I hate romance novels and never buy them, never even look at them at the supermarket checkout counter. Why? The very first sentence turns me off. I feel angry. How stupid the writer of this must think me to expect I’ll believe this preposterous story! The plots are stupid and embarrassing, the settings outlandish, the language trite, the characters cartoonish. “When you’ve read one, you’ve read them all,” as my dad would say. Another word he’d use is “trash”. According to Wikipedia, “Despite the popularity and widespread sales of romance novels, the genre has attracted significant derision, skepticism and criticism.”
Given all that, why the hell did I subtitle my new novel, Dreamers, a dangerous romance of the ’60s?
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I liked historical romance novels once–when I was young, a pre-teen, maybe as old as thirteen. What I liked (though I didn’t realize it then) was the secret, forbidden, dangerous adventure of sex! Yes, I loved all the twisted longing in the historical romances about pirates, counts, renegades, swashbuckling commanders, deposed kings and would-be outlaws. And oh, how I longed to be their women–those princesses and countesses, those ladies-in-waiting, the half-naked milkmaids and abandoned orphans, so young, so innocent and so beautiful with wet, red lips and long, curling tresses. All those women destined for capture, for adventure in their rags, their voluminous silk dresses, who were seduced and Yes! seduced in turn. I wanted to be them! I reveled in the veiled sensuality, the heated embraces, the–sex.
What is romance anyway? Is it love? Is it illusion? Is it dreams? Is it reality? According to Wikipedia again, the bottom line is that, for a book to be a romance novel, the romantic relationship between the hero and the heroine must be at its core.
In many ways Dreamers is the opposite of romance. Neither the hero, Thomas, or the heroine, Annie, believes in romance nor has faith in the other to provide it. When he meets Annie accidentally, Thomas, the black actor from Pittsburgh, is mired in a painful, impossible affair with Lana, a rich, self-absorbed WASP from Connecticut. When she meets Thomas, Annie, naive as she is, struggles in a bind of acute family tension, wrapped in a rope of self-criticism too tight to breathe in, much less prevail against.
What is worse, the fact that their relationship is interracial makes all thought of romance a forbidden secret played out in the prevailing strife of the civil rights showdown in ’60s America.
But, though in many ways Dreamers is the opposite of romance, Thomas’ and Annie’s relationship IS the core of the book. What they both believe in is the pursuit of their art; for Thomas, art is theatre. For Annie, art is music. And they believe in each other.
As artists, we are all romantic dreamers. All art is romantic and allows, even demands, we fall in love with it. It’s we who are the romantics.We have to fall in love with a book in order to even want to turn the page.
I’m hoping you’ll fall in love with Dreamers,and that’s why I wrote it.