Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's Romantic?

Happy Valentine's Day! My gift to myself was taking care of all those errands that I've let pile up while I didn't have the energy or brainpower to deal with them. The other gift I got was a new editor. Again. No, I'm not driving them all away. They just all seem to get great opportunities for other jobs. My new editor is actually on the science fiction/fantasy side of the house, which is pretty cool and which could be interesting.

Not that I really care all that much about Valentine's Day, and it's not just me being bitter because I haven't been in a relationship for Valentine's Day in twenty years. It just seems very un-romantic to me because it's been turned into some kind of commercial-driven obligation, like if you don't get the right diamond from the right store, your relationship is doomed, and the woman will bite off her man's head and toss him aside for thwarting her wishes. Obligation isn't romantic. Surprise is romantic. Genuine feelings not inspired by a calendar date or an advertisement are romantic.

I've been thinking about what I find romantic a lot over the past few days after I came to the rather shocking, considering I'm a member of Romance Writers of America and started my career writing romance novels, realization that I don't find romance novels romantic. I think it's a lot like the way I feel about Valentine's Day, that if it's expected, then it's not very romantic. The very things that most romance fans love about the romance genre are the things I dislike about it. Fans like the idea of a guaranteed happy ending, where they know from the start that the hero and heroine will get together, and they like the idea that they can overcome all the obstacles between them. Maybe I've read too many, but I find that the guaranteed happy ending lessens the interest for me. If there's no chance of a sad ending, or even of a happy ending that's different than you expect, then the happy ending is kind of meaningless to me. Not that I'm opposed to romance. I love love stories. I just prefer them outside the romance genre, where they flow out of other events and interactions, and where I don't know from the beginning who will end up with whom. I'm willing to take the risk of a sad or tragic ending because that makes the happy endings, when they happen, more surprising and gratifying.

So, what do I find romantic? In books, one of my favorite recent love stories was Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. I absolutely adore the way the relationship between Ned and Verity developed in To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (in general, she writes very good romances). I love the relationship between Lizzie and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice because Austen doesn't try to mix sexual tension with conflict in an annoying way. (One of those romance tropes I dislike is the whole "I just can't stand him, but oooh, he really turns me on" routine.) Lizzie just plain can't stand him, until she gets to know him, and it's only after she starts liking him that she becomes attracted to him. But I think my all-time favorite literary romance would have to be Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. It took place over seven books, so it's a slow enough build even for me, the fan of the slow build, and it felt so very real and organic. When they finally got it together, it was incredibly satisfying because it was earned on both sides, and that may have been my favorite moment in the entire series.

For movies, Stardust totally made me swoon. People laugh at me when I refer to The Terminator as one of my favorite romantic movies, but it really is a love story. I adore Breakfast at Tiffany's -- and I think it works because the outcome seemed highly unlikely for much of the film (yes, I know it's different in the book, but this is a rare case where I think the movie is much better than the book). One of my favorite romantic moments in a movie is the scene between Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story where he gives her the "hearth fires and holocausts" speech and tells her how magnificent she is. Okay, so he's not who she ends up with, but still, swooooon.

TV is a little more difficult because it's a challenge developing a relationship in an ongoing series when you don't know how long the series will run. Farscape probably did the best of any series in making the development of the relationship work throughout without losing momentum once the couple got together. So far, it seems like The Office is also making it work with Jim and Pam.

In music, my all-time most-romantic piece of music is Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. It's one of the few instrumental pieces that I can't use as background noise. I can't write while it's playing, and I can't even read. I just have to listen. There's an entire love story in that concerto. I have a historic recording with Rachmaninoff himself doing the piano solo, and he gives it an almost jazzy level of sultry. For vocal music, Ella Fitzgerald's version of "The Way You Look Tonight" almost makes me weep. Robert Goulet singing "If Ever I Would Leave You" makes me melt (I never got to hear him do that live, but I did see him in South Pacific, and him doing "Some Enchanted Evening" was pretty darn nice). It's a bit creepy in the context of the show, but "Where's the Girl?" from The Scarlet Pimpernel as performed by Terrence Mann is totally swoonworthy and makes me want to write a book about it.

So, there you have it. Now I have this urge to put on some Rachmaninoff and eat chocolate.

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