Over the last week or so in Booklandia, one hasn’t been able to escape the controversy over Nicholas Sparks. This particular controversy – unlike the one almost exclusively within Booklandia where if you’ve read one Sparks novel, you’ve read them all – revolves around a school he created over a decade ago and a now former headmaster he hired nearly a decade ago and then later fired, who then sued him in 2013 or so. And in its particulars, well, Sparks doesn’t exactly come out looking like the squeaky clean author of A Walk To Remember.
And that is bad, don’t get me wrong. I am not apologizing for nor defending Sparks’ views on race and sex in any way. Indeed I personally think his views are idiotic at best, but are also views that having grown up in South, I shared long ago before my own eyes were opened via various life experiences.
But that actually isn’t what I want to discuss here, as it is being heavily dissected elsewhere. What I want to discuss here is more akin to the actual Booklandia controversy around him, and in particular the claim that “he isn’t a romance author”.
Now, I’ve gone to war several times – including over the last week – with Romance Writers of America (RWA) (and regional variants) Board Members over this, but the sheer simple fact is that they will not change me, nor will I change them. For many various reasons both deep seated internally and economically, they have their particular views about exactly what is “in” as a “romance novel”, and because of those particular reasons they will never truly get what I am saying here.
But I’m a guy that doesn’t even believe all life *must* be carbon based, that allows for the possibility even among the most bedrock of scientific principles that there is a *possibility* that we are wrong in some minor or major way and that “reality” isn’t thus what we currently believe “reality” to be.
In matters of style – and all writing is *completely* a matter of style – I am far more open. There literally are no set rules. What is popular today might not be popular in 10 yrs. What sells millions of copies now may struggle to sell tens of copies in a century. And a good story is a good story, no matter what rules it breaks or follows.
My own definition of a “romance novel” is any novel wherein the love story in the book is the primary driving narrative. The RWA purists insist that at minimum it include a Happily Ever After (HEA), and since Sparks never includes an HEA, he is by their definition not a romance author. And in truth, the case could in fact be made that since a romantic *tragedy* is almost always how Sparks’ books turn out, that he is actually a tragedy author. But when was the last time you heard of a book marketed as a tragedy selling what Sparks has?
But romance novels aren’t the only ones that have their “rules”, they’re just the only one I know of to officially “codify” them. (Though some have attempted to codify Christian Fiction as well, I am unaware of any agency within Christian Fiction that is similar to RWA.) Most any genre has a general arc somewhat specific to that particular genre. An adventure novel is almost always going to have some small team looking for some historical artifact in some remote region and facing some form of bad guy also after the same artifact. A military technothriller is almost always going to open up with some battle or some test of some new hardware and proceed into a full scale battle to save the world from some enemy that is always at least a step behind in some way.
And RWA types (and to almost as bad of an extent, Christian Fiction types in at least some circles) are the only ones I’ve seen to be so exclusionary – indeed, they are as exclusionary of other works as Sparks himself is of other people. In most other genres, if you want to say “My book is this, but it has these other features”, they’re largely going to say “awesome, you do you bro”. In romance world, if you try to say “My book is a love story, but it doesn’t end well”… prepare for the torches and pitchforks.
Which is a shame, because while books that fit within the “rules” can be great, in all honesty after a while they start bleeding together and it becomes difficult to tell one book from another or in some cases even one author from another.
Have enough courage to at least spill outside the mold a bit. Give us *some* wrinkle we’re not going to find with anyone else. And if you can have the true bravery to absolutely shatter the mold – as I have indeed seen some authors do – even better.