That refrain from the Beatles song has run through my head repeatedly today. It leads me to think I’m ready to discuss a recent clandestine obsession of mine. My usually eclectic reading tastes took a remarkable and singular turn shortly after finishing the 50 Shades of Grey trilogy in February of 2012. For unfathomable reasons — that took me forever to figure out — those infamous books launched a long and comprehensive journey of self-discovery for me through other books deemed love stories by nature.
In the last two years, I have read well over 400 books. Approximately 300-350 of them were what some refer to as the “romance” genre. With the self-publishing boon of recent years, I now know I’ve only scratched the surface of that genre. These novels and occasional novellas ran the gamut from staid to inspiring. Many were sexy, gripping, and tragic; some were boring, absurd, or downright creepy. Those who know me will be unsurprised to hear, that my favorites were the ones that reflected a sharp sense of humor.
The heroes and heroines I read about included people from all walks of life: bikers, doctors, business people, designers, architects, ranchers, soldiers, musicians, entrepreneurs, detectives, artists, lawyers, gangsters, politicians, and the homeless. On occasion, they had even more subjective career paths such as vampire, witch, werewolf, psychic, shape-shifter etc. The couples were usually racially identifiable as BW/BM, WW/WM, BW/WM, and BM/WW (I am still trying to figure out what BBW is) – the acronyms could drive a person crazy, especially when you start reading about threesomes.
The main characters in love could be Black, White, Asian, Latino, European, Native American, and various forms of biracial. Those books with people who look like me are nearly impossible to find on any mainstream bestseller lists but they are out there if you do your research. Having read many books with White main characters I can say that books written with characters of my race are not only just as good but in many cases they’re better. However, I confess, the more diverse a book is racially and culturally the more I usually like it. If there is a character who speaks a language other than English all the better, just love that translation button on the Kindle Paperwhite.
You don’t approve. What can I say? I was born in the turbulent 60’s. I’m a wannabe flower child…yes, STILL, who grew up in a conventional, Christian, politically progressive, middle-class liberal home. I know, because of the deep brown color of my skin and personal experience in my travels that racism is everywhere – every country, every hamlet, every office cubicle, and while it pisses me off, I stubbornly refuse to feel weakened by it.
I also know we don’t live in a post-racial society yet, but more than occasionally, I crave it. I love black men, black skin, black culture, black hair, and because I’m a New Yorker even black clothing, but I’m beginning to believe that one of the best ways to help the black community might be to EXPAND it. Just think what the world would be like if most people identified as black or brown. Not because they liked hip-hop, dressed a certain way, or some of their best friends are African-American (seriously?), but because they or their loved ones actually were black, even partly. Not a popular opinion I know and I’m not completely convinced it’s the right one yet so I’ll shut up about it for now and go back to the real reason I’m here…LOVE.
I’ve combed through nearly every possible romantic genre including paranormal, suspense, interracial, erotica, fantasy, historical, BDSM, multi-cultural, urban, mystery, and young adult. That last genre often called YA, surprisingly, was one of my favorites because I could include my daughter, Ms. Z, in the process. During my sojourn into the valley of quixotic love stories, we discovered that the now teenage Ms. Z had been successfully hiding a minor reading disorder, which did little to explain her heretofore-excellent grades, intelligent insights, and wide-reaching vocabulary. It did explain why she had never done well as the drone test taker No Child Left Behind requires and why academics were increasingly challenging for her and why she suddenly declared — to her Mother’s horror — she didn’t like to read.
At the time dealing with this obstacle it was helpful for me to remember that when I was 14 there was one thing that was uppermost in my mind. Sing it with me…love, love, love…love, love, love…love, love, love…its eeeeasy. Moreover, if you are skeptical that reaching a teen girl struggling with reading through romance novels is a possible way to gain ground, I have only one word for you: Twilight.
Ms. Z and I were well past Ms. Meyer’s slightly moronic fantasies however, so I had to find other, better, books to entice my reluctant reader. Here again the market is flush and surreal. Young adults apparently have a whole host of problems that I didn’t know anything about. I could list them for you but it makes me weary to think on it. Let’s just say that Ms. Z and I found some books we could stand that I quickly read first to make sure they wouldn’t scar her soul, then we’d read them together sometimes out loud, sometimes in silence nursing our respective kindles companionably on the couch. I have never felt more successful as a parent or closer to my daughter than I did when Ms. Z seemed to enjoy reading again.
During this time, my daughter discovered her natural gifts as a storyteller and I rediscovered mine. Finally figuring out what my obsessive journey with romantic novels had really been about, I announced to Ms. Z one day that I had decided to write and self-publish a love story. She looked at me incredulously for a moment. Being a sensible, pragmatic girl — she does that a lot. Then she asked me “Why romance, what on earth for?” I tried to explain, “I think almost every story is a love story. They say the two most prevalent emotions in the world are fear and love, so why not write about love?” Between you and me, I think I have a horror story lurking in me somewhere too but Ms. Z would have really hated the idea of that.
I recently did a writing exercise where I wrote one line that, without the gender specificity, could be a prelude to any love story:
For a man and a woman in love to walk the path of harmonious communication, they must first understand who they are, what they want, and that, despite their best intentions, the road will occasionally be difficult to navigate.
I hope with my stories to connect with the notion that while the HEA (happily ever after) is wonderful, sometimes plotting the course is the very best part.