Apr 8 2011 9:00am

No Dissin’ the Just-Kissin’: Why Harlequin Romance Still Rocks

Three Times a Bridesmaid by Nicola MarshSex is like any other element in fiction. If it is not organic to the story, it just gets in the way. Sometimes the sex in a romance novel works exceedingly well and propels the story forward; other times it feels tacked on and unnecessary.

Like most things in life, it boils down to execution.

This tends to be a heated discussion for romance readers. Some of us need the sex. Sex is a natural progression in any romantic relationship, and if the sex isn’t there, or doesn’t work, it doesn’t give one much faith in the happy-ever-after. But for some readers, the sex is almost incidental. We don’t really need to see it on page to buy into the happy ending. That’s where all the emotional play between the characters comes in. Or more simply put? Tension.

Oh-So-Sensible Secretary by Jessica HartI’m a romance reader who will read all over the map when it comes to sex. I adore well-done erotica, but I also enjoy stories that employ “just-kisses.” The latter is the foundation on which the Harlequin Romance line is built. It’s all about the tension. It’s all about developing the emotional relationship between the hero and heroine. It’s all about showing two people navigating the romantic waters all while not putting sex on the page. The bedroom door is firmly closed.

What I enjoy about this particular brand of category romance is that not only does the author have to make me believe the romance without any bedroom gymnastics; they have to do it in one of the shorter word counts in the Harlequin universe. These stories clock in at fewer than 200 pages. The author needs to sell the romance, sell the happy ending, and sell all the sexual tension, without employing any naughty bits to illustrate the point.

Wedding Date with the Best Man by Melissa McCloneThis all leads to the misconception that the Harlequin Romance line is “old-fashioned.” Yes, they’re gentler love stories. But “gentle” does not automatically make them irrelevant to today’s modern reader. It’s all about the voice, and many of the Harlequin Romance authors employ a very modern voice. They write about heroines who I might personally know. Heroines I could see myself being friends with, having coffee with, chatting about life, love and books with. They’re real women, with real problems. They just don’t broadcast their sexual exploits for the entire world to read about.

For that reason, I call this line the “multi-generational” line. These are books you can recommend to any reader, and feel safe in doing so. Whether the reader is thirteen, a college student, a Gen-X professional, a retiring Baby Boomer, or an extremely conservative grandmother, there’s something in the Harlequin Romance line that will appeal to all of them.

Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle by Donna AlwardDespite it being the oldest line of books in the Harlequin canon, with book number one launching in 1949, it’s a line I just personally discovered. Like many, I slapped the “old-fashioned” label on them without having read one, but discovering these good, solid stories, wrapped up in a small package, featuring real heroines with real problems was like finding a long lost gold mine. They’re a great way to unwind, relax, and get an emotional charge that all romance readers look for in the genre.


Three Times a Bridesmaid by Nicola Marsh
Oh-So-Sensible Secretary by Jessica Hart
Wedding Date With the Best Man by Melissa McClone
Proud Rancher, Precious Bundle by Donna Alward


Wendy Crutcher, Fighting For Truth, Justice and the Right to Read What You Want

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Alie V
1. ophelial
Wendy! Great piece. I totally agree, Harlequins have a cross generational appeal and when I was first starting to read romance, Harlequins are where I started.
Keira Soleore
2. KeiraSoleore
What an excellent blog, Wendy. Every once in a while a shout-out needs to go towards the excellent books Harlequin puts out in its various categories.
Liz Fielding
3. Liz Fielding
Thanks so much for a great blog, Wendy. So many people are rediscovering - or discovering for the first time - what great books come in the Harlequin Romance livery.
Melissa McClone
4. Melissa McClone
Great blog! I'm so happy you discovered the line and thanks for getting the word out about Harlequin Romance! It's much appreciated.
Liz Fielding
5. JILL Q.
I love Harlequin Romance. I love the diversity of voices and settings, especially England and Australia since that's exotic to me. I love the emotion w/out too much angst. I also feel there's a bit more focus and attention paid on the heroine in HRs and I like that. I know the hero is important, but to me there's nothing worse than a blah, cardboard heroine.
Liz Fielding
6. Donna Alward
Wendy, this is one more reason you are made of awesome. :-) Thanks for the great blog and shout out for the line. It goes to show things can still sizzle even if there's no sex or the door is shut!

