By Madeline Iva
In romance we need our obstacles. Our trials by fire, and other torments. It’s true other cultures–take India for example–do romance differently. They’ll have the hero and heroine get together right away and then they enjoy adventures together…but our Western-style romance evolved to show us characters who prove themselves worthy by struggling through many an obstacle to wind up happy at last.
Some readers might ask: Obstacles to romance? What obstacles?
Exactly my point reader–Exactly!
Never before in the history of the world have people been allowed to happily marry so many (one at a time–or even in batches). And who even needs to marry? There’s every shade of Happily For Now going on out there.
Oh it was easy back in the 80’s–the main obstacle was sex. He wants it and he wants it now. She knows she can’t give it to him, but…maybe she does? Then there’s tension, temptation, etc. but in the end they do it, she tames him, gets a ring on it, and baby makes three.
Today it’s okay–even expected–that there’s gonna be nookie waaaaaaay before the wedding night. Some would say we’ve come a long way, baby. But I ask you–what’s a romance author to do?
This is the topic of a romance panel happening at #VALoveFest at Virginia Festival of the Book on Saturday, March 21st at 12pm. It’s called: THEY LIVED HAPPILY ENOUGH FOR NOW: Challenges to Writing Modern Love with Carey Heywood, Tracey Livesay, Kimberly Kincaid and moderated by Delancey Stewart.
I first thought of this panel while reading two books: Heywood’s BETTER and Stewart’s REDEMPTION RED. Heywood’s afterwards made me cry. Really hard. I read it first and then I went back and started the book at the beginning — only to find more sad when a beloved aunt is dying. (Carey, you’re killing me here.)
Heywood is an indie author and so (because she can) she starts out her book sad and climbs up from there–whew! Stewart’s book, meanwhile, has a ex-soldier hero with PTSD, which is curable, treatable, and I oh so badly wanted Stewart’s hero to recover quickly.
Some people might say there are still *plenty* of obstacles out there — AIDS, cancer, deformities, environmental causes, political corruption, vampirism — vast, serious, deadly, grim and awful things. Just pick one why doncha?
I remind the reader that romances are what Joanna Bourne coined *ahem* Happiness Machines. I think she’s right. We read for uplift, for time away from all the truly wretched and horrible, some of which may be going on in our own lives. We need a break, people! We’re carrying the world on our shoulders here.
And what if you don’t want to read about vampires 24/7?
Well, here are some people who’ve figured out some alternatives to insurmountable obstacles:
THE NORA ROBERTS MAGIC TOUCH—The first Nora Roberts book I ever read was from her Brides Quartet series — VISION IN WHITE. VISION IN WHITE starts off in the beautiful garden of a beautiful house where some little girls are playing ‘here comes the bride’. Oh, the ironic twist–the little bride’s mother and father are just about to divorce, the perfect childhood is about to be lost for forever. So sad! But let’s be real–not too sad. Nora stays within the strict bounds of wistfulness and has laughed all the way to the bank as a result.
THE KRISTIN HIGGINS KILLER MOVES–I like Kristin Higgins romances! She’s a little funnier than Nora Robers. Her sad stuff is also little bit sharper. We’re talking family rejection here, big time. Like your parents blame you for your sister drowning–and they never get over it. Or your mother up and abandons you in your teens then when you meet her umpteen years later–she’s still not sorry. It’s heartbreaking (sniff). But wait–that’s what wins me over. It’s in the past. Higgins characters can’t have enough room in their hearts for forever love until they clear cut some of the old heartbreak. Which is hard to do — which is why it takes up a whole book.
THE JENNIFER CRUSIE SECRET SAUCE is simple. There’s a mystery going on that must be solved/exposed to the light of day before we can get our HEA. Okay, Jennifer Crusie readers–you and I both know that’s not really what the main obstacle is. The main obstacle to any classic Jennie Crusie romance is the orphaned mongrel dog. Abandoned, kinda ugly, and giving forth unconditional adoration–Crusie’s books are full of them–each one with big sad needy eyes that devour all the heroine’s attention. Sure she’ll throw in a sick kitten from time to time, but it’s not until doggie is all better that the heroine can look up from knee height to discover the hero patiently waiting for her (because he gets it–he knows doggie comes first) so they can both fall deeply in lurv.
I happen to relish romances that show a bit of relationship ugly. Or even some…revenge? Kimberly Kincaid and Tracey Livesay deal with the uglies in their books. Kincaid has an asshat ex the heroine has to deal with and move on from, while Livesay’s hero wants to exact his pound of flesh.
Name the rising problems we face today: toxic bachelors, or serial monogamists married to their work –these are obstacles people face within themselves, not on the outside. So…why are there are no therapy couches in romance novels? Why no couples counseling? Is there an unwritten law for romance novel plots written down somewhere–Thou shalt not seek analysis?
Wanna know the answer? Come to Love Fest at Virginia Festival of the Book this weekend and we’ll tell you.
#VALoveFest, Saturday & Sunday at Virginia Festival of the Book = awesome sauce.
Meanwhile, follow us at Lady Smut and get our unconditional lurv.