Sunday, July 24, 2011

Romance Novels and Emotional Intelligence

"Anyone can become angry--that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way--that is not easy." Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

Ever been on a bender where nothing else but the moment mattered? Where you wake up dehydrated, eyes glued together, and feeling older than dirt? I think we’ve all been there a time or two in our lives.

I’ve been on a bender. The best kind of bender possible--a reading bender. I’ve used every moment of my spare time over the last two weeks to read. Even working full-time, I can read a novel a day. Yes, so I’ve blown through a lot of contemporary romance titles over the past fourteen days. And it’s been pure bliss. I highly recommend it.

I’ve visited my favorite authors with new titles on the shelves, a few old faithful books I had to read again, and authors new to me suggested by friends. And out of fourteen choices, fourteen books--I only had one novel I put down and wouldn’t finish. Life is short. And when you’re on a purpose-driven bender to reconnect with the reason for writing the genre you’ve chosen, you can’t afford to “tolerate” a book or a character who just isn’t doing it for you, who doesn’t ring true.

I discovered three things during this reading binge. One: I love to read. I’ve always known this--since I was a teenager. But I remembered. Remembering what you love is important, at any age. Two: I love to read romance novels. Three: The best romance novels take hold of me and keep me in a vice grip until that final page because the author possesses emotional intelligence.

She gets the emotions right between her characters and she opens up a whole world where I, as the reader, can understand this fictional world, and, by extension, my own world and experience, because of what I learn through the emotional journey she’s taken me on. For an hour or a day, I’m a stranger in a new land learning a whole myriad of truths about what it means to be human.

It doesn’t matter how quirky the plot. Or if the community is composed of a small harbor town in Washington (Shilvas), a hockey team in Seattle (Gibson), a bar in Vegas (Stevens), a hero and heroine on a road trip from Montana to New York (Higgins), or a tornado-ravaged reclaimed village in the mountains of Georgia (Bond). If the author gets the emotions right, I’ll follow.

Why? It’s all about the emotional journey for me. The best romance authors nail the emotional ups and downs of their characters and take me along for the ride. Daniel Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, says that the goal of his book is to “serve as a guide in a journey through scientific insights into the emotions, a voyage aimed at bringing greater understanding to some of the most perplexing moments in our own lives and in the world around us. The journey’s end is to understand what it means--and how--to bring intelligence to emotion.”

This is exactly what romance writers do for their readers. So why is Goleman heralded as a pioneer in his field and romance novels are relegated to the status of “trash”? It’s the genre with the highest sales. Readers of romance buy the books by the armfuls--yes, I was just in Borders yesterday, I can attest to it. Romance is a genre of empowerment written by women for women. Is it emotional? You betcha. The best ones are. Because we’re not robots, we’re human. We possess hearts and out of our heart comes life and meaning. Romance is a genre that helps women take conflict and adversity and turn it into something beautiful, meaningful, and lasting. It helps them find a happy ending or a happy for now ending. And that’s not bad.

So what does a good romance novelist do? The author makes me believe in love, causes me to worry about a happy ending, reminds me what it’s like to fall in love, and how passion and lust can make you weak in the knees and a little crazy. But what she also teaches me is that men and women who are adrift in life can find their soul mate and their purpose. They’re not alone. They can make old wrongs right. They can make choices and decisions that lead them toward their destiny and make them a better person or they can turn away and stay where they are--mired in whatever emotional quicksand that has sucked them to a standstill in their own lives.

Romance novels give us the human condition--men who want to be better men for their women and women who will face whatever obstacle in their lives they must to win the man they love. These men and women sacrifice. Care about fulfilling their partner’s needs. Do the hard work of building relationships despite the influences and conflicts found in a sometimes ugly, mixed up world.

And who knows? If men and more women read romance novels, maybe the world would be a little better place. Who couldn’t love that? The best romance writers are masters of their craft who understand the human condition and the need for community and love and hope. They write about emotion with intelligence and truth. I’ll take that any day over the alternative.

Why do you love romance novels? And tell us about your latest reading bender. I'm always looking for another good book to read.

Here’s my bender reading list:
Baby, Come Home - Stephanie Bond
Baby, Drive South - Stephanie Bond
Man Hunting - Jennifer Crusie (a re-read)
True Love and Other Disasters - Rachel Gibson
Nothing But Trouble - Rachel Gibson
Any Man of Mine - Rachel Gibson
My One and Only - Kristan Higgins (a re-read)
Match Me If You Can - Susan Elizabeth Phillips (a re-read)
Simply Irrestible - Jill Shalvis
The Sweetest Thing - Jill Shalvis
Yours to Keep - Stacey Shannon
Ever Night - Gena Showalter (novella in On The Hunt)
Negligee Behavior - Shelli Stevens
The First Love Cookie Club - Lori Wilde

Sunday, July 17, 2011

My Gift to You

Today, 30 years ago, my husband and I met. The teenagers we were had no idea of the journey ahead.

We went out last night to a restaurant that we love and ate on their brick patio, complete with a small waterfall fountain. The food was good, the weather was spectacular and we never ran out of things to talk about. It was just one of those magical nights where everything comes together.

