virginriver I love going to RWA nationals for a variety of reasons. However, one of the major thrills for me comes from getting to hear about upcoming books and forecasts for various subgenres of romance. This year, hearing about the various trends in publishing really struck me because many of the types of books listed seemed to hit at opposite ends of the spectrum.

On the one hand, we seem to be inhabiting a period of sweetness and light in book choices. Small-town romances with home and family themes seem to sell quite well. Indeed, some authors with small-town series such as Robyn Carr and Debbie Macomber have almost a cult following among readers. Similarly, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen stories about the astounding popularity of Amish/Mennonite romances. Their focus on the simple life and strong family ties again seem to speak to a lot of readers. And in historicals, the light, wallpaper Regency/Victorian is not exactly hard to find either.

However, several publishers also mentioned a trend toward the dark and gritty. Strong, butt-kicking urban fantasy heroines are rather easy to find, and paranormals featuring epic battles between good and evil aren’t exactly thin on the ground either. According to the publishers, they expect these types of books to continue appealing to a wide audience. In addition, I’ve noticed while there may not be as much romantic suspense on shelves as in prior years, many of the books out there aren’t exactly blending romance with cozy mysteries, but seem to have a darker tone, such as what one might find in Karen Rose or Leslie Parrish’s books, or in books like One Scream Away by Kate Brady. Lastly, darker, grittier historicals such as Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James or Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner seem to be coming back into fashion, albeit somewhat slowly.

As a reader, I cannot help trying to figure out why readers might be looking for these extremes and my mind instantly goes to current events. After all, the economy is in upheaval and readers in the United States and many other countries have been dealing with war and the threat of terrorism for years. Against this backdrop, both extremes in reading choices make sense. When times are rough, escape into a cozy and secure world can be very tempting. The world of many of my books is warmer and cozier than what I see in the papers and on the job every day. A place where people know and care for their neighbors, where life seems a little safer, or the tone a little lighter definitely holds some appeal.

Likewise, the beauty of love in the face of hardship or darkness can show that events cannot get the best of us and that love, ultimately, brings hope. Love can bring light to darkness as well as meaning to lives thrown into turmoil. In addition, tales of heroes and heroines conquering the evil of terrorists, serial killers, cult leaders, or soul-eating monsters empowers readers. After all, if the characters we enjoy reading can emerge victorious, why shouldn’t we?

Is there a certain amount of idealism in these views of the world? Certainly. After all, in real life it’s an unfortunate truth that the good guys don’t always win. That small towns can be prisons just as easily as they can be havens would be another unfortunate truth. And having grown up not far from conservative Mennonite communities, I can tell you that life among the bonnets and buggies has its dark side, too. However, just as many people tend to remember the happy times more fondly than the bad, it makes sense that readers would want to visit the happier parts of small-town life in their reading or to see their heroes and heroines emerge victorious in their fights against darkness. Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean the glass must always be half-empty. I find it very interesting that both ends of the spectrum in terms of tone each have something positive to offer readers; It makes for an interesting look at the shelves.

As a reader, I think my preference would lie more frequently with the darker stories. I’m sometimes in the mood for a very sweet, homey read, or I would like to smile and be charmed by a light historical. However, more often I like the thrill of seeing the good guys win, seeing the leads overcome long odds and major obstacles, and reading about love triumphant. How about you?

– Lynn Spencer