Life is about adventure, and the spring is the perfect time to embark on new journeys…
It is with that sentiment that I announce the launch of the The Hopeful Romantic, a blog that will highlight love in many forms, particularly throughout pop culture. Tales of love are always my favorites to watch, read about, listen to, and ultimately write about. This blog will touch on all of those aspects of love and so much more.
I am beyond proud to begin this new adventure in my career, and I thank each and everyone one of you for being part of this journey.
By any standards, Stevie Nicks is a legend. Her celestial, mysterious persona, coupled with unimitable stage prescence and a smoky voice, has made her somewhat of an antidote to the industry, never capitalizing on an outwardly sexual display to market herself. As a member of legendary rock band Fleetwood Mac and bona fide solo artist, she has sold over 140 million albums and at the time of this article is the only woman to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice (with Fleetwood Mac and solo). However, beyond all the dark shimmer, Nicks is a true romantic at her core, knowing all too well the grandeur of a love affair as well as the yearning and long-lasting heartache of a relationship that didn’t work out. Love songs, both those that show the negatives and positives, are music staples because of their relatability, and Nicks is one of the quintessential singer/songwriters on the subject.
Stevie Nicks is the Fairy Godmother of Rock and Roll. Taking cues from Janis Joplin and Grace Slick before her, Nicks never shied away from the edgy side of rock and roll. The early rock and roll industry was male-dominated, therefore voices like that of Joplin and Slick were groundbreaking, inspiring another generation of women to push through the glass industry and prove that women could rock just as hard as the men. Nicks continued to shatter it further, becoming one of the faces of Fleetwood Mac and eventually shooting through the stratosphere with a successful solo career while continuing to record with the Mac. Like the confessional female songwriters of the early 1970s such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Carly Simon, Nicks’ own life seeped into her lyrics, therefore allowing listeners an intimate glimpse into her own private world, all the while bringing down the house with her distinctive voice and edgy rock appeal.
However, at her heart, Nicks is also a romantic. Her fashion sense is born of dreaminess, full of swishing skirts, lace, and moon pendants. Her wide, brown eyes evoke both innocence and sensuality, and truthfully, both lie there. Those who have seen her live know she is a force, completely enveloped by her songs, but once the music stops, a bubby, fast-talking woman emerges, and it’s easy to see why she remains a consistent musical voice nearly fifty years after she first emerged alongside Lindsey Buckingham with the Buckingham/Nicks album in 1973, for she writes about something humans all naturally crave: love.
Her storied romances are documented in her songs, almost like a scrapbook of her life. She’s romanced the likes of Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and J.D. Souther and was even married briefly, though her most infamous love story is easily that of her and Lindsey Buckingham, her Fleetwood Mac bandmate. Each of these relationships are documented through her music, both the freshness of new love, the overwhelming passion of a strong relationship, as well as the frustration and sometimes decline of those relationships. From “Dreams” on the Rumours album (inspired by Buckingham) to “Sara” (inspired by Buckingham, Henley, and bandmate and onetime lover Mick Fleetwood) to “I Can’t Wait” and “Has Anyone Ever Written Anything for You?” (both inspired by Walsh), Nicks documents all of these love milestones and provides comfort to listeners at any of those stages in their lives. However, what she does best is pining, and many of those tracks are directed at her most public, and perhaps even tragic, love affair.
Nicks with Lindsey Buckingham, circa 1975
Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were together for the better part of a decade and joined Fleetwood Mac together in 1974, which was followed by the Mac’s comeback album Fleetwood Mac in 1975. The end of their relationship helped culminate one of the most iconic rock albums of all times, Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 classic Rumours. Their responses to the break-up were juxtaposed with the songs they penned, like responsive dialogue to each other, her ethereal, morse “Dreams” is sharply contrasted with his angrier, bold “Go Your Own Way.” Since then, their relationship has remained tumultous to say the least, full of an abundance of highs and lows, culminating in Buckingham being fired from the band in 2018, a move that continues to divide fans (Buckingham previously left the band in 1987 due to a touring dispute; he returned in 1997). Rumors (no pun intended) continue to circulate as to the true reasoning, but there is no doubt that much history lies between Nicks and Buckingham, and that cannot be lost on longtime fans.
