Hiya – Gonna be hanging out with these folks the next coupla weeks, sharing heretofore untold secrets about myself.
I was invited to submit a holiday-themed short story a couple of months ago at Romance Lives Forever, which I turned into a thingy on Wattpad recently. I hope you enjoy what I came up with!
Romance is the largest book genre on the planet when measured by public consumption. As in colossal-huge, as in more than 20 percent of a market where the next “big” categories languish in the 6th and 7th percentiles. Romance sells into the billions of dollars each year while its lesser brethren deal in pedestrian millions. We readers seem to love ourselves a love story.
But why? Romance is also the most saturated in terms of offerings – a quick search on Amazon yielded 1,005,777 titles, which is about the number of new books coming out each year across all genres worldwide. And let’s ask the obvious question: after you’ve read eight or nine dozen of these stories, what about them is new or fresh? Who doesn’t know-but-know the heroine’s impossible circumstances will be resolved and the main characters will at some point cozy up? Who can’t count on the HEA as a sure thing? No one, that’s who, yet we’re still riveted. How come?
Critics of the genre have put forth the same rote, dismissive evals for decades… and at this point we have to surmise their criticisms have to do with something other than the actual stories, since discerning readers still choose to read romance novels in droves. Non-discerners are present too, just as they are in all genres; romance’s contingent just looks bigger because… well, it IS bigger. The whole romance pie is bigger.
But I believe romance’s image has more to do with pedigree than its sprawling, amorphous body of work. Its base – its massive, multi-faceted base – is messy, encompassing sweet inspirational and Regency and paranormal and BDSM erotica, subject matters so disparate they probably shouldn’t qualify as a collective. The category includes more readers from more corners of the earth than Croesus had coins, meaning we romancers can’t make any intellectual or ideological claims to purity. We don’t have it. I wrote a humorous piece on this very subject a few years ago, and take a peek if you seek justification for your own reading proclivities.
Writer Jenny Trout also offered a compelling perspective in a recent Huffington Post article, one all of us writing romance should take a moment to ingest. I don’t disagree with her, and if we were having coffee, I like to think we would laugh over the absurd marketing characterizations we writers of the genre get to work under. I mean, targeting “women age 22 to 55” is kind of like hunting “wildlife” in Africa. No disrespect here, but are you looking to bag a crocodile or a gazelle, ‘cause there’s kind of a big difference…
Beyond acknowledging the context in which we write and read, however, we should probably set aside questions of literary integrity and market impact – and let’s be honest: we’re going to anyway. Seriously. These issues, while interesting, change nothing, not our stories, not our drive to write them. They don’t change the appeal of love and intimacy in our narratives; and they sure as hell don’t have any sway when it comes to convincing readers away.
My publisher, Liquid Silver Books, participated in a Kobo event a couple of weeks ago wherein several of us talked about what draws us to romance, and my colleague Susan Vaughn contributed a spot-on response in my opinion. She said any story able to engage another human being is intellectually stimulating, suggested a good romance read draws you into thinking about all kinds of things, including humanity and your own place in it. “It makes you evaluate who you are and what you need and want. It’s like giving your brain a badly needed hug.”
She’s right. And since romance is universal no matter which yardstick you use for measuring, we really do need to put these questions of salience on the shelf. Now off I go to work on that 1,005,778th title…
I was thrilled to find this article in the NYT about my genre, although I think it makes the books profiled look more suggestive than they really are. I’ve read many of them, and the “50 Shades” comparison is WAY off base… Anyway, kinda interesting.
I haven’t posted anything from my first book, Blue, but I feel compelled to share what I coughed up yesterday in my second novel, Sapphire. It’s how I had my romantic heroine, Sylvia, go out and catch her own personal mermaid. Hope somebody (an agent, maybe?) out there likes it!
Sylvia was no longer calm after her walks on the beach, but stimulated, a little giddy even, and she arrived at work not relaxed, not centered, not insulated from the cacophony of the morning rush. Whatever had happened the past five mornings – and she could in no way identify what that was – it left her agitated, and buzzing with nervous energy. And whereas she used to attend her morning customers all composed and self-possessed, she was now anxious and quick to snap. Once her sanctuary, SeaCakes became anything but; the sights and sounds battered against her senses, like a volley of too many ping-pong balls she had to return with her arms tied and no paddle.
She didn’t sleep well, either, and her appetite was just gone. This morning, she’d hesitated before getting up, feeling empty and slightly nauseous, thinking perhaps she had the flu. But the prospect of the beach and the pull to return to it compelled her to rise. She was exhausted but she hurried anyway. “I’m demented,” she muttered to herself.
The routine was familiar to her by now. She walked with Soley toward Griffins Bay from the Blake house. She sunk into a reverie she was eager to have but could not recall once she had it. She always felt as though she’d had a conversation with someone important to her, like a dead relative come back to give her advice, except that she also had the vague feeling she’d been on a date, one where she wanted the guy to hold her hand and kiss her goodnight, although he never did.
