By Margaret Lucke
I'm a mystery writer. Always have been (I wrote my first short story featuring a private detective at age eleven). Always will be, or so I hope.
So, you might wonder, what am I doing as a member of Romance Writers of America?
I wondered that too when I first joined the organization. But my publisher was billing my latest book, House of Whispers, as a paranormal romantic suspense, and I decided I should find out what that word romantic really meant. Maybe the audience for this book extended beyond mystery fans. There are lots of romance readers--perhaps one or two of them would enjoy a good love story with ghosts and murder mixed in.
Those numbers sounded promising. So I sent in my dues to RWA national and set out to find my local chapter.
Fact: The Mystery Writers of America has 11 regional chapters. RWA, with more than 10,000 members, has almost that many chapters in California alone.
I went to my first meeting not knowing what to expect. Dreamy-eyed writers wearing pink and sipping from china teacups with their baby fingers raised? Not on your life. These women meet in a brew-pub. For breakfast.
They're a savvy, supportive, career-focused group. And they sell lots of books.
Fact: In 2010, romance fiction racked up $1.358 billion (that's with a b) in sales. Mystery fiction brought in $682 million--just over half as much.
Being in love, it seems, is a more popular fantasy than being involved in a murder.
I was surprised to learn how many types of books come under the romance umbrella. It turns out that two of my favorite novels, Pride and Prejudice and Gone with the Wind, are romances. Books you might think of as mysteries, thrillers, suspense novels, science fiction, fantasy, paranormal are in fact romances. Okay, maybe not GWTW. Spoiler alert: This book falls short of the romance definition in its final pages.
RWA has two criteria that a novel must meet to be considered a romance. First, a love story must be central to the plot--two people fall in love and must struggle to make their relationship work. Second, there must be an HEA--romance writer shorthand for a Happily Ever After ending. The story must conclude on an emotionally satisfying and optimistic note.
But wait--even if your novel doesn't fit that definition, it may still count as a romance. The RWA website (www.rwa.org) lists 11 official subgenres, one of which is "novels with strong romantic elements"--books in which a romance plays a part even though other aspects of the story take the plot beyond the traditional romance boundaries.
So as long as one of your characters is romantically involved with another, or wants to be, then you too may have a romance novel on your hands. So perhaps GWTW fits after all. And the list of mysteries that qualify is very, very long.
"Romance fiction is smart, fresh and diverse … Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality--ranging from sweet to extremely hot … Whether you enjoy contemporary dialogue, historical settings, mystery, thrillers or any number of other themes, there's a romance novel waiting for you!" From the RWA website, which is also the source of the facts above.
I'll always be a mystery writer. But maybe I’ll get an HEA if I let in a little romance.