Nicks’ love for Buckingham remains a common thread in her music, or at least it has in her most current works (all released prior to Buckingham’s departure). Their breakup is now over forty years in the past, and yet songs like “Blue Denim” (from her 1994 album Street Angel) and “She Loves Him Still (from 2014’s 24 Karat Gold: Songs from the Vault) remind us that their history is lengthy and complex, but despite all that, a deep connection remains. All of us have been in relationships that did not work, be it our feelings were unrequited or the differences were just too great. Nicks’ music illustrates the pain, the longing, and mostly, how that lingers and impacts all that comes after it.
At the time of this post, Nicks is now seventy-one, independent and still ferociously dedicated to her career. She has inspired an entire generation of songwriters, from Sheryl Crow to Lady Gaga and Adele, proof that a woman can be both strong and vulnerable and stand along her male counterparts. Love has the power to be both a most enchanting, beautiful feeling as well as something that can shred an individual’s very soul, and Nicks’ poetic, mystifying lyrics display both, often in the same track. Generations of listeners, both young and old, will undoubtedly continue to discover this songstress’s incredible tales, both her own and those of characters she’s created, reminding us that we are never alone, that love is all that we’ve ever experienced it to be, and that sometimes, not every love story has a happily ever after. Perhaps she is the true “hopeful romantic,” always believing in the grand passion and loving many incredible men, and while never truly settling down with any of them, she never stops reminding us of all the beauty that it brings, no matter through happiness or bittersweet memories.
Let me know your favorite Stevie Nicks song in the comments below!
Romance is easily one of the most chastized (and yet oddly, most profitable) genres in the fiction industry. It serves as the butt of jokes for a variety of reasons, although many of these statements are generalized or simply due to lack of firsthand knowledge of the genre. In this week’s post, I have chosent to explore what I have found to be the most common misconceptions about romance novels and the peole who write them.
Romance novels are “just fluff.”
This is easily the most common condemnation of the romance genre. Its critics state that romance novels have no substance. However, just like films or any other medium, romance novels have sub-genres, and while there are romantic comedies and more light-hearted novels, romantic suspense is very popular. Romance novels, in fact, have a lengthy history of tackling issues like domestic violence, rape, and single parenthood. These have also been consistent themes touched on since the advent of the modern romance novel in the early 1970s, not necessarily due to media attention on a specific event or movement. As with any book, it’s all dependent on the genre (or in this case, sub-genre), that the reader selects.
Romance novels are all about sex. This misconception is also known as “All romance novels are like Fifty Shades of Grey.” Besides the fact that this can be easily disproven by the fact that the Christian romance genre continues to flourish, these generalized statements also dismiss the subgenres, which often dictate the “heat levels” of romances. These heat levels range anywhere from no sexual activity at all between the heroine and heroine to vry explicit sex scenes, such as those in Fifty Shades and other erotic romances. However, most romances fall into the “hot” category, where there is usually one or two descriptive love scenes and perhaps another one or two which are casually mentioned. Safe to say that leaves another ninety percent of the novel reliant on character development rather than the sexual relationship of the characters. While the intimacy often proves to be a progression for the characters, the focus of the story is their journey, though sex may or may not be part of that. As a writer of the genre as well, it is also important to say that the intimacy of the characters (and the explicitness of the love scenes) is very character-driven and suited to the couples’ personality.
Romance novels are predictable. This misconception is likely due to the fact that in order for a novel to qualify as a categorized “romance novel,” the story must have a “happily ever after” or a “happy for now” conclusion. While that might be the case, the journey to that satisfying conclusion is often rocky. Obstacles drive the plot of any novel, and while romantic endings generally have a “walking off into the sunset” conclusion to look forward to, that does not make the voyage less frustrating or even sad at times. This is particularly true for series that follow a singular couple, such as Sylvia Day’s Crossfire series, which took five books for the characters to reach their “happily ever after,” with an emotional, exhausting journey along the way. While perhaps not having a ponder-worthy ending, many romance novels remain etched in the mind long after the final page is turned, be it character development, education about a social issue, or unimitatable chemistry between the couple.
Romance heroes and heroines are flawless. This assumption is slightly easier to understand, especially if romance novel covers were truly representative of what lay between the pages of these books. However, it can also be disputed that, like all of us, the heroes and heroines in these novels have their flaws, both physically and emotionally. It can be a scar on their face, a physical impairment, or a past trauma, and these add layers to the characters, enhancing their realism. In recent years, there have been many authors who have further embraced this push for representation of the true female size, including heroines labeled as “plus-sized.” This inclusivity adds for further character connections, and therefore a more enjoyable reading experience.
