February 28, 2011

The power of love

"If you have love, you don't need to have anything else. If you don't have it, it doesn't matter much what else you have."
~James M. Barrie

I love writing about love. Love is a great theme. Love is a core reality of who we are as human beings, and often motivates us--in both good and bad ways. Love is explored in all genres, too, whether its merely the requisite "create sexual chemistry with another character here" kind of thing or a genuine connection between two people racing to save the universe or catch the serial killer. And while the love story isn't the point of those novels ... well, there's still a love story, isn't there?

Just last night, I was talking to AVB (Awesome Viking Boyfriend) about how romance fiction isn't exactly a respected genre. It's definitely the money maker. Romance novels own 50% of mass market sales. And the genre brings in around 1.3 billion dollars a year. Still. If fiction is a playground, then the romance genre is the fat kid. It doesn't matter that she's rich, or that she writes well, or that she dominates the New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and USA Today bestseller lists. It's okay to call her names and tell her that she should lay off the love ho-ho's and start eating real fiction celery.

People insult the romance genre all the time. It doesn't make me want to picket other genres or get into a schoolyard rumble. I'm not ashamed that I write romance, and I don't care if other authors think writing love stories isn't as important as writing science fiction or urban fantasy or mystery. I've seen authors who've been lumped in with the romance genre (mentioned in the same blog or breath or whatever) try to distance themselves from it. Watching that hard scramble backward and expression of horror (Ew! Romance touched me!) amuses me. I mean, wow ... defensive much?

Believe me, I know how cheesy my genre can be. I've written some cheesy-assed things over the years, but that's okay. This is another thing I talked to AVB about ... romance isn't things. Romance isn't roses or stuffed animals or cute cards. It's not candlelit dinners or boxes of candy or back rubs (okay, maybe back rubs). Romance is finding meaning in moments. It's remembering that your significant other likes the color green, so you wear the green shirt (and not the one that says "I love Irish Beer"). It's looking your lover in the eyes and saying, "You mean the world to me." Romance is created by gestures: Making the bed, or cooking dinner, or holding hands and watching bad TV. Romance is expressing love by thought and by deed.

And that's why romance novels are so freaking popular. Women want to be appreciated and adored. They want to feel beautiful, especially when they're feeling the most vulnerable physically, without make-up or hairstyles or hell, even without clothes. When the man you're with looks at you, all of you, just as you are, and says, "You're gorgeous, and I'm so in love you," that's romance.

I have a wonderful time creating that soulmate connection between hero and heroine, and exploring all the aspects of romance. I enjoy that the themes of my novels are about relationships. Yep. I love writing about love.

"All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love."
~Leo Tolstoy

February 24, 2011

In the midst of chaos comes clarity...

I love those moments in action films when there's an elaborate pause, just that few seconds slowed down and sharpened, when the hero realizes he's in trouble. The audience can see the bullet twisting through the air, or the sword gleaming as it slashes down, or the click and whoosh of the bomb before it explodes.

Sometimes, clarity brings with it a sense of peace. You reach a pinnacle of knowledge, of a choice that must be made no matter how painful, and somehow, too, the courage needed to make it, to move forward. It's like that climactic scene in The Matrix when Neo comes back from death and sees the world around him as it really is ... and how to operate within it. All those earlier problems that seemed so scary and impossible are nothing more than annoyances. There is strength and power and knowledge, and that creates confidence.

Yes, there is power in knowing a truth about yourself. There's nothing more awesome than untangling an emotional knot and laying out all the now straightened strands for examination. And you can see those elements are not quite as important, or as impossible, as previously believed. And here, yet another movie reference (sorry, I can't seem to stop myself): It's like that scene in Labyrinth when Sarah looks at the Goblin King and says, "You have no power over me."

When fussing with a particularly thorny problem, my vision is blurry and gray around the edges, and my stomach feels like I've swallowed shards of glass and pieces of lead, and I can't breathe or think and everything just feels so freaking heavy. In these moments, I try to remember what a friend of mine always tells me, "Nothing is forever." Or another variation: This, too, shall pass. It really helps to know that I will not always be standing in this place dealing with that situation. There will be relief. Change. Knowledge. Clarity.

