Tag Archives: What is romance?

No poop, dope-smoking amateur detective

Women want men who are financially secure, committed and ready to make babies.

This is the conclusion of two Canadian researchers who analyzed 15,019 Harlequin romance novels to see if they match theories of evolutionary psychology.

The Guardian says these two educated people speculated that Harlequin titles:

would be heavy on words such as baby, father and paternity; wealth, tycoon and billionaire; marriage, engagement and bride; and handsome, attractive and athletic.

Makes me wonder how bored they had to be in that grocery store line.

Apparently their next research project is on the toileting habits of lonely bears in heavily forested areas.

Good thing my novel’s called The Junkie on the Dole and His Prozzy Lover.

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Romance in the 90s

[Note: this post is not about sex for nonagenarians. If that’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, try Google.]

For most of the 1990s, I was in junior high and high school. Being an independent, intelligent girl (read: a chubby girl with braces and a feathered mullet courtesy of Super Cuts), Barnes & Noble supplied all the romance in my life.

This past Christmas, I spent a week clearing out dozens of boxes of books that I’ve stored in my parents’ garage for eight years – since I moved to Europe. My husband, a literature student, showed a mixture of admiration and horror for my collection. There were some old favorites from my literature classes (Ernie Pyle’s Brave Men, Flannery O’Conner’s collected stories – which I’d thought I’d lost and had bought a replacement for), but there were also loads of romance novels with the tawdriest covers.

I did a little happy dance when I saw some of them. I’d completely forgotten I had them, and they’re the closest things I’ve got to high school flames. When Hubby and I were packing to leave California after New Year, we realized we had too much stuff. He lobbied hard for me to leave the romance novels (actually, I think he offered to burn them for me), but there was no way.

I’ve reread a few of them over the past couple months, and I’m really pleasantly surprised by how much the genre has grown and changed since then.

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Why men suck at childbirth

There’s a documentary series running on Channel 4 that I’m slowly becoming obsessed with.

The makers of One Born Every Minute stuck a bunch of cameras in a maternity ward in England, and sat back to let the good times roll.

I watched the first episode two weeks ago, when my husband was away on a ten-day trip to the US. It was the longest we’d ever been apart since we met seven years ago. I blame that for my weepiness when I watched the program.

Unlike A Baby Story on Lifetime TV in the US, this documentary is gritty and real. Things go wrong. Teenagers get pregnant when they have no jobs, and no qualifications to get jobs. Babies are born with their intestines growing outside their tummies and have to be rushed for emergency surgery.

But most of all, men suck at childbirth.

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Making your writing stand out in a crowd

When does your writing fit a genre, and when does it just pander to the lowest expectations of that genre’s readers?

I’ve written before about the importance of using interesting language and avoiding clichés. What happens, though, if you overdo one of those things for the sake of the other?

One of the most difficult things about writing romance can be coming up with ways to describe the hero and heroine that don’t sound a) trite; b) overblown; or c) vomit-inducing.

Scott Eagan writes on his blog today, “I tell you, if I read about another man with ‘liquid blue eyes and a body that fits firmly into a pair of jeans’ one more time I will scream.”

I’ll be right there with you, Scott.

Ditto for the heroine. Scott says, “The goal is to find a believable person that women can relate to. We want characters that a woman can read about and see her own face in the picture.”

Oddly enough, this came up work today. I was having a water-cooler moment (except this is London, so it was a tea-kettle moment) with my friends. They’re all very literate and write in their free time. They don’t read romance but they’re incredibly supportive and ask me lots of questions about the genre.

We got to talking about my characters and the kind of people they are. I write my heroes and heroines the way I like to read about them – they’re the men you could realistically meet and be thrilled to fall in love with. They’re the women you would be proud to call your friends while not seething with jealousy, because they’re not perfect. They’re not just people who would give you a temporary thrill; they’re people you could happily commit to spending a lifetime with.

I should end this post there, but I’m somewhat traumatized by one of the comments on Scott’s blog. Mary McCall said, “If I read the line, ‘I want to protect you.’ one more time in a romance as the hero pulls out the condom, I’ll probably throw the book across the room.”

I have to say, that’s a new one to me, and I can’t think of anything less sexy than a hero all but admitting he’s diseased.

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How to transcend a genre

Last night I came home from work, collapsed on the couch (it’s tough sitting at a computer all day long) and cracked open a book. Hubby came into the living room and asked, “Why do you write romance?”