Romance novels are written by middle-aged women surrounded by a plethora of cats. So maybe this is little specific, but there certainly is a belief that the people behind the romance genre are middle-aged spinsters. In fact, the irrelevancy of this can be easily disputed by the fact that there are male romance novelists as well as LGBTQ+ writers who continue to expand their reach within the genre. People of all backgrounds write romance, and nothing about their “real world” personality need explain what they choose to write. Of course, there is also the obvious fact that the age, marital status, sexual orientation, etc. of the author is irrelevant to storytelling, but that could be a post in itself. I, for one, am twenty-four, but read romances written by authors of a variety of age ranges, genders, whatever demographic area chosen. At the end of the day, it’s not what matters, but it proves to be another nitpicking point (or perhaps humoring point) for critics of the genre.
Romance novels are only read by middle aged women. As someone who was a mere fourteen when I began reading romances, I can dispute this fact from my personal experience. However, most romance writers state that they began reading the genre around a similar age, which leads me to believe that the genre is read by a wide age range, from teens to people in the aging population. This could account for romance being one of the top selling genres in the fiction industry, though this is not a widely publicized fact. In fact, many of the heroes and heroines in these novels are in their twenties and thirties, so it makes sense that people within those age brackets would also be drawn to these stories, as it is yet another point of relatability. These are novels full of love, passion, and overcoming the obstacles, and these are plot points that many people can connect with.
Thoughts on this? Have you encountered any other misconceptions about romance, or do you have any others you’re aware of that you would like addressed? Sound off in the comments below!
The image that Hugh Grant’s name conjures for anyone over thirty is likely a distinct one: floppy, unkempt chestnut hair most would envy, magnificent blue eyes which could seemingly bore into the soul, and perhaps one of the most bright, endearing smiling to ever grace celluloid, complete with a rather prominent set of dimples (see the poster for the 1995 film Nine Months for further evidence). The visual is likely complemented by a honeyed British accent, bumbling vocabulary, and a shy demeanor. It is a personality that was the fixture of many beloved romantic comedies, particularly throughout the 1990s. Though Grant himself states the roles are not representative of his own personality, the character structure he favored during that part of his career has left an indelible mark on the portrayal of love in pop culture.
American fans caught their first glimpse of Grant when the British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral exploded at the box office. The thirty-three-year-old already had over a dozen film and twenty television credits, including characters of a variety of backgrounds, archetypes, and even sexual orientations. However, it was the role of Charles, a bumbling, endearing Englishman who pines for Carrie (Andie MacDowell), an American with whom he shares a near instantaneous connection with at two of life’s landmarks: weddings and a funeral.
Charles was not intended to be outwardly attractive to women, which was one of the reasons screenwriter Richard Curtis fought the casting of Hugh Grant, fearing he might bring too much charm and smoothness to it. In fact, Grant’s costumes and haircut were intended to offset his appearance. However, as evidenced by his meteoric rise to international superstardom and popularization of the aforementioned haircut, it appeared that the charming British-ness of the character and his actor were anything but unappealing.
As a rather awkward millennial, I find it nearly too easy to relate to, and most certainly crush on, Charles. He says the wrong thing at inopportune moments, fumbles his words when he’s trying to be impressive, and is constantly brushing back his unruly hair with his fingertips. Still, though, you find yourself smiling when he talks, your heart aching when Carrie casts him aside after each one-night-stand, and and your own fingertips itching to brush his hair back for him. Charles is likely a person many a person you’ve been friends with and never noticed, which is a pattern I’ve found in Grant’s lovable rom-com characters. Many of them are the types of men women claim they would like to date or be in a relationship with, and yet they are also the type we tend to walk on by in favor of a smooth-talking beautiful disaster a la Daniel Cleaver, another iconic Grant role.
Despite Richard Curtis’s initial opposition to casting Hugh Grant in Four Weddings, the two worked together on four subsequent films to date as well as two short sequels to feature length films. The leading man roles in two of the films (and the shorts) bear some echoes of Four Weddings‘ Charles, usually in the bungling of words and ineptness in social situations, which is perhaps what inspired their second collaboration.
