The Tragic Case of the Jaded Romance Novelist

 

I was very bored yesterday, and so decided to put my research on Catholicism in the Regency era aside (if you know anything about this, help me out a bit!), and pick up a romance novel by a very popular romance novelist, Susan Elizabeth Phillips. I just love her wit! And her storylines always satisfy a woman’s fantasy. Hers is actually the only romance novel that I’ve read more than once in the past five-ish years. So that’s saying a lot—since I only reread books like Jane Eyre, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice… However, throughout the novel, I thought lots about the romance novel in general. While I love this genre (which is why I write for this market), there are also several things I dislike. I don’t mean to trash the market, but feel that it is something worth thinking about:

1) The Soulmate. There are tons of romance novels in which the heroine is in a marriage when she meets THE man who ‘burns her with a passion she’s never felt before’. The husband, at the end of the book, obviously dies by a grand scenario concocted by the author, allowing the hero and heroine to finally have their happily-ever-after. Pro: It might offer hope to women in abusive relationships that there will come a time when they’ll be redeemed from their misery. Con: It tells married women that if they cannot find emotional satisfaction in their husband, he is not her soulmate after all, that the marriage was a mistake, and that her real Prince Charming is somewhere out there still. If this is what the expectations are when a woman goes into marriage, of long-lasting romance and a happily ever after, then the relationship doesn’t really have a strong foundation. It is a scientific fact that romance, on average, lasts for but two years.

2) Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her Epiphany. This is a phrase I coined a while back and have been using often ever since. It’s a phenomenon you pick up on often in romance novels. The hero goes through half the novel with some kind of inability to commit or with a fear to love. Then, after the conflict tears the hero and heroine apart, as the story slowly moves towards the last few chapters, the hero goes through that Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her Epiphany and he runs back to the heartbroken heroine and tells her the line he has been unable to say hitherto: I LOVE YOU! Pro: It’s entertaining and emotional. Con: Do men actually think like that?! Or is it something we women fantasize about and wish was true…that the unloving husband or boyfriend will one day be zapped with that realization, and that everything after that will be good? Whether they do or not–I like men who think. Men who do not require a life or death situation, or to be on the brink of nearly losing his ladylove, to realize how much he loves her. (…But, then again, romance novels wouldn’t be as fun to read then…) 

3) The Woman He has Never Desired More. Now this is a phrase I pick up almost all the time in the romance genre. The hero is most often a womanizer but, BAM, he meets the heroine and in the heat of passion decides that he has never desired a woman more. That, in the romance dictionary, means that the hero loves the woman…he just doesn’t know it yet. Pro: It’s sexy, it’s passionate, and it’s fun to read. Con: Wouldn’t all men in the heat of passion consider ANY woman they’re lusting after to be ‘the woman he has never desired more’? There are some novels that offer more than just that reason for the hero to be in love. But I’ve actually read many, many books that use that one reason to convince readers that they are meant for each other. Apply that to reality, consider my scientific fact about how romance tends to cool in two years, and you have an unstable relationship. Super Con: Habits are hard to break. And womanizing is a baaad habit. Just because a man falls in love does not mean he will reform right away. It’ll take time. It’ll take patience and love and understanding from the wife/girlfriend.

~

Again, I’m not trying to trash the romance genre. I ADORE romanve novels–they’re the best way to relieve ones boredom. I’m sure even the authors of such novels are aware of the points I’ve raised. But what can we do? It’s fun to read. And fun to write. But what happens to those young, impressionable women who read five romance novels a week? As much as we like to say that we are able to separate fiction from reality…when you’re in the romance world for more than a few hours a day, it’s hard to believe that real men do not think as the heroes in the novel, it’s hard to believe that lust is not equivilent to love, it’s hard to believe that because the romance is gone in a marriage, that the marriage isn’t worth fighting for….

I am a very sorry case. It is tragic, really, when a romance writer becomes jaded about the very subject matter she writes about! Maybe that is why I had my heroine in The Runaway Courtesan voice that truth about me when she said:

“If truth were to be introduced into these novels,” Amanda said, laughter underlying her voice, “more than half the couples in such stories would end up estranged outside the storyline of the book, past the last page where the authoress declares the couple to have lived happily ever after.” Her remark won a low chuckle from the Viscount and a disapproving stare from Isabelle.

