Lisa Kleypas Talks Changing Trends in Romance

Posted by Sharon on February 10, 2020
Romance Week 2020
 
In romance, a lot can happen in just one year, much less ten or 20! With multiple award-winning series since the late 1980s, author Lisa Kleypas has been writing long enough to see trends come and go...and sometimes come around again. In this essay, she takes us behind the scenes of her years in romance and shares her thoughts on how the genre has evolved alongside changing social roles for women, how romance can nurture real-life relationships, and what makes today's heroines so fun to read.

Kleypas is a two-time Goodreads Choice Award nominee. Her newest book, Chasing Cassandra, continues her popular Ravenels series and releases in the U.S. on February 18.

When I was a teenager, I cleaned houses after school and made about $12 a week. On Saturdays, I took every cent to the bookstore at the local mall and spent it on romance novels. It cost $1.25 for a category romance, and $2.50 for a big historical. At the time, I couldn’t have explained why I felt so compelled to devour them.

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It was the late ’70s and early ’80s—a time when even a woman with a high-paying job couldn’t buy a house without having a man cosign for her. The Equal Rights Amendment had been defeated and the sexual revolution was underway, and most women felt a lot of uncertainty about who and what we were supposed to be. Some people said we had to choose between career and marriage, which was depressing. Others said we could have it all and be everything to everyone, which sounded exhausting.

But then there were romance novels, satisfying our expectations when the world so often thwarted and disappointed them. The reassurance they gave me was addictive. Everything’s going to be OK, they seemed to be telling me. Someday you’ll have your own happy ending. Even then, with the romance genre in its beginning stages, critics complained that romance novels gave us unrealistic expectations about men and relationships. That complaint has resonated through the four decades of my life in romance.

I wrote my first novel when I was 16, attending summer camp with three hours of free time every day. Longhand, on stationery paper you could buy by the pound. I knew nothing about plotting, characterization, or point of view, but from the moment I started, I was obsessed. Back in those days, the typical romance heroine’s journey often led her to submit and conform to traditional ideals. If she started out as a spirited vixen, she needed to be tamed, and the hero was the man for the job, and then she was rewarded with love, commitment, and security.

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Accordingly, in my early novels the female protagonists were frequently thrown into peril and needed lots of rescuing, and I’m sorry to say the hero was pretty much always in charge. But my stories have changed as I have, just as the romance genre has developed to meet the evolving attitudes of its readers. Now the heroine is the one in charge, and her needs and goals are paramount.

In my Wallflowers series, a homage to the power of female friendship, four young women who are considered misfits decide to band together to find husbands.

Now with the Ravenels series, I’ve been creating heroines who struggle for fulfillment beyond marriage, such as a young woman who dreams of creating her own board game company or another who’s the only licensed female physician in England. She rescues the hero and saves his life through her skill and determination. Nowadays, a romance heroine wins in the end not by submitting but by becoming wholly herself. Braver and bolder, with bigger dreams and fully equal to her romantic partner.

And excitingly, many writers in all subgenres of our profession are expanding the conventional boundaries of romance as well as redefining what a happy ending can be. Diversity has finally made some hard-won progress in the romance genre, with more to come, so that readers have access to a vast and rich array of stories they deserve, created by new voices who will shape the future.

The romance genre is bigger than one person, group, or organization. To me, writing romance is a calling. Nothing else comes close to accomplishing what it does at its best. It encourages us to reflect on how to nurture a relationship and grow separately as individuals while also growing together as a couple. How to work through problems, forgive each other, and learn from mistakes. And yes, there are sex scenes that lead us to consider what we might be interested in trying or what fantasies might be shared by others. Would you believe in this day and age, many women are still conflicted about enjoying sex? It has to do with things like lack of self-esteem, trust, body image, fear of judgment, and that centuries-old message that maybe we’re not entitled to physical pleasure. Romance novels explore these issues in detail, which empowers and enriches our readers.

As for all those unrealistic expectations...my husband, Greg, is my hero, and thanks in large part to my lifelong love of romance novels, our marriage is full of mutual respect, warmth, and sexiness. And he’s not even a duke or a Navy SEAL! Romance novels don’t lead us to expect we could only be happy with a fantasy man we’ve read about. The message of romance novels is that you are the heroine or hero of your own life. You, regardless of your gender identification, culture, appearance, belief system, disabilities, or age, deserve to love and be loved. Wholeheartedly, passionately, and entirely.

That’s not an unrealistic expectation. Don’t settle for less.

Lisa shared four of her favorite modern romances with us:
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Are you a longtime romance reader? What trends have you seen come and go? Let's talk books in the comments!

