by guest blogger Maya Rodale, author of smart and sassy romance novels
I’m currently at work on my eighth novel (!), and I’m finding that each book is more challenging than the last to write. (How many times can I write a waltz scene or a first kiss!?) But events in the past few weeks—the Boston bombings, the building collapse in Bangladesh, and the Texas fertilizer plant explosion—reminded me why I stick with it. With each book, I put a little more happiness into the world.
I started reading romance novels at my mother’s insistence. Soon after, I started writing them because for me, to quote my fellow author Carla Swafford, who felt the same, “my favorite authors could never write them fast enough.” After a few books, it was no longer about keeping myself entertained while I waited for other writers to publish something new for me to read. I realized I wasn’t just churning out low-price “bodice-ripping” paperbacks, but providing entertainment, along with hope and happiness.
Sometimes we all need a little escape from real life and the 24-hour news cycle, especially when the tragic updates are just relentless. Even daily stressors can take their toll. We need a break from the stress, the fear, the hopelessness (and the dishes, the laundry, and traffic, etc, etc.). So—like millions of other readers around the world—I turn to romance novels.
Call them silly, smutty, trashy, escapist, or frivolous—sometimes that’s exactly what a girl (or guy!) needs. For a few hours, I can become so absorbed in a story that I forget everything else. I’m waiting for the scientific studies showing that reading uplifting and engaging books lowers blood pressure and decreases stress hormones, and is generally healthy (especially when consumed with dark chocolate). “Reading a really good romance is like taking a dose of dopamine. Bliss. Bliss for the writer and bliss for the reader,” says author Elizabeth Jennings.
The feel-good secret is the happy ending after all the black moments, brooding heroes, troubled heroines, and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Knowing All Will End Well makes it safe for the reader to fall in love with the characters or let their emotions get wrapped up in the story. Because in this story, everything will be OK. We—the romance authors of the world—solemnly promise.
As a writer, I have to figure out how to make every story full of high conflict but ultimately resolvable—with justice served, no deaths, and true love triumphing. My mind is always scheming to find a happy ending for every problem. Not a bad way to look at the world.
Similarly, New York Times best-selling author Pamela Palmer says, “I never tire of watching, or making, two people who distrust, fear, or otherwise want nothing to do with one another, fall headlong in love.” It’s not a bad way to engage with other people—knowing that distrust, fear, and other emotional obstacles can be resolved peacefully and that you can probably find a way to make it happen.
In addition to heroes and heroines, there are villains in real life and in fiction. Every writing workshop will tell a writer to avoid those one-dimensional bad guys that seem comically evil. Readers say again and again they prefer stories with complicated villains, who perhaps have motives we can empathize with. In real life, we tend to forget that, reducing the bad guys to stereotypes and missing chances to understand why and maybe prevent another occurrence. May we all remember that everyone has a backstory—and who knows what happens in the next book?
The reasons we read and write romance are often the same. Author Gayle Callen sums it up perfectly: “I write romance novels because I always loved to read them. I love watching two people match wits and overcome conflict and find love and happily-ever-after.”
When I return from my temporary escape in a story that ends happily, I feel not despair, but hope and optimism. So yeah, our job is writing romance novels, but it’s really about delivering hope and happiness.
Maya Rodale is the author of multiple historical romance novels, as well as the nonfiction book Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels, Explained. She has a master’s degree from New York University and lives in Manhattan with her darling dog and a rogue of her own. Her latest book is Seducing the Single Lady, a historical romance based on Beyoncé songs. Learn more at mayarodale.com