Friday, March 18, 2011

Poking Dead Things


Confessions of a Romantically Challenged Author
By Rebecca Forster

A dear friend sent me a T-shirt for Christmas that declares, “I love poetry, long walks on the beach and poking dead things with a stick”.

I adore this shirt beyond reason because it so totally captures my outlook on romance. Poetry is okay if it rhythms, beach walks are good if it’s not too hot, but poking dead things with a stick rocks. Please do not take this literally*; realize this is a metaphor for my romantic soul. 

All this brings me to the question: why am I not romantic? More specifically, why the thought of poking things with a stick accompanied by the person I love is more romantic to me than walking on the beach in the moonlight with a poetry-loving guy? Or even more precisely, as an author, why don’t I love writing about – well – love?

I began my career writing category romances. There were many things I liked about the genre – a clearly defined format, brilliant marketing, loyal and supportive readers – yet, when I tried to write sex scenes, I embarrassed myself (not to mention my mother). Worse, I agonized over whether I was doing it right. Good lord, I’d been married for years and had two children, you’d think I would know how to write about ‘IT’.

I tried writing more delicately about romance only to find myself disinterested. I never cared for whispered sweet nothings. I have a wee bit of trouble hearing and there’s nothing worse then asking to have a sweet nothing repeated. Longing looks make me nervous. I once dated a guy who liked to stare into my eyes and all I could think of was that game ‘blink’. I remember that guy didn’t blink and it freaked me out. Long walks are fine but inevitably I find myself hungry and cranky if the walk lasts too long.

How, I wondered, could my incredibly talented romance author friends pen multiple books a year, revel in the challenge of making characters fall in love again and again while I struggled to get my characters to their first kiss? Romances did not come trippingly off my tongue, I had no idea how to build delicious tension, my heart was challenged and therein was the problem. As much as I admired true romance writers, as much as I wanted to be one of them, my heart was different.

The final blow came when I was fired from romance writing by an editor who suggested I was cut out for something different. “You cannot,” he told me, “kill everyone before you get them into bed.”

He was right. I preferred a good murder, a fabulous stalking, an excellent mystery, an angst filled story. But did that preclude writing about romance? I think not. I believe every story needs to have a compelling relationship as part of the mix. So how could I satisfy my romantic heart and my thriller soul? The answer was simple. Romance writers had defined their romanticism; I had not defined mine.

For me, fictional romantic relationships were a means to an end and not an end in and of themselves. My characters fell in love so that the plot stakes would be higher. If you love someone and had to choose their life or yours then that made for great suspense but it also was the ultimate in romance.**

What turns me on as a reader is the same thing that excites me as a writer and intrigues me as a woman. I want to be invested in people with a sense of purpose, people who show their mettle in situations bigger than themselves. That kind of story sets my romantic nerves ‘atinglin’. This take on romantic entanglements wasn’t bad it was just different than my romance-writing counterparts.

Once I gave myself permission to side-step the bedroom, I became a more fluid writer, character relationships grew from the plot and my storytelling took on a new spark. Now, when my characters fall in love it is because they have poked and prodded one another, talked through problems, worked together and, yes, poked dead things with a stick together. It is their inquisitiveness about the world around them, not their exclusive curiosity about one another that define my romantic parameters. Strangely, I find I write more realistic relationships now that I am comfortable with my own rules.

So, I confess, I will always find a body on the beach more exciting than a walk in the moonlight. I will always appreciate the quirky gift over a dozen roses; I will anticipate with bated breath the first kiss of two people who are caught in the crossfire more than two people headed for the bedroom.

The nice thing is that I know there are others out there who think like I do. There are honest-to-God-stick-carrying-dead-thing-poking- curiosity-seeking folk who will fall in love with the way I see love. When we pass our poetry-spouting- hand-holding- dreamy-eyed romantic counterparts on the beach they will smile, we will raise our sticks in greeting and all of us will be romantically satisfied in our own, very special, very unique way.

So, to all you writers, musicians, artists, husbands, wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, poke something, walk somewhere, kiss the one you love or watch their back. However you decide to romance that someone special it will be perfect.

*Okay, literally. I do poke dead things with sticks when I find them but I don’t find them very often.
**Currently I am reviewing my romance and women’s fiction novels and find that, indeed, I had a glimmer of a romance writer in me. Dreams, Seasons, and my mother’s favorite, Rainbow’s End even brought a tear to my eye and I think a good cry is always romantic.