In Which I Have Very Little to Say

This morning before breakfast I spent about an hour and a half writing a lengthy, thoughtful post to weigh in on the latest round of romance bashing sparked by a recent article in the New Republic. I reviewed some of the responses–in the Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, and Eloisa James’ interview on vulture.com–but when all was said and done I decided not to let anyone read it. Once I got my annoyance at the New Republic piece off my chest, I realized I had said everything I wanted to say on the subject in my last post.

I am weary of the argument, and extremely tired of listening to people who haven’t even bothered to read the books they denigrate. And so I will bow out of the discussion, close my browser windows, kick back on the patio in the sun, and bury my nose in a book.

In Defense of Romance

A few weeks ago I attended a portion of the annual Cleveland Rocks Romance conference, sponsored by the Northeast Ohio chapter of RWA. The fabulous Christie Craig was the speaker–if you ever meet her, ask her to tell you the story of the Festiva, the cowboy, and the burning mattress. I was laughing so hard I almost spit my drink across the table. 
In her workshop on adding humor to writing, however, the most memorable story she told was the one that made me cry. Years ago she was at a book signing, and someone asked her when she was going to write a “real book.” I couldn’t possibly do her response justice so I won’t even try, but the gist was that there is nothing more real in this life than love. 
I didn’t start reading romance until I was in my 30s. Part of my reticence, I suspect, was that I was too embarrassed to be seen reading something with a half-naked Fabio on the cover.  I assumed romances were full of pathetic heroines who had to be saved by the strapping young heroes. But then one day I read a book by Nora Roberts. The book had a kick-ass heroine who saved herself and fell in love along the way. I was hooked, and have been a devoted romance reader ever since. And although I used to be embarrassed when caught reading a romance, I am now unapologetic.
Romances are not considered “real books” for several reasons, I think. They aren’t particularly cerebral. They are seldom more than 250 pages long. They very often include sex. And they always end happily ever after.
But those things that knock them out of consideration as “real books” are what make them the most real. Although I have been known to debate weighty topics around the dinner table, most of life consists of snippets. Or–because I have a Hulu Blue Bunny ice cream ad stuck in my head–moments. Moments large and small. Moments both scripted and wholly unstructured. A laugh, a smile, a caress, a crying jag. A class to teach, a speech to make. A dog howling along with piano practice. A fight with a spouse. A speeding ticket. A crappy day at work. Snuggling with a child under a blanket on a rainy day. A candlelit dinner. A glass of sangria on the deck with good friends. 
My husband and I were at an orchestra concert last week. A few rows ahead of us a man had his arm around his wife. During the piano concerto, his fingers moved over her shoulder in perfect time, as if he were playing the music himself. His wife didn’t flinch, didn’t tell him to stop, just contentedly rested her head against his shoulder. I was busy constructing an elaborate scenario in my head about their lives, when the intermission arrived, they turned around, and greeted my husband. We knew them, and suddenly the perfect bubble of a life I had created for them popped–a fantasy life they definitely didn’t have. But they did have perfect, quiet moments, and obviously shared a love that sustained them through the other times. 
I read, and write, romance precisely because they are real. They celebrate those moments, large and small. And although, unlike life, they always end happily, those endings give us a perfect, quiet moment to savor until one of our own comes along. 
  

End of Year Reflections

“Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.”
Dave Barry

So it’s that time of year again. I don’t particularly like resolutions, since I usually blow them off, but I do like to reflect on the year past. This holiday season I have been thinking a lot about time.  Time is a slippery thing. You can have too little of it, of course. For example, I didn’t have enough time (or energy) to write for this blog in the last two months (sorry!). You can have too much of it: 13 hours in the car to and from my in-laws’ house in Missouri is way too much time. You can waste time (two words: Candy Crush), or you can spend it wisely, doing things you value.

You can run out of time, too. My mother-in-law is 81 and in good health, but more than once this past week she hinted at her own mortality. She made sure my son had her recipe for Gingersnaps, and she gave me a pile of old photos she said she wouldn’t need any more. We spent the afternoon happily going over each one, identifying all the people in them, so that the information wouldn’t be lost.

I should say that she’s been doing this sort of thing for a couple of years now–all the grandkids received recipe boxes last year, and books of family history a year or two before that. Her mother lived to age 96, so I certainly hope we will be enjoying her snappy wit for many more years to come. But all this talk about time and the past put me in a reflective mood, and gave me a new determination to do the things I want to do before time runs out for me, too.

This past year was great for me in many ways. Everyone I love is reasonably healthy and happy. My day job has been very successful–I am busier than I have ever been. I had a marvelous vacation in Italy with my family. My writing has received some marvelous strokes–I won two contests, and had two requests, which I will send out next week, since I have finally finished the darn synopsis. I was elected Co-Secretary of my RWA chapter. (This kind of amazes me. Sometimes I find it hard to believe that anyone actually remembers who I am, let alone will vote for me.) I joined a critique group of fabulous lady writers, which promises to be fun and rewarding on several levels.

2013 may be hard to top, but I will try. I will send out my queries and finish writing my second book. (Which may require trashing the 32K words I have already written, but that’s probably the subject of another post.) I will attend the NEORWA conference in May and present a pitch to an agent (this is major–the very thought scares the crap out of me). I will post here more regularly this year. Maybe. I will upload that pile of old photos into Ancestry.com. And exercise. I should probably exercise.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Reality in Historical Romance

One of the blogs I follow is Hearts Through History, which features some marvelous posts on history in general, as well as historical romance in particular.  A recent post by Merry Farmer caught my eye, about historical body image. The concept of skinny, as she notes, is purely a 20th century notion, but most heroines in historical romance are portrayed as the young skinny girls of our current reality, rather than the curvy young women their real-life counterparts actually were.  Take a look at this piece of “genteel erotica” from 1886 and you’ll see what I mean:

Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1886-female-bathers-No4-nude.jpg

Anyway, Merry’s blog led me to another I hadn’t seen before: Rakes, Rogues, & Romance by Nancy Goodman. How real, she asked in a recent post, do we want our romance? Do we read it purely to escape the reality of our not particularly romantic lives, or do we want something else?

Personally, I like some realism. I want to see the heroine lift her skirts a bit to step over the disgusting muck that filled London streets prior to the end of the 19th century. I want her to wrinkle her nose when she gets a whiff of the Thames as the wind shifts. I want to see the household staff wash off the windows, again, the soot that constantly covers them. In my mind, such snippets of historical fact add much to the setting, but don’t detract from the romance.

Perhaps it is my advancing age, but I am a bit tired of the virginal teen heroine, who loses her maidenhead to the more worldly but gentle hero and almost always has an earth-moving orgasm on the first try. (No comment on the realism of that.) I have read many romances which feature this type of heroine, and have enjoyed them, but nowadays I find I like my heroines grittier, with more life experience before the first page. To me, they are much more real, and these are the heroines I like to write about.

However, as in most things in life, balance is important. I do understand the need to read as an escape from reality–it is very often that impulse which leads me to pick up a book. I read a lot of different types of fiction, but I open a romance when I want to be assured of a happy ending. It isn’t always very realistic, but it is usually immensely satisfying.

So if you read romance, how do you feel about realism? How much is too much?

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