Home » Canadian Romance Writers, the Unsung Heroes of Canada
Canadian Romance Writers, the Unsung Heroes of Canada
As you may have noticed, we here at Fangirlish LOVE romance novels. We love how they bring us joy and how there really is a romance out there for everyone.
This time, we’d like to focus on Canadian romance novelists, aka novelists who write in Canada. The unsung heroes of Canadian literature. Sadly, Canadian media and big bookstores are missing out on an opportunity to promote these amazing writers – we will not .
So here are some books by Canadian authors you should absolutely check out:
Handymen Series by Rosanna Leo
Rosanna Leo ’s AMAZING three-book Handymen series: A Good Man , An Irresistible Force and A Reluctant Attraction tell the story of the three handymen Zorn brothers. The brothers are the stars of their own renovation show, each bringing their own speciality and good looks.
A Good Man tells the story of the eldest Zorn brother Michael and their client of the episode Emily Daniels. Leo’s characters are well-developed and truly interesting people. Michael has his own issues but the way he cares for Emily immediately is awe-inspiring. It is a joy to watch this story develop as they renovated Emily’s grandmother’s old house in Toronto’s Little Italy to make her soup business. This story like the others has a lot of heart. Michael and Emily are perfect together. This book is yum on every level!
The second book in the series An Irresistible Force is Eli Zorn’s book. This book is also set during a renovation but there is a twist – a woman has chained herself to the house. Let the fun begin! Eli is immediately drawn to Bernie Nolan. So is it really a hardship when he is voluntold she is his problem to solve? Eli knows there is more to Bernie’s protest than meets the eye and we get to learn right along with him that the episode’s project is not as expected. This book will make you laugh and cheer.
The final book in the series A Reluctant Attraction comes out April 20, 2021, BUT I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy and it delivers!! We get the story of the baby brother Nick Zorn and widow Claire who runs a cat sanctuary. For their own reasons, these two characters needed each other. I really enjoyed both of their journeys and felt proud to know them by the end of the novel. Especially loved how Claire helped Nick get over his issues. You will have to read to find out! It really was the perfect conclusion to the series.
Roanna Leo lives in the Toronto area and this series was set there as well.
You can purchase the Handymen Series through Amazon and Kobo
Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron
This book will make you want bread. Like, you will need to eat bread, BADLY. So be prepared and READ THIS BOOK.
This is Farah Heron ’s follow up to her amazing book The Chai Factor and it did not disappoint. It tells the story of Reena and Nadim, the very hot man across the hall with a British accent.
In this neighbour, turn friends, turn lovers with a Great Canadian Baking show competition in the mix you can watch the relationship rise – yep, I went there.
Reena is a woman who just wants to avoid her parents meddling in her life. Something, many can relate to. So when she meets the super hot guy across the hall it’s perfect, he can have no connection to her family, right?
This book made me laugh so hard I had to put the book down. Reena and Nadim are heartfelt and interesting, I love the quirks Heron gives her characters. Like Reena, we don’t know Nadim’s background and it was interesting to learn what led to him being the man across the hall.
The secondary characters in this book are great, loved her cousin Marley and friend Shayne in the building and the characters we met in The Chai Factor , Saira, Amira and Duncan.
Accidentally Engaged brings complex family issues, joy, romance, angst and bread – so much bread. It’s relatable and wonderful.
Farah Heron lives in Toronto and this book was set in Toronto.
Accidentally Engaged is available through Amazon and Kobo
Sandcastle Beach by Jenny Holiday
Sandcastle Beach is the conclusion of Jenny Holiday ’s Matchmaker Bay series. Mermaid Bay and Paradise Cove introduced us to the two main characters in this novel Law and Maya, these two characters have always been like oil and water but no one knows why.
This book gives us a deeper look at both, as business owners, they are forced to interact professionally, having mutual friends keeps them together personally. While they have always appeared to be enemies, it was never vicious.
Getting the characters backstories and learning about all the things we wondered about makes this book worthwhile on its own. But watching how Law takes care of Maya without her knowing, is just the start of the icing. Going from quasi-enemies to friends to lovers was a delicate path to walk but Holiday delivers.
The final book in a series always feels a bit like visiting old friends and it was nice to see the old friends in this book help Law and Maya find their way. It was like things coming full circle.
Jenny Holiday lives in London, Ontario and this series is based in a fictional Ontario beach town.
Sandcastle Beach is available through Amazon and Kobo
The Knockout Rule by Kelly Siskind
The Knockout Rule is the fourth book in Kelly Siskind’ s Showman Series. This the first book by Siskind we’ve read but it won’t be the last!
The book tells the story of the physiotherapist daughter of a former heavyweight boxing champ Isla and a current heavyweight boxer Brick/Eric. Full disclosure, not a huge boxing fan but that didn’t matter because OMG Brick/Eric is one of our favourite heroes of all time.
Isla knows all too well what being a boxer means, she has seen first hand what it has done to her father. Isla steers clear of all things boxing for personal reasons until her father requests she join him in Vegas in a lead up to Brick’s fight. For reasons you will have read about, Isla agrees and this is when she meets Brick.
Brick is his show name, Eric is so much more than he appears and his reasons for boxing are even more complex. There are so many reasons to fall in love with Eric. And you will, right along with Isla.
While we can’t deny LOVING Eric. His sidekick Whit the dog. He really did steal the show. LOVED them both.
This is a book you can’t put down and NEED to workout. Boxing fan or not, this is the book for you!
Kelly Siskind lives in Northern Ontario and this book was set primarily in Las Vegas.
The Knockrule is available through Amazon and Kobo
Still MORE Canadian Writers
Rosanna Leo, Farah Heron, Jenny Holiday and Kelly Siskind are just four of the MANY Canadian romance writers out there. There are so many that we’ve yet to read, always on the lookout for more. Some other Canadian romance writers we can recommend include Jackie Lau , Jacquelyn Middleton , Kelly Bowen , Marie Landry , Molly O’Keefe and Mary Balogh .
So when it comes to romance novelists, don’t forget Canadians!
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Thanks so much to Jacqueline and Fangirlish for this fabulous article! I truly appreciate you sharing my Handymen series, and for the Canadian romance love!
Much congrats to my fellow Canadian writers!
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Immortal North by Tom Stewart – Book Review
The Book Review Immortal North by Tom Stewart is a gritty tale of isolation, the wilderness, (in)justice, and responsibility. Back in my youth I read The Hatchet and HATED it. It was a story about the wilderness but to me it was just SO DARN BORING. I read it in school and just wanted it… Continue reading Immortal North by Tom Stewart – Book Review
Fight Night by Miriam Toews – A Book Review
Fight Night by Miriam Toews is a wonderful character study that reminds the reader of the value of family. The Background I received this book as a Secret Santa gift in 2021. A community engagement project happened where you could be a Secret Santa for someone in the community and receive a gift by. I… Continue reading Fight Night by Miriam Toews – A Book Review
#BookReview Designing Love by Victoria Grant
Designing Love by Victoria Grant is the third romantic read in the Calderone Family romance series. We're back at it again with another Calderone child getting their love story fleshed out in the most dramatic and romantic of ways. Charles Calderone gets his turn to shine as he woos Caroline Winters, an architect. She's a… Continue reading #BookReview Designing Love by Victoria Grant
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#BookReview Quiet on Set! by Kevin Miller
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#BookReview A Reluctant Attraction by Rosanna Leo
Rosanna Leo sits high upon the Canadian romance writer throne for me. I dare you to bring me a better Canadian romance author! Jokes on you though… You're providing me more Canadian authors to binge! I LOVE the Handymen series. I can't get enough of it and they just make me all around happy. If… Continue reading #BookReview A Reluctant Attraction by Rosanna Leo
#BookReview An Irresistible Force by Rosanna Leo
An Irresistible Force by Rosanna Leo is an absolute delight and continues to be one of my fave, new series! Rosanna Leo is one of my recent favourite romance authors. Her books feel real, honest but also completely adorable. I get whisked away from the craziness of our world and into a fictional universe that… Continue reading #BookReview An Irresistible Force by Rosanna Leo
#BookReview A Good Man by Rosanna Leo
A Good Man by Rosanna Leo is one hot romance, my goodness! I came into this book expecting a nice romance with a contractor and some drama. Then I got reading it and it was WAY better than I expected. Like, WAY BETTER. Can we bold an italicize and every other formatting thing we can… Continue reading #BookReview A Good Man by Rosanna Leo
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12 Canadian books about love and romance to read in summer 2021
If you're looking to heat up your summer reading, check out one of these great Canadian tales of love and romance.
Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson
Our Darkest Night is a novel about a young Jewish woman who posed as a Christian farmer's wife during the Second World War in order to survive the Holocaust. Antonina leaves behind her family to live with Nico, a young man who was studying to become a priest but had to return home to run his family farm. But Antonina, who grew up in the city, struggles to adapt to farm life. When their neighbours become suspicious, they are not sure their lie will be enough to keep Antonina safe.
