You may enjoy the sweet kind of romance novels, with kisses that melt your heart or those where passions ignite the pages in flames. It’s not a one-size-fits -all kind of genre. I quickly discovered the difference when I went from the Twilight Saga to books by Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Cherry Adair and Lisa Kleypas, just to name a few. Yes, there’s drama, action, suspense and happily ever afters, yet the love stories all unfold in very different ways. While I now know where my comfort zone lies, my book choices satisfy what I’m in the mood for, whether it be for historicals, contemporaries, YA, mysteries, paranormals or military romances. So, whether you prefer reading novels that are one, ten or fifty shades of romance, there’s a book for everyone.
“So what does all of this have to do with reading and writing romance?” you ask. Well, true joy, the kind that bursts in your heart and makes you want to throw open your arms and spin around singing, is a form of love. You can’t feel joyous if you don’t feel love: love for yourself, for the world you live in, for those around you, for your puppy, for the things you do. Love begets joy. See where I’m going with this?
And no, the romance genre might be set within the structure of romantic love, but it really is about love in all its many-facetted glory. The best kind of romance novels aren’t about hooking a guy or a girl (sorry, critics of the genre). What they are about is learning to love yourself, learning to find healing, and learning to make the choice to love when you could hate, to stay calm when you could get angry, and to forgive when you could be stuck in an endless cycle of repeating the mistakes that keep you from finding happiness. And no, I’m not boiling down the journey of finding happiness into the act of finding love. What I am filtering it down to is finding joy. Coming a step closer to our natural human state by reconciling/rejecting the struggles our inner selves get mired in and finding a state of joy where it becomes possible to love and be loved.
This inner journey is why I read romance, why I write it, why I love it with such passion. Other genres focus primarily on the fight between good and evil outside of ourselves. And that’s all good and dandy, but romance novels zero in on the building blocks of the larger worlds other genres are working to save. They focus on saving hearts, one at a time.
Ubiquitous as joy is, pinning it down when our world spins past us with such purposeful speed isn’t easy. The opportunities to stop and soak up all that is joyous as we chase joy seem ironically sparse. When I read I’m allowing myself a moment to pause, to let myself fall- into joy, into pain, into all the things that make us human. A really good book layers the characters’ experiences on top of my own and makes me aware of how I process them. It becomes not just about the words on the page, or the story those words spin, but about all that it invokes inside me, all the emotions it touches, all the questions it raises, all the beliefs it challenges or reinforces.
A really good romance takes me through the experience of overcoming adversity to heal all that keeps holding me back from joy and helps me grow within myself that which is needed to let love in. Those who don’t get Romance, or don’t see it as anything but escapism, miss the point of it by miles. Romances are relevant at the most personal level, because not everyone can catch killers, win wars, or save planets, but every single one of us, wants to, needs to, and can find joy and consequently love.
I believe our experience of the world is formed by that to which we pay attention. Our attention is energy that feeds its subject. Bad things happen, but if you do your best to focus on the things that bring you joy, you’ll live a happier life.
So go forth. Read romance, then share the joy.
They complete each other in ways they could never expect, and at the end of the book they are no longer alone, unloved and unloving, but have crossed over that great gap that seems to separate us all from each other at times, leaping across it, building a bridge across it, doing whatever is necessary to find love and happiness.
And the fact that the romance genre is such an extraordinarily popular one, on an international scale, shows what a powerful and universal story this is. The story of falling in love is vital to us. We love it. We can’t get enough of it.
That’s what romance novels do to us. They help us not break. They take us away from the pain of life for a few precious hours, and give us hope, peace, and some happiness. Oh, and so much joy.
Do romance novels change the world? Will they ever be touted as magnificent masterpieces, and pushed in our schools to be read, or
held up in the loft NY Times Book reviews?
held up in the loft NY Times Book reviews?
Probably not. But as I tell people about anything they do in this life or experience, it’s still just as powerful. Why?
Because romance novels change one woman at a time. A few hours of joy must negate many hours of pain, right?
I want reality in my romance. I don’t believe that reality—surviving abuse, turning fifty/sixty/seventy/eighty, enduring hardship—strips us of the ability or the right to experience happiness. If anything, it makes it that much sweeter, because it’s not handed to us on the proverbial silver platter. Even Cinderella suffered before finding her prince.
The essence of romance is very simple: it’s not fantasy, it’s not joy, it’s…love. And that is the conundrum. In life and literature we are taught that romantic love is secondary to family and social responsibility. Look at what happened to poor Anna Karenina, Amber St. Clare (Forever Amber), and even Juliet. They died. And why? Because they chose romantic love that made them laugh with life and burn with happiness and hopefully fueled a few good orgasms along the way, instead of engaging in staid, proper, family-and-societal sanctioned behavior. If scholarly literature had a logo, I’m sure it would read: the only good love is a dead love.
So really, in conclusion, I think romance is negated (aside from the fact that it’s mostly written by women, but that’s another battle) because it’s conceived by naysayers as being joyfully unrealistic—like billion-dollar commercials—because our characters find lasting love. Yet many, many people…average, run-of-the-mill people like you and me…find enduring love with a companion (Don and I just celebrated our 40thanniversary), so to claim that “happy endings” are unrealistic is, well, unrealistic.
Some complain that because of the happy ending, romances are all alike! But the end product is not the full story. It’s the journey that is so intriguing. It’s the process that starts with a secretive glance and hesitant first touch, the tiny steps that lead to total trust, intimacy, and the commitment to grow old together—this is the journey that romance celebrates. And it never fails to give me joy!
So when you get to that moment in a romance—you know the one, where that squadron of butterflies in your stomach take a dive bomb or your pulse rate shoots into the stratosphere or you just think, “yeah, that’s what I’m talking about”—know that you’re sharing that experience with the author and a bunch of fellow readers. Joy is contagious; let’s make romance just as infectious.