Check out the complete coverage of Romance Week, including:
Meet Today's Rising Stars of Romance
A Starter Kit of Reads for Romance Newbies
The Ultimate Romance Pen Name Generator

Comments Showing 1-50 of 67 (67 new)


message 1: by Dana Al-Basha (new)

Dana Al-Basha دانة الباشا I love Lisa's work, she is the queen of romance.


message 2: by silver ☆彡 (new)

silver ☆彡 〈waiting for my warner〉 Lisa is the best romance writer! She has a real talent 💖


message 3: by Westysis (new)

Westysis The biggest change I have seen are the erotic, paranormal, interracial and same sex romances. I read romances in the early 80's and though the mid 90's but stopped as my interests changed.
When I stopped I did not see as many erotic/paranormal romances. Nor interracial or same sex romances.
Black romances and urban lit came on the scene and I read those and then moved to self help and biographies. I stopped reading books altogether for a time. I returned to romances because I really do enjoy them, no shame! My favorite tropes are enemies to friends, boss/assistant, arranged marriages and women in unusual jobs. Kids and dogs change a romance but I have read those as well.
Some erotic books are better than others. I need a story or a reason to believe the characters love each other than the sex that they have. Paranormals are not for me.

What I would like to see more of now are romances for people in their 50's or 60's or beyond. The tropes will be different and the covers won't have "chesty men" but there should be something for everyone. Love or the ability to fall in love does not end at 40.

Speaking of chesty men, don't stop those covers. At least there is a not a difference between the man on the cover and the one written about in the book. My biggest pet peeve! Just the chest please, no head. (smile)

I am a fan of romance books for life!


message 4: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie Williams I've seen a rise of romance heroines who are not selected by the hero for their beauty but for their wit or bravery. It's more satisfying to know that a woman is worthwhile because of what she does or how she thinks, rather than what she looks like.


message 5: by Carrie (new)

Carrie Thorne Agreed! Romance novels have always been my go-to. I LOVE how they have evolved to celebrate empowerment for our protagonists. Love, sex, healthy relationships, personal growth... all in a fun, mutually satisfying way. Well said Lisa :)


message 6: by Treece (new)

Treece Another trend I have noticed are characters who have "disabilities" and other so-called "flaws" but find love and self-acceptance if they don't already have it. I enjoy this trend because these characters are more interesting than the usual "norm" we come to associate with as the perfect ideals.


message 7: by Anthea (new)

Anthea Cuddihy I have definitely noticed these trends, but I want to see more romances where marriage isn't the way the story ends. I've recently started reading m/m romances because more of these stories celebrate love and positive relationships without 'proving' it through a proposal or ceremony.


message 8: by Holly (new)

Holly In the '70's and '80's a woman in the US could buy a house without a man to co-sign; that is a complete lie. People with no credit or poor credit needed a co-signer; but that was based on credit history, not the sex of the individual, which would have been a violation of federal law.


message 9: by Denali (new)

Denali Ironically, I think I preferred her books with the more reliant heroines. #wallflowersforlife


message 10: by GingerOrange (new)

GingerOrange The very first adult romance novel I ever read was by Lisa Kleypas and I don't think I say it lightly that that decision changed my life.

Now, I haven't read a historical romance in awhile. But a part of me will always be grateful to the genre and especially Ms Kleypas. Because without them, I'd have never been exposed to strong female characters. I'd have never been exposed to what kind and true love actually looks like. Her books and so many others shaped how I viewed the world.

I know many scoff at the romance genre. They think its all fluff and nothing educational. But I think its so wrong to overlook the genres importance in shaping so many lives. Even if you get nothing from a romance novel, spending a couple hours a day reading about love isn't a bad thing at all.

So yeah, I think Lisa Kleypas is the bomb dot com. And there will always be a special place in my heart for historical romances.


message 11: by Addie (new)

Addie H Westysis wrote: "What I would like to see more of now are romances for people in their 50's or 60's or beyond. The tropes will be different and the covers won't have "chesty men" but there should be something for everyone. Love or the ability to fall in love does not end at 40."

Totally agree, I am 40 and love romance novels, but when most of the leads are in their 20s I can't always relate.


message 12: by Filipa (new)

Filipa Lisa is a genius and her books are my favourite!


message 13: by Lee (new)

Lee Westysis wrote: "What I would like to see more of now are romances for people in their 50's or 60's or beyond. The tropes will be different and the covers won't have "chesty men" but there should be something for everyone. Love or the ability to fall in love does not end at 40."

