I’m cheating a bit. The topic this week is romantic ads, but the video I’ve embedded here isn’t an ad, it’s a short film. It’s 9 minutes long, but well worth the investment of your time. At least, I think so. But then again, I’m a sap.
To me this is one of the wonders of YouTube–talented people post incredible stuff like this for free. I hope the film makers go on to huge commercial success.
And there’s another lovely, romantic short film on YouTube Called Signs. It’s 12 minutes long, but full of magic. If you haven’t already seen it, I recommend it.
I’m sad to say I can’t recall the very first romance I read. I do know it was a Harlequin romance—my mother was a monthly subscriber to the Presents line. I can remember reading dozens of books by Violet Winspear, Penny Jordan, Anne Mather, and Charlotte Lamb. I devoured a ton of delicious stories about wealthy alpha heroes, princes, and sheiks.
The first book I actually remember reading was Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers. Probably not the best book to form the foundation of my love affair with romance novels, but definitely a memorable one.
The book that truly hooked me and made me a lifelong reader of romance was Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Wolf and the Dove. I loved it then, and I love it now. The bastard son of nobleman trying to make good, the feisty heroine standing up for her people, even the hint of something paranormal in the appearance of the wolf. Loved it all. My original copy has long since fallen apart, but I still have a copy on my keeper shelf, and every ten years or so, I read it again. No surprise that my first forays into writing were medieval romances. I heart stories of knights and maidens and castles.
I’ve been a fan of Teresa Medeiros for years—she was my first glom. I read Touch of Enchantment and promptly ran out and bought every book of hers I could find. My next crush was on Karen Marie Moning. Her time travel romances with heroines falling into the lap of handsome highland heroes sent my imagination soaring.
I’m still discovering new authors—some have been around for ages and I’m just cluing in. Some are new debuts. There’s a treasure trove of great authors out there, thank goodness. I’ll never run out of excellent stories to read.
Currently working on: Unearthing the revised Book 3 from the rotting corpse of Book 3 — phoenix, arise!
It’s Valentine’s week. If you haven’t signed up for the Silk And Shadows newsletter (look to the left side of the page) today’s the day. Our next newsletter goes out soon and there are Valentine’s giveaways to be won.
And speaking of Valentine’s… Will I be drummed out of the romance lovers’ league if I say aloud that I think Valentine’s Day is a crock? In college, some women in my dorm donned black armbands on Valentine’s Day, and I wore one in solidarity. One of my roommates (who, yes, had a boyfriend with whom she had a lovely relationship judging from the late-night noises coming from the bunk across the very tiny room) accused me of being bitter and jealous nerd. I said, Duh.
But it seems to me that many of the traditions of Valentine’s don’t feel like any romance I’d want to have. Roses wither in a disturbingly short period of time. The milk chocolate bon-bons pushed on us are a poor, cheap substitute for the real deal. At least there’re sparkly diamonds… Except now we’re told diamonds are just the blood-soaked refuse of terrible Third World conflict.
What’s a girl to do?
Besides read a romance novel, I mean.
What I learned from romance novels that Valentine’s Day got wrong:
1. Love is not a one-day affair. Indeed not. Love is at least a week-long affair with a Sicilian billionaire. Or maybe an eternity with a vampire prince. But definitely not a mere 24 hours in February.
2. Love means having to say… lots.
Words are the measure of the man. Backed up with action, of course. Lots and lots of hot action. But I want more words than fit on 5×7 cardstock even if it has a glittered butterfly and embossed heart. Somewhere between 200-400 pages of words should just about do it.
3. Love is sacrifice. This one Valentine’s Day got right. According to the story, Valentine was a saint who martyred himself for lovers. Romance novels are all about the sacrifice the lovers make to be together. They give up their loneliness, their distrust, their prejudices, even though sometimes giving up their lives would’ve felt easier. And at the end, they don’t always get flowers and chocolate and sparkly jewelry, the love is a given.
Do you have a Valentine’s tradition that you adore? Feel free to create one. We write our own stories here.
If it weren’t for having a real life mentor, I probably would never have become a writer, at least not one published in romance fiction. All my life I loved to write, from the minute they put a pencil in my hand and taught me how to spell a few words. In first grade I was always the last to hand in the “creative writing” assignments, not because I was slow at it but because I had so much to say. My stories were usually romantic adventures (yeah, even then!) about princesses and knights and magical forests.
But as I grew up, the term “romance novel” took on connotations that steered me clear of the genre, or so I thought, because a lot of what I was reading contained strong romantic themes. They just weren’t officially categorized as romance novels.
