As a Communications major and a writer, I pay a lot of attention to not only what people say, but also to what they don’t. Non-verbal cues are as important as, if not more than, verbal ones. So when I tell people that I read and write Romance novels, I often get the same non-verbal reaction. The eyes widen slightly. The mouth opens into a diminutive “o” and there is either shock or smirking. The expression is often one of disbelief or disgust or disdain.
At one time, I was guilty of that same expression. And this snobbery wasn’t even justified as I had read only one romance growing up. The author, considered the Queen of Romance, wrote a novel with a ridiculous story, poor writing, many plot holes, and a heroine so demure and innocent that you might wonder if she was the Village Idiot. Based on that one book, I held some definitely negative opinions toward the genre and thought I never would read another.
Then life took some sad turns. In late 2000, my father began to complain about his head feeling as though it was on fire. We took him to several doctors. The diagnosis was Alzheimer’s disease. Our family saw this former brilliant man, a CPA and comptroller of a company, begin to deteriorate before us. Depressed, he slept most of the day away. After 9/11, he believed Osama Bin Laden was after him. One of the saddest moments was when he showed my mother the “evil” man staring at him through a window—which, of course, was my father’s reflection as he looked in a mirror. As he disintegrated in front of us, my mother, his main caregiver, suffered stress and declining health. My sister and I felt powerless.
The other sad event occurred in the Fall of 2004. I was called into the office conference room where my manager and my supervisor announced that I would be laid off in two weeks. I was very upset, of course, but not surprised, as the business hadn’t taken off as expected after the events of 9/11.
Late that evening, I was on Amazon’s website and found a book that looked appealing, a novel by Jill Mansell, a prolific writer of British romantic comedies. After devouring her fun and romantic book, I was pleasantly surprised. As I approached my last day of work, I used my office computer to trawl the Romance and Chick Lit sections of online bookstores (very irresponsibly, admittedly). And it was like salvation. I read Marian Keyes Sushi for Beginners (still one of my favorites) and Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Match Me If You Can. Then I found Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me as well as her other wonderful works. Next came Lisa Kleypas, Christina Dodd, Eloisa James, Kristan Higgins. I realized I had fallen into a Romance abyss.
And I loved it!
For so many reasons. The first one, of course, was that it let me escape what was going on in my life as well as the events occurring in the outside world. But escapism is what almost all readers crave when reading fiction. So what else had me doing this complete turnaround?
There is the conflict, the sexual tension between the heroine and hero. There is the banter. There is nothing sexier than a well-written argument between two characters. That’s why screwball comedy films like His Girl Friday are still popular after all these years. Or watch What’s up Doc?–Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal riff so well off one another. Hell, the banter between Darcy and Lizzie is one of the reasons Pride and Prejudice has been popular for two hundred years!
But while the sexy talk and hot love scenes make Romance novels enjoyable, it is the emotional intimacy between the protagonists that make them worth reading over and over. In a good Romance, the heroine and hero strive to learn more about each other, to connect to and understand the inner being of that person. And the protagonist who reveals her or his authentic self is heroic. In Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, for example, the title character reveals this when thinking she must be separated from the hero:
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!--I have as much soul as you,--and full as much heart. And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you!
By being vulnerable, by revealing their innermost self, the heroine/hero opens up the reader’s heart and hope as much as they have that of their love interest. They remind the reader that we must take a chance and reveal ourselves to win what we want, including love. That if we take a chance, there is hope for an HEA for us all. And isn’t that what we all truly want?
That’s why I write Romance.