Novel Spaces is in its 10th year! Over the coming months we'll be featuring some of the most popular posts from our archives. This one was first published February 24, 2012.
By Jewel Amethyst
Some time ago during a blog interview I was asked why I wrote romance. The question came back a few days ago when a relative, after snubbing the genre, proceeded to ask me why I wrote romance. Here is my journey:
I read my first romance novel when I was ten years old. It was a Mills and Boon. At that time, my mother called them “dirty books” and forbade me to read them. I hid in the bathroom, under the bed; I climbed the Guinup tree and read it. Just before I got to the end of the book, one of my siblings ratted me out. My mother confiscated it. That was the end of that book, but it left me enthralled with romance novels.
The heroine in that Mills and Boon was tall and astoundingly beautiful with long straight hair and alabaster skin. The hero was tall and handsome with the body of a Greek god, and unbelievably rich. Those heroes looked nothing like me. They didn’t resemble my parents who were both of African descent. My father was less than six feet and my mother was only four feet ten inches and quite rotund. Most of all we were struggling to put food on the table. But that didn’t matter. The book transformed me to another world where all was perfect and beautiful women fell in love with wealthy handsome men.
By my early teens I voraciously read Sweet Dreams Romance and Sweet Valley High novels. The heroines were constantly compared to Carly Simon and Brooke Shields. I didn’t even know who those celebrities were; I just knew they were tall and beautiful… and they didn’t look like me. Of course when I wrote my first romance novel at the age of fifteen (unpublished and now lost forever), the heroine was tall and graceful with long legs, had long straight hair and creamy white skin. The hero was over six feet tall, exotically handsome and wealthy beyond the imagination. By that time I was into Danielle Steele romance.
I devoured Danielle Steele’s wealthy uncommonly beautiful characters: the slim shapely figure type, the long shapely legs, long straight shiny hair. I followed the characters as they traipsed from New York City and California to London, Rome, Paris, Nice, Greece, Italy, all the places I knew I could never afford to go. There were so many royal characters and moguls who presided over mega business empires. Again the common thread: none of these people resembled me.
Finally, in my late teens to early twenties I began to ask, “Don’t poor people fall in love? Don’t black people fall in love?” You see, before then, I had never read or even seen an African American romance. In the books I read, the characters were all upper middle class to rich and if they weren’t, they fell in love with the wealthy heir. Tired of the titled, the wealthy, and the overly beautiful falling in love, I stopped reading romance and devoured mysteries and suspense novels.
Then I discovered Arabesque romance. I read a few, and the lead characters were African American. But again the overly beautiful, the upper middle class dominated. The men always seemed to have some wealth whether it was self made or inherited. It seemed as if the average person did not fall in love. In fact, with the exception of having milk chocolate skin (for females) and coffee cream (for males) the characters could have been the same as any other mainstream romance I had read.
That’s when I decided this world needed more romance that reflected the average person. That’s where Tamara Fontaine, the heroine of “A Marriage of Convenience”, came in. I made Tamara short (originally 5’ 2” but later by the urging of the editor I added two inches to her height). I made Tamara overweight. Not “big boned” as some like to put it, but fat – over two hundred pounds of fat. And I made her jobless, the victim of a recession and corporate downsizing. She struggled financially, she struggled with her self image, she struggled with her weight. However, Tamara grows during the story and blossoms into a confident woman. Yes she falls in love with a very handsome larger than life, accomplished man (I have to leave some room for fantasy) and she does get the man. But somewhere in the story you stop seeing Tamara as a fat short woman. You see her as beautiful and sexy because you begin to see the inside, the wonderful personality and you are rooting for her to get her man.
Many reviewers of the book expressed their appreciation for a heroine that is not the stereotypical model thin or ultra rich. The most common comment I hear from readers is that they can identify with the characters. Tamara embodied the average person.
So to get back to that question, “why do I write romance?” Well, we all need a dream. We need heroes and heroines that look like us, feel like us and go through some of the struggles we are going through. Are all my heroines short and overweight? No. But they are average people who are underrepresented in the romance genre. There are enough writers writing about princes and dukes and wealthy people. Those who struggle financially, those who are not tall and ultra slim and overly beautiful need a happy ever after (HEA) too. That’s why I write romance. To give the average woman (and man) her (his) HEA.
Why do you write your genre? Did you pick your genre or did your genre pick you?