In college, too many years ago to count, one of my English professors prophetically asked me if I had ever considered writing romance. I don’t know why she asked, but I suppose she saw something particular in my writing style. At the time I’d only read a couple of romance novels, not very good ones, so I laughed and said, “Why would I write romance? I don’t read that stuff.” Oh dear, how I shudder now at my post-adolescent highbrow academic snobbery. What did I know? Obviously not much. When I graduated that same professor gave me a gift: Roget’s International Thesaurus, 4th Edition. This is one that offers not a few choices for each word, but sometimes hundreds, with nuances upon nuances of meaning so you can select exactly the right sentiment. It’s fabulous. I always say I could never write a book without it, and in fact I haven’t. Dr. Frank, you knew me better than I knew myself, and I have so much to thank you for!
But it was a few years later, when a friend published her first romance novel for Harlequin, that something just clicked with me. I excitedly bought and read the book - my friend was a published author! By the way, it was Date With An Outlaw by Lyn Lockhart, a pseudonym for my friend, Marilyn Jordan, who went on to publish for Dorchester and Kensington.
In reading her book, I instantly came to understand that romance was not defined by those so-so ones I’d read back in the 80s. Romance was so much more. It was mystery and adventure and danger and humor and everything imaginable that can happen in life, with a guaranteed happy ending. Wow! A passion was born. I started writing. And writing and writing. It was a historical, of course, set in the Middle Ages. I had no idea what I was doing and that book probably would have gone nowhere but under the bed, which might have been the end of the story if Marilyn hadn’t dragged me, pretty much kicking and screaming, to her critique group meetings and to the Florida Romance Writers. She literally introduced me to everything I needed to know about the writing industry, encouraged me to attend my first conference, helped me prepare for my first editor appointment, and gave me the kick I needed to prevent me from becoming one of those isolated, closet writers who tremble at the thought of letting anyone see their work. It isn’t overstating it to say her influence was life-changing for me.
Mentors can be accidental, as in the case of my English professor, or intentional, as in the case of my friend. The trick is to always keep an open mind and an open heart and have the courage - even if you’re scared silly - to reach for your dreams. Especially if someone has just shoved you face first into them.
Someone mentioned A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle the other day. I still own a copy of that book and read it again when I’d heard that Madeleine L’Engle passed away. Of all the books from my childhood, that one really stands out. Maybe it’s because the heroine, Meg, wasn’t a princess, or popular or especially pretty or endowed with magical powers. Being a kid who hadn’t quite grown into herself, she was awkward. Her hair never did what she wanted. She wore glasses (considered cool now but not then!). She often didn’t like herself and she never could quite control her temper, especially when the other kids at school poked fun at her family situation (father missing) or her “dumb baby brother.” Meg was a regular girl, a girl like me, who struggled with life and fitting in and worrying if she would ever just be “good enough” in the eyes of others.
In a sci-fi adventure story driven by the values of honor, courage, loyalty, personal freedom, the importance of family, etc., we watch Meg overcome one insecurity after another, until she comes to see her own worth. In learning to believe in herself, Meg learns she has the power to save the people she loves even when all seems lost.
For a shy ten-year-old who didn’t think she was particularly remarkable either, that was a powerful message
Another book I loved was THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare. It was what you could call my first historical romance and the beginning of a lifelong obsession. OK, the romance was kind of secondary to Kit’s trials and tribulations as she tries to fit in with her Puritan relatives in cold, damp, gray Connecticut (coming from Barbados, poor thing!), but Nat is there for her when she most needs him and makes her dreams come true at the end, albeit they were dreams she never knew she had.
WITCH is a fish out of water story, and I love experiencing the journey of someone who is struggling to adapt to new situations without losing their own sense of who they are. Kit is a fighter and a courageous girl, which is especially evident when she befriends a woman reputed to be a witch. Not cool in a Puritan environment! I’ll admit that in the beginning she is a bit of a spoiled rich girl, but little by little she gets over her silver spoon expectations, comes to terms with the drastic changes in her life, learns to value her often dour relatives and emerges a strong, positive, independent-minded young woman.
I think it’s so important for young girls to read stories that feature strong, intelligent young heroines with the power to take their world by the reins. My friend Traci Hall’s YA Wiccan series, about a spirited, psychic teenage girl named Rhiannon, certainly fits that category. Can anyone suggest others that are being written today?
If I didn’t believe in HEA, I couldn’t be a romance writer. It’s as simple as that. I’ve heard people say that fiction writers “tell lies for a living.” Wrong! If an author is telling lies, i.e., writing things she doesn’t believe herself, her readers will know - and stop reading. A writer has to tell the whole, honest truth, no matter how hard or how painful.
