Rear view of a couple sitting on beach Series romances with contemporary settings appear to be going strong. Harlequin releases plenty of them every month and readers (including me) eagerly snatch them up. However, single title contemporaries are a little harder to find. Anyone who reads romance sites and blogs or who spends any time at all following romance readers on Twitter has seen plenty of moaning about the dearth of single title contemporaries. I started to wonder why this is, and that in turn has made me wonder if contemporaries might not be a more narrowly defined subgenre than one might think at first glance.

At first glance, the contemporary landscape appears wide open. The choice of settings is almost endless and so too the choice of character types. After all, a book can feature cowboys in Texas, a shop owner in Paris, or archeologists in the Middle East and so long as it’s set in the here and now, we can call it contemporary. The possibilities for the imagination at this point almost boggle the mind. Then comes the plotting – and that’s where things get sticky.

After all, what kind of plot can one employ? Obviously there has to be a relationship between a hero and heroine (or two heroes, if we’re talking m/m). In a series romance, the page count is lower and a story narrowly focused on the relationship between the two leads can really work. However, in the expanded page count of a single title book, it seems to grow more difficult. How is the author to keep the reader’s attention? There are certainly some books out there that keep the focus on the primary relationship and have compelling characters that work. After all, we’ve got books out there like Just One of the Guys, Vision in White, Practice Makes Perfect, and Welcome to Temptation, just to name a few good ones I’ve read.

However, if an author throws in a suspense plot that takes up too much of the story, it starts reading more like romantic suspense. For example, I consider Welcome to Temptation a very good single title contemporary, but I know of others (including my local library) that classify it as romantic suspense because of some of the plot points. If a book starts dealing with too many of the issues of life and dealing less with the actual romance of a couple, it can start looking more like women’s fiction than romance. While some of Susan Wiggs’ recent books are definitely women’s fiction, some of her recent books such as Dockside really walk that line between being romance and being women’s fiction. On the one hand, we get to read a real “second chance at love” story. However, the book also deals with issues including a teen pregnancy, and it’s a book about life almost as much as it is a romance. And if there are plenty of vampires, werebeasts and other things that go bump in the night frolicking in that contemporary setting, then we’re reading a paranormal.

So, what is one to do? Life itself is full of endless plots and so it would seem that there could be an endless variety of contemporary romances. However, when I look at what we classify as contemporary romance, things narrow a bit and it becomes romance in a contemporary setting but without: (1) too much suspense, (2) too many women’s fictiony life issues and side plots, and (3) supernatural creatures. The subgenre is certainly flexible, and the books of many talented authors attest to that, but perhaps not as completely wide open as I used to think when I was a brand-new teenaged romance reader. So, what’s your definition of contemporary romance? And what are some of your favorite reads?

– Lynn Spencer