Cara Rowe: The New Face of Romance Novels

When you think "romance novels" what comes to mind? Corsets? Cheesy dialogue? Weird sex shit? If you thought any of those three, you'd be be misguided, and young author Cara Rowe is out to dispel those myths. In her eloquent novels An Alliance of Passions and A Rogue's Revenge, Rowe shows just what the romance genre has to offer: wit, intelligence, and real heart. Cara and I talked inspiration, publishing, and why people so often misunderstand a genre that has so much to offer.

Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?

Not always, but for a long time now. Growing up, my career of choice morphed from princess to veterinarian, to chemist, to marine biologist, then to writer sometime in middle school. I always loved creative writing assignments, but I wasn’t the sort of kid who filled notebooks and notebooks with stories in my spare time, which made me question whether I was really cut out for fiction writing. It wasn’t until midway through college that I actually made the decision to give it a go.

What are your top three favorite books?

Ooo tricky one! The first that comes to mind is my all-time favorite romance novel, Once and Always by Judith McNaught. I know it pretty much sentence by sentence at this point, but the love story gets me every time. Second might be Jane Eyre, which I didn’t read until a year or two ago. Before I picked it up, I’d for some reason assumed it would feel similar to a Jane Austen novel, but it was so different, so achingly romantic and compelling (nothing against Ms. Austen of course, she’s basically the godmother of my genre.) Finally, remembering back to my childhood, I don’t think I’ve ever loved a story as much as I loved The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine (author of Ella Enchanted and many other novels.) The world in which the book takes place is somber yet beautiful, sophisticated yet appropriate for a young audience. I’m still amazed at how she pulled that off.

What drew you to romance novels? 

As a reader, I’ve always been a sucker for a happy ending, and have been reading romance fiction since age 15 or so. The very best novels are the ones in which you know by the very conventions of the genre that the hero and heroine will end up together, yet you find yourself doubting and worrying along the way nonetheless. As a writer, I’d never thought of trying romance fiction until I took a creative writing class in college and the professor, in describing our final assignment, encouraged us to write what we like to read. “But,” he said, “for the purposes of this class, no Harlequin novels. If you want to write Harlequin novels, wait until this course is over, do it and make millions of dollars.” Everyone else laughed at the joke, but I thought, Bingo! I love reading them, why not write one? How I have not thought of this until now? Still working on the millions part though.

What do you feel the biggest misconception about the genre is?

That romance novels are antiquated, poorly written and all kind of the same.  I’ve had a lot of people express surprise on reading my books that they aren’t just a bunch of sex scenes strung together. There really is something for everyone, from erotica that would make Christian Grey blush, to mysteries, historicals, and paranormal stories where romance is just one part of what’s going on.

How did you break into the genre?

One of my favorite things about the romance industry is the resources and mentorship opportunities in place to help writers build their careers. A lot of this is due, I believe, to the fact that not just the readers and writers, but also the publishers and agents, are largely women. I finished my first book An Alliance of Passions a few months after I graduated from college, shopped it around a little bit, then the following summer attended the Romance Writers of America annual conference. In addition to learning a lot, I had the opportunity to pitch my book one-on-one to various agents and editors. Of the four people I met with, three asked to see the full manuscript, and one of those is now my publisher.

What is the publishing process like? 

Varied. With the advent of e-readers and various self-publishing platforms, there are so many more ways than there used to be to get books in the hands of readers. Overall, I’d say this is a good thing, but it is harder now to stand out from the crowd. I work with Corvallis Press, a small publisher out of Oregon, which I enjoy because I have more say in decisions like titles and cover art than I would with a giant New York publisher. But I still get to hand off a lot of the editing and formatting responsibilities, which wouldn’t be possible if I were self-publishing. Whatever avenue an author chooses, though, it’s scary and exhilarating to put something you’ve created out into the world for everyone to see (and judge). And there’s always, ALWAYS more to learn, from how to hone the writing itself, to how to use technology to market the book.  More of the latter falls on the author than I think most people realize.

If you could befriend one fictional character in real life, who would it be?

Listen, I know I should say Jo March, Anne Shirley, or some other iconic literary heroine, but honestly, Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey. She says the most deliciously cutting things. I love her clear sense of self, down to her very real flaws, which she acknowledges but doesn’t apologize for having.  Plus, she can be so prickly that befriending her would be a real accomplishment.

Do you consider yourself a “romantic?” in the broader sense of the word, in real life?

I would consider myself a romantic, yes. I’m always rooting for love to triumph, down to obnoxious celebrity couples on TV. On top of that, I have a tendency to try and understand the conflicts and motivations of people around me as if they were characters in a book I’m writing. You’d be surprised how often that lens allows me to correctly guess how real-world events will turn out.

For more information or to purchase her books, visit cararowe.com