We reminisced about all that has happened since that day. Like the time we went out to eat and he ended up in the floor of his old car trying to scrape up enough change to pay the bill because he forgot his wallet. He didn't have enough and I ended up staying as collateral until he returned. The time we went camping in Virginia Beach in July and how God-awful hot it was. He told me on that trip that his car was so overloaded I couldn't buy anything unless I could eat it or wear it. When his father died of brain cancer when my husband was 25 years old, how we attended my graduate school graduation and his father's funeral in the same week. Our wedding day. How I laughed and cried when he got into graduate school. The joy on his face when he held our baby for the first time.

It feels like yesterday and a long time ago all in one package. Through it all, he has encouraged me to write every step of the way. He’s made sure I could go to writing club meetings, surprised me with writing classes, hurried home to stay with our child so I could meet with the Rockville 8, encouraged, pushed, prodded and told me I can do it. He has never disagreed to any time, any amount of money, any effort I’ve made toward a writing career.

So, this post is my gift to you for all that you have given me over the past 30 years. My love for you is immeasurable.

For every writer there is at least one unsung hero who’s had a part in their writing life. Tell me about the ones in yours.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do I get my ideas?

This question comes at a steady pace from all those interested in the writing process. The response, even if in a half-joking manner, wonders if my life is the source of the sixteen-plus books I've written. As time wears on, I answer less adamantly. There is no right or wrong answer.

However, my quick negative was there to dismiss any speculation that I was throwing my "love life" onto manuscript pages. That my strengths and weaknesses hidden between the lines of the pages were some sort of literary therapy for public consumption. That these books were my not-so secret fantasies for a variety of needs. Here's the thing, I'm not an exhibitionist.

Nine years later, I'm steadily working in my career, creating new stories, and conducting research on a long list of items that will hopefully be part of future books. In this reflective moment, I will attempt to answer the burning question.

The source of these ideas do come from me. No, it's not bits of pieces of my life being confessed. However, it's very much my impact on life and people around me.

I made the annual pilgrimage to Romance Writers of America's conference in New York. From my hotel room on the 43rd floor, I would look down on Times Square on various times of the day where the area constantly teamed with people, vehicles, even sounds and smells colliding, and shops and lights that rattled the senses awake.

After NYC, I headed to Barbados. From the airport security check process, to hoping that the plane's issues would be resolved for the flight, to a scalding cup of coffee being spilled down my leg -- these nuggets provided more than enough "meat" for a story.

Soon my vacation will end, my (writing, energy, passion) reservoir has been refilled and enriched for the long hours of writing ahead of me. My activities included tours, swimming, brisk morning walks, visiting friends, and enjoying fine dining. I even managed to get much needed reading in with two James Patterson's, one Lee Child, two Amanda Hocking's--all very enjoyable and a reminder of why I must keep doing what I do. I have chatted with locals, visitors from Ireland, other U.S. travelers sharing concerns on world topics, specific interests, personal accomplishments. As diverse as we all are, we have so many similarities that connect us.

Television, Internet, newspapers all kept me informed on the big news, entertainment craziness, and the latest social media must-see. I soaked everything in, freeing the imagination to play, throwing out what ifs for the creative process to do its thing.

So, where do I get my ideas?

From me and my world.

Monday, July 4, 2011

I'm in love with the moon!

Much thanks to Candy for keeping us posted on what she was up to in NY. Internet was so tres espensive that I only accessed it on my phone and couldn't quite negotiate the mechanics on there for adding to the blog.

And now that I'm home, what can I say to add to the knowledge base?

I attended the literacy signing. And completely freaked OUT. So many people, so loud, and I couldn't figure out how to get those paper thingies with the pretty covers onto my Kindle where I could actually, you know, read them, so I ducked out as soon as I could.

Bright and early the next morning, the conference was off and running.  I loved the opening session, as Candy said, very inspiring.  I attended some great workshops. Hung out with some fabulous people. Ate at several fantastic restaurants. In short, I loved it all.

But more and more I find myself wondering where I fit in this game. As an unpublished writer I can't really say I'm in the industry. But having had an agent, and won some contests, etc., I can say that I'm in the game. Even if I'm not sure where.

Of course I'm not the only one looking for landmarks. Digital publishing, self publishing, the death of the bookstore, etc., are all changing the game and there was a general fog of panic hanging over the conference this year. As if everyone was just looking around and wondering: Where the Hell are we?!?

I saw a LOT of that. But I did not come across anyone who had The Answer. Which makes me feel a little better (I'm not the only one feeling lost) and a little sad.

After the conference officially ended, my roomie and I stayed on a day and saw some sights. One of the things we wanted to do, while staying right there on Broadway, was see a show. Thanks to our friend Eileen's wheeling and dealing, we got GREAT seats to the matinee performance of The Addams Family Musical. Which was everything you could want from a musical based on Charles Addams famous characters.  It was whimsical and weird and laugh out loud funny while at the same time addressing some very real themes about growing older and letting our kids grow older, and falling in and out of love.

At one point, during dinner, Uncle Fester announces that he's fallen in love with the moon. And in the end, that pretty much sums up what I have decided to take away from RWA 2011. Don't be afraid go after what you love, no matter how impossible it seems.