So much for a Friday night of mindless vegging. Knowing my husband’s prejudices against romance novels, I was immediately a bit on the defense. “Why not romance? It’s what I spent my teenage years reading, and it’s the form stories take when they pop into my brain. If I’d grown up reading sci-fi, I’d probably write sci-fi. Ditto mysteries.”

He shook his head. “But why genre fiction when you could write literary fiction?”

A few points you need to know before we go further. 1) My husband’s a PhD candidate studying American literature (in London. I know, it doesn’t make much sense). 2) I got my BA in English lit, so when we first met we traded books by Margaret Atwood and WG Sebald. 3) I’d asked him to read the first four chapters of my work-in-progress this week, which he did yesterday.

I started to feel flattered that he thought I could write literary fiction. Then I realized we were back to that old conversation, one I have with most of my literature-loving friends, where genre fiction is a poor relation to literary fiction. And to top it off, he said he thought I was taking a decent idea and shoehorning it into a romance novel mold. An interesting point, and something I’ll certainly be on the look-out for as I continue to write and shape my story.

It got us talking about people like Jane Austen and Raymond Chandler who wrote in a particular genre and transcend it.

Here are my initial thoughts on how they do this. I’d love it if you added yours in the comments.

1. They focus on language.

We often hear about the importance of story and character. Craft is also a buzz word, but I think that focuses more on the techniques of putting a story together.

Language is the selection of words and images used to tell a story. A tightly honed sentence is a thing of beauty. A series of them, making up a passage, is worth getting out of bed for. My husband pointed out two of my sentences that really impressed him. In both cases, I was again hit by the sense of pride I first experienced when they wiggled their way out of my fingers and onto my keyboard. I’ll be going through my WIP with a tea-strainer to sift out more such nuggets.

2. They turn tropes on their heads.

Tropes are those well-worn paths plots tread in genre fiction. In detective fiction, it’s the guilty butler, or the shady yet vulnerable dame who walks into a private dick’s office.

Romance has so many of them, they could overflow the pools at the Playboy mansion. The virgin and the rake; the boss and his secretary; the inconvenient pregnancy that becomes oh so convenient; the billionaire and the financially insecure woman; the mistaken prostitute…

This is what my husband was referring to when he said I was trying to take a story and make it fit the genre. A couple of the decisions my characters made didn’t ring true to human behavior, and when he asked why I chose to include them in the plot, I didn’t have a good answer.

Writers who transcend the genre they’re writing in either avoid these tropes or use them in a way that’s fresh and unexpected. Fahrenheit 451 has destructive villains, but instead of torching nuclear plants or nursery schools, they burn books.

As I said, these are just initial thoughts. Anything to add?

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips fails me

It pains me to write this, but my quest to convert my husband to romance reading has failed. And, since I was completely relying on the unending brilliance of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, I think it’s only right that I blame her.

(I know there’s almost no chance she’ll ever read this, but in case she does: it’s not really your fault. It’s my husband’s.)

Hubby got to page 280 of Natural Born Charmer before asking for the third time where he could quit his SEP challenge. At one point, he even said: “They’ve had sex now, so can I stop reading? It’s essentially over, right, even though there are 200 more pages?”

Typical man.

This time I took pity on him and said he could quit. He did have a few revelations, though, which were worth the torture (at least, from my perspective).

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips – muddying the plot?

My husband’s 100 pages through his Susan Elizabeth Phillips challenge (the challenge: to read one entire romance novel. Yes, that’s it).

He’s just discovered subplots, and he’s hating life.

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips – agent of deception?

If you’ve just stumbled upon this blog, you could be forgiven for thinking I’m obsessed with Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I’m not. Certainly not in the “why-hasn’t-she-returned-my-calls-and-what-is-this-about-a-restraining-order” sort of way.

I do like her, though.

So when my husband suggested we swap reading material, I knew she was the one author who might have a chance at helping him appreciate the romance genre.

So far, so wrong.

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Susan Elizabeth Phillips – kind-hearted fairy godmother?

I wrote last week about how my husband made me a deal: I’d read one of the novels he’s studying for his PhD (Don Delillo’s White Noise) and he’d read one of my favorite romance novels (SEP’s Natural Born Charmer). He made it through 100 pages before begging me to let him stop.

Heartless wife that I am, I told there was no way he could wriggle out of our deal.

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My husband and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, part one

If you had to give a man one romance novel to show why you love the genre, which one would it be?

My husband is a PhD candidate studying American literature. He hates romance novels. Or, at least, he’s convinced he would if he ever read one.

The other day he came up with a deal: I’d have to read one of the novels he’s studying for his thesis, and he’d read a romance novel of my choice.

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