By Laura K. Deal
Writing genres wax and wane in popularity, but romance has been a reliable performer for many, many years. Why has this genre been so popular for so long? As I recently wrote and rewrote a young-adult romance, I was very much aware of the fact that I, as the author, was working through some archetypal drama in my own psyche, and at some level, the drama is never fully resolved and so never grows old.
I’ve studied dreams and their meanings for many years. One of the themes that frequently recurs is the romance and sometimes marriage with another figure in the dream. Carl Jung referred to the masculine aspects of the woman as her “animus,” and the feminine aspects of the man as his “anima.” Jeremy Taylor has tried to take out the heterosexual bias of this approach by referring to that inner partner as the “consort.” To dream of a romantic encounter is often a symbol of an integration taking place within the dreamer.
In general, modern culture teaches people to ignore their dreams, dismissing them as the random processing of the day’s events. I know from my own experience that they are much more significant than that, and that focusing conscious awareness on the messages of our dreams is a great way to receive guidance for our daily lives. I also see that ignoring our dreams doesn’t eliminate the need for our psyches to strive for integration and wholeness. Romance novels provide that archetypal drama of integration. So if I’m drawn to read (or write) romance novels, there’s a part of me that yearns for some aspect of myself that looks unfamiliar, new, and exciting.
Of course, it’s not just a metaphor. It’s clear, from both dream studies and visualization studies, that our brains can’t really tell the difference between actual waking life experience on the one hand, and dreams and vivid imagining on the other. So when I read a romance novel, my brain lives through the intense emotions of falling in love, and for that brief time, my brain believes that I am falling in love. This satisfies, at least while I’m reading the book, my psyche’s urge to have that interior union of the different aspects of myself.
This is true no matter whether the protagonists in the book are teens, new adults, or adults. I have an affinity for writing young adult romance, not because I’m “practicing” to write adult romance, but because young adult romances are often about first love, while the main characters are figuring out who they are, and how to be who they are in relation to their friends. These themes resonate with me for a variety of personal reasons and that journey of self-discovery has endless nuances. So for me, writing a young adult romance is a way to explore my own relationship with my inner consort, and to invite integration to take place. Perhaps romance novels remain popular because as a society, we collectively long for that integration as well.
By Pamela Mingle
For me, as a reader, the best writing evokes strong emotion. But beyond that, it sometimes makes me breathe a little sigh, squeeze my eyes shut, and silently say, “Yes. I know just what that feels like.” What better way is there to connect writer and reader?
Literacy coaches actually teach kids to look for these connections. They’re called “text to self.” The theory is, of course, that the more students can relate to a character, the greater the possibility they’ll want to keep reading. And isn’t that true for all of us, at least when it comes to the POV character/s?
I had my own “text to self” experience recently. This was nothing new; all proficient readers do so unconsciously. But this connection seemed deeper and more profound to me. So much so that I knew I had to write about it.
I’m reading a mystery novel by a Dublin writer named Tana French. I’ve read a couple other books of hers: her newest one, Broken Harbor, and another called The Likeness. The books are known as the “Dublin Murder Squad” novels and feature characters that appear in more than one of her books.
The one I’m currently reading was French’s first book, In the Woods. Two detectives, Rob Ryan and Cassie Maddox, are investigating the murder of a young girl. As it happens, Ryan himself was involved in a case when he was about the same age as the murdered girl in which his two best friends disappeared and were never found. It happened in the same location as the murder they’re trying to solve, which is now the site of an archaeological dig, but years ago was the “woods” of the title.
During a meeting with their superintendent, after Ryan and his partner have reported their progress on the case, he experiences a moment of clarity:
Out of nowhere I felt a sudden sweet shot of joy, piercing and distilled as the jolt I imagine heroin users get when the fix hits the vein. It was my partner bracing herself on her hands as she slid fluidly off the desk, it was the neat practiced movement of flipping my notebook shut one-handed, it was my superintendent wriggling into his suit jacket and covertly checking his shoulders for dandruff, it was the garishly lit office with a stack of marker-labeled case files sagging in the corner and evening rubbing up against the window. It was the realization all over again that this was real life and it was my life.
