*Yes, I will continue my series. Tomorrow. But when Dan handed me this (right after I posted yesterday, of course) I realized I’d have to run it.- SAH*
Romance Is In The Air by Dan Hoyt
Amazon Unlimited has me figured out. Yesterday I got an email notification of my 2022 progress:
- 51 Books
- 1963 Hours
- 35,682 Pages
- 18 Authors
- Top Genre: Romance
Most people who know me well aren’t surprised by that last bullet point. After the Sad Puppy kickers completely twisted the movement – which for the supporters was ALWAYS about recognizing well-written enjoyable fiction recommended by readers, rather than message fiction recommended by gatekeepers – my beloved SF/F field became over-saturated with books that just didn’t hold my interest. For a while, my primary reading moved to cozy mysteries and Regency romances, both of which were blissfully devoid of twenty-something authors lacking the strength of character to perform a two-minute fact-checking Google search before overlaying today’s mores onto yesterday’s reality. Somewhere along the way, cozies started preaching, too, and although I read the occasional thriller or mainstream novel, I leaned more into romances.
I read a lot of historical and contemporary romances over the past few years, and I can tell you one thing – the term “tsunami of crap” came from the romance genre, 100%.
My lovely wife, Sarah, does her research – sometimes to a degree that I wasn’t sure she’d actually have positive income from the property. Most of time, my fears were unfounded, and the novel was received well enough to warrant the research time and expense. Plain Jane is a great example of that, paying royalties for a good decade or more after its publication.
One other historical romance author that does her research is Julia Quinn. The Bridgerton books are head-and-shoulders above the “tsunami of crap” and well worth the read. [I confess that I really wanted to hate the Netflix series – not because of its unapologetic twisting of history, but that it didn’t represent itself as an alternate history from the beginning (only after several episodes), when the books clearly were not alternate, but well-researched, history – but I ended up enjoying the series, despite its occasional pulpit moments.]
But most historical romance authors only do the barest research, and often it’s based more on what other romance authors wrote or fantasized about, rather than actual history.
Which brought me to the occasional contemporary romance. It took me a while to learn the code words – “sweet” vs “spicy” being the most important for me, because I already know … well, let’s just say, today is our 37th wedding anniversary, and I’m pretty clear on the mechanics at this point. I’m more interested in the emotional development. Sadly, contemporaries can be pretty preachy, too, but frankly less adroit in the hands of inferior writers, which makes them as easy to discard mid-novel as pretty much any F/SF award-winner in the last decade.
Lately, I’ve been binging on the works of a contemporary author whose writing is head-and-shoulders above that aforementioned crap tsunami. I’m not fond of first-person present-tense, but she makes it work. She has quirky characters that remind me a lot of some of Sarah’s characters (like the Dyce books), believable real-world settings, daring topics, and even the occasional Keystone-cop-style physical gag to lighten the mood. I’ve caught out a few technological timeline problems (like Instagram before it was actually released) and other anomalies, but they’re few and far between. Overall, she has a well-grounded, rich world of organically-connected series that go beyond the “seven brides for seven brothers” trope or a “cowboy billionaire family” or whatever, and spans more than a decade, sometimes with a single storyline. When a new standalone novel in one series pops up using a character introduced in a different series, I see where there was a hint seeded for that character in the other series, even if it was published 5 years earlier. In other words, some thought was given to the entirety of the author’s novels (a la Heinlein).
Given that the author, Meghan Quinn, is represented as a lesbian mother, it’s not surprising that most of her novels have gay or lesbian side characters, but they’re believable, not just straw stereotypes, preaching on a soapbox. [Shameless plug for Sarah’s A Few Good Men, another believable gay couple, and main characters, to boot!] Since we have quite a few gay and lesbian friends, both single and couples, and none of them proselytize about their preferences, the characters’ circles are truly authentic.
So, why, you might ask, did I choose to tell you all of this today, on a random Wednesday?
Remember I said it was our 37th anniversary? The novel I’m reading right now, Untying the Knot, is an example of one of those daring topics I mentioned, with the heroine starting out the novel by serving her husband with divorce papers. [No, Sarah and I are not getting divorced; bear with me here.]
Not what you expect from a romance, right? Isn’t it supposed to be happily-ever-after? The characters didn’t communicate (typical of romances) and fell back on a dangerous trap: “if you don’t know what’s wrong, I can’t tell you.” Hint: yes, you can. None of us are mind-readers, and sometimes we miss important cues. It doesn’t mean you’ve grown apart irrevocably, just that you’ve strayed a bit and need to find your pathway again. Another hint: if you see your partner drifting out of hearing range, you might consider saying something about it sooner than later.
Minor spoiler alert here. Don’t read any more if you can’t handle it.
There’s a flashback scene mid-way through the book where we see the first time the heroine takes the hero home to meet her parents, and it’s brutal the way her mother treats her. I’ve seen this kind of behavior firsthand and secondhand too many times for it not to affect me when a parent has nothing good or kind to say about his or her child, and always assumes the worst. It’s bad enough to think such things about your offspring, but to voice them to strangers is unforgivable.
It was one of those scenes that hurt, physically, to read.
But reading it made me thankful that Sarah and I found each other. A little over thirty-eight years ago, as I was about to walk out the door to go to work, I got an unexpected overseas phone call. Two hours later, I knew that my life was going to change; I knew I’d been incomplete until then, and I was certain of the inevitability of our future together. [This was baffling to virtually everyone that knew me, nearly all of whom tried to talk me out of proposing – which I did just four months later.] Why? Because Sarah got me, and I got her. We talked about anything – fears, deep and dark secrets, desires, everything big or small.
I thought I’d been in love before, but this was different, and I knew it was the same for her. I could hear it in her voice. For the first time, I recognized a new life pathway had just opened up, and it was for both of us. I understood deep down that this new pathway could be brighter and better than the pathway I had anticipated for myself alone; all I had to do was open my heart and believe Sarah saw as much value in me as I did in her; that she’d see the wonderful possibilities in a future together.
I never doubted she would, and when a natural time came for those three words, “I love you,” I didn’t hesitate or second-guess myself. And we’ve grown together since then, in ways I could never have imagined, but always together.
Sure, there were hard times, and times when we argued fiercely, but eventually one of us reminded the other that we promised to have each other’s backs, even if it felt like it was us against the world, and that we don’t have to endure the hard times alone.
Sarah, Happy Anniversary. I love you more each year, and I’m glad we have each other. Always.