You’ve probably heard the term Spaghetti Western. It’s a sub-genre of western movies that reared its head in in the 1960s whose main aim was to imitate what was already a successful genre. They were low-budget movies using unknown actors produced and directed by Italians. The movies were mightily slated by critics in the US, England, and Europe. In fact, an Italian critic first coined the phrase Spaghetti Western. Then A Fistful of Dollars became a box office hit and it was a free for all; everyone in the industry was in on the action.
The same can be said for romance novels. Scholars have made a study of the romance genre, and authors like Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and Samuel Richardson, among others, are seen as the forerunners of romance. In the 1930s, British publisher Mills and Boon started churning out escapist, feel-good books with happy endings aimed at women. They had to be tasteful and chaste with wilting virgins and hunky men.
Barbara Cartland started her writing career in 1901 with a risqué novel, Jigsaw, which became a bestseller. She is still considered the most prolific romance writer of all time. She produced over 700 novels, writing 23 books in one year, for which she holds the Guinness World Record. Georgette Heyer accused her of plagiarism—an accusation the high-flying society gal, Barbara, managed to field with her team of lawyers. Her work naturally deteriorated and became what can only be called Spaghetti Romance.
My point is that millions of authors have followed in her footsteps with varying degrees of success, but mostly failure. With the advent of Kindle, badly written books have escalated the spaghetti trend. The Twilight saga set off a spate of vampire books and movies, and Fifty Shades of Grey has put erotica on a new high with no holds barred.
My question is, are there no original authors out there? I write romance, but I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. Years ago, when I decided that I enjoyed writing romance, a publisher told me to read as much as possible in the genre I’d chosen. I spent an unhappy year reading thousands of romance novels. At the end of this year of penance, all I knew was that I didn’t want to write like that.
I urge every aspiring writer to read as many books as they can in the genre of their choice—then think laterally and be original. Don’t fall into the spaghetti trap.