One question I get asked a lot is “Why Romance?”… Most people who know me probably think I’m one of the least romance-minded people in the world. *laughs* Truth is, I’m probably one of the biggest romantics you’ll ever meet. I’m just not one of the most traditional romantics.
Most people think of romantics as people who believe in happily-ever-after, are interested in lots of lovey-dovey public displays of affection, and (in the case of women) have what psychology refers to as “Cinderella Complex” – ie, someone’s going to sweep them off their feet and change their lives. If that’s what you think of as “romantic,” hey, more power to you – but it personally makes me gag. Strange sentiment from a self-proclaimed romantic, yes?
Here’s what I believe (and this is my personal feeling, so I don’t expect anyone to understand or agree):
I don’t believe in happily ever after. I never have. Call me a realist about this part of it, but I know beyond any doubt (and I always have), that we as human beings don’t get to determine what makes “ever after.” We don’t steer our own course when it comes to death (unless you like to indulge in self-destructive behavior or plan to commit suicide – neither of which I recommend), and I don’t believe we directly have any influence over what happens after we die (I’ll save the whole argument of reincarnation vs. ascension for another time and place). So I consider it arrogant to assume that love is forever. I firmly believe it can last as long as life, however. I do believe that, in rare cases, when it’s strong enough, it can endure lifetime after lifetime, beyond the boundaries of death. But in time, I do believe that love changes, becomes something else. So I’m more inclined to a “happy-as-long-as-we-can-be” philosophy.
It’s not every girl’s dream to be rescued, or to have some Prince Charming ride in and sweep her away (truth is, I’ve always found that aspect of Fairy Tales to be a little on the creepy side). But just because a girl prefers to face her own perils doesn’t mean romance doesn’t appeal to all women, no matter the size, shape, age, or sexual orientation… And certainly no matter how much one might protest or claim otherwise.
Some of us are quite capable of solving our own problems, tilting at our own windmills, and facing our own demons. Some of us kick ass when it comes to taking care of our business, and we certainly don’t need another person to step in and save the day. We’ve got it well under control, thank you very much.
But does that mean we want to spend our lives alone, or facing an existence built on something dull and lifeless, or even frightening? Of course not.
Every girl dreams of being a princess (even if some of us are far more Xena than Sleeping Beauty). Not literally, of course, but at least in the eyes of someone else. We want to be special, to be seen as someone beautiful, awe-inspiring, and beloved. We want to feel as if we’re the most important person in someone’s life, and to know that they compare every other woman they meet to us, and find those others lacking.
It’s hardwired into us to crave grand gestures of love and affection – some symbol that tells the world just how special we are to someone else. For a lot of women, that’s what an engagement ring is all about. It’s what lavish weddings are all about.
Plenty of people (women included) scoff at romantic fiction. They call it trash, written porn, smut, etc, etc. I can promise you this – none of those people have ever actually read a Romance novel.
Are there novels that are explicit? Of course there are. But then, there are Horror novels that are graphic about blood and terror. There are adventure and action novels that are over-the-top with violence. Crime novels that are almost too ghastly and grisly with their details, to read.
What is it about Romance that so sends people running? Could it be the unwillingness to face their own deeply-buried desire to be truly loved? Perhaps it’s that they’re stuck in our prudish society’s mindset that anything involving sex should be shunned.
Personally, I think it’s the former. Porn is a billion-dollar industry for a reason… People don’t have a problem with sex. People have a problem with love. The idea of facing your own emotions, of admitting that you want more, that you’re looking for something spiritual as well as physical, is something that sends a lot of people (both male and female) running for their lives.
Romance novels are about more than sex. They’re about connection, about love that’s true, deep, and abiding. About the emotions that are tangled up inside of sexual desire, and about letting go of the desire, to get at one’s heart and soul. And they make us face our own wants and needs – make us step up and say, “Yes, I do want more from this relationship than just sex.” They’re not about perfect people, or larger-than-life situations. They’re about ordinary people who discover the most extraordinary gift of life – the ability to love and be loved. In short, Romance novels are about every girl’s dream come true – not the perfect man or woman (after all, there’s no such thing as a “perfect” person), but the perfect match of two hearts and two souls.
As for the level of sexuality in some Romance… Well, I don’t personally have a problem with it, as long as it’s kept tasteful. Personally, I’m not by nature a physically demonstrative person when my emotions are truly engaged. Instead, I’m more likely to get quiet and retreat inside my shell. Am I afraid of my own emotions, sometimes? Hell, yes. I’m afraid of getting hurt, of being taken advantage of, because I care too much, or give too much. Once the floodgates open, it’s often difficult to stop the emotions, and I’ve got a long history of pain caused by letting others actually see what they mean to me. So, instead, I either get very quiet, or I turn into a clown. People may think nothing bothers me, that I’m either aloof or goofy. Truth is, I’m neither.
There are many times I’ve been accused of being too logical and not at all romantic. Truth is, while it’s easy to express and explore my romantic side on paper, I’m far less comfortable expressing it in real life. Not because it’s not there, but because what’s missing is trust. I have a long history with broken trust, and early experience with overwhelming physical trauma. Both have made me hesitant toward physical contact, and even more hesitant toward reaching out to others, emotionally. So, I turned my attention toward writing about relationships that are troubled, but capable of overcoming that trouble. I write strong women with damaged trust and a desire to fix their own lives — sometimes even a desire to not even let anyone else into their lives. I write strong men who are secure and strong enough to show the heroine how important she is to him, and let her be an active partner, not just a window-dressing prize to be rescued.
This is what it means, to me, to write Romance.