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Lisa / December 19, 2014

Coming to Romance the Long Way Around

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I read everything as kid. Science fiction, fantasy, true crime, Shakespeare, romance, horror, cereal boxes–everything. I tried my hand at writing pretty much everything too, but not romance.

As I started to write seriously in my late 20s, I had a love-hate relationship with romance. I wanted romantic relationships in my stories, but I was embarrassed to say as much. Romance was ‘girly’, and as a perpetually single (albeit by then divorced) woman, I thought writing about romance would tell the world I was a lonely spinster obsessed by what she couldn’t have.

I mocked anything to do with romance or romantic fiction, even if I still read and tried to write about it on the sly. Talk about being obsessed by what I couldn’t have!

Well, as you may have gathered, I ended up eating my words. I have always been “a fan” of a lot of things, but in early 2012, I discovered A Fandom. And I fell into it headfirst. I started reading slash (specifically erotic/romantic fanfic between two male characters), tentatively at first, then voraciously, from the heart-achingly romantic to the filthiest porn you can imagine.

At that time, I had barely written a word since 2003, when I stopped submitting mediocre urban fantasy stories to magazines and trunked a 100,000 word urban fantasy novel, not knowing how to revise the first draft. I had also never written any story that had sex in it, explicit or otherwise.

Then I started to write slash. A lot of it. In 2012, I wrote and posted nearly 150,000 words of fanfic, almost entirely explicit.

It was like a dam had burst. I wrote story after story of smut, romance, romantic smut; story after story of the same two men falling in love in different ways. Writing sex turned out to be easy (and fun) for me. Writing the emotions though, that was the hard part. It took writing about two men, removing myself and my entire gender from the equation, to get comfortable dealing with all of the complexities falling in love.

All of the baggage I had about writing romance fell away and I was able just focus on these two people and their growing relationship. It was liberating and exhilarating. Writing romance stopped being about what people would think of me.

I started to understand that the world of romance and fanfic had a lot in common: (primarily) women creating things for the enjoyment of (primarily) other women, not a male gaze in sight. That struck me as having some pretty profoundly feminist overtones to it. All that was missing for me, in my own writing, was a heroine. I wanted to let the women in my stories be romantic and emotional again.

I was also ready to give professional writing another try. The more I thought about it, the more it sounded like romance was where I needed to be.

One of the fanfics I’d written was a long AU (alternate universe–basically putting the characters in a different setting, like Kirk and Spock as high school students) about a bratty, troubled rock star and his beleaguered but badass tour manager.

This may sound familiar.

I loved the storyline (and still do), and felt it was far enough removed from the original fannish source material that I could rework it into something original. Ultimately, because I want to tell women’s stories, I gave myself one more challenge: could I make one of the main characters a woman without changing that much about her? And if so, what kind of romantic heroine would she make?

The result is Gwen Tennison, a kick-ass, no-nonsense woman handed the two things she never expected to find: a new career and a sizzling relationship.

It didn’t take much catching up in the romance genre to discover that Gwen isn’t alone in the kick-ass, no-nonsense heroine department, and I realized that I can tell the sort of larger-than-life, exciting stories I want to tell–that I’ve always tried to tell, even going back to my sci-fi and fantasy days–and include all the romance and sex that I want.

These days I don’t have time to write as much fanfic as I used to, which is sad because let me tell you, I still have some stories to tell about my favorite characters. It’s a trade-off though, because now I’m finally able to write stories about my characters, and who knows? If I’m very very lucky, maybe they’ll become some of your favorite characters too.

 

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