I whine about this constantly. I've even read a few books where the characters act a lot older and yet are only supposed to be in their 20s which always makes me believe the editors/publishers have forced the change on the writers.


message 14: by Luisaya (new)

Luisaya Lisa please dont keep feeding us love junkies! I am a fan of your work and own all your books. I love all those funny, sassy and not your typical characters you create. As for the genre of romance, being married to the love of my life for 20 years I can relate to Lisa's comment on how these books fill our life with hope and some sexiness in the day to day life monotony. So any trends are more than welcome that being m/m m/f/m or even the paranormal it is a fantasy world where we escape to feel special and find our perfect away from the crude reality of life.
Long live romance!


message 15: by Luisaya (new)

Luisaya *correction do keep feeding us


message 16: by Erica (new)

Erica Moura Great essay! I loved the analysis of how romance has changed over the years.


message 17: by Jacqueline J (new)

Jacqueline J One trend I don't care for concerns writing style. There is way too much first person present tense in romance these days. It's difficult to write correctly and errors in tense jerk me right out of the story. There is really no need for it unless your narrator is going to die in the end or is one of those unreliable narrators so popular in mystery currently as they are lying to the reader to conceal guilt. First person allows too much introspection and also leads to the narrator moaning about their problems to an irritating degree or talking to themselves humorously which gets old fast. I find that 3rd person allows a reader a greater connection with the characters. It is simpler to write and easy to read.


message 18: by Sue (new)

Sue Trowbridge Westysis wrote: "The biggest change I have seen are the erotic, paranormal, interracial and same sex romances. I read romances in the early 80's and though the mid 90's but stopped as my interests changed.
When I s..."

I agree -- more romances with older protagonists! I loved Jasmine Guillory's latest, "Royal Holiday," which had two 50+ leads, but there are way too few.


message 19: by mjfly (new)

mjfly To Message #8 - Holly -
1974: Equal Credit Opportunity Act passes in the US. Until then, banks required single, widowed or divorced women to bring a man along to cosign any credit application, regardless of their income. They would also discount the value of those wages when considering how much credit to grant, by as much as 50%.

She may have been off by a few years - but not much. It actually took much longer than 1974 to be fully implemented. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/money/us-...


message 20: by Priscilla (new)

Priscilla King Holly wrote: "In the '70's and '80's a woman in the US could buy a house without a man to co-sign; that is a complete lie. People with no credit or poor credit needed a co-signer; but that was based on credit hi..."

Banks weren't required to extend credit to women, or even set up separate bank accounts for women and their husbands, into the mid-seventies. I'd call the author's recollection of this in "the 80's" a typo that might have been supported by personal experience (people's behavior not always keeping pace with changes in laws--in the 1980s many individual bigots were still senior managers).


message 21: by Priscilla (new)

Priscilla King Now the question about romance writing. I recently wrote a short romance testing a theory a successful writer has promoted in the last few years--that readers prefer to imagine characters for themselves without wading through the author's detailed descriptions of their golden curls or raven waves or whatever other features they have.

I gave the main characters names. Names suggest ethnicity. Ethnicity suggests looks. And, since the client's specifications for this story required a lot to happen in ~25,000 words, I wrote not one word more than that about what they look like.

Is this a trend? Do most of today's romance readers want to read more of what people say to each other and less of what they look like and what they wear? Would they be comfortable with a full-length romance leaving it up to them to imagine the main characters' "race"? Or is that idealistic, politically correct, and unromantic?


message 22: by Kate (new)

Kate Holly wrote: "In the '70's and '80's a woman in the US could buy a house without a man to co-sign; that is a complete lie. People with no credit or poor credit needed a co-signer; but that was based on credit hi..." I think you must be very young if you think women couldn't get a house without a man in the picture. It may have been federal law but so was discriminating against minorities but that didn't stop it from happening. Unless you were EXTREMELY wealthy they would find some excuse not to give you a mortgage. And BTW it is not nice to call someone a liar just because you think you are right.


message 23: by Jan (new)

Jan Fromohio I remember back in 1969, I needed to buy a car. I had to take my grandfather with me to pick out the car because I was clueless about cars. When the time came to pay for my car, I had to give the money to my grandfather and he, in turn, gave the money to the salesman. I paid in full with cash. My car had to titled with my grandfather's name first then he "gave me my car as a gift".