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40 responses to “The Tragic Case of the Jaded Romance Novelist

  1. The Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her Epiphany happens across all genres, and I gotta say… it annoys me. But then I read/watch the scene, and I’m all “Aw, you go get ‘er, man!” Because I’m a girl.

    Romance is incredibly bad for girls with self-esteem issues. But it sells, and no one really likes reality anyway. =P

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    • Same here. The Ephiphany annoys me and yet I can’t seem to do without it in movies and books–it heightens the tension and suspense.

      You’re right on. Girls with self-esteem issues will definately be influenced in the wrong way….And they’re sort of in danger 24/7 do to the media in general. But, I have to admit, some of the romance novels do offer some positive aspects–like to appreciate the body you were born with. Hopefully they’ll hang onto the positive message and filter out the other negative stuff

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    • hiiii,

      okay, first…I don’t think you’re jaded..as much as your mind is subtly coming up with ways to put your own take/twist on romance.

      I had the same question about the epiphany thing and I asked a few of my guy friends and they said, yeah, sometimes it does just hit you out of no where that you actually LOVE the person and don’t just enjoy their company or the sex because once you’re involved you focus on the now. (I don’t know if I explained that properly).

      Ironically, a book I ordered JUST (like 2mins ago) came in the mail. Seven Secrets of Seduction by Anne Mallory. I haven’t read it yet, but I ordered it because the reviews were positive and many of them said the “hero and heroine TRULY fall in love”.

      Oh, and I would also recommend Tessa Dare’s One Dance With a Duke because she has a tendency to use an emotional connection to lead to a sexual union, rather than the other way around. (I’m working on those book reviews.)

      And, this is unrelated, but I was thinking about it. With the changes to TRC…will the title also have to change?

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      • Noelle Pierce

        Priscilla,
        I’m trying to figure out how to follow your blog, but can’t. Anyway, I just finished and reviewed Tessa’s ODwaD, too, so I’d love to know what you thought of it.

        Okay, not trying to hijack the blog, so I’ll stop there. 😀

        Like

      • I’ll have to check out Anne Mallory! And as for Tessa Dare, I read only the debut novel of hers. It was entertaining, to say the least 🙂 I will have to drop by the bookstore one day and buy this one.

        I guess those Ah-Hah moments do happen then. But it still bugs me. I would like to read a book one day where, as Rowenna mentioned below, the man is someone who thinks. So it shouldn’t take him by surprise that he is in love, as all the reasons to have stirred this emotion flood through him.

        Yes, I have a feeling I’ll have to change my title…. *sniffles* I really doubt the publisher will want the word “Courtesan” plastered on the book of an Inspirational…

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      • ah, my mistake, I meant not Rowenna, but in reference to Iambo’s comment

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  2. I absolutely LOVE the picture you chose to illustrate this post. I’ve never heard of the artist prior to this, but I’ve been googling and added a poster of this work & one entitled “Under the Stars” to my wishlist…they are breathtaking! Thank you for introducing me to Lynch’s work!

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  3. Noelle Pierce

    I have to say I was one of those impressionable young girls reading romance novels at 14. And there were esteem issues there, too. Perhaps I was idealistic to think that my very own hero would show up, and perhaps I was lucky to actually FIND my very own hero, but I did not waste my time dating boys who did not live up to those high standards. I attribute that directly to my romance reading. My father called me fickle, because I often gave my boyfriends a two-week time frame in which to show they had hero-capacity (unspoken, of course). Many of my relationships did not last long, I’m afraid. But I met my husband when I was 21 and in a week, I knew he was the one and I would marry him. That was 11 years ago, and I see no end to it in sight. As I said, I might have just been lucky, but those books gave me something to look for in terms of a mate.

