Yesterday, I was interviewed by a woman who's doing research for a documentary about the world of romance novels. The conversation focused heavily on my own life story and how I became an author — but we also talked about what appeals to readers about the romance genre. I emphasized the HEA — the fact that readers of romance like investing their time in books that have upbeat, happy endings as opposed to cynical, depressing, more "literary" endings.
Afterward, I found myself wondering why I chose specifically to write romance. As a journalist, I could certainly write creative nonfiction. I've always loved straight historical fiction, too — stuff like Mika Waltari's Sinhue, the Egyptian — and I have a desire to immerse myself in that.
So what is my motivation for writing romance instead of something else?
The second cover for Surrender sans plaid modesty belt
hiding his chest. Why did they hide his chest?
hiding his chest. Why did they hide his chest?
I suppose part of it is the fact that romantic fiction is still easier to break into than many other kinds of fiction. It enables a lot of writers to get their foot through the door of publishing. But that’s certainly not the only reason I write romance. Shallow interests like that are not enough to sustain me through the turmoil of writing a novel. And, yes, sometimes it is turmoil. I can’t imaging writing a tough scene at one in the morning motivated only by the desire to get a toe-hold on publishing. Ha!
I realized last night that my motivation for writing romance depends on the sub-genre. When it comes to writing historicals, I love the research and the chance that writing these novels gives me to bring history alive. Yes, the love story is fun, and the happy ending is emotionally satisfying. But what probably drives me page by page is the opportunity to disappear into a simpler time in history, a time when you didn’t have to worry whether your cell phone was going to give you a brain tumor or whether your kids were going to end up addicted to meth or whether the banks on Wall Street were going to conspire to rob everyone blind, and so on.
Readers who prefer historicals probably love that same thing. I was a historical romance reader once — still am, in fact — so I feel like I can say this with some authority. Readers love disappearing from the vulgar concerns of the modern world to a time when lack of technology and restrictive social norms meant that men and women lived in a very different reality. Personally, I find men sexier back in history. Guys sitting in cubicles in suits doesn’t do it for me. A man struggling to plough a field the old-fashioned way or forging a sword or learning to fight with a sword is much sexier, much more romantic. Men using their physical strength to survive are just waaay hotter than men playing video games. (Of course, that’s true in part because I can’t smell these men. Yes, the modern male smells better.)
So that accounts for historicals. But what about romantic suspense?
My agent believes the I-Team books are a sort of therapy for me. They enable to me to live out some of the scarier things that have happened to me — falling off a mountain, having a gun held on me (twice), having my home broken into by two men armed with switch blades, death threats, being sexually assaulted, etc. — and have control over those events. I’m sure this is true. But when I woke up this morning, I realized there’s more to it than that.
I’ve reported on some disturbing shit over the years: the desecration of Navajo graves; the abuse of female inmates by correctional officers; child sex trafficking; companies getting away with pollution; murders; rapes; massacres. This stuff follows journalists home at night. You can't cover a murder scene or interview a rape victim or talk to a family that lost a child in a school shooting without carrying that pain inside you. Like cops, journalists agonize over the stuff we see (and develop the same dark sense of humor as a result).
So, I agree that the I-Team books are a kind of therapy for me, but not just for the things I have personally been through. The stories also enable me to take situations I felt were terribly unjust and do something about them that I wasn’t able to do in real life. That’s why Unlawful Contact had Reece passing the anti-shackling law. That’s why all the rapists and murderers die. That’s why the polluters are shut down, grave robbers are caught and prosecuted, and abusive guards brought to justice.
Justice prevails in the world I create, and I experience the catharsis of that.
So, now, why do you read romance? Why does it appeal to you more than other forms of fiction? What do you get out of these stories? Feel free to break it down by sub-genre if you need to.