“Life resembles a novel more often than novels resemble life.” – George Sand, French author (1804 – 1876).
There’s a lot of truth in that quote, and it’s probably why so many of us write contemporary fiction. Life is sometimes too bizarre to be believed, and we feel a need to tell people about it. Unfortunately, we usually embellish it with caricatures of the people who populate our world, and that can lead to trouble. I don’t worry about that, because most of the people I know wouldn’t make believable characters in the first place. I like to populate my stories with unique personalities, but some of my friends would push the boundaries of believability.
I ran across a blog that posed the question “Why don’t romance novels get the respect they deserve?” There are a lot of talented writers out there who specialize in one romance genre or another, and many of them have loyal followers. I have a theory about why respect can be elusive, especially when it comes to erotic romance.
Think back a number of years to the paperbacks you typically found in the drugstore that sold for 25 or 50 cents. They were sordid potboilers, with salacious titles and peek-a-boo covers to match. “The Lady is a Lush,” “Housewife Hookers” and “Country Club Wives” are a few actual examples. These were released under imprints from mainstream publishers, but the authors hid behind pseudonyms. They were probably afraid of blowing their credibility once they finished that great American novel they were writing. These books were heavy on sex and soap opera antics, but light on everything else. They were also the precursor to the modern-day erotic romance. People who wrote them were considered inferior by some snobbish types, the ones who secretly read these books when no one was looking.
Apparently, many people still think of “bodice rippers” and Harlequin paperbacks when you mention romance novels. It’s been pointed out that those who trash romances don’t usually read them in the first place. A quote I read claimed that many of these folks brush off the genre as “F*** fiction” and assume that only women read it. I hate to think where that puts me, since I read a lot of romances when I was reviewing books. Many of them wouldn’t qualify as erotica, but there was plenty of steam. The works of Harold Robbins come to mind. His novels may have been classified as adult fiction, but he threw caution to the wind when it came to writing bedroom scenes.
The blog I referenced confirmed that e-book sales for romances outsell every other genre, and I can understand why. When you’re using your Kindle or phone, it’s easy to hide what you’re reading. This comes in handy if the cover features half-naked people doing nasty things. It also explains why a piece of dreck like “50 Shades of Really Bad Writing” became an international bestseller. That fact backed up my opinion that some die-hards will read anything.
The condescending attitude toward romance novels is frustrating for those of us who write mystery thrillers and private eye stories that include romance and sex. I embrace the opportunity to mix some romance into my plots because it makes them more believable. I especially enjoy writing the flirting and teasing parts of the relationships I develop, and using witty, realistic dialogue to make the point.
To me, there’s something fun about creating the magic moment where two people realize that they’re falling for each other. The giddy thrill from imagining that special someone being the first person you see every morning and the last person every night. The companion who is straight out of a beautifully crafted romance story, the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. To show you what I mean, here’s a passage from “Anywhere the Heart Goes” (2010, Extasy Books), a contemporary romance about two people named Rachel and Sam.
“Do you remember what you said once, about how we’d both been hit by a few bad relationships?” Sam asked.
“You were right,” he continued. “At first, I was afraid I was going to get hurt again, then I realized something I hadn’t felt for a long time. I was really more afraid of hurting you.”
“Hurting me how?”
“I was afraid I was starting to like you too much, and if things didn’t work out, you’d get hurt. I didn’t want that to happen to you.”
Rachel had a confused look. “How can you like someone too much?”
Sam took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, deciding it was time to go for broke. “When you get up in the morning thinking of someone and you can’t get them out of your head for the rest of the day. When you’re doing something you enjoy and you wish they were there to share it with you. When you’re with someone else and you keep thinking of the other person. That’s how you can like someone too much.”
Perhaps George Sand was onto something, after all.