Why We Like It Wonky

A few days ago, Del Dryden and I had the following email exchange:

Me: And if you’re looking for another great one, try Jo Goodman’s Marry Me. Heroine has spent her life as a boy and is pregnant and gender-confused.

Del: Oh holy god sign me up for the gender-confused pregnant heroine. I’ll put it on the TBR.

If I’d asked Del whCover image for Jo Goodman's historical romance, Marry Me--bride's white dress and hands holding white lilliesy that particular story resonated for her, she’d probably be able to explain it (and I’m guessing it’s not because she was a pregnant boy earlier in her life, although because I know her only online, I haven’t ruled that out). She might say gender confusion is interesting, or sexy, or that she just enjoys stories with pregnant heroines. Or she might just say that she loves “weird stuff like that.” And all those explanations would be totally true.

Beyond all that vague personal stuff, though, there’s a reason we Wonk-o-mantics are crazy about the wounded, the wacked, and the weird. And that reason lies at the heart of story theory. In other words, we don’t love wonk-o-mance because we’re perverse (though most of us would happily confess we are, and also perverted)—we love it because it’s actually the epitome of what romance can and should be. That doesn’t mean we want every romance to be wonky, but we believe you can learn a ton about writing a romance from reading (and writing) the wonky.

I’m grotesquely paraphrasing story theorists like Michael Hauge and John Truby here, but the most basic form of a love story is:

Two wounded people, who have donned masks to protect their true selves from being seen by the outside world, meet and discover that in each other’s presences they are able to unmask themselves and live as their true selves.

To put it more simply, the hero is the ONLY guy who can see behind the heroine’s mask, and the heroine is the ONLY woman who can see behind the hero’s mask.

The mask doesn’t only hide the wound—it hides the whole wounded person. But the mask is there because of the wound. So the mask is necessary to the extent the wound is real, and deep (and believable). And the unmasking is painful to the extent the wound is real, and deep (and believable). And in order for us to believe that one, and only one, person can remove the mask and see the wounded person in all his/her glory, the wound has to be real, and deep (and believable). And—even more to the point—the wound has to be unusual. If it were commonplace, then just about anyone would be able to see through the mask. (We’ve all read romances where the wound (which we sometimes call the internal conflict) is so shallow or so clichéd that it’s impossible for us to care.)

So in some sense, the deeper and weirder the wound, the more real the story feels. The deeper and weirder the wound, the more we identify, not so much with the hero or the heroine alone, but with the hero and heroine as a cosmically good pairing.

Now, of course, the genre has other constraints, and story theory makes other demands on the story. Romance requires a happily-ever-after ending, so the wound can’t be so deep or so weird that an HEA is impossible. And good story requires sympathetic characters—characters we can see ourselves in, characters who have never done something so totally unredeemable that we can’t possibly forgive and love them.

The very best heroes and heroines, then, are as deeply and as weirdly wounded as you can make them, without stepping outside the genre’s and the story’s other constraints. And when a writer walks that line—even if, or perhaps because, she steps over it—you get Wonk-o-mance. And, if you’re anything like me and Del and the rest of us, you, well, just love it.


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Greetings and Salutations

Welcome to Wonk-o-mance!

We are a community of seven women writers of sexy, romantic stories who have a common interest in celebrating the wonky, weird, and wonderful in popular romance. Look look, we even have a manifesto—

In the Land of Romance, the men are all tall and tanned, the women are thin and plucky, and the sex is always mind-boggling. It’s a fine land, indeed. But we prefer the land of Wonk-o-Mance.

We are the mythical readers, the undermarketed writers, who like our protagonists less conventional, our conflicts less tidy, our endings less certain. We want escapism, but we want it with a nice, stiff shot of human frailty. Give us Scarlett and Rhett, yes, yes, but can we also have Harold and Maude? Atticus Finch, mmm-hmm, but also Boo Radley? Nick and Nora, absolutely, but also that broody, effed-up Philip Marlowe? We want the whole messy spectrum of human behavior, packaged up for consumption in romance novel form.

Here at Wonk-o-mance, we’re lovers, not fighters! We aren’t anti-convention. But sometimes the market says, “Ooh, too much. This hero you’ve written, Aspiring Romance Writer– Whoa. He’s really . . . strange. You’re going to lose readers.” And we at Wonk-o-Mance say, “You might lose them, but you’ll gain us. Bring on the strange!”

Because we believe there’s a place in romance fiction for weird-ass heroes and heroines. We want characters who are depressed, who are fat, who are diagnosably bent. We want nerds who are actually nerdy, lumberjacks who are unabashedly bearded, quiet men who are so close to mute, it’s hard to tell the difference. In fact, we want cripplingly shy middle-aged virgin heroes. Ambitious, ball-busting heroines who never apologize. Bricklayers and plumbers and short-order cooks who don’t turn out to be slumming heirs and heiresses.

Here at Wonk-o-Mance, we want to read stories about how lust and love make screwed-up people do stupid, stupid things. Because they do. Ohhh, they do. But they make us change, too. They make us better.

People are strange. Life is weird. Love is weirder. And fooked-up people deserve happy endings, too.

A romance-writing friend recently told me that the genre expects stories about “perfect people with perfect problems.” We like those stories just fine. Sometimes we even write them! But this website is all about how much we adore stories about imperfect people with imperfect problems. Because we are those people, and those are the people we know, and we find romantic fiction that includes us — that grapples with us — refreshing and fun and honest and downright fascinating. Viva la wonk!

Our diabolical plan is to publish two posts a week and win the world over to our vision. Or, you know, at least provide a little entertainment and some food for thought. Wonk-o-Mance will be a corner of the Internet where readers and writers and writers-who-read (all of us, in other words) can come together to talk about the appeal of the offbeat romance in fiction, movies, TV, and other forms of popular culture.

In the coming weeks at Wonkomance.com, you’ll find gushing fan-girl essays about favorite authors, impassioned screeds of various sorts, recommendations of all sizes and shapes (including “certified wonktastical” books), author interviews, amusing lists of things, and whatever else we can think up to impose upon you.

If you’re the sort of person who perks up with interest at the mention of a wonktastical romantic story, come join the fun! We’d love to have your company.

To get the love flowing, we’ll kick things off with a giveaway. Tell us something about one of your favorite wonk-o-mances, and you’ll be entered to win one of four $5 Amazon gift cards. We’ll announce and contact the winners on the morning of Friday, January 6, so be sure to use a valid e-mail address when you comment.

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