Monday, August 18, 2008

Back in Love With Love

That morning person thing that afflicted me throughout WorldCon didn't last long. I suspect the fact that it's been fairly overcast the last few days has something to do with it, as it doesn't look like morning. Plus, considering I've been going to bed relatively early, I think I may also be tired and finally recovering from the con.

We had a reasonably cool (for Texas in August) weekend, and I was a total slug, just lying around and reading, and I seem to have come to an epiphany. I may not be as hard-hearted as I'd started to think I was. Perhaps because of my own spectacularly unsuccessful love life, I'd found myself souring on fictional romance. I used to read a lot of romance novels. I used to write romance novels, but I couldn't remember the last one I finished reading. My bookcase is full of romance novels with bookmarks stuck in at about the chapter three point. I roll my eyes at sappy commercials for Valentine's Day or how utterly critical it is to spend a lot of money on an engagement ring. I'm the anti-shipper on TV shows, not wanting any of the main characters to become romantically involved with each other. My heart seemed to have compressed itself to a cold, hard diamond. I was out of love with love.

But then I found the Georgette Heyer stash at the library, and I found myself anxiously turning the pages, desperately hoping that our heroine would find true love, and grinning like an idiot when it finally happened. And then I read The Fairy Godmother by Mercedes Lackey, which didn't even mention the possibility of romance on the cover, and when the romantic interest came on the scene, he didn't even register to me as a possible true love for the heroine, but when I saw it all coming together, my heart sang.

So I wasn't dead inside, after all. I just have fallen out of love with capital-R Romance as it's published today. I think the big difference between the old-school romances (like Georgette Heyer) or the non-genre love stories and what's being published as romance today is subtlety. I like the relationship that builds organically, where the hero and heroine fall in love through the course of other activities, where the love interest can come on the scene at any point in the book and not just in chapter one, where they don't even have to be attracted to each other at first but can discover each other along the way. When I was writing for Silhouette, my editor kept insisting that there had to be a strong, instant attraction between the hero and heroine, but then they couldn't get together until the end of the book, so they had to have a serious conflict between them to keep them apart.

But it seems to me that if the attraction is that strong, they'd be inclined to overcome almost any conflict in order to be together. Or if the conflict is strong enough to really keep them apart, then they might as well find someone else they're attracted to who's easier to be with (I guess that's me being unromantic). What you end up with is essentially "I hate him, but I'm so drawn to him, but I hate that I'm drawn to him," and that leads to what I've heard referred to as "Two-Fs books," where they spend the whole book either fighting or ... doing origami (folding -- what did you think the other F was for?).

Yesterday I read Heyer's The Grand Sophy, and there the hero and heroine really clashed and got on each other's nerves, and they did fight, but they didn't lust after each other that whole time. They just plain annoyed each other at first, then gradually built a mutual respect that turned into love. I think that's similar to Pride and Prejudice, where Lizzie just plain dislikes Darcy until she gets to know him better. She's not acting like she hates him while he really turns her on. Or there's the situation like you get in Heyer's The Corinthian, where they have no real interest in each other at first. He's just helping her out as a way of escaping his own problems. She's grateful to him, but her affections are elsewhere at first, and he finds her amusing but doesn't really see her in romantic terms. But then they draw together during their adventures. Which, I guess, is similar to Austen's Emma where Emma and Knightley are just friends until they draw together.

And then there's the non-genre stuff where there are no romance rules, which means the romance can come as a total surprise, can take several books to develop, can be a subplot and can not be the major source of conflict in the story. I seem to prefer it when the issue keeping the couple apart isn't that they dislike each other or have problems with each other, but rather that there's something else going on that has to take priority.

So maybe I'm not out of love with love. I'm just out of love with Romance the way it tends to be done today. A lot of those "rules" are the reasons a substantial part of the readership reads the genre, so I don't expect it to change. I'll just find my love stories elsewhere. I will continue scoffing at the ads, because I think they commercialize and cheapen the real thing. And I'll probably remain an anti-shipper, because it so very seldom goes well when they try to do love stories on TV series. I suspect I'll remain a cynic about my personal life, until I meet the person who can change my mind.

Now we're having a nice, cool, rainy day, so I hope to get some serious outlining done on The New Project. Which does contain a sort-of romance (I think), but definitely not what would be considered genre romance.

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