Jennifer Robson on the unsung heroes of WW I
Jennifer Robson is a historical fiction writer from Toronto. Her other books include Goodnight From London , Moonlight Over Paris , After the War is Over , Somewhere in France, Fall of Poppies and The Gown .
Soulstar by C. L. Polk
Soulstar is the third and final book in C.L. Polk's Kingston Cycle fantasy series, after Witchmark and Stormsong . Robin Thorpe has led a quiet life in Riverside, keeping her magical powers a secret so she can stay safe. But when freed witches come to town, wanting to rejoin the kingdom, Robin knows it's time to use her powers again — but will she have to sacrifice her personal happiness in the process?
C.L. Polk's fantasy novel The Midnight Bargain explores love and magic
Polk is a fantasy writer from Calgary. Their other books include Witchmark , Stormsong and The Midnight Bargain . Witchmark , their debut novel, won the 2019 World Fantasy Award for best novel. The Midnight Bargain was championed by Olympian and broadcaster Rosey Edeh on Canada Reads 2021.
Ann Shin's documentary gives a voice to the refugee experience
Accidentally engaged by farah heron.
Accidentally Engaged is the second romantic comedy from Farah Heron. In Accidentally Engaged , Reena Manji refuses to be attracted to the man her parents have set her up with — the charming and attractive Nadim. But when Reena gets the opportunity to enter a cooking competition, she will do anything to win — even pretend to be engaged to Nadim.
Farah Heron on why conflict is key when writing a romantic comedy
Heron is a writer from Toronto. She is also the author of the romantic comedy The Chai Factor . Her first YA novel, Tahira in Bloom , will also be published in November 2021.
Satellite Love by Genki Ferguson
The novel Satellite Love is set in a city in Japan in 1999. Anna is a lonely teenager who turns to stargazing for comfort and escape. But when the Low Earth Orbit satellite (aka LEO) returns Anna's gaze and comes down to earth as Leo, what follows is an unconventional story about love, loneliness and human connection.
Genki Ferguson explores feelings of young love and isolation with debut novel Satellite Love
Genki Ferguson is a writer from Calgary, and the son of acclaimed writer Will Ferguson. Satellite Love is his first book.
The Last Exiles by Ann Shin
The Last Exiles is a novel set in North Korea. It's about two young lovers, Jin and Suja. They meet in university, but their class differences become apparent when they return home — and may keep them apart. When Jin sees how much his family is struggling, he decides to escape. When Suja discovers this, she sets after him, and what unfolds is a dangerous and precarious journey for them both.
Ann Shin is a writer and filmmaker from Toronto. Her documentary films include My Enemy, My Brother and The Defector: Escape from North Korea. My Enemy, My Brother was nominated for an Academy Award in 2014. She has directed programs for several television networks, including CBC. She is also the author of three poetry collections. The Last Exiles is her first novel.
Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
Hana Khan Carries On is a romantic comedy from Uzma Jalaluddin. In Hana Khan Carries On , Hana is an aspiring radio host who is working at her family's halal restaurant. When her aunt and a cousin come to town, and a rival restaurant opens in their neighbourhood, Hana's life is upended and family secrets are revealed. Fighting for her family is a big battle, one that will put all of Hana's skills to the test. It's a battle that gets more complicated by Hana's growing attraction to the rival restaurant's attractive owner, Aydin.
Uzma Jalaluddin's novel Hana Khan Carries On is a modern day meet-cute inspired by a love of rom-coms
Jalaluddin is a teacher, parenting columnist and author based in Ontario. She is also the author of the novel Ayesha At Last .
Letters Across the Sea by Genevieve Graham
Letters Across the Sea is the story of a Protestant girl and her Jewish neighbour in Toronto, against the backdrop of the Depression. Their lives are forever changed living through the rise of Adolf Hitler, the Nazis and a wave of hate that would ignite the Second World War.
Read excerpt from Letters Across the Sea by Genevieve Graham
Genevieve Graham is a historical fiction writer from Nova Scotia. Her other books include At the Mountain's Edge , Tides of Honour, Come From Away and The Forgotten Home Child .
The Lover, the Lake by Virginia Pésémapeo Bordeleau, translated by Susan Ouriou
The Lover, the Lake was a sensation when it was originally published in French. Now available in English, The Lover, the Lake is a celebration of Indigenous sexuality and sensuality. It is the story of a forbidden but fulfilling love affair between Wabougouni and Gabrie, set against the backdrop of Lake Abitibi.
Virginia Pésémapeo Bordeleau is a visual artist and published author of Cree origin. She has published three novels and four poetry collections, including Blue Bear Woman .
Susan Ouriou is a writer, editor and literary translator from Calgary. She has won the Governor General's Literary Award for translation for her work.
Ties That Tether by Jane Igharo
Ties That Tether is about a young woman who must decide between a promise she made her dying father and following her heart. Azere was 12 years old when she told her father she would marry a Nigerian man and honour her family's culture, even after moving to Canada. But when Azere has a one-night stand with a white man she meets in a bar, things surprisingly get serious. Can Azere make it work without betraying her family, or herself?
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Jane Igharo came to Canada from Nigeria when she was 12 years old. She currently lives in Toronto. Ties That Tether is her first book.
Love after the End edited by Joshua Whitehead
Love after the End is an anthology of speculative fiction that imagines a utopian future for LGBTQ and two-spirit people, curated and edited by poet and novelist Joshua Whitehead .
Contributors include Nathan Adler, Darcie Little Badger, Gabriel Castilloux Calderon, Adam Garnet Jones, Mari Kurisato, Kai Minosh Pyle, David Alexander Robertson, jaye simpson and Nazbah Tom.
Joshua Whitehead and Darcie Little Badger talk about the power of Indigenous speculative fiction
Whitehead is an Oji-nêhiyaw, two-spirit writer, poet and Indigiqueer scholar from Peguis First Nation. His book, full-metal indigiqueer , is a collection of experimental poems that aim to provoke discussion and debate. Jonny Appleseed , his debut novel, won Canada Reads 2021 when it was championed by actor Devery Jacobs.
You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. by Sheung-King
You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a surreal novel about a translator who travels the globe with his lover. Along the way, they tell each other stories, pose philosophical questions and share their ideas about the world. It's glamorous and stimulating, but the lover often disappears without explanation.
Sheung-King is a writer born in Vancouver, raised in Hong Kong and currently living in Toronto. You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is his first book.
The Forgotten Daughter by Joanna Goodman
The Forgotten Daughter is about a surprising love affair set against the backdrop of the Quebec separatist movement of the early 1990s. Veronique is the daughter of a prominent separatist activist, who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a politician in the 1970s. Veronique has passionately taken up her father's cause. James is a journalist who opposed separation, and whose sister, Elodie, was one of the Duplessis Orphans, and was wrongly declared mentally ill as a child and sent to an institution. As Veronique grows closer to James and Elodie, all three must reckon with Quebec's past and their own role in shaping its future.
Joanna Goodman explores love, passion and politics in novel The Forgotten Daughter
Joanna Goodman is a novelist originally from Montreal and now living in Toronto. She is also the author of The Home for Unwanted Girls.
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For the love of Romancelandia, Canada
About CanLit Romance dot CA
An index and blog celebrating romance novels written by canadians and authors living in canada.
The short and sweet: CanLitRomance.ca (formerly Love From The True North) is first a website hosting an index of Canadian Romance authors, and second a blog spotlighting some of the CanLit Romance novels I’ve read because they deserve some love…and also so that the index shows up in online search. Stagnate websites tend to fall to the bottom of the search, and I really want readers and librarians and event hosts to be able to find this index and help me shine more light on CanLit Romance authors.
But wait, there’s more!
The concept for CanLitRomance.ca dates back to late 2017, when I was volunteering with a local literary festival celebrating Canadian writing. Since Romance is the best genre ever (fight me), and because Canadian artists deserve all the time in the spotlight they can get, I wanted to recommend some Canadian Romance authors as potential festival VIPs.
That was when I realized that I had never consciously read a Romance novel written by a Canadian. As a dedicated Romance reader for 20+ years, and a long-time volunteer with a national Canadian literature organization, that moment of epiphany broke my heart. I had to fix that.
Finding a starting point for my quest to read Canadian-authored Romance was daunting. There was no robust directory available online for Canadian Romance novels. There were some published articles, but when Google’s first suggestion for me was The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, I was floored (phenomenal book; not a Romance). I put up a call on Facebook and received zero personal recommendations from my friends and family. I continued poking around online and crafted a list of authors, then proceeded to my library website. Hello Disappointment, how are you today?! I then went in to my branch and had a wonderful chat with a librarian, also a devoted Romance reader, who was horrified that she had also never dedicated time to reading Canadian Romance. She could only come up with one name. I took this as confirmation that the lack of education wasn’t just a me problem; this was a national disgrace.
