Sunday, April 13, 2014


Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending my first Lady Jane’s Salon (Silver Spring). 
Four great writers were featured—Mary Behre, Monica Epstein, Megan Hart and Mindy Klasky.  After everyone ate dinner and chatted, the writers each read an excerpt from one of their books.  Everyone was great—both as readers and writers.

Check out Lady Jane’s Salon Silver Spring here:   

There was one thing I noticed about each excerpt.  That indefinable characteristic that everyone talks about but no one can exactly pinpoint—chemistry. 

What exactly is chemistry?  It’s one of those things that you know when you see—or feel if it’s you that’s part of the chemical compound.  When I think of chemistry, I often think of the old “Thin Man” movies with William Powell and Myrna Loy. 

Here’s a montage of them in action:

They’re a witty, snappy pair.  Notice the twinkle in their eyes as they look at each other, throwing lines out and waiting for the other to rise to the occasion.  They are equally matched. 

Great chemistry isn’t always witty repartee with a New York accent.  It’s deeper than that.  It’s that feeling of coming home to another person, even though you may have just met.  It’s conversation so easy you don’t have to struggle for topics.  It’s feeling safe with the other person, knowing that what you tell the other will not be judged.  It’s that butterflies in the stomach feeling when you see them.

Once, when I was dating my husband, he visited me at my part-time job.  I remember my friend who worked there saying that I completely lit up when I saw him—her words—and my whole face and carriage changed.  I had no idea that the change was so drastic.  For me, it’s a feeling of energy I derive from being around him.  And yet, a sense of calm as well, like I’m not “on” in those times as I sometimes feel in the outside world.      

I know that I can tease my husband and he won’t get offended because he understands that I only tease those I care about, just like my Irish grandfather who teased me unmercifully.  (I loved it and loved to dish it back to Grandpa).  Usually, whatever I say is totally opposite of reality and the silliness of it makes it funny.  He knows that, too.

My husband still laughs about the time we visited a nearby small town.  A man was trying to parallel-park a compact car on a busy street.  He was so God-awful that his wife finally had to get out and guide him.  But it didn’t end there.  My husband parked our car, we walked across the street, and we looked in three different stores before the other man parked.  I clocked him just to see how much time it would take.  Fifteen minutes this torture went on—eons in the parallel-parking universe. 

My husband and I were just walking out of the third store when he finally stopped the car.  I thought his wife was going to throw her hands in the air like “Touchdown.”  Exasperation was clear on her face. 

I said to my husband, “If you took fifteen minutes to parallel-park, we wouldn’t be together right now.”  He threw his head back and roared with laughter.  He has repeated it every so often, shaking his head, and laughing at the memory.  He knew I was kidding him.  And, I knew he’d find that funny and not be offended.  That’s chemistry, too.

In the books read last night, I had this feeling.  The hero and heroine lean into each other, metaphysically speaking, and not away.  They are drawn to each other despite often overwhelming odds and what reason may be telling them.  They want each other and find it hard to fight the attraction. 

The hero and heroine aren’t the same person—how boring.  They are compatible in ways that are important to them but different in ways that complement each other.  Perhaps they have the same values or come to have the same values by the end of the story.   But one may be calm while the other is more animated.  The animated one brings excitement to the calm one; the calm one grounds the animated partner.

Chemistry is important in romance.  Without chemistry, the story can’t be successful.  When I download a book on kindle, I read the Amazon reader reviews.  The one thing that will stop me from ordering it is if the theme of the comments seems to be that the hero or heroine are unlikable or don’t seem to “go together.”  No one wants to read or write a story like that.

What characters in books or movies or real life do you think have great chemistry?      


  1. Interesting piece!
    My opinions:
    Real life: Ronald and Nancy Reagan. Barack and Michelle Obama MIGHT, but always seems to me that they're busy * proving * to the camera / interviewer that they have a great relationship.
    Movies: agree about Powell / Loy. Best ever: Meryl Streep's and Tommy Lee Jones' characters in "Hope Springs"
    TV: "Jean" [Judi Dench] and "Lionel" on the Britcom, "As Time Goes By"
    Books: Timothy, the Episcopal priest, and his lady-friend-then-wife, in Jan Karon's 'Mitford' series.
    - Marceline (i may show up as "anonymous" on sign-in)

  2. Lisa ~ Loved your post. It's so insightful. I especially loved your statement: "The hero and heroine lean into each other, metaphysically speaking, and not away." It's so true. Chemistry is about so much more than the words our character exchange. Enjoyed the post tremendously. Thanks for pointing out the specifics. It can be so hard to pinpoint chemistry because it's often "hidden" in plain sight.

  3. Hi Lisa,

    I love how individual a pair's chemistry can be. Yeah, I know that might not seem to make sense. Ha! Powell and Loy's chemistry is unique to them, just as yours with your husband is and that makes it awesome! I love it when characters have a chemistry that's unique to them. That can even apply to characters who are frenemies, like Michael Connelly's Haller and Bosch. Unique chemistry! Good stuff!

  4. Hi Marceline -

    Thanks for weighing in with more examples. I remember the press used to talk about how Nancy stared at Ronald Reagan and remember they dubbed it "The Look." I've never seen "Hope Springs" or read the "Mitford" series so I'll have to look for it. I like "As Time Goes By."

  5. Thank you, MacKenzie! I think it's true that good chemistry attracts and draws people together just as bad chemistry repels. As in Mary Behre's book, the cop hero was arresting the heroine and she couldn't stop her attraction, even after cuffing her. Their chemistry was that powerful.

  6. That's so true Nichole! Each couple's chemistry is unique just as each person's DNA is their own. I agree, frenemies can have it as well. I look at that as "can't live with you, can't live without you." Sam and Diane from "Cheers" had that kind of chemistry. Sam never had that with Kirstie Alley (her replacement), though I enjoyed her character. But, as a foil to Sam, it didn't work. She was just as feisty as Diane but didn't "click" with him. Sparks flew when they were together.