This was a recent question I got from my mom.
We were visiting, and my husband mentioned he was reading my latest work in progress. Now, Mom is great, but not entirely comfortable with my writing. Some of it is simply that it isn’t her choice of genres to read, such as the paranormal romances. In addition, I guess any mom is entitled to get a little weirded out when their daughter writes about sex (no matter that each is a full grown woman, and has had two kids). So Mom asked about the story, and I gave a vague answer that it was a romance. Then she said, “Why romance?”
Sigh. She said it in that tone that I’m sure we’ve all heard reserved for romance novels, and for erotic stories. The tone implies that it’s not “serious” enough, and hence not worth the time to write. Or read, I suppose. Now, I don’t know what they think I should be writing. Mystery novels? Big treatises on the human condition? Historical fiction? Since science fiction and fantasy suffer from a similar disdain, I’m guessing they don’t mean that.
I believe my reply to the question was “Why not?”
Then I started thinking about it, and I think “Why not?” is a reasonable answer. It probably could have done with more discussion, but we didn’t have a chance. So I’ll ponder it here.
So, why not write romance? Why is it “less” than any other genre? True, I’ve read some crappy romance stories — predictable, unoriginal in premise, and even poorly written. On the other hand, I’ve read a number of them that are well-thought out, -researched, and -plotted. Is it just because there is frequently a HEA that people dismiss it? Because that’s unfair.
I’ve said myself that there was a time I was rather dismissive of the romance genre. I’m not quite sure why. I was a big sf/fantasy fan — another genre, as I’ve noted, that is often looked down on — and part of me just was not interested in love stories. As I got older, though, I did find I liked the romantic sub-plots that ran through a lot of books. I proofed a paper for a friend of mine about romance novels and came away more informed than I had been, and the idea of the strong heroine stayed with me.
So why romance? Because I’ve found I like reading — and writing — about people finding each other and overcoming the obstacles to be and stay together. Because I like a little escapism after another freaking headline about the debt ceiling. Because it’s just nice sometimes to read about love winning out in the end, even if it doesn’t conquer all. And you know what? It’s harder than a lot of people think to write about people and relationships.
I’ve noticed two basic trends with romances, paranormal or otherwise. One trend has a common threat or enemy that brings the protagonists together, which gives them added reason to fall in love, stay together, or whatever. The second is the type that covers the more mundane issues people face in relationships. I think the latter is more difficult to write, but perhaps more rewarding.
Try it — try to come up with two people who have enough similarities to want to see each other and enough differences to make it interesting, then add the usual trials and tribulations people go through. I’m not talking about blackmail, cheating spouses, or things like that. I’m talking about the times when people say hey, what are you doing? What do you mean by that?
My first real stab at this was, I think, Nothing Gets Through. In that one, the main character Dominic Baddano has a family history that leads him to keep people from getting too close to him because he doesn’t want to be hurt again. So Dom is more the “bad guy” in that story; that is, the fault in the relationship issues lies more with him than Lani Montgomery, the female lead. It comes to a head in the middle of chapter three.
“I told you I don’t like to talk about my family,” Dom said, defensiveness tingeing his voice. “You didn’t seem to have a problem with it.”
“I didn’t, not really,” she said, wiping at her eyes again. She snapped her carrying case closed. “I didn’t until I read the profile. Somehow you could talk about all of that stuff with a stranger, and let strangers read all about it, but you couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell me. Someone who cares about you. How could it be easier to let strangers know than to tell me?”
“If you have a problem with me talking to the press, you’d better get over it,” he said. He knew that wasn’t the point, but he was angry.
Now Lani did laugh. “Is that what you think?” she asked, standing up. Reflexively, Dom did too, although he didn’t know what he planned to do next. “Is that what you do? Change the subject to divert someone when they get close to the truth? Close to you?” She shook her head. “I care about you, Dom. I really do. But I’m not… not a placeholder, not someone you can go to when it’s convenient.”
“I never said that!” he snapped. His gray eyes blazed with lightning.
“That’s the problem!” she returned, now angry herself. “You never said anything!”
The next time I tried something like that was in another hockey romance, Numbers Game. In this one, a 25yo hockey player, Anatoli Strelkov, meets a 32yo woman, Sara Brooks — various issues were up for grabs here. Sara is insecure about the age difference, having recently had a man more her age break up with her for a younger woman. Anatoli doesn’t understand why Sara is so cautious about things; at 25, he sees things more in a black-and-white fashion, and he hasn’t had a similar experience.
I won’t pretend I’m trying to do great studies of the human condition. I’ll leave that to others more talented (and interested in it) than I. But why romance? Well, why not? It’s something we can just about all relate to, and it can help to read about someone in a similar situation, even if that someone is fictional. Why is it so enriching to read Anna Karenina (which I have, twice!), about a woman who leaves her husband for another man at the cost of her son and eventually her life, yet it’s so awful to read about, say, a shy teacher who’s approached by the bad-boy mechanic and they fall in love and get married? Why can’t we read both and enjoy (well, maybe not “enjoy” Anna Karenina, exactly) both?