Then when I tried to get myself a credit card, in the year 1973, I had to use my husband's wages as income. True I wasn't working at that time, but I did have a job in 1970 until I gave birth to my daughter, 1971.


message 24: by Irene (new)

Irene Dear Lisa, you have written some of my favourite regencies and please don’t hate on your older books! Who cares if they were different - I actually plan to read more from your back catalogue, to be honest!


message 25: by Sara (new)

Sara Leahy I loved reading this and reading the background on Lisa Kleypas’s writing. I’m always excited to read the different type of romances and how they get to that end in love.


message 26: by Carmen (new)

Carmen Denali wrote: "Ironically, I think I preferred her books with the more reliant heroines. #wallflowersforlife"

Yes! I agree. I read romance because maybe only for an hour or two they take me away from my hectic life. I don’t want to read “reality” or progressive type romance books where a woman is the main bread winner and the one doing the chasing, etc, which is why I read regency romances. I live enough of that reality already. Thank you Lisa for giving me a respite with your books. Keep them coming!


message 27: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Schneider I love Lisa's work, she is an author I will not bother to read the back of the book, I will quickly buy it. i read fantasy romance, paranormal romance and historical romance the most


message 28: by Charlee (new)

Charlee Bailey I'm a long time die hard reader of romances in most of the different genres offered. I love Ms. Kleypas and have read all of her series, the Wallflowers is one of my favorites. One of the things I'm truly beginning to enjoy, is well written books from African American writers. For a long time there was very little written just for enjoyment form our writers. Now there is a diverse collection available and I'm enjoying the advantage of having a different pov with these new authors. I'm 70 now and I continue to read at least 200+ books eacy year. My kindle is loaded with books that I probably will never get around to reading. I hope we have books or Kindles in the afterlife!!


message 29: by Haya (new)

Haya 2 I can’t get enough of this author’s books.
No one can tell a story like Kleypas.


message 30: by Maria (new)

Maria Julia Lisa you are the best !!!! All you books are magnificent ! I need more. Please!!!! ❤️


message 31: by Vicki (new)

Vicki A very interesting article by one of my favorite authors. Wallflowers #1 on my want to read and The Hathaways #1 off to Amazon I go.
Thank you Lisa for bringing awesome romances and HEAs into my life. You never disappoint.


message 32: by Ami (last edited Feb 13, 2020 07:29PM) (new)

Ami I have only read English romance for the past 20 years - and I'm from Indonesia. I think one of the changes I see is the diversity in heroine's or hero's professions, also same sex romance, and interracial relationship. I am lucky that nowadays with ebooks and e-retailers, I can buy more romance novels with diverse characters. Before, I only relied on my bookstore for print books, and the option is surely more limited.


message 33: by Ann (new)

Ann Lisa is by far one of my favorite authors!


message 34: by Judith (new)

Judith Sherrod I am seventy five years old or young.. I have read romances since the seventies. Before then, I read mostly mystery and suspence. When the bodice rippers came out, I Really fell in love. I still go back and re-read them over and over on occasion.

Lisa's books are some of my favorites. Along with Linda Howard, Nora Roberts and others.
Their books have mostly adjusted right along with today's outlook on the lives of men and woman. I still love a good romance and No one can go wrong with a great mystery, no matter what time peroid, continent, or other world.

So, Lisa, keep them coming and I hope to still be reading another twenty or more years.

Thank you.


message 35: by TMR (new)

TMR I agree with her thoughts, a lot of things have changed, good or bad, in romance.


message 36: by Linda Brugger (new)

Linda Brugger I enjoy the fact that author's are bringing their characters depth with insights into their personality which are in step with good current psychology. I like well researched history woven into the tale and tidbits of everyday life in the time period. I am glad that the historical novels have ventured beyond the regency period into more modern times as well as back to earlier periods. I wouldn't mind leaving the British Isles and exploring Eastern Europe, Russia, and the period when the mongols controlled much of that area.


message 37: by Julia (new)

Julia Firlotte Oh my goodness what a relevant subject. Last week I had a draft manuscript almost torn up by beta readers because ‘although my writing is great’ it was seen as sexist and outdated. My heroine simply wasn’t a feisty modern woman. Do readers still want the wallflower stories? I personally love the dominant heroes more popular in decades past.


message 38: by Brenda (new)

Brenda Jacqueline J wrote: "One trend I don't care for concerns writing style. There is way too much first person present tense in romance these days. It's difficult to write correctly and errors in tense jerk me right out of..."

I think you might be my reading soul mate! My friends (who all write first person) tease me about how anti-first person I am.

I just don't like to spend that much time in only one character's head and if it's a whiny character...it goes straight into the DNF pile.


message 39: by Ana (new)

Ana Ramirez Love all of Lisa's work!


message 40: by Katsuro (new)

Katsuro Ricksand As a guy who reads romance now and then, I have to say that I'm very happy about how the genre has started featuring more equal relationships.