Canadian literature (CanLit), a beloved branch of Canadian content (CanCon), is vital to Canadian culture. CanCon provides a vibrant voice on the world stage in every facet of the arts. The freedom to create art is what many worldwide throughout history have died to preserve: without access to the arts, what are we even doing? Romance novels, as a genre, must end happily, often referred to as the HEA (Happy Ever After) or HFN (Happy For Now), and the Romance must be the central plot point. Romance celebrates feminism, healthy romantic and platonic relationships, multiculturalism, and supports individual identity and sexuality. CanLit Romance deserves to have a louder voice on the world stage, and right here at home. This is what my CanLit Romance index is here to support.
Turns out my first CanLit Romance was sitting on my ereader, and I had no idea. I had picked up PUCKED OFF by Helena Hunting since many members of online reading groups I belonged to raved about it. But I didn’t realize Helena was Canadian until I’d not only finished PUCKED OFF, but started at the beginning of the PUCKED series (PUCKED OFF is book 5, ha ha oops; works as a standalone though!). As I was reading the first book, PUCKED, I was equally charmed and suspicious that one of the main characters in this Chicago, IL, USA-based series was from Guelph, ON, Canada of all places. I flipped to the author bio, and there was confirmation that AT LAST I was reading Canadian romance. And while I love this kind of discovery, I want it to be easier for anyone looking specifically for Canadian Romance Authors to find them, have them at their events, and sell some books.
As for the blog part of this website, rather than craft traditional reviews, I write letters to the next reader. I want to amplify CanLit Romance. I don’t want to analyze the books cover-to-cover; I want to celebrate their existence. I want you to be excited about the book you’re about to read! Posts go live in the order of my whims to write; publication date or favouritism plays no role.
In 2017, I was stumped, but I’ve got a ton of recommendations now. Please read (and buy, and ask your library to buy) CanLit Romance. Share your rec’s with your reading circles, leave reviews on retailer websites, Let’s make sure it has as much of a voice as any genre, worldwide.
All my love from the true north, CanLit Romance a.k.a. Catherine (she/her)
P.S. If you enjoy my work and have a few dollars to spare, I’d love a ko-fi!
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Bless you, bridgerton.
The longest sexual relationship any of us will ever have is with ourselves. And this liaison is all benefits, no drawbacks: It’s a sure thing, happens on your schedule and yours alone, an orgasm is pretty much guaranteed every time, and no one will ghost you afterwards. So we decided to pay tribute to it with our Love Yourself package. Why not go and love yourself right now?
It’s the sort of frisson one of Lady Whistledown’s scandal papers might induce: That delicious thrill, usually around chapter 5, when the rakish male lead turns his smouldering gaze upon the feisty heroine and reaches for her gloved hand, each gentle tug of the filmy fabric sending a shiver of anticipation down her (and the reader’s) spine. Things are about to get saucy!
Thanks to the ecstatic reception of Shonda Rimes’ Bridgerton —at over 80 million views, it’s Netflix’s most successful show ever—this is a pleasure being enjoyed by a new wave of romance fans. The show is based on a series of romance novels by prolific author Julia Quinn, and Duke Simon’s on-screen spoon is turning out to be the handkerchief deliberately dropped by the wider romance genre; a coy invitation to further acquaintance, a cheeky glimpse of an ankle to hint at lascivious larks to come.
Many have accepted this proposal, according to Sarah Wendell, co-founder of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books , a beloved blog that’s been tenderly skewering romance novels for more than 15 years, and co-author of “the smart bitches’ guide to romance novels,” Beyond Heaving Bosoms. “The emotions and transportive elegance of Bridgerton arrived at a perfect time for so many people, and they’re seeking out that same set of experiences in other romances,” she says. “It created new interest in the genre and that’s been echoed in the search for stories that make readers feel content and happy, which drove our traffic to much higher levels.”
Wendell’s co-author, Amanda Diehl, works a day job at an independent bookstore where she’s received floods of orders for the Bridgerton series, originally published in the early ’00s. “I always like seeing which readers buy the full series at once or pick them up one at a time,” she says. “Or start with one and then get so invested that they just say, screw it and buy in bulk.”
Lauren Acton was not among these rookie enthusiasts. “I’ve always been really drawn to romance storylines, in all sorts of media,” says the 39-year-old college music instructor. “Sailor Moon when she was with Tuxedo Mask was just, like, dreamboat.” Her introduction to proper romances—the sort that involve a shirtless man in breeches in a torrid embrace with a scantily clad woman in a corset—came in her early teens. “My friends and I would pick up those mass-market Harlequins, trying to find the juicy passages,” she remembers. “We’d read them aloud to each other and just giggle.”
By her early 20s, Acton was taking her romance reading much more seriously. “I was churning through them,” she says, noting that at one point she even had a monthly subscription to Blaze, a contemporary imprint known for its “juicier” sex scenes. She eventually paused that because the quality was wildly inconsistent (“some people dismiss romance as trash, and honestly, some of those were”), but soon discovered other authors she loved: Loretta Chase for a “steamy” Regency romp, Mary Balogh for emotional heft with just enough raunch.
“The juicy bits have to be in service of the story, and when it’s done well, it’s incredible how these authors can craft sex scenes in a way that’s enticing and arousing and beautiful, too”
Acton credits the genre for teaching her a lot about female pleasure, though she emphasizes that her love of romance is not contingent upon the juicy bits. “I’m not reading it to get off,” she says wryly, noting that erotica, just down the shelf, is happy to oblige if that’s what you do want. “The juicy bits have to be in service of the story, and when it’s done well, it’s incredible how these authors can craft sex scenes in a way that’s enticing and arousing and beautiful, too.” When it’s bad? “It can be like that scene in Ten Things I Hate About You , where Alice Janney’s character is writing about a ‘throbbing member’ in her attempt at a romance novel.”
During the pandemic, Acton has been reading more romance than ever before. Recently, a friend gifted her a new monthly subscription, this time from California romance-specialist bookstore The Ripped Bodice. But she’s also reached for old favourites like the works of Georgette Heyer, the OG of Regency romance novels. “There’s so much comfort in knowing that there will be a happy ending,” she says.
One of Acton’s favourite recent romances is Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, a book that highlights how far the genre has come since “forced seduction” (which is as bad it sounds) was a favourite trope of the 1980s. For one thing, both of its leads are male, and it takes place in an alternate universe where a woman won the 2016 presidential election. “Reading it was like effervescent joy,” sighs Acton. “It was just constant uplift. And there were some pretty hot sex scenes in there too.”
While romance novels have definitely made progress in their diversity and quality of content, the old stigma around enjoying them persists. “The idea that readers enjoy stories of courtship that include them seems to engender surprise every year,” says Wendell. “It’s somehow noteworthy or scandalous that readers enjoy books that feature, to quote [author of hundreds of romance novels] Nora Roberts, ‘a hat trick of easy targets: emotions, relationships and sex.’” Touché.
Perhaps that’s why as a genre, it’s often dismissed. “It’s so gendered,” says Acton. “There’s crazy sex in books written by men, but that doesn’t get branded as romance.” (Just consider the classification of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander vs. George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones .)
Acton is proud to tell the world she’s a romance reader, though she admits it has its more outré elements. “The covers can be a bit lurid sometimes,” she says. “That’s the only time when I might hold the book in my lap rather than in the air if I was riding the subway. But even if the outside is a bit eye-roll-y, it’s whether what’s inside is good that counts.”
What’s inside these new releases definitely is.
- Apple Books
Wild Rain by Beverly Jenkins
“Several people have told me this book is ‘so good’ with many extra Os,” says Wendell of this novel by a prolific and beloved author. “The series is named ‘Women Who Dare’ and it fits perfectly.” A tale of a lady rancher who moves to Wyoming in the aftermath of the Civil War and meets a journalist on the hunt for stories of the West for his paper back east? Yes, please!
You Had Me At Hola by Alexis Daria
The perfect antidote to a freezing February night. Daria spins us a steamy tale of warm weather and even hotter chemistry between two telenovela stars who fall in love IRL while playing exes onscreen. Sizzling stuff, trust.
The Heiress Gets A Duke by Harper St George
“I had sort of taken a hiatus from historical romances, but this one broke that dry spell and was the first book I finished in 2021,” says Diehl of this novel, set in the gilded age. “It really reminded me of what I loved about those historical romance classics I read as a teenager. And it has a hero who likes to bare knuckle box in just his breeches.”
How To Catch A Queen by Alyssa Cole
Part of the “Runaway Royals” series, this is a fun take on the classic “marriage of convenience” trope. Shanti always wanted to be a queen, and happily agreed to an arranged match, but she didn’t expect it to be so hard…nor her attraction to her charismatic husband so strong.
To Love and To Loathe by Martha Waters
This is the second in Waters’s Regency series (series are sort of a romance thing, if you hadn’t noticed?), coming out April 6. It follows the merry widow Diana and her decision to have a no-strings-attached fling with a naughty but insecure marquess. You’ll be shocked to hear that, despite their best attempts, these two rogues develop feelings for each other.
