The missing romance?

Valentine’s Day is here. For the last month I’ve been receiving emails from 1-800-FLOWERS, book offers for romance and erotica books, restaurants with special prix fixe menus for a romantic dinner, and so forth. Romance sells in the commercial world—or businesses think it does, at least. I continuously reevaluate my writing career, so maybe it’s time to ask myself, am I doing a disservice to readers? Should I include more romance?

I’ll have to admit that I’ve never used the genre label romance or erotica for any of my stories and never used those labels as keywords either (genres are just keywords, of course). Such labels should help the reader decide what’s emphasized in a story, so I’d be misleading readers by saying a story is a romance. My stories are about human beings, though, so romance is included—it’s a part of being human, either by participating in it, lacking it, or choosing to avoid it. In the wide spectrum of human behavior, romance plays an important role. I include it; I just don’t emphasize it. That’s a choice I’ve made. I won’t apologize for it.

One reviewer of Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder (#3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series”) complained that the title was deceiving—he was looking for more lust! Sexual lust is related to romance, of course, and Detective Chen felt both for her senator-lover in that story. “Sex games” was the SWAT team leader’s description of the murder scene where they found her with the senator’s body. What happens from thereon doesn’t have much lust or romance, so the reviewer was correct in a sense, but Chen’s lack of romance in her life and her search for it is still about romance—and that was a theme.

I generally put romance into my stories only if it fits—I’ve never sat down at my laptop saying, “I’m going to write a romantic tale today.” I don’t write romances, and I rarely read a story if that’s all it’s about. It’s not that I don’t think romance is important to human beings; it is. I’m just more interested in the rest of the plot and how it leads to romance…or destroys it. Somehow we’ve evolved to be the extreme sexual activists of the animal world. We’ve even tried to sanctify that sexuality to move beyond the obvious evidence that human beings are a randy bunch. We also sanitize it by calling it romance.

Erotica generally focuses on human plumbing or shocks with strange and/or curious variations on human sexuality—S&M, for example (a second movie from the Fifty Shades franchise?). Readers who like it, more power to you, but you won’t find it in my books. Some people even consider that erotica just debases human sexuality, with porn an extreme form—it can be humorous, though, like in Tom Jones or Fanny Hill—but I avoid all this debate by saying that I just can’t write it and don’t care to read it. Moreover, I also think that the build-up to sexual activity can be much more interesting than the activity itself—just call me an old romantic!

While I’ve written about triads v. dyads in some of my sci-fi stories (the triad is a fancy, futuristic, and society-approved substitute for menage-a-trois), most of my romantic characters are couples. Some are just almost-couples. Detective Chen goes through several cases and romances before finding her hubby, ATF agent Eric Kulmala. Detective Castilblanco’s on-again-off-again relationship with TV reporter Pam Stuart in The Midas Bomb (see below for a sale) ends in a lasting marriage for the rest of the books in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” (#7, Gaia and the Goliaths, has just been published by Carrick Publishing—see below for links). And evil villain Vladimir Kalinin’s placing a rose on the breast of the dying Russian terrorist in The Midas Bomb shows even the bad guy can be romantic. Whenever couples finally get together, some of the romantic pursuit and sexual tension goes away, so writers have to make some hard choices sometimes.

Of course, some couples just continue fighting and never really get together, or tragedy interrupts and ends their courtship. Anthony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet are examples of the second; Virginia Wolf and her husband, if you believe the Liz-Richard portrayal, an example of the first. On the political scene, we might consider McConnell and Warren, McCain and Palin, and other pairs of political opponents or potential buddies. In that sense, Chen, the conservative, and Castilblanco, the progressive, will never agree on everything, but they at least can work together!

Some of my character-couples are modern ones that wouldn’t have been acceptable or would have been shocking a half-century ago—the two lesbians in the “Clones and Mutants Series” who are so dedicated to each other, for example. Romantic love can take many forms—why not include it in stories? Another example: the old cougar, Scotland Yard inspector Esther Brookstone, and her paramour, Intepol agent Bastiann van Coevorden, in Rembrandt’s Angel (coming this spring and published by Penmore Press)—these two answer the question of how Agatha Christie might have brought together Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple (she never did, by the way—and wouldn’t have in this way!).

Stress brings couples together sometimes. That happened to Chen and Castilblanco’s friend, DHS agent Ashley Scot, in The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan, another mature woman who finds love as she is about to retire—the circumstances almost kill her, though! (Not by the hands of her lover, of course. But that’s a nice plot twist someone can use!) Ashley, a divorced woman, represents something that has become more common—the single parent. Her daughter is in an openly lesbian relationship, also more common. In the cases of “Clones and Mutants” and Ashley, I don’t intend to shock—far from it! My characters are mostly just ordinary people doing extraordinary things—their relationships are just where they’re at in life. If romance fits in the story, it’s there.

Bottom line: My stories do have romance. They have a lot of other things too! Many themes, with romance only being one of them.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

***

Gaia and the Goliaths. An environmental activist is murdered on a street in Manhattan after a protest. NYPD homicide Detectives Chen and Castilblanco get the case. While pursuing the clues to find those responsible, they discover the activist’s boyfriend is in danger because he has key information that will expose an international conspiracy involving Europe, Russia, and the U.S. As the tangled web unravels, an old nemesis of the detectives makes his appearance. #7 in the detectives’ series. Available on Amazon in .mobi (Kindle) format and on Smashwords in all ebook formats, and all the latter’s affiliated retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc) and lenders (Overdrive, etc). #1, The Midas Bomb, is on sale on Smashwords until March 1: use coupon code PV57D. The whole series is now available on Amazon and Smashwords.

In libris libertas!

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