Don't get me wrong--if a woman wants to read a fantasy about an Dominant Alpha Male™ then she should, of course; her fantasies are HER fantasies. I'm just saying that as a guy, it's nice to see a higher variety of guys being portrayed as attractive. :) And to see the Dominant Alpha Male™ be downgraded into being one preference, rather than the standard model for how a fantasy guy is obviously supposed to be.


message 41: by AmyLouAldaMay (new)

AmyLouAldaMay Julia wrote: "Oh my goodness what a relevant subject. Last week I had a draft manuscript almost torn up by beta readers because ‘although my writing is great’ it was seen as sexist and outdated. My heroine simpl..."

I'm with you on this. When I fantasize a hero, he's dominant and protective. Can a heroine open her own door or carry the groceries in herself? Yes. But I like a hero who thinks she shouldn't have to. *shrugs*


message 42: by Raakhee (new)

Raakhee Suryaprakash Truly a Goddess of the Romances. I so enjoy her books both Historical & Contemporary although it's the Wallflower series (own the hard copy of them all) that's closest to my heart. Tho Cam Rohan the half-Gypsy half-Irish hero of the first Hathaway book (also owned in print, reread and treasured) is my favorite hero ever. I own them (Wallflower series) all in print and am charmed to reconnect with them and their HEA in the Ravanel series.


message 43: by Susana (new)

Susana Castillo ¡Reina!


message 44: by Lía (new)

Lía I admit that I did not like the romantic genre until I met The Hathaway, you have become one of my favorite writers, greetings from Panamá.


message 45: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Bennett Well to start with I have every one of your books except The Travis Family..most are in paperback and 12 I have on my kindle..
I love your style of writing.
As for your essay ..I agree with all you say ...In the 1960’s we didnt have books to look up to find out about sex. So there was a lot that I didnt know about but I learnt in time from friends...I stated reading books when I was about 16. But they weren’t Historical Romance, they didn’t happen til about 2000..and your first book I read was Only in Your Arms aka When Strangers Marry..and then I was hooked, I then bought and read all your books since. So am looking forward to Chasing Cassandra...also the Wallflowers are books I have reread quite a few times...
That about sums it up...
You are definately on of my top 6 Authors....
Thanks Lisa..


message 46: by Catherine (new)

Catherine I love Lisa Kleypas' style of writing. From the Hathaways series to the Ravenels series; each book is a work of art. Each character comes to life. You feel that each couple belongs together.


message 47: by Luísa (new)

Luísa Bastos What an incredible and inspiring woman! Thank you Lisa for sharing your thoughts and your stories with us


message 48: by maggie barnett (last edited Feb 14, 2020 05:25PM) (new)

maggie barnett I love the research Lisa has put in to her Ravenel series. I find it jarring when historical books have inaccuracies in them (especial with clothes - since I am a costumer). I loved the stories of the Ravenels' struggle to modernize their farm almost as much as the love story.

I really appreciate the trend away from forced sexual encounters and towards consent. I know part of the fun of a bodice ripper is the man "taking charge", but no means no. A lot of romance writers are finding ways to give their heroines/heroes vibrant, unexpected sexual experiences without resorting to assault.

I wish that modern romances could feature more leading ladies who are strong without being feisty or sassy.


message 49: by Raine (new)

Raine Balkera Holly wrote: "In the '70's and '80's a woman in the US could buy a house without a man to co-sign; that is a complete lie. People with no credit or poor credit needed a co-signer; but that was based on credit hi..."

Thanks! My thoughts exactly, as well as the 'sexual revolution' having occurred more than a decade prior to what she'd stated ;-)


message 50: by Shaundra (new)

Shaundra First of all, LK, you're one of my favorite authors. In fact, two years ago I used the yearly B&N gift card my MIL gives me to purchase the complete Wallflowers series AGAIN LOL. I had already had copies, but why not :).

I also got into romances early myself. I would go back and forth between Encyclopedia Britannicas and Barbara Courtland and Violet Winspear. They showed me, a black girl in the South of the 1980s, different places and different times. They were a fun escape given to me by writers who wanted to give that to their readers.

As time moved along, the universe gave me first Sandra Kitt then Donna Hill, Brenda Jackson, Francis Ray, Rochelle Alers and Beverly Jenkins. Livin' Large is one of my all-time favorites, by the way.

Now, Romancelandia is better than ever with all of the diversity out there. Alyssa Cole is one of a galaxy of rising stars putting new twists and adding needed representation into the universe.

It's amazing to think all of those random open shirt chests on swashbuckling pirates and ripped bodices have to led to. And it's only just now getting started.


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