Well, I do declare! (fans self) I am positively weak in the knees about this highfalutin Round Robin topic for May. Okay. I hope you read that in a Southern Belle drawl and thought some serious Gone with the Wind. Adjust your bodice and grab yourself a gentleman or lady of your choosing...or maybe just slip on a white tee and hop in the cab of a pickup truck, because our topic is as follows: What changes have your seen in romance novels in the past decade? Is there a change in romance novel direction? Is there still a market for non-explicit sex stories?
Here's where I have to draw a line in the sand. The truth is, I don't read "romance" novels. But, to be truthful, romance novels can mean a thousand different things. One, they could be those three-dollar paperbacks that my allergy doctor told me his English teacher wrote and begged me not to when I admitted to him I wanted to be a writer. I was, like, twelve. You know the ones I mean. Every guy looks like Fabio and the girl is usually throwing her head back and is probably wearing minimal coverage? (I have nothing against these books or the people who read/write them, just to be clear. To each his own! I've just never picked one up and do not plan to.)
Two, romance novel could mean a book like Juliet by Anne Fortier, or Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray (Ahahaha, the stipulations were last decade so I can't go back to Shakespeare, but these are nearly as good.) These focus plotwise on people falling in love. Or three, a romance novel might merely be a book where romance takes place. The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare have a whole lotta romance going on, but there's also magical creatures, lots of fighting for lives and existential crises. See what I'm getting at? Definitions are hard, but I'll try to answer the questions.
So, changes? I guess when I was younger, "romance" meant crawling back into the ethos of the library shelves and emerging with dogeared copies of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It meant dusty stories of snotty Brits whose phrasing hurt my brain as much as the dust awakened the wrath of my allergy-induced asthma. (To this day I've only ready the kiddie illustrated versions of these books because I was about ten and they didn't speak to me. Perhaps I'll try the normal text versions?)
Now, romance is all kinds of stuff. I feel like it's really branched out, but maybe that's just me. Romance now invites all kinds. I know LGBT romance books are getting published now, and not as simply 'taboo,' because people are finally getting more accepting. That's a thing I've seen a lot of recently and it makes me happy. Besides sexual orientation, romance isn't just the sort of rich/poor, historical, Dickensian tropes they used to be. Romance also tends not to be the super-duper, in-your-face focus anymore. The most romantic-heavy thing I've read in a while is Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and even that had other stuff going on. The Lunar Chronicles is all focused on love, but also revolution. I think I've made my point. Love is still prevalent, but it's not all smoldering eyes and running off.