I remember when I was a girl, watching an episode of one of my favorite shows, Laverne and Shirley. Laverne had gotten into some sort of a bad situation with a guy and was being pretty hard on herself about it. She said something like, “I’m so stupid.”
Shirley comforted her by saying, “Laverne, you’re not stupid. You’re a romantic.”
A little lightbulb went off in my head then, comforting me too.
Even as a kid, I already had a pretty good sense that I was also a romantic.
I’ve always loved sweeping love ballads and movies that make me cry.
Not only am I a romantic, I crave romance – almost as much as I crave chocolate and a cup of good, strong coffee.
But I learned to hide that part of myself away.
Because it’s wrong to want romance, because it’s wrong to hang so much importance on romantic love, because it’s frivolous, misguided, silly…blah, blah, blah.
Before I started reading contemporary romance, I thought it was all about unrealistic expectations. I thought it was a genre that set women up for feeling disappointment.
I was completely wrong about that.
What I discovered in romance is a genre that is written by women about women for women.
Romance stories are not all about a woman seeking the love of a man – they are about women making discoveries about themselves.
And I wanted to be a part of that.
But either/or thinking tripped me up for a while.
Somewhere in my upbringing, I learned that you had to choose.
You could either be light or serious, but you couldn’t be both.
You could study serious things and be taken seriously or you could play and experiment and explore pleasure, but you couldn’t do both.
You could write literary fiction or you could write romance…you get the picture.
(How many times have you ever thought to yourself, “I can’t do this because I do that?”)
So I chose to pursue seriousness.
Who doesn’t want to be taken seriously?
And honestly, my day to day thoughts and passions lean toward heavy.
But I watched other romantics from afar and relished their lush adventures.
Honestly, I started writing Red Velvet, a story about a young woman who owns a bakery and falls in love with one of her customers, as a stress reliever.
It was a way for me to engage with a story-telling voice that was fun and free.
When I couldn’t do anything else…when I was stuck, weighed down, depressed…I could do this.
When nothing else would work for me, Julene worked. I could settle right into her voice and her life.
Her story always lifted me up and carried me forward.
And I realized, Hey, I don’t want to hide this part of myself away. This part of myself is a light…and I want to shine it!
I don’t think it’s exactly right to say romance is an escape.
I think it’s more accurate to say romance is a gateway.
Romance opens the door of what feels good, what we wish for, the lives we would dream if we could dream them up.
Romance gives us the opportunity to experience things we may or may not wish to experience in our real lives.
Real life can be pretty damn romantic, but a lot of times – it’s not.
Romance reminds us of the places love can go.
When I’m writing and reading romance, I can have the body I want, the wit I want, and the slow deep kisses I want – whenever I want.
Reading and writing romance makes the romance of my real life better.
Reading and writing romance helps me integrate all of the parts of me into one beautiful me.
No more either/or.
I’m me and I have these different parts and interests and passions and they may seem like they’re incongruous, but actually, they’re not.
Because they’re all me.
I think that’s the primary reason I crave romance.
It’s a reclaiming of the parts of me I’ve dismissed or hidden in the shadows.
Red Velvet started as one short story about how Julene and Andrew met, and now it’s a collection of stories that move through their first year together.
“He’s nothing like the man I thought I would end up with,” I said, “If I ever thought I would end up with a man, which I really didn’t. He’s nothing like anyone I’ve ever known before. He’s extremely successful, really smart, kind, good-looking. He just showed up and changed everything about my life.”
“And he scares you,” she said, peering into my cup.
“The thing is,” I said, “It’s too good. You know? He’s too good…for me. He’s always so polished and pulled together. He gets his clothes dry cleaned. He washes his face with this little brush. He always has the right word to say. Underneath all that perfection there must be something, something wrong with him, something that’s going to come out and jump on me and take me by surprise. I don’t want to be taken by surprise. In fact, I notoriously don’t like surprises.”
“You think he’s hiding something from you?”
“No,” I said. “No, I really don’t. Does the tea say that?”
“No,” she said.
She moved the cup slightly from side to side.
It’s a story about overcoming fears and finding out you’re not who you think you are.
It’s a story about rich chocolate and red wine and midnight dances that turn into answered prayers.
I think you’ll love Julene and Andrew because I love them.
They told their story through me and woke up a big part of my heart.
Read romance because it’s fun.
Read romance because it feels good.
Read romance because you want to explore the hidden parts of yourself.
If you want to read romance, by all means, read it.