Friday, August 17, 2007

Happily Ever After

By Donna Hatch

There's been a lot of discussion about the value of fiction, and Romance in particular. Several months ago, a politician blasted his female opponent, saying she couldn't possibly be a good political leader because she'd published a romance novel. In a country where body-builders and actors are political leaders, I can't believe he'd pick on that. Nevertheless, it sparked a heated debate. Many believe that romance authors are creators of smut and have nothing valuable to contribute to society - it's escapism and unrealistic.

That’s true. I mean, what man ever drowns into your eyes, pulls you against his broad, muscular chest and murmurs in a throaty voice; "Darling, without you my life loses meaning?” Still, women eat it up. Probably because they don’t hear it.

But back to the nay-sayers: The truth is, romance authors are among the most educated and intelligent people on the planet. And romance comes in many forms from erotic to sweet to inspirational. So making a blanket judgment that it’s completely useless and even immoral is not only irresponsible, it’s false.

Still, I couldn't help but ask; am I wasting my time writing romance?

I don’t write Christian Literature, or even Inspirational (although I’ve considered it), I write Regency Romances with a fairly high level of sensuality (but no sex). It contains no bad language or taking the Lord’s name in vain, and the characters either already possess, or eventually adopt the principles of morality. My novels all have fun characters, some intrigue and adventure, and lot of romance.

But am I wasting my talents writing for the secular world? Should I be writing things of a more spiritual nature? Should I reveal the follies of man and challenge people’s complacently, or expose the evils of society, demanding reform?

At the RWA National Conference I attended last month, they keynote speaker was a National Best-selling Romance Author named Lisa Kleypas. She typically writes Regencies, only hers are “hot” unlike mine. Lisa addressed this issue with a personal true story that restored balance to my world and seemed an answer to my searching soul.

Several years ago, through a series of events, Lisa’s town was flooded. They were literally evacuated in the dead of night with only moments to prepare. Along with her friends and neighbors, she and her husband lost everything except each other and their child. All of their worldly possessions were destroyed -photographs, heirlooms and all. I can’t imagine the depth of the loss that must have been.

They managed to find a motel with a vacancy and lived there for several days until more long-term arrangements could be made. Lisa and her mother went to a discount store to buy a few necessities; toiletries, clothes, food, etc. They split up with a list to help cut down on time. When they met at the checkout line, Lisa and her mother each had carefully gathered items from the list, staying within their budget and buying only what they had to have. But they each had one additional item in her cart.

A romance novel.

Their reality at that moment was too intense for the follies of man to be exposed, or to have their beliefs challenged or to have the evils of society exposed, demanding reform.

They needed an escape. A belief that there is hope when all seems dark. That happily ever after is possible.

Many girls don’t have good role models. They come from abusive or broken homes. A romance novel can inspire a such a girl (or woman) to see that women are worthwhile, that women deserve to be strong and independent, and that they should never settle for a man who would mistreat them.

Sabrina Jeffries, another speaker who is a best-selling Regency author, said her mission in life is to teach women that it’s not all about the man getting his needs met and the woman groveling and serving. Women have a right to be valued. Cherished. We have a right to happiness and even sexual fullfillment. I agree. We need to speak up, tell him what we want. (How else is the unobservant lout going to know what we secretly desire and wish he’d instinctively know?)

Women deserve courtesy and consideration. He doesn’t have to be a pirate, or a Scottish lord, or an FBI agent, or a vampire slayer. He doesn’t have to have hair dark as sin or sinewy arms. He just has to see her worth as a woman and cherish her.

And if women have no other examples than a romance novel, they might stand a chance at finding that most basic of human needs right behind food, clothing and shelter: True Love.

7 comments:

  1. Good post, Donna! Thanks for answering some of my own questions.

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  2. Funny you should post this now. My dad and I were talking about the constant news about people like Paris Hilton and he was complaining about it. But I said that I understood that after all the serious stuff, you needed a break and people like Paris Hilton offered it. To my suprise he thought for a moment then agreed. I used to read regency romances, but quit for a very long time. Now, I'm into fantasy with quests and heros not too many heroines although that's changing, thank goodness. It's hard to decide how far and where to go. And escapism is nice especially in those hard times.

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  3. Great defense for Romance novels, Donna. And I ate it up. I love the good feeling I have of being ready to lick the whole world after finishing a good romance.

    I heard that stories almost never actually fit the categories (or genre) they're assigned to because a good story has no bounded limitations. It may have romance, adventure, reveal knowledge, be a bit of a travelogue, or do marriage counseling. It may poke fun at life and politics, or point the way to personal salvation.

    I've heard that 'genre' was invented by bookstores and libraries, so a patron could more quickly be directed. I imagine few people read only one genre, so why should authors be limited, or categorized?

    I, for one, no longer claim to be a child (unless second childhood counts) but I love reading children's lit, and have read all Newbury medal winners except the first one, a history book. One day I may even read that.

    Maybe it's easier to use 'genre' but I'd personally love to be known as one who spins interesting -- even gripping -- stories. Like you do, Donna, and a host of others.

    So, hooray for stories, and may our lives not only be full of them, but tell them well.

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  4. It is always such a relief to find well-written fiction...especially a feel good, romance...when I just need to let my mind go. I love going on Mini vacations with new characters to places I may not get the chance to visit in this life. I appreciate the points you made about role models. Brava!

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  5. Donna,
    I worked on my Monday blog before I read your essay tonight, but by the time I post it, you'll think I'm doing another spinoff on you. Obviously, as Marsha said in her comment and recent blog, a lot of us are struggling with similar questions concerning our writing. Hopefully, by sharing our feelings the way we are, we'll each obtain greater peace of mind concerning the paths we've chosen.

    As for your "fantasy" point, I have a friend who considers anything that's not "high literature" to be "fluff". I tell her, there's enough depressing things going on in the world. The last thing I want is to be depressed when I pick up a book to read. My goal in reading (aside from the scriptures, Ensign, and newspaper, of course), is to *escape* reality for awhile. Even without a flood!

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  6. Let's hear it for the escape! Although, anything carried to an excess isn't good either. I always have to apoligize to my writer friends about not reading their books, but I do tend to carry the escape to excess when I begin fiction, to the extent that, like an alcoholic, I have to simply cut it out of my life. There will come a time when I can read fiction to my heart's content, but it's not yet.

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  7. My post is on escaping into novels, too, and you said it all so well. Thanks for the thoughts.

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