I’ve had several people approach me over the years about writing Romance novels. One former employer put me in contact with a literary agent and I seriously contemplated writing what they call “category romance”. I can’t do it.
I love a good love story. Love is the only engine of survival, as Leonard Cohen warbled. Unfortunately the things that pass for Romance are often very dissimilar to the things that pass for actual love. I can’t bring myself to perpetuate the candy-coated infatuation that passes for a lot of romance stories. Frankly–and I know this is strong stuff–I’d rather write porn. I don’t WANT to write porn, but I have to be honest and say a lot of what I’m seeing in modern romance novels concerns me because it is porn for women.*
When I say that I mean that many men, who are visually cued into their sexuality, use visual pornography as an idealised escapism. Whenever I’ve read or spoken with recovering porn addicts their stories are the same. They use pornography as a way to give a sexual thrill that is unencumbered with the messiness of life. In porn there are no head colds, overdue bills, partners worn out from a long day at work. Solitary pornographic pursuit offers the physical release of sexuality without the emotional and intellectual entanglements of full partnership.
Jump on over to the women’s side of the fence. We’ve got partners with head colds who are worn out from long days at work. We’ve got overdue bills. We’ve got partners who don’t talk a lot or notice when we get our hair cut or change our perfume. Watching plastic strangers have sex isn’t particularly ideal for escaping from that. But give us a book where a handsome man unencumbered by a real job has all the time in the world to be caught up in the every move of the heroine and we’re as gone as a twelve-year-old boy locked in the bathroom with Playboy. “This is how it ought to be! This man ought to think about nothing but ME and how wonderful I am! And he should tell me. And fly me to Cancun.” I’ve seen married men suffering from their wives’ addiction to romance novels in greater numbers than I’ve actually seen married women suffering from their husbands’ addictions to visual pornography. And yes, I’ve seen both.
I know I could do it–write those kinds of books. I could do it in my sleep, and judging by the storylines of some of my more literary dreams I often do. But I don’t want to do it because I don’t want to be complicit in that kind of cramping to marriage. In this way I actually feel called to NOT WRITE, which is a strange thing to bring up in the circles I move in.
I’ve been working on other novels, where love is found and had amongst the other things that happen. But my books are meant to be stories about characters fighting adversity and triumphing into the greater grace of life. The verse that inspires most of my stories of late (even though they are not overtly Christian) is Matthew 16:25. Whoever loses his life for God’s sake will find it. My characters get hit with those Bad Things That Happen To Good People and get to the place where they realise that they’re happier in this new and unexpected skin.
I wonder where on earth I found the inspiration for THAT?!?
*yes, porn is also porn for women. I know that many women find visual pornography arousing. I personally can’t get past what I know about that sausage-making so it doesn’t really do it for me.