Linda, Terry, and Michelle have talked about how they broke the rules and went against convention to write their books.
I broke something else.
I broke some limitations laid on me by no one but myself.
See, I had always wanted to write a romance, but I didn’t think I had the talent.
What I liked about the genre was that it seemed (looking from the outside) like there weren’t any rules. Anything went. You need a hero from another century, or one who turns into a wolf, or is an angel, or dead—or even undead? No problem. Ghosts and gods, mediums and madams, soldiers and sorcerers—a romance writer could mix and match to her heart’s content.
I’ll tell you what else romance writers could do. They could write stories about hope. About people who choose to be kind. About our capacity to change, and grow. About the importance of caring for, and nurturing tender things. About the difference that love makes. About the everyday courage of ordinary people. And they could do it all with humor and more than a dash of style.
Furthermore romance writers could assert all those things to be true, and possible, and not have to defend their thesis or explain themselves. And best of all, they didn’t have to get hung up over whether a woman who was smart and ambitious was womanly or not.
You can see how much I enjoyed the genre, and admired its creators. I adore imaginative flights about witches and fairies and kind-hearted highwaymen, but, for myself, I wanted to write romance because I wanted to write about everyday magic. The world is a marvelous place full of amazing, extraordinary, and impossible things. I think people who read romance intuit that truth and wish for stories that explore and confirm it.
I only had one problem. I had always wished I could write, but I didn’t think I could. Oh sure, professional positions had required a good bit of writing, but that didn’t count. When I attempted to tell a story, what I wrote didn’t sound like other people’s books and when I tried to put my thoughts into more formal language, what I wrote bored me to death—I could only imagine what it would do to a reader!
One day I was on my way to the kitchen to get a cup of tea. I had a book by one of my favorite romance authors in my hand because, literally, I could not put it down. It was about ten AM and I stood just inside the dining room doorway—I remember the moment that clearly—and suddenly, for no particular reason, as Forrest Gump would say, an extraordinary thought kicked me out of my old orbit forever: I could. Write.
I could write a romance, and I could write it in my words and use my way of seeing the world, and it would work. The only rule I had to break was the one I had made for myself. The one that said I couldn’t.
Why did I have to have an epiphany to do what I had wanted to do for years? I don’t know. But lest you think my ability to write burst full-bloom on a dead twig, it didn’t.
You know how in fairy tales the wizard promises to grant a wish, but first the hero must perform an impossible deed? Well, there really are some rules about how to write a romance and I too had to sweat to acquire all the technical competence of character and conflict, plot and pacing that other writers must. And it was hard.
Hardest of all though was accepting my writing process. I’m a pantser—on steroids. Not only do I have no plot when I begin, I don’t start at the beginning and write through to the end—scenes come to me all out of order. Sometimes I have to wrestle characters to the ground to make them tell me their motivation.
Somebody asked me once if Jax, the hero of SEALed With A Kiss, did anything that surprised me. The truth is that everything surprises me. It’s a crazy way to write, and I don’t recommend it, but, man oh man, is it fun!
And because it’s romance, it’s not against the rules for the hero, a tough Navy SEAL, to communicate telepathically with a dog. And have a chat with someone on the Other Side.
One of the secondary characters, also a SEAL, waxes philosophical about the deep patterns of reality expressed in Sacred Geometry, and reads significance into the condensation rings on a table top.
And the heroine remarks that—sometimes—against all the rules—things go right.