Why community is key to contemporary romance – and giveaway!

“In contemporaries, community is key,” Selina McLemore, Senior Editor at Grand Central Publishing, told me at the Romance Writers of America national conference last week.

It makes sense, right? Those of us who love contemporary romance fall for books set in a particular town or city that feels as fleshed out as the hero and heroine. A place we’d love to visit, move to, or just immerse ourselves in for a few hours.

But community shouldn’t be confused with setting. It’s more than that.

It’s characters—oddballs who make a town unique and help the hero and heroine when they need it most; fast-talking city folks who are so savvy they make a reader jealous; and families who can overwhelm the most patient person but pull together when it’s most needed. It’s colleagues who challenge and sharpen you, while also making you howl with laughter, like in Louisa Edwards’s Recipe for Love series.

But community shouldn’t be confused with character development. It’s more than that.

It’s conflict—the heroine who thinks she belongs in a city but discovers warmth and friendship in a small town; the gossip that threatens the heroine’s closely guarded secrets; the struggle to fit in somewhere new, or reconnect with a place you left long ago.

But community shouldn’t be confused with conflict. It’s more than that.

It’s tone—the appeal of a relaxed pace those of us who live in major cities don’t often get; or the snappy dialogue and cosmopolitan feel of a story set in a city, like Julie James’s Chicago.

One reason community is key to contemporary romance is that it encompasses so many elements of a well-told story. A new favorite fictional community of mine is Jill Shalvis’s Lucky Harbor, which hits all the right spots for me. Jill Shalvis has created a community I return to over and over in my mind, but the only reason it works is that every element of the story fits together perfectly.

But more important than a beautifully crafted story, humans crave a sense of belonging. We build support networks to help us make it through life’s trials and share triumphs, and it makes sense that we’d want to see characters we love develop these same strong networks—or even stronger ones than what we’ve built in our own lives.

Last week I went to my first RWA national conference, and the sense of community was evident everywhere I looked. I feel so fortunate to have met some of my favorite authors and listened as they shared their wisdom. I got to meet amazing, talented, friendly people—like Ashley March, Roxanne St Claire, Shana Galen and Louisa Edwards—who I’ve become friends with on various online communities. What impressed me most was the emphasis so many successful authors placed on giving back to the community of romance readers and writers who have supported them over the years.

The authors I met are every bit as admirable as the heroines they create, and I am so proud to be part of a community of romance enthusiasts.

What fictional community would you love to live in, even for a little while? And what other reasons do you think community is so key to romance (whether contemporary or not)? What does being part of a community mean to you?


Jill Shalvis is so lovely. I got a chance to meet her and told her how much I love her Lucky Harbor series (big-time fangirl moment). She autographed a couple of books for me to give away.

Leave a comment here and I’ll randomly choose two winners on Tuesday July 13. One person will get Simply Irresistible and the other will get The Sweetest Thing. Seriously, you want these books!

Also, this post is running on The Season, where Bev is giving away an autographed copy of Julie James’s A Lot Like Love . Leave a comment on The Season in the next couple of days for a chance to win that one.

See? Isn’t community a wonderful thing?


  1. Since I live in Washington State, Jill Shalvis’ Lucky Harbor is close to my heart. It’s all the things everyone who lives here loves – close-knit community, great neighbors, and a really good milkshake.

    I own “Simply Irresistible”, and I would love to win “The Sweetest Thing”.

  2. This blog is making me want to pull my WIP apart and make sure the small town (or island in my case) is coming alive. I’d love to live in Jennifer Crusie’s Temptation but the places Nora creates are tempting too. LIke Three Sisters Island. Oh or her Irish settings. And not just for the gorgeous men with accents. 🙂

  3. I recently read Love Always by Harriet Evans where the primary setting was a tiny coastal village in Cornwall, England. The little village sounded beautiful and was a gathering place for artists of all kinds. I would love to live there at least for awhile. Community is like the garden that allows the romance to grow. It creates the fertile ground. The right setting and the right support characters also help to create the perfect escape that a good romance novel provides.

  4. So true!

    Jill is lovely. I hope to meet her in person one day! Hopefully I snag one of her books!

  5. I’d love to spend a few weeks in Jane Austen’s world. I know, I know. Even wealthy women had few rights to their names back then, but wouldn’t it be interesting? And wouldn’t those country parties and London balls be fun?

    I haven’t read any of Jill’s books, although they’re on my to-buy list. I heard very lovely things about her at RWA, and I just finished a Barbara Freethy that I adored. I think they’re in a similar vein, and I’m excited to add another small-town West Coast author to my shelves. And did someone say Jill writes about Washington? I’m going to get homesick reading her, then!

  6. Thanks for the giveaway, I loved the post. It’s very true, community adds a lot to a novel, sometimes when I’m reading something where the heroine or hero is pissing me off and I want to toss the book I’ll stay on because I was charmed by another character. I love the Chippewa community in Yasmine Galenorn’s Chintz N China books especially ^_^

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