On this month's edition of Bookend, we'll be looking at a genre that's something of a juggernaut in the publishing industry: the romance novel. It's a type of writing that elicits giggles or sneers among some readers. But there's no question romance writing is hot these days, scooping up a14 percent share of the consumer market in the U.S., the largest of any genre. Metro Connection's Jonathan Wilson sat down with romance writers from the D.C. area - Rebecca York, author of more than 100 romance novels, and Amanda Brice, a young author who writes romances for the teenage set. Following are highlights of the conversation.
On being labeled a 'romance writer,' and dealing with people who think romance writing is all about "bodice-rippers" and "heaving bosoms:"
Amanda Brice: "The books I write are for teenagers, and obviously, what's important to teenage girls: a lot of them like teenage boys. So there's always going to be a strong romance element in my books, but my books focus more on the mystery and the suspense. But I love reading romance novels, and I own that label. I don't particularly like the stereotypes that we hear... but there were books like that. But the romance genre has come a long way in the past 30 years or so, and it really is one of the most popular genres in America today."
Rebecca York: "The reason I write romance is that I like happy endings. The idea, you know, 'It's not literature unless is ends badly,' and I really don't like that. There's enough misery and bad things happening in the world. I have the power to write these books where I invent characters that I really like, and it gets to come out the way they want it to come out, and I get to make it happen."
On the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, and what it's meant for all types of romance books:
Brice: "Romance as a genre is a big enough tent that it can include the various different elements, and I think that's great because it allows people to read the genre and find the stuff that they really like. As for the Fifty Shades of Grey stuff, I don't really write the more racy stuff, like I said, I write for teenagers. [But] it's been really great for a lot of other authors."
York: "People will say, 'I really don't like romance,' or, 'I don't read it - at all!' So how do they know? Weirdly, I think that the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon introduced women to romance who would never have read it. And that means that they then go on to read my books, and that would be great."
On whether closet romance readers make up a large portion of romance consumers:
Brice: "Now with e-readers, you got your Kindle, you got your iPad, you got your cell phone - and you're sitting there reading a book, and nobody knows what you're reading. So I think that there are probably a lot of people reading romance on their commute to work, where they might not have always done that in the past."
York: "In ages past, there was less of a dichotomy between good literature and fun reads. In the twentieth century, I think, it split apart, so that you had serious fiction and genre fiction. You know, there is some romance is fluff, but I think that you would be shocked at the depth that you find in a lot of romance novels."
Amanda Brice is also the incoming president of Washington Romance Writers, a group that has just kicked off an online book club called Washington Loves Romance. The project will help bring authors and readers together on Facebook to discuss romance writing, and fight illiteracy.
[Music: "Frost Bit" by Mello Music Group from Odd Seasons / "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Santa Esmerelda from Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood]