Why do you read Romance?
Myself, I have a fundamental interest in how two people with totally different objectives, backgrounds, lifestyles, personalities--you get the picture--can come together and make a relationship work. The higher the conflict and the stakes the better. Maybe this is why I love reading and writing enemies-to-lovers stories. The harder they fall the bigger the emotional payoff for me as a reader.
Some people read Romance for the sex, or so I've been told. As an author and reader, I've delved into my fair share of the steamier stuff. I'm going to admit here and now that this was usually, though not always, at a publisher's insistence. My favorite scenes to read and to write are the first kiss and before. Sexual tension and anticipation on the page is far more interesting and laden with potential for me than the act itself.
Sure, the sexy stuff can be fun, but I usually skim the intimate scenes. I've read so many books in the genre that there's only so much an author can do to surprise me. Shock isn't really my thing as a reader or a writer. I've tried it, and it comes off as fake and shallow because I don't believe in it.
About the sex though? Since Romance is written predominantly for and by women, I absolutely don't discount the sex positivity that the genre has offered its readers. We've gotten better at writing sex and respecting women's bodies since the 1980s bodice ripper (of which I was a giant fan in its day), but the fact that we opened that dialogue with ourselves and explored the question of our right to feel pleasure is a genuinely good thing. Romance is a place to carry out that dialogue, and to experiment as well as evolve our understanding of its merits.
In the pages of a Romance I saw my first female heroes fight for and win positions equal to men. I watched them triumph over real life struggles that I have since faced in my own career in a male dominated profession. They say our psyches tell the stories, whether in our dreams or on the page, that we most need to work through . I read Romance for comfort and for confidence.
The Romance genre is a place where women and relationships triumph over the forces that try to tear them apart. The pages of a Romance are full of adversity, yes, but they are also full of hope. Romance is the genre of the optimist. Or, in our sometimes too-dark world, it's the genre of those who wish to hang onto the belief that a happy ending is theoretically possible.
Romance is the place where I go, too, to be transported and to escape. The genre is a balm for the disappointments of the real world and a vacation from life. We can tell a Romance against the backdrop of other genres: urban fantasy, paranormal, the contemporary, science fiction, fantasy, or history. The Romance can be imbued with art, politics, and the first subtle shot across the bow of a social movement. Our spoonful of sugar in the telling is the Romance--and oh what a lovely medicine it is.
Romance has a tall order to fill. To be a good read it must transport, entertain, uplift, inspire, impress, and tell a damned good story about a conflict that both emulates and steps outside of our everyday existence. Writing all of this is about as difficult as scoring all 10s during an Olympics gymnastics routine. Especially when you consider that the only given formula about achieving this feat is that the relationship must triumph.
Yes, there are shallow books in the Romance genre. There are shallow books in any genre. The reason Romance gets a bad rap is because of misogyny, both internalized and externalized. No one ever scoffs at a Western. Of course, not all books or genres are for all people. Undoubtedly, some people will simply prefer a CIA Thriller, sans relationship entanglements, to a Romance. It's the biting, sarcastic, wink-wink-nudge-nudge commentary that calls into question the socio-political prejudices of the critic.
You don't have to enjoy Romance in order to believe that it cultivates readers who are strong, intelligent, creative, empathetic, and brave. Their entertainment reflects these traits. If anyone ever tells you differently, and they will, they've either never read a Romance or they don't like or understand its readers. In which case, is it really worth engaging them at all? You could be doing better things. Like reading.
Tell me about your favorite reasons to read Romance? What was your first read? What drew you to the genre and what keeps you coming back for more?
For those of you who have followed my shenanigans for a while, you know that I've been actively publishing in the Romance genre since 2009/2010 when Sheet Music placed 2nd in a Passionate Ink contest.
Since that time, I've published 10 novels and novellas, completed a Master's degree, moved to Boston, moved to Georgia, moved back to Boston, and had two major surgeries. It has been, shall we say, a wild ride. While much of this has been rewarding, there has been a lot of heartbreak and hard stuff as well.
Last year, I found myself at a crossroads, totally drained and not a little depressed. Physically, I had worn myself down to the point of utter nothingness. My brain, predictably, was struggling with the hormonal after effects of a hysterectomy. It's safe to say I ran out of cope.
Add to this the struggles I had with writing, rewriting, and editing both Surrender the Dark and Taste the Dark, and I had a complete failure of self-confidence and will. When Random House decided to cancel the series and asked me to come up with another concept for them due in part to poor sales and in part to my inability to face Akito's emotionally difficult story, I had nothing left to give.
Failure is a funny thing. It teaches you a lot, but in the middle of the experience you can often only see despair and a sense of creative annihilation. In the midst of that despair, I convinced myself that nobody wanted to hear from me and I was going to go away. For good. Never to set pen to paper again. (All of you authors out there can laugh at me now.)
If you look at my social media stats, you'll see that I certainly *thought* I was serious about not coming back to writing. It was a broken, dark time. (And *shakes fist at Akito* Taste the Dark didn't make this any easier!) Ultimately, when my job called me back to Boston from Georgia, I deleted everything I could of my author life and walked away. That, it would seem, was that.
Then, an amazing thing happened about 3 months ago...
I started to get fan mail. Letters and comments and support from people I'd never talked to before, who I didn't know, but who somehow I had managed to touch with the creative spark I thought was dead. They fed that spark back to me and reignited something within me.
That something was hope. The greatest gift one human can give to another.
For those of you who think you have nothing to offer--that your reviews and letters and social media posts fall into a void that we authors never see or hear or consider--I can tell you that you have a hell of a lot of power and influence. Many, many times for good (and a few heart rending times, for bad), you affect us in profound ways.
So, what I'm doing now, with the help of some amazing friends (both new and old), is paving a new path forward. I'm rolling up my sleeves and reformatting my existing backlist, and sticking my toes in the creative wellspring you've un-dammed. Thank you for reaching out, and for sticking around while I get my *bleep* back together.
Follow me on social media and I will follow back. Each little click is a point of light in the darkness. I know it sounds corny, but knowing you're there is something that keeps me going.
As E.M. Forster said in the flyleaf to Howard's End, "Only connect..."
Thank you for connecting. It has truly made all the difference.
These are the musings of a cynical romantic. Heroes on the page may be closer than they appear.