CONFESSIONS OF A ROMANCE WRITER and READER
I am and have always been an avid reader. As long as I have a book or preferably a stack of books and a loaded kindle, I’m good to go. I read mysteries, suspense, woman’s fiction and literary. I don’t read fantasy, except for Harry Potter, and I’ve never been a fan of science fiction or horror. But my favorite genre is romance.
I also write romance. I came to the genre rather late. I was in my late thirties and had already started to write but hadn’t hit on where I was most comfortable. Then I read my first romance, Nora Roberts of course, and was hooked. Romances contained what I’d always considered the most important elements of a story and certainly the part that I most cared about, the dynamics between two people and how they came together, i.e. the love story. I also discovered that the books were well written and well crafted.
More interestingly, in my opinion, the sexual situations within the story weren’t nearly as important, though as in real life they are essential. But it wasn’t necessary for them to be graphically spelled out. A good sex scene is hard to write well and when they’re not done well, they can come across as crude or wooden or even worse, silly.
But those awkward and sometimes unnecessary sex scenes are what many people, especially those who have never read romance think is the essence or core of the genre. It’s also why there was a time when I wouldn’t tell people I was a romance writer. I’d learned my lesson the hard way when too many acquaintances, usually men, would smirk after I told them what I wrote. Raised eyebrow were also a response as if to signal me what they really thought of the genre–without having to actually say it.
I also had a back up profession if I needed to justify myself. I’m a lawyer by training and until recently represented children in court. Now that’s a job that receives a lot of respect and no raised eyebrows.
But back to romances and why I now proudly own up to reading and writing them. While it’s true that romances can be diverting and fun, they can also be transformative and provide the reader with insight into their own and other relationship dynamics.
A few years ago, my husband and I went to his board meeting in Mobile, Alabama. Before the meeting one of the Alabama hosts suggested that we accompanying persons read one of my romances so we could discuss it over coffee and donuts. I was of course very flattered that she would suggest one of my books but at the same time a bit nervous since I write romance not literary fiction. Nonetheless I agreed. I knew the group and honestly thought we’d have fun being together even if no one read the book or if, god help me, they hated it.
There were about ten of us and unlike many such gatherings, everyone, except for one woman, had read the book–even some of the spouses had read it–probably out of curiosity but nonetheless, they’d read it. Our hostess started by asking me questions designed to start the discussion about how I started writing, how did I get published, where I get my ideas, etc. But I’d hardly begun to answer before the book, HELLO AGAIN, became the focus of the discussion and the perfect starting point for a general discussion of relationships–
One friend talked about her mother’s husbands and how one was worse than the next. As she explained it, her mother was just not a good picker of men. Another friend (and yes, in the course of that meeting, we all became friends) told about meeting her husband. It was the story that, if she doesn’t, I will use as the basis of a romance. Short version is she met her husband when he came to pick up his mail at her house since he used to live there. It’s a wonderful and perfect story especially when you know them years later and the fact that at the time they met she was a single mom and he, a recent divorcé.
As with any group of friends we jumped from romance to our kids, to our jobs and on to recipes and life in general. But most significantly, in my opinion, the subject of my romance, the end of a marriage and the beginning of a friendship and the realization that an old friend is THE ONE, sparked a lively and worthwhile discussion. It was also morning of coffee, juice, and donuts, a view of the harbor in Mobile and the starting point of many new friendships all because of a generous offer to use my romance as starting point for discussion.
After that experience, besides being less bashful about admitting that I write romances, I’ve come to appreciate how important romances are and why I became hooked on them. For me and for many of us, relationships are what make life worthwhile and we shouldn’t be embarrassed to love them.
Before retiring to write full time, Deborah Nolan practiced family law. She was a Deputy Attorney General in New Jersey representing that state’s child protection agency. Subsequently she represented children in New York’s Family Court. When not writing or travelling and visiting her children and grandchildren, she enjoys painting landscapes and people. She divides her time between New York City and a farm in the Hudson Valley where she lives with her husband.
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