    I do agree with the a-ha-I-love-you epiphany. Many of the romances I’ve read lately have given a reason for the man to fall in love, other than lust, too. But one recently was so abrupt that he didn’t even *think* about it, to the reader’s knowledge. He simply announced it, out of the blue, to his mother. Now *that* really irked me. I don’t mind the sudden realization that you could spend the rest of your life with someone, because that’s essentially how it happened for me, but I did have the hours of thinking about him, first. That’s what I like to see in the books. A little thought process, even if it’s not realistic on the part of the men.

    Oops…now I’m rambling. Great post, June! x♥x

    Like

    • You do bring up a good point. Romance novels will raise your standard of what a man should be. And we deserve the best! I guess it really depends on the person and which characteristics they come to consider as ‘ideal’ and which books theyre being influenced by. Like there’s been so many issues being raised about how girls are making Edward Cullen’s character (which, upon analysis, can belong to that of an abusive boyfriend–just stating the general arguments being raised online) their ideal image of the perfect guy.

      I do think you were very, very lucky, and that you are the perfect person to prove that romance novels is beneficial. I guess there’s pros and cons to everything!

      Arg, the Epiphany IS annoying when it comes out of nowhere. Like in one of the romance books I read long ago, the heroine, in the first of the story, suddenly starts narrating how she loves the guy and will give him her all. I was like: Woa, when did YOU fall in love?! You don’t even know the guy!

      You’re right in that some people will get that Ah-hah-I-love-him/her moment. Hmmm. I guess it’s just that my own experience has been different. It wasn’t a romantic relationship or anything. More of a platonic thing. But the realization of love grew gradually, it matured–what I thought was love at first was not love. And realization never zapped me. You just keep falling more and more in love every day as you get to know the person…

      …But still, I think you’re very right now that I think of it. I think lots of people get that sudden moment when everything hits them like an avalanche at how much they love someone. I believe I had that moment with my parents. After I moved out, it hit me right then how much I loved them, and it DID change how I treated them….just like the heroes to their heroines in books.

      Hmm. Interesting!

      Thanks for the great comment, Noelle!

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  4. Oh, goodness, you’ve nailed several of the points I not only dislike in books and movies, but seem to have infiltrated how people think about relationships, too. Especially what you say in #1–that if you’re not fulfilled in a marriage, you should just start sniffing around elsewhere. Some marriages aren’t good and should end–especially verbally or physically abusive ones. But for the most part? You have to work at it!

    And #s 2 and 3–I think these are hugely misleading. I’m sorry, but for the most part, if he’s not saying he’s into you, he isn’t into you. I think #2 is so beloved because we want to concoct reasons for why we’re spurned–and leave the door open for him to come running back into our lives proclaiming his love. It doesn’t usually work that way. He’s just not interested, and that’s why he hasn’t declared undying love. And #3? Most guys who sleep around and cheat on their significant others are guys who sleep around and cheat on their significant others. He may “desire her more than any other” now, but he’s probably real, real bad at commitment.

    But–overall–I do like the romance genre for reaffirming that love is worth pursuing and writing about and honoring. These are little quibbles with certian tropes, not a condemnation of the whole genre 🙂

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    • #1 is just sad. Because if you research about divorce and the reasons behind it–the majority isn’t because of abuse.

      #2 is annoying when applied to reality. I don’t want a guy who will realize he loves me and will tell me so only after I’ve nearly be…what..kidnapped?! Or only after I’ve run away from him? But, as a writer, one really can’t do without this technique….haha. It would just not be fun to write.

      #3 I’m sure he will “desire her more than any other” in one point of his life, and later on, there will come another whom he’ll think he “desired more than any other”. It’s just not convincing enough for me. While sexual interest is important, I’m just asking for a bit more of something else, something other than physical.

      I second you. Besides these issues, the romance genre is awesome–because, as you well put it: it reaffirms that “love is worth pursuing and writing about and honoring”

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  5. June, I share the same views as you. I, too, love romance novels. Reading them is just too much fun. I think that despite the fact that we know how unrealistic a lot of the scenarios presented in the novels are, we still have this secret hope that a man like one of those dashing heros is waiting out there for us. That is why we read the romance novel despite its many flaws. We all like to escape from reality every now and again.

