market keeps expanding to include all sorts of different stories.
I've long worried that Romance had forgotten the reader who just didn't want to read explicit love scenes. And how many of us have skipped the sex scene in books, because we were in a hurry to get back to the story? I know I have. Merrillee's, Debra's, and your success, Lee, show that there are readers who just don't want to follow the hero and heroine into the bed room.ReplyDelete
I'm glad for the Heartwarming line!
I still lament the loss of the traditional Regency lines, the Signet Regencies and the Zebras. Readers could count on them to stay "sweet" as well, at least 99% of the time.
I don't think of myself as a prude. I don't blush at swear words, but I generally think they are a lazy way to try to express emotion and I usually tell new writers to avoid using them. There are just better ways to do it.
Hi Lee. Thanks for the interesting blog. I've reached the age where I enjoy a sweet romance with lots of physical action to make the story interesting. Sword play. A man of honour defending his principles to the death, if necessary. even mud wrestling would be fun. Rock climbing. Adventure.ReplyDelete
Jo-Ann, I hope you enjoy Maggie's Way :). I laughed at you hunching in your chair. I always read on the bus, but I'm always careful that the characters on the cover are covered!ReplyDelete
LOL, I've skipped many sex scenes, Diane. Especially those that feel a though the story screeched to a stop, then picked up again when the scene was over. But I love to read authors like Nora Roberts and SEP, who's love scenes are packed with emotion and blend seamlessly with the story.ReplyDelete
Thanks for dropping by, Anita. Gotta love a hero who'll fight to defend his, and the heroine's honor!ReplyDelete
Hi, Lee - congrats on the new life for your first book!ReplyDelete
Great blog post, and a topic I'm very interested in. Like you, I can read across the spectrum from sweet to spicy.
No scorchers for me, in my reading or my writing. LOL
The most important thing for me is whether or not the love scene matches the characters and the situation and the mood. And it's got to provide more than just a physical connection between the hero and heroine. The love scenes I like best always add conversation, humor, memories, and emotions--although maybe not all of them in every love scene!
I prefer sexual tension without the actual sex on the page. I think it is more entertaining. I've skipped the sex scenes many times. There's not much new under the sun.ReplyDelete
I like action and adventure and smart characters who have complex problems to solve on their way to finding love. It's also what I write.
I'm with you, Barbara. I'm not into super hot scorchers, either. And yes, the love scenes need to fit the stories, which makes soooo much harder to write.ReplyDelete
Interesting points, Wendy. I love Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum books, especially the early ones where the sexual tension between Stephanie and Morelli or Stephanie and Ranger practically set the page on fire ;)ReplyDelete
like a little bit of anything, as long as there's an HEA and no cliffhangersReplyDelete
bn100candg at hotmail dot com
I really enjoyed your article. For myself, I don't like sex in books. I feel that a romance book should be able to stand on its own - the story itself should draw the reader in. I think (only my opinion), that if there's a lot of sex (and some books have it every other page), then where's the story? Where's the reason and why they fall in love? What it conveys is that sex and love are the same thing - which they definitely are not. Give me a good, old-fashioned romance every time, let me see the relationship develop, the reasons they care for each other, the obstacles. Just because you sleep with a man doesn't mean he'll go through fire for you!ReplyDelete
BN, you are so right! If there's no HEA, then IMO it's not a romance!ReplyDelete
JoAnne, it sounds as though you are part of that "growing niche readership of women who really enjoy a wholesome romance" that Marsha Zinberg was referring to. For writers like me and readers like you, it's wonderful that the market for sweet romance is expanding.ReplyDelete
Lee, I loved your journey through time with the romance novel. I also read those early romances. Even though I write inspirational, I'm so glad they are doing the Heartwarming romances.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing your journey. I read sweet and inspirational. It's nice that the genre has expanded to include a variety so everyone can find what they're looking for.
Merrillee, there needs to be something for everyone, doesn't there? I love inspirationals, even though I wouldn't be comfortable writing them. And I'm so glad to see that more readers are getting more of what they want.ReplyDelete
Lyndee, I'm so happy to hear you're finding more of what YOU want to read. Trends can tend to leave some of us behind, but you are so right. Readers need options, and it's wonderful when those options are there for them!ReplyDelete
I enjoy the choices out there right now, and I read according to my mood and sometimes what I'm researching. I've read a number of novels and the sexual tension aspect if nicely done, can take the reader on an exciting journey. Your books Lee are definitely finding their place. Congratulations.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Jodie! Choice is good!ReplyDelete