Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Dear John ... or rather, Dear New Adult ...

I have been wanting to write this post for a very long time, ever since I saw Scandalicious write one about why she was taking a breather from contemporary romance. I'm going to try to not get ranty about this because I don't abhor contemporary romance in general. I adore the Harlequin Romance imprint, and they are contemporary. I also love the Entangled Lovestruck and Bliss imprints. Also contemporary. And let's face it, a lot of paranormal, urban fantasy and romantic suspense have contemporary settings and I love all of those too.

So no, not a farewell to contemporary romance, but of one particular aspect of it. New Adult and Fifty Shades of Grey (FSOG) knock-offs.

To me, the New Adult sub-genre came about after the mass popularity of FSOG. Now don't get me wrong, I am not a hater of FSOG. I've read all the books (except for Grey, that's still sitting in the TBR) and I've learned a few things from it.

From FSOG came the mainstreaming of erotic romance. I think myself (as a reader) and many of the authors who write erotic romance are happy with this development. It's taken erotic romance out of the shadows and made it acceptable to read in the broad light of day. Erotic romance readers no longer need to hide what they enjoy reading, and erotic romance authors have a whole new marketplace and audience for their work, hungry for anything they publish. That is a good thing.

However, also from FSOG we got the tortured billionaire hero of 20-something years old; the annoying, naive heroine of her early 20s, and more angst and drama llamas than you can stuff a sock with.

Take everything else I say from here on out with a pinch of salt. This is my opinion. You do not need to agree with it. In fact, feel free to tell me I'm wrong and tell me why. I'm okay with that.

Man in suit leaning against a car
Photo via Visualhunt

Let's start with the tortured billionaire. For the billionaire part, well, it's highly improbable that he's become a billionaire in his mid to late 20s off his own bat, and most of these heroes seem to be self-made billionaires (even though I'm mostly okay with the billionaire part, sort of!). I've had this discussion with the lovely people in the Bloggity group and with Steve, and mostly we went round and round not being able to come up with a plausible way for this young man to have made his billions. We considered an inheritance he built on, which was likely the most believable, followed by being an internet success ala Mark Zuckerberg, but other than that, the other options were unlikely. Drug running, gun smuggling, those things are more unlikely since according to Steve, it takes many, many years to build up the trust and contacts to get to the point of having made billions, but also, who wants a hero who is a drug runner or a gun smuggler? Those are not exactly what one would call upstanding professions.

Bad boys vs grown ass men
This meme perfectly encapsulates what I'm going to say next!

And for the tortured part. Eh, I'm done with emotionally unstable, psychologically broken heroes. I want my heroes to be strong, confident, take charge men who know who they are and what they want. I want them to be decisive and commanding. I want them to be emotionally stable rather than take their instability out on the heroine who becomes a salve or crutch against that instability. I don't mind my hero having a few demons he needs to battle and overcome (take Rocco and Ty from the Red Team series by Elaine Levine - those guys had some serious issues!) but I do not want them to be so incredibly emotionally dysfunctional that the romances border on dark or overly angsty as they are weighed down by their problems, or goodness forbid, they WALLOW in their misery (hello, J R Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood!). I know it's a stereotype, but I want my heroes to be men. Men men, if you get what I mean. I don't need them to be perfect, but I also don't want to feel like I need to baby them because of their handicaps and makes excuses for them fecking up or being feck-ups. They can be flawed, but when push comes to shove, they need to suck it up and take charge because in my head that's what my fantasy real men do.

Contemporary romance blurb example

Let me give you an example (image above). This is the blurb of a soon to be released book. To me it reads like a gajillion other contemporary new adult romances I've seen in the past several years. (Here comes the snark!) Blah blah, tortured hero, blah blah, downtrodden heroine, more blah blah, chance meeting, sexiness ensues, blah blah, he's emotionally broken, she's got secrets, blah blah some more, will they ever be able to be together? The end. Yes, I know, I'm taking the mickey out of someone's blood, sweat and tears (the blurb, not the book ... okay maybe indirectly, also the book), but, please, I've read this many, many times before. I loved it the first few times, even loved it around about the eighth or ninth time. But now ... I'd like a bit of variety in my reading diet, please, ... and all this before I even get to the cardboard cut out heroines.

Ah the heroines. My Steve calls me a heroine hater. My bud Bambi laments she's hard on heroines. I'm the same. Or maybe it's because I have a very low tolerance for annoying. I admit I am tough on the heroines I read. I have higher expectations of them than I do of the heroes. My heroes can be a lot more flawed and fallible. While I don't expect my heroines to be perfect, but I do expect them to not annoy the living daylights out of me (more on that later). These New Adult heroines are invariably (mostly) virgins, naive, stubborn (which is often misconstrued as strong or sassy) and without a lick of common sense, usually in their early 20s and somehow manage to land some unrealistically plum position which puts them in contact with the otherwise out of reach hero.

