My life is a cluster right now. There, I said it. I’m working 20 hours or more a week running the business/marketing side of a dance and tumbling studio (which is crazy fun; there’s something about seeing a kid nail his/her flip flop for the first time and look around with that glowing expression of achievement, just trying make sure someone, anyone saw them get it), parenting my kids which is, you know, sort of my most important career right now, and writing a new romance novel. If you know me you know that romance isn’t exactly my genre. In fact, I’m probably the least romantic twenty something. Even when I met my husband, at 18, our definition of a romantic evening was crashing on the couch watching true crime specials. Normally, one or both of us would conk out during our marathon so dates became a mix of spending time together and napping. This is pretty much still our M.O.
However, I’m participating in a writing competition where the first 30 pages of an author’s romance novel are read by editors from three of the leading romance publishers, three editors who I’ve been hungry to get my work in front of. Therefore, I’m writing romance. It’s a challenge.
There are things to know about the romance genre that have to be respected. It’s a billion dollar slice of the market. Seriously, it’s bigger than sci-fi, bigger than fantasy. Lord of the Rings has nothing on the romance industry (<– who would have thought that’s a sentence we’d use). There are some astronomically intelligent ladies driving the business. This brings to mind Anne Renwick whose book The Golden Spider I just read. Although it was a romance, I came away from it feeling like I knew so much more about how the brain and, specifically, the nerves within work. Anne’s a former professor and biological researcher. So much for the notion that the genre is written by and for airheads. Speaking of debunking that backward notion, a bunch of Ivy League schools are now offering classes in writing for the romance genre. They’re no slouches: Princton; Harvard; and more.
I never imagined I’d write a romance for the sake of writing a romance, although both of my previous works have tipped in that direction through the writing process. Asha in Time is the story of Ramses and his two most powerful wives. It’s nontraditional, yes, but still a love story in the end. Autumnal Dancer is paranormal and yet centers on the journey of a man and woman who are destined to end up together in the vein of Isis and Osiris. It’s not a “bodice ripper” in any sense, but it’s a romance. I just never thought of it that way.
I’ve struggled with getting together the words for this competition. It wasn’t just the regular challenge of finding the time to write, my usual roadblock. This time it was falling in love with my own characters. I just couldn’t. Though the genre has grown and changed I found myself writing characters with no complexity, no darkness. I was, essentially, writing the stereotypical tropes, and I hated them. I was rolling my own eyes at the hero and heroine, not a good sign. I had only one option. Five thousand words in and after too long staring at my computer with no connection to the characters I scrapped it. It went in the proverbial garbage bin, and I seriously considered not entering the contest.
But I need to. I want to. Buckle down, Mandy.
So I changed my thinking. Instead of setting out to write a romance I set out to write a compelling story about two people who had broken each other’s hearts and were coping with that reality. He became a pilot, literally flying away from his troubles and into the face of untold dangers. He began to live recklessly, imbibing experimental liquors and vapors to forget. She turned to her hidden talent, crafting mechanical objects despite the backlash of being a woman in the field. They were unwittingly thrown together again when the government called on each of their specific talents for a diplomatic mission. It’s my version of a romance, and I’m happy with it. It’ll have to do.
So in the middle of my admitted cluster, while potty training a nineteen month old and doing my best to teach my three year old how to write her letters, I think I’ve created something beautiful (besides my two lovelies, of course). Let’s be honest here though, I think I’d die if you could see the state of my house…not beautiful. We did put Christmas lights on it. That counts for something, right?