I had dinner with a good friend the other night, and in the course of the conversation, the question came up that blights many an otherwise sanguine exchange with a romance aficionado: Why do you women read that stuff?
What he was asking, though, was: Why do you women write that stuff? There are as many answers as there are authors, or readers, but this was a guy, a spectacularly nice guy, but a guy just the same, and I think what he was trying to find out was what I hope to accomplish by putting my books out in the world for purchase.
Or to put it in guy-speak: What is that stuff supposed to do?
One answer that came to my mind (later, of course) was: Romance is an antidote to cable news.
We’re taught from little up that it’s a privilege to participate in a democracy, and many people around the globe throughout history haven’t had the freedoms we do. With the freedoms, and representative government, goes an obligation to remain informed about what our society is up to, and to contribute knowledgeably to the decisions it makes. This duty to remain informed has been parlayed by some, or constricted by market forces, into a presentation of the nightly news that grabs the viewer’s attention, chokes it viciously about the neck, and flings it thoroughly overwhelmed and wrung out into the corner at the end of 48 minutes of programming, and twelve equally predatory minutes of advertisements.
And what do those 48 minutes consist of?
A race among the horsemen of the Apocalypse for top story. A tour de force of misery and mayhem, and we’re told this is what it’s important to know about the world around us (though I suspect, these are the stories most likely to raise viewers for the advertised products which now support the entire journalistic endeavor—alas for the fourth estate). Yes, there are journalists who focus on the positive, occasionally, and there are human interest stories, but when are they ever at the top of the hour?
Romance, to me, is about the belief that if you love yourself and others with integrity, if you take responsibility for your personal growth and maturation, your relationships will be healthy, and your life will be blessed with love. This is a hopeful outlook, not always easy to maintain. There are big black moments in life, and they’re hard as hell.
When I face them, I do not want to be pounded with all the times my species has failed this very day to meet the challenges of living together with respect and cooperation. I want to be reminded that love does conquer all, human kindness is a quiet and powerful tide all around me, and the path of life need not be lonely even at its narrowest points.
It is important to be informed regarding current events; it’s more important to be reminded of the eternal verities.
A priest once said to me that we should not let faith and hope blind us to reality but also we should not let reality blind us to faith and hope.
I am half way through Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish. It is a wonderful book and a lovely story.
By the way, I usually find love scenes in romances too long and too boring. Not so in this book. That was the most beautiful description of two people making love that I have ever read.
On a final note, I think the assured happy ending in a romance allows authors to write about some pretty horrible stuff. Even as the reader’s heart is saddened by what is happening in the novel, she knows it will all come right in the end. That makes all of the difference in the world.
Bill, you raise a wonderful point about the territory romance can cover because of the HEA. In fact, a good romance author can take the reader through almost any dismal territory–death of a child, loss of body parts, war, you name it–and the reader will follow to that HEA.
Thanks for the kind words regarding Vim and Sophie. I was daunted at the prospect of writing a love that developed in just a few days, but impending loss can make us brave–also lovable.
It helped to have a baby to accelerate the process.
My love for my wife developed over years but I have known a few people who fell in love in a day and it lasted decades. Myself, I don’t trust quick romance but I think it can make a great romantic story. For instance, I love the story of Colin Firth’s romance in Love Actually.
They are pure escapism that is true. Not just from the sadness and depression of the news but from the horror of reality tv and mundane sitcoms. I want to entertained as well as feel something for the characters I spend my time with. People fighting in a jungle don’t do that for me.
I’m with you Lisa. I don’t get TV, much less reality TV. Instead of sitting on your backside watching somebody else’s life, why not live your own? Then too, about a lot of reality TV there’s a vein of feeding Christians to the lions, watching somebody else’s life fall apart and pretending it’s entertainment. Creeps me out.
Grace- thank you, thank you for so eloquently capturing the reasons I love to dwell in Love Story Land. I too am an accomplished attorney and often get the now predictable conciliatory smile when someone learns that the books I’m always toting about are “romance novels.” Most people seem to assume I’m trying to fill a void in my own full life or happy marriage. I’m so glad to now have a concise and credible response to those folks. What a delight the Windhams have been these past few weeks as I’ve devoured all four books. After hundreds of books in this genre, I can say your writing is so refreshingly smart and your pacing/unfolding of that elusive “falling” experience (and even more poignantly, the characters’ ultimate “surrender” to it) is masterful. I particularly cried at Val’s “undoing” (although that may be more a result of my pianist mother’s instillment in me of a profound love for the power of music to transport and reveal the soul). My only complaint is that I now have to wait months for the next installment! 🙂
Tonia, so far, Val enjoys the highest reader ranking on Amazon, which says something. He’s a little different as heroes go, but all the more heroic for his differences (no bias here).
And as for lawyering… we deal in managing broken relationships, or–at best–in trying to prevent relationships from breaking (negotiating good contracts?). If that doesn’t entitle us to a steady supplemental diet of happily ever afters, I’m not sure what would.
This romance novel shame is universal.If an adult woman puts a novel on the counter of a book shop and the cover of that book has any sort of embrace or state of undress, asusmptions are made, questions are asked. A chick flick does not warrent such condmenation or inquisition. I think it must be that society as a whole is still suspicious of a woman that reads 😛