Notting Hill is widely considered a standard in the world of film romance. At the time of its release in 1999, it paired Grant with Julia Roberts, easily the biggest film star in the world and the queen of romantic comedies. The film follows Grant’s William Thacker, a bookshop owner who bumbles his way into the heart of Roberts’ Anna Scott, a stratospherically successful film actress. Their journey to happily ever after is funny, touching, and sweeping, a true romantic’s dream, and much of it is thanks to Richard Curtis’ carefully crafted, swoon-worthy creation, particularly where the hero is concerned.
Will Thacker certainly bears resemblance to Charles in his general social awkwardness, constant ruffling of his glorious hair (which earned Will the childhood nickname of Floppy), and introverted personality. However, the difference in the character is an increase in maturity. Where Charles fears commitment, which leads to many of his romantic troubles, Will is more established, albeit unsuccessful, in life. He is divorced and has a career, uncertain as it sometimes appear. He retains that endearing awkwardness and boyish streak, but there is a more seasoned approach, particularly in the moments where he stands his ground and admits that his “relatively inexperienced heart” could not stand to be broken again. Whereas Charles from Four Weddings could be viewed more as the young adult crush, Will is an adult take on a sensitive, romantic male in love who, while willing to take a risk, also does not want to be walked all over like he was in the past (though he certainly has his pushover moments). It is growth in the writing of Richard Curtis as well as the character archetype he embraced with Grant as his instrument.
Curiously enough, this film also follows a similar pattern to Four Weddings and a Funeral in that the heroine is the more “experienced” in relationships than the male charcter, or is at least presented that way. In film and novels, there is a tendency to lean toward the male character being more experienced and always knowing the perfect line or having an impeccable appearance, whereas the former and Notting Hill rely on a more sensitve leading male character and a wordly, nearly cynical leading lady. It is a refreshing structure, and perhaps that is what has made Will in particular one of the most endearing romantic leading characters of all time.
Following some branching out into more caddish roles such as sleazy boss Daniel Cleaver in two Bridget Jones films, billionaire playboy George Wade in Two Weeks Notice, and a critically acclaimed turn as Will Freeman in About a Boy, Grant reunited with Richard Curtis for the writer’s directorial debut, the British rom com ensemble Love Actually. Co-starring Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, and Colin Firth, the film is like a beautifully wrapped gift chock full of intertwining love stories. This turn has Grant as David, the newly elected British Prime Minister who is instantly entranced by Natalie (the adorable Martine McCutcheon), his equally charming household staff member, who find themselves in the midst of flirtatious banter and a rather uncomfortable misunderstanding following a run in with the U.S. president, which leaves David questioning Natalie’s intentions. Capped off by an iconic dance scene and the genuine sweetness of David and Natalie’s slightly clandestine attraction, it is the lovely centerpiece of the film, integrating the freshness and hopeful spirit of new love found in a most unlikely circumstance.
Where Will Thacker certainly expanded on the maturity of Richard Curtis’s character archetype, David continues that progression. Some of that may have to do with age, both of actor and writer, as Grant was forty-three in this film, compared to thirty-eight in Notting Hill and thirty-four in Four Weddings, but it likely also simply the evolving of a familiar character arc. Grant has stated in interviews that he believes many of the leading male characters are inspired by Curtis himself, therefore this would provide an explanation as to the more edgy approach. David maintains that sweet, sincere sensitivity consistent with the previously discussed characters, but there is also increased assertiveness and confidence, exercised in particular during his interactions with the American president, where a determination to exert authority and strength is very evident. This could also be due to the very nature of the character who is, after all, supposed to be a politician and therefore would need a thicker skin and more cutthroat approach. Those actions are sharly contrasted by his demeanor with Natalie, who confides in him about her ex-boyfriend who ended their relationship because she was “getting fat,” to which David’s eyes widen and he offers to have him murdered (in a completely joking manner), all the while stealing a conversation whenever he can just to be around her. It is that multi-layered approach that shows the growth of the character archetype, making the character unique yet familiar.
These days, the 58 year old actor’s iconic locks have long since been trimmed short, speckled with gray, and a few wrinkles are now etched in the expected places. He last appeared in romantic comedy a decade ago, alongside Sarah Jessica Parker in Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009). He has embraced more complex characters in the years since, receiving critical acclaim for roles in Florence Foster Jenkins and more recently, A Very English Scandal. Despite this gradual metamorphosis and increased honing of his craft, none of it diminishes the roles that built Grant’s career and established his place in the public consciousness. In fact, it perhaps encourages admiration for an actor who broke free and reinvented himself at a time in his career when many flounder and struggle with their identity.
