Is it a bad thing to admit that I write romance novels?
I’ve read the classics. I majored in English and have studied the works of everyone from Aristophanes to Baudelaire to Whitman and Tennyson. I struggled through Hardy and Lawrence and earned a grudging respect for Hawthorne’s ability to fill multiple pages with one endless sentence that somehow remained grammatically correct (see how I did that?). I can discuss Twain and Poe the way some people talk about this week’s bargains at Wal-Mart.
But sometimes . . . I just want to feel good.
Romance novels are all about the guaranteed happy ending. Real life can be a little short on those. Romance in the real world is less about roses and moonlit escapades, and more about figuring out whose turn it is to pick up the kids after school. Real life marriages deal with adultery and abuse, debt and divorce. Seriously, when was the last time anyone jetted off to Greece for a weekend of passionate sex on a warm sandy beach?
I don’t want to read about people like me. I have enough of my own unsolvable problems without reading about someone else’s. Sometimes I just want to escape into a tidy 50,000-word universe where everyone’s troubles are wrapped up by the power of true love. I know it’s not realistic. I also know it’s not realistic to think I’ll ever fit into size 14 jeans again, but that doesn’t stop me from keeping a pair in my drawer.
When I was hurt in 2011, I had months to do nothing but read. I vowed to keep my mind alert by tackling some of the biggies I hadn’t attempted yet, like Tolstoy. I also devoured modern classics by authors like Piccoult and Lehane. I even read some of the oldies-but-goodies I had somehow missed: Anne of Green Gables. Pollyanna. Salmon of a Doubt.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed most of them. I don’t regret the time spent reading them.
But as I sat there in a brace from stem to stern, realizing every day just how much of my life I was never going to get back, I lost my desire to read things that were good for me. I just wanted to go somewhere else for a while. Somewhere that could make me forget all of the things I will never do again. Somewhere that constant pain becomes a nagging afterthought rather than a primary focus. A place where people recover from car accidents and go on to lead a better, fuller life thanks to the perfect love of that one special person.
Sometimes real life drops a maple tree on your car and your romantic hero sits by your hospital bed or brings you stool softeners instead of flowers. He reads warning labels on your prescriptions rather than love poems in your honor. Instead of donning an elegant gown and flitting off to some gala ball, you wear a hospital gown and celebrate taking three steps with a walker. You swallow Norco and Flexeril, not champagne and strawberries. And you figure out ways to make love despite broken necks and exhaustion and fear and the sheer ugliness of real life.
I understand that romance novels don’t reflect real life, and that every escape into one must involve a return to reality. But so what? I could drink to escape; I could abuse my pain meds. I could lose myself in a wallow of self pity and chocolate. Instead, I choose to escape temporarily into a world where everyone gets what they want and the good guys always win.
What’s so bad about that?