I write romance novels. Sounds clear-cut enough, unless you’ve ever shopped for a romance novel, then you know better. Right off you notice that there are multiple sub-genres to consider, such as contemporary, western, erotica, gay, paranormal, regency, the list goes on and on. Perhaps the best place to start is a simple definition, so what does the word Romantic mean?
According to the dictionary, the word romantic is defined as everything from dreamy and impractical, to adventurous, dealing with sexual love, and down right imaginary. Sound vague enough? With a definition like that, who could possibly pin down what makes a book romantic? The answer is, of course, that romance means something different to everyone.
So why would an author want to spend years creating a novel that is likely to be considered “drab” by some and “complete trash” by others? Why open yourself to that kind of rejection and ridicule? Because romance is… irresistible. No matter your frame of mind on the subject, everyone loves a little romance.
To some people, romance is a quiet dinner in flickering candlelight, but to others it’s a modern sculpture that requires a tilt of the head and one’s imagination to sort it out. Some may crave the romance of a spectacular view including forests, or ocean, or mountains, while another may consider a cozy corner with a cup of steaming coffee and a cuddle with their cat romantic.
Perhaps the real question for any romance author is, “what do I find romantic?” Is it the touch of fingertips on bare skin? A whispering breeze? Goosebumps that follow a tender kiss on the neck? Roses delivered in a box? Riding on the back of a new lover’s scooter through the winding streets of Paris?
Once an author pins down what romance means to them, can they put it into words? Do I, as an author, want to express my most precious desires to the world, knowing my work will be reviewed, and most likely reviled by many? What am I willing to share?
For me the answer came down to relationships. Not just relationships between people, but how people relate to their environment, their jobs, and their situation. Most of my books are set at a transitional point for my leading ladies. A change is shifting their world, and as they struggle with the uncomfortable feeling of adjusting, I add a man to the mix. After all, isn’t that when the best romance finds us? When we least expect it, or even want it?
I decided early in my writing career that my heroines would never be saved by a man, but they would be strong, intelligent, capable and successful women in their own right, who are not at all sure how to fit a man into their life. So what’s romantic about that?
I’ve come to believe that romance can also be defined as that spark within us that is lit by something sweet, different, or intriguing; a puzzle, a moment that captures your full attention, a brief space of time where you feel something outside the norm. What could be more unsettling than thinking you have your act together, only to find your world tilting on it’s axis? These moments in life fascinate me, make me want to hide away with my laptop and tap furiously until a story is born. Perhaps romance, to me, is… writing.
Like most writers, I write because I’m drawn to put my thoughts on paper. Okay, these days it’s more like converting thoughts into digital data, but you know what I mean. We as writers have something inside that we want to share.
For some of us, it’s a spirit of adventure we want to communicate to our readers, a mystery or thriller that’s been rattling around in the back of our minds. But for me the desire to write is a combination of exploring experiences and outcomes while living vicariously through a fictitious character. My characters are free to travel through events I survived, but they will be far more intelligent, less dramatic, more diplomatic, and all around handle it better than I did. Through my stories I can put my characters into settings I struggled with, then I can manipulate them and the conditions to come up with a far better ending.
Even more fun is to have the characters get opportunities I wish I had been given, and to live through their eyes as they get to do things I may never get to do. I get to explore what would happen if a personality were presented with the conflict and excitement of moving outside their comfort zone and into situations of success and triumph.
Writing gives me the opportunity to travel another road and walk in another’s shoes. So what happens when you come across someone who has actually lived the experiences of a character in your book? My mother used to say “truth is stranger than fiction” but when it happened to me and my work, I was caught off guard.
In my novel Hometown Girl After All, Julia moves to a small town to start over when her life in the city has become unbearable. She finds a love of gardening, which builds her confidence and she eventually opens a flower shop. Imagine my surprise when my daughter sent me a link for an article she read on boredPanda.com that reminded her of my book (link below). The brief article featured a florist’s Instagram feed, filled with photos of her beautiful flowers. The post said Erin had given up her life in the city to live in the country and through planting a few flowers her grandmother had loved, she found she had a gift for growing flowers. The photos in the article were exactly how I had pictured Julia’s flowers in my novel. And the way my daughter had envisioned it too, evidently.
Immediately, I had to follow the chain of links to find who this woman was. Erin’s blog Flower Farm Journal is truly lovely. One of the things I love most, is that the whole front page is devoted to promoting other women who are florists, farmers, and photographers, like herself. What a refreshing view in this day and age of never ending self-promotion! And it keeps getting better from there. As you click through pages of Erin’s site, you find tutorials on how to grow beautiful flowers for yourself. I could spend hours reading these pages filled with brilliant photos.
As I read the story of Erin’s farm for the first time, I felt as if the spirit of my book was coming alive. Julia’s story in Shabby Chic after All is one of recovery, unexpected friendship, love of neighbors, and healing. I was thrilled to read the following quote from the “Our Story” tab of Erin’s Flower Farm Journal web page.
“Years ago we left the hustle and bustle of city life and moved to the Skagit Valley to pursue a slower, simpler and more intentional lifestyle for our little family. We dreamed of eating fresh vegetables from our garden, tending a flock of chickens and planting a small orchard. Shortly after we moved in, a generous neighbor brought his tractor over and tilled up a new plot of ground so that we could plant a garden. His kindness that day offered a glimpse into what country life would be like.”
In my novel Julia finds healing through the growth of her garden as well as love and friendship as it draws people to her. Here is another quote from Erin’s page.
“…word got out and someone ordered a jar of flowers for a friend. I’ll never forget that day as I nervously knocked on her door and awkwardly thrust the bouquet into her hands. Surprised, she buried her face in the flowers and tears immediately welled up in her eyes. She was instantly transported back to her own childhood summers, to a time of great happiness and to her own grandmother’s garden…right then and there I knew I had found my calling.”
I’ve personally have never had the opportunity to move to a small town in the country and start a flower shop, but in my mind it felt lovely. It seemed like a scenario that would be healing and promote friendship and confidence. I couldn’t be happier to see, at least for one woman, this has been a real life experience. Erin’s business has grown far beyond anything Julia ever dreamed in the novel, bravo Erin! But who knows, maybe Julia will return someday in another novel, and her dreams may have burst their seams as well.
Thank you Erin for being an inspiration to many, and for living your dream. I encourage you all to check out her blog and enjoy the gorgeous flowers and photos that she creates. And never stop dreaming!