Romance is a flexible mistress, bestowing its pleasure in the darkest of environments, between the most broken of people. A fifty-year-old man who works as a metro bus driver and is a virgin is a sad picture. But then one day on a rainy sidewalk, he stumbles into the forty-seven year old two-time divorcee with one kid in college and a surly teenage boy at home. They’re drawn to each other, the bus driver and the out-of-work tax assistant. They spend time together, they fall in love.
The man is the same age, he still drives the bus, he’s still rather poor and grumpy (though he’s no longer a virgin). He’s the same guy, but the picture is totally different. That is the world we live in. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, but even in its ugliness, there’s a kind of perverse beauty. I don’t look at that man and get turned on. He’s not at all man candy. But I look at him through her eyes, I imagine her hungry for his touch, I imagine him fantasizing about her at nights, and yes, it’s beautiful and sexy.
The romance genre, however, is stricter. Heroines must be sympathetic, but not sickly sweet. They must be intelligent, but not overly so. They must be pretty, but vanity is frowned upon. On the occasion that they stray from prettiness, they may a) be slightly overweight in a way that is pleasingly plump, or b) be plain in a way that can be easily made over in order to wow the hero. Men must be handsome, though beyond that there are much less restrictions on them than heroines. But above all, they must not be fucked up.
I saw this quote: “A writer is a reader who is moved to emulation.” by Saul Bellow. For me, it is most definitely true. I don’t understand writers who don’t read often or don’t read in their genre. There was a poll somewhere asking which one you’d pick if you could never read again or never write again. And I was fucking shocked when some people said they’d prefer never to be able to read again, than to stop writing. Are you kidding me? Perhaps my confusion came from the fact that I started writing late. I was never a journaler, a doodler, a person-who-dreamed-of-authorship-since-I-was-five. So I know I can get along just fine without writing. But anyways, it’s all in my head. It’s sort of semantics, but I dreamed up a million stories, a million worlds, long before I ever typed a word of it. And I would keep doing so if I never wrote again. The paper or word processor is a prop of my imagination.
I’m a reader. Do you remember that Twilight Zone with that bookish man, I think he was a librarian. Well, the whole world ended. It all fell apart and everyone died. And he’s like, meh, I’ve got my books. And then his glasses broke. That was the twist, that his glasses broke. And the pain of it, my god, that he would forever be surrounded by books, unable to read them, until he died. It tore me up inside, and I think I was like ten when I saw it. Because I’m a reader through-and-through.
The reason why I decided to start writing was that I was moved to emulation. The question is: moved by what? I would never think to try and write a book about perfect heroes and heroines, despite by love for them, because of my love for them, because whatever I could come up with would only ever be a pale comparison to what’s already written. What I was moved by (from reading many books in the romance genre) was the lack of fucked up people. I sought out all the tortured heroes I could find, the abused heroines, the psychologically unbalanced anti-heroes, and they were good. But I thought, what if we take it even further? It’s like the fucked-up-people version of the limbo game – how low can we go?
My first manuscript went there, but nowhere near as far as I plan to go. There’s one piece of feedback that really has stuck with me. Someone said to me, I think it was in a contest feedback, a lot of positive things and then they said about my heroine, “but be careful, you don’t want to make her too broken to be redeemed.” And just to be clear, I’m not talking about murderers or anything like that, which I don’t know anything about or understand, so that can be another author’s crusade. I’m talking about ordinary people living ordinary lives, and sometimes making bad decisions. Being OCD or strange or overall messed up, either from chemistry or bad experiences or whatever. Fucked up, broken.
I totally get it. I get where she is coming from, but it’s also the antithesis of why I started writing. Because what I really wanted to say was that no matter how broken you are, you still deserve love, you can still find happiness. That manuscript, my very first, just sold to Loose Id (yep, that’s my announcement) and I’m thrilled to be able to share my wonkomancery with the world … coming soon :)