Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hiding from the Romance Mafia

Well, the romance mafia hasn't come after me yet for yesterday's anti-romance manifesto, though it felt good to get it off my chest. I guess after about twenty years being around the romance community, I've still got that sense of defensiveness drilled into me. There's that attitude that you can't criticize romance -- or even, really, an individual book -- that has led to review sites like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. But then there's also the view that if you criticize the genre as a whole or the key elements of the genre, then it means you're anti-woman, don't know what you're talking about, have never really left your ivory tower to actually read a romance novel or you wouldn't be able to say such things, you're against sex and love and have bought into the idea that these matters are trivial, etc. It's also important to note that these books are about relationships and emotions, not about the sex. They're not porn for women or smutty sex books.

Though if they're not about the sex, then just try selling a romance novel with no sex scenes or without overt, rather graphically described sexual tension to a non-religious romance publisher. When I gave up on Harlequin back in the 90s because I thought the way they wanted "sexual tension" described was over the top, I was working on a book for the "sweet" line. "Sweet" meant they spent a lot of time mentally undressing each other and imagining what they wanted to do to each other rather than actually doing any of it, which strikes me as hair-splitting. If you're going to go that far and get that graphic, there's no difference between whether or not it actually happens.

The reason I had been talking about the romance issue with my agent a couple of years ago was that we were having trouble selling a fantasy book that had some romantic elements to it, and she was pretty sure that if I amped up the romance, she could sell it as a romance. There would be a lot of benefits to that, since romance gets better distribution (it still shows up in grocery stores, Target, Wal Mart, etc., while only the bestsellers in fantasy make it there) and has a huge readership that's easy to promote to. And I seriously considered it. I even went out and read a bunch of the paranormal romance series that seemed closest in structure to mine, where the relationship develops over the course of a trilogy rather than being totally resolved in book one and where the series follows a single couple rather than a different couple in each book. But I came to the conclusion that I couldn't find a way for these characters to have sex until the end of the series, given the world I'd built and their characterizations. The whole point of the situation was that these two people, who were perfect for each other and got along well, couldn't be together in that society. To be together, they'd have to be outcasts, which he couldn't do without bailing on other responsibilities, or they'd have to change the world. The series is about them trying to change the world (though not for that reason -- it's already a goal before they meet, but it does add some motivation). In their culture, it wouldn't be honorable to not do things properly, and he'd kind of look like a jerk who was repeating a mistake previous generations had made. I just couldn't think of a way to make it happen without changing the story to the point it no longer worked for me.

Then with the book I'm revising now, I realized that it might work as a romance duology, since there are two main couples. One couple is going to take some time to get together because of plot obstacles, but I could have beefed up the part of the second couple in the first book, as their story follows a more typical romance path. There was even one part of the book where I might have fit a sex scene, but then I realized that if they had sex in those circumstances, they'd look too stupid to live. A little kissing, maybe, but it wasn't a situation where they could really let their guard down. They're waiting and hoping for someone to show up so they can ambush them, and going all-out would be awfully silly. Once I imagined how that could work out, I got a bad case of the giggles picturing them being caught by the bad guys with their pants literally down, so I knew I could never write that scene and take it seriously.

I think this is a lot of why I miss chick lit so much and like romantic fantasy, mystery and science fiction. There are no "rules," so you can do what works for the characters and the situation, with no "this is a romance, so I must do it this way." I just have this bad tendency to keep my characters in enough peril that it's very bad timing for them to lose focus on their immediate situation, or if I come up with a reason to keep two people apart, it's so big that there aren't any loopholes until the situation is resolved for good at the end of the book.

In other news, I never had to use the Talking Sword with the choir because the class veered in a different direction, and I went with it. It might still have been useful in the discussion that came up, but at that point I was too focused on what was going on to interrupt things and grab it (and I was somewhat pinned down by a little girl who was in the process of braiding my hair). Getting into theology with five-year-olds is very interesting. The next song we're supposed to sing in church is rather dull, so I may get really crazy to spice it up. Instruments wouldn't really fit, but I may try a little liturgical dance type stuff with scarves to wave. My class is almost all girls, and they're all into ballet, so I think they'd go for it. I'll see if my ballet teacher has any suggestions. She does liturgical dance for her church and teaches ballet to kids this age. Meanwhile, I've learned that the adult choir will be teaming up with our former choir director's new choir to do Mozart's Requiem this spring. It looks really difficult, which my close friends will know means is a very good thing for me. I like learning challenging things. I brought my score home with me and will have to find a good performance online so I can get it into my head. Then I may have to try playing the soprano part on the flute.

It's only January, and it seems like my schedule for the year is already getting full.


Chicory said...

Have you ever considered Young Adult? They often build relationships without bed-hopping. The down side is that the characters have to be in their teens. Janice Hardy's `Healing Wars' trilogy has a great background romance, and Shannon Hale's `Goose Girl' has a delicious romance. (All her books do, actually.) According to her web-site she meant for Goose Girl to be an adult fantasy. Her agent suggested that she de-age the main character and sell it as Young Adult.

Shanna Swendson said...

YA was actually my solution for one of those books. I didn't even have to de-age the characters that much. We're still waiting to see if that works.

Chicory said...

I hope it does. I enjoy your work. :)