Topic: The Evolution of a Romance Reader

Intro:

What is the first thing that draws you to a book?  Is it the author?  Is it the cover?  Is it the genre?  Think back to a year ago, would you have read the same books that you read now?  What inspires you to read a book now?

I found my tastes changed in the last 20 years.  What drew me to a book before might not draw me now.  This forced me consider what my path has been in my reading pleasure.

Harlequin Books:

Some of my first memories of reading romance books were Harlequin books.  They were from the 1980s and 1990s, short and uncomplicated an easy read for an hour or two.  In a weekend, I could go through what 10 of them?  I got these books from the library after I went through all of the Nancy Drew books and Stephen King.

The focus was usually Vietnam vets who suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the manly Alpha males who were strong and damaged who could protect the little ladies.  We also had the Regan years, so there also were the rich millionaire tycoons who took care of these little ladies, often either socialites or the opposites attract trope where they were just from the country and hicks.

We usually saw in these books that something would happen and the female would get pregnant and the male either was incapable of helping out or he just did not want her.  We also did not deal with condoms or sexually transmitted diseases.  It was either not an issue (remember only gay men had HIV/AIDS) or I suppose that condoms were just not “sexy” to talk about.  We also never had any idea of bi-sexual, lesbian, gay, or transgender individuals in these books.

In these books, there was little character development and the sex was brief and not very descriptive.  This was perfect for the pre-teen and teenager who had little experience in sex and did not understand what she was reading and/or missing from the story.

Historical Romance:

These books were longer novels, 300 or 400 pages in length, there was an actual conflict, either the “bloody English” were fighting the Scottish Laird, or maybe there was a feud between the Scottish Lairds.  These authors were: Johanna Lindsey, Julie Garwood, and Jude Deveraux were popular (1980s, and 1990s).

In these books there were a lot of forced marriages and forced slavery for the woman.  They were derogatively called “bodice rippers” often because of the covers of the books showed a Fabio type male figure and a female with heaving breasts.  But looking back now, I see that these were the precursors to my interest in BDSM, dealing with forceful sex, bondage, slavery, etc.  These men took what they wanted, and in books like Lindsey, it truly was rape.

At the time it did not bother me, because I did not understand that what I was reading was rape.  After all, it ended up fine, right?  I read these books repeatedly, but looking back now, I see that all of the novels have the same storylines.  I did not care for the slave aspect, which we will get back to those later on.

What I discovered I liked:

  • I enjoyed reading about the historical romances.  Perhaps part of that was that I was a history major.
  • I enjoyed the scope of the stories, the background of the times.  It was certainly more depth of field than the short Harlequin books that I read before.

Again, I found characters that were not fully developed, often one-dimensional.  It left me wanting more, but not sure, what I wanted.

Paranormal:  (Vampire, Shape shifters, etc.):

After college, I started looking into the paranormal.  At the time, it was becoming popular, although I was coming into it a bit late.  The first author I read was Christine Feehan’s Dark Secret, which was book #15 of  #23 in the Dark Series.  My husband brought Dark Secret home when I was sick one afternoon.  In the Dark Series, I was attracted to the Alpha male, perhaps a hint at the BDSM Dominant that I would see in other series.  These Carpathians are strong, fiercely protective of their females; there is the arrogant male that we find so attractive.

There are many series this genre, but they can be light and airy to dark and bittersweet.  The sex is a bit more “non-vanilla” and we begin to become curious about what else is out there.  These are more textured love, not just an “Oh you are big and mighty”, but also someone with depth and character.  These books become more adult than the Harlequin and historical romance.  I enjoyed the lore that comes with all of these books; they became unique and not just formulaic. I lost myself in this diversity that I had not seen in the previously scripted books (so narrow in their scope).

I would say that the next level of book came to me in the form of J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood.  Here we have such complicated characters, especially Vishous.  Often their story is not finished in just one book.  These romances are not cut and dry.  We revisit these couples and see that they have to work on their relationships.  It is a bit of realism with their evolving stories, bringing a more vibrant, richer story.

Here we have a male, Vishous who does BDSM (although really only a glance into that world) and a male who is in love with another male, Butch.  While this is unrequited love, we still see the yearning and the possibility of it.

It is a hint that might make someone curious.  How would a world be like in BDSM?  How would a male-male romance be; would it be as compelling as any other romance book I have read up until now?  There are also hints of ménages, so again, what would that be like?

We have what might be a gateway series into taboo subjects such as BDSM, bondage, gay / lesbian, ménages; things that even 5 to 10 years ago I would have said “ewww” or “weird”.  Certainly, these types of topics might not be something one would bring up at work or church.  However, they fall easily into the world of erotica.

What I discovered I liked:

  • This is something that I see evolving in my needs from a romance.  Not just a quick story that I read in an hour, but also something that I have to wait and anticipate until the next book comes along.  In the Harlequin and Historical romances usually are contained solely in a single volume, the story finished after you close the cover.
  • A Dominant Alpha Male, protective in nature

Erotica:

I found that Erotica as a whole can be hit or miss when dealing with plot and character development.  There are some authors/series that I tend to call “porn erotica”, where there does not seem to be much point to the book other than sex.  Which is fine, but sometimes you are looking for more complexity.  This is where I found books that fall under that “literature erotica”, where my love of history and culture could find fulfillment.  See my article about erotica versus romance.

