By the time you read this it will be the day after Valentine’s Day, and I spent yesterday agonizing about what to write.
This angst over Valentine’s Day and romance is not unfounded. My first book was a romance. In Passion’s Defense was about a defense lawyer falling in love with a prosecutor during a gruesome trial. That should have been my first clue that perhaps mayhem rather than meet ups was my cup of tea. But I was slow on the uptake, and I wrote eight category romances. I think they are pretty darn good and they got better with each one. I wrote my heart out for Harlequin but I couldn’t seem to color in the lines, so I started writing women’s fiction. The editorial freedom, the more intricate plot lines, and the emphasis on plot rather than relationship helped me thrive. Dreams, Seasons, Vanities were just some of my titles. I wrote a lot of women’s fiction, but still I hadn’t hit my comfort zone as a writer. Then two things happened that sealed my fate.
First, the incredible RWA bookseller—Michelle Thorne—delicately informed me that my idea of romance was the hero chucking the heroine on the arm and giving her a smile. She was right. I was not a sexy writer in the years when other authors were pushing the envelope. My editor at Kensington was more direct. He said ‘You have to stop killing people before they get in bed!’. In essence he fired me from romance. I was devastated. Later I realized this was the silver lining in my very dark cloud.
When I started writing thrillers I found my passion and isn’t passion what love is all about? Still, without the learning curve of the romance genre, without the editors and readers, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to break up with women’s fiction as it was defined all those years ago and move on to my literary partner for life.
That doesn’t mean I left romance behind completely. Every book I write is based on relationships, but the emphasis of stories is little different from the classic romance novel. And then there’s my mom. One day she asked if I could write a book-without-bodies. I wrote three. On my mother’s ninetieth birthday, I presented her with a trilogy of sweet, romantic comedies: The Day Bailey Devlin’s Horoscope Came True, The Day Bailey Devlin Picked Up a Penny and the Day Bailey Devlin’s Ship Came in. These books encompassed every thing I love about romance: humor, honesty, confusion, honor, and affection for not just one man but all the men in Bailey’s life. Young or old, they be a lover or father or friend, it was all about love. I will always be most proud of, be in love with, the Bailey Devlin Trilogy because it reflects my definition of romance.
Today I put those three books in a boxed set and I hope when a reader finishes the stories, her (his) heart will be fuller, there might be a tear in her eye, she will have laughed out loud and then will turn around and pass all that feeling on to someone she loves.
Happy Belated Valentine’s Day.
Early in my career, when I was writing romance and women’s fiction, a bookseller, who I greatly admired, commented that my idea of romance was a chuck on a man’s shoulder. The other authors gathered in her store for a book signing laughed – and so did I. She was right in context of the romance genre. I was never comfortable writing love scenes or covering my ‘author lens’ with gauze. I didn’t care for characters having long involved conversations about their relationships. It never occurred to me to have brooding heroes or pining heroines. I was less interested in cupid, than I was in the arrow he shot and, I suppose, that is why I write thrillers now.
However, that does not mean I am unromantic. Why? Because in each of my books I take great care with character relationships, character’s moral core, their willingness to take chances and their curiosity about their mysterious world. To convince myself I was correct in believing these attributes to be romantic, I looked up the definition. Here you go, straight from Meriam/Webster:
Romantic: marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of what is heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious or idealized.
In other words, romance for one heart might carry an emotional connotation that leads to a sexual encounter or a committed relationship. For my heart, romance is embodied in how characters react to challenge. As a thriller writer I want my reader to feel the romance of suspense, of mystery, of the idealization of a hero who will walk through fire to make things right.
I find John McClane in Die Hard, Indiana Jones in any of the Indiana Jones movies, romantic and yet you never see them in sexual situations. The focus of these movies is on action within a mysterious world. The romantic in me sighs over their heroics, my heart beats faster at their commitment to justice and the place of honor in which they put women while also treating them as equals in adventure.
Whether you are an author or are a reader, do not pigeonhole the idea of romance. If you do, you will be limiting your talent and your reading enjoyment.
This Valentine’s Day, I hope cupid brought you candies and flowers. In the next year, I wish you a different kind of romance; the kind that take you to exotic, mysterious and adventurous places in your imagination.
The unromantic romantic
USA Today and Amazon bestselling author, Rebecca Forster is the author of over 38 novels including the acclaimed The Witness Series and her new Finn O’Brien Thriller series. She is married to a Superior Court judge and is mother to two sons.
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by Linda McLaughlin
I really enjoyed listening to Bob Mayer, last month’s speaker. He had a fantastic workshop, chock full of writing tips and techniques. I appreciate the great handouts, too, since he talked faster than I can write.
One of the many things he said that struck me as interesting was that romance, barring any paranormal or suspense element, is the most realistic genre. He said it’s because romance is about real life and it has to be really well written to be believable.
Now a statement like that will have the literary types reaching for the smelling salts. Or the bottle of whiskey. Romance realistic? When 50% of marriages end in divorce? To that I’d like to point out that the other 50% of marriages are successful, at least in terms of longevity. In any human endeaver, 50-50 odds are pretty good. What are the chances of winning the lottery? According to one internet site, buying one lottery ticket means your chances of winning Mega Millions are one in 135,145,920.
What are the odds of selling a book to a major NY publishing house for a six-figure deal? I’m not sure, but they’ve got to in one in who-knows-how-many thousands territory. A lot better than winning the lottery but still not good. Compared to that, finding a compatible marriage partner seems like a slam dunk! I’ll put my money on romance any day. How about you?
PS After the meeting, I went home and bought a copy of Agnes and the Hitman, romantic suspense by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer for my Kindle. I finished it last night and recommend it. The characters are great, the story is exciting and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. It may not be not realistic, but it’s a great read.
Linda McLaughlin writes historical and Regency romance for Amber Quill Press. As Lyndi Lamont she pens erotic romance for Amber Heat and Amber Allure, the erotic imprints of AQP. Her personal blog can be found at http://flightsafancy.blogspot.com/.
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