Friday, July 22, 2011

Top Ten Things Romance Novels Oversell

The sparkle in your eyes, keeps me alive
--She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult

Disclaimer--not for those uncomfortable with images of sexy times.
It’s no secret I am a huge fan of romance novels--I love to read them and write them as well.  I even love the “bad” romances, embracing every cliche as I sink happily into HEA bliss.  However, I don’t think it has altered my perception of reality, as some would assert.  Susan Quilliam says just that in her recent article, which falls into the same tone as the YA argument that examining darkness breeds darkness.  I tend to disagree; I think most readers enjoy a good romance novel for the temporary suspension of the real, not-so-titillating parts of actual relationships.  Like laundry.  And paying bills.  And being dog-tired after a day of work but still having to make dinner and change diapers.  But I’m confident those readers are well aware of what is real, and what is artistic license.
Some of the fantasies portrayed in romances are good--the strong, self sufficient heroine who meets the hero on equal ground, demanding respect and orgasms.  Some are not so good--unrealistic physical ideals, coercion, or unsafe sex.  Some are just unbelievable as hell--the brooding male scoundrel suddenly transformed into a sensitive white knight faster than you can say throbbing manroot.  But I believe I’m far more likely to become disillusioned by watching the five o’clock news than I am by picking up the latest NYT bestseller.
I would like the pseudo-intelligentsia to stop assuming that readers are silly feeble-minded lemmings who cannot possibly discern fiction from day-to-day living.  That a woman with a romance novel is a slobbering porn addict unable of creating a fulfilling relationship outside of fiction central because she’s looking for Mr. Perfect.  Hogwash.
So I made this list, just in case anyone out there is having difficulty separating reality from the realm of romancey goodness:

Top Ten Things that Romance Novels Oversell:
10. Men with long hair.  I’m a huge fan of this image, and there’s definitely some Hollywood long hairs that make me swoon.  But in my experience, most hirsuit Joe Blows either resemble the sensitive ponytail man that Singles made famous or one of the dudes from Sons of Anarchy.  And not Jax or Opie.
9. Funtimes in the shower.  My hubby is 6’4”.  I am 5’3” on a proud day.  Sharing a shower always results in one of us (i.e. me) nearly drowning and the other shivering in the periphery of the shower spray.  And if you don’t have those plastic appliques that your grandma used in her bathtub on the floor, hip fracture is a real possibility.  
8. The heroine and hero getting it on in the middle of a fight/escape/apocalyptic scene.  Really, if you have enough time for sexual banter and a quickie, things can’t be that bad.  If the world is coming to an end and the dude I’m with is thinking about his pulsating loins, bring on the zombies, because the new civilization is so screwed.
7. The heroine has just gotten her ass kicked by avenging vampires/shape shifters/mall cops and upon sight of the hero, the first thing she thinks of is her raging lust.  Jeez, I get a hangnail and that’s enough for me to say “Not tonight, honey.”  If I just went jujitsu on someone, pretty sure I’m wanting a massage or an ice pack, not a hot beef injection.
6. Chicks with super long hair fighting like warriors.  Or doing other things that require another human in close proximity.  I have hair that is almost to my waist.  My husband hears the words “You’re on my hair” probably as much as “I love you.”  Long hair goes everywhere, gets yanked out by wayward elbows or stuck between butt cheeks or wrapped around vital parts like a hair tourniquet.  If you’re into acrobatics, I suggest a good tight French braid. 
5. Men who are vocal.  This scares me.  Romance heroes often cry out or shout or give a hedonistic war whoop during sexy times.  No one just grabs the headboard with white knuckles and makes a face that could be confused for seizure activity in any other situation.  For the longest time I thought there was some button I was missing that would make a man lose his mind and speak in tongues.  While a little sound is normal, I think most men are on the quiet side.  It’s bred in them from years of hiding the girlfriend from mom and dad in the next room and then years of trying not to wake the kids.
4. The hero picks the heroine up in his bulging arms and heads for the bedroom, but is so overcome that he can’t even wait to be horizontal.  Sex standing up--unless you have a partner who has He-Man quadriceps--is inviting a charley horse from hell and coitus interruptus via herniation.  After he stops screaming, the mood is kind of killed.
3. The virgin thing.  This still permeates a lot of romances--you know the scene--the heroine goes from quivering neophyte to raging porn queen in sixty seconds flat.  Always gives me a mental flashback of my own deflowering, in which I stared at the popcorn ceiling in my parents’ house and thought, “When does all the shouting for God start?” and “I’m missing COPS for this?”  
2. The overdeveloped olfactory systems of heroes.  The heroine always smells like jasmine or bergamot or rose water.  The hero’s nostrils are tantalized and somehow his nasal passages are connected directly to his groin.  Hmmm, guess I missed that nerve pathway in medical school.  Unless he’s a perfumer, the likelihood of a man being able to identify your smell without coaching is fairly slim.  My hubby is equally as enchanted by the smell of my deodorant as by my favorite scent.  And that’s OK.
1. Sex in the Great Outdoors.  Maybe this has to do with location, location, location.  I’m sure somewhere there is a beautiful field of daisies or a secret waterfall where lovers are transported into a perfect sexual landscape where no one sweats or risks attack by small rodents.  In reality, sex outdoors during a Nebraska July invites a plethora of blood thirsty arthropods to suck out your marrow.  So unless you would like the added sensory pleasure provided by hives on your nether regions, you slather on the OFF, realizing too late that citronella is a lousy aphrodisiac.  So now you smell like a candle, sweat’s dripping in your eyes, and one wrong move puts your ass in a patch of sandburs or worse.  You know the saying: leaves of three, let it be. 
Happy Friday, everybody!


