I recently wrote an article about how I fell in love with romance novels. Namely, how romance made me feel: the breathlessness at the beginning of the attraction, the physical ache in your chest when it seems the hero and heroine won’t end up together, and the near heart-bursting joy at the end of the book when they do. I was thinking about this, about all three of the feelings that–in my opinion–are requisite for a wonderful romance novel, and I realized something.
A lot of romance novels I’ve been reading over the past few years simply don’t meet all three requirements. And–also sadly–I have to admit that even my books to date have focused on one or two of these rather than all three.
Digging further, instead of “romance novel”, a lot of books that I’ve read in the past few years could be described as “lust-sex-heartbreak-HEA” novels. To me, they’re not the same at all. Part of it, I think, is that we as a society have become more skeptical and cynical in this first decade of the 21st century. It’s easier to believe in the heartache of a romance novel than in the actual romance (and please understand that I’m not talking about the HEA, but the journey of the couple to that HEA). I recently read my first book from a bestselling contemporary author, and I loved it. It didn’t need an intricate plot or anything extraordinary, because what made me fall in love with the characters and the book itself was how romantic it was. Imagine that. Yes, there was sex in it as well, and well-written sex, but the main focus of either character was not how to get into bed with the other; the focus was on their relationship and their growing love. It seems lately that I’ve read too many romance novels (and I’m not talking about erotic romances) where more attention is paid to physical desire than emotional development (i.e., turning the reader on instead of creating those warm, gushy feelings that made me fall in love with romance in the first place). I, like most readers, enjoy great sex scenes in the romance novels that I read–I believe they’re an integral part of the love story–but I want to see more from the relationship, to be honest.
This perspective has already changed my view toward my own writing. Recently I was plotting out a novella that, for some reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, didn’t feel right. There was something missing. I knew there would be angst (lots of it!) and sex (of course), but something felt as if it were lacking. I would like to say that this was a momentary obtuseness on my part, but the truth is that until I wrote the above-mentioned article about why I fell in love with romance novels, I didn’t realize that the plot was focused more on heartache and lust than romance. And I’m a romance writer!
I truly felt as if a lightbulb had gone on in my head. When did the genre start moving away from the romantic side of romance? I’m certainly not saying there aren’t any books out there that are focused on romance (other JQ authors have wonderfully romantic books!), and I’m not even saying that this is prevalent among the genre–but it is something I’ve seen increasing lately. And it’s something that I’m committed to correcting in my own writing from now on.
Perhaps this is an epiphany only for me, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, as either a reader or a writer. Have you noticed a declining trend in the romance in romance novels? What are your requirements for a satisfactory “romance novel” that truly fits the term? Thank you for your comments!
This month the Jaunty Quills are posting our favorite blogs from the past. I’ve been a member of the JQs since October, so I don’t have *too* many posts to pick from, but this one is definitely my favorite. If you remember seeing it recently, don’t mind me–just enjoy the eye candy.
I have a confession to make: I, Elise Rome, am in love with Great Britain. And I am not ashamed.
When I first learned that Katherine Garbera lives in England, I was beyond jealous.
Confession: I still am.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy living in America.
It’s just that, well… British people have British accents. I know some people like French accents, some Arabic, some Australian, some Latin and so on, but I for one tend to get weak-kneed when I hear a man with a British accent.
Confession: After I graduated high school I was working as a cashier in a supermarket. One day, a man (early 20s, perhaps, modestly attractive) came through my line. I was not affected in the least–he was just another customer in my mind. But then he spoke in a British accent, and you should have seen how red my face turned. I’m sure I stammered, too. Suddenly this mortal man turned to a god in my eyes, simply because of the way he spoke.
I blame this man for making my insides turn to goo whenever I hear a British accent:
And this one:
(Likewise, if you have not seen Richard Armitage in the BBC miniseries North and South, do so immediately. You will understand everything when you hear the voice.)
Sadly, although Mr. Rome earnestly tries to imitate a British accent, it never works. It somehow always comes out as something closer to an Australian accent.
