As I am sure is true in sci-fi and horror, the romance genre’s ability to subdivide at times feels like one of those bio films of watching bacteria grow. Fast and oddly connected. Successful authors can cross imaginary lines and take their audience with them into new and fascinating corners of the card catalog. Successful authors know their craft. They understand how to use character’s voices to drive clear motivation away from instant resolutions. As craftspeople, they know how to craft worlds that somehow seem familiar but all-together new, with enough subject matter expertise to always be authentic.
Sarina Bowen broke out into the Romance genre with a series called the Ivy Years, set on and off the ice for a college hockey dynasty. She followed that up with the Him –her first mm romance, the setting is still hockey, but it is a new team and a new cast of characters to fall for through the next several books. In her next series, she sprinkled in players from the Ivy Years as we watch the Brooklyn Bruisers on their path to the Stanley Cup.
For many of Bowen’s loyal and new readers, Him was their first MM romance. This was a leap of faith for them into a wholly unknown territory. Bowen had an established history of having smart characters fall in love by talking to each other. For Him Bowen maintained a consistency of voice to craft rich dialog and familiar enough characters, but broke from the expected and explored the idea of what it means to be a hero when there is no heroine.
Her more recent series shift away from sports entirely and into apple cider and beer making. (There is a narrow Venn diagram of readable works about romance and alcohol.) Bowen needed to move readers with her. One way she did that was to use her world to create emotion — the moment before the buzzer blows, feeling the stick pulling back, making impact and watching the puck miss the net is not that different from the perfect clarity of a fall evening on a hill in Vermont, overlooking the sun setting into the mountains to the west, eyes drawn to the back of a pickup as a lover driving away.
As I think about my own writing, I will need to keep developing a consistency of voice that can hold my universe together while still allowing me to branch out. I long for the finesse of world building in service to the central conflict. I’ll be paying attention to these elements as I continue to revise and write.