Welcome to the July seating of The Tasting Table, and what a delightful, complex tasting we have! Contemporary Romance certainly provides a buffet to suit all palates, from the sweetest of stories to tales so spicy one requires a fan… or two.
What makes this hugely popular sub-genre so sought after? Today we are joined by three fabulous authors who bring a platter of delicacies to the table. Please join me in welcoming Joanne Dannon, Valerie Parv AM, and Penelope Janu for a delicious discussion about Contemporary Romance.
Q1. What is your definition of Contemporary Romance?
JOANNE: Contemporary romance, in my opinion, is romance that is set in today’s world, with characters facing and overcoming issues that readers would also be addressing or can relate to.
VALERIE: Generally they are books roughly set in the same time period in which they’re written. But more importantly they feel contemporary for a long time after they’re written, the so-called eternal present. It helps to avoid too-specific technology, brand names and if you can, actual monetary amounts. If you write, “She looked at the bill and blanched. ‘That much?’ you let the reader mentally fill in the gap. The same goes for celebrity relationships, perhaps the most fleeting currency of all. Cultivating this awareness means your books will stay current for far longer.
PENELOPE: Love is timeless (of course!) but a contemporary story generally takes place in the timeframe in which the book is published—the present. Environmental issues, international crime, and the publishing industry are areas I’ve recently written about (in three different novels). In my Christmas novella for Harlequin Mira, I loved writing about the traditions passed on by my Austrian and English families—and giving them a modern spin.
Q2. Tell us about challenges you encounter when writing this genre?
JOANNE: One challenge is ensuring that you are finding fresh new ways to write engaging stories, that don’t date too quickly. In a world where technology changes at a breathtakingly fast pace, you want to ensure your book is not dated from when you write it to when it’s launched – LOL.
Readers of contemporary romance want a good story but they want to be entertained, and I do quite a bit of research for each of the books I write. I like to have characters with varying personalities and as well as interesting careers. And with contemporary romance comes varying degrees of heat, from sweet kisses to “set your e-reader on fire” steamy-ness.
As a writer, you need to know the heat level you want to write to and stick to it. And ensure your cover also replicates the heat intensity of your romance. It’s a part of your branding, and I believe it’s really important to determine this (preferably) before you’re published.
I write both sweet and mild steamy books however, I ensure the blurb and cover tell the reader the expectations of the heat level.
VALERIE: The challenges are the same as for any genre – to create strong, believable characters who live in the reader’s mind. My favourite heroes and heroines are willing to share the stage, each supplying what the other needs to make their lives more fulfilled. I also try to ensure that each has a key role to play in resolving the story conflict.
PENELOPE: As in any genre, it’s crucial to get the facts right, but also important that the story stays relevant to future readers. It’s also important to reflect contemporary values. So, for example, consent must be explicit. Contemporary romance gives the writer an opportunity to explore issues that might not be on the wider agenda yet—while taking into account real-world events. If characters are talking about sexual harassment, for example, the #metoo movement is bound to come into the conversation. There are other things to get right in a contemporary too—music, IT, or what’s new in tattoos or piercings (I tend to rely on my kids for advice on some of these things!)
Q3. Is there an author/s or book/s (apart from your own), you particularly love in the genre and believe exemplifies Contemporary Romance?
JOANNE: There are so many authors I love to read in contemporary romance, many of them are RWA and RWNZ members. I’ll give a shout out to my author friends who write fab contemporary romances – Charmaine Ross, Lexi Green, Khardine Gray and Tracey Peddersen. But there are heaps of awesome Australian and New Zealand authors whose books I enjoy reading.
VALERIE: At the moment I’m in love with the work of 2017 Valerie Parv Award winner, Joanna Nell. Her first book, “The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village” out in October with Hachette, is a real gem, funny, poignant and romantic. Having mentored all of the seventeen past winners of this award run by Romance Writers of Australia, I’m delighted that nearly all are multi-published with some of the freshest new fiction anywhere. They’re listed in the VPA hall of fame on my website at VPA Hall of Fame.
PENELOPE: I try to write interesting plots with a central romance (plenty of conflict and sensual tension), and I admire many writers who do that well. Whether it is a contemporary or historical novel, this is what keeps me reading after midnight. Avril Tremayne, Amy Andrews, Rachael Johns, Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Crusie are some of the authors I admire—they write novels that make me laugh, cry and swoon. Many writers of rural fiction write sensitive and insightful contemporary storylines, exploring complex family relationships, loss, grief and hope—Tricia Stringer, Cathryn Hein and Alissa Callen come to mind.
