The Frontier

Not the cowboy book in question. I just like this cover.

So I read this Western historical romance the other day, and it wasn’t really very wonky at all. It was set in “Indian country” in the 1880s, and there was a dying single father bequeathing his tomboy daughter to a favored cowboy in exchange for the cowboy agreeing to marry the tomboy daughter. And there was the part where the cowboy already secretly loved the tomboy daughter, and the part where they got married but she thought he only wanted her for the ranch, and all she wanted was to move to Kansas City. All of that was nice and fairly well executed but not surprising.

But then the cowboy got pissed off at the tomboy, angry-kissed her in the barn, brought her to climax with his hand, and came in his Levi’s.

At that point, I was like, “Huh. Wasn’t expecting that. Wait, is this erotica? Romance? Erotic romance? What is this?” But I made no attempt to figure it out. I just kept reading, and the heroine fled, the hero was ashamed of himself, and I figured they’d spend many chapters avoiding each other. Instead, he went back to the house that night and they agreed the hero would introduce her to sex, thoroughly, in every way they could think of, throughout the whole middle portion of the book. But he wouldn’t penetrate her, because dang it, she still wanted to go to Kansas City.

Then things turned deliciously filthy, and also there was surprise anal. Afterward, bad things happened, with stampeding cattle and arson and a coma and a gunfight. Everything worked out okay in the end. Just as one might expect in a western historical romance novel.

The whole experience got me thinking … maybe the Age of E-Books is just by default going to be the Age of Wonkomance. Not that this cowboy book I read is wonkomance automatically, just because it leapt genre tracks on me — but more because there’s so much more room for wonk to sneak in. Writers who don’t even know what the genre conventions are can become instant best-sellers on Amazon. Fanfic can turn into the publishing phenomenon of the year and inflate profits at the New York publisher who snaps it up. Everything just gets sort of … mashed up. In an interesting, sometimes awful, occasionally wonderful way.

Because the thing is, readers don’t care. If the book’s good, they like the book. They might raise an eyebrow when the cowboy creams his jeans, but hey, as far as I’m concerned, when I read, eyebrow raising is good. I like to be surprised.

As a digital reader, I dabble a lot more than I used to. I dabble in all sorts of things — deliberate and accidental genre mashups, m/m and m/f and m/f/m, super-filthy stuff and inspies, New York-published historicals and self-pubbed historicals where there’s just cunny all over the place. I read whatever somebody else tells me is good, or what’s free, or what I accidentally stumble upon and later can’t remember how it even got on my Kindle.

And I’m beginning to suspect that for writer-me, one result of this new method of reading is that a lot of the boundaries get blurred in my own head, so that when I’m writing from my gut (instead of thinking “What will my editor say?”), interesting things happen. Wonky things happen.

We’re living on the Wonkomance Frontier now, folks. And I don’t know about you, but I like it here. In fact, my response to the aforementioned bit of cowboy filth was to start writing a dirty mail-order bride romance set in 1899 in eastern Oregon, with a mean-mouthed, German-speaking hero.

Why not? Viva la wonk!

About Ruthie Knox

Ruthie Knox writes witty, sexy romance novels for grownups. Read more >
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9 Responses to The Frontier

  1. Serena Bell says:

    Oh, I hope you’re right! I love the idea of living in the Wild West of romance. And regardless, I’ll try to embrace your frontier spirit while writing this morning. :-)

  2. And you’re not going to tell us the title of this cowboy book? Curse you!

  3. Amber Lin says:

    I love these unexpected types of books, where the writer part of you is going WHAT GENRE IS THIS but the reader part is just like WHATEVER, SURPRISE ANAL.

    I read another book recently, The Velvet Collar. It is another genre-bender. I thought it was going to be BDSM erotica, and trust me, if I think that starting out, a book better freaking deliver! But this one turned out not to be, but it was still really good. And actually pretty hot in its own, non-explicit way. It had all these flaws, but good freaking storytelling and that’s what counts.

  4. willaful says:

    I had this experience when reading Tricked Truths by Beth Kery (also free, or it was.) The plot was so old school category and I seemed to remember seeing Kery’s name on some category romances, so I figured that’s what it was. Then it went all REALLY BETH KERY on my ass, or rather, on the heroine’s ass. I was discombobulated for awhile…

    I’m not good with changing expectations, but I’d say I’m getting better. And yeah, ereaders definitely encourage dabbling and mixing it up.