The “Hugh Grant archetype,” as I’ve come to describe the Richard Curtis-crafted male leads, is one that is distinctly belong to the actor and screenwriter. Rarely are romantic leads, particularly as we approach the second decade of the twenty-first century, so genuine, romantic, and gallant, yet not conventionally with eloquent vocabulary or seamless way about them. In a world where sincerity is always an uncertainty, the portrayal of a man who retains sensitivity and strength, balancing both masculine and feminine qualities, is refreshing, unique, and enduring. Perhaps that is why these romantic films endure, for they do not rely on a suave, alpha ladies’ man to sweep a delicate flower of a heroine from a life of toil. Instead, they show that often what we seek is right in front of us, sometimes in a more muted, unsuspecting package than we would expect. All we have to do is dig deeper and brush back the surface.
Sound off below and let me know your favorite Hugh Grant film in the comments!
Where there’s a great love story…a great love song should follow. This week, I’ve picked my Top 5 love songs featured in movies. These songs not only perfectly illustrate the power of love but also reflect well the couples in the films or the overall plot line. Grab your headphones and some tissues (and maybe queue up some of these movies) and prepare for some good old fashioned love songs…
“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”- Performed by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes (from Dirty Dancing)
If a more uplifting, exciting ending exists than that of Dirty Dancing, set to the perfectly written, exuberant “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” I have not yet encountered it. The lyrics perfectly suit Johnny Castle and Baby Houseman’s classic love story, and music itself sets the stage for one of the most iconic dance scenes in cinematic history. You can’t help but smile at the pure romance of it all, from the forbidden lovers truly able to embrace their feelings in public set to a song that couldn’t have been better suited to the theme of the film To further enhance the authenticity, both artists were recording artists when the film was set in the summer of 1963, bringing at sixties flavor to 1987.
2. “(Everything I Do), I Do It for You”- Performed by Bryan Adams (from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves)
Aside from Kevin Costner’s wavering accent, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is likely best remembered for this mega-hit. Rocker Bryan Adams’ raspy six and a half minute power ballad is ultimate cheese, complete with lengthy guitar solos reminiscent of eighties power ballads, but it also feels sincere and epic, suited perfectly for the legendary love story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian. The gorgeous, romantic lyrics also make it my top pick for a wedding song, but that’s another list…
3. “I Will Always Love You”- Performed by Whitney Houston (from The Bodyguard)
Perhaps the best song not originally written for a film, Whitney Houston’s powerhouse remake of Dolly Parton’s 1974 country hit could not have been better suited for The Bodyguard, the 1992 blockbuster film debut of Houston. In a film pairing two unlikely people, a superstar and her bodyguard, this soaring track balances well the somber ending, a love letter to the person you love but cannot be with, emotion-wrought lyrics filled with sincere well wishes and sweeping declarations. Sad love songs rarely come in such a striking package.
4. Against All Odds”- Performed by Phil Collins (from Against All Odds)
Serving as the title track for the 1984 romantic drama starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward, Phil Collins’ piano driven ballad expresses the narrator’s determination to maintain hope that the woman he loves will return to him despite the odds being slim. Utilized at the conclusion of the film and at the end credits, it slightly lifts what could have been a melancholy ending, infusing it with positivity and perhaps even adding to the romantic notion that the lovers in the film might eventually be reunited. Still, the sadness of the hope likely being moot does tinge the ballad with bittersweetness. Sad songs typically don’t conclude romantic films, but when they do work, it is golden, as in this case.
5. “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”- Performed by Elton John (from The Lion King)
Elton John is a master of the romantic ballad, and this grandiose single from The Lion King feels nearly too mature for an animated film if listened to without context, but the magical beauty of the song adds to the sparkling Disney-ness of it, blending together John’s masterful adult contemporary sound and the simplicity of Disney score, creating one of the most iconic love songs for the artist and the film dynasty.
“After All”- Performed by Cher and Peter Cetera (from Chances Are)
Though not a fan of the film, this song is an absolutely stunning track for anyone with that person who keeps walking back into their lives, even after they think they’ve said goodbye. There are few better songs about the ups and downs of love.
“Love is All Around” Performed by Wet Wet Wet (from Four Weddings and a Funeral)
This 1994 remakes of The Troggs ‘1967 hit perfectly suited the quirky rom-com with its saccharine sweetness complete a couple edgy guitar riffs to ramp up the power ballad-ness.
