Contemporary

Starling By Racheline Maltese & Erin McRae

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When my co-author and I first started writing contemporary romance, we thought on some level we had it easy. We didn’t have to build magic systems, theorize about future technology, or research historical accuracy in excruciating detail.

But when we realized we were writing a six-book series (Starling, book 1, was released on September 10; Doves, book 2 is due out January 21, 2015; and the title of book 3, Phoenix, has just been announced) we also realized that writing contemporary romance also means writing historical romance as well as sci-fi romance and, maybe, even a little bit of paranormal romance.

Love in Los Angeles is a m/m romance series; it’s also a multigenerational queer family story. While we start in what is, more or less, the present day -- the 2010s -- by the end of the series we’ll have followed our family decades into the future.

Which means that, 20 years from now, when the events of the later books are actually supposed to be taking place, the events of the earlier books will already have become historical fiction. The specificity that can make our contemporary romances feel current and real today, is the specificity that will date it later. As writers, we can try to be vague and hope this doesn't happen. We can even update our text in future editions to work in the new versions of all those specifics.

Or, we can choose to write it with a thought to how it will capture this moment in time even after this moment in time has passed. In the course of writing this series, Indiana -- one of the places critical to the story, in spite of the Love in Los Angeles title -- legalized marriage equality and changed how we had to think of that state, and our characters’ relationships to it. And we’re writing a book about the television industry at a moment when that industry is undergoing drastic changes. What all of this means is that we've realized we can't avoid our books aging, so as writers we're increasingly focused not on avoiding that, but on making sure they age well.

We’re living in a moment of flux on a lot of issues of critical importance to both us as people and to our story as writers, so the best thing we can do is capture that sense of uncertainty and shift, and then cross our fingers and hope we make some lucky guesses.

Which brings us to the science fiction issue. Science fiction is hard to avoid if you're writing a series that starts now and advances even five years into the future. If you're writing a multi-generational family saga, it's nearly impossible. Just look at how cell phone technology has changed in the last ten years to see why. In my own childhood, e-book readers were a thing of Star Trek fantasy. Now, I have to consider if we’re all moving to single tablet devices to replace phones, laptops, and e-readers; and just how much global warming may affect flood zones in New York City twenty years from now. We both have to assume and vaguely invent future technologies, because it is ridiculous to think anything will stand still.

Finally, let's get to the paranormal. Here, I think contemporary romance writers wind up engaging with the genre both through their characters' belief systems should they come up and through the very act of writing, which can be remarkably spooky. We’re writing a multigenerational saga, and, without spoiling too much, characters do die and weird stuff does happen around death. And in that space is where, for us, the paranormal really starts to come through, because we’re interested in fairy tales about fame and death and in stories science alone can’t explain.

When I first started writing romance, everyone said to me not to worry about finding an audience, because romance readers read voraciously, and if you can provide a great story about two or more people forging a connection, you'll find readers.

At the time, I didn't get it. Since then, though, my own reading habits have branched out from M/M contemporary in to historical, paranormal, and even sweet contemporary romances of all genders and pairings. But what completely sold me on the interest in a broad range of stories in the romance reading and writing community was my own experiences writing contemporary romance and how many other genres I felt I needed to consider to write the most truthful, emotional, and present story possible.

One lucky reader who comments on my blog will be randomly selected to win an e-copy of “Lake Effect,” our short story published in Torquere Press’s wedding-themed anthology They Do. Good luck!