Confession: I think Hugh Jackman is a lovely man. Chris Hemsworth, too. They both have lovely, broad-as-the-sky shoulders. And yet, because they both have Australian accents rather than British ones, neither affects me as much as this man:
Fortunately, Mr. Rome still loves me even though he knows how much I go ga-ga over British men. I know he loves me because he’s agreed to going to England for a future anniversary rather than Italy, which was his first choice. (I have not, as of yet, convinced him to actually move to England… “Think of the castles! The history! The…sheep?”)
By itself, you might think that my love for British accents would be an innocent thing. Not so.
It’s convinced me that all British humor is witty, it would be culturally superior of me to drive on the left side of the road rather than the right, there’s nothing wrong with eating a dessert called “spotted dick”, and that British television shows and movies are generally better than the ones produced in America (Downton Abbey, Sherlock, anyone?).
There may be one saving grace for me despite this obsession, however… Ireland is right next door, and I also love Irish accents. I guess I’ll just have to divide my time between the two.
Thanks to everyone who commented on the FOK post! The two random winners of the Forks Over Knives book are Connie Fischer and catslady–congratulations! Please check your inboxes. =)
Since the beginning of 2012, when I watched the food documentary Forks Over Knives, my beliefs about food have changed. I have become almost as passionate about whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables as I am about romance novels. (I can’t believe it, either!) If you haven’t seen it yet, Forks Over Knives is a documentary based upon the science of why a whole foods, plant-based diet is best for you, and how the typical American diet is killing us (or, if you eat a diet similar to the typical American diet, which includes lots of meat and dairy and processed foods). (Note: Did you know that the acronym for the standard American diet is SAD?) Anyway, I digress.
I was born and raised in East Texas, where meat is the center of every meal, and a meal without meat just doesn’t seem right. It’s not normal. In fact, after watching Forks Over Knives in February, when I told my dad that I was becoming a vegan, he laughed. Not in a mean way, just in a that’s-such-a-ludicrous-idea-that-anyone-would-want-to-give-up-meat-and-dairy way. =) He also said something to the effect that “he meant to enjoy his life”; i.e. a life without meat and dairy would be no life at all.
I never met one vegan or vegetarian in East Texas. There may have been some out there, but if they were, it’s possible they were keeping it a secret from all the rest of us. Again, such a lifestyle just isn’t considered sane. It’s not about people wanting to hurt animals by eating them. It’s just an entirely different culture.
So as I sat down to watch Forks Over Knives with my husband in February, I never thought that I would come out on the other side with the intention of becoming a vegan. I’d already seen Food, Inc. (also recommended; a documentary about modern farming/food industry practices) when it came out, and although I hated what I saw, there didn’t seem to be enough of a personal application to make me motivated to do anything. I definitely can’t say the same thing about Forks Over Knives (henceforth FOK).
I’m not going to quote the documentary or book itself (I’m giving away a couple of copies of the book today so you can read it for yourself, or you can visit the website here), but some of the things that stuck out to me were:
1) The protein in cow’s milk promotes cancer cells (we’ve switched to Silk Soy Milk since April 1st and haven’t gone back)
2) The standard American consumes too much protein through a meat diet; the excess protein leaches calcium from our bones, which can cause osteoporosis (so much for milk’s preventative qualities)
3) Consuming dairy and meat products can lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer (among other diseases), whereas eating a whole foods, plant-based diet can reverse these (yes, sometimes even cancer!)
These are just a few of the reasons why I decided to become a vegan after watching this film. Now for my journey.
For two months I ate no meat, although I did continue drinking milk. Then I went back to eating meat because, since my husband cooks most of the meals in our household (I know, how lucky am I??), I was basically eating “sides” the entire time. I felt a little discouraged, but I was on a schedule where it made more sense for him to cook at the time. (Note: Although my husband was affected by the film, it hasn’t meant as much to him as it did to me.) Then we cut out milk entirely for our household, and only drink soy milk now. I still believe in the reasons why I made this decision to begin with, though, so I’ve been collecting some amazing vegan cookbooks and recipes from the Internet. My husband has agreed to let me be the cook for an entire month (in September), and I’m excited to discover together how delicious vegan foods can be. (I plan on keeping a record of my recommendations.) In the meantime, I’ve been focusing on eating more plants, whole grains, and beans, and reducing my consumption of cheese (still haven’t given that up) and meats.
