Welcome to the Nickel Nasties series! In celebration of my first scathing Amazon review for A Ranger's Tale (1 in 58 ain't bad), I've decided to devote February to the stories that garner so much stereotype and ridicule, but still comprise one of the world's best-selling genres: ROMANCE! I hope you'll enjoy this series. Please leave comments for the wonderful contributors. And...don't forget to check out their books!
Tori L. Ridgewood
Okay. I have to say, I find it hard to write about the reasons why I love romance novels while sitting next to my seven-year-old and covered in crumbs from peanut butter-and-jelly hugs. My house is only really clean when company is coming -- and company came yesterday, so the clutter is slowly creeping back. I have a full-time job that never really ends, so that’s on my mind, and although my loving spouse is home, he’s not actually at home for me to talk to or snuggle with.
When I think about romance, the first images that come to my head are probably the same as what Google brings up, like a warm, candle-lit room with rose petals strewn on the floors and over the white sheets on the four-poster bed. Or a solitary walk with a beloved companion down a pristine beach at sunset. A cluster of beautiful flowers in a crystalline vase next to a chilled bottle of champagne, the bubbles rising in the finely made flutes so they capture the light like diamonds. But these are stereotypes. I don’t think they really represent the essence of romance.
To me, romance is warmth, intimacy, beauty, and wonder. It’s that moment of comprehension, when a hurtful miscommunication is cleared up and all is forgiven. It’s a new beginning filled with hope, like beams of light separating clouds after a storm. Romance is a healing force in a harsh world. Sex can be a part of that, sure. Making love is also about intimacy and healing, as well as passion and creation. Does every romance novel have to include physical consummation of love? No, of course not. It’s all about personal choice -- not only that of the writer, but also of the characters and the situation.
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My reading material included romance novels when I was 8 or 9 years old, beginning with the romance-adventure of The Blue Sword by Anne McKinley. (I would like to include Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, though I suppose most would call that series “romantic” rather than “romance”. Still, Montgomery wrote about the natural world and human relationships with a great love for detail and aesthetics, and an understanding that mistakes happen that we all have to forgive. There is much romance, in its chaste turn-of-the-century form, in those books, particularly with the interactions between Gilbert Blythe and Anne, when he admits his feelings in Anne of the Island: “I've loved you ever since that day you broke your slate over my head in school.”)
As a pre-teen, I loved reading romances because they were titillating and a little bit verboten. I’m sure my mother would have been shocked to know what literature I was “borrowing” from her nightstand. I always knew where to find those particularly titillating scenes, too: usually, the consummation of love took place either midway through the plot, or maybe three-quarters of the way in. They gave me a lot of food for thought. Romance came to me to mean not only peace and beauty, but also passion and energy. It has a dual nature, and it’s dangerous. Anyone who opens themselves to intimacy of any kind, be it physical or platonic, is risking heartbreak. For an adolescent, this was a valuable education.
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Reading romance novels became enjoyable for me not just because of the “forbidden fruit” connotation -- they were very instructive guides that fueled my expectations for adult life. From the trials, tribulations, and sex scenes, I learned about the value of privacy, communication, trust, respect, and technique. I discovered the significance of being wooed. By the time I was a teenager, I knew from my romance novels that before sex could enter the picture, like the characters I loved I would have to take time getting to know my partner and why we were compatible. The characters sometimes found that their bodies and hearts knew more instinctively and instantly than their logical minds, which is very true to form with hormonal teens and twenty-somethings. Oh, heck, it’s an ongoing human condition! But from the romance novels, I learned that two people have to learn to trust and depend on each other for real intimacy of any form to develop.
And after that...
I can appreciate that a significant number of romance readers don’t like sex scenes. Sometimes, love-making is best left to the imagination. But in my experience, a sex scene written and described well, by a good writer, is like a manual for the human body -- the Kama Sutra sampled in fiction, instructing readers at the same time as distracting them with something enjoyable. Romance novels can therefore be excellent teaching tools for individuals who want to be better lovers for their partners. Or, for themselves. Statistically speaking, in real life, only about 25% of women can be satisfied with the traditional act. My favourite fiction seems to belie this fact: most female leads are able to enjoy practically anything tried by their lovers, while in reality, the majority of women require significantly different treatment than the books (and even films) would have us believe. For the 75% of female readers of romance novels, then, the books might well help to inspire some much-needed alone-time. This is true of books with barely-there sex scenes and completely detailed hot-and-heavies.
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Finally, as a lover of romance novels, I finally started having my own creative writing published in 2011, and my work has included romantic / love scenes. My short stories, novellas, and the trilogy that begins in April range from barely-there to steamy-explicit, mainly because I think they’re a lot of fun to read and to write. When regular life is getting to be too much, they are absolutely a fantastic escape, rejuvenating and enlivening. Romance novels make a long, cold, (and in my case, bitterly frigidly cold) winter much hotter and more colourful. They pair well with a cup of tea after gardening in the spring. Lounging in the backyard or on a porch in the summer, with a tall glass of refreshment, there’s no better way to spend some off-time than being swept away by the journey of lovers. And when the world is going to sleep in the autumn again, I fall into romance novels like a child flopping into a pile of dried leaves. They are sensual, reflective, alluring, and as necessary in my life as breathing.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading romance novels. I know my grandmothers never did -- whenever I visited them, there was always a bodice-ripper or two on the coffee-table, carefully book-marked for resuming after the visit ended. My mother routinely has three or four on the go, in every room of the house! I think it might be appropriate, then, to end with a slightly modified quote from Jane Austen, whom we all know to be a high queen of romance writing:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a woman (single or married) in possession of good fortune must be in want of a romance novel.
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Tori L. Ridgewood is a full-time secondary school teacher, a mother, a partner, and a writer and reader of all things fiction and non-fiction. Tori enjoys writing vampire / paranormal romances, sweet and humourous looks at pregnancy and childbirth, and horror fiction. Tori enjoys writing plays for her students, watching thunderstorms, walking her dog, needlework (quilting, cross-stitching, and embroidery), collecting miniature furniture, traveling, and watching movies.
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