Slow burn to scorching: Why we love contemporaries
The temperatures may be dropping, but contemporary romance lovers will have plenty of great books to keep them warm this winter. Whether they prefer a slow-burn romance or scorching passion, authors Kara Braden, Megan Mulry, Kristen Proby, Michele Summers, Catherine Bybee and Kathleen Brooks have you covered. We asked these authors to give us the skinny on writing and reading contemporary romance and why these books are so easy to love.
Q: What's your favorite part about writing contemporary romance
Kara Braden, author of The Deepest Night:Setting a romance in the modern world means I can focus my attention on the characters' relationship rather than bringing the reader up to speed with a world set in the distant past or alternate future. I like my heroes and heroines to be realistic, relatable characters who could be our best friends, our co-workers or members of our families.
Megan Mulry, author of Roulette: I love incorporating real-life details and experiences into my fictional world. For example, the town in Provence where Miki goes to visit her best friend is a place I've visited several times and I loved conjuring the land and food and essence of the region when I wrote that part of Roulette. The scent of lavender … the way the crickets saw at certain times of the day … little details like that make stories feel really rich to me. I also love observing the world around me — from police brutality to private jets — and figuring out how I am going to weave those things into my characters' experiences.
Michele Summers, author of Find My Way Home: My favorite part about writing contemporary romance is creating a whole new world/town/village that either never existed or embellishing on some place that does. I enjoy taking the familiar and giving it a new twist. As a designer, creating a new world feeds my creative interiors spirit. And it's so much more fun when you can start with a blank canvas and let your imagination run wild. I particularly love designing my hero and heroine's homes because the theme of my stories revolves around home and either finding your way back or making a new one with someone you love. It's great fun tapping into my designing gene and inventing these fabulous spaces. And the best part … the client can't talk back. Those lime-green leopard pillows with the hot-pink trim? Done. They're stuck with them!
"Forever With Me" by Kristen Proby. (Photo: Ampersand Publishing)
Kristen Proby, author of Forever With Me: I'm such a sucker for a good love story. I think my favorite part is that early chemistry, when the characters are realizing that they're attracted to each other, and they can't wait to get their hands on each other.
Catherine Bybee, author of Not Quite Forever:Being able to pull from everything and everyone around me for plot twists and inspiration.
Kathleen Brooks, author of Built for Power: Getting lost in the story while writing. I love becoming part of the town and part of the characters' lives.
Q: What's your favorite trope in contemporaries?
Kara: I love friends-to-lovers, maybe because even though my husband and I met on an Internet dating site, where we were intentionally looking for more than just friendship, we started out as friends first, through our shared love of playing video games. Romance is all about the journey to falling in love — a relationship that builds one step at a time. Friendship provides a solid foundation for lasting love.
"Roulette" by Megan Mulry. (Photo: Montlake Romance)
Megan: I love the I-know-you-are-totally-wrong-for-me-but-I-love-you-anyway trope. I think it goes back to when I was a little girl and first saw My Fair Lady andThe King and I on Broadway. Somehow these really autocratic men ended up being "saved" by these scrappy, self-sufficient women. Likewise, the heroines initially found the men to be ill-mannered and overbearing, so the reluctant-falling-in-love went both ways.
Michele: OK … way too many to choose from, but I'll try and narrow it down. Love the fake engagement. Just love that pickle they find themselves in and how they try and squirm their way out without succeeding, of course! I also enjoy opposites attract because it makes for some great conflicting moments where nobody agrees and I'm always wondering how they're ever going to get it together. And one of my all-time favorites is the bait and switch where the hero or heroine pretends to be somebody else and they have to keep up the ruse. This trope always keeps me reading and thoroughly intrigued. I have a bait-and-switch story in me right now and it's gonna get written … I promise!
Kristen: I love the alpha, billionaire heroes. Probably because doesn't every woman want to meet a successful, super rich man who knows what he wants, isn't afraid to go after it (her) and be a bit bossy, yet in the most loving and affectionate way possible? Where do I sign up for that guy?
Catherine: Oh, that's hard. I love the "forbidden" romance, but can't say I've written one yet. I like a slow sizzling burn of a love story.
Kathleen: The reformed player is my favorite trope. Usually there's some humor with the realization that they've found the one. And usually the one is a pretty awesome heroine and that makes the story for me!
Q: What's your favorite type of heroine to write?
Kara: People talk about a "strong" woman, but who can define what makes one woman "stronger" than another? Is a woman who joins the U.S. Marine Corpsand ends up in a combat zone, like the heroine of The Longest Night, stronger than my second book's heroine, who wants to run a bed and breakfast? I don't think so. I think a strong woman is one who has the wisdom to understand herself and the willpower to follow her dreams, without needing to depend on anyone else to feel capable or complete. When a strong woman falls in love, she does so with her eyes wide open and her whole heart.
