When I think about the power of romance, the first thing that comes to mind is the bathroom at my dad’s house, when I was a teen and young adult. Those were not easy years, but I knew that, no matter what else was going on, I had an ace in the hole, namely the romance novels I hid in the cabinet under the sink. Only one at a time, and, to the best of my recollection, I only read those books in that bathroom. Usually with the seat of the porcelain throne closed, or seated on the edge of the tub. I read The Spanish Rose, by Shirlee Busbee, and The Outlaw Hearts, by Rebecca Brandewyne. I know there were others, but I remember those two in particular, because they were the first books to live under that sink, and, when I needed a good place to go, there they were, ready to take me back in time and into vibrantly told stories.
Obviously, I did not stay in that bathroom, or that house, forever, and, since there is only so much time one can spend in a bathroom without arousing suspicion, I had to read those books in short, fervent bursts, before stashing them back behind cans of scrubbing bubbles and other accoutrements of bathroom sanitation. I didn’t always want to unlock the door and come out, but, when I did, I carried with me the inspiration of the heroines of the books I loved, their determination to never bow to the obstacles life threw their way, but keep pressing on, knowing the reward would be there, on the other side of their troubles.
My favorite heroines, then and now, are the ones who have been through some stuff. You know the kind. Sold to a first husband literally old enough to be their grandfather, because that was a good step into society for the family. The kinds of heroines who find themselves stranded on the road west with a fully stocked wagon, but no horses, and figure they better get on with getting those horses, even if they do have to take the dude who comes with them. Pirate queens and clan chiefs. Countesses in their own rights. Plucky actresses who work what their mamas gave them, now that the new king is letting women on the stage. Bondservants or enslaved women who may be going through hell, but, hang the consequences, they keep on going. Highwaywomen and pickpockets, grande dames and gamines, even a princess or two. Not the Disney kind, who gets dressed with the help of small woodland creatures, but the badass kind, who woman up and do what has to be done, to take care of those who depend on them.
The princesses I liked, back to when I was but a wee little princess myself, were not the ones who waited in a tower for somebody to get them out (though I did and do like Rapunzel; no matter what else, the gal has a-ma-zing hair.) but take a look at the battle before them and either strap on a sword and ride out with their soldiers, or get themselves up to that high tower and direct the pouring of pitch on the invading forces. I vividly remember reading one Catherine Coulter medieval where the heroine broke a siege on her castle by having her men bring the one sow the castle had left, all the way up to the tower, where the wind could carry her scent to the enemy troops, who had brought a bunch of male boars with them. Said sow was in season, and her scent proved, hmm, shall we say irresistible, to the boy boars. I have never, personally, been in a military encampment suddenly besieged with hormone-crazed creatures with large, curving tusks, but, from that description, I know it’s an experience I don’t want in real life. In romance novels, though? Heck yeah. Bring it on.
Those were the heroines I hung out with in that long-ago bathroom, and, I hope, the ones who hang out with me now in my office, as I write their stories. If they find their way underneath someone else’s bathroom sink one day (apart from propping up a wonky support, but hey, I’ll take that, too. Still counts.) then I will consider the job well done.
I don’t consider reading, especially romance, an escape. I consider it respite. I consider it restoration, renewal, fuel and fortification. I consider it food in my belly and shoes on my feet. In romance novels, things are going to get bad. Of course they are. Fiction eats conflict for breakfast, because that’s the big question; how are the characters going to get out of this predicament? Nevertheless, our heroines persist, and so do the heroes who love them. In romance, the woman always wins, and her beloved wins, too, as does the writer, even if the process of getting the two lovers from once upon a time to happily ever after does sometimes (okay, a lot of times) feel like herding cats. There’s nothing like typing The End, and sitting back in the chair with a satisfied sigh, because it’s HEA for those two now, and, soon, for the reader.
As for the writer, well, it’s different there. The writer may take a break, may devour a whole stack of other writers’ work, but, soon enough, the voices will start again, other invitations to other adventures, other heroines who don’t take no for an answer, and on it goes, once again.