When people ask me what kinds of books I write, I struggle a little with the answer.
Romance? Women’s Fiction? Romantic comedy? Romantic suspense? Suspenseful romance? How on earth do I categorize these things?
I used to not want to say “romance”—I tried to place myself in some other category. Saying “romance” raises eyebrows. Creates a cloud of disdain. Makes my parents shudder when we’re in a public place. There’s still some stigma, is what I’m saying. I thought I wouldn’t be taken seriously as a writer. People would say, “THIS is what you did with a graduate degree?”
But here’s the thing: I love a good romance. I love stories about people falling in love—from the awkward first moments, to the part where you can’t get that person out of your mind, to the part where you go from hiding secrets about your deep dark self to making yourself completely vulnerable and finally letting that person into your world.
And then being let into theirs.
I love the clumsy, messy, hilarious moments that collide with the heart-pounding, gut-wrenching times that make you feel like you’ll surely vomit on your shoes.
After some awkward conversations at family dinner tables, a few friends who said they skipped over some key pages, and an uncle who said, “I try not to think of you as the narrator,” I’ve come to this conclusion:
I’m proud to write romance novels. I will happily write funny, messy, complicated love stories all day long. And if someday, I do get to do that all day long, I’ll consider myself pretty damn lucky.
We could talk for hours about what separates “romance” novels from “women’s fiction” novels (and why is it “women’s fiction” and not just “fiction”? And how do you categorize these stories, anyway? Where is the line? And does that even matter any more?), but when I think about the books I’ve enjoyed the most, they all have one thing in common: at their heart, they are a love story. I have a lot of favorite go-to romance writers. I’ve got a soft spot for the paranormal (I’m looking at you Jeaniene Frost) and for comedies (Hi, Jennifer Crusie and Alice Clayton). I love reading about some swoon-worthy heroes that set my cheeks on fire. I’m picky, though, I’ll admit: I have a high bar. There are a lot of tropes out there that I don’t want to read, and a lot of red flags that will make me close a book faster than you can say, “cliche.”
My brief list of horrors includes but is not limited to: ditzy women, helpless heroines, misogyny, cruelty for entertainment, woman as object, and woman who falls for man who perpetuates any items on this list. Jennifer Weiner wrote a fabulous piece for the New York Times called “We Need Bodice-Ripper Sex Ed” that encapsulates a lot of my thoughts, and she’s much more articulate that I am.
So why do I write romance novels?
To write against those horrible tropes, of course. Romance, as a genre, is constantly changing. I’m delighted every time I discover a new writer who’s penning smart-mouthed bad-assed heroines who aren’t afraid to tell their partner what they want, who won’t settle for being some prize to be won, a wild creature to be tamed. I don’t look for that in my real life (see above terrible tropes), so I certainly don’t fantasize about them.
I want to see women save themselves. Sure, I like to read about women finding their heroes and stumbling into love, and I like some old school swept-off-her-feet action (yes I wrote a scene where my heroine is thrown over the hero’s shoulder and taken away in a fireman’s carry, by an actual fireman—but she was being a doofus and needed to be stopped from making a terrible decision, and damn, was she stubborn). I like to see a guy come to the rescue to a point—because yes, we all need a little help sometimes, and if a dashing man does it once in a while, I’m happy about that—but in the end, I want to see a lady save herself and solve her own problems. The best relationships are partnerships, after all, so sometimes she needs to save the fella, too.
And for heaven’s sake, enough with the alpha-holes. I get so aggravated by this trope: a guy who’s an absolute asshole, alpha-male taken to the extreme. (I can appreciate a take-charge attitude, but let’s not go off the deep end to the point where there’s malice and degradation, please.) These always involve a woman who swoons over him and is helpless to bend to his will—and enjoys the blatant misogyny. This one doesn’t compute for me. I get the bad-boy thing, I do—I am hopelessly in love with Wolverine—but why fawn all over a man who treats you badly? A bad boy with a heart of gold? Okay, sure—I can get behind a good redemption story. A bad boy with an iron fist? No thank you. Why perpetuate cruelty? Why make it seem like that’s acceptable behavior—or worse, desired behavior in our male counterparts? We expect more from our lovers, spouses, and partners. So why not raise the bar in our fictional men, too?
So yes, I write romances. I write about people stumbling into love, and getting all sweaty, and falling apart, and coming together, and going head-over-heels stupid for each other. But I also write about people making each other better. Connecting with each other in ways that extends beyond where the parts fit together. Because that’s what happens in the best relationships—and dare I say the ones we dream of and fantasize about. So I’ll continue to write novels with steamy seductions and strong-willed women who find men who know how to treat the the way the deserve.
We need more stories out there where women save themselves—where sexual satisfaction comes because a lady feels valued and respected, and not in place of it.
There’s a lot of ugly in the world. We could use some more love—like, the real kind that lasts.