Megan: I want readers to feel like my heroines are going to be just fine with or without the hero — but you know, if she can end up as the Queen of Siam or living in a swanky townhouse in Mayfair with the man she loves, why wouldn't she?
Michele: Sassy, smart, funny. My heroines have to have all three characteristics and yet don't see themselves that way at all. I enjoy writing heroines who tend to be vulnerable, but do a good job of hiding it behind their funny mask or sarcasm. My heroines are flawed in many ways, but in the end their strength of character and their love of family and home shine through.
Kristen: I love a woman who isn't afraid to kick ass and doesn't take anyone's crap. So while my hero may be alpha and goes after what he wants, when he screws up (and he will, because he's human after all) the heroine isn't going to shy away from calling him out on his crap. She's also funny and sexy.
Catherine: I like writing them all. I'm partial to confident sassy heroines. But it's nice to take a reserved heroine and help her come out of her confined skin.
Kathleen: I love writing about strong, independent women. I joke that if my heroine ever twisted her ankle while running from the bad guy, that she'd roll over and kick him with the good leg!
Q: Do your prefer a slow burn or scorching?
Kara: I'm all about the slow burn. There's nothing I enjoy more than rising tension that builds page after page, from heated glances to furtive touches, from innuendos to outright declarations of desire and love. As a reader, I want to be seduced into believing in the relationship — and as a writer, I love to tease the reader into saying, "They're perfect for one another! Look at them! When will they admit they're in love and kiss already?"
Megan: Both! I love scorching erotica with lots of sex on the page, and I love sex-free romances that just get me feeling all tingly without ever going behind the bedroom door. I guess what I always want to feel is a simmering tension. Whether it's actually depicted or only alluded to, I crave the snap-crackle-and-pop of protagonists interacting with one another in any setting. (But if they are, you know, interacting in bed, that's great too.)
Michele: I think I write slow burn … slow to write it and I burn with indigestion! I mean, writing any level of heat is very, very difficult for me. I'm repressed and live with tons of Catholic guilt … it's not my fault. But I hope by the end of the day (or in my case it's usually a week) I've captured some heat that holds true emotion and a certain binding connection between my hero and heroine. And having just written that, I realize it's not the sexual act that's so difficult for me to write, but the emotion attached to it and making that real and believable because without the passion and love it becomes a laundry list of putting Tab A into slot B … for me anyway.
Kristen: Can't we do both? Ha! I love those scorching, super-hot stories.
Catherine: It can be slow on the burn, which makes the end all that more scorching. Sometimes an instant attraction with a slow heat to love is fun too.
Kathleen: Both! It all depends on the characters. Sometimes they just can't keep their hands off of each other, but other couples need that time to get over an old feud, misconception, etc. The characters really are the ones that dictate if it's a slow burn or scorching book.
Q: What's your go-to contemporary to cuddle up with?
Kara: I'm going to break the rules here, because my go-to romance is Nalini Singh's Psy-Changeling series, which is a near-future sci-fi/paranormal romance. After a few bad brushes with bodice rippers in the '80s, I refused to go near romance again until I found A Slave to Sensation. I was hooked by the end of the first chapter. Her world-building is spectacular, with a rich and intricate history, and I love how she's incorporated what we'd normally think of as magic — shapeshifters and psychics — into a world full of science.
Megan: I love contemporaries with memorable characters, sharp dialogue and a hint of black humor, so I gravitate toward writers likeSusan Elizabeth Phillips, Maisey Yates and Mira Lyn Kelly.
Michele: Seriously? How long do we have? Let's see … nowadays anything by Kristan Higgins or Tracy Brogan. But in the past I could be seen with all books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Rachel Gibson, Jennifer Crusie, Jane Graves and Shannon Stacey. But the first contemporary romance I ever read was Open Season by Linda Howardlent to me by a friend. And at first, I turned my Regency-lovin' nose up and didn't think I'd like it. Boy, was I wrong. After that one book I was hooked!
Kristen: I have a few: Jennifer Probst, Christina Lauren and Nora Roberts are my staples.
Catherine: There are so many books on my TBR list that I don't often re-read a novel. If there is one constant in my world of go-to ... it would be a laptop. I'm always working on the next Bybee book.
Kathleen: Christie Craig's Divorced and Desperate series. Sassy Southern heroines, sexy men and laugh-out-loud suspense.
Find out more about these authors and their books at their websites: