Finding the Quality in Romance

The Gettysburg VampireBy Susan Blexrud, author of The Gettysburg Vampire

Ten years ago, a good friend and excellent romance writer told me, “You have to be better than romance to write romance.” As I was just beginning my writing career and had the notion, as many novice writers do, that writing romance was a low rung on the ladder, my friend wanted me to know that there’s much more to writing bodice rippers than bodice ripping. She was so right.

Recently, I ran into a former business colleague in Orlando who told me he’d heard I was now writing romance novels. “I think I’ll give that a crack,” he said. “It’s a simple formula. How hard could it be?” I smiled at him and decided I’d let him live with his delusions. Let him see how difficult it is to create believable characters and make his readers’ hearts pound. How will he navigate point of view? And I can’t wait to read his sex scenes. They’ll undoubtedly drone on like an anatomy lesson. But let him have his fun. If he’s astute (and serious), he’ll pay attention to the rejection letters. He’ll realize the “simple formula” of writing romance isn’t so simple.

How do you suppose he’ll handle conflict? Heaven knows, he’ll probably have his h/h dueling it out with antiquated pistols. Of course, he’ll be proud of himself because he’d have researched the correct firearms for the job. But would he put us in the head of the duelers? Would we feel their anguish? Would our finger twitch and our heart beat in our ears as we squeeze the trigger? Oops, he just killed off the heroine. Now what?

Not that accuracy isn’t important. For my first book, Love Fang, I asked a dentist friend to read over the scenes where my dentist heroine was practicing endodontics. I didn’t want any hygienists, dental assistants, or dentists to call me on inaccuracies as my heroine performed a root canal. My friend was happy to oblige. He returned the scenes to me with his stamp (or should I say drill) of approval. I hadn’t told him previously that the book was a romance, so this was the point at which I recounted the plot. He guffawed. “Oh, a romance? Why would you care whether it was accurate?” I guess I wouldn’t be thanking him in the credits.

And for my just released book, The Gettysburg Vampire, I pored over Civil War books and Matthew Brady photographs. Though this book is definitely a romance, I wanted it to stand up to the scrutiny of Civil War scholars. I’m hoping I can cross some genres with this story. Maybe some dyed-in-the-wool historians will find that romance in combination with history can be ever so compelling.

As the lovely Sarah Wendell at Smart Bitches/Trashy Books says, educating the public about the quality of romance has to be done in baby steps. Sure, there’s still bad writing out there and there are writers who don’t do their due diligence, but that’s true in any genre.

We can change the public’s perceptions. The more we write quality romance, write about the attributes of good romance, and celebrate the writers who excel in this genre, the more people will realize how wrong they’ve been. Won’t you take a few minutes to blog your views? Or, the next time you’re in Barnes & Noble, how about siding up to someone with one of your favorite romance novels in hand and expounding on its exceptional prose? You might enlist a convert.

Have you ever known someone who thought it was “easy” to write romance? Or maybe you’ve even had the thought yourself? Share your feelings on the subject in the comments!

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