The Sunday Magazine·Boxscore

Romance fiction is so much more than swashbuckling bodice-rippers, say authors

Romance novels are written for women, by women, and the market is huge (about one third of all books sold in the U.S.) The heroines are plucky, smart and ready to risk all for a happy ending. Michael Enright talks to three Newfoundland writers about about why romance novels deserve more respect.
Romance writers Kate Robbins, Victoria Barbour and Melanie Martins, whose novels are pictured above, say the booming romance novel industry deserves more respect. (Tirgearr Publishing, Yarn Press and Flanker Press)

Gone are the damsels in distress and the days of heaving bosoms blazoned on novel covers with bodices torn asunder.

Kate Robbins, Victoria Barbour and Melanie Martin are three Newfoundland-based bestselling romance novelists who pride themselves on writing smart, spunky heroines.

"They have to be strong characters, people I can identify with," Martin explained. 

Writing woman protagonists they'd "want to have coffee with" was especially important for the three St. John's-dwelling friends in the wake of #MeToo.

Authors Melanie Martin, Kate Robbins and Victoria Barbour took a look back at their work in the wake of #MeToo. 'We did a lot of self-examination [asking] 'Have we helped with this by creating women who need to be saved?' said Barbour. (Submitted by Melanie Martin)

"We sat down and we had a lot of conversations about what we're writing now and what's to come," Barbour said.

"We did a lot of self-examination [asking] 'Have we helped with this by creating women who need to be saved?'"

They took the time to look back at their books and decided: "No. Our women are always powerful," Barbour said.

Robbins, for example, writes historical romance. Her challenge is to write heroines that push boundaries even in a time when so much of their lives are out of their control.

She can't be all empowering but she can still be empowered.- Kate Robbins, author Bound to the Highlander

"She can't be all empowering but she can still be empowered," Robbins explained.

"When I write, it's all about that bargaining that a woman does when she falls in love of how much of myself am I willing to let go to make room for this other person in my life?" said Barbour, who writes contemporary romance.

The indie revolution

Not only are the women characters empowered, but so are the woman writing them, argued Robbins. "We're half the population so what's wrong with us writing something about ourselves?" she asked.

Romance writing is big business. The industry's estimated worth is $1.08 billion a year and occupies 34 per cent of the fiction market in the U.S. alone. Women make up 82 per cent of the readership.

"The indie revolution that has happened with the advent of Amazon and self-publishing — that has been a game-changer," Barbour said.

"It's given us power. Power that a female writer didn't have in the past. You were still beholden to publishing houses which are still predominantly ran by men."

Times are different now, she said. 

"I can create a story and I can find my readers. I'm in control of my sales, cover and editing. It's my business. We are more than writers."

Listen to the full interview above, where they talk with The Sunday Edition's Michael Enright about the five-level steam system for writing racy scenes, the difference between erotica and romance, and the business of romance writing.


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