LM Live Recap: Women’s Breakfast Tackles the Romance Heroine
Romance novels written by women for women have existed for centuries — from Jane Austen to the spicy mid-century bodice-ripper to today’s diverse array of protagonists and plotlines. The rise of BookTok, Goodreads and other reader communities has brought the romance novel back to the forefront. To dig into romance novels and the heroines that power them, last week LM Live convened a panel for a special nighttime Women’s Breakfast (for dinner!).
Moderated by podcaster Erin Leafe (“Learning the Tropes”), the panel included romance novelists Sarah MacLean and Adriana Herrera, along with Penguin Books executive editor Esi Sogah. The panelists discussed the enduring appeal of the romance novel — noting that it has historically afforded authors the opportunity to write women into the worlds they want to see.
“Part of what romance delivered to readers was a place where women could thrive on the page and not die at the end,” MacLean said, adding that, outside of romance, marginalized populations (women, people of color, queer people) are often “harmed on the page in terrible ways.”
Romance, MacLean said, afforded women the opportunity to give themselves happy endings. “We will take you on a journey and you will feel things and I hope you cry your eyes out, but at the end I want you to be so happy and feel taken care of,” she said.
The panelists also discussed the evolution of the romantic hero, who in earlier iterations were often wealthy landowners or billionaires. Sogah explained that those tropes often existed because, in past eras, women married into wealth to access power and agency. “It created space for women to do whatever she wanted to do,” she said. “Now we see other ways we can access power, and we’re starting to see more complex lenses on masculinity.”
Herrera, who tends to write heroines with Caribbean backgrounds, said she often struggled with the typical “ingenue” heroine archetype that dogged romance books for so long. “As someone who is brown, it’s not a cute history for my ancestors,” she said. And when she began writing her own books, she created new space and archetypes, drawing on the conventions of historical romances that she loved while centering brown people in the narrative.
“I had no reference book, nothing for me to draw from,” she said.
The panelists offered readers tips for getting into the genre — pointing out that the most important thing about writing a romance book is knowing its tropes and conventions. As MacLean put it: “You gotta read it. You gotta read all of it.” Sogah went a step further: “You have to love it, because we know if you don’t.”
By the end, when the panelists listed some of their favorite romance recommendations, everyone in the audience pulled up their Goodreads queue.
You can listen to audio of the Women’s Breakfast (for Dinner) here.Tags: lm live, romance novels, womens breakfast