Billion Dollar Babies

January 27, 2021

Billionaires are in. If you go to Amazon and search for “billionaire” and “romance,” you’ll find a hundred pages of titles. Fifty Shades of Grey is probably the most prominent of these books, but there are lots of others, and the trend has been around for years. I remember reading Christina Dodd’s Just the Way You Are in 2003, and it was far from the first. It goes without saying that these billionaires are all young, handsome, and darkly attractive—although they usually require the transformative power of love to become decent people.

And it also goes without saying that this whole trend is based on extremely shaky foundations. Even a cursory reading of the news turns up billionaires who mistreat their employees to enrich themselves farther, who engage in fraud to enrich themselves farther, and who are just generally jerks. And the idea of the physically attractive billionaire is easily exploded (see: Trump, Donald; Murdock, Rupert; Adelson, Sheldon; etc. ).

Moreover, romance is the only pop fiction genre that seems to have this love affair with the very rich. In thrillers and mysteries, the reclusive billionaire is more likely to be the villain than the hero. And the vicious global conglomerate is a long-standing tradition in science fiction.

So why do we hang onto this convention when it’s so obviously a serious distortion of reality? One answer, of course, is that we’re in the fantasy business here. Most of us probably know that the very rich aren’t famed for the charm and grace, but we really wish they were. In the more ideal romantic society, money would only be found with the honorable. Moreover, we also cling to another fantasy: that wealth doesn’t buy love. The billionaire hero in most of these books has to be schooled by the poor but honest heroine. And once he’s found this noncommercial love, he becomes that ideal super-rich guy who uses his money for good. Sometimes you really wish a man like Richard DeVos would read a few romances. Then again, he’d probably find them comic.

Still, I’ve managed to avoid the whole billionaire hero business in my own writing. A couple of my heroines, Docia Kent Toleffson and Deirdre Brandenburg, were wealthy (and a fat lot of good it did them), and the hero of Wild Love, Colin Brooks, is a former billionaire now reduced to being a janitor. But like other writers, I usually reserve rich guys for villains. Then again, I write contemporary romance, where middle class heroes and heroines are a long-standing tradition. If I were writing regencies, for example, I’d probably be churning out honorable dukes with the best of them.

Like I said, we’re in the fantasy business. Just as long as we don’t let fantasy shade into our view of the real.


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