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Why the implosion of the Romance Writers of America matters
This article was published more than 3 years ago. Some information may no longer be current.
The Romance Writers of America (RWA) – the world’s leading guild of romance writers – has effectively imploded, and the future of the organization and its values are at stake, along with its major role across the North American publishing industry.
Writer Courtney Milan has been at the centre of controversy among the members of the Romance Writers of America. The Canadian Press
A rapid number of events, starting with the censure of Asian-American bestselling author Courtney Milan, have occurred involving the international industry organization over the past three weeks, culminating in the resignations of both its president, Damon Suede, and its executive director, Carol Ritter, on Thursday. “It’s this ugly, raw, wound that’s surfacing, and on the whole, people are pretty upset,” Calgary RWA chapter president Emily Varga said.
Since it was founded in 1980, RWA has grown to more than 9,000 members, and holds a massive annual conference and its own annual awards, the RITAs. The first Canadian RWA chapter was founded in Ottawa in 1985, and there are now four more across the country. “I met my agent at RWA and I met my then-publisher at RWA,” said Ottawa chapter president Lucy Farago.
The growth of RWA is no surprise, considering that romance made up 13.5 per cent of Canadian fiction sales in 2017 and 23 per cent of the overall U.S. fiction market in 2016.
However, diversity, inclusion and the less-than-equal treatment of non-white authors have all been serious issues at RWA for many years, exemplified by how visible minorities continue to be stereotyped in titles by white authors. Toronto RWA chapter president Farah Heron, who made her novel debut with The Chai Factor last year, said she was tired of seeing Asian women portrayed as submissive in romance novels. “It chips away at you over time,” she said.
In late December of last year, this issue garnered a new level of attention after news broke the organization was disciplining Milan.
Last summer, Milan openly criticized depictions of half-Chinese characters in the book Somewhere Lies the Moon by Kathryn Lynn Davis on Twitter. Milan, who is half-Chinese, called the portrayal a "racist mess.” The RWA Ethics Committee found Milan to have “engaged in conduct injurious” to the organization. The ruling came with a punishment of a one-year suspension of membership and a lifetime ban on holding leadership positions within the organization.
There was massive, immediate backlash. Authors and RWA members flooded Twitter, especially after learning ethics complaints may have been filtered by RWA staff, leading to the possibility some did not reach the organization’s Ethics Committee.
In one example, a RWA member from Calgary who writes queer romance entered the RITAs last year. The author received feedback from the judges that the novel didn’t qualify because the story was between two male characters. Varga said the author reported that experience to the RWA but received no response. “There are systemic issues our members have had entering contests,” Varga said, pointing out that RWA has a significant number of members like her who are lawyers and had expressed concerns about the organization’s bylaws and protocols for ethics complaints.
Even though the RWA soon rescinded its ruling against Milan, there was still a cascade of negative consequences, including the resignation of authors who had previously signed up to judge the RITAs , authors pulling their books from RITA consideration, the resignations of members and directors-at-large, the withdrawal of at least 36 agents’ support from future events, significant global press coverage, as well as public support for Milan from superstar authors Nora Roberts , Neil Gaiman and N.K. Jemisin.
Dozens of RWA chapters across North America, including in Calgary, Toronto and Ottawa, issued public statements condemning the organization’s senior leadership and the actions against Milan. Several publishers also pulled their support from RWA and its national conference, including Avon , Berkley Romance , Entangled, HarperCollins Canada, Harlequin, Kensington, St. Martin’s, Gallery Books and Tule Publishing .
Last Tuesday, the 2020 RITAs were officially cancelled , citing the contest’s inability to “reflect the breadth and diversity of 2019 romance novels/novellas.” Two days later, RWA announced Suede and Ritter would step down from their positions, though Ritter would have a transition period of several months.
But the statement about the resignations did not include an apology to Milan nor go into detail about what happened. “Telling us that they’re going to be transparent and honest is not the same thing as showing us that they will be,” Heron said.
What has happened within RWA isn’t just about the future of a literary genre that has frequently been subject to misogyny and stereotyped as being frivolous or not as prestigious as other kinds of fiction, despite its massive sales. “This is about our livelihoods and our careers,” Heron said.
The situation has also highlighted how badly the romance genre and the publishing industry at large have treated non-white authors, even best-selling ones. Until 2019, there were no black winners at the RITA awards, despite several authors such as Beverly Jenkins and Alyssa Cole earning critical acclaim and appearing on several bestseller lists.
For many RWA members, most of their involvement and loyalty has been through their local chapter’s monthly meetings, training and writing seminars. Some chapters are considering no longer officially affiliating with the national organization. And even with the resignations at the senior level, Varga and Heron said many Canadian chapter members are not planning to attend the national conference in San Francisco this year due to the significant number of author, speaker and publisher withdrawals, and the cancellation of the RITA awards.
“You can get all these brand new or unreleased books signed by the author,” Heron said, calling the free giveaways one of the best and most fun parts of the conference, despite the long lines. “Those [major] publishers not coming means that won’t happen.”
Varga, Farago and Heron said the organization has a lot of work ahead of it to regain the trust of its members, including an actual apology to Milan and greater transparency about what happened. Varga said the choices RWA makes now, and which group it aims its changes toward, will determine its long-term future.
“Are you trying to make the people who say racist things happy?” she said. “Or are you trying to make people who call out racism happy?”
There’s also the possibility of starting an entirely new organization for romance writers with a new set of bylaws, board of directors and values. It’s an outcome many members aren’t thrilled about but understand might be necessary.
“I would be sad to see the organization go,” Farago said. "But if it needs to go to fix it then that’s what has to happen.”
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What Is Love: A Romancelandia Roundtable
By Kerry Clare · February 8, 2021 · Tagged romcom , romancelandia , romance , valentines day , genre , erotica , love stories
In honour of Valentine's Day, we got together (virtually) with some of Canada's hottest romance authors to break down one of publishing's most popular, fascinating, and enduring genres.
Romancelandia. It's a sprawling and fascinating place, and some of its most exciting authors are here together (virtually) to talk about the genre, its challenges, and the very best parts of writing happily-ever-after.
49th Shelf: Imagine you were welcoming a new reader to Romancelandia—can you provide a brief description of the lay of the land and its regions? Where in its world do you live?
Barb Curtis : Romancelandia is a world where lovers of the romance genre (both readers and writers) can connect over all things romance. If you follow the hashtag on Twitter, you’ll discover industry news and discussions, book recommendations based on your favourite authors or tropes, and reviews. It’s also a place where important conversations are happening about politics, women’s rights, and representation. It’s a community that comes together and stands up for all that romance is and can evolve into.
Romancelandia is just a click away and all you need to fit in is a love for any genre of happily-ever-afters—from historical romance to paranormal romance to romantic suspense.
Kelly Bowen: What a fun question! Here goes, according to my handy guidebook interpretation (which, of course, is not the only one!):
Romancelandia is a huge, fabulous world that welcomes all readers and writers of romance—the only requirement for entry is that you must love romance (and happy endings!). There are many, many different regions of Romancelandia that you can tour at will, depending on what sort of journey you're in the mood for.
Romancelandia is a huge, fabulous world that welcomes all readers and writers of romance—the only requirement for entry is that you must love romance (and happy endings!).
We offer a sprawling Contemporary region that boasts small towns and big cities, knitting clubs and motorcycle clubs, small business owners and billionaires, scientists and artists, SEALS and surgeons, musicians and athletes—I could go on but no doubt you'll find your favourite heroine (or hero) in each of these neighbourhoods.
Heading out, we'll come to the Romantic Suspense region—stay on your toes here because there is mystery, danger, and intrigue around every corner that our heroines and heroes have to navigate (while falling in love).
A little farther over, we have a Paranormal region where you'll find, among others, shape-shifters and vampires, demons and angels, witches and aliens, with many ready to transport you to amazing worlds through secret portals (I hope you brought your passport).
If you'd like to travel somewhere hot, head over to our Erotic region where your favourite characters delve into absorbing plots and earn their happy-ever-afters with a scorching, steamy heat that shapes their romance.
And finally, welcome to my region, the land of Historical Romance. There is a dazzling array of different neighbourhoods here to visit as well, defined by period and place (want to visit a Roman villa during the time of Caesar, a Scottish castle during the Reformation, or a French brothel during the Revolution?) My stomping ground is the fairly large neighbourhood of Regency Romance, where you'll find an abundance of dukes, smugglers, gaming halls, horses, ballrooms, and illicit trysts behind every potted palm (among other places). The Prince Regent is all about the sex, drugs, and rock n' roll, and the military, social, and economic upheaval going on in the background is quite something, indeed.
