Cindy: Last year, a few weeks before February 14th, I was asked to do an interview for the local newspaper. Being the clueless sort I am, it never occurred to me that the reporter wanted the interview for Valentine's Day. It occurred to me even less that as a romance writer I might be considered something of an expert on romance. When she asked me questions like, "What's romantic to you?", I kinda sat there and went, "Duhh..." (For the record, eventually responding with, "Getting the kitchen renovated" isn't the sort of answer an erstwhile reporter cares to publish). So this year I thought I'd go to the real expert—someone who's published more romance novels than I have! That's you, Jamie. Surely, you must have some inkling of what's romantic? Or what's not?
Jamie: Me?! Oh, right, me. Hmm, maybe if this novel-writing gig doesn't work out, I can start marketing myself as a Romance Expert, or perhaps a Romantic Relationship Coach. I could be like the female, non-balding Dr. Phil of romantic issues! Yes! I could write self-help books that exploit the fact that I'm a romance author, I could appear on Oprah to dispense relationship advice, which would of course lead to my own spin-off show, a romance-how-to magazine...
Whew. Thanks for helping me come up with my next career.
Cindy: You're most welcome. Just don't ask me to be your first guest. TV cameras make me nervous! Unless...would I get a free trip out of the thing? You know, to your studio in, oh, say, Barbados? Then I might consider gracing your show with my presence.
Jamie: Hmm, well, if you need relationship advice, and if by some bizarre stroke of fate my studio is located in Barbados, then of course you can be my first guest.
Cindy: I didn't say I needed advice. Or did I? Um, maybe I did. Whatever, I get the free trip.
Jamie: Yes, but did I mention you'll be traveling to Barbados via canoe? Be careful in the Panama Canal. And also on the open ocean. There are lots of Great Whites on the Pacific Coast.
Cindy: No, you didn't mention any of that! Grrr...
Jamie: Oh, but you asked me what's romantic, and what's not. Well. This is my first big chance to try on my new Romantic Relationship Coach hat. That's a pretty broad question you asked there, and to me, romance is highly individual. While to me sitting on the beach at sunset drinking beer and eating oysters might be the most romantic date in the world, I'm betting there are a bunch of women who disagree with me.
Cindy: Me among them. I hate oysters! Well, he could eat them off my stomach... Is that romantic?
Jamie: It's only romantic if you're not hungry at the time. If you're hungry and he's eating all the food, well, that just sucks. And I dunno, even if you weren't hungry, oysters just don't strike me as food to be eaten from the bare skin of a lover.
Cindy: But oysters are an aphrodisiac, no? Maybe if he eats them from my stomach, he'll get ideas... (and, yes, I realize he's quite dense if the sight of my bare stomach as a serving platter didn't give him the ideas to begin with, but it's all I have).
Jamie: I do think there's something to that oysters-as-aphrodisiac theory…
Cindy: I believe oysters led to my conception...
Jamie: Your parents were oysters? Oh, wait, I guess you mean your parents ate oysters before they did the wild thing… I get it.
Cindy: No, they were oysters! I didn't get this strange on my own, you know.
Jamie: Ah. Ahem. Yes. Well…
You know what I think is romantic, though? A mutually enthusiastic food fight. Like, he presents you with oysters on the beach, and you're all like, dude, I hate oysters, so you throw one at him, and he throws one at you, and
the fight quickly descends into wrestling and mutual removal of clothing and frantic kissing and sex on the beach. Now that's romance.
Cindy: Now this is a scene I could get into! Food fighting is definitely me.
Jamie: Maybe we should start with a definition of romance? Allow me to consult my favorite online dictionary, www.urbandictionary.com:
Romance: the most weirdest yet exciting feeling ever to be felt in this universe.
dude 1: man im feeling romance with my girl
dude 2: that must be weird
Cindy: I agree with Dude 2. Love is a weird, exciting feeling. I also agree with your genius self that romance is highly individual.
Jamie: Yes, I am a genius. Can I quote you on that?
Cindy: Mehhh, I'm thinking it over. In the meantime, I think some basic "romance" tenets should apply. Like, if Dude 2's girl loves opera and he hates it, but he wants to express his love by taking her to a show, leaving during intermission so he can catch the last inning of the baseball game is definitely not romantic. Sitting in the opera house bored silly while his girl enjoys the arias is.
Jamie: Even more romantic would be if he got out of the lame-ass typical guy mindset long enough to actually talk to his girl about what she likes about opera, and then try to watch the show from her perspective. And then, check
this: talk intelligently to her about it afterward!
(And this goes for you too, females. Making a genuine effort to understand and appreciate a few of your guy's interests is the least you owe the person in your life you claim to love.)
