I could spend hours sharing all of my passionate arguments on the benefits of both reading and writing romance. I could quote more market statistics. I could quote psychologists. I could quote Jayne Ann Krentz and remind you of the positive, life-affirming values inherent in all romances: the celebration of female power, courage, intelligence, and gentleness; the inversion of the power structure of a patriarchal society; the psychological benefits of spending time with authors who have a positive world view.
But to be honest I’m a little sick of defending “romance” as a genre to people too obsessed with its sexual content to attempt to understand its emotional content. So if any of you are ever leered at, sneered at, or otherwise degraded for writing or reading romance, simply blink and gently say (really quickly), “What the romance novel is really all about is the archetypal human struggle of integrating the masculine and feminine aspects of our psyches.” I can promise you that nothing will shut them up faster.
People often ask me why I write romance. I write romance because the ever expanding boundaries of the genre allow me to express my own heartfelt beliefs in optimism, faith, honor, chivalry and the timeless power of love to provoke a happy ending. In a society gutted by cynicism, we have found the courage to stand up and proclaim that hope isn’t corny, love isn’t an antiquated fantasy, and dreams can come true for women still willing to strive for them.
Probably the most subversive thing we dare to do is to make the woman the hero of her own story. And to realize exactly how subversive that is, I want each of you to honestly ask yourselves if the marvelous J.K. Rowling would have been such an international success if her first book had been titled, HARRIET POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE. Traditionally, in our mainstream patriarchal society, it’s been the male character who is allowed to go on all the thrilling physical and emotional quests. Oh, he might have a female sidekick like the delightful Hermione Granger in HARRY POTTER, but she is rarely allowed to overstep her role as confidante and facilitator of his self-discovery. In a romance, the heroine acts as narrator of her own story as well as driving the various plotlines that fuel that story.
Our heroines don’t just “stand by their men”, they “stand up to them.” And guess what—their men love it! We celebrate both a woman’s softness and her strength and introduce her to a man capable of recognizing the value of both. Is it any wonder that both she and our readers fall in love with him?
I write romance because a young woman in Portugal named Lourdes Goulart was praying that my next book would come out before the cancer that was ravaging her body claimed her life. Even though chemotherapy had weakened her eyesight to the point of blindness, she sent me a beautiful and painstaking cross-stitch she’d done of a windmill she could see through the window from her bed. Six months ago, I received word from her sister, Rosa, that Lourdes had died. She started my new book the day before she entered the hospital for the last time, but didn’t want to read past the first page for fear of being interrupted.
I write romance because of a call I recently received from a friend who attended nursing school with me. She’d just undergone a total hysterectomy. She described how depressed and emotionally empty she’d felt after the surgery and its numerous complications. She told me that reading my latest book pulled her out of her depression and even restored the sexual desire for her husband that she had feared she would never feel again.
I write romance because of an e-mail I recently received from a 54-year old incest survivor. Instead of blaming her father for the terrible thing he had done to her, she had always blamed her mother for letting him do it. Because my hero in A KISS TO REMEMBER found the grace in his soul to forgive his mother for a similar act, this woman decided, after nursing her bitterness for 50 years, to forgive her mother before she passed away from Alzheimer’s Disease.
I’d like to share one more brief story with you:
They met in 1957 when he was twenty-two and she was eighteen. He was a skinny, handsome G.I. with a motorcycle and a devilish twinkle in his eye. She was his sister’s best friend. She was beautiful, smart, and funny. He was in love.
They married in 1959 and three years later, while she was pregnant with what was to be their first and only child, he was transferred to Heidelburg, Germany. They lived over a bakery run by a jovial German couple named “Momma and Poppa Hartman.” On weekends, they would climb into his convertible MG without so much as a change of underwear and go racing through the countryside to explore the castles of Germany and Austria.
The child was born in 1962. His first indication that something was wrong was when he came home from work one day to discover that his wife had given away all the furniture. Luckily, a kind-hearted neighbor had taken it in and stored it in her apartment. His beautiful young wife lost weight and stopped sleeping. Her speech was rapid and slurred. At times, she even seemed to forget that she had given birth to a baby. He had no choice but to seek professional help.
The doctors informed him that his wife was suffering from a severe form of mental illness. It would be well over a decade before that illness was correctly diagnosed as Bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness.
He went driving along the river that dark, rainy night at nearly a hundred miles an hour--a 26 year old soldier in a foreign country with a brand new baby and a wife facing a lifetime of torturous illness and uncertainty. He had a choice to make. He could shuffle his baby off to be raised by relatives and abandon his wife to the care of a German mental institution. He could drive into that river and let all of his decisions be made for him. Or he could choose to live and fight for his family.
My parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary this year. Because my dad meant it when he said, “for better or worse; in sickness and in health,” I enjoyed a relatively stable, happy childhood and my mom’s hospitalizations were kept to a minimum. My father’s love is as unwavering and unconditional today as it was fifty-one years ago. Although my mother is now suffering from a rare and terminal brain disorder that has resulted in severe dementia, when my father visits her in the nursing home every other day, he still sees that beautiful, brilliant girl who won his heart all those years ago.
So when people ask me, “Why do you write romance?”, I can only reply, “How could I not?”