ROMANCE NOVELS AND I WEREN’T ALWAYS FRIENDS
I have a little secret. As a romance writer, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I wasn’t one of those teenagers whose noses were always buried in a romance novel (gasp!). In fact, until my mid-twenties, the total number of (category) romance novels I’d read were two and a half (I’d gasp again, but that would be overdoing it). So what was I doing during my teen years, you may wonder. Well, I did read, but I enjoyed the sweeping sagas a little more (think Barbara Taylor-Bradford, Susan Howatch, Danielle Steele, Sidney Sheldon). Of course, at that age I had more time on my hands to read, so the bigger the book the better.
My brief affair with romance novels during my teen years happened in secondary school (high school). I was in boarding school, as is the norm in the Ghanaian schooling system. At that age, money was a hard commodity to come by, so friends tended to recycle novels among themselves. When it came to romance, the source was a friend whose chop-box was full of them. I know I’ve lost half the world at “chop-box,” so let me digress a little. In boarding school, we all had two items of luggage: a black metal trunk with red markings for clothing and personal items, and a wooden box for provisions. (Food in pidgin English is “chop,” hence the term chop-box).
Now back to romance novels. My friend’s chop-box had to be about one and a half times the size of mine, and it was at least half-full of romance novels. I have no idea where she bought them or if she had friends who passed them on to her after they were done reading them, but she always had them. Anyway, the first romance novel I ever read was a Mills & Boon; I don’t remember the story at all, but I enjoyed it enough to borrow another. The second one pretty much put me off ‘that kind of romance novel.’ Needless to say, I didn’t finish it, owing to one piece of senseless kissing very early in the book. The hero walks out of an office and sees the heroine in the secretary’s office. She’s waiting to be ushered into the same office the hero is coming out of. The hero sees the heroine and kisses her (this is in chapter 1 or 2; it’s also the first time they set eyes on each other), and I’m thinking whoa! If that happened in real life, that guy would get a slap, not a flustered, eyelash-batting damsel (and we all know that first kiss in every romance novel is a big deal). A couple of pages later, I returned the book, having decided I was done with romance novels.
But don’t despair. The story ends well. One day, my friend handed me a book. It was a Silhouette. I hadn’t read a Silhouette before, but I declined knowing it was a “romance novel.” My friend told me, “these ones are different.” It had a white cover with some red, so I’m guessing it was a Desire. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I don’t remember the title or the author (I know, shame on me), but I do remember my favorite scene: the hero barrels into the heroine’s apartment (in a building he’s trying to have torn down, because it blocks the view from his office) and gets all ruffled from seeing her green bra on the bed. It was such an innocently intimate scene told in the hero’s POV, and I completely fell for him.
But it was more than that. Granted, that story was never going to happen in my life, but it seemed plausible. The characters felt real, and most of all, the story made sense. And I felt like I’d experienced the magic of two people falling in love. By the time I was done with it, I’d fully bought into their happy ending.
And that’s exactly it. I don’t want to read (or for that matter, write) a story that makes me roll my eyes thinking, “yeah, right.”
Romance is about emotions, about meeting that one person, falling in love. It’s something we all want, something we celebrate when others find.
With writing, just as with reading, I need to connect with my characters and my story on an emotional level. Otherwise, I find it very difficult to write; so naturally, I pour myself into every story I write, and when readers pick up my book, I hope they finish reading the it :-), and while doing that, I sure hope they fall in love with my characters, with my settings, and with me (as pompous as it sounds).
So tell me, if you’re a reader, what makes a romance novel memorable for you? What are your absolute no-noes?
And if you’re a writer, what is it that gets you going? What do you want for your readers when they read your stories?
© 2011 by Empi Baryeh