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  6. I really liked this post June because, you see, in books and movies we are very used to see a totally improbable scenario to develop. And I’m not talking about two improbable people together, that can happen at times, I’m talking about the whole of the circumstances.

    I’ve been fortunate that when I was growing up I never read romances, so I didn’t distort things. It wasn’t my thing and I was very sceptic about the whole idea. Well, I actually usually don’t read romances, I like books that deal with lots of things and that happen to have a romance in it, but I do like romance movies and it is annoying when there is a dude that from nowhere says “Hey, I love her”.

    My favourite heroes (if this word should be used, because I usually think of Batman when someone say hero) are generally the thinking ones that really consider the girl. And not as a beautiful thing, although the first thing they see is usually this, but as a whole human being. And what’s the value of a dude that doesn’t think if the girl is suitable or not? Because for more that we, girls, might think all that very terrible, the right thing is to think about it. But nope, the media puts that idea that you have to be swept of your feet and that you should feel like that forever, otherwise there is something wrong. That’s why I loved the fact that you remembered that the whole “in love” thing is something that has a limited time and that real love is much more than that. I’m not saying that I’m immune to love declarations in the middle of a storm, but you know what I mean.

    Marriage is a complicated thing, almost unnatural as you decide to live with a person totally unconnected to you. People forget that we love our family even when we hate them, when you quarrel and cannot stand to look at each other. But we put all this aside if someone comes to you and say a bad thing about one of the members of your family. And a husband IS family! People seem to forget that. It’s not every day that you’ll like him, it’s not everything about him that you’ll like, but in the whole you decided to share your life with that person and need to fight to make the relationship last.

    But of course, we are dreamers, and sometimes we like to think that the “happily ever after” is going to be “everything wonderful ever after”.

    Like

    • I just fell in love with your MIND just reading this! We think very similarly, indeed! You’ve captured the train of my thoughts which I had difficulty expressing. Yes, a thinking man should be ideal. So the commentators have proved me wrong–that men actually do go through the Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her epiphanies. But you made me realize what bugged me so much about that. Those revelations are great–those moments when, suddenly, a summary of all the reasons why the hero loved the heroine floods through him. A thinking-man, however, will always be acknowledging the admireable characteristics of the woman, and will be always wondering whether or not she suits him.

      You’ve put it perfectly. A husband and a wife–they are a family. And just as my sister forgives me easily whenever I get angry at her, just as unconditional the love is between myself and my parents, that is how it should be between a husband and wife. There are dry times between my parents and I…but I don’t go demanding them to disinherit me!

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  7. Aasana

    I love SEP, especially ‘Kiss and Angel’ and ‘Nobody’s Baby but Mine’.

    As for romance novel scenarios, they’re not always supposed to be realistic. Some books I read for the fun and entertainment factor, such as Sophie Kinsella .

    Others, I take very seriously and for me to believe in a happily-ever-after, I need the hero and heroine to go through something that really tests their strength. They have to be emotionally strong and have a sense of honour. They need to bleed, so I can believe in them and be with peace with the knowledge that they will be able to get through anything together. This is what makes the happily-ever-after for me.

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    • I LOVED Kiss of an Angel!!!!!! I loved all her Chicago football dude series, especially Heaven, Texas. She is my favorite, favorite romance author. SQUEEEE

      *clears throat* anyway, you’re right, romance novels aren’t always realistic. If it were, I don’t think it would be half as fun. I just wish some authors would be more creative and try to put a different twist to the romance. It’s all just too formulaic for me at times. I KNOW what’s going to happen…if you know what I mean. There’s no more surprise for me when I read.

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  8. Hmm. I guess since I’m a guy I should be able to provide some clarity about love shouldn’t I? The truth is, I don’t understand it much myself. Every time I was in love, I thought I really got it. Now I’m not sure I did.

    Although I know that “the one” mentality is incredibly damaging to young people, who don’t know any better, and we shouldn’t keep perpetuating that idea, I also think that we shouldn’t be too cynical about it.

