Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Philosophical Moment

What is it that compels us to write and read romance? Many of us are already married to our charming prince, so why do we revisit the process of falling in love over and over again? I found a possible answer to these philosophical questions at an unexpected place: my kitchen table.

A few weeks ago I was sitting at the table with my seven year old son and my two year old daughter. We were eating lunch, or, I should say, they were eating lunch which involved sending me back and forth into the kitchen like the indentured servant that I am. When my daughter started fussing because I wasn’t moving fast enough for her royal tastes, I handed her the first toys I saw: figurines of Mickey and Minnie. When I returned with her plate, she was holding one in each hand and saying:

“I love you, Mickey.” “I love you, Minnie.”

Then she had Mickey plant a huge wet one on Minnie complete with sound effects. Now, granted, when presented with a grilled cheese and broccoli, she threw both characters and the idea away without a thought, but the moment gave me pause.

I thought about my son at the same age. He was obsessed with blasters and pistols and those wooden rifles they sell at Civil War museums. I didn’t want him to play with them, and I couldn’t figure out where he even had the notion to want guns and toy soldiers. I certainly wasn’t letting him watch those sorts of things on TV. Flash forward five years later, and I’m asking myself what attracts my daughter to love stories. Sure, she’s watched some of the Disney princesses, but on the whole she watches Playhouse Disney, which is not exactly known for its romantic plotlines.

No, I think there may be some part of women that yearns for stories of romance just as men may be attracted to guns and playing war. It could be that my women’s studies professor was right all along. She said that history is skewed to a male’s perspective because men were the only ones allowed to write it for so long. She added the proof in the pudding was that the average history course focused on wars and rulers, not the everyday life of people. It could be that literature has the same bias—is that why so many literary masterpieces have tragic endings?

I say all of that to say this: the next time someone belittles what you do for writing romance, inform them that you are actually staying true to yourself as a woman. You are also staking a claim in the literary world even if it is probably going to be ridiculed by the “literary establishment.” We can’t all be Jane Austen or Emily Bronte and elbow our way through the flocks of men to make our love story stand out. We can, however, put our noses to the grindstone and craft stories of love and inspiration, simultaneously feeding our need to tell stories about love while satisfying the needs of women everywhere to read stories of love. And, really, what can be more important than that?


Marilyn Baron said...

There is something magical about falling in love and I believe people will always be in the market for love stories as long as they're in the market for love or in the mood to fall in love all over again, even vicariously.

Marilyn Baron

J Perry Stone said...

There's not one thing more important than that.

And can someone please explain to me why a happy ending suggests dreck-lit?


Have we honestly gotten that cynical?

Happiness = poor quality?

Nicki Salcedo said...

I completely agree. The only difference between literary fiction and romance is a happy ending. Same with movies. Oscar worthy movies rarely end happily. The irony is that they say romance is predictable! Its about the journey not the ending that keeps us reading. I love romance and the best stories are love stories (even when they aren't about romantic love). Thanks for this great post, Sally!

eaflagg said...

I choose to believe that there is a God that wants us all to be happy, in love as well as in life in general. We all deserve a happy ending, whether we've done anything to "earn" it or not. A good romance -- or book-- with a happy ending gives a little piece of something lovely to tide us through the messes we (or others create). I fail to see why a happy ending is bad, though I know the tough parts are what help us learn and achieve our version of happiness...

This is why you ladies write your wonderful literature: On Monday afternoon I was at an indoor water park with my kids. They were off playing while I was sitting and talking to my husband with a book under my arm. As we talked, I was watching a woman at the table in front of me reading "The Courtship Dance" by Candace Camp. The look on her face was so perfect. She was absolutely glowing with anticipation, peace, delight, joy....

Thanks for writing!

eaflagg said...

Did I say that? I didn't mean a good romance is not a book. I meant other genre. (sigh)

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks for your wonderful comments. I thought I surely wasn't alone with my opinion that comedy and romance are underappreciated genres. Thanks for backing me up, guys! Nicki, you are absolutely right about the Oscars and their proclivity toward dark films-the horror of The House of Sand and Fog comes to mind.

And I love that image of watching someone reading a romance and the idea that happy endings are a part of God's plan, too.

Emma Lai said...

Romance is attractive because it makes you feel good. Bad day? A good romance will cheer you up. Good day? A good romance will make it better. For those of us lucky enough to have great relationships, they remind us of those special moments. Who doesn't love romance? Anyone who criticizes romance writers has obviously never been touched by a good book. Stand up and rejoice, ladies! We bring happiness to the world!

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks, Emma, what an affirmation!

Cyrano said...

Sally, I adore your funny way of hitting the nail squarely on the head.
My kids are older now, but I can still remember the lack of romance in Playhouse Disney, Blues Clues and Thomas the Train. (Thank God I'm not subjected to Thomas the Train any longer)
I also thank God that there are authors out there willing and able to silence the naysayers and write romantic fiction chock full of love, desire and happy endings. Like you said Sally, what can be more important than that?
Romance writers, give yourselves a pat on the back and keep doing the world a favor. Everyone can benefit from a little happily ever after.

Have a great day everyone.
Happy writing,

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks, Tamara. You're right. Thomas and friends could use a little estrogen up in the station. By the way, is it wrong that I'm rooting for Handy Manny to get together with Kelly from the Hardware Store?

Cyrano said...

Keep rooting. I think they'd make a fabulous couple!

Janette said...

