Recently, at Romantic Times Booklover's Convention (which, if you haven't attended, is a giant fiesta of awesomeness focused on romance readers and writers), I was part of a panel on contemporary romance and realized while I was listening to the contemporary romance authors on my panel WHY I like contemporary romance so much.
Read the last Smart Bitches, Trashy Books on how to find great romance.
Contemporary romance is easily one of my favorite types of romance, and I love it when it's wonderfully done. Conversely, when it is not well done, I get more upset as a reader, and the reason for that positive and negative reaction is the same: with contemporary romance, everything present in the story could happen. It could be real—and the point of the genre is to make it seem as realistic as possible. The emotions of the characters could happen. The circumstances could happen. The conflict is most often based on the emotions between the characters and their problems, and not on some external factor (a serial killer, for example, or an unsolved murder, as with romantic suspense), and it could all happen, because the story is reflecting a small piece of the world right now. For that reason, I want the story to be as believable as possible. With contemporary romance, everything about it has to be possible and plausible for me to love it.
Unfortunately, that demand for total immersion is something I seek from contemporary romances. I'm enormously, almost comically forgiving of factual errors in historical romances, but I'm not at all tolerant of people who don't act or speak like people. I've joked that a duke could drive his Porsche to Almack's and it wouldn't bother me a bit. But if the duke, or any contemporary character, speaks in a stilted or unrealistic fashion, I get irate. If the dialogue is all "As you know, Bob," and "Didn't you tell me that…" merely to move the plot forward, I dislike it. Intensely.
In romance, I want the characters I read about, whether they're historical or contemporary or 500 years into the future, to be as real as possible. When I read a romance, I'm trusting the author and the story with my feelings, because I want to empathize with those characters. I want to remember similar feelings and similar circumstances. I've never been hunted by a serial killer (that I know of, thank God), but I know what it's like to be scared. I've never been dressed incorrectly in front of all of high society in 1811 London, but I do know what it's like to feel like a misfit, or to feel conspicuous for the wrong reasons. I can relate to those moments, those experiences. And if there are details or circumstances that are outlandish in historical romance, for example, it doesn't make me stop reading.
With contemporary romance, I want everything within the book to be so real, it could conceivably happen right now or yesterday or tomorrow. So it's not just the emotions that have to ring true for me. I expect the setting, the ancillary characters, the dialogue and everything the characters experience to seem as realistic as possible. If it's contemporary romance, my expectation is that I will believe in everything in the book, from the meet cute to the happy ever after.
It's riskier for me as a reader, though, as much as it is challenging for the writer. Historical has the patina of "once upon a time" and a sense of fairy tale distance, for example, and while the emotional response I feel may be similar, I can distance myself from the story as not having happened. Could have, but probably didn't. For one thing, there aren't that many dukes in Regency England, much less today. The same is true for romantic suspense for me, though it is not my favorite type of romance. There aren't that many serial killers, at least, I hope not.
With contemporary everything is possible, and if the writing is done well I believe in it in a way that is more visceral and riskier. With contemporary romance, I don't want to go anywhere near my suspension of disbelief. I want to believe that it's true, and I expect to believe that it could be. I'm aware that this is a lot to ask for, but that's why I love it when it's done well, and I get irate when that possibility of reality is broken. I go into each contemporary romance eager to believe in what I'm reading, and when it's done well, it's the book I'm most likely to reread over and over again.
Among some of my favorite contemporary romance books to reread:
Something About You by Julie James
Ride With Me by Ruthie Knox
Holiday Sparks by Shannon Stacey
What about you? What contemporary romances do you love?
Sarah Wendell is the co-creator, editor and mastermind of the popular romance blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.