Question: how much does close alignment with contemporary cultural icons catch your attention in a romance novel? For example, I am reading Greek Doctor, Cinderella Bride, and I’ve noticed several direct parallels, or nods perhaps, to a contemporary tv show. See if you can guess which one:
Heroine: former model who left her career to go back to school and pursue science career. Full name, Isobelle, but answers to Izzy.
Hero: former surgeon, now science researcher, known for being Greek and sending the heroine’s twitchy bits into rumble-strip mode at the sound of his hoarse, gravelly voice. Heroines sister has nicknamed him: McHusky.
Funny thing is, sometimes the cultural references that align or even ground a book firmly in the contemporary bother the ever living hell out of me. This one did not – mostly because I interpreted the mentions as homage or even a little wink at the popularity of that series.
Other references that have caught my eye include the “paranormal Amazing Race” better known as the Talisman’s Hie from Kresley Cole’s Immortals After Dark series, and that one did bother me a bit, though I read past it and enjoyed the series immensely. The bother was mostly based on the fact that I really, really dislike the entire reality tv oeuvre.
Otherwise, I wonder if the insertion of real-world details seems somewhat limiting, as it can date the book to a very narrow space in recent history, depending on how long that reference is popular.
For example, and this goes back a year or two, Jackie Kessler’s Hell’s Belles references Marc Broussard’s song Home when her main character, a succubus, uses it to audition as a pole-dancer. I knew the song when I read the reference, and I rather like the song itself – and now whenever I hear it, I think of pole-dancing succubi. For Kessler, this is not a bad thing. I wonder, though, since Broussard isn’t as much a household name as other musical artists, does using a specific song tie that book or that series to a concept that’s already slightly out of date? Or does referencing a song that isn’t extremely pop-mainstream give the world within the book a more genuine link to reality?
I often expect that contemporary romance to exist in a somewhat nebulous space that doesn’t age quickly, even as the actual real-life world changes incredibly quickly. I’m always amused by category romances or contemporary single titles from the 80’s that reference shoulder pads and wide belts and other fashion icon images. Does adding a reference and taking the risk that it will still be applicable in 10 or 15 years detract from the plot? Is it establishing a reality, or dating a narrative firmly in a specific time period? What do you think?