    I read a book (by a happily married older man actually) who recommended to another man who was afraid he no longer loved his wife to try a simple method. He recommended to his friend that he should try loving his wife. The man’s friend thought he was nuts, but I think he’s right. Love is a verb. It’s something we do. It’s not something we suddenly catch.

    Well then, maybe you could be the sophisticated romance novelist who leads us in a romance where we experience a more realistic portrayal of love. Now that is something I personally would read over and over again, simply because it would be so rare and refreshing. 🙂

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    • Noelle Pierce

      Wow, that’s a great view. And the “love is a verb” reminds me of something I read in a journal for psychology: they asserted that love is not an emotion. For all the emotions, there is a positive OR a negative connotation. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, etc., all have either good or bad thoughts associated with it. However, when you talk about love, you can easily get BOTH. That doesn’t happen with the other emotions. So, maybe love is a skill? A state of mind? But they feel it’s NOT an emotion.

      Damn, here I go, hijacking the blog again. Sorry, June. I’ll stop now. *big kisses*

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      • Yes! I read that somewhere too–I believe it was in the ‘Seven Habits…’ I forget the rest of the title. But in there the author was explaining how LOVE is a verb. When the emotion, that romance, is gone–you love. And the romance is the fruit of that action.

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  9. Oh June, you and I think so much alike! The Ah-hah-I-Love-Her is what every woman is after. She wants a manly man, not a sap (hence the fear of commitment b/c that seems to be a general trait in all men – no, of course I’m not dealing with this in my own life right now) but she wants to be his one and only (hence the ah-hah!) And the womanizer = sexy but BAAAD! You’ve once again hit everything right on the head.
    As far as the Catholicism during the Regency era, don’t know much about that, but being Catholic and having gone to Catholic schools my ENTIRE life including pre-school and college, I could probably give you some general information if you need it …

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    • Woohoo, I hit everything on the head! It’s fascinating how the trend I picked up on seems so universal–it touches upon the fantasy of so many women. Maybe that’s why they reoccur so often in romance novels.

      I will really need a tutorial from you. I attend a non-denominational church. But I’ve attended a Catholic highschool. But I still don’t know thw basics. Like, what kind of values they have, what kind of lifestyle..etc.,

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  10. Lua

    Ah the – “Ah-Hah-I-Love-Her Epiphany.” It’s cheesy, predictable and makes you say- “no way HE would do that” but we can’t seem to do without it either! 🙂
    I’ll admit, I’m such a hopeless romantic that anytime the hero has this moment in a book or a movie, I root for him like crazy; “you go get that girl you love!”
    haha! See what they make us do?! 🙂
    “The Woman He has Never Desired More” is perhaps every women’s fantasy; to be that woman he wants the most, he thinks the most and at the end of the day- loves the most! (Wait- have I mentioned that I was a hopeless romantic?!)
    I loved that little passage from TRC June!

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    • It seems were are a hopelessly hopeless romantic.

      As much as those trends bug me, like I said in another comment, it reoccurs so often in novels because…well, they make all women’s heart flutter. But I admit that I’ve gotten immune to it in books. And thus I call myself jaded. I’m probably not as jaded in reality, though.

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  11. Here I am, joining in the conversation late. I agree with all of your critiques on romance novels. I would add in the formula of the girl who marries the rich and powerful man and suddenly her problems are all solved. That is a really bad notion to teach to young girls. But, hey, it worked for Elizabeth Bennet and Shopaholic, so why wouldn’t it work for me?

    I have to disagree with you on the romance cooling after 2 yrs. I’ve been married almost 17 yrs and what I’ve found is that the romance goes in cycles. That two year thingy may just be the end of the first cycle. Romance is boring if kept at a high pitch all the time, not to mention, tiring to sustain. So it gets really hot for a while, cools down, gets hot again, etc. That’s what keeps a marriage exciting, I think! I just wish so many people didn’t decide to divorce at the cooling period.