This moment is significant for Ryan because he rarely feels happy. We know this is because of his past, his lost friends. He has never been able to remember what happened in the woods the day his friends disappeared.
His jolt of happiness reminded me so clearly of my teaching days, getting to school before the sun was up each morning, writing the schedule on the white board, going over lesson plans, checking to make sure I had all the necessary supplies for the day’s instruction, running up to the office to photocopy something, check my mailbox, and greet colleagues. In my case it was day rubbing up against the window. I was energized; I loved my work and I couldn’t wait to greet the students as they trudged in with their backpacks. I felt happy.
Of course, I couldn’t say I ever compared it to feeling like a heroin user, but then I was a teacher, not a police detective!
Would I have felt such a strong connection with what this character was feeling if not for French’s beautiful, precise writing? Note the little details of the paragraph that capture Detective Ryan’s feelings so truly: his partner “sliding fluidly” off the desk; him “flipping his notebook shut” with one hand, the boss “wriggling” and “checking covertly for dandruff.” Just in those few descriptive phrases, we see a clear difference among the three characters. Maddox’s movements are graceful, Ryan’s, compact, and the superintendent’s, awkward. These are actions he has witnessed a hundred times before, which is the reason they make Ryan feel a sense of happiness and belonging. If they had been described in a more mundane way, would these characters have drawn me in so thoroughly?
It made me think about the fact that everything we write is, or should be, deliberate. Connecting with readers is important. It takes skill and practice to do it well.
By Cheryl Reifsnyder
Are your notebooks grease-spattered?
Dirty, dog-eared, crumple-paged, coffee-ringed, or soda-stained? Do they have sand stuck between the pages from a trip to the beach, or maybe a grass stain or two? Perhaps you’ve even collected the footprint of a wayward beast.
If none of the above resonates with you, maybe you should ask yourself if you’re doing it wrong.
I say this as an ardent admirer of beautiful notebooks. Take me to the Renaissance Festival and I find the leatherworker who crafts hand-bound blank books with leather covers, At the bookstore, I gravitate toward the Moleskine displays and the shelves of journals–of which there are now versions for every purpose, I should add: notebooks designed for recording thoughts, sure, but also wine lists, city notes, travel diaries, spiritual journeys, and more.
And yet…I have several of these lovely notebooks sitting on my shelves, untouched by pen. A few have the start of something, an idea for a poem or story or intimate essay that couldn’t possibly live up to its beautiful wrappings.
Photo: Joanna Penn, The Creative Penn
Here’s what I think: all those journals are wonderful and beautiful and cool, and since they look like great presents for writers, most of us writers have a few of them on our shelves, but they may not be the best place for actual writing. There can actually be such a thing as a too-beautiful journal, because once a journal moves past a certain threshold of quality, I feel too much pressure to fill its pages with perfect prose.
As you probably know, there’s no better way to squash creativity than to demand perfection on the first go-round.
Every writer needs a way to record ideas, inspirations, snatches of dialog and description that can be mined later for story material. However, an idea notebook needs to encourage you to capture those thoughts that flit through your head as you interact with your world throughout the day. That means you need to be able to live with it. Take it places, get it dirty.
In fact, it doesn’t need to be a notebook at all. It could be a digital recorder you carry on walks; your mobile phone, used to leave idea “messages” on your answering machine–or used with a recording app (my personal favorite: …). It can be a spiral notebook from the dollar store, an index card (Anne Lamott prefers index cards and a pen in her back pocket), a homemade folio of paper tucked up your sleeve, or even something fancy. The key is to have a place to record those nuggets of inspiration and, in so doing, capture the gifts of your subconscious.
Am I saying you shouldn’t buy yourself that lovely journal that you’ve been dying to possess? Absolutely not! A beautiful notebook can tell your muse that she (or he) is valued and special and worth treasuring.
Just make sure that notebook doesn’t also deliver the message that your muse needs to live up to that notebook’s beauty.