So please visit awhile and look around while you're in Romancelandia. Keep in mind that each region offers stories for all ages and heat levels (except, perhaps the Erotic region, which is smoking hot all the time) and all types of relationships. Choose all that catch your fancy (there is no requirement to limit yourself to one region) and stay for the love and happy-ever-after!
Sara Desai: Romancelandia at its core is the virtual space where lovers of happily-ever-afters—authors, bloggers, influencers, librarians, booksellers, bookstagrammers and readers—meet to talk about everything romance. But more than that, it is a place of love, passion, and friendship. Romancelandia is filled with supportive, kind, wise, and fierce people who are as willing to mentor a new romance writer as they are to raise funds for a reader in need. We have our queens (Nora Roberts) and Duchesseses (Courtney Milan). And we have drama—lots of drama. We have dragons and evil villains who try to tear us down or pull us apart. But we also have faith in the power of romance to bring us together again.
Romancelandia is filled with supportive, kind, wise and fierce people who are as willing to mentor a new romance writer as they are to raise funds for a reader in need. We have our queens (Nora Roberts) and Duchesseses (Courtney Milan). And we have drama—lots of drama.
Uzma Jalaluddin : Romancelandia is a fun, generally supportive, occasionally confusing place where romance writers and fans live. You can take an exit to literally any interest that strikes your fancy—from space cowboys vs. sexy aliens to secret baby to enemies to lovers. I live in the romantic comedy space, as I write funny stories about second generation immigrants from the south Asian, Muslim diaspora in Canada. I love to read contemporary and historical romance, and I’m here for diversity in all the books I read (and write!) What I appreciate about Romancelandia is that it is increasingly a vocal place to discuss gender and racialized people’s lived experience.
Zoe York: You're exactly right, it's a vast readerscape. I exist in a couple of different spaces inside it: Twitter Romancelandia is different from Goodreads, which is different again from Facebook and Instagram, and all of those are different from the readers I know as an author who sign up for my email newsletter because they aren't on social media. Some of the social media spaces are (and should be) reader-only, so I've had to step back from them as I've grown into being an author with a platform, which makes me a tiny bit sad, because I'm still a reader first!
What I appreciate about Romancelandia is that it is increasingly a vocal place to discuss gender and racialized people’s lived experience.
Farah Heron: Romancelandia is an amazing place full of people who love reading, writing, and talking about romance novels! There is something here for everyone since there is a subgenre of romance for every taste. I live in the romcom neighborhood, but I like to visit the historical, and contemporary romance regions. We’re a fun bunch, and we’re very welcoming to newcomers, as long as you respect the genre and remember that romance novels must end with a happily-ever-after, or a happy-for-now.
Damhnait Monaghan: Welcome to Romancelandia Theme Park. I see you’ve chosen the RomCom Taster. Here’s your humour headset so you can laugh at our characters’ foibles and frolics along the way.
Peek inside the Meet Cute café, where we plot comical or awkward meetings between characters. That woman staring pensively out the window is protagonist, Helen. The man texting at the counter is potential love interest Paul. They haven’t met… yet. Maybe Helen’s a waitress and accidentally spills a drink on Paul. Maybe Paul accidentally takes Helen’s identical looking backpack. Or maybe they’re in an actual accident in the parking lot. Only a fender bender of course, this is a romcom.
On to the Games Arcade. Spin the wheel of fortune to determine Helen and Paul’s romantic fate: Love at first sight? They lock eyes and instantly know. In that case, we need a few obstacles to keep them apart until much closer to the end of the story. Enemies to lovers? Paul finds something embarrassing or incriminating in Helen’s backpack, so she hates him forever. Or at least until closer to the end of the story. Friends to lovers? Paul is chilled about the spilled drink. He and Helen become “just friends.” There’s no romance, at least until ... you get the idea. As with the Meet Cute menu, other options are available.
Finally, climb aboard the Emotional Roller Coaster. Hold tight as we plunge down the double dip of misunderstanding and miscommunication, before a rapid rise towards possible connection, only to hurtle downwards, tilting sharply at the last chance for romance bend where, after a final ascent, Paul and Helen enter the Tunnel of Love on their way to the Happily-Ever-After exit.
49th Shelf: How did you arrive in romance, as a reader and as an author?
ZY: For a long time, the only romance I read were books I found at yard sales and used bookstores; when I gravitated to those piles of lovely worn books, it was always the romances I picked up. Like other genre fiction I read (mysteries and thrillers), they were reliable entertainment with certain promises: the romances would make me feel warm and tingly, in the same way the thrillers would shove my heart into my throat. But I didn't follow any authors or collect any specific series until I read a book by Pamela Clare called Unlawful Contact . It was clearly set in a larger storyline, and there was a secondary character who had a wife: clearly, there was a book for him, too. I did an Internet search, discovered the larger series (The I-Team Series), and a fan was born. That would have been maybe 2009?
By 2011, I was deep into using Goodreads as a reader, and followed a number of authors, including Canadians like Elle Kennedy and Vivian Arend, and small-town authors like Brenda Jackson and Jill Shalvis. Then a friend gave me a used Kobo e-reader for my maternity leave, and my reading world shifted again in a profound way. I didn't need to hunt for books by my favourite authors at bookstores anymore, or wait until I could find a used copy of an out-of-print title: now every book in a series was available at my fingertips. Within a year, that new understanding of books as structured digital content, available online on demand, turned me into a writer of romance, too.
Then a friend gave me a used Kobo e-reader for my maternity leave, and my reading world shifted again in a profound way. I didn't need to hunt for books by my favourite authors at bookstores anymore, or wait until I could find a used copy of an out-of-print title: now every book in a series was available at my fingertips.
SD : I came to romance as a reader through my Irish grandmother. My Nana used to bring an entire bag of Harlequin romances when she came to Canada for a visit, and after I turned 13, she shared them with me! I wrote my first romance in 2009 while I was recovering from a serious illness. I put together my experience as a lawyer with my love of happily-ever-afters and I haven’t looked back since.
UJ: [I arrived at romance through] marketing, mostly, which is something that new writers often don’t think about. I didn’t even know what genre I was writing in, just that I wanted to write joyful, funny books about Muslims living in Canada. I’ve always been drawn to stories that are entertaining, but have a deeper theme that runs through them. Those are the books I enjoy the most, and I confess I’m a sucker for a HEA (happy-ever-after), or HFN (happy-for-now). Life is hard enough!
BC: I’ve been a reader of romance since I was a teen. My first summer job was at our local community’s “Historical Society,” which was an old house with diaries, photos, and lots of antiques. People passing through could stop in for tours, which rarely happened. One of the committee members showed up one day with a bag of romance novels so the two of us that worked there would have something to do to pass the time. We devoured them, and I became hooked on the genre and a lifelong Nora Roberts fan.
I got into writing romance sort of accidentally. I thought what I was writing was women’s fiction, but after comparing a few “rules” of both the women’s fiction and romance genres, I realized what I was writing fit more into the romance category. I wasn’t sure what to think of that at first. I worried about the reputation of romance as a genre—that people perceived it as less revered than other genres. This stigma still exists unfortunately, but I suppose I’ve stopped letting it bother me, because for every person who scoffs at the romance genre, there are thousands more who love it.
KB: I've been reading romance since long before my mother probably would have wanted (it seems more than a few of us started early by sneaking books out of closets and off nightstands). By nature, I am a voracious reader of everything and anything but there has always been a special place in my heart for those stories that resolve conflict and challenge and allow the characters to have a happy-ever-after. Happy-ever-afters, no matter how often you read them, are always good for the soul. As a writer, history is my passion and writing historical romance is how I was able to marry both loves.
FH: I was a romance reader from when I was quite young, inhaling teen category romances long before I was a teenager. And of course, like so many romance fans, I’ve been a Jane Austen superfan since high school. As an adult, I loved the chick-lit boom in the '90s, but it wasn’t until my thirties that I really dived into real adult romance novels and started reading them voraciously. Romance is the only genre I’ve ever attempted writing. I’d had a few difficult years prior to starting writing, and immersing myself in the hope and optimism of romance novels was exactly what I needed.
As an adult, I loved the chick-lit boom in the '90s, but it wasn’t until my thirties that I really dived into real adult romance novels and started reading them voraciously
DM : As a reader, two words: Gilbert Blythe. I read and reread the Anne of Green Gables series as a child. Talk about a slow burn. Seriously, how could Anne not realize that Gilbert was her soulmate? I knew it, you knew it, everyone in Avonlea knew it. How many times did poor Gilbert have to propose before Anne said yes?
Sheesh, who knew I’d still feel so passionate after all these years? But that’s how romance hooks readers—by making us care about characters and their relationships. Heck, I’m still so invested in the Anne and Gilbert drama I’ve named the potential love interest in my WIP Gilbert.
As for the romcom genre, the very name highlights its appeal. Romance and comedy, love and laughter. What’s not to like? As a reader and a writer, especially in the current climate.
