It all started with Robyn Carr's Virgin River series. Or maybe not. Maybe the genesis can be traced to Debbie Macomber's Cedar Cove, or Susan Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles. Wherever it began, the small-town contemporary romance series is hot hot hot, the sub-genre exploding in popularity. Authors are being asked by their editors to make the switch from their current genre to these community-based books. Others are retuning for pure love of the setting and the themes inherent to small-town living. Stephanie Bond has blogged about the process of developing such a series. Borders romance buyer Sue Grimshaw has polled readers on why they love these books so much.
The heroes in these books may be physicians, but with small family practices. Or retired military types now wearing the badge of a local sheriff. Town squares and county fairs and school carnivals abound. Crime is low. Craft circles and church picnics bring people together. Life moves forward in the slow lane. There is no rush hour, no lines at Starbucks, or Starbucks at all, often no cell coverage. As one reader said to me, “If the biggest problem was the local store that everybody loved and was about to be torn down . . . [that] sounds relaxing to some of us.”
Relaxation. Escapism. While many readers look for these things in alternative worlds light years and centuries from their own, some want the comfort of the familiar—just without the drama inherent to two income households juggling work and school schedules, home and social lives, worry over economic uncertainty, concern for friends in service to the country deployed overseas, and all while hoping to grab a moment alone with their romantic partner. For many, these books offer hope that as crazy as real life can get, with the love of friends and family, even monstrous obstacles are easily cut down to size. Readers love them for other reasons, too:
- I love them because they're usually about coming home (as opposed to leaving home), and that really strikes a chord with me.
- I love small-town romances. It's something about everybody knowing everybody and life being so peaceful and simple that makes the love story so powerful.
- I like the depth of character . . . the time to spend really getting to know more than just two people in a community. I like seeing the good and the bad, too.
Author Sharon Sala offers a fuller perspective, saying, “I think it's most likely what's missing in their own lives. It's how I used to feel watching The Waltons back in the day. Mom, Dad, a whole bunch of kids, and Grandma and Grandpa all living under one great big happy roof, with love and a generous heart and spirit. That's gone from our society in so many ways. We don't know our neighbors. We look away when we see someone in need because we don't want to get involved. Their stories pull us back to that mindset and society.” And former Silhouette editor Eliza Shallcross, now employed in the cover copy department at Pocket Books, adds this personal observation: “I've been reading a nonfiction book that says that interstate highways and now the internet are severing communities, and that people long for that sense of community.”
Is society and a severed sense of community at the root of this sub-genre’s resurgence? Is it escapism, or fantasy, and readers are then happy to return to their real lives where the corner Starbucks awaits and instant gratification is a mouse click away? Or is it a wish for something more, something lost as technology takes us forward? With multi-tasking the order of the day and gadgets ruling our lives, are these books a message that slowing down can’t be a bad thing?
Small town image courtesy of trazomfreak via Flickr
Alison Kent is the author of more than 30 books, and can be found at alisonkent.com.