I met my husband in one of the world’s most romantic cities – Prague (Czech Republic, not Oklahoma). We were sitting in a smelly classroom at an English language school. When we introduced ourselves, I arched my brow (which he thought meant I had attitude) and he spoke with a deep voice and British accent. We started falling in love almost immediately.
A love story worth writing a novel about? Meh.
This month, a new line of romance novels (True Vows) is being published based on real-life experiences. Their tagline is “Life romanticized,” and they’re advertising themselves as a new subgenre of romance: Reality-Based Romance.
One of the first books out is Meet Me in Manhattan by Judith Arnold. It tells the story of high school sweethearts who split up and later reunite. You can see a pic of the real couple with Judith Arnold on the publisher’s blog.
I can’t speak about this particular novel, since I haven’t read it, but the blurb doesn’t draw me in. It’s a premise that’s done gazillions of times in romance novels (including the one I’m writing *gulp*), so there has to be something deeper to raise it above cliché. What’s the insurmountable conflict they have to overcome? And I can’t help but feel that the author would be hamstrung by reality. Although she may have some creative license, she can’t exactly make up bigger issues for them to face while remaining true to their story.
Yes, I want the romance novels I read to be realistic. Give me characters I can relate to, not tycoons and stable girls. And yes, loads of people lead fascinating lives that are unbelievable enough to seem fictional.
But I’m really not interested in fictionalized accounts of everyday Joes.
Perhaps it’s just me. Plenty of people love reality TV. And in the UK, there are dozens of popular magazines that pay people for their creepy stories and then write sensationalized articles about them (“I’m a human mermaid!”), but I’d rather shave off my fingertips than touch those mags. Knowing that a novel is based on a true story immediately removes me and my imagination from the story. I feel I have no place in it.
At least one blog has reviewed Meet Me in Manhattan really positively and said, “Knowing that this novel was based on a couple’s real-life experience, I found this book incredibly easy to fall in love with. I immediately began cheering the couple on, and I could not wait to find out if they decided to make their relationship work.”
If these novels are writing people’s stories sympathetically, which I assume they are in order to fit the romance genre and avoid being sued, is it still exploitative? And does the writer have enough freedom to make the couple more interesting? Or does she feel them staring over her shoulder the whole time she writes?
What do you think? How real do you want your fiction? Is this just a gimmick, or will it find a place in the market?
(Photo by me)