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    • Jill, that is SO good to hear, that romance is a reoccuring phenomenom. The bit about romance cooling in 2 yrs was something I discovered from my Psychology textbook, so I’m guessing it’s what happens for many people. Not all. I thought it was all, but you’ve proved me wrong–thank you!!!! It’s really good to know. I think, sometimes, one needs to put the scientific facts aside.

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  12. A very interesting post, June! Even though as adults, we’re supposed to be not so impressionable, able to know right from wrong, and be wise about our decisions, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? There are so many things (books and movies inlcuded) that impress and sway us in terms of the opinions we form in life.

    On the flip side, like your snippet says, if books (esp. romance genre) were to only include the truths of life, there wouldn’t be too much of romance left in them, right? 🙂 A conundrum it sure is!

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    • Yes, what a conundrum! To have truth in the book….Well, like Mark Twain said (paraphrased), reality doesn’t make sense. So to apply truth to fiction would make it a messy, depressing work of art where romance is but a fleeting emotion.

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  13. Madison Woods

    Aw, Junebugger. So it’s not okay for a woman dissatisfied with her marriage to hope for some miraculous way to get out of it and just so happen to fall into the arms of her soulmate??

    Just kidding… sort of. Great post, though, and I agree with the things you dislike about the genre. I just hate how ‘neatly’ everything always wraps up. But it is fiction, and it is supposed to transport the reader to a more likeable place, so it does do that.

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    • I guess it depends on the reader. I guess studying English and university has made me a critical reader–so the entry i wrote is the result of an English major analyzing romance novels more than they should be haha. But I also just find the tropes so fascinating. The themes that reoccur in so many novels, i’m sure, also reflect upon the mentality several women have. IMO.

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  14. In bluegrass we sing “killing songs” (murder ballads) as an outlet. We figure if we sing such things we are less likely to kill someone who dang near deserves it.

    If we couldn’t have our art to create beauty how would we deal with the harsh reality of the everyday world?

    My real life defintion of love is to go to work everyday and give my people all I have. My wife was loyal, didn’t do drugs, and didn’t spend money like crazy.

    That might sound boring, but she also played the bass, sang good, and gave me two beautiful children and a Gibson mandolin. I don’t see how a guy could ask for much more in a romance novel.

    Dr. B

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  15. All typical romances end the same.
    The girl gets the guy.
    The guy gets the girl.
    And all is happy forevermore.

    There are only so many means to an end! Ahaha.

    People don’t read romance for variation, they read it for self-fulfillment and personal inclusion within a story that ends perfectly. Look at Twilight – it’s not Meyer’s penning of words that’s made all that money.

    There are the variants, but they generally wind up as ‘dramas’ rather than ‘romances’, neh? : ) The repetitiveness of the genre is, I think, the reason it’s looked down upon. But all stories have their conventions, and all genres have their plot devices.

    Love it or leave it!

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    • “The repetitiveness of the genre is, I think, the reason it’s looked down upon.” You are a wordsmith! That is very, very true. And the repetitiveness, or cliches, reoccur because it sells.

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  16. I love this post, your blog title, and everything I have read here today. I am so glad I found a link to your page on another blog and clicked it. Lovely!

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  17. I found this old post while searching for other romance novelists and I just wanted to tell you it was right on point. I’m a fledgling romance novelist myself and the Soulmate thing is something that really bothers me. It’s a very romantic perspective, so it’s tempting to use it and have your characters swoon away in this feeling they’ve never experienced with anyone else as the stars align, etc. etc., but it pretty much goes against everything I know and believe about psychology and love! I am happily married and I’ve met enough men in my life to truly believe that the one I’ve got is the best match for me. But that doesn’t mean that he’s the only man in the world I could have a successful relationship with. Most of a relationship is hard work and good communication. But that’s not exactly sexy on the page!

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    • I’m always so happy to meet other romance writers!!! I’m not married myself so always appreciate perspectives offered from the other side of the spectrum. I really respect your belief system—because it’s something I want to take after if I ever do marry in the future. To accept the fact that there is likely no such thing as a soulmate. That marriage is what a woman makes of it. That marriage is hard work and good communication. It`s a choice, I believe, to remain faithful to that one man….

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