Writing Romance in a Plague Year

Breaking News: Love in the Time of COVID, the long-awaited sequel to Love in the Time of Cholera, released at last!

(just kidding)

I turned in final edits for my first contemporary romance novel, Spindrift, in March. You may recall March–it lasted approximately seven years. Working on a relatively light-hearted romance novel while people were dying by the thousands was, to criminally simplify the experience, difficult. How could that story matter when people I cared about were sick? How could it matter when, in America, we were being told that we were disposable? How could it matter when this disease once again revealed the incredible disparities between those with privilege, be it economic or racial? How, in short, could anything matter at all? Like all the writers I know, these questions burned beneath my fingertips as I struggled to make sense of things.

Turning Spindrift in to my publisher was a relief. I was glad that I could take some time off to grieve and reread some of my favorite books, and ultimately it was that thought that arrested me: the first thing I turned to for comfort was the very thing I had just decided couldn’t possibly matter. Books. Cautiously, I entertained the idea that writing might, in fact, be a not-so-terribly-pointless activity after all.

There are events that forever shape the way we read, write, and understand stories. Both World Wars and, more recently, 9/11 changed the way American writers addressed the issues of their time, and it seems likely that the Coronavirus pandemic will run a similar course. For writers, this poses a unique challenge: how do we continue meaningful work on our stories when the world as we knew it no longer exists, and how will these events shape stories to come?

I don’t have answers, yet, but I keep coming back to fragility. As individuals, as a species, as a planet, our incredible resilience is matched only by our fragility. Stories, lives, relationships–this things have always been tenuous, and never more so than in times of crisis. The beauty of Romance as a genre is that within its confines, there is the comfort of knowing that, despite the odds, the couple will get what they need (usually each other). Real life is rarely so obliging. Romance offers readers a sense of control. We suspend our disbelief; we worry about the characters; we ache with them when their hearts are broken, but we know, unlike those poor protagonists, that they will find happiness before the last page. This is especially important for the queer community, where happy endings are still a novelty.

That sense of control is why I turn to my favorite books in times of crisis. While there is also the pleasure of revisiting something beloved, and though often I discover something new, the animal instinct that drives me to burrow deep into the familiar is, at its heart, about control. I know how the story will end. Genres that operate in this way, like Romance or Mystery, offer the same catharsis to us as readers, much like how we turn to familiar routines and activities to establish a sense of normalcy in abnormal times. We have always needed these stories, and we will need them more than ever in the days ahead.




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