Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction
Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.
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We all know the image.
A tall, muscle-bound man, blonde hair whipped into a frenzy by the wind, gazes into the eyes of his brunette heroine who must have a weird shoulder problem because she can never keep both straps of her dress up at once. There’s a sunset in the background. Or a farm house. Or a mountain range dotted with thick, phallic oaks.
I do declare, Mr. Beauregard…
That’s right. I’m talking romance. The big R. The throbbing members and heaving orbs. As the time of rose petals, cheap champagne and terrible chocolates encroaches on us like an asteroid, it’s only appropriate.
Because writers are vicious in our own passive aggressive way, there’s a stigma against romance authors—that romance isn’t a real genre for real writers. To which I say: the fuck?
I’ll be honest. I don’t read genre romance. I don’t even read books with couples on the cover because there’s probably a huge romantic element to the novel and that’s not my tumbler of whiskey. I’m awkward. I don’t flirt. I don’t dream of grand romantic gestures or a Princess Charming on a white horse (have you seen how much they poop?) coming to rescue me from my wicked Aunt Edna. There’s a reason most of my main characters have terrible luck in love. But that’s exactly the thing—like grape-flavored anything, winter water sports, and anal bleaching, writing and reading romance isn’t for me.
According to the Romance Writers of America website, romance novels generate more than a billion dollars a year in revenue. A lot of people who aren’t me are reading it.
Because good fiction—and don’t fight me over the word “good.” I’ve got a Rack with your name on it—takes the reader out of themselves and puts them in a world or position or life completely different from their own. Some people have sci-fi or fantasy for that, but typical romance is more relatable to the average book buyer. Normal people find themselves in an unusual situation that leads to them falling in love, lust, or a mix of the two.
Also, unlike most other types of fiction, genre romance is formulaic. Even tropey. But tropes are predictable and comfortable. Readers know what they’re getting into when they pick up a Fabio cover and, to them, that’s worth the cost of a paperback. Like the most successful television shows of any genre, each novel has what Harlequin calls a format: a hero, a heroine, internal conflict that drives them toward each other, limited external conflict, and few if any supporting characters, and a good amount of S-E-X.
I’m hearing calls of bor-ing from the peanut gallery. Clearly, they can’t spell.
Consider this: We’ve all seen and loved the show House, M.D. If you haven’t, kindly get the fuck out. Hardly what you’d consider a romance oriented television show, but let’s consider the elements:
Formula: Each episode begins with a scene from the patient’s POV as they get sick and inevitably collapse. They are then taken to Princeton Plainsboro Hospital, regardless of geographical location where House cures them after a random genius epiphany.
Hero/Heroine: We’re just going to say House is the hero AND heroine because no one loved House as much as House did.
Internal conflict: Everything that matters happens inside House’s head—problem solving, frustration with the patient, and a drug addiction all contribute to the
Very few supporting characters: House and his team are it. They are the love affair.
Sex. Apparently, the smell in a doctor’s locker room is an aphrodisiac. Mmmm latex and antibacterial soap.
My point is no matter how mundane the pre-determined format may seem, it’s what a writer DOES with it that makes a difference.
One of my favorite novels, THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern, is a romance. I suspected this when I picked up the book, but gave it a read anyway. I like to live dangerously. But as I turned the pages, shrinking away from a heaving orb that never came, the romance developed without me noticing. The story is so intricate and beautifully woven that the icky love shit doesn’t seem quite so icky.
To say that romance writers aren’t real writers is, frankly, a crock of that horse poop I mentioned earlier. It takes skill—one I’m pretty sure you don’t get unless you sell your soul to Cupid—to write believable love. Anyone can portray hate. Or even sadness. Love is a culmination of physical and emotional turmoil that explodes with a kind of ferociousness that can be beautiful and terrifying and disgusting. We can say that, but only a writer of romance can show it the way it’s meant to be.
So for the sake of the holiday, when the chocolate’s been eaten and the champagne gargled and the roses plunked in a 7-11 Super Gulp cup, pick up a romance and give it a read. Remember to wash your hands after.