And sometimes getting those words on the page can be painful. It’s hard work and labor intensive, but we do it because we’re compelled to, because we love it.
A relationship is a lot like writing a book. In the beginning, you’re filled with energy and enthusiasm. You can’t wait to stop whatever else you’re doing and run to that keyboard. The words flow from your fingertips. The chemistry between the characters sizzles, their dialogue sparkles. It’s all wonderfully satisfying. Exhilarating. Like the adrenaline rush of new love.
Ah, but what about that saggy middle, or hitting a snag you can’t write your way out of because the plot just isn’t working? You might find that your characters stop talking, and worse, they suddenly don’t even want to have sex anymore. Yikes! What does this mean?
It means the honeymoon is over. It means you have to stop, analyze what’s gone so terribly wrong and rework, re plot, rebuild. Some days, you just want to throw up your hands and quit. “It’s too hard!” you lament. “Can’t I just start over?”
But then you wonder, how committed am I to this story? How much do I love these characters? How much a part of me are they? Depending on the answers, you’ll either toss the manuscript into the circular file, or roll up your sleeves, sit your butt back in the chair, and give everything you’re worth - your heart and soul - to make it work. Because you are committed. You do love this story and you cannot let go of these characters.
That’s how we as writers progress from opening hook to HEA. And in life, that’s how people progress from that first “I love you” to their own particular HEA, whatever that may be. It’s not easy, it’s not always pretty, and some days you want to throw up your hands and scream, I quit! That’s when you have to take a breath and ask yourself the above questions (insert “relationship” in place of “story” and “spouse/significant other” in place of “character”). So yes, I believe in HEA. Oh, not the magical, “bells are ringing and birds are singing” version - well, sometimes - but mostly the “we’re in this together and are committed to making it work because damn it all, we really do love each other” version.
What do you think? Is love worth working for - fighting for? Or do you believe that when the happy bells stop ringing, it’s a sign that it’s time to move on?
Cheers for the living; tears for the dead ~ Memorial Day 2009
Currently working on: Sledgehammering
My XY wanted to know how I could write a post about believing in Happily Ever Afters. “In real life, everybody dies,” he said.
He’s fun at parties, I swear.
Yes, I explained, people die. But if they lived a full, satisfying life, reaching their potential and connecting with the people they loved, that counts as an HEA (Happily Ever After). Most books don’t follow that entire progression, because we can’t all be turn-of-the-century Russian novelists (they didn’t believe in HEAs anyway) burning through paper pulp like weak vodka Jello shots. The best we can do is show — in 400 pages or less — that our characters met and overcame their roadblocks, and walked away with the skills to continue down that path, whatever else might come along — whether we see that in the next book in the series or just imagine it.
I read a thread in an online romance reading community that asked whether the readers felt that romance skewed their perception of what “real” relationships should be like. I was shocked at the number that said, yes, reading romances made it harder to maintain a real-world relationship because their expectations were too high. HEA was one of the alleged culprits.
Which made me think those readers had my XY’s interpretation of HEA: That somehow HEA meant you’d never have another fight, always orgasm simultaneously (in his defense, I’m extrapolating my XY’s beliefs a bit) and never die. Whether you’re a vampire or not.
Instead, I think an HEA is built on three elements, and all of them have real-world applications, not just in our romantic relationships but elsewhere too.
1. Communication Romance novels are a uniquely female pleasure, I think, because of all the words that go into building the relationship, culminating in the “I love you” moment. As anyone with a Y chromosome in the vicinity knows, relationship words aren’t always the easiest for the male persuasion to muster. But romances also understand the value of the gesture — grand or small — that reveals the truth behind words unspoken. Whether with words or action, romances teach that only by reaching beyond the confines of themselves can our characters begin to seek their HEA.
Half of communicating is receiving what the other person reveals. With that new understanding, our characters — female and male — are able to progress past the prejudices and limitations that have held them back. Compromise gets a bad name because it sounds like giving up, giving in. But anybody whose read about the bad boy alpha hero oh-so reluctantly giving his woman a place on the mission team — only to discover that she’s crucial to his success — knows that compromise is the heart of the HEA.
Whether it’s an HEA or HFN (happy for now) the dedication to the cause completes the Ever After. Or should we say Even After? Because that decision to stay the course – regardless of annoyances, tribulations and assorted escalating bad guys — means we can believe that our hero and heroine remain true to each other and themselves.
How would you describe Happily Ever After? Is it reserved for fairy tales? Or does everyone deserve it? Would HEA be better described as Hopefully Ever After?