Cindy: Well, they owe it to us, at any rate. Me, I'm never gonna understand or care that much about football, for example. Although I do admit to the trying...at some point in my far-off past. But you know what? To me it's romantic when your loved one supports your interests, even if takes you away from them (um, like writing). That they don't come whining into your office, muttering about missed suppers and dirty laundry and unpulled weeds and...whoops, I think I'm getting off-track!
Jamie: I agree. Sometimes romance is about supporting your loved one's dreams, even when it means making some sacrifices ourselves—especially when it means self-sacrifice, because then you are showing that you care enough to put the other person’s needs above your own.
Cindy: Yes, like it's a major self-sacrifice to me not to fulfill my dream of pumping gas for a living instead of holing up in my office writing...and not making much :::cough::: income from my efforts. I hope my husband appreciates my self-sacrifice!
How about grand romantic gestures? Does your guy carving your initials in a tree do it for you? How about him asking you to help him cut down a tree (it's diseased, so it's not like you're just playing logger), it accidentally drops on top of you, bruising you for life and thereby branding you as his forever and forever? (true story) Or...I think this is super romantic: When we renovated our master bedroom into my writing office, we took down the faded pine paneling to reveal old wallboard underneath. With every piece pulled down, we revealed another heart drawn on the old walls and hugging the initials of the senior couple from whom we bought the place some dozen years earlier. We knew the old guy put up the pine himself, and it touched me that he drew literally hundreds of hearts proclaiming his love for his wife all over the walls for someone to discover who-knew-when. Very romantic. Or it is to me.
Jamie: Awwwwww, I love that story about the initial hearts. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for the grand romantic gesture, especially if it's something that's meaningful specifically to me, and not just some pop culture cliché of a gesture. For instance, I would be more charmed by an unusual rock found on the beach than I would by expensive jewelry.
Cindy: Wow, you're a cheap date. Remind me to buy you an ice cube instead of a drink next time we attend a writer's conference at the same time. I'll freeze an ant in it or something. That should knock your socks off!
Jamie: You can buy me an ice cube with an ant in it only if the ice cube is made of Patron and comes with a wedge of lime. I'm not always a cheap date, especially not when tequila is involved.
Cindy: Okay, okay, I'll buy you an ice cube with a frozen worm inside it! You're right, you're not cheap. Those worms cost at least ten cents!
Jamie: Mmm, tequila worm… But back to the subject. Since we write romance novels, we have to spend a lot of time thinking about what most people find romantic, though. Do you think romance novels in general reflect your beliefs about romance, or are they pretty much just the pop culture idea of romance?
Cindy: That's a tough question. Like I'm supposed to know? I just come up with my characters and a bit of a situation and let the "romance" spring from them. So, while some of what I write might originate from my own life experience or thoughts or desires, through the course of the writing it becomes what my characters think is romantic. Does that make me a bad romance writer?
Jamie: Not at all. If your characters' beliefs and actions spring from who they are, then that makes you all the better a writer.
Cindy: That's what I thought, but I didn't want to toot my own horn...
Jamie: But since you are their creator, they can't help but reflect in some way what you believe about romance, don't you think?
Cindy: Agh, my brain hurts. You're making me think too much!
Jamie: Well, I should qualify that question by saying I'm playing devil's advocate here, and I don't necessarily agree with the statement I just made. I sometimes create characters who don't reflect my beliefs, and I often find myself writing what I feel reflects a popular view of romance, rather than my own personal view.
Cindy: Me, too. I just didn't want to be the first to say it. <evil grin> So...I guess I have to say that romance novels in general reflect pop culture ideas of what romance is. But I don't think that's a bad thing. Romance novels are escape literature about the courtship phase of relationships. Some stories are deep and emotional while others provide light, fun entertainment. Of course the characters will continue to experience relationship problems after the happy ending—that's real life. But if we as writers do our jobs right, our readers will go away from our stories firmly believing that our characters have what it takes to keep putting each other first, to keep resolving the real-life sorts of issues that arise in any relationship. And, to me, that's definitely romantic. But does my philosophy make me a romance expert? Not in the hearts and flowers and serenade-me-from-outside-my-window sense!
Jamie: Yeah, I guess we each have to be our own Romance Experts. After all, finding out what your partner considers romantic and then fulfilling that need for them is what it's all about, right? Damn it, I'm starting to fear I might not make such a great Romantic Relationship Coach after all. I see my book and TV deal slipping through my fingers before I even had them. Oh well, guess I'll have to stick with the romance writing gig, which isn't such a bad thing…
Cindy: Agreed. As long as you still finance my trip to Barbados...and don't make me paddle there in a damn canoe.
Jamie: How about if I throw in a couple of nubile young men to paddle the canoe for you?
Cindy: Well, in that case...how romantic!
© 2007 Cindy Procter-King & Jamie Sobrato