Until recently, I mostly wrote flash fiction with sad themes—death, grief, dysfunction. Early drafts of my novel were more serious, too. By degrees I stripped back the sadness in my novel, opting for a lighter, more humorous tone. I’m late to the romcom party but thrilled to don my glad rags and join the fun.
49th Shelf: As an author, what are the biggest challenges writing within this genre?
DM: Romcoms employ certain tropes. A writer’s challenge is to put a fresh spin on them. Many of the features in my debut novel are common. A young woman arrives in a small community looking for a fresh start after a painful period in her life. She tries to fit in with the locals, meets a potential love interest, faces challenges and conflict, confides in her BFF and works towards resolution of her problems, all while striving towards happiness.
My (I hope) fresh spin is location and culture. The setting of my novel is glorious Newfoundland and Labrador. My protagonist, Rachel, is a newly arrived mainlander, who becomes immersed in the local accent, dialect, and culture. The location allowed me to develop storylines involving traditional music and crafts such as rug hooking and quilt making.
A more personal challenge for me is writing love scenes. Want me to write some snappy dialogue, I’m in. Want me to describe what’s happening in the bedroom? I’m also in. As in hiding in the closet .
He would kill me for sharing this, but my teenage son was doing homework at the kitchen table, while I was writing the love scene in my debut.
Him: This Spanish is hard./ Me: I’m working on something harder./ Him: What?/ Me: I’m writing a sex scene./ Him: I’m going to work in my room.
BC: For me the biggest challenge of writing romance is having two main characters with wounds and back-stories to flesh out and to bring full circle, while also ensuring the overall romance arc happens in the best possible way. Also, reinventing the happily-ever-after every time so that each story is fresh and unique.
SD: It is difficult not to get distracted by the latest shiny new thing and stay true to the kind of stories I write best. I binged Bridgerton on Netflix and immediately started plotting a historical romance even though I’ve never written anything involving a parasol or pelisse!
I binged Bridgerton on Netflix and immediately started plotting a historical romance even though I’ve never written anything involving a parasol or pelisse!
FH: Honestly, everything is challenging about writing romance. We have to write great, believable, well-rounded, empathetic characters who readers have to root for so they will be emotionally invested enough to feel the same euphoria that the characters feel as they fall in love. And we have to do all that with two (or sometimes more) characters. Plus, we have to develop emotional and physical intimacy, chemistry, and character growth, all while juggling an external plot, too.
KB: This is a good question. The writing itself is the best part, as is the collaboration and the incredible support of the romance writing community and romance readers. The biggest challenge, I find, is the reception and stereotypes romance readers and writers run into all the time outside our community.
As a writer—and I know I can speak for many of us—my stories are often dismissed by readers who have never read a romance, or haven't read a romance in the last 20 years. I regularly hear comments like, “So you just write mommy-porn?” or “romance is just formulaic and anyone could write one” or my personal favourite, “When are going to write a real book?” (I also write historical fiction yet in discussions about that genre, no one has once asked me when I plan on writing a real book.)
If by formulaic, one means that there is a happy-ever-after at the end, then yes, we're guilty. But today's romances tackle some very significant and complex issues that real people deal with on a daily basis. I cannot overstate the value that many find through an author's voice working through the emotion, vulnerability, consequences, and realities of those issues while at the same time offering hope, healing, and joy.
As a reader, I often hear romance referred to as a guilty pleasure and I would like to toss that term into a volcano forever. The idea that one should feel guilty reading something that gives them pleasure is ridiculous. Read what makes you happy and embrace that happiness.
As a reader, I often hear romance referred to as a guilty pleasure and I would like to toss that term into a volcano forever.
ZY : [I’m challenged by] keeping my eyes on my own page and sticking to my plan. There's a lot of noise about what the market likes and doesn't like, what business best practices are, and where you "have to be" to find readers. Romance is a giant chunk of the book industry (billions of dollars a year), and we're proud of that, but that overall genre success can create a lot of individual pressure to perform at a certain level.
UJ: Unfortunately, romance as a genre often gets overlooked as purely escapist, empty fiction, and that can be frustrating. I hate snobbery in all its forms, and literary snobs are especially annoying. A lot of important conversations are taking place within romance novels, and within Romancelandia, and there are many many many talented voices making waves across all of commercial fiction, which some people too easily dismiss. The other challenge is trying to find a fresh spin on familiar tropes, and of course the evergreen writerly complaint, of finding the time to write!
49th Shelf: What do you love about writing romance?
FH: Just like reading romance, I get to feel all the amazing, hopeful, happy feelings along with my characters as their lives get turned upside down for love. I’ve always loved strong, character-driven books and I think romances are the most character-driven stories out there. I love deep diving into a character’s emotions and motivations. Also, the fact that the story must end with the couple together adds another layer of challenge. I love problem solving, and figuring out how to make these people happy against all odds is so satisfying.
DM: Creating dialogue. Not just sparks flying between the romantic leads but also scenes where female friends riff off one another.
ZY: The happy endings. My favourite craft structure is a story circle, the idea that a protagonist goes out on an adventure into the unfamiliar, starting from a place of confusion and disquiet, and through a new and unexpectedly profound connection with another person (or a few other people!), learns what it is they need to return to their familiar in a more whole and settled way. That sense of peace at the end of a romance novel is beautiful.
UJ: My writing always starts with my characters. They come alive and begin to live in my head, which is entertaining and occasionally spooky. When it comes to romance, I really enjoy the experience of watching my two main protagonists begin to spark on the page. Writing chemistry, writing dialogue that is romantic and filled with tension, is always fun!
When it comes to romance, I really enjoy the experience of watching my two main protagonists begin to spark on the page.
BC: What I love about writing romance is falling in love with my characters so they can fall in love with each other, and transporting myself into another world. I’ve always felt that reading romance is an escape, and writing romance really is too. There’s something comforting in the knowledge that no matter what turns the book takes, in the end, you know that everything is going to be okay, and that these characters you’re investing in and that your readers are investing in, will get their happy-ever-after.
KB: One of my very favourite parts of writing romance is my ability to use real-life heroines from the history books as inspiration for my fictional heroines. One of the challenges of writing historical romance is often people's perception of history. For example, Jane Austen wrote fabulous stories based on the world that she viewed around her, but hers was only a single viewpoint from that period. And a single viewpoint can never represent all who lived during that time. When it comes to my heroines (who are unapologetically forward-thinkers) I am often presented with comments like “a woman wouldn't have done that or known that back then.” I love having the opportunity to dig into the real-life records of women who, in fact, did everything they were told they “shouldn't” or “couldn't” and bring them to life in my own stories—women who would make it possible for me to have the opportunities I have had years and years later.
SD: I love living the journey to a happily ever after with a couple who would never have imagined they would be together, and that breathtaking moment when they suddenly realize they have found their heart’s desire. For me, every story is like falling in love all over again.
49th Shelf: What kinds of romance novels are still yet to be written?
FH: I want to see all the tropes, subgenres, and heat levels of romance written by marginalized authors with marginalized characters. Romance was, for a very long time, dominated by white, cis, heterosexual voices, and we are long past due for more diversity in the genre. Great strides have been made in recent years, but it has not been enough. Every year, the romance-focused bookstore, The Ripped Bodice, publishes a study showing the percentage of traditionally published romances written by authors of colour. In 2019, only 8.3% of romance books published by major romance publishers were by people of colour. Clearly, we have a long way to go.
BC: This is a good question, because at a quick glance, a romance novel is pretty basic. Two people must get out of their own way and fall in love. And yet, we have thousands of authors reinventing the wheel every day. I think there is always room for new ways to tell tried and true tropes, more diverse characters, stories from BIPOC authors, and exploration of real life issues—books that tackle tough topics, in a way that really reaches readers.
DM: I’m wondering about the potential emergence of pandemic-themed romance. What does he look like behind that mask? Or perhaps a meet cute in a breakout room on Zoom?
I’m wondering about the potential emergence of pandemic themed romance. What does he look like behind that mask? Or perhaps a meet cute in a breakout room on Zoom?
UJ: I’d like to see even more diversity in romance, As for what has yet to be written—I’m sure there are many manuscripts waiting in people’s hard drives, hoping for recognition and publication.
ZY: An infinite number of variations on the theme! The thing here is that probably any answer I might give, from my limited vantage point in the parts of Romancelandia I occupy, will already exist, but I haven't found it yet. Lots of people say things like, "I wish we had more soft and squishy romance heroes," but those books absolutely exist. One of my favourites is called Private Politics by Emma Barry; Jackie Lau was just tweeting the other day that she is planning to write one of these later this year, too! But there are underrepresented corners of the market, too. Vanessa Riley is writing Black characters having HEAs in Regency romance, which is great; let's acquire ten more Black authors to write that alongside her, and there will still be untapped potential. That's the beauty of genre fiction: "It's been done before" is just the starting-off point. Let's do it again, but with different writers. Let's do it again, but with a mashup. Let's do it again, but with a twist.
