Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sheikhs, Secret Babies and All Those Romance-y Cliches by Suz deMello

When I was the authorial equivalent of a young whippersnapper--back in the 90s--there were all sorts of dogmas about what could and couldn't be the subject of romance novels. Tropes and characters such as marriage of convenience, secret babies, cowboys and the like were the steady fodder of series publishers such as Harlequin. Some subjects were untouchable, including sports figures and BDSM. And sex never occurred between characters in Regency novels--as far as the Polite World was concerned, Upper Ten Thousand babies were the products of Immaculate Conception or were found under cabbage leaves in Hyde Park.

This sexy Regency has been a
consistent best seller... all of its incarnations
Silly me--I hadn't heard about a lot of that. My first manuscript was about an
injured quarterback. My third was a sex-laced Regency. Not only did that Regency win awards, but it's been my most consistent seller.

Both were published and did well, which goes to show that the conventional wisdom is often not so wise.

But then I spent a few years writing for Silhouette Romance, a division of Harlequin. And what did I write? Sweet romance. First a baby book--which made it to the finals of the prestigious RITA contest--then a cowboy with amnesia, then two sheikh books, both of which were bestsellers. I just published a secret baby book, which became a bestseller on All Romance Ebooks. And my next story for the Naughty Literati is a sheikh book.

my bestselling secret baby book
find it at
So why the persistence and popularity of these timeworn tropes and themes?

It's simple: readers like familiarity.

It's often said that romances are formulaic and predictable--this usually spoken by a man in a disparaging tone. However, that man wouldn't see that his favorite mysteries, thrillers and superhero movies are also formulaic and predictable. All plots are based on a simple concept: resolving conflict, and they have one mission: to make the reader feel good (or, more cynically, get the reader to buy).

Because I'd already written two sheikh books, writing, Alice's Sheikh wasn't a big stretch. However, my two previous sheikh books had been set in the US, one in Florida and the other in Texas. Alice's Sheikh is set on the sheikh's home turf, his mythical kingdom of Barr Aghiba, islands in the Red Sea. But all of the usual alpha male tropes are there: wealth, power, hotness. And my heroine, just like the heroines of my other sheikh books, is a virgin.

Folks say that romances are easy to write because these cliches are used. Guess what? They're harder. It's more difficult to make a book convincing when one has to write something as unrealistic as a twenty-something virgin in a contemporary novel.

So how did I do it? In one sheikh book, my heroine was eighteen. That she was still a virgin was plausible, even though she'd attended a year of college. In my second sheikh book, the heroine, though in her twenties, was still a virgin due to suffering an attempted rape. In Alice's Sheikh, Alice is the daughter of two passionate, hard-partying druggies who died from overdoses. Even before that had happened, Alice had decided that passion was dangerous. She focused on other aspects of her life instead. Thus, her virginity and resistance to the sexy sheikh are motivated by something other than a desire to stick with the cliches.

Conflict must exist and be resolved, but it has to have a logical reason for its existence and has to be resolved in a logical way,

On June first, when Alice's Sheikh is published, you'll be able to decide if the conflict is logical and if I resolved it in a logical way.

Alice's Sheikh is part of the Naughty Literati's upcoming anthology, Naughty Heatwave: Turn up the Heat. Get it at all online etailers!


  1. Hi, Suz,

    I think readers need to be shaken up! So let's take those tropes, and twist them almost beyond recognition!

    I haven't written a sheikh or a secret baby, but maybe I should. The secret baby could belong to the hero LOL.

    The thing about you ... you write so well that your books will be popular whether or not you follow the rules!

  2. Lisabet, thanks so much! Appreciate it. I like to think that my sheikhs and secret babies are a little out of the ordinary :)