Open Letter to Friends Who Don’t Read Romance on Why I Write Romance
Yes, I used to be that young woman who would eye-roll every time a movie “devolved” into a love story and had a sappy ending. I’d chalk it up to Hollywood trying to make money by appealing to the lowest common denominator. If a book didn’t have literary angst and ended all neatly tied up, I felt I was cheated. Art should imitate life, right? And life rarely ties up neatly.
Then I struggled through years of infertility, an erosion of my sex life with my husband, the rollercoaster but ultimately satisfying journey of adopting two children, the stressors of being a working mother with two young kids while still grieving for the babies I lost, and the suicide of my brother–an army surgeon who received a traumatic brain injury in Iraq. That year my mom nearly died too of a broken heart.
I was thirty nine. We were underwater on our two bedroom townhouse we’d bought at the height of the real estate bubble with two babies. Because of my investment in my family building, and other complications too involved to go into, I decided against taking over my family’s farm, which has been in our family for over one hundred years.
For my day job in healthcare, I treat people in debilitating chronic pain and people dying of cancer on a daily basis. Throw in my son being diagnosed with ADHD in second grade and being bullied by the teacher. Reading for escape became imperative for me. I no longer wanted my entertainment to match reality. I’d had enough of reality.
After my brother’s death, I grappled with belief in God but came up empty. All I could cling to was love. My wandering spiritual beliefs all condensed to this one truth that I could find no holes in. Love for my family who’d survived the horror of losing my brother. Love for my children. Love for my husband who stood by me even when I lost my shit in the most unglamorous way on my kids and who encouraged me to write. Love for my patients who craved to be listened to empathically and not be alone in their suffering.
I read a book in which a woman wrote a book. I thought: I can write a book. Since college, I’d had a kernel of an idea for a novel tucked away in my brain.
So I did what Carrie Fisher said: take your broken heart and turn it into art. I wrote a love story of an eighteen-year old girl who moves to a small town, falls in love with a young farmer and gets the farm of my dreams that I had been unable to make come true. This book was more productive for me emotionally than years of therapy. I plunked the manuscript down in front of my husband and he promptly found me an online novel editing class. Did I mention I love my husband?
I entered the manuscript in the Romance Writer’s of America Golden Heart contest, using the contest more as a deadline to revise the book so I could query agents than any gamble that I’d actually win. To my surprise, I finaled in the contest. Suddenly, when no one else in my personal or professional life knew I was writing, I had an agent and fifty top caliber writer friends (the other finalists). I wrote three more novels and finaled again in the contest. Now I had fifty more amazing writer friends. I continued to learn craft and about the publishing business and continued to write like a faucet had been turned on in my life.
Something else happened when I allowed myself to move on from young adult and write adult romance with–yes, wait for it…SEX scenes. I began to have a lot more sex with my husband. Our relationship improved. Our family life improved.
It perplexed me why sex in movies was okay but not sex in books. Somehow that made them smutty, even though the historical romance novels I devoured had sex scenes that revolved around intimacy and love and sexual empowerment and equal pleasure between the man and woman. These romances were not simply the damsel in distress tropes I’d been prejudiced to think all romances were. Smart women with law degrees and PhDs were writing these books with strong heroines for other smart women to read.
These books were not fluff, but manuals of how women ought to be treated. Feminist even. I’ll take it a step beyond and agree with Grace Burrows, a romance novelist and child advocacy lawyer, who said romance novels are not feminist, but humanist.
In this day and age of hatred and intolerance and rallying cries of ‘love is love,’ I can not understand why romance novels are still SO looked down upon. If a man needs to learn how to treat a woman without fear of #metoo descending upon him, I can list a dozen romance novels that read like manuals for respectful relationships.
Back to the idea of art mimicking life. My own relationship is a successful love story. Not to say there haven’t been hard, hard days, and we may not have made it had I not resolved to choose love on a daily basis. But why not celebrate that enduring human and yes, sexual, connection that has shored me up and allowed me to bring up two little humans who are blooming into wonderful people?
What if we as a culture celebrate respectful love (and I don’t mean only cis-het marriage) every day, loud and proud? What would the world look like? Instead of shaming women for wanting to read books that include satisfying sex and satisfying relationships? Here’s a statistic that will blow you away: Romance novels outsell all other genres combined. People want love. People need love. Not only women. My dream is for more men to read and write romance.
If you haven’t read a dozen modern romance novels, go do so now before offering up an opinion on them. Yes, I mean you, Hilary Clinton. And all my other friends who went to expensive liberal arts colleges like me. Don’t be surprised if your sex life improves.