Jessica and Liz are the reasons I started writing for this line! :-)
Liz Fielding
7. SharonS
I just read my first one. I like the dark edgy UF romances so this was a big change for me . I read The Baby Project by Susan Meier from the Babies in the Boardroom series. It was short and sweet. A little annoying the way the couple did the "he loves, no he doesn't, yes he does, no he doesn't" thing. I need more meat to my stories than these give. But it was enjoyable.
Liz Fielding
8. Nicola Marsh
Thanks for a fabulous blog, Wendy!

As an author who writes with the bedroom door both shut & open, I find writing for Harlequin Romance a huge challenge, focussing on the emotional depth and sexual tension to get the chemistry between the hero and heroine just right. I love it!

I also love the varied voices, locations and storylines within the Harlequin Romance series. Guaranteed there's something for everyone :)
Liz Fielding
9. Marianne Arkins
I absolutely agree .. with all of it! I read all over the map as well, but sex for the sake of sex is boring. I got turned back onto the HQ Romance line by author Melissa McClone, and have completely enjoyed reading it again.

Great post :-)
Liz Fielding
10. Wendy S. Marcus
Hi Wendy!
Great post! (And love your name!)
I write on the edgier/steamier side of Harlequin Medical Romance. But, when characters draw me in, when I relate to them, feel for them and root for them, the sex is secondary. It's the character interaction/dialogue that keeps me reading...whether between the sheets (or up against the wall) or sitting at the kitchen table.
Wendy the Super Librarian
11. SuperWendy
::Big Sigh:: Just now responding to comments. Visiting family, Real Life, yada yada yada.

@ephramyfan - I stumbled across the romance genre on my own, but how many times have you heard the story of the romance fan who got hooked because of a "sack full of Harlequins" Mom or Grandma kept in her bedroom. They're really great little books to share with others.

@KeiraSoleore - When we're talking the genre as a whole, I firmly believe what many consider "traditional romance" deserves a prominent seat at the table. So many readers cut their teeth on these "gentler" stories.

@LizFielding - I used to get my "gentle" fix via Silhouette Romance, and I would generally just stay within the Harlequin lines I already knew I enjoyed. It took a reviewing gig, and me wanting to broaden my horizons, to pick up my first HR, and man - I've been hooked ever since. Hardcore hooked.

@MelissaMcClone - I discovered Jessica Hart and that started a buying frenzy. I'm still not widely read in the line, but man, I've got a ton of stories waiting for me on my Sony Reader :)

@JillQ. - Yes! That's it exactly! The heroine is a very strong presence in the HR line. That's probably another huge reason why I've been enjoying the line so much. I'm a very heroine-centric reader.

@DonnaAlward - I love really good tension, and I'm a sucker for emotionally angsty dialogue. I've tend to get both in a really good HR book.

@SharonS - I used to solely read category romance as a palate cleanser. To sort of break-up my usual reads, give me something "quick and different" so I wouldn't fall into a rut or worse....a dreaded reading slump.

@NicolaMarsh - I love the variety of settings as well. In one book I might be Sydney Australia, and the next could find me in Wyoming. Keeps me from getting bored :)

@MarianneArkins - I don't like to read too much of the same "type" in a row or else I get bored. I adore erotica and erotic romance, but a steady diet of nothing but that? Yeah, no thanks. Which is another reason I love the HR line. It allows me to totally shift gears in a new direction while still getting my romance fix.

@WendyS.Marcus - Only the very best people are named Wendy :) Yes, that's it exactly. I love seeing good character interaction and dialogue in a story. Sex is great, and sex is fun - but I don't always "need" to read it for the romance to work for me. Pour enough emotion on the page and I'm a happy, happy girl.
Liz Fielding
12. Deb S.
I really appreciated you blog on the "gentler" romance stories. I read all across the board in romance novels and get turned off in romance novels that have sex in them just for the sake of having sex in them or the kind that is one sex scene after the other and the real story gets lost in it. I feel the "gentler" romance novel sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of all the romance novels out there. I've got some I keep and reread from time to time because they just give that feel good moment when I am done reading them. Thanks for a great blog.
Liz Fielding
13. filkferengi
Fun piece! You forgot another fringe benefit of these stories. For 30 years now, I've been proudly admitting that my high verbal score on the SAT came from having started with older Harlequins in the 5th grade.

Liz Fielding
14. Shirley Jump
Great blog! Writing for HR myself for several years, I love and appreciate the line too. I agree with you--it's the one book I can give to my friends for themselves or their daughters and not worry at all about the content. Thanks for your support of HR :-) We're so glad you love the line!

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