She joked with Soley they were on their way to see her sea monster, and as she had the thought, the familiar lethargy settled over her, until she stopped at the place she knew she was supposed to and scanned the water expectantly. She saw nothing at first, and she looked harder at the waves for some irregular movement, her breathing shallow now, her heart rate increased as she searched hungrily for… what? Her awareness declined, but today she fought the stupor and strove for lucidity.
She just wanted to understand, to pinpoint why she was driven to return here each day, or, failing that, to recall something, anything, that would clue her in as to why she felt so nuts. Whatever it was that drew her here, her morning meditation was now her morning thrill-cum-anxiety-attack because of it.
Twice earlier in the week, Sylvia was gifted during sleep with images that gave her some insight, a flash visual she would see like a picture viewed under a strobe light, never enough to fully recognize much less understand. She saw the tail of a silvery green fish with a wide, graceful fluke, and had vicarious memories she could not attribute: a blast of cold on her skin, images of ice floes and sea lions, an endless desert of snow viewed from a barren shoreline. She felt these images in a new dimension, where her senses became tangled or interchangeable. She saw the cold, for instance, and smelled the night. She flickered through sensations of salt and sunshine and other things, like anemones and sea shells, with an expanded capacity for experiencing them.
The almost-image called to her, like a dream she couldn’t fully excavate from her subconscious. She stopped and scanned the water again, seeing endless gray waves under a lighter, pre-dawn gray sky. Her sea monster did not surface.
She waited. Nothing took shape in the water, although her belief in her phantom experience did solidify, and it kept her rooted where she stood.
Whatever had occurred here – and it was something – its impact had shaken her world, and not just here on the beach. In every part of her life, she felt like she’d been catapulted out of some foggy introspection she hadn’t known she was in, where nothing familiar to her was as it had been. Her insistence on autonomy, in particular, took a beating, since she now felt driven to share her experiences, mundane and otherwise, with someone. She wanted to think through her daily conundrums with another, rejoice in her accomplishments both petty and significant.
The result of her ruminating was a profound, uncomfortable expansion of how she saw herself, and the viewpoint ravaged her peace of mind. Still, she could not stop. On top of the physical discomfort she felt – the nausea, the sleeplessness – her self-critique left her feeling naked, and ashamed of her previous ignorance. She longed for the relative comfort of her old, unenlightened outlook.
In the new hyperawareness that characterized her days, Sylvia looked at choices she’d once made without question, ones that had governed everything from friendships to romance to her professional life. Primarily it was her refusal to accept help, or even much in the way of encouragement from others, that she now scrutinized. It was not the show of strength she’d once believed, but more a way for her to feel superior, to hold herself apart. In this context she looked back at on her relationships, and her attempts at intimacy seemed sad. She saw how her stubborn self-reliance fed the loneliness she felt so acutely even as she strove to protect it. Her habit of over-independence was tiresome, unattractive and, more importantly, it was making her miserable.
She gained a new appreciation for what it would mean to really share herself with someone, felt that, somehow during these morning walks she’d risked more than she ever had, and in return experienced true communion with another. It left her wanting more. When she envisioned a romantic partner for herself now, she dared to hope for one strong enough for her to lean on, not just someone she could prove her strength to. She thought now that, maybe, there was someone out there who would hold her when she was unsure, and love her in spite of her deficiencies.
Yes. She was the author of her own loneliness, and she had the power to end it. For starters, she wanted to connect with the marine instigator of her changed way of thinking, to learn more, feel more, even if the experience hurt her. This was the fear behind wanting to know what happened here each day, that she would find her companion was nonexistent and her new ideas would feel all the more isolating. She did not want to find that she longed for something imaginary, or, perhaps worse, that her companion was real but did not care what happened to her, that he would leave her in this raw, exposed state.
Even considering the worst, though, she could not quash her hunger for the truth. It was this ache that had her teetering between anticipation and dread each day, had robbed her of her appetite and prodded her even in her dreams.
She scrutinized a shadow close to shore, where a dark shape pulled at her attention. A prickling awareness, like the brush of a light electric current, ran along her back and down her arms and legs. She closed her eyes and breathed in, relieved. He was coming. Solely broke through her trance with his excited barking, which he abruptly stopped before running off. Sylvia returned her attention to the movement in the shallows.
The shape twisted, and Sylvia again felt her perceptions narrow and her awareness recede. Yes! She almost remembered this. She concentrated harder to try and force the recognition lurking within her. She leaned toward the ocean, wanting to move into it.
Sylvia. Wait. I’ll come to you.
She made a sudden decision. No. She didn’t want to obey, didn’t want to almost know what was happening this time. She took a deliberate step toward the tide, and then another. The warning to remain on shore, in any case, felt hollow and false.
A silvery glint, a flash of iridescent scales. No. It’s a bad idea…
She disregarded his commands and entered the surf, everything in her focused on the hypnotic swirl that revealed fins and scales and… a human face. When the water reached her knees, her yearning intensified. By God she was going to figure out what was going on, she vowed. When the creature next swirled below the surface, she charged it.