Terry over at I See Invisible People wants to know what I think about the new Harlequin line aimed at NASCAR. She used to be a member of RWA once upon a time, and we used to lament the babies/cowboys/brides thing back then. She wonders why Harl/Silh doesn’t just publish good books and forget about chasing trends. If only it were that easy.

Unfortunately, I think chasing trends (or trying to create them, I suppose) is probably here to stay. I even understand them now (God, I’ve been corrupted!). It isn’t the trend so much as what the writer does with the trend (or hook). Yet I think this kind of trending tends to make romance novels look as dumb as some people (not romance readers or writers) think they are. From the outside, you just know someone’s in the store going, “NASCAR?” with a disgusted look on her face. How many people read that USA Today article and smirked? I’m sure I know a few of them.

Personally, I am not interested in reading NASCAR romances. I acknowledge their right to exist, and other peoples’ rights to read them, but they don’t trip my trigger. I don’t know a damn thing about NASCAR other than Jeff Foxworthy’s absolutely hysterical impersonation of a driver talking about the race (believe that’s on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour DVD).

Susan Elizabeth Phillips was successful with football heroes. Rachel Gibson and hockey. But we didn’t start seeing a line of books with little footballs or hockey sticks on the covers. Personally, I think writers should be allowed to take chances. I think someone out there can even write an awesome rock star romance.

I think branding these race car books is premature. If they tank, will editors say, “You can’t write a race car hero. Race car romances don’t sell”? And just because the article points out that X number of women are NASCAR fans doesn’t mean that X number of women are also readers. That’s like having a lawyer line because X number of women are lawyers. No guarantee of success.

I would read a race car book if there was a buzz about it. Just like I read SEP’s football books and RG’s hockey books when I am interested in neither sport. Why? Because there was a buzz, because people were excited and saying, “Oh, you have to read this!” And they were right because both those writers made something very fine out of what was then considered taboo–sports heroes.

But Harlequin is only in a testing phase, with a mere 3 books for 2006. Seventeen are planned for 2007. So it may not last. Lines are folding, others springing up in their place, some lines expanding, others contracting. I don’t think the future of NASCAR romance is assured by any stretch. In fact, Kristin Nelson over at Pub Rants was talking about the waning popularity of the chick lit novel. The chick lit novel, people. Who ever thought that would happen?

Apparently, paranormal and romantic suspense is the hot property now. And how. Debut author Allison Brennan hit the NYT extended list with her romantic thriller novel. I don’t know everything by a long shot, but I’m guessing that a first time novelist published in PBO doesn’t usually hit the NYT. This is a fantastic achievement and it certainly indicates what the buying public is interested in right now. Does that mean we should all run out and write thriller romances?

So, bearing in mind this is all my opinion and I’m interested in the free exchange of ideas, what do you think? Are you interested in NASCAR romance? Do you think it’s a good idea? Would you write it if asked? Does it make the genre look dumb? Should we care? Is it just another trend passing through or does it have a shot at being around for a while?

Addendum (found this at Booksquare and couldn’t resist):

We are sorry to report this. Very sorry. Because, and we must be brutal here, there is very little variety one can introduce into what we believe (and math is not something we do in public) will be 20 books (or 22 stories, if we have our anthology-counting right) about love and NASCAR. That is too many. It is gimmicky and silly and why can’t at least five of those drivers really be baseball players?Such is our mood that we’re not even going to be nice to the poor person who wrote the article.

First off, there’s either the most blatant cribbing of cover copy we’ve ever read or the mooniest book description we’ve ever read. Then comes the final two paragraphs, which we note because they make no sense — this is the result of throwing something out there without a follow-up. Always have a follow-up. We don’t care that sometimes editors chop off the ending. Our limited patience has reached the end.