Q4. Please share some advice to those interested in writing this genre.
JOANNE: I love finding new and interesting careers for characters, because that’s what I love to read. For example, in my holiday novella, Christmas Kiss in London, my hero is a stunt man. Why? Because I recently met a stunt man and was so interested in his career that I had to make my hero a stunt man.
People often ask where I get ideas for my books and they always shake their head when I say everywhere. But it’s true. There are amazing and interesting stories everywhere and I use these in my books. I love all the videos shared on Facebook, as they are so inspiring and it’s a wonderful way to use these stories that exemplify the best of people’s kindness towards others.
Read articles and look around you, and you’ll find inspiration to create amazing walk off the page characters. And as always, read, read, read. To be a writer, you have to be a reader. Reading inspires your writing brain.
I love helping out authors, especially those looking to self-publish, so they can learn from my mistakes. My blog posts and interviews are available on my website.
Firstly, love what you do. The stories that inspire you are the ones you should write. Second, be prepared to take creative risks even if the market needs time to catch up with you. And thirdly, keep your writing up to date. I’m presenting Romance Writing Rebooted, a new workshop at ACT Writers’ Centre, Canberra on October 27 on just this subject. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/romance-writing-rebooted-with-valerie-parv-am-tickets-46554556933?aff=news
PENELOPE: Like any novel that will attract the interest of a reader, a contemporary romance will need something unique that piques a reader’s interest or curiosity. In a contemporary romance, the writer is given an opportunity to explore current issues in new ways. I don’t think of the love story itself as ‘contemporary,’ because love—signified by the brush of a hand or a sex scene—happens in infinite wonderful ways in all romance genres.
Q5. What inspires you to write Contemporary Romance?
JOANNE: I love reading contemporary romance so I think that’s why I gravitated towards it when I chose to start writing. Contemporary romance is my favourite sub-genre, even though I do love historical romance.
VALERIE: The same thing that inspires me to write anything – having characters in my head urging me to tell their stories. Writing isn’t always easy, especially with publishing in such turmoil right now. But it’s still the best fun you can have with your clothes on.
PENELOPE: I particularly like writing characters in their late twenties (my four daughters, and the uni students I’ve taught for many years, might have had a bearing on this!). Women in this age group—and of this time—are typically optimistic about their futures. They are prepared to tackle personal and professional difficulties head on, and fight hard for what they believe in. They are educated, articulate and solve their own problems, but are open to relationships—of equality, respect, passion and commitment. I find all of that inspiring!
FALLING FOR MR WRONG Joanne’s Tasting Sample
Multi published, award-winning Australian author, Joanne Dannon, writes to give her readers the experience she loves to savour–indulging in a sigh-worthy-happily-ever-after, being swept away from the everyday by diving into a delicious romance novel.
Joanne is a happily married mother of two heroes-in-training who loves spending time with friends and family. She can be found on Facebook and her website chatting about reading, writing, cooking, vintage-inspired dresses and all things romantic.
Sign up to Joanne’s newsletter, and to say thanks she’ll send you a free e-copy of Bidding on Love.
Currently, all Joanne’s books are exclusive to Amazon so Kindle Unlimited readers can read her books for free!
OUTBACK CODE Valerie’s Tasting Sample
Valerie Parv AM was made a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the arts as a prolific author, role model and mentor. With more than 34 million copies of her books sold and translated into 29 languages, Valerie is an Honorary Life Member of Romance Writers of Australia. She loves connecting with writers and readers on her website, Twitter, and Facebook, and is represented by The Tate Gallery Pty Ltd Sydney.
ON THE RIGHT TRACK Penelope’s Tasting Sample
Penelope’s debut contemporary romance, In at the Deep End, was published by Harlequin Mira in 2017. Her second book with Mira, On the Right Track was released in June this year. Her third contemporary romance, On The Same Page, will be published by Brio (XO Romance) in October 2018. Penelope is a lawyer and former legal academic who likes to write stories about clever and adventurous women who don’t mean to fall in love—but do! She can be contacted via her website or on social media.
Thank you fabulous authors and readers – I’ve loved the first half of this year for The Tasting Table and am excited to see what comes next.
Phillipa Nefri Clark
Phillipa grew up along lonely Australian beaches with wild seas and misty cliffs. From a young age she wrote stories and dreamed of being a writer.
These days she spends half her week running part of the family business and the other writing. Currently she is working on the third in her River’s End series.
Living in regional Australia on a small acreage close to a mountain range, Phillipa’s great loves – apart from writing – are her family of two young adult sons and husband, their Labrador, music, fine wine, and friends.