As far back as I can remember I wanted to be a writer. When I was a child I used to fill notebooks with long stories, all about the hair-raising adventures of super-hero children. When I grew up, however, I did not immediately proceed to becoming a writer. There were two main reasons. First, life intervened. I moved from Wales to Canada and started a career as a high-school English teacher; and I married and had three children. There was no time for anything else. Second, and perhaps more important, I didn’t know what I wanted to write. Fiction, yes. But what kind of fiction? Literary fiction, probably, but my mind always turned blank when it came to plot ideas. Genre fiction, then? I had always loved mysteries. I still do. But my mind didn’t seem to work in the right way to enable me to create one. I imagine that writing a mystery takes a great deal of planning and plotting, something that again turns my mind blank. I am what is known as a seat-of-the-pants writer. Romance, then?
That was way beneath my dignity, surely. It is strange how an academic education can give one that attitude even though it is usually based upon just the opposite of what an education is supposed to teach—that is, that an opinion ought to be based upon facts and personal research. I had never read a romance.
Or had I?
I was a voracious reader as a child and as a teenager. I read almost all the British, American, and Russian classics as well as some from other nations. My feelings about them varied. I loved books like ANNA KARENINA, TESS OF THE D’URBAVILLES, and A TALE OF TWO CITIES even though I found the endings excruciatingly painful. I knew something about those books, though. I would never read them again—because I would not be able to take those endings again or enjoy the book itself knowing how it would end. On the other hand I adored books like JANE EYRE, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, and PERSUASION and knew I would read them over and over again. The reason? They had lovely, happy endings, and they were love stories. They left me feeling happy and uplifted. They were romances.It took me a while to work that out!
I discovered the actual romance genre when I opened a Corn Flakes box one day and pulled out a Harlequin romance (NO GENTLE POSSESSION by Anne Mather). I almost tossed it in the garbage can (such is the power of an academic education) but read it instead. I was enchanted. I proceeded to read every romance I could lay my hands on, like a person who had been starved for most of her life. I found the books patchy. Many I loved; many were all right as light entertainment; many were disappointing. I found this last group shallow, with improbable plots, cardboard characters of no depth, love that did not have to be worked for and therefore did not convince me that it was love, and endings that left me unmoved. Some books failed (for me) in all of the above.
The lesson for me as a potential writer was obvious. I loved reading a good romance. And much of what I read was good or better. But much was not. I found myself wanting to rewrite parts of some books, particularly the endings. But—something I still strongly believe in—one ought never to try rewriting or adding to someone else’s book. And there was no point in grumbling and complaining (to myself) that I could have done so much better myself.
Prove it! Write your own romance,an inner voice said.
So I did.
I write what I love to read. I believe in love. Not just romantic love, but love in all its many manifestations. I believe it is powerful, unconditional, enduring, life-changing. I believe it is the basis of all goodness and happiness. But it is something that has to be worked for, especially if it is romantic love and involves a relationship with another person that will last a lifetime without turning to indifference or hatred. Love does not come on a wave of lust, though lust can be a healthy part of it. I want a love story to have substance, to seem very much like real life, to show two people who have considerable baggage, who are in some way broken by past experiences and need to face up to that baggage and find healing. I want to bring them in the course of a book to the point at which they can give love and receive it consciously, with a firm commitment to work on it for the rest of their lives. I want them to be involved in each other’s growth and healing. And I want the reader to have warm, sympathetic feelings about these characters, to fall in love with them, to root for them–and to enjoy the journey from the first page to the last.
I don’t believe in happily-ever-after either in real life or in fiction. I want my readers to be confident that there is real happiness awaiting the couple who are so joyful and deeply in love on the last page. But I want that confidence to come from an understanding of those characters, not just from my say-so. I want readers to trust them and believe in them as though they were real people.
Most of all, perhaps, I write romance because it is my way of sharing the love that is within me. I am a bit of a shy introvert in person, but never in my writing. There are outlets for love available to all of us.
Please leave a comment below by Wednesday, September 12, 2018, for a chance to win one of two Mary Balogh tote bags shown below.
[September 12: The winners of the two tote bags are MELISSA RENNER and MARTHA JUDITH DURICK. Congratulations to them, and thank you everyone who left a comment. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.]