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To be or not to be…

February 14, 2012

… a romance novelist? That was my question. Yes, that was one of my questions in life at least twenty years ago. When I first explored the possibilities of writing fiction (because ideas were pouring into my little brain by leaps and bounds, and almost by the minute), one thing I told myself was that, ‘I was not going to write a Romance novel!’ It wasn’t because I wasn’t an incurable romantic all my life, because I was. I still am. It wasn’t because I didn’t love movies and stories with some romance in them, because I did, and still do. It wasn’t because I wasn’t an incurable matchmaker type who was always tempted to play cupid for people I knew, because I was always inclined to interfere in that way. It wasn’t because romance didn’t show up in any of my story attempts, because at least a little romantic element probably showed up in every single one. Even when I tried to write something in any number of those non-romance genres, without anything romantic, the romance would show up somehow anyway. The characters would want to find love in my stories. Even as I advised my characters against love for them for whatever reason (even maybe that I was just trying my darnedest not to write anything remotely close to a romance novel); either my muse disagreed with me or the characters had true love minds of their own. Romance reared it’s little cupid head every fictional try time.

I didn’t want to write typical romance novels. It was because I didn’t personally like the formulaic romance novels that I had read, and it only took about three borrowed paperback novels (from my romantic mother and her equally romantic friends) when I was twelve, for me to recognize the blatant formula and for me to tire of the obvious scenarios that I knew would play out over and over again. Different people, names and places; but basically the same story. I was swiftly tired of the ‘modern romance novel’ formula: girl meets boy, boy hates girl, girl hates boy, girl keeps running into boy, boy starts to like girl, but girl still hates boy, and then finally, drum roll please, er, I mean, swelling romantic music complete with crucial violins please; girl finally realizes that she actually loved boy all the time deep down in her heart of hearts, and they both now know for certain that they were always meant for only each other. Voila: kiss, engagement, marriage, and definitely happily ever after, or something like that. You know, sort of like a fairy tale. A fairy tale for young ladies and women. Well, maybe not exactly any fairytale that I can think of right off, right now, but something like that. The problem was, I could see the romance formula coming at me, like a tunnel of love train.

I dabbled in many typically accepted genres in my fictional writing tries, but none were a perfect fit for me. And so, ‘What was I to write?’ (besides non-fiction), I asked myself. My passions, preferences, sensibilities and sentiments weren’t exactly made for any commonly known genre. At least what I wanted to write didn’t seem to fit any genre that I knew about as yet. From what I could tell back then, my ideas and style seemed suited for a narrow genre of classics written by women that I knew of at that point in time. ‘Anne of Green Gables’, ‘Little Women’, Little House on the Prairie’, ‘Jane Eyre’ and that kind of classic story. But, I wasn’t born back in the eighteen hundreds (like I had wished since I was a young girl, vacationing on a ranch-style farm that seemed almost stuck back in time with a neighboring old western-style town included plus an old traditional orthodox Hudderite Colony over one of the hills). How could I write something idealistically ‘back then’; to be found now, in the future that I was forced to be living in because of my own real modern fate? How could I write a romantic classic? Classics were written back then. I was living now. ‘I was born one hundred years too late’: this was something I had told myself for decades anyway, and I wasn’t just thinking about literature genres. It was probably more about horses and old fashioned charm.

But then, shortly thereafter (about fifteen or so years ago), I gradually discovered Jane Austen’s works, more Bronte sisters’ stories, Elizabeth Gaskell’s works and etcetera. I found my passion in spades. Vintage Chick Lit movies and novels were definitely my thing. But, besides reading and rereading my favorite novels by authoresses of about the nineteenth century, I wasn’t interested in much else. I felt like this kind of classical female fiction was a few and far between treasure beyond the normal genres. Some would already say that Austen-related novels are a genre (or maybe a neo-genre) in and of themselves: sequels, spin-offs and simply fictional works inspired by Jane Austen’s novels, stories, characters, places, ideas, humor and style. Yes, I do think that this is a new born neo-genre in a real way. Jane Austen style is certainly practically a genre unto itself. And us Janeites or Austen-aholics crave Jane Austen’s style, characters, wit, genius and sarcasm: in short, we live and breathe her stories.

Some of my works fit into this relatively new Austen-related genre, such as my ‘Paint and Piano’ which bounces off of Jane Austen’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (and it’s two sisters: Elinor and Marrianne, who’s personalities are reflective of the title) with a dash of Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ thrown in (by way of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their fun and silly banter). Of course, my ‘Sensing Jane Austen’ is fairly obviously inspired by ‘Sense and Sensibility’ as well, while my ‘Miss Houston’ is inspired by ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (specifically spring-boarding from one of the questions I kept asking myself every time I watched or read it, ‘What if Elizabeth had said yes to Darcy’s first offer of marriage for philanthropically manipulative reasons?’). Beyond Austen-related works, I enjoy writing novels inspired by the Bronte sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, Louisa May Alcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Lucy Maude Montgomery and other women from a century gone by. I lovingly call this neo-genre ‘Vintage Chick Lit’. I think it is a real and expanding genre. Why? Because women like me hunger for something like the nineteenth century feminine classics, and there were only so many written that some of us just keep reading over and over again.

What is the neo-genre ‘Vintage Chick Lit’ as I am asserting it? To me, put simply, it is romantic fiction with an old-fashioned flare. However, this romantic neo-genre should not be confused with so many ‘romance novels’ written by ‘modern’ writers that seem to follow a compressed formulaic version of the ‘Elizabeth and Darcy’ story (and almost nothing but their single thread story). Yes, ’Pride and Prejudice’ seems to be the ‘mother of all modern romance’ formula stories: simply the ‘romantic tension between two people’ story. Sometimes there seems nothing but the romantic thread making up the entire story.

This overly simplistic version of one of Jane’s Austen’s prima masterpieces, in the form of the modern romance novel formula, is precisely what I don’t personally prefer to read or write. Basically, it becomes boring. That formula has been done to death. You see, what I love about the classic feminine novel from the nineteenth century is far more than the romantic threads. It’s way more than a romantic ‘true love’ story ending in a kiss or marriage. It is the entire tapestries of those richly woven stories that pull me in and keep me interested. There are inter-relationships between women, charming mores of that time, challenges (far beyond and besides romance) and the wonderfully wholesome list just goes on and on. If you have read from any of these classic authoresses that I’ve mentioned, and you can see past your romantic sensing nose, to life and people beyond romance, you will know exactly what I mean. You will know of what I speak, feel, love and am currently compelled to write.

Yes, I guess you could say that ‘Vintage Chick Lit’ is my genre. As to my own offerings of this more than romantic kind, I’m currently fifty-five thousand words worth of work into my ninth romantically-inclined period-piece classic-style novel (and am trying to write at least one thousand words a day to add to it in my spare time). As I continue with this new heroine ‘daughter’ of mine, I aspire in some measure to emulate the works or at least the styles, and perhaps some of the timelessly old-fashioned charms of my favorite aforementioned feminine novelists’ works, writing far more than romance, I certainly hope. I attempt to pen wholesome novels about virtuous women in relatable situations and interesting relationships, with men and women in their lives. I try to entertain, but far more than that, I hope to uplift.

And, incidentally, Happy Valentine’s Day!!!

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