“In contemporaries, community is key,” Selina McLemore, Senior Editor at Grand Central Publishing, told me at the Romance Writers of America national conference last week.
It makes sense, right? Those of us who love contemporary romance fall for books set in a particular town or city that feels as fleshed out as the hero and heroine. A place we’d love to visit, move to, or just immerse ourselves in for a few hours.
But community shouldn’t be confused with setting. It’s more than that.
It’s characters—oddballs who make a town unique and help the hero and heroine when they need it most; fast-talking city folks who are so savvy they make a reader jealous; and families who can overwhelm the most patient person but pull together when it’s most needed. It’s colleagues who challenge and sharpen you, while also making you howl with laughter, like in Louisa Edwards’s Recipe for Love series.
But community shouldn’t be confused with character development. It’s more than that.
It’s conflict—the heroine who thinks she belongs in a city but discovers warmth and friendship in a small town; the gossip that threatens the heroine’s closely guarded secrets; the struggle to fit in somewhere new, or reconnect with a place you left long ago.
But community shouldn’t be confused with conflict. It’s more than that.
It’s tone—the appeal of a relaxed pace those of us who live in major cities don’t often get; or the snappy dialogue and cosmopolitan feel of a story set in a city, like Julie James’s Chicago.
One reason community is key to contemporary romance is that it encompasses so many elements of a well-told story. A new favorite fictional community of mine is Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor, which hits all the right spots for me. Jill Shalvis has created a community I return to over and over in my mind, but the only reason it works is that every element of the story fits together perfectly.
But more important than a beautifully crafted story, humans crave a sense of belonging. We build support networks to help us make it through life’s trials and share triumphs, and it makes sense that we’d want to see characters we love develop these same strong networks—or even stronger ones than what we’ve built in our own lives.
Last week I went to my first RWA national conference, and the sense of community was evident everywhere I looked. I feel so fortunate to have met some of my favorite authors and listened as they shared their wisdom. I got to meet amazing, talented, friendly people—like Ashley March, Roxanne St Claire, Shana Galen and Louisa Edwards—who I’ve become friends with on various online communities. What impressed me most was the emphasis so many successful authors placed on giving back to the community of romance readers and writers who have supported them over the years.
The authors I met are every bit as admirable as the heroines they create, and I am so proud to be part of a community of romance enthusiasts.
What fictional community would you love to live in, even for a little while? And what other reasons do you think community is so key to romance (whether contemporary or not)? What does being part of a community mean to you?
Jill Shalvis is so lovely. I got a chance to meet her and told her how much I love her Lucky Harbor series (big-time fangirl moment). She autographed a couple of books for me to give away.
Also, this post is running on The Season, where Bev is giving away an autographed copy of Julie James’s A Lot Like Love . Leave a comment on The Season in the next couple of days for a chance to win that one.
See? Isn’t community a wonderful thing?