I want to break this down so I don't sound like the snarky shrew towards heroines which I think I'm starting to lean towards. Virgins. I'm okay with virgins. In fact, I love virgin stories. Throw me a virgin, add in an accidental pregnancy and BAM! you've got me. I love me some crazy Harlequin category romances with those tropes. But then you add the naive to the virgin ... um, not on the pill .. ya know, because ... virgin! Unprotected sex? Okay, because they want each other too much to be responsible adults! :-o (Spoiler alert! Yes, they did have unprotected sex in FSOG and yes, they did get pregnant!) The whole non-safe sex thing is a bit of a trigger for me. In this day and age, it's somewhat irresponsible. Even if it's a one-liner, that conversation needs to be had and safe sex adhered to until they determine otherwise, which is another conversation.

And then the stubborn. Oh goodness, save me from the stubborn. Which basically lends itself to the heroine being argumentative and obstinate, uncompromising and generally sulky. I know a lot of authors use the "stubborn" characteristic to show strength in an otherwise young and powerless female character, but a lot of times, it doesn't work. They end up coming across as petulant and childish, and goodness forbid, bitchy. Sassy and feisty works too, but oftentimes, that comes across as bitchy too. It's a fine balance. I recently read a novella where the heroine was stubborn. It was well done. She didn't come across as any of those things I mentioned above, but I also think she was somewhat older (I'm guessing between 26 and 28). I'm not entirely certain of her age because the author never mentions it.

"Don't run into the haunted house." What do they do? They run into the haunted house. "Stay here where it's safe!" What do they go? The exact opposite so they need rescuing. How many times have we read the "Too Stupid To Live" heroine? And probably not just in New Adult romance, but in a lot of others as well. Please, I'd like a heroine with a boatload of common sense. It's very refreshing and it doesn't make me want to beat my head against the wall.

Of course, there are also the heroines who run. Bambi and I like to call them runners. They face a problem, they run. They get mad at the hero, they run. Classic FSOG. Ana was a runner. Don't run. I don't want you to run. Be strong. Stay and face your problem. Stay and fight for what you want. Stay and fight for your man. Do not run and then have the hero come chasing after you because frankly when you keep running, it makes me wonder why the heck the hero is chasing after you and what they heck he sees in you.

Okay, I'm sorry. I'm starting to sound like a Ranty McRanty-Pants. But I have one more thing to say. What's with the non-communication? Why are there so many misunderstandings galore in New Adult? Is it because they are in their 20s they have no ability to TALK to each other? A lot of the conflict seems to arise because someone started not telling the other person something, which causes a misunderstanding, which they make up over sex, but don't resolve anything, because they bonked (I get it, they're in their 20s ... hormones!) and the next time something happens, right back where they started - Misunderstanding City. Talk. To. Each. Other. for cripes sakes!

I'm not saying heroines need to be perfect. In fact, the opposite is true. They can be flawed. They can be very, very flawed, but they also need to show a strength which allows them to overcome their flaws. It's a balance. I want to relate to your flaw but I also want to cheer for your strengths and I want to see you dig deep to overcome. Take Nalini Singh for example. She has not written a single heroine I do not like. I like ALL her heroines. Why? Because she is able to bring incredible balance to them between their flaws and their strengths and some of them are very, very broken. Take Charlotte from Rock Hard, or even Zaira from Shards of Hope.  Both terrible broken women, but so, so strong in overcoming their flaws. They never became perfect, but they dealt with their issues and worked on overcoming them. That makes them true heroines in my book.

Girl on phone
Photo via Visualhunt.com

So yeah, those are my (rather ranty) reasons for taking a break from New Adult and FSOG knock-offs. The market is saturated with these and it doesn't seem to be stopping either. Perhaps I'm in the minority and perhaps I'm just getting old! :-o I've seen some of the call sheets from various publishers and a lot of them are still asking for New Adult contemporary romances. I read one from a particular publisher (I find them fascinating, seeing what senior editors of publishing houses are asking for) and New Adult contemporary dominated in various forms.

If it's still continuing to sell and readers are still clamouring for them ... long live New Adult. As for me, I'm off to look through my TBR for a Sci-fi or paranormal or romantic suspense or maybe even a Harlequin Romance or Entangled Lovestruck ... because I do not hate all contemporary romance, I simply need a break from New Adult.

What about you? Any particular genres you're steering clear of? Why?

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  1. WOW Deanna that was great :)

    I have not read FSOG and have never felt I wanted too my biggest beef when that came out was that everyone was trying to emulate it the romances got more erotic and that was what I didn't like don't get me wrong I read erotic romance and enjoy it very much but I think it was trying to take over after FSOG came out I think it is settling a bit now and some of the erotic stories out there are fab some not so much.

    I don't think I have read a lot of New Adult romance I am sure I have read a couple nothing that stands out to me though I do review everything I read so I would have to do a big check through Goodreads. I too like a heroine who is strong and can stand up for herself and be proud with being stupid and a hero who knows what he wants and goes for it I do love an Alpha male someone the heroine can turn to an lean on when needed and as long as they can talk that for me is great.

    I read across all of the genres in romance although I tend to read more contemporary these days I probably need to change that around a bit :)I don't think there is any genre I am purposely staying away from I tend to read what is calling to me at the time and that changes with how I am feeling and what takes my fancy from the TBR pile :)

    Have Fun

    1. Helen, if you haven't read FSOG or much New Adult then you have obviously saved yourself from a lot of reading dissatisfaction between FSOG and all the knock offs but seriously the market is saturated with them. You draw breath and get hit in the face with them.