1. In a recent post on Scribbles and Ink Stains, you told us your views on romance in fiction--can you encapsulate your thoughts on the subject here?
It is my opinion that romance can be a very difficult thing to write well, but that much of the trouble comes from authors trying to follow the usual trodden path—the meeting, the sparks, the obstacles, the resolution. This is the tried-and-true method; it’s how we’re told to write romance. But it isn’t the only way to do so. As writers, we have to consider two major things: how the romance forms a part of the plot as a whole, and what sort of characters the hero and heroine are. The first determines how much emphasis you will end up placing on the relationship, while the second dictates what that relationship is going to look like.
2. Do you go by the rule that all fiction should have some level of romance? If so, elaborate.
I don’t believe that all fiction must have romance. As you pointed out in a comment on the abovementioned Scribbles and Ink Stains post, stories must have relationships, but they don’t always have to be romantic in nature. Novels for younger readers frequently have little, but not always zero (The Gammage Cup, for instance, has a little bit woven into the plot). I think that any romance must be organic to the story, not shoved in where it doesn’t belong or ripped out when it ought to be there.
3. What is romance done well?
I cannot find this quote in the book, but in the 1996 “Pride and Prejudice,” Jane Bennet says, “A marriage where either partner cannot love or respect the other…that cannot be agreeable to either party.” Good romance doesn’t depend on passion and pizzazz; it depends on the love and respect that exist between the characters. Everything else is but the icing on the cake—it makes for better eating, but it shouldn’t be treated as the substance.
4. What is romance done poorly?
I find the worst sort of romance to be the crass kind, but I’m assuming that is a given. I think of poorly done romance as the kind where no foundation is laid for the attachment, nothing given to show that the “love” portrayed is deep and abiding. In essence, where you are presented with the trimmings but not the actual turkey.
5. In your opinion, who is qualified to write romance?
Anyone who is going to write romance must have at least some understanding, beyond just the basics, of what Love is. So much of modern writing (and even some older literature) presents love as nothing but insipid emotions, something that weakens the character rather than strengthening him. God is Love, and God is by no means weak. Really, Shakespeare wasn’t far wrong in one line of his famous sonnet: “O no! it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken…” Love is powerful and self-sacrificing, a force to be reckoned with. Writers must begin to see that, I think, before they can write about it.
6. The three most important elements to well-written romance?
I am not sure I could give a definitive answer as to the most important elements, but I’ll combine the hero and the heroine and say “characters,” and on the heels of that, “chemistry.” The characters must come together in an interesting manner, no matter how small a part the romance plays in the story. And then, last of all, I’d also say that you have to have a story-line to support the romance.
7. I've heard it said that it is literary suicide to stick romance in an adventure novel. Do you agree? Why or why not?
I have never heard that, but I heartily disagree! This person has obviously never read The Last of the Mohicans. I never read a more adventurous adventure novel, but it had romance in it as well. I think well-written romance can always be used to the author’s advantage, no matter what genre.
8. A love-interest in a story can either advance the plot, or prove a foil for the protagonist--how have you portrayed this sort of character in your novels?
My first thought was that this question was going to be difficult, but then it occurred to me that these two appear distinctly in two of my novels, respectively: Wordcrafter and The White Sail’s Shaking. In Wordcrafter, Justin’s love interest is Jamie Fairbairn. She is his opposite in everything: easy where he is uncomfortable, outgoing where he is shy, changeful where he is steadfast and loyal. Her character serves as the backdrop for Justin’s weaknesses and strengths; thus, she is his foil.
In The White Sail’s Shaking, the situation between Tip Brighton and Marta Rais is different. Their romance serves to advance the plot, giving Tip one more thing to fight for and Marta one more thing to be afraid of losing.
9. Popular romance-novels: a worthwhile endeavor, or a waste of ink and creativity?
There’s creativity involved?
I jest—mostly. In general I must say I find them a waste of ink, paper, and time, both for the writer and the reader. Romance is one of those things best incorporated into a story, rather than made a story in its own right. There are exceptions, although even with classic examples, they generally have a secondary purpose; in general, however, I think this is a good rule to live by.
10. Do you think a novel without romance is possible? If so, what elements are heightened in place of it?
I think it quite possible, and many of Rosemary Sutcliff’s novels are good examples of it. Earlier I mentioned that all novels have relationships; if you don’t have the romantic sort, which tends to be dominant, others can shine more brightly: friendships, for example, or familial love. In the modern onslaught of romance novels, these tend to be neglected and their importance forgotten.
11. In your opinion, are Jane Austen's books classified as romance or social commentaries?
12. Which would you rather find in a novel? A love-interest, or no romance at all?