My husband Al is the Gemini, but I have often felt split between two worlds. Even in my writing life.
This past week, I’ve spent some time introducting my Romance Writer to my Literary Writer. The truth is my writing has never been either of these labels. They say you should write what you read, and I love reading literary and mainstream women’s fiction. (Plus some lad lit). Also poetry. Also short stories. Also Shakespeare. And memoir. And the occassional book about the latest developments in science, particularly physics. I read lots of Buddhist texts. Sometimes other self-help as well as the occassional writer’s guide. Until they did away with the genre, I read as many sweet Regencies as they published per month.
But contemporary romance, the thing I am trying to write, it not high on the list of what I read. Maybe I don’t read romance because I know too much about it. I reviewed it for any years for RT, and I have my favorite romance authors like Rachel Gibson, Pam Morsi and Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I never miss their new releases. These fabulous writers have something extra, some essence that makes them transcend the genre.
Not to slam the genre. It makes a lot of people happy, and that’s a good thing. And I’m trying really hard to write a romance, for a lot of reasons including hoping to make people happy with my stories. One of the biggies is the challenge. I’ve written just about everything except a real, honest to goodness romance novel. Two, I naturally write short books, so I fit category romance length. Three, I love love. Ask anybody.
The trick for me is to figure out how to put love on every page. I don’t know why this should be so difficult as I have lived my life that way. Maybe that’s the problem, maybe I want to escape from romance because it’s informed every dumb decision (and every good one) I’ve made in my entire life. Love has been behind everything. For love I have done foolish things, stupid things, dangerous things. I’ve been married three times. I lived with another guy for a year in between marriages one and two.
I have dated (and thought I was truly in love with!) every kind of man under the sun: the stoner, the jock, the nerd, the brain, the artist, the heartthrob, the businessman, the cheater, the older guy, the younger guy, the clingy guy, the guy who kept secrets. I fell in love so many times I lost count. So I have, you know, material.
Also, I am utterly romantic, even now, after being married to Al for 25 years. I melt when he does something nice for me. I pine when he’s away. I get fluttery when we go out together on a date. I prepare him nice meals to woo him and fold his shirts just so to please him. When he’s in the room, I make excuses to touch him. I’m still not bored by him, we still laugh together. He teaches me things and I share my secrets with him. We still really, really love each other. Also, he can still hurt me. And I hurt him. But not so much anymore. We know each other too well. We see each other’s vulnerable places, and we try to make allowances.
But it took me a lot of false starts, beginning with my first kiss (Richard Petty, I was five) before I found The One. So you’d think writing romance would be a no-brainer for me. You’d think I had all the tools I needed. But that is just not true, possibly because the romance genre has conventions, and I am the farthest thing from conventional. For one thing, I believe I have the world’s record in broken love affairs.
But I think a deeper truth is that I’m embarrassed about my love life, my past, my history with love. Because I’m old enough now to see that all those affairs of the heart weren’t really, couldn’t possibly be, true love with a big L. But they sure felt like it at the time, and so that’s what I have, my dusty secret weapon. I know how love feels. Not just long, true, steady love, the kind I found with Al, but crazy love, young love, silly love, wrong love, needy love.
I think all this time, I’ve been a bit afraid to put it out there on the page. I have a habit of not admitting my own excesses to myself. Not looking at them squarely. Plus the past, after all, is the past. As my Buddhist texts say, live in the present moment. (And I silently add “except when writing stories…”)
So now, this NaNo month, in the interest of research, I’m pulling out my Love History and examining it and seeing that I have a lot to say. Now I just need to bend it to the conventions of the romance genre. I think this could be why none of my mss. have quite made it past the Harlequin gates. I always before insisted on keeping that unconventional part of me in my stories. So I went for Next. I went for Nocturne. When really, maybe, I’m just big old Romance.
And that’s the book I’m writing now.