Hey there! Just thought I would put my own two cents in.
I have used Nora Roberts as a guide in my own marriage - I told my husband one day if he could do what was on the page, then I would be more than happy to get up and get the ice cream out of the fridge for him. :) I am sure Nora and others like her have improved the quality of real-life romances for many others.
Romance and love stories will never go out of style, nor should they. We all deserve a little happiness, a little get-away from the real world, a little reminder of how great things really could be.
By the way, I, too, have been rooting for Kelly and Handy Manny. I am so glad that someone else has noticed the chemistry between these two! :)

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks, Janette--you rock!

Debbie Kaufman said...

Hi Sally,
Greetings from warm and sunny Mobile, AL! I have escaped here with hubby to write while he works! So true about history. This was a question I remember raising about some of the history I was taught in the early days of college - What did the average person think, believe, experience, etc.? I think that is why romance is so universal. It transcends time, culture, values, and connects us all on a more visceral level.

Sandy Elzie said...


Well done! You told some overlooked truths and did it with style.

One of the local radio stations this morning had people calling in with a Men are from ______ and women are from _________ (fill in the blanks) Some of the responses had me laughing out loud. One had to do with: Women are from : I can ask directions and get thete faster and men are from: I'm not lost, I know right where I am. Or the one: Women are from: I can use my hammer to pound in a tiny nail and hang the picture and men are from: I'll be back from Home Depot soon, honey, I just need to pick up another power tool.

No wonder history is about physically overpowering things...conquering nations and such. My husband is happy to "conquer" the projects I ask him to do around the house...and yes, he has a full aray of power tools to help him. (g)

Your post was thought provoking and right on the money. Good job.


Nicki Salcedo said...

Sally, nice pic by the way!

I completely agree with Janette. Much of the success in my relationship is due to reading romance novels. Don't you often shout at characters to do the right thing "Tell him your big secret! You are really the daughter of his archenemy." Then I look at my husband and remember that I save the drama for reading so I can keep it out of my life.

Kids, grown ups...what does it matter? We are all wired to love.

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Debbie and Sandy,

Thanks for backing me up on the history front--thought I might have lost a few of you admitting my deep dark secret: a women's studies minor. Okay, so it's really not that dark. I just know that in college I believed in nurture more than nature. The older I get, the more I begin to wonder.

Sally Kilpatrick said...


I know what you and Janette are saying. The only time I had a little trouble was in the midst of Mistletoe Baby by Tanya Michaels (go out and by her book--you won't regret it) because the hero was so much like my husband I almost started transferring my frustrations. My hubby is the one who once said, "I don't deal in sympathy; I deal in solutions!" Very often we ladies want the sympathy, but there's just something about the best guys out there that makes them want to make everything right.

Tami Brothers said...

Hey Ladies,

I love the idea of Happily Ever Afters. After growing up in a household where this was not the norm, I tend to lean more towards the romance books and movies because they are a sure thing. Although I do like suspense and mystery books, I usually cap them off with a romance.

I'm glad to hear more people feel this way, too...


Susan May said...

I'm glad to know that it was built into me because I sure do love a good love story. Nice insight, Sally.

Linsey Lanier said...

After coming home in hail storm after a tough day at work, this post was a happy ending in itself! I feel better after reading it.

And yes, IMO, a book without a happy ending isn't worth reading (of course, you don't know that until you get to the end, but you know what I mean) :)

Great job, Sally.


Ana Aragón said...


You are so right on, Sally. When my boys were little I forbade anyone giving them toy guns as they made them out of paper towel rolls, Legos, anything they could get their hands on! And the Cabbage Patch dolls I bought them wound up wounded at the bottom of the toy box!

I am proud to call myself a romance writer. I love reading romance. I read somewhere that romance readers are happier, have better marriages...and sex lives, too!

Great post!


Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thanks, ladies! I'm happy to have provided a little food for thought. As a side note, I just finished watching Roman Holiday for class. Great movie--except for the ending. : )

Cinthia Hamer said...

Sally, I think your observations are right on. I can remember when I was a tiny girl and in my tiny girl imaginings I was creating love stories. Can you imagine...I felt sorry for the man-in-the-moon because there wasn't a lady-in-the-moon! LOL!

More recently, I had a cousin who blamed the break up of his marriage on his wife's love of romance novels. He said she wanted him to be like the heroes in the books and because he wasn't, she left.

I wanted to klonk him over the head with my well worn copy of Shanna and tell him to get a clue!

Now, this same man is surfing the dating websites out there looking for Ms. Perfect. ~~sigh~~

Sally Kilpatrick said...

Thats another example of how romance novels get such a bad reputation. Funny how we haven't moved to far away from the time--1800s?--when romance novels were blamed for making women lazy.

Jessica Doyle said...

I will say this -- having known really girly women, and really butch women, and even men who started out as women, I do think it's a continuum rather than a stark division between the sexes.

I say this because in the last month, since finding out that Offspring #1 is biologically a girl, I have been thinking a lot about gender stereotypes and my own conception of femininity. I ran into a lot of trouble, as both a child and as an adult, because I took one part of "girlness" to an extreme -- I was too sensitive, too fragile. It's something I have in common with my mother (somewhat), and I don't want to have it in common with my daughter. On a more superficial level, I have already made my husband promise that he will teach her how to fix a car. And yet I don't want her to feel that her femininity is bad or undervalued or less worthy.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a big part of my hero's appeal to the heroine is that he's the first person in a long time who doesn't automatically classify her as too fragile or broken.

And Sally, I think having been a women's studies minor and now writing romance can be very useful -- you can sort of see the issues about gender and storytelling from multiple angles.

Mary Marvella said...

Sally, baby girl, I still believe in Prince Charming and me as his princess. At my age he'd be in a wheel chair or too young for me. An older lady can dream!