Going Long

I’ve been trying, but I can’t do it.

After many, many weeks of “studying” the contemporary romance genre from a writer’s perspective, reading as much as I can get my hands on, downloading material to my Kindle like a woman possessed, reading reviews of other authors’ work and detecting patterns of satisfaction and dissatisfaction, I finally understand something. The average romance reader seems to want their resolution around page 250 or thereabouts. On rare occasions they will accept your going on for another 25 or so. Beyond that, there is impatience. And I think I understand. Honestly, two hundred and fifty to three hundred pages is sufficient to complete the basic romantic arc in most circumstances, unless there is a fair amount of suspense and action also involved. Or, let’s face it, if you’re a very skilled writer who can communicate vast amounts of information with relatively few words (which not many writers are).

Turns out, I just can’t do it. Certainly, I could work harder to say more with less or get a real cutthroat of an editor, and I think depending on the voice, in some circumstances I probably should. But sometimes it’s just not possible for me and now I think I understand why.

When I was writing Commitment, The Seduction of Dylan Acosta and Unsuitable Men, I never envisioned them as romance novels in the purest sense. I saw the main characters’ relationships with themselves, and their process of self-evolution as being equally important as whether or not they ended up with the person they were in love with. I wanted to say more about their lives and their worlds than that they had fallen in love, faced some trouble getting together with their love interest and then finally gotten it together.

In ‘Commitment’, I wanted to explore image, fame, the changing face of hip-hop (an art form I’m still very much in love with – as an aside, if you’re in love with it too, you MUST check out  The Anthology of Rap by Adam Bradley and edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) and a man’s process of learning who he is. In ‘Unsuitable Men’, it was about Tracy and Brendan falling in love, but also about Tracy learning to overcome demons from her past that made her loathe herself and love only her outward appearance. And in ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ it was about how not knowing who you are renders you susceptible to all kinds of influences that would seek to define you. The romance was the carrot to lure you in, but I hoped the core of the stories was more than that.

In ‘Unsuitable Men’, for instance, I debated with myself for days whether the main protagonists should end up with each other at all. And I was aware that if they did, what would be most satisfying to the reader would be a ring and a wedding. But that outcome didn’t make sense to me, given the very difficult journey of acceptance and self-acceptance that the Tracy character was embarking on. She wasn’t ready for any of that. Her love of herself was too new for her to have perfected love with another person to such a degree that she could marry them. So I just could not deliver that ending. Likewise, I find it difficult to deliver the standard 250 – 275 page romance and say all that I want to say.  And that has had me very conflicted.

No resolutions reached yet, but something tells me that when I come out on the other side of this debate, I’ll probably still go long. At least a little.



ImageLately I’ve noticed a new trend in romance novels. Lots of books about women who are strong-willed and independent, but who secretly want to “surrender” or “give in” to a man. Usually it goes something like this: in the rest of her life, she seems to know who she is and what she wants, and she meets a man who is rich (a billionaire preferably) and powerful and arrogant and though she is powerfully attracted to him she resists. At first. But the strength of their passion cannot be denied and so she gives in. And through their sex, she surrenders control to him and learns that that was what she wanted all along.

I have been toying with the idea of that theme in my work, wondering whether it speaks to a need that women have today.

Do we want to give in? To surrender to a man who sees it as his role to take care of us?

There may be something to that. I think we have more control over our lives than ever before, but more than that, we have more responsibilities than ever before. And there is no doubt that responsibilities can feel burdensome at times; so I suppose it stands to reason that in our fantasies, there is romance, the desire to give over control sexually, but also the desire to give over our responsibilities (because a billionaire would very handily take care of all our responsibilities, wouldn’t he?).

Having said that, I’ve decided that the theme of surrender, or giving in, is more interesting to me from the standpoint of   learning how to give trust. I’m more interested in female characters who learn to trust and then realize that its safe to surrender, or let their partner take the lead. For African American women, I think this is a particularly powerful wish, or theme in our lives. So much of our experience with men has been challenging that the process of learning to trust is a particularly difficult journey and an interesting one. In my novel, ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ to be released September 1, I explore the theme of learning to give trust, rather than to give in. I’m excited to see how it plays out, and how it’s received.

And as for the billionaire erotica that’s flying off the shelves, I’ll keep an eye on those too because I think the success of that genre is an interesting indicator of how we as women today see ourselves.