Friday, April 4, 2008

Dark and Dangerous? Guest Blogger Nina Bruhns Asks...

When I posted a request for guest bloggers on my local chapter’s Chat loop, Nina Bruhns immediately volunteered. That’s who she is. She has served as Programs Chair, organizes our annual retreat (and has added a Master Class and Hermit Weeks at the Beach—check them out at, and has served as Co-President these last two years. Our chapter is small and Nina keeps us going by so graciously giving!

Her writing accomplishments are amazing. They include wins in such prestigious contests as the National Readers’ Choice Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award (twice), the Dorothy Parker Award (five times), the Golden Chalice Award, the Beacon Award, the Colorado Award of Excellence, the Lories, the Write Touch Readers Award, and the Aspen Gold, to name a few. Her books have also made it onto the WaldenBooks Bestseller List, as well as been named favorite book of the year by several review website. Recently, Night Mischief was nominated for a RITA Award, and we all have our fingers and toes crossed for her!

Please join me in welcoming Nina Bruhns as our guest blogger this 4th of April!

Nina: Last week, an article in our local paper, the Post and Courier, really got me thinking. Written by columnist Rebekah Bradford, who is wonderful and a great friend to romance novels, part of the new and very welcome thaw in Charleston’s über-conservative attitude (read: prejudice) against “those books”, the article was nevertheless somewhat critical of the (alleged) changes which romance novels have undergone since 9/11.

Here’s a link to the article:

The gist of what Bradford said was that she feels the complex, dark and intense romances of the nineties have given way post-9/11 to a genre that is “breezy, full of humor and feel-good emotion.” Okaaay... Well, that brings up several things in my mind. The first being, so, what’s wrong with humor and feel-good emotion!?

But I get what she means. I honestly do. Even if I don’t strictly agree with her assertion that all romance novels are like that now. Because I’ve read a ton of wonderfully dark, complex and unpredictable stories just this past year. My own NIGHT MISCHIEF, which was an October 07 release from Silhouette Nocturne, is an extremely dark and intense read. It is currently up for a RITA Award, which is the romantic equivalent of an Oscar (yay! ☺). So, I would definitely disagree that you can’t find seriously intricate and emotional romances out there today.

Personally, I love writing textured and angsty stories, full of twists and wrenching conflict. But guess what? And here’s the bottom line. They don’t sell nearly as well as the light, humorous, pure entertainment books do. In fact, I used to alternate writing lighter stories with darker, but the difference in sales among my own books is so striking that a couple of years ago I made a conscious decision to stop writing the serious stories I love so well in favor of more light, breezy ones. Luckily, I enjoy writing those also. ☺ In March I had a hero from outer space (I like to characterize THE REBEL PRINCE as “Mork and Mindy meets The DaVinci Code and Sex and the City” – how serious can that be?) and coming in June KILLER TEMPTATION is a sexy romp on the beach in Fiji (okay, there’s a serial killer there, but trust me it’s not the least bit scary). I was lucky enough recently to sell to Berkley (Penguin/Putnam) and those bigger books will be fairly dark and quite complex romantic thrillers. I’m already starting to worry about sales and I haven’t even finished writing the first one... Yikes.

So, I guess I would argue that if indeed there is a predominance of lighter romance fare out there today, the trend is being driven by the number of readers who prefer that type of story and show it with their purchases. As an author, I wish it were otherwise. But there you go. You have to give the audience what they want. Hopefully in another five years it will swing back the other way.

Meanwhile, what do you think? Do you see a trend to lighter reads in romance? Do you prefer them to the darker stories? Or...?

I’d love to hear your comments!

2008 RITA nominee Nina Bruhns


Lexie O'Neill said...

Dear Nina,
Thank you for blogging with us! I've already crossed my fingers and toes for Night Mischief, now I'm adding--what? crossing my elbows and knees?--you get the point for your Berkeley dark books!
Per the topic--I actually felt the opposite when I read Rebekah Bradford's article. Some people, at least some editors I've read about, prefer the dark and dangerous.
Thank you again!

Mel Hiers said...

Hi Nina! Welcome, and congrats on the nomination!

I have to admit, I took a break from romance in the '90's. College and a new love for SF/F lured me away. Sounds like I missed out! I'll have to go back and dig up some titles. So I probably couldn't compare today's romance with '90's romance.

