“I read ‘50 Shades of Grey’, and I thought, I can do this! So, I wrote ‘Driven’ and that started it.”
I am sitting down with New York Times bestselling author K. Bromberg. (K. is short for Kristy.) She wrote her first book “Driven” on a whim ten years ago. She has since written three series, and several standalone novels. Over a million and a half hard copies of her books have been sold in sixteen countries. The “Driven” series is being adapted into a movie.
Pretty impressive for a woman who started out as an accountant.
It’s day one of the New Romance Festival in Paris and I’m interviewing the authors at our hotel. This unforgettable festival unites romance fanatics with the authors that feed their frenzy. Think Comicon, but for romance lovers, or Romi-Con!
What does New Romance mean? It’s the new sexy, steamy romance novels for the modern woman. Yes, there are sex scenes, and they range from the soft to the more explicit. But these books don’t focus on damsels in distress. These books star strong young women who get what they want, and are written by women who have the freedom to talk about the taboo subjects of their choice.
The term New Romance was coined in France by publishers Hugo & Cie. to classify their New Adult books, a genre that has completely disrupted the publishing industry. The day where publishers shy away from publishing romance novels is over and demand is only growing.
Kristy says it’s because “In society for so long, there was this pigeonhole of what women have available to read, the old school Harlequin romances. They were embarrassed by them, and couldn’t read them out in public. Then there was this perfect storm of the eBook revolution, and ‘50 Shades’, and it allowed women to be free to talk about things that weren’t talked about, and to actually be a sexual being.”
“I mean it sounds ridiculous” she continues, “but men have always been able to talk about things, and women have been like ‘Let’s go to a quiet corner at a party’, and I think it sparked in a sense, a sexual revolution, not in the 1960’s way, but it resonates because it allows women to be strong, to have wants and needs that get fulfilled, to be able to say Yes or No, and to make their own decisions.”
#1 New-York Times best-selling author of the 12-part serials International Guy and Calendar Girl Audrey Carlan tells me “I write erotic romance and love is erotic. If you’re really truly in love, it’s romantic, it’s sexy, it’s angsty, it’s fun, and I don’t think anyone should be afraid of their sensuality or sexuality, or how they feel about the person they’re in love with. Trying to hide that, that’s a sad thing to me.”
Audrey believes that her success comes from her ability to write realistic sex scenes. “None of my sex scenes are scenes you couldn’t have yourself. It’s so powerful to have that message in your mind. If my characters are in the back seat of a car, and then then one bumps their head, it’s hysterical and it’s real. I don’t do scenes where the guy is lifting the girl over his head. I’m more into reality. Shower sex is hot. Not easy to do.”
Does that mean that New Romance is frivolous escapism? Not for Audrey who says that every book she writes contains an important message.
“In Calendar Girl there’s a section about sexual assault. You know when you’re an escort, or a companion, as I like to call her, there’s that risk. Women are at risk every time they go out to a bar and meet a guy. In the US, 1 out of every 4 women have experienced some form of sexual assault, so I wanted to express that in her journey. She was victimized, but she chose to become a survivor of that horrible experience, and to use that to carry her forward. I had so many rape victims write to me. I had feminist groups contacting me and at first they said ‘O, she’s an escort, you’re pushing women down, you’re putting them in a sex only position’ and I told them, ‘Read it, I’ll gift it to you’, and I gave them the book, and then they’d recommend the book to their groups, to people who have been through assault, to show how you can survive something terrible and still lift yourself up.”
Is New Romance only for women? Audrey hears from grateful husbands all the time. “I get husbands who send me notes, like, ‘Wow, I read Calendar Girl’ and it was the best year of my life!’ If I can help one person be excited about their relationship, or inspire readers of International Guy to think, ‘Ok, I’m going to go be with my man’, I feel like that’s a win for me.”
New York Times bestselling writing duo Christina Hobbs and Christina Billings (who go by Christina Lauren )both agree that the genre is revolutionary. Christina tells me “To be able to read a book about a woman who, even though she doesn’t know who she is yet; knows what she wants, and knows that she deserves it, is so empowering!” She also believes that “So much of social change happens first in romance.”
The two met when they were writing fanfiction separately on-line. They decided to start writing together in 2009 and have written fourteen New York Times bestselling books together since. Their book “Roomies” is being adapted into a movie by producers Andy Fickman and Jenna Dewan (who was married to actor Channing Tatum).
Lauren says “I think because romance readers are so prolific, and the genre moves so fast, it really does have the ability to influence the culture because we can push some of those social boundaries. We can talk about unconventional relationships, and about sexuality. The rule that everybody gets a happily ever after means that you can give unconventional heroes and heroines, people that we don’t traditionally think of as love interests, a happy ending.”
Parisian born 22-year-old writer Morgane Moncomble thinks the genre is so popular because talking about female sexuality is now “cool.” She explains that the genre “helps uncomplicate sexuality. We don’t talk a lot about female sexuality. This kind of specialized literature is dedicated to it. It helps young girls have less fear and to feel self-assured.”
Morgane uses the genre to express her feminism and talk about taboo subjects close to her heart. She tackles subjects like eating disorders because “it’s something I know about, and I find we don’t talk about it enough in romance, which is too bad. Toxic relationships. Sexual diversity. Bisexuality and people with different sexual identities. Psychological problems, like anxiety, because that’s something I know about too. I talk about what I know about because it’s easier.”
That the genre is so personal is part of why fans feel so close to these authors as I saw up close at the Festival of New Romance. The many on-line communities, blogs, self-publishing sites and social media keep authors and readers connected, so when they meet, readers give authors gifts. They share their personal stories. They hug the authors like trusted confidantes.
French author Laura S.Wild started writing New Romance novels at 17 “and hasn’t stopped since”. Laura says the books are so popular because they feature “strong women who can get what they want. The genre evolves with the times, and with the new generations.”
British writing duo Jane Harvey-Berrick and Stuart Reardon met when she was writing romance novels, and he was a model posing for the covers. Jane says “It’s escapism. It’s fantasy. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be set in the real world. It’s our best version of ourselves, and perhaps how we want life to be. It’s our second chance, the road we should perhaps have taken the first time.”
As a former rugby player who had to leave his professional career due to an injury, writing about his experience allowed Stuart to relive his moments of glory in their book “Undefeated”. He’d send Jane recordings of himself acting out his experiences. Much of the book, including the love scenes, are written from his perspective.
I think writer Anna Todd captures what’s so exciting about the genre when she shares her writing process. Her latest book “The Brightest Stars”, that comes out in Quebec in early 2019, is hard to read because it’s a slow burn love story where the two main characters can’t get together fast enough. The book is based on her love story with her husband. He is a soldier who served in Afghanistan and suffered PTSD. Anna tells me “I don’t write my books. I live them.” Her books are so personal and her style is so immediate that you feel like you’re reading her diary.
Anna wrote her first book “After” on her cell phone and published it on Wattpad. “After” received a billion clicks and is being made into a movie by Paramount. Judging by her fan’s reaction at the New Romance Festival when she surprised them with an appearance by her friend actor Samuel Larsen (“Glee”, “After”), the “After” movies will likely be the next “Twilight” phenomenon.
We can’t forget the modern retelling of Cinderella by Erin Watt (the pen name of authors Elle Kennedy and Jen Frederick) called “Paper Princess”. One reader described the series “The Royals” as so addictive you can’t get anything else done.
When it comes down to it, maybe the books are just your basic secret guilty pleasure; except that women aren’t feeling guilty, or keeping it secretive, anymore.