Wednesday, February 2, 2011

EMLY FORREST: Why Love Matters

“It’s only love and that is all.” So goes the Lennon and McCartney song. Only love. Not some earth-shattering event. And yet, so much of our music, literature and mythology circumscribe the theme of love.

Take for example, the catalyst of love as it figures in ancient mythology. Gods and men seem to be in constant turmoil because of romantic jealousy or spurned attentions. An entire war was fought over Helen of Troy. How cool is that?

Well, you might argue, that can’t really be proven. It may only be a legend. Nice story, but would anyone really go that far simply for love? I offer, then, the case of King Edward VII, who in 1936 abdicated the throne of England to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. No one could argue the depth of his feeling for the woman he wanted.

And while some are willing to die for love (Romeo and Juliet), others find comedic pleasure in pairing (Lucy and Ricky). Sometimes the whole thing is tragic beyond belief, as with Dr. Zhivago and the ill-fated Laura.

So why the big deal? Why are love and romance so important to us? They are important because...well, because they just are. No one is immune. Kings and paupers, wise men and fools. We are all looking for that unexplainable, sometimes painful, joy, sorrow, ache and thrill called love.

Perhaps the next best thing to being in love is reading about it. Or maybe writing about it, which is what I am privileged to do. When you write a romance, you can make it happen any way you choose. (Unlike real life, which—as we all know—often goes awry.) I can make a hunky bad boy fall inexplicably in love with a not-exactly-gorgeous wallflower. They can meet in the craziest scenario, hate each other and then decide they can’t live without one another.

If I want, I can craft a plot with a case of mistaken identity that forces a rift in a liaison. Or I can send the hero to prison (wrongly, of course), then have him released years later only to find that his love for one woman still endures (as well as hers for him).

Maybe it’s a sweet story about a married couple sharing an unbreakable bond of love and romance for a lifetime. Or a tempestuous affair that seems unlikely to last, but works out in the end.

These things don’t normally happen in the average person’s life. That’s why we’re so drawn to reading about impossible attraction and implausible endings.

When I write about romance, I draw from real life stories, either my own or those I’ve heard about. In my novel, The Last Resort, for example, I chose a protagonist who finds herself suddenly on her own after a bitter divorce. She has some road adventures, buys an RV park on the Gulf Coast and eventually reunites with a lover from her past. Not that all those things have happened to me personally. Nor to anyone I know. However, bits of Murph’s story come from many different people I know. And yes, even from my own experience.

And what about Happily Ever After? The rule for HEA is a marriage or at least committed relationship. In fact, most publishers and readers don’t consider a story to be a romance unless there is HEA. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not an absolute necessity. In Murph’s case, her HEA is a man to share her bed and be her companion. She’s a little old to expect or even need more than that. Does that mean it’s not a romance? Not in my book—literally and figuratively.

Do I have any rules for writing romance? Sure. Above all else, the focal characters must be likable and identifiable. They’ve got to be “real.” And their time together must be electric. I want readers to be drawn into the vortex of sexual attraction, feeling the irresistible pull toward something that may or may not be well advised. In a love story, of course, it won’t matter and can’t be helped.

In my soon-to-be released novella Irish Ice (Lyrical Press, March 2011), the protagonist is pursued by a man nine years her junior. She’s not looking for love. In fact, she resists the advances of the handsome stranger. Ultimately, of course, he wins her over despite her fears that he may be involved in some deadly activities.

For me, that’s the fun of writing romance. Do I really want an affair with a dangerous younger man? Nope. Am I interested in chucking my cozy life, starting all over and finding sexual adventure on the road? Not at all. But I sure like to imagine it. And I’m guessing you do, too.


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