That's the beauty of genre fiction: "it's been done before" is just the starting off point. Let's do it again, but with different writers. Let's do it again, but with a mashup. Let's do it again, but with a twist.
KB: If I'm still sticking to historical romance here, I would love to see some more Canadian-set historical romance (yes, I know, I'm biased). We have some incredible history of our own (and I do manage to sneak some Canadian history into my stories—my heroine from A Duke to Remember is Canadian!)
Broadening my wish list to all sub-genres of romance, I'd love to continue to see more diversity in romance stories—more own-voices romances. As a reader, there is nothing I value more than being transported to new places, new history, new cultures, and new viewpoints. We live in a wide, wide world and there is always room on the shelves. Learning is a life-long lesson.
49th Shelf: What are some of the Canadian romance writers you’re particularly excited about right now?
SD: There are as many love stories out there as there are couples waiting to find each other. I hope our romance future holds more diversity and embraces the many facets of love.
KB: Canadian romance writers are some of the most generous, kind people I have ever met. I'm sure I'm missing many but here is a list of some truly talented Canadian romance writers whose work I enjoy immensely:
Kelly Jameison, Geneivieve Graham, Susanna Kearsley, Farah Heron, Jackie Lau, Jenny Holiday, Toni Anderson, Melanie Ting, Elle Rush, Zoe York, Sadie Haller, Elle Kennedy, Ruby Lang, Uzma Jalaluddin, Rosanna Leo, Viola Grace, Victoria Denault, and Sara Rider.
FH: I am really excited that so many diverse romance writers are thriving in Canada! I’ve been really enjoying Hudson Lin and Jackie Lau lately. Also, for anyone who loves romcoms set in Canada, I urge you to keep an eye-out for a debut this year, The Stand In , but Lily Chu. It will be published by Audible in the spring, followed by print copies by Sourcebooks a few months later. I’ve read an early copy of it, and the book is so fantastic.
UJ: Canadians are talented romance writers. I love Kate Hilton’s Better Luck Next Time , which is more Women’s fiction, and absolutely delightful. Sonya Lalli’s Serena Singh Flips the Script is also a timely and fun read!
SD: I am loving the wave of desi writers who are bringing to life wonderful stories of diverse cultures such as Sonya Lalli ( The Matchmaker’s List) , Farah Heron ( The Chai Facto r), Sabina Khan ( The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali ) and Uzma Jalaluddin ( Ayesha at Last ), all of whom have new books coming out this year.
ZY: Mimi Grace is a Calgary-area author with two books out, and she's definitely someone I'm excited to see more from in the near future, because I gobbled up her "fake date for a wedding" contemporary romance Make a Scene . One of my favourite parts of Romancelandia is the networking and professional development that happens, but on top of the obvious benefit that has to learning the ins and outs of genre fiction, it also gives you a chance to watch someone's career flourish and cheer them on. I met Mimi through TIARA, for example, and some of the other authors I'm really excited about are in Toronto Romance Writers (which I'm on the board of, full disclosure): Hudson Lin (queer romance that is thoughtful and sexy), Farah Heron (who is writing both adult romance and has an upcoming YA debut that will be huge), Elly Blake (YA fantasy!), Molly Fader (a veteran romance writer as Molly O'Keefe, she is now also writing women's fiction that is just lovely).
DM: Sticking with romcom, I’m especially excited about two upcoming books:
Hana Khan Carries On , by Uzma Jalaluddin. Hana Khan is a waitress/radio station intern. When a new halal restaurant opens she finds herself attracted to its owner, despite the potential impact on her own employment at the Three Sisters Biriyani Poutine.
I enjoyed Uzma’s debut novel Ayesha At Last. And, for this former French teacher, who once lived in Montreal, to borrow a romcom expression, Uzma had me at poutine.
The Holiday Swap, by Maggie Knox. Identical twin sisters switch lives in the lead-up to Christmas. Say no more. I have a tradition of reading a Christmas-themed book over the holidays and swapping places is one of my favourite tropes in romcoms. And my husband is an identical twin!
Maggie Knox is the pen name for authors Karma Brown and Marissa Stapley. As a writer, I’m intrigued to hear about their collaborative process. As a reader, Christmas can’t come too soon.
BC: I’m really excited for Farah Heron’s new book Accidentally Engaged , a romantic comedy that comes out in March. I also love Jenny Holiday, Kelly Siskind, and Rosanna Leo.
Award-winning author Kelly Bowen grew up in Manitoba, and attended the University of Manitoba, where she earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in veterinary studies. She worked as a research scientist before realizing her dream to be a writer of historical fiction. Currently, Kelly lives in Winnipeg with her husband and two sons.
A happily-ever-after-crafter at heart, Barb Curtis’ love for writing began with a quick-witted style column, and her background in marketing led to stints writing print and web copy, newsletters, and grant proposals. The switch to fiction came with the decision to pair her creativity with her love for words, and crafting characters and settings she could truly get lost in. Barb happily lives in a bubble in rural New Brunswick with her husband, daughter, and dog. You’ll find her restoring the century-old family homestead, weeding the garden, and no doubt whistling the same song all day long. For more on Barb and her books, visit BarbCurtisWrites.com .
Sara Desai has been a lawyer, radio DJ, marathon runner, historian, bouncer, and librarian. She lives on Vancouver Island with her husband, kids, and an assortment of forest creatures who think they are pets. Sara writes sexy romantic comedy and contemporary romance with a multicultural twist. When not laughing at her own jokes, Sara can be found eating nachos. Visit Sara at www.saradesai.com
Farah Heron’s debut, The Chai Factor, was named one of the summer’s best books by The Globe and Mail , and has been praised in Book Riot, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Bustle and more. Her next release is Accidentally Engaged , out March 2nd, published by Forever/Grand Central Books. Her YA debut, Tahira in Bloom , will be out in late 2021 by Skyscape.
Uzma Jalaluddin is the author of Ayesha At Last , a revamped Pride and Prejudice set in a close-knit Toronto Muslim community. The book has earned starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Library Journal, and Kirkus. Ayesha At Last was named the 2019 Cosmopolitan UK Book of the Year, long-listed for the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour (Canada) and the Toronto Book Awards, and short-listed for the Kobo Emerging Writer Award. In addition to fiction, Uzma writes a culture and parenting column for The Toronto Star . She lives in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband and two sons. Her next novel, Hana Khan Carries On , will be published in April.
Damhnait Monaghan is an award-winning flash fiction writer. Her debut novel New Girl in Little Cove is a light-hearted "fish out of water" romantic comedy, forthcoming with Harper Collins Canada, Graydon House Books/Harlequin (US) and Suhrkamp Insel (Germany).
Canadian romance author Zoe York lives in London, Ontario with her husband, two kids, and two cats. She is a proud member of Toronto Romance Writers, and in-between writing books as Zoe (and sometimes as Ainsley Booth), she travels around the world with her family.
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Farah Heron on stepping down as Toronto Romance Writers president and a future outside the RWA
In late December, the Romance Writers of America came under fire after suspending author Courtney Milan for publicly criticizing Kathryn Lynn Davis’s 1999 novel Somewhere Lies the Moon for its depiction of Asian characters. The backlash was swift, resulting in the cancellation of the association’s annual awards after numerous sponsors, authors, and publishers pulled their support. Subsequently, RWA’s executive director, president, and seven other board members all resigned (*Update: the remaining board members have now quit). The fate of the organization’s national conference in July still hangs in the balance.
Until about six weeks ago, Toronto Romance Writers – an official chapter of the RWA – had been a thriving group, serving more than 100 local members. But the fallout of the group’s association with the U.S.–based parent organization has been severe. Many authors are choosing not to renew their memberships, and now Farah Heron , author of the bestselling novel The Chai Factor , is stepping down from her position as chapter president.
Heron spoke to Q&Q about her difficult decision and the future of Canadian romance writing.
How would you describe the membership of Toronto Romance Writers?
As of January, we had about 120 members. It’s a mixed group, about a third traditionally published and hybrid (both traditionally and indie published), a third self-published only, and a third unpublished. We have members from all over Southern Ontario, and our monthly meetings in Toronto are usually attended by 30–50 members. Our members come from diverse cultural and racial backgrounds, and there are many from the LGBTQ+ community. We write in various subgenres of romance, including contemporary, rom-com, historical, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, young adult, romantic suspense, and paranormal romance.
How has what happened with RWA affected the Toronto membership?
Since Jan. 31, we are down 20 members, and by the end of February, we will lose another 15. These are all members whose membership was expiring, and they chose not to renew due to the issues in the national organization. And as rolling expiry dates continue, we expect to lose more members each month. Also, we have lost speakers for both our annual conference and our monthly workshops, and we have had agents and editors tell us they cannot support and attend our conference unless we disaffiliate with the national organization.