Sci-fi:

I began to tire of the same vampire and werewolves/shifter plotlines and discovered science fiction series.  What I noticed was that these series tended to be more erotic in nature.  So now we move away from the complex storylines in historical and paranormal, and back to the shorter, (Harlequin length and complexity) of storylines, but with lots of sex!  Authors I might include here are Evangeline Anderson and Laurann Dohner.  Other series like Lora Leigh’s Feline Breeds Series started out very limited but ended up with a fuller, richer complex storyline.  While there is enjoyment in the creativity of sci-fi culture, it did not feed my need for complex characters.

What I discovered I liked:

  • Alpha Males
  • Diverse culture and sci-fi histories
  • More thorough sex scenes

Ménage:

Male/Female/Male

Probably my first book about ménage (and BDSM) came from Lainey Reese’s A Table for Three.  It is a little independently published book, which has a bit of BDSM and deals with a committed relationship of two men and one woman.  We are not dealing with gay or lesbian activity, so it seemed “safe” for a heterosexual woman learning about these “taboo” topics.  It was a bit like putting your toe into the ocean in spring, a bit chilly, but you still felt the urge to explore.

I think it is easy to move from reading about a man and woman to male/female/male because there is no “touching” between the men.  But then your brain starts to think about the logistics of it.  How do you separate your love for the woman and then this man in which you are also in a relationship?  I found the whole relationship concept fascinating.

Male/Male/Female

This grew out of the overall heading of erotica, as I suppose that most folks would consider ménage “taboo”.  Not only is the relationship with a man and a woman, but also how the men deal with each other.  Are they just platonic friends?  Are they bi-sexual?

So that effortlessly moves the reader to a male/male/female poly relationship.  See my review of Laid Bare, Dane is a sensitive author and while it is explicit in nature, she explores the emotional development of the characters.

What I discovered I liked:

  • I became fascinated with the relationship dynamics of dealing with two men and one female.
  • A Dominant Alpha Male, protective in nature
  • More thorough sex scenes


BDSM:

Authors like Maya Banks moved me to Shayla Black, Tymber Dalton, Lauren Dane, and Cherise Sinclair.  Where I began to see that there is a whole new level of intensity of BDSM.  Not just “sexy-fun time”, but also a life-style that some people do 24/7.  See my review of Slave by Sherri Hayes for a look into the Master/slave relationship.  Another book review takes paranormal and BDSM in Jacquelyn Frank’s Rapture.

What I discovered I liked:

  • Exploration of society and a culture that I was not fully familiar.  So now, not only am I reading for romantic fun, but also as research.
  • A Dominant Alpha Male, protective in nature
  • More thorough sex scenes


Male/Male:

This leads me to my last, and most recently explored area, which are male/male romances.  In my early exploration, these books are still written by women.  So it makes me wonder if maybe there is a high demand by heterosexual females for gay romance.  That begs the question of why?  I mean, from a pure penis point of view, it is “well, I like one male, why not two hot males?”  Of course, we could easily make that crass statement, but there must be more than just hot sex, right?

I suppose part of it could be the curiosity of something new, after all we do have that whole Mars/Venus thing, so in some way it is rather relaxing to read a male/male book.  I do not have to identify with the female lead, after all, I am not a male, and so if they act a certain way, I have no real reason to refute it.

But then, that makes me wonder why a female author would write a male/male romance.  How do they know that they are writing the sex scene accurately?  Would a gay man say “xxxx” to his boyfriend?  I suppose the answer back would be then, an author still writes about vampires.

There are men who write gay romances, such as Josh Lanyon and while I have only read one of his, it seemed just a well written as any woman writer, so I think it is arrogant to say that only women can write well about romances and relationships.

I plan on reviewing S.E. Culpepper’s Private Eye next week and will discuss this issue further.

What I discovered I liked:

  • This became a great exploration of society and culture.  So now, not only am I reading for romantic fun, but also as research.
  • A Dominant Alpha Male, protective in nature
  • More thorough sex scenes

Conclusion:

So, what does this little walk through the romance genre and sub-genre prove?  It demonstrates I have read a hell of a lot of books, for sure, but to me, it illustrates how my tastes have changed, in part because of my life experiences, but also in my acceptance of my sexuality and self.

What did I learn?

It is perfectly ok to read whatever you desire.  You might find that Harlequin or historical romances are all that you want to read and you are content to stay right there.  And you know what, that is perfectly acceptable!  If you find that you want to branch out, there are ménage and male/male historical romances, so keep that in mind.  It can be fun to mix and match.

This research illustrated that I have a thirst for knowledge in all aspects of my life.  It is perfectly acceptable to explore that curiosity.  You will become a richer and more intricate individual by following that road otherwise unexplored.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s