Julie Garwood, I’m Breaking Up With You

A romance break up just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Julie, we need to talk.  There was a time when I loved you. It was a simpler time back then. I never had to justify my joy in reading romance novels. No one really cared, and if they did, then I didn’t.

Back in your historical romance days, I had a beloved shelf devoted to your books- well thumbed paperbacks with bent covers and creased spines.  It was the dark ages, back in the 1990s, when a person actually had to “dial up” from a telephone line to get to the internet.  The world wide web was in its infancy, only drug dealers and doctors had beepers (yes, beepers!) never mind cell phones, and apps weren’t even a twinkle in their programmers’ eyes.  So instead of hopping onto Amazon.com (which wasn’t born until the mid-nineties), I haunted the bookstores scouring the racks for your new releases and backlist. I couldn’t handle the months-long waitlist at the public library, I had to have those books in my hot little hands as soon as possible.

I didn’t mind that your characters were Mary Sues. Heck, I didn’t even know what a Mary Sue was.   As an uncritical female reader in her late teens, I didn’t know what emotionally manipulative writing was, and I certainly didn’t care about historical accuracy. I just knew that I wanted to be those characters with their handsome Scottish Highlanders or Earls or whatever. You delivered what I was looking for: steamy love scenes, happy endings and heroes who weren’t emotionally or verbally abusive (I’m talking to you Diana Palmer).

 We seemed destined to be together- we were both from Kansas City and still lived in the area. You’re books were light reading in the sense of not filled with Sturm und Drang and overwrought emotional angst.

 But then, in the 2000s, you left historical romancelandia for contemporary fiction world.  I wasn’t mad at you for this decision. Historicals were languishing and I also began to foray into new areas.  As the genre was no longer selling as well, contemporary “action” romances were gaining in popularity. Also, if you slapped a non-romance cover on a book and sold it in the suspense section, you could get some new readers who would never have to know they were reading a *gasp* romance author. It’s the Sneaky Pete of bookselling, and I can appreciate a good hustle.

 But my enjoyment of your historicals did not translate into your contemporaries. Julie, to use a cliché, we just began to grow apart. It’s not you, it’s me.  Ok, it is you, but it’s me as well.  As the years went on, I became a much more critical reader.  I began to realize there were better authors out there, and I could find escapism in really interesting genres (hello urban fantasy, you sexy thing you).  And as I changed, well, you didn’t.  I could still see the same plots, the same tropes, the same awkward information dumps, the same Mary Sue characters. Writing is supposed to evolve with practice, not stay static.  I know that I’m a better writer than I was 15 years ago- why can’t you be as well?

We have been drifting apart in the past 10 years.  You went from being a serious relationship- a must buy in hardback, to a wait until paperback, to is it available in the library, to where we are today.  Oh sure, we hooked up in Amazon recommendations or once in a while, when I was between books and I was swayed by your good reviews.  But I just finished reading your latest book, Sweet Talk, and I realized I can’t keep doing this anymore.  Sweet Talk is, frankly, not your best effort.  It was incredibly wooden.  I think it is the introductory book to a new trilogy/quadrology.  You know I’m a sucker for trilogies.  I will keep on reading until every last book is finished just to complete the set.  But this time, I couldn’t bring myself to care.  Even the framing device was way too contrived. I’m not even going to try to bring real science into this but the mysterious disease the Pips had? The mysterious cure? This is romantic fiction, not science fiction.

The biggest sin of all was the complete lack of romantic tension between the hero and the heroine.  I actually skipped the steamy scenes because I was bored.  Skipped.  Steamy.  Scenes.  There is something drastically wrong when your readers aren’t reading the naughty bits. But the popsicle thing? Yawn. It has been done before with with more humor and steam.

So maybe I’ve just outgrown you, or maybe you’ve gotten stale.  Either way, I believe it is time to part ways.  A clean break is best. I’m un-friending you on Facebook.  Please don’t send me any late night emails advertising your latest novel. If we happen to meet up at Goodreads, I will be “not interested,” but I will not give you a bad review.  While I may sneak down to the basement to peruse some of your better works from an earlier era, I will keep the past in the past.

I’m sorry Julie.  We’ll always have Saving Grace. And Honor’s Splendour*.  And For the Roses**.  Sniff.

Good luck in your life,

A Discerning Reader

*why the British spelling for splendor and not for Honor, even if Honor is the name of the character?

**but not the Clayborne Brides, that was way too uneven with barely sketched-out characters and  a too blatant attempt to capitalize on For the Roses.

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About Ellie Kohler

I'm the Access and Learning Services Librarian at Rockhurst University, and was a founding member of the ILL Special Interest Group. My specialties include interlibrary loan, instruction, reference, circulation, reserves, and wrangling 40 (or so) student assistants. I continue to defy the librarian stereotype by keeping a cat-free household.
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