As you can see, my conversion from a meat-eater hasn’t happened overnight, and I’m okay with this. After all, I’ve been eating one way for all of my life, and I don’t want to set myself up for failure. My goal right now is to be completely vegan by the beginning of 2013. The most important thing to me–while I can appreciate the environmental impacts of certain lifestyles–is how eating this way vs. the Standard American Diet will affect my health, my daughters’ health, and hopefully my husband’s health. “Diet” has become synonymous in our culture with something you go on for a few days, weeks, or months in order to lose weight. While it would be nice to lose weight–I’m not going to lie–that’s not the purpose of this. Unlike my dad, I want to enjoy life AND be healthy. There are too many people in my family who “live to eat”; I want to be the first one who “eats to live.”
Here’s the thing, though. I know that what I say isn’t going to make one heck of a difference to you without you seeing the documentary or reading the book and coming to your own conclusions. I’m not trying to get on any pedestal, social or political, but I’m passionate enough about this to want to share it with you, just as I’d want to share any fantastic romance novel. Just as I know that not every reader will enjoy the same book, I know that not every viewer/reader of FOK will get the same from it (but I’m hoping you’ll at least find the knowledge useful). I’m giving away two copies of the FOK book today (winners to be announced on Sunday), either digital or paperback (winner’s choice), and the giveaway is open to international readers.
And if you have Netflix, FOK the documentary is streaming right now. Believe me, it’s worth the watch.
Have you seen the Forks Over Knives documentary or read the book? What did you think? If you haven’t seen or read FOK, does the culture where you’re from think that not eating meat or dairy is crazy, too?
Just to be clear!
That’s not what I mean when I say “doing it for me”.
I’m talking about *writing*, people. (And you’re welcome for the eye candy on your right. =D )
Specifically, I’m talking about listening to specific music or watching specific movies that inspire my writing brain.
I’m not one of those writers who can multitask. I can’t watch TV or listen to music while I write. I have to have complete silence. But this doesn’t mean I can’t be inspired by music and movies all the same.
In terms of music, I love finding new bands or artists who tell stories in their music. I don’t know any other way to explain it other than that. I don’t have to have a specific genre of music, but I need to hear a story in their lyrics (or, in the case of classical music, the composing). It does, of course, help if the story is romantic in any way.
Examples of my music favorites:
Sara Bareilles (so many of her songs have inspired future story ideas while listening)
Better than Ezra
And the Love Actually soundtrack, because it makes me think of the complex relationships in that movie
I’ve found that music gives me lots of ideas for stories, but it can’t really create the passion I love to feel when I go to write from my characters’ POV. If I’m feeling really disconnected from my writing (romance is pretty far from my mind after I’ve said “do you need to go potty?” 100 times that day), I turn to movies. And yes, these definitely have to have some kind of romantic element to put that passion back in me. As an added bonus, I’ve also found some great visual inspiration for characters in these movies, too. =)
A few movies that come to mind that have helped me get that lovin’ feeling again…
Ever After (a must see Cinderella retelling for any romance lover)
August Rush (true, it’s really the story of the kid, but I love the romance between the parents; amazing movie overall, and a must see if for no other reason than hearing/seeing Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a rockstar)
Lost in Austen (the kiss at the end. I would watch this miniseries a thousand times for the kiss at the end. Elliot Cowan IS my perfect imagining of Mr. Darcy, and I will fight for him against any other Darcy impostor out there–that includes you, Mr. Firth!)
Now I’m not going to say whether it’s the actors involved or the movies themselves, but 99 times out of 100 when I watch these movies (and any movies like these I come across!), it gets my romance novel writing mojo back on track.
Do you have any particular music artists or movies that fill you with the same passion you get when you read a truly terrific romance novel? If you’re a writer, do you use movies and music the same way? Or do you have any more great suggestions for me that I need to check out? =)