THE BLOG
07/01/2016 11:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Writing A Tame Romance In the Age Of 50 Shades

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I'll be the first to admit that my new romantic comedy Been Searching for You is about as far away from the erotica craze as you can get. It's not technically a "sweet" or "clean" novel because it does have adult language (my characters are adults, after all) and references to sex, but other than some kissing and groping, the action takes place off the page. If it was a movie (which hopefully someday it will be), it would likely be rated PG-13.

I'm not an inspirational/religious writer and my historical fiction novels are more graphic than Been Searching for You. So, in a time when "mommy porn" and all things BDSM seem to be the rage in the romance industry, why did I choose to go the alternate route, rather than writing where the money is? A few reasons:
  1. Sexy/steamy/graphic romance has never been to my taste. Even as a reader, I prefer to use my imagination. After all, a good writer can do a lot with some sexual tension and the power of suggestion. If I feel that way, chances are good that a portion of the reading audience does as well.
  2. Romance novels are widely believed (rightly or wrongly) to be all about sex. I wanted to prove that you could have a very romantic storyline that goes beyond the "will they or won't they" or "when will they" questions in its plot into deeper issues (in this case the value of liberal arts education, the power of trust in yourself and others, and the sometimes conflicting nature of friendship).

    And most importantly,

  3. I miss old-fashioned love stories.

I grew up on romantic comedies like Pretty Woman and Bridget Jones' Diary, in the halcyon days of the late 80s and 90s when you couldn't go to a movie theatre without tripping over a Gary Marshal or Nora Ephron film. Those funny, sweet movies shaped my view of romance as something kind and gentle, as opposed to films like Trainwreck and its ilk, which are being hailed as "modern" romantic comedies. Please, please give me You've Got Mail (even though I don't like Tom Hanks), While You Were Sleeping or French Kiss any day over those.

I like the meet-cutes, goofy heroines and the inevitable happy ending. I like leaving the movie or closing the book feeling like love, peace and romance still have a shot in modern society. However, I'm not a big fan of the obviously contrived deception, so you won't see much of that in my book. (You know the storyline: the fake boyfriend/fiancée, the woman pretending to be rich when she's not, the person with a lie that will have to come out in the end.) There is a plot line toward the end that involves deception, but it's on the part of a villain, not the hero or heroine so it's not the typical trope.

At the end of a long day, I want to read or watch a story where women are wooed, not beaten into submission (even if it's done with their desire and permission). In a world where our political system is worse than a circus and terrorism, the economy and public/school shootings are daily concerns, we need fairy-tale like escapism. That's what rom-coms are, after all, fairy tales for those who have outgrown Cinderella, but still want the prince and princess to get married in the end.

Don't get me wrong -- there's nothing wrong with the wilder side of romance. If that's your thing, go for it. But it's not mine and I hope that I've provided a fun alternative others who feel like I do.