The Newest Thrill in Romantic FictionI've been really excited about all the Wet Noodle Posse first sales recently. It's been especially great because I watched and sometimes helped a little as those stories developed. I reminisced with Lorelle Marinello about her worries when she first began WALTZING WITH ALLIGATORS. It was really chancy back then. There just didn't seem to be any room in the romance/women's fiction industry for a story about a woman wanting to NOT be rich and famous, but to do the socially responsible thing instead. It was the Chick Lit era. Shopping, stilettoes, finding one's way among multiple lovers to some sort of place in life. It seemed nobody wanted to think more deeply. But Lorelle wrote her story anyway, even if the trends of the time said she'd never sell it.
I'm sensing something happening here.
I've been talking with another friend of mine, Heather Hiestand, whose first book, CARDS NEVER LIE, is coming out with Cerridwen Press next month. Heather also reviews women's fiction and romance, which means she reads an enormous amount of what comes out, in all sub-genres. Our question was, what in the world is next?
For several years now, romance in particular has been looking for that bigger something. To sell, it has to be sexier, sexier, no, even sexier than that. Paranormal has heated up the genre in another direction, with vampires and other creatures taking the scary, scarier, scariest route.
Yet, strange to say, I'm bored with today's fiction.
Huh. Never thought I'd be the one to say sex is boring. But sorry, I skim almost all of the sex scenes these days. I don't think it's just me. I may be over the hill, but I haven't run out of hormones yet. The truth is, there's only so many ways to have sex, and I think I've read them all and tried most. Any further variations don't matter to me because they're really not different. For me, the most important ingredient, the relationship, is missing, because character development and plot have been sacrificed to get in all that sex. So all it is, is sex.
The same is true with Fear. Fear is so primal, so universal. Life-Death-Pain- Very entertaining stuff, and like sex, very distracting from the tough parts of reality. But sorry to say, I've been bitten vicariously by the guys with fangs way too often to even cringe. (Yet I'm writing a vampire tale I love right now, but that's a different issue.)
The trouble is, people only tolerate so much of even the biggest adrenaline-pushers before they start shrugging them off. This sends the fiction producers into a frenzy to find that new fix in adrenaline. But after Sex and Vampires Extremo, what could possibly be next?
For a long time, our women's fiction has been acting almost like drugs to shield us from real life. It seemed to be an era of searching for an even higher high, but like drugs, less and less able to give it to us because we were becoming inured to its effect. Something is starting to feel very empty. We're starting to ask, Is that all there is?
Maybe we're tired of escaping. True, we needed it, for a long time. September 11 affected us very deeply. We saw New York pick itself up and head back to business in a way that was just awe-inspiring, but because of New York courage, I think the rest of us didn't quite see the lasting depth of the scars. Some things were just too raw to deal with, I think. Issues of violence in particular no longer made it into women's fiction. The need was for fantasy, escapism, something exciting, but not troubling.
But maybe we're ready to move on now. This year we passed the fifth anniversary of that terrible event. It marked a milestone. We looked back and discovered we've survived, grown, despite our great loss. Now we're involved in a troubling war that really makes us re-think what we have been doing for the last half-decade. We're really seeing actual effects of global warming and wondering if our drive toward greater thrills has destroyed everything we love.
We see our celebrities making fools of themselves, spouting racial and other slurs. Our dislike of their behavior may be sending them into re-hab or prompting apologies, true, but we thought all that nasty stuff was in a distant past, and now we realize it hasn't gone away.
We see not just the horrors of war, but the things that didn't happen for our own people here because the money went into killing other people. We've reached out globally to people caught in tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanoes, tornadoes, and man-made horrors of war, genocide, slavery. Yes, slavery. The issue we were so sure was long dead and laid to rest. And now we learn there are over 4 million people who are enslaved in the world today, including thousands in our own country.
All of this has been there all along. There were people who told us, warned us. But we're starting to listen now. And I think it's partly because we want to do something more than escape.
Think I'm wrong? Look at the trend in movies in the last year. I'm seeing movies that would have never reached the screen just a few years past. WORLD TRADE CENTER and UNITED 93 were just more than we were ready for even a year before. BLOOD DIAMOND, CHILDREN OF MEN, THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH, all deal with social problems, injustices and things we wouldn't have considered entertaining a few years ago. Now here's AMAZING GRACE, delving into the past to resurrect the cruelty of slavery. PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS is the story of a homeless man and his son. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA and several others explore another frightening war in truly insightful ways. These are just a few of 2006's socially provoking films.
Will this trend really reach women's fiction? I think Lorelle's book is one indication that it will. Neither hot sex nor paranormals will ever disappear from our genres, and I'm glad. But change is right on the cusp. I'm getting the sense that editors as well as readers are starting to look around, back, forward. Looking for something more. And there's only one direction to look to find it. Beyond ourselves.
The Newest Thrill is perhaps the greatest of all: The world. Helping it survive. Making it a place worth living in. Making ourselves worthy of living in it. And what could be better for a relationship-oriented genre? I think a new era of socially responsible thinking is slyly coming in the door.