What I HAVE been seeing, especially in the paranormal genre, is dark, emotional books with the occasional injection of humor. Sometimes goofy, sometimes sardonic. Personally, I think this makes for a richer, more complex novel. But I'm one of those people who aren't satisfied with a light book with no meat to it, nor do I enjoy all angst all the time. I figure real people have a variety of emotions and reactions, and so should the characters in the books I read. But I could also be completely missing the point. I haven't had my coffee yet. :-P

Evonne Wareham said...

Hello Nina
A facinating topic - I certainly like to have a 'wardrobe' of choices in my reading material - different styles for different moods. Apparently the next big thing on this side of the pond is going to be a return to the blockbuster - books in the style of Shirley Conran's Lace - it will be interesting to see if it happens.

Elaine McCarthy said...

Hi, Nina...

If there really is a swing to lighter stories, I'm all for it. Life's got as much angst and dread as I can deal with; when I read I want to have some fun. But I've gotta say, a lot of stories that look like they're going to be light when you read the jacket blurb or even the reviews on Amazon turn out to have some pretty dark elements. I often wonder if there aren't more serial killers and crazed stalkers in fiction than there are in real life! Of course it's hard to define "dark." Crazed sadistic serial killers are not all equally scary.

It's certainly a fascinating subject, however, and I'd love to be able to figure out how the writers of the less-scary evil guys manage to get that across.

But in the meanwhile, I'm sticking with fluff.

Savanna Kougar said...

Welcome, Nina. Utterly fascinating topic and big congrats on being a RITA finalist.
I enjoy a light-hearted story as well as the complex darker stories.
Personally, I compare this time in our history with the depression era and WWII film fare -- Pennies From Heaven, for example.
Often people needed a break then, like they do now. Not hard to figure out. What sold back then? Booze and entertainment. Escape into fantasy is often what people need to endure these darker times. Whether it's a light-hearted fantasy or the darker-edged urban fantasy coming into its own.
Art, and the art of writing serves this time we live through, as well as creates this time in our history.
At least, that's my over-simplified viewpoint.

Dorothy McFalls said...

Hi Nina! I enjoy both dark and dangerous AND light and breezy. It depends on my mood and the day I'm reading. I think if all romances were the same, I'd quickly lose interest in reading them.

Do you think the main reason the lighter books do better than the darker ones is because readers seek out romances for the message of hope they deliver? For me, when I think of hope I think of light and happy.

Regardless, light or dark, I love everything you write!

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

Thank you for blogging with us today! I've not noticed much of a trend but I've always read what I like. And I like everything from light and funny to very dark and edgy. I guess it depends on my mood. :)

Keena Kincaid said...

What a great topic, Nina. I've been thinking about my own habits all day... I do tend to buy light and fluffy to read on the plane, etc., when I'm traveling. But my "keepers" tend to be the dark, dangerous romances.

Kieran said...

Hi, Nina! I love your comments. I personally think that what happened with all this lightening up has less to do with 9-11 than the fact that everything is cyclical. I already see us moving back to dark. The new seriousness is seen in the growing popularity of historicals. By nature, it's harder to be light and funny in an historical (unless it's a Signet Regency, and they're gone now). That's my take, for what it's worth.

I would have responded this morning to your posting here, but I had to go get my annual mammogram. Yuck! But let me remind everyone of "a certain age" to get one each year, and try to get a digital one. They're more accurate.

And guess what I was reading at the mammogram place! The REBEL PRINCE. I love Carch! What a name! You definitely delivered an alien-sounding name there. And I love Seri, too. Now it's time for bed, and I can't wait to get under the covers and read it some more!

Thanks for all you do, and thanks to Lexie for asking you to blog!


Blythe Gifford said...

Nina: Like so many media stories, I think this captures a trend that is on the downswing. I used to say I was waiting for angsty historicals to come back in style. And they are! But I think the "dark side" has been served by paranormal and even thrillers. (Not romance, I know!)

Nina Bruhns said...

Thanks so much everyone for your interesting comments! You pretty much confirmed what I figured... that there really is a variety of tones out there to choose from. Personally, as many of you, I like to read either dark or light stories depending on my mood. Sometimes you're just in the mood for a good laugh, and sometimes you really want to put that hero and heroine through a vicarious ringer :D.

I love that there's a wide selection. I guess that's why I was so surprised at the article's assertion that nobody writes dark and angsty any more. Hmm. Maybe we should all send Rebekah some suggestions!!! Wouldn't that be fun if she wrote a follow-up article because of us! :D

Meanwhile, thanks for your sweet words about my books!!! And good reading!!!