Feeling Romantic

I woke up to the gurgle of the coffee pot, and sat up in bed knowing that my husband had made coffee. He’d timed it for when he knew I had to be up and about today, so I could have a first sip with no waiting. That’s romantic. After ten years, we know one another well. It can be joking about the last child flying the nest so we can run around inside the house with no clothes – sadly, although today is World Naked Gardening Day, we don’t have a place remote enough to ever make that possible, he notes. I add my own snark that with my skin (I have no pigment over large areas) not to mention Texas is home to many angry plants, it’s never practical. Still… those are the sorts of moments that bond us, where we are letting one another know that in spite of age and body shape changes and all the sundry insults of the passing years to the physical, inside we are still the same couple that was smitten from the start.

None of the above is likely to be found in a romance novel, although there are some that do give a more nuanced and mature glimpse of what life and love really are. Over at the BroadCast we did a two-part romance novel unbagging, (Part 1 and Part 2) and laughed ourselves silly, but it was also educational. Romance writers, cover artists, and blurb writers, you all will get something out of that. If you don’t write romance, you’ll likely still find something there. Because romance is, at it’s heart, the human condition. We all came from the union of a man and a woman, if you boil it down to the essence of biology. Being humans, not strictly driven by our biology, there’s more to it than that. But on the other hand, being humans, we don’t always understand our hormones and the underlying power of urges can lead us down the primrose path…

Which makes for interesting stories. Maybe not a comfortable life, if it were real, but romance novels are highly stylized and as much a flight of fantasy as any book with magic in. While we were filming, and talking about the random books we pulled out of the bags, one or the other of us would open the book to a page and generally, be able to predict what was happening in that part of the story, because there are story beats that the authors must adhere to. The readers of romance novels know what they are getting, and get upset if that’s been thrown off.

Formulaic is comfortable. Comfort reads are nothing to sneeze at, they sell better than any other genre. Why? We live in an uncertain world, and all too often an unhappy one. Romance novels give us a place to escape and find love. Although there is also the genre of novel that is a direct descendent of the Gothic, and that’s a novel intended for readers who have very safe, comfortable lives and want to experience a distant (so distant) frisson of fear and drama. Safely in a book.

CV Walter shared a beat sheet for romances with the Spiky Book Club, which is very interesting to look at. Not being a plotter, I couldn’t write a story based off it, but I can retro-fit a story in edits, I think. At least, it will be interesting to try that. I don’t plan to write ‘traditionally’ romance tales, but there are reasons to fit the story into existing frameworks, not least of which is that I want to write books that will sell well and not garner irritated reviews from readers I’ve stroked in the wrong direction and left all their fur standing on end. If you check the ‘recommendations’ channel on the Discord server, you’ll find an excel file where you can customize the beat sheet to intended story length.

I’d asked this in the discussion on Discord in the Book Club with Spikes, but I’ll ask all of you as well. What is your favorite romance novel, traditional or not-so much?

All of the images in this post were rendered using MidJourney, with the prompt: romance in the garden, classicism, oil painting –ar 3:2.

21 thoughts on “Feeling Romantic

  1. Mine are Odd. It was an Ann Rivers Siddons’ novel, *Low Country.* What grabbed me was her use of place and how the setting and the female protagonist interacted and reflected each other. Mary Stewart’s *Touch Not the Cat* also stuck with me, even though it’s not one of her better ones. The ghost-story part … didn’t work so well for me. YMMV.

    I enjoy C.V.Walters books, but they’re not as Odd as *Low Country* was/is.

  2. Pride and Prejudice (and the BBC adaptation with Elizabeth Garvie and David Rintoul, which is much better than the A&E Jennifer Ehle / Colin Firth one).

    The novels of Angela Thirkell.

    Leave it to Psmith (P. G. Wodehouse).

    1. Well, they’re both BBC (A&E just aired the one here) but I like the Garvie version alot too: only really good English language Lizzie and Lady Catherine for my money, and Rintoul’s Darcy has the most savage put-downs.

