I realize I am full of holes

10 Feb

I was looking in the mirror the other day and a lock—er, make that a strand, as my hair is stick-straight—was hanging down across my cheek. I thought about how if I were a heroine in a romance novel, the hero would likely tuck that strand neatly (and tenderly) behind my ear, causing either a burning sensation on my cheek or ear (or both), or possibly a maelstrom of feelings of longing in the rest of me. I would very probably become light-headed and/or lose track of our conversation

I realize that romance novels are not real life, but they’re partially based on reality. But for the life of me, I can’t recall a single instance where a man has tenderly tucked a strand of my wayward hair behind my ear. (If you are a man and have done this to me, please remind me. And reveal how many martinis I had consumed at the time. Doesn’t count if you were cutting/coloring/styling my hair.) Since it’s impossible for me to believe that my hair was always exactly where it was supposed to be, I have to wonder about this. Is there something wrong with my hair that my dates shrank from touching it? Were my ears offensive in some way? Did I send out subliminal anti-hair-touching signals? Did I date men with hair phobias? Or is it similar to how my husband views dust—meaning he doesn’t view it, and so doesn’t see any reason to clean. Maybe the men I dated thought I wanted that hank of hair on my face.

From here I pondered what other romance novel norms I’ve missed out on. There are the mostly perfect heroes. Yes they make mistakes, get jealous, make fools of themselves, misinterpret things, or are clueless about the heroine, but their faults just make them more endearing. So I won’t start on the complete absence of morning breath and other less-than-idyllic features of real life that have no place in an escapist romance novel. Although every now and then one crops up in a book I’m reading and I find it refreshing.

I won’t even bother getting into the amazing sex that’s never awkward, even the first time (unless it’s key to the plot that the first time be weird, as in BREATHING ROOM or THIS HEART OF MINE by my idol, Susan Elizabeth Phillips). This goes hand-in-hand with another romance novel norm, the simultaneous arrival at delirious happiness in bed, even though studies show that only 35 percent of woman will achieve delirious happiness while their hero is doing what men do to achieve said delirious happiness.

Oh, and no man has ever carried me up a flight of stairs to take me to bed. Then again, usually these heroes have great bodies, and I’ve dated very few guys with great bodies. And let’s face it, I spent the bulk of my dating years in Manhattan, and few Manhattanites have staircases in their apartments. So maybe this one isn’t a fair comparison.

Which reminds me of something else I lack that romance heroines have: an appreciation for the male form. I cringe as I tell you this, but I’m a sucker for nice eyes and hands. I don’t even notice biceps or butts. In fact, as I realized I’d have to describe the physiques of the superbly attractive men in my stories, I forced myself to notice men at my gym. I would look at a guy and think, “How would I describe him? What does his butt look like? How to write about that guy’s arms?” I felt like a bit of a freak until I learned that some friends share my condition. As I think back on my dating life, there was one guy I went out with a few times—with the unlikely name of Glade—who had a truly outrageous body, but it was completely wasted on the likes of me. Maybe that’s why we didn’t work out, no pun intended.

While I’m on this roll-call of absences, I also must confess that before I started writing THROWN, I had read exactly two romance novels in my life. The first was THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER by Kathleen Woodiwiss, which I now know is a groundbreaking classic, and to quote Susan Elizabeth Phillips, the first of the “rape me ‘til I like it” variety. I read it in high school after finding it in one of the lounges in the dorm. And I read Danielle Steele’s PALOMINO in grad school because, guess what, I thought it would be about horses. When I hear about writers who were avid romance readers and then wrote their own romance novel, I feel like I’m sneaking into the genre through a side door. Right now I’m scrambling to read as much as I can so I’ll know what’s out there.

However, I’ve recently realized that I approach writing as an actor. I act out scenes and speak dialogue aloud, often while walking my dog (small wonder he wanders away from me…). I see my stories in my head as movies, scene-by-scene, possibly because THROWN started life as a screenplay and I wanted to be a screenwriter rather than a novelist. Susan Elizabeth Phillips said at a workshop that she considers herself to be an actress rather than a storyteller. So maybe the fact that I watch romantic comedies kind of excuses me from not having read a million romance novels?

Still and all, even with all these holes in my past dating and reading life, I feel like I’ve found my niche because I’ve never had such a blast writing anything before. I hope that a publisher out there feels the same way.

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