Sometimes, this means accepting oh, that ... my daughter and grandson must return to their lives in Florida. To the core, I know this is the right thing for them, and for me, but the day they leave, I'll be sad. And yeah, I'll cry. But past the sadness, even past the acceptance, is the peace created by the realization this is right. Good. Exactly as it should be.

And last week, after being emotionally wrought (Dear Insecurities: You sucketh much.), I muddled through it all and found myself not only reassured, but suddenly sure. Uh-huh. Filled to the brim with the knowledge that I could not only claim the wonderful, I already had. It was mine. Confidence and peace. Clarity.

February 17, 2011

Happiness on swift wings

When I was a child, I learned happiness was fleeting. Because I did not understand that life could be mercurial (especially with an alcoholic parent), it always felt like happiness was being snatched away. Then I started to fear being happy. Any hint of joy had me in an instant panic because that meant pain was sure to follow (or to appear and stomp joy into tiny, bloodied bits).

I know this sounds messed up. But it sure made writing Lucinda Rackmore from NEVER AGAIN easier. She's seeking sanctuary, and when she's finally offered some kindness, she runs away from it. She doesn't trust it because as she thinks: It's like falling into a pit of vipers and finding a plate of chocolate chip cookies.

To write dark elements, especially those stemming from emotional wounds, you must understand them. And by "understand," I really mean "experience."

I am damaged. I know this. Maybe most human beings are, just to varying degrees. We all have sorrows that motivate us, right? Yesterday, I looked in the mirror and was stunned to see anguish lurking in my own gaze. I am better than I used to be, but I have not conquered all my insecurities. Does anyone ever? I think I have to be vulnerable, and risk hurt, and if hurt comes (and it always does, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in big, cry-your-eyes-out ways), then have the courage to move through it. Oh, and as a writer, to remember that moment, in all its dark, ugly pain, so I can give an honesty and depth to my characters. No emotional experience should ever be wasted. So, yes, move through the hurt ... and do not wallow, or write bad poetry, or whine about the unfairness of life.

When I write romance novels, I am creating heroes who can look at heroines and see that anguish, and they don't care. They're in. All the way. Love is about being unselfish. But it's always about truth, about seeing the other person standing there, damage and flaws and all, and reaching out anyway. In romantic fiction, love conquers all, and it should. Love should conquer all.

I understand now that happiness will not be snatched away randomly. Or even if it is, that doesn't mean I won't ever have it again. I know that life is about moments. I can experience joy or laughter even within the ongoing experience of being hurt. We are not meant to linger in that bubble of pain and fear and grief. We are meant to be strengthened by it, to be re-created, and re-born, and better because of it.

So, yes, I am damaged.

But I am not broken.

February 14, 2011

The vulnerable heart...

I have a box full of jewelry. It's all pretty enough, and there's plenty to match different outfits, and shopping for shinies is always fun. Honestly? I could lose, break, or give away any of 'em, and never think about 'em again. My jewelry serves a purpose, like so many other items of comfort, beauty, and convenience, but they have no real meaning to me. Not a single piece I own symbolizes anything of import.

Save one.

For my birthday, I was given a necklace. The man who bought it for me found it at place we had once whiled away an afternoon. The blue topaz that gleams from the gorgeous silver chain was chosen because he researched the term "writer's stone." And then ... oh, then he said he added something else to that gem: his passion.

I write about these kind of moments, the ones we sigh over, the ones that make our hearts flutter, and our desires stir. In my novels, I explore the emotional and physical intimacy between the hero and the heroine. I make them expose their vulnerabilities, sacrifice their personal dreams, and risk it all, every single time, so that they can claim each other, and love, and happily-ever-after.

In fiction, romance unfolds as that terrifying need, that wondrous connection, that inexorable moment of "I would do anything for you." In real life, it takes on a comfortable rhythm, like a heartbeat, like breathing, and yet, it still has the ability to make you ache and smile and think, "Yes. You're the one. Always."

To fall in love, you must be defenseless. You must leave the heart unguarded, to either be embraced or wounded, because there is no other way to offer yourself to another.

I always wear the necklace. Throughout the day, I touch that stone, and think of the moment I opened the box and saw that blue topaz, glittering like a promise, like a heart unguarded. His. And mine.