But more than anything else, our members are angry. They feel betrayed by RWA leadership, and are frustrated by the lack of communication, and poor decisions board and staff have made. Many of our members feel they can no longer support an organization that is so resistant to taking an anti-racist stance, and has long allowed ableism, anti-Semitism, and intolerance towards LGBTQ+ members to continue.
Do you think there’s an opportunity for some other group to form outside of the RWA umbrella?
Toronto Romance Writers has an over 30-year history, and during that time the chapter has grown into an inclusive, accepting, and vibrant chapter. We have a reputation as one of the best writing groups in Toronto, due to our high-calibre monthly workshops and supportive community. And although our annual conference is only two years old, it has already gained respect in the romance and in the Toronto writing community. All those accomplishments are ours, and were achieved without the help of RWA, other than in name. I firmly believe that our TRW community can continue to serve Toronto-area romance writers, whether it is through a new group, or whether we find a way to continue without affiliation with RWA.
TRW has done a great job in becoming an inclusive organization, thanks in part to your efforts. Moving forward, do you see more informal opportunities to continue that good work in the community?
One of my mandates when I became president of TRW was to work to create a more accepting and welcoming space for all marginalized writers. I’ve personally reached out to authors of colour who were apprehensive about joining, and have helped create a community for local romance authors of colour for informal mentorship and support. I can continue most of these efforts, even as I step away from leadership in TRW. Also, in a larger scale, one of the side effects of this current crisis is that it has revealed a need for a Canadian network of romance authors, because we have unique questions and perspectives on publishing genre fiction. Having no advocacy for Canadian romance has prevented this genre from being seen as a vital part of the publishing industry here. As such, a network of Canadian chapter leaders are in the early stages of exploring how best to support Canadian romance writers going forward.
Would you ever consider returning as a member to RWA? What would they need to do to make things right?
I don’t think I would rejoin. Large changes are needed, and it’s almost impossible to steer an organization that large. The systematic racism and lack of support for marginalized writers has been a problem in the organization since its inception, and to weed it out now would require a tremendous effort and commitment. The only way forward is to make RWA profoundly uncomfortable for those who don’t actively support anti-racism efforts, and I don’t see any evidence of RWA being willing to do that. And I don’t personally think I need RWA to succeed in my career.
I would imagine that it’s a challenge balancing your own writing with the politics of the community. What have you learned through this experience about making space for yourself and your own work?
My takeaway after all this is the realization that the only way this industry – and that includes professional organizations, publishers, media, and readers – will allow marginalized authors to thrive and succeed and be given the same opportunities as other writers is for more of our stories to be out there. This industry is already harder for us, and my focus is better spent writing my books than trying to fix institutions who are failing due to systemic racism from within. And I can’t write my books – my joyful, hopeful, optimistic books about brown people falling in love – while also fighting for our right to exist here.
Can you share what you’re working on right now?
Yes! I am just finished a round of edits for my next book (new title coming soon), which will be out in spring 2021 by Forever/Grand Central Books. It’s a rom-com set in Toronto, with two South Asian Muslim characters navigating intrusive families and career setbacks, and coming together through their love of home cooking and the food of their culture. I’m working on another rom-com as well, which will be out about a year later.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
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February 12th, 2020
Tags: Farah Heron , romance , Romance Writers of America , Toronto Romance Writers
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Sizzling Hot Books for Cold Winter Days
Cozy up with one of the four new books recommended by our romance columnist.
Credit... Michela Buttignol
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By Olivia Waite
- Feb. 24, 2023
Writers adore putting writers in their fiction, and romance is no exception. This month’s books feature modern fantasy novelists, fairy scholars, historical reading clubs and rakes turned art critics.
We begin with THE NEIGHBOR FAVOR (Berkley, 416 pp., paperback, $17), Kristina Forest’s warm and welcoming new contemporary. Nick’s epic fantasy novel with Black elves could have been a hit, if his publisher hadn’t shut its doors a month later. Now he has a huge new contract to finish the series — if only he weren’t so distracted by his gorgeous new neighbor Lily, a book editor. He doesn’t dare explain that he’s not only the guy she flirts with in the elevator: He’s N.R. Strickland, the author who ghosted her after an intense email romance earlier in the year.
Lily’s still feeling bruised from the breakup, and frustrated to be stuck in nonfiction when she’s dreamed of editing children’s books. But most of all, she’s dreading her sister’s upcoming nuptials, because her family will not stop setting her up with men who are entirely wrong for her. Her hot neighbor Nick would have been the perfect wedding date — if he hadn’t turned her down with a bit more panic than seemed warranted.
This book gestures at several tropes — a dash of fake dating, a soupçon of epistolary — but primarily it’s one of my favorite romance plots: These enjoyable people deserve better, so let’s watch as they discover it. Lily’s battered optimism and Nick’s guarded sadness both mesh and conflict at just the right times, and for all its coincidence-dependent premise, the book breathes easily and pulls you right into its world. Especially recommended for anyone who ships Janine and Gregory from “Abbott Elementary.”
If you also like elves and are looking for thoughtful fantasy with a romantic twist, along the lines of Terry Pratchett’s “Lords and Ladies” or Olivia Atwater’s “Ten Thousand Stitches,” this next book, by Heather Fawcett, is the one for you. EMILY WILDE’S ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF FAERIES (Del Rey, 336 pp., $28) has some impeccable Tam Lin vibes: Emily Wilde, a stoic and single-minded dryadologist, travels to wintry Ljosland to document an unknown species of faerie — only to find that nothing in this snowbound village is entirely what it seems, and the Hidden Ones are not as far away as she supposed. The world-building here is exquisite, a weather-beaten village in an incredible Arctic landscape — and fortunately, the characters are just as textured and richly drawn.
This is the kind of forlorn, folkloric fantasy that remembers the old, blood-ribboned source material about sacrifices and stolen children, but adds a modern gloss. For instance, sometimes the village’s loveliest maiden spurns the faerie prince not because she’s wise, but because she’s queer. Emily herself is delightful, brilliant but flawed, and often darkly funny. Her frustration with her feckless but charming colleague Wendell Bambleby is the perfect spark, and the romance is light but hits surprisingly hard when it chooses to (one of the best hurt/comfort scenes I’ve read in ages!). I adored it, and cannot wait for the next.
Historical romance tends to skew aristocratic, but too many dukes and duchesses blur together for me. Working-class romances have the luxury of being specific: Farah Mendlesohn’s button manufacturer’s family in “Spring Flowering,” EE Ottoman’s silversmith and quiltmaker in “The Craft of Love,” Rose Lerner’s naval agent in “Sailor’s Delight.” And now Annick Trent’s SIXPENNY OCTAVO (self-published, ebook, $2.99), a sweet Sapphic historical where a dancing master’s assistant and a clock mender find love while dodging sedition charges in a Regency-era reading club.
There is an extremely light mystery element (has someone turned informer on the reading club?), but the rest is all kind community, evocative Gothic novel excerpts, interesting historical jobs (my favorite!) and a world so finely drawn you can feel the closeness of rented rooms and hear the waves lapping the docks by the river. Despite the crushing censorship and prison realities that hover on the edges, the heart of this book is warm and gentle.
Speaking of breaking laws: Many romance readers give a hard pass to anything that looks like cheating in a romance, and they’ll want to avoid our final book. But they will be missing out, because Julia Bennet’s THE WORST WOMAN IN LONDON (self-published, paperback, $7.99) is the kind of historical I’ve been dying to read.
The first thing our heroine Francesca does in this book is marry the wrong man and stay married to him for 10 years. Edward Thorne is proud, embittered and perennially unfaithful. Fran can try to divorce him, but it’s expensive and difficult and socially ruinous — even her own family is urging her to accept a separation, and preserve the pristine shell of her rotten marriage.
Fran decides to divorce him anyway.
So Edward sends his charming best friend, James Standish, to persuade his stubborn wife to back down. James is heir to the fortune of his tyrannical aunt, so he knows a few things about playing to appearances for the sake of material comfort. He’s a teasing, unserious type of person, but the more time he spends with Fran the more he starts to think she’s better and stronger than the rumors suggest. Fran’s friends in publishing give him hope that there’s some practical use for his knowledge about art and culture — maybe there’s something more to expect from life than endless etiquette and the mere facade of goodness.
And the delicious question from almost the first page is: How long until Fran and James end up in bed together? Can they hold back until the divorce is granted, or will their affair give Edward precisely the leverage he needs to destroy Francesca in court? Bennet concocts a very classic romance mood, where the sex is spectacular even when (or because?) people are painfully conflicted about it. On the angst spectrum I’d rate it less chaotic than Scarlett Peckham but more messy than Tessa Dare.
Certainly it’s one of the most complex and satisfying explorations of the idea that everyone is the hero of their own love story — even the villains.
Olivia Waite is the Book Review’s romance fiction columnist. She writes queer historical romance, fantasy and critical essays on the genre’s history and future.
Rosanna Leo, Farah Heron, Jenny Holiday and Kelly Siskind are just four of the MANY Canadian romance writers out there.
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