  3. Mary Balogh’s “A Summer to Remember”. It’s perfect and the one that I read and reread. She doesn’t always hit the marks but this one is great.

    By the way, I loved the first image. Who knew they had push-up bras during that fantasy time period to go under that style of dress!

    It reminds me of another piece of unreality. Whenever you see a model in a nightgown ad (ANY KIND, including the flannel “never touch me again” variety), she’s wearing a bra.

  4. Midwinter’s getting better. They’ve all got the right number of fingers! 😀

        1. Thanks, but I must confess the problem occurred on this side of the keyboard.

        2. Nine Coaches waiting based on how tattered it is.

          Whatever it is Mary Stewart had, Dorothy Grant is the only author who hits the sweet spots there.

          Though I’m dead tired of the modern authors having characters never wait for the wedding. Yes, I know it’s normal *now*. How’d you think it got that way?

          Aspirational fiction should…aspire for the good.

      1. “With AI we’ll never hate to hire writers ever again!”
        “Boss, AutoCorrect and AutoComplete are forms of AI.”
        “Arrrrgh! Find a real live writer, NOW!!!”

  5. To be fair to Gothic romance fans, there really are lots of things in life best experienced vicariously through fictional characters. My favorite romance is The Unknown Ajax by Georgette Heyer.

  6. Novels: Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion, Cotillion, the Quiet Gentleman, Curse of Chalion, also liked Amanda Quick, MC Beeton, and Mary Balogh pretty well at one time but couldn’t point to specific books. Balogh and Quick I think qualified as the kind of thing you might want to preview before giving to young ladies.

    Movies/TV: Vincent Cassel’s Beauty and the Beast, pretty much any version of P&P, Sense and Sensibility (including Kandukondain) or Emma (except Clueless; haven’t seen, do not want). Either version of Sabrina. Used to love most of the Fred-Ginger musicals as a kid, but haven’t seen them recently enough to have an opinion on which ones are romantic. Bachelor Mother is cute though. Rewatched the 1955 End of the Affair recently, didn’t hate Van Johnson as the male romantic lead as much as last time.

  7. I’m not a Romance genre fan.

    Now Jane Austin’s novels are the bee’s knees. So I’ll read an occasional Regency Romance (favorite so far is Margaret Ball’s Salt Magic). And anything by Wodehouse is wonderful, but not typical romance.

    For modern romance, I’ve enjoyed all of Dorothy Grant’s tactical romances.

    I have no clue (and don’t care) whether any of these have typical Romance beats and cookies.

  8. I’m usually not a Romance genre fan as a few others here have stated. The ones I enjoy tend to be like Robin McKinnley’s Beauty. The exception so far has been David Freer’s Georgina.

  9. Probably my all time favorite non-trad romance novel would be A Civil Campaign, by Lois Bujold. Sure, it helps to have read the rest of the very scifi Vorkosigan saga–if only to fully grasp the enormity of Miles’ latest hyperactive, overthought con job and delight in/wince at it inevitably blowing up in his face (again). But it’s so much fun I don’t think one has to have read the series to enjoy it.

    Otherwise, though, I’ve always been a fan of Heyer, and in recent years have discovered that some really excellent romances have been indie-published on Amazon. Mary Kingswood’s various books are a particular favorite, so much so that I pre-order the next one as soon as I finish the most recent one (and her output is both wonderfully regular, and generally good-quality). Robin McKinley, of course, is also much loved.

    In other formats…honestly, I’ve really enjoyed Bridgerton. So long as one approaches it as a fantasy-British Regency, where Queen Charlotte really WAS black (and not just foreign, which was the actual case, heh), it’s a lot of fun. (And they actually, aside from a few comments here and there to kind-of ‘explain’ why Regency English society is a bit more colorful than in historical reality, don’t harp on “racial themes” much at all, and otherwise stick quite close to the more familiar regency-romance- tropes-but-with-added-sexy-bits, because the show is based on a series of bodice rippers and was therefore always more fantasy than not anyway.)

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