“It Must Have Been Love”- Performed by Roxette (from Pretty Woman)
This 1990 smash is sentimental, dreamy, and reflective…perfectly suited to its use in one of the film’s more touching moments.
What are some of your favorite songs from the movies? Sound off in the comments!
As a romance writer, one of my biggest frustrations continues to be that romance is one of the most ridiculed genres in literature, despite that it is one of the top selling genres in the realm of fiction. This is due to elitism within the literary community and a variety of misconceptions about the romance genre. It can be frustrating and tiring for readers and writers to be ostracized and teased for what they read or write about, and this shaming needs to stop.
I began reading romances when I was fourteen. In high school, I received funny looks from teachers when I carried one of my books with me to class. The shock and judgment grew even worse when I wrote my first romance novel in my senior year of high school. That was the year after Fifty Shades of Grey exploded and thrust the romance genre into the spotlight, both in positive and negative lights. It showed that people did read romances, but it also displayed the fodder romance was, labeled fluff and compared to pornography (a rather interesting paradox, if one were to think about it). I always felt that the novels I read were being put down in favor of literary fiction, as though those books were somehow more valuable.
While I was proud when I released my first romance novel, I also felt judged. I got a lot of questions like “Is your book like Fifty Shades?” There was an assumption that just because I wrote romance, I automatically wrote a book like that, though romance is more complex than simply BDSM novels.
What many people do not realize is that there are a variety of romance types. This consists of sub-genres and heat levels. Most romances are categorized by “heat level” secondly to their sub-genre. This term indicates the sexual content of the novel. “Sweet” is the term for novels that contain no sex scenes or minimal ones, such as the bedroom door closing behind a couple in a film. “Hot” is usually where most romance novels fall in the spectrum, which means that there are a few sex scenes throughout the book but not in graphic detail. “Spicy” romances, more commonly referred to as erotic, are where novels such as Fifty Shades of Grey would be categorized, which indicates that the sexual relationship between the couple is a more integral part of the relationship and that there will be more than a few sex scenes within the book.
Love scenes are a part of romance novels, but these books are so much more than that. The purpose of a romance novel is to explore the development of a romantic relationship between two people and the journey that it takes them on together and as individuals. Depending on the writer, this can be explored in a variety of ways.
I am lucky that people have not been as judgmental about my reading or writing romances as time has gone on. However, among academics, I still sense a feeling of bias towards literary fiction and classic novels, almost as if one is not a serious reader if they do not read “something of substance.” Romances are not considered to be quality reading and are passed off as fluffy, predictable, and pornography.
My trouble with these labels is that they are untrue. Calling a romance predictable is only basing the book simply on the far that it will end happily (a requirement of the genre label), and what is wrong with that? Romances are all about a journey, and oftentimes, it is very complex. Sometimes, it takes more than one book for a couple to work through all of the complications that separate them. While it is a requirement for there to be a “happily ever after” or “happy for now” ending for a book to be considered a romance, the journey can still be surprising and gut-wrenching.
As far as romances being fluffy, it depends on the sub-genre a reader chooses. Many romances, particularly those in the erotic and romantic suspense sub-genres, can be quite dark and intense. Sweet contemporary romances tend to be more fluffy, but there is nothing wrong with a book being enjoyable. Books are entertainment, after all. It’s like enjoying a good romantic comedy, just with a little more elaboration.
The pornography accusation infuriates me. People demonize the genre simply because of sex scenes. Some may be gratuitous, but many times, romances use love scenes to further enhance the emotional connection between the characters. In some cases, it may also provide the reader with some insight into past physical or sexual traumas that a character has been suppressing. Not all is for titillation, as often suggested by the genre’s critics.
The point of books are that they should be an escape from reality, and the reader should enjoy them. Reading should not have to be focused on searching for some deeper meaning that an author may or may not have intended for a reader to see. No one should be judged for what they read, and it is frustrating that individuals still feel the need to make others feel as though they are less because they prefer to escape in a romance. These novels took just as much time to create as any classic novel from English class, and people should think about that before they start to judge someone for what they are read. After all, what is the alternative? Not reading? Is that a better lesson than people reading about relationship development with a little sentiment attached, or has our society become so cynical that we judge anything with even a hint of happy ending to it?
