So, you have this book in your hands and someone comes by and asks, innocently enough, what you are reading. You pause. From this point on, there are several possible scenarios:
1.) You are reading “A Brief History of Time” from Hawking, or Euclid’s “Elements”, in original. In that case, you can proudly show the book cover and subtly brag about your intellectual prowess and knowledge of ancient languages.
2.) You are reading some sort of a non-fiction book, maybe about home improvements or gardening. Or someone’s autobiography. It’s a dignified read. You can use it to start a conversation, and maybe you’ll even end up with a handyman willing to fix your plumbing.
3.) You are reading fiction, but something classic. Like Tolstoy, or Orwell, or Proust. Preferably, the book you are holding shows signs of extensive usage, indicating that you have read it many times, and hopefully underlined important passages. It definitely leaves an impression.
4.) You are reading fiction, but something more popular. A thriller, a detective book, maybe a fantasy or an SF novel. You can show it to the inquisitive passerby with the probable net result of zero. Perhaps you’ll find a kindred spirit and your next partner for binge watching of whatever series you agree upon.
5.) You are reading a romance. The cover is either very sparkly, to attract attention, or dark, to indicate mystery, or in the worst case, it sports a half-naked man or a woman in a compromising position. Good luck with showing that to anyone but your best friend with similar tastes. Fortunately, you are probably not holding a book in your hands, but an eBook reader, which enables you to discreetly turn the screen off and reply to the annoying question by referring to the scenario 1 to 4.
6.) You are reading a romance. You have just come to the steamy part, and you are so engrossed that you don’t even hear the question.
Yet, why is it embarrassing to read a romance novel, but not, for example, a book about model railways? Why do people brag about having written a biography, a self-help book, or an SF/fantasy novel, but rarely that they have written a steamy romance? And why, if someone writes a book and it happens to be a romance, it is not considered to be “serious” enough? I mean, some of the best classics are essentially romances. Think about “Pride and Prejudice” or “The Age of Innocence”. Or if you want to venture away from female authors, how about “Eugene Onegin” or “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”? In each of these books, romance plays if not the most then at least a very important role. This is one of the reasons why these books are such captivating read. And maybe Victor Hugo wanted to attract attention to the values of the Parisian cathedral, but he chose a romantic plot to do it. Right?
Because people love romances! At least women do. I don’t know about men – do they really avoid such books or are they sticking to the scenario Nr. 5?
It is important to add, however, that the books I mentioned are exceptionally well written. Being a fan of the romance genre myself, I have perused quite a few of the books belonging to it, both classical and modern. And admittedly, some of the contemporary works were not that well written (some of the older books as well). And some of them were just plain ridiculous. Nevertheless, do I feel embarrassed for having read them? No, and neither should anyone. These books have fulfilled their purpose of keeping me occupied for a while and cheering me up, and that’s an honest purpose and a commendable one. You can keep track of all the romance (and other) books I’ve read and found time to review in my posts on book reviews. My goal with these reviews was not to criticize, but to help authors gain more visibility, so my star ratings are always three or more on Amazon or Goodreads (and anything I would rate with less I’ll keep to my blog and my blog only…)
However… when I set out on a journey to write a romance novel myself, it was mostly because I lacked something in the majority of the books that I’ve read. What that was I cannot precisely describe. Maybe I wanted the story to offer something more besides the two main characters and their best friends (about whose romantic entanglements we will learn in the second and the third book of the series)? Or I really wanted the character arc to exist? Maybe the romance was too superficial, and I wasn’t convinced? Maybe it was too implausible? Honestly, how many of us encounter billionaire CEOs with a sixpack on a daily basis? Who shapeshift into wolves, bears or dragons occasionally? And do men really like women who use ten swearwords in a row in one sentence? Is that supposed to be charming or am I just too old-fashioned? And don’t get me started on the description of sex in books! Actually, I’ll try to come to that topic later, in another post (if I find time).
To cut the long story short, what elements make a good romance book? It certainly depends on one’s taste, but I prefer to give my characters time to get to know each other and then fall madly in love. I want them to be aware of the faults of the other person and still decide that they like them and want to spend (probably) the rest of their lives with them. And, finally, I want the attraction and tension to build up gradually, all the way to the point when they can’t be ignored any longer. In another words, I want people to interact (and not just in bed), to suffer, to yearn, and I want to be there when they finally find happiness.
With that being said, I am off to continue working on my new story! Stay tuned!