Nov 14 2012 1:30pm

Author Tammara Webber on Hot Guys in Problem Novels

Easy by Tammara WebberToday we're happy to welcome author Tammara Webber, whose just-released Easy is a stellar entrant in the new New Adult genre. Easy isn't an easy read, despite its name; the heroine endures an attack at the outset of the novel, and she deals with the repercussions throughout the rest of the book. Tammara shares just what happens when a hot guy is in a “problem novel.” Thanks, Tammara!

I’ve loved romance novels ever since my high school BFF shoved a coverless Johanna Lindsey novel into my hands sophomore year with a hissed, “Read. This.” Why was it coverless? To keep our mothers from knowing that we were joyously embarking on what would be a massive consumption of bad boys and wicked men named Garrick and Trevor and the Duke of Jervaulx—on paper, of course.

Hooked on love stories with steamy scenes and strong, swoony guys, I sometimes found the required texts in class a bit dull—until I discovered that my imagination could spice them up. Good thing my teachers didn’t know I was fanfic-ing Eliot and Dickens in my head. Great Expectations indeed!

I eventually developed a taste for unembellished classics, but I never lost my love for a hot romance with a happily ever after ending. There was just one problem: I missed my own century. Embarking on a sampling of contemporary romance novels, however, I encountered an unexpected difficulty—I couldn’t connect with the central characters, who were generally single career women with ticking biological clocks. I met my husband in high school, and against the advice of, well, everyone, we married as teenagers. By the time I was thirty, I was the stay-at-home mom of three.

I discovered a few hilarious chick-lit protagonists (Bridget Jones) and appreciated the lyrical creations of a few women’s fiction authors such as Anita Shreve, but when it came to romance novels, I still related better to a twenty-year-old Regency bluestocking with an inconvenient dowry or a Victorian debutante with a hankering for an exasperating rake than I did with a present-day woman my own age. It wasn’t until I discovered Young Adult novels that contemporary and romance finally melded for me. Here was new love as I remembered it—full of confusion and hormonal fervor, and authors like Jennifer Echols and Simone Elkeles delivered.

All novels contain conflict, of course. Otherwise, they’re just boring accounts of people being happy. Yawn. If a reader doesn’t want to throw that book against the wall at least once, the author has done something wrong. We expect to turn those pages while gasping in outrage and moaning in disbelief and going all Oh no he didn’t!

Looking for Alaska by John GreenA Young Adult Lit course I took as a returning college student introduced me to the other side of YA—the problem novels. From within the standard literary conflict, these stories scrutinize a tough (often controversial) issue from a young adult standpoint that often resonates with adults as well. John Green’s Looking for Alaska examines adolescent suicide and the peers left behind; Alex Flinn’s Breathing Underwater is told from the disturbingly real point of view of a boy who hits his girlfriend; Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak is a brilliantly narrated account of a girl who is raped the summer before she begins high school, and then shunned. These books are the perfect tools for teachers, counselors and parents to initiate dialogue with adolescents… if the reader will read them.

Make no mistake, many won’t. Maybe she’s a reluctant reader. Maybe she’ll pass it by, thinking that sounds depressing. Or worse, she may suspect the book could help her, but she’s afraid of it, because reading it might uncover anguish better left repressed or trigger a reliving of an experience she’d rather forget.
But a combination romance/problem novel—with that enigmatic hot guy, building sexual tension, and the possibility of an HEA? That, she’ll read. Enter two of my favorite romance/issue unions: Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour by Morgan Matson and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

Matson’s Amy is grieving the recent loss of her father, but she’s also immobilized with guilt—she was driving the car when they had the accident that killed him. When her mom accepts a job across the country, Amy stays behind to finish the school year, but she never, ever drives. When it’s time for her to leave California for Connecticut, her mother arranges for the son of a friend to drive her car. Roger is a bit older, girlfriendless, has a quirky sense of humor, and is hot. Matson skillfully weaves the gradually building romance throughout a road trip where Amy begins to confront her demons—with Roger’s help.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy NelsonIn The Sky is Everywhere, Nelson manages to unite a profound unfolding of grief with a budding romance, an uncomfortable romantic triangle, and astonishingly, laugh-out-loud humor as well. The romance is necessary to the healing—as was Lennie’s choice between the guy she just met—who seems so right, and her dead sister’s boyfriend—who shares her misery like no one else does, but at the same time keeps her mired in it.

I looked to these and other successful fusions of romance and a defining issue commonly considered in mature young adult literature (The DUFF by Kody Keplinger also comes to mind) when writing Easy. The issue of acquaintance rape wasn’t a conflict within Easy; it was the focus of the novel, and the reason for its existence. The issue came first, and the romance was wrapped around it to make that issue more accessible and easier for some readers to stomach. Blendings like these speak to those readers who might otherwise sidestep “problem novels” completely, and I believe that’s why they work.


Reading was one of my first and earliest loves, and writing soon followed. My first book was about a lost bear, but my lack of ability as an illustrator convinced me to abandon that effort and concentrate on passing 3rd grade.

I wrote sad romantic poetry in high school and penned my first half-novel when I was 19, for which I did lots of research on Vikings (the marauders, not the football team), and which was *accidentally* destroyed when I stuffed it into the shredder at work.

I'm a hopeful romantic who adores novels with happy endings, because there are enough sad endings in real life.

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