Romance Writer Manifesto: A Guest Post from Carolyn Astfalk

Welcome, Tomato Pie Fans! I’m taking a hiatus from blogging to finish the sequel to DON’T YOU FORGET ABOUT ME. Meanwhile, I have a series of guest bloggers taking care of the place. Let’s hear from today’s guest, Carolyn Astfalk.

My Romance Writer Manifesto

For the last decade, I’ve answered “What do you do?” with the simple reply, “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” My novel addition to that response is, “I write.”

The natural follow-up to that response is now not only, “How many children do you have?” but also, “What do you write?”

The first answer comes easily: four children. The second part . . . not so simple. I typically flail about, trying to articulate a concise, accurate answer. More often than not, I launch into a wordy, nonsensical narrative that skirts around the edges of what my debut novel Stay With Me is: contemporary romance.

StayWithMeCoverDepending on my audience, I might qualify it as inspirational, Christian, Catholic or even Theology of the Body fiction. If I want to be vague, I go with “chick lit,” which hits my target audience with a brush the size of a barn side.

I’ve realized this problem is not unique to me, but is common to writers who are often (1) more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word, and  (2) better at expressing themselves in 100,000 words than 100 words. Both of these suppositions are true in my case, but there’s something else in play. In a word: romance.

I didn’t set out to write romance. Heck, I didn’t even read much of it. When I began National Novel Writing Month in November, 2010 with nothing but a newspaper clipping and a blank screen, I intended to write an adventure novel for teens.

As I forged ahead, spewing the required minimum 50,000 words on the page, I discovered that I’d written a romantic love story.

I studied the craft of novel-writing and took to heart the ubiquitous advice to read in my genre. For the first time in my life, I sought romance novels. My manuscript had Christian moral themes, so I immersed myself in contemporary Christian romance—Catholic, where I could find it.

I discovered many uplifting, entertaining, well-written, romantic books. So, why the discomfit with admitting I write romance?

First, the admission that I’m enamored by love transports me to my teenage years when being attracted to a boy was an embarrassment making me vulnerable to all sorts of disappointment and hurt.

Second, bodice rippers. Until I looked up the definition in preparation for writing this post, I thought of it only in terms of book covers. You know the ones—a bare-chested man with ripped abs nuzzling a buxom woman with ample décolletage whose expression suggests she’s deep in the throes of passion. Merriam-Webster defines bodice ripper as “a historical or Gothic romance typically featuring scenes in which the heroine is subjected to violence.”

Violence? The Atlantic quotes Beyond Heaving Bosoms in describing bodice ripper heroes as “rapetastic.” To my way of thinking, the word “rape” and the suffix “-tastic” shouldn’t be within a million miles of one another and on a separate planet from any character filling the role of a hero. Read the whole article and you’ll discover a half-dozen reasons why I’m hesitant to classify my book as “romance.”

Finally, the snob factor my lack of humility plays a role. Despite its popularity, romance may be the least-respected literary genre, at least by academia, if not pop culture. Even the fairy tale “happily ever after” ending is under fire. Admitting I write romance is like admitting I drink boxed wine or buy my clothes at Wal-Mart (both of which I’ve done).

Just as I reject twisted modern notions of feminism, I reject a narrow definition of romance as something akin to “Mommy porn.” I choose to embrace my penchant for romance for what is.

Romantic love is a good, God-given thing. After all, God is love. (1 John 4:16) My worldview, like that of any author’s, underpins my writing.  For me, that’s going to put me on the edgy end of the Christian romance spectrum.

Inspirational author Julie Lessman, who also classifies her Christian romance as edgy, says it well: “In truth, romantic passion gives us a glimpse into the very heart of God. After studying the Song of Solomon in the Bible, I’m convinced that the God who created passion and int.imacy did so to mirror the intensity of His own love for mankind.”

On the last page of Stay With Me, the heroine Rebecca is reflecting on the love she and Chris share. “She prayed their love, like God’s, would abide from this day forward through all seasons, all travails, every high and low. An anchor when the world threatened to throw them off-course.”

That’s the kind of love I write about. Heart-pounding attraction, weak knees and the excitement of new love—check! But also the enduring, abiding love that points us to the unfailing, unwavering, all-consuming love of God.

This brief reflection from Tom McGrath, author of Raising Faith-Filled Kids, was part of the parent portion of my daughter’s religion curriculum: “Think of all the books, movies, TV shows, songs, and soap operas that gain dramatic tension by observing two people on the verge of falling in love. They capture and convey a longing that seems universal, as if the whole world is holding its breath, waiting for love to erupt in their lives. This great longing is holy. It’s a manifestation of our desire to know and to experience God’s love for us. God placed this desire to know, love, and serve him deep in our hearts.”

That’s why I can say with pride, “I write romance.”

Carolyn Astfalk LR SepiaCarolyn Astfalk resides with her husband and four children in Hershey, Pennsylvania. She blogs at My Scribbler’s Heart, and her debut novel, Stay With Me, is available from Full Quiver Publishing.

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9 comments

  1. Welcome to the club! I write what I grandiosly describe as romantic suspense (though my books are categorized as mystery.) As for the rest… I forgive you for everything but the boxed wine (but that’s because I work for Walmart and a boutique winery!)

  2. Welcome to the club! Though I write mystery, my books are more romantic suspense and the main mystery every one of my readers seems to care about is who will win the heart of the main character! As for the rest, you’re forgiven for everything but the boxed wine (but that’s because I work at Walmart and a boutique winery!)

    1. Thanks, Amy! I have to say I haven’t had boxed wine in more than a decade. The priest that blessed our house when we moved in brought a bottle of good French wine, and we haven’t purchased wine in a box since.

  3. I’m a reader who’d long been soured on the genre for the reasons you mentioned above. Thank you for being part of the reason I can (selectively) read romance again!

  4. Very good post.

    As a writer who does write adventure stories, I have to say that romance can definitely be classified as such. Personally, I think Jane Eyre is very much as much of a romance as it is an adventure story which is what caused me to look at the romance genre differently. But I think all genres intersect somewhere since they all do go back to the same Source. That is why I no longer disregard any of them.

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