  1. Funny! I don't read much romance but I can imagine. A lot of what you said actually applies in a more general way to many action/thriller books and movies.

  2. Funny post! I do read a lot of romance. The one you missed out was that couples in romance novels never get interrupted or caught. That alley right next to the nightclub entrance is suddenly and persistently deserted.

  3. Makes me want to go out and read one of my mom's harlequins!

  4. This was awesome.

    Maybe I'm reading the wrong romance books. I've never seen 6, 7, or 8. Going dig up more romance books now...

  5. 'demanding respect and orgasms.'


    I wrote three novels and in them, every guy has long hair. One gets quickly shorn and one gets shorn toward the end but I had no idea I was trafficking in stereotypes with my guys!

    'Really, if you have enough time for sexual banter and a quickie, things can’t be that bad.'

    Swift succession of laughing out loud at many points after these words. This was a very refreshing post since I have never read a romance novel but apparently have written some approximation of them!

  6. I love romance novels too.! Well said. Long-haired guys are definitely hot...but unless you're think of definitely not in the real world. My hubby is 6'5. I am 5'4. I feel your pain. :) Number 8 is not realistic at all. and pain..not my cop of tea. We are so like minded it's the hair stuff. LOL...this is true about quiet men. Ditto to the sex standing up thing...the virgin thing was not bad for me. I read a lot of historical romance. It's hard to believe women smelled so great when they didn't have air conditioning. I live in Nebraska, know exactly what you're talking about. Does sex in a camper count as outdoors? Thanks for posting? :)

  7. OMG, I feel guilty for reading this, because I am laughing SO MUCH for absolutely free. You are funny. I don't read much romance, but all your points make a lot of sense.

    Also, I'm stealing your line "I'm five foot three on a proud day."

  8. That was hysterical!!! I Love romance as well, and your cliches are fabulous! Thanks for the smiles :)

  9. Mike--true, I think cliche runs rampant in every genre

    Sarah--no kidding! And there none of that nasty alley smell to ruin the mood, or raccoons digging through dumpsters, or people asking you for change.

    Curtis--I have such fond memories of my mom's bodice rippers! I strongly encourage you to get in touch with your Harlequin side.

    Jadi--I love paranormal romance and those three are always a giggle point for me. Maybe my shapeshifting female counterparts are just a whole lot tougher and have bigger libidos than me

    Alleged--there are perils to being a short girl, I tell ya. Looking into armpits all day makes you a little punchy.

    Suze--The hair thing always cracks me up, because I do associate a lot of symbolism with it--whether it's virility or Samson type power. Yet few men can truly pull off the Rapunzel locks. I think romance gets its fingers into all genres to some degree.

    Laila--Yes, I sometimes think about the whole smell thing when I read historical romance given that whole aversion to bathing thing that went on for a while in previous centuries. And sex in a camper totally counts, plus you get extra for being in a cramped environment.

    Lydia--steal away. Short women must unite.

    Jemi--glad you enjoyed it. Romance just gives me a big warm fuzzy, cliches and all.

  10. Hilarious! Amen to every single point :) I especially agree with: broken hips in the shower, vertical sex, hair tourniquets, and mosquitoes that kill the mood. Great list.

  11. OMG, thank you so much for my morning laugh! (And I really really needed one today, too!) LOVE leaves of three, let it be.

  12. This was great - and the outdoor sex. Been there, tried that, it's not comfy and if the weather isn't right it's nasty and BUGS - oh heck no!

  13. Hummmmm...I think you've created a new sub-genre here. The romantic thriller. The thrills, the chills. The danger, the suspense.

    Yep, can see the movie trailer now.

    Hilarious post, I enjoyed this!

  14. Julie...Loved this! And these scenarios are exactly why I don't read romance novels! I think the first time I "attempted" to read one, all I could think of was puh-leeeees!
    P.S. I don't know why I haven't stopped by here lately. In fact, I was even missing your blog posts! duh?! I think I'm still recuperating from being out of town!! That's my excuse and I'm stickin' with it!

  15. There are many romance authors who have got the sexual mix just right.


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