Completing and publishing a novel is the life’s goal of any aspiring writer. However, finding the right project with which to pursue that journey is often the struggle. Six and a half years ago, I began my own road to publication with a novel set against the glamorous background of Chicago society, which has spawned an ongoing series as well as two standalone novels. Over half a decade later, the love story between Nathan Sinclair and Amy Raines reminds me of a simpler time, and telling their tale reminds me of many fine yet hardworking days.
Hell in Heels was a novel several years in the making, though it was also one of the fastest novels to come to fruition, especially now when I find novels take months or years to complete. In this week’s post, I look back on the development and release of my first novel, as the sixth anniversary of its publication is this week.
The origins of Hell in Heels likely go back about seven or eight years before I even put a pen to paper. Truthfully, I cannot even take full credit for the idea. My grandfather, who’d always been a master storyteller and one of the few people in my life to actually encourage my writing, originated the story at some point during one of our countless storytime sessions. Where he derived the idea from, I cannot say, but the arc remained a mainstay, a general dea I often came back to and tried to build on when my grandpa and I would have story sessions where I begged him to continue onward with the story.
For about a decade, I’d tried my hand at multiple genres, none of the storylines intriguing enough to keep me interested. I’d even finished a full-length novel during my junior high years that remains drafted in the deep vestiges of a jump drive somewhere. However, a sequel I made it no more than two chapters into and perhaps a burnout from three years with the same characters proved it was not the story to propel me onward. Here and there, I’d begin another story, but as was always the case, I never had that feeling that it was “the one.”
After a several year battle with cancer, my grandfather passed away in February 2012, and though even at that time our story times had long since faded away, his encouragement toward my writing never faltered. When he passed, I developed a need to preserve his memory, and the only way I knew how was to write and show the incredible creativity he possessed, though I was certain he never really knew it. So, I decided to put the clandestine love story between a high powered CEO caught in a twisted love triangle on paper, beefed up with elements of a heated romance novel, and give romance, my favorite genre to read, a try with me as the author.
I began writing Hell in Heels actively in August of 2012, the beginning of my senior year of high school. My study halls and any free time throughout the day was spent writing, penning anywhere from three to six pages a day. The first draft was entirely handwritten in pencil in two college-ruled Five Star notebooks with a makeshift draft of a cover idea. I wrote the initial draft in about four months, completing it by the end of the year, when I drowned myself in edits with critique partners who assisted me with ensuring the novel was the best it could be.
Hell in Heels follows publishing CEO Nathan Sinclair, a single father caught between two women, one the overzealous Esmerelda Stoker, a cougar with her eyes set on Nathan for decades, and the other Amy Raines, a career woman with a buoyant spirt and killer taste in shoes. Ironically, both women also wish to be the architect for Sinclair Publishing’s expansion, and while an undeniable chemistry between Nathan and Amy sizzles, Esmerelda’s desperation drives her to extremes, and the lengths she will go to for the contract and Nathan soon know no bounds.
2012 was the year of self-published romance, with the Fifty Shades phenomenon blowing open the door for writers unable to attract an agent and dozens of similar novels not backed by a major publishing company placing on bestseller lists. This was my chance, though my novel was much more on the contemporary side than erotic. There was no fear of rejection, and if 2012 was the year of the e-book explosion, 2013 could only be the year it spurred on.
The first several months of 2013 were filled with much work. While I was also preparing for graduation as well as beginning college in the fall, I was also working with my cover designer, scheduling promotion, and planning out my social media platforms, which were not nearly as plentiful at that time. The amount of work that went into self-publishing could not be accurately characterized, and it was easy to see how people could get lost in the shuffle no matter how hard they worked.
April 23, 2013 remains one of the proudest days of my life. The release of Hell in Heels marked the fulfillment of one of my dreams, to know that my work would be available to whoever wanted to read it gave me a feeling of pride. Sales were modest, but that was never the point for me. As long as I could affect even one person with Nathan and Amy’s story, that was enough to consider it a success for me.
The response to the novel was mixed. Some of the people who “knew” me were shocked by the content, as I was only eighteen and writing love scenes between people in their early thirties, a skill I’d simply learned from reading my beloved romance novels. Others shared in my joy, spreading the word about my publication on their own social media pages. The negative reactions were certainly difficult to swallow, but those positives certainly outshined it, allowing that first novel to feel like a true accomplishment.
Hell in Heels was followed by the release of Private Dancer in August 2013. It was the second in the Love, Windy City Style series, which followed Jake Bradley and Natalie Warner, two characters introduced in the first novel. The third novel in the series, Ideal Hero, is still in the editing stages.
I look back on Hell in Heels fondly now, though if I were to write it now I could start a list of all the things I would change. However, it is also proof that writing is an art to hone and that it must be continuously worked at in order to achieve the desired goal. Without that novel, I wold not have created anything that came after it. Nathan and Amy’s forever will be the first love story I told, and their happily ever after has put me well on the way to my own.
If you have not read Hell in Heels, please visit your choice e-book retailer to purchase your copy today!
I began reading romance novels at the age of fourteen, and though time has changed my views slightly on that first romance novel (Kathleen Woodiwiss’s 1972 breakthrough The Flame and the Flower, one of the original “bodice rippers), my love for the genre has only grown with time. While romance is now often generally (and unfairly) lumped as Fifty Shades of Grey knockoffs, what many of the genre’s critics do not see is the wide variety of sub-genres and niches within or the many important topics the authors are unafraid to tackle. Romance is a genre for those who wish to tag along on the journey to happily ever after and the trials and tribulations that the main characters encounter on that road.
To celebrate my love of the novels that have inspired me as a writer and person, I have compiled a list of the novels that still make me swoon no matter how many times I’ve reread them.
Paradise by Judith McNaught (1991)
The ultimate romantic adventure follows Matt Farrell and Meredith Bancroft in a journey reminiscent of a sweeping romance of yesteryear, seemingly opposites attract when they meet and fall deeply in love. However, outside forces rip them apart in the cruelest of ways, but when the reunite a decade later, the spark still fly. The glamour of the Chicago society atmosphere, palpable chemistry between Matt and Meredith, and raw emotion of the intricately woven story thanks to McNaught’s enchanting prose. A must-read for lovers of an all-encompassing, classically romantic love story.
2.Perfectby Judith McNaught (1993)
McNaught’s follow up novel to Paradise was just as riveting as its predecessor, though much more driven by suspense. Wrongly convicted of murder, Hollywood actor/director Zack Benedict is desperate to clear his name, and in an effort to do so, he breaks free. He abducts school teacher Julie Mathison and forces her to drive him to his Colorado safe house where, in the midst of the snowy mountains and a cozy cabin, the two fall in love. However, their clandestine idyll cannot last, and when the law comes knocking, so do the devastating complications. The stakes are high in this romance, and through all 700 pages, the pace never slows, and the uncertainty of Zack and Julie’s future keeps you on edge until the last word.
3. My Sunshine by Catherine Anderson (2005)
Besides having novels with some of the most beautiful covers in the romance industry, the exterior of this sweet romance perfectly reflects the mood of the bubbly story within its pages. The plot follows Laura Townsend, a young woman whose life was forever altered by an accident that left her with aphasia, a condition that heavily affects speech. Ever the positive light, Laura is hired at a veterinary clinic, and she quickly catches the eye of Isaiah Coulter, her boss. However, someone appears to be framing Laura for mistakes made on her shift, therefore causing more than a little office drama between that and her burgeoning romance with Isaiah. Anderson’s characters are always endearing flawed, as evidenced in this novel by Isaiah’s absentmindedness, which also adds an element of realism. The pure endearment of this novel is its selling point, and likely the novel I have reread the most of any novel.
4. The Gabriel Series by Sylvain Reynard (2011-Present)
Reynard’s ongoing series draws inspiration from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, perhaps a most unusual source. The plot might seem a typical trope, an elusive professor and a student, but the intensity of the material enriched what could have been contrived or recycled, with an intertwined back story between the two characters and odes to Dante’s work. Both the hero and heroine are quite damaged, and over the course of the three published novels (a fourth is planned for release in December 2019), their scars are bared, healed, and created, each installment building on the depth of these charters and enhancing the humanity of the love story between Gabriel and Julia. This is definitely one of the finest and strongest romance series I’ve read.
5. Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (1979)
The tumultuous background of the American Civil War and Reconstruction sets the stage for this romantic journey of forbidden love between a Yankee doctor and a southern belle, who disguised herself as a boy to escape the travesties of war ravaging her home. The novel embraces the classic pitting of North and South in the context of love while remaining original, perhaps because of Cole and Alaina’s deep passion for each other and the lengthy, tragedy-filled road they take toward happily ever after.
If you have not read any of these novels, all of them are still in print and available in print and digitally.
Sound off on your favorite romances in the comments below!