How Much Romance is Too Much?

It’s Valentine’s Day. Or Single Person Awareness Day. Or Ash Wednesday. Take your pick.

Valentine’s Day lost meaning for me years ago, and it wasn’t even much of a celebratory excuse when I was coupled. I never went in for the candy and flowers thing, and some of the sweetest Valentine’s gifts I received from my ex were silly but meaningful cards.

When you’re divorced, not in a romantic relationship, widowed, or otherwise without a romantic partner, Valentine’s Day can be a drag. It’s difficult not to be cynical. But, I have among my extended family many wonderful examples of what Valentine’s Day symbolizes: my niece and her wife; my daughter and her husband. That makes up for being single.

Wait. Own it. For having chosen to be single.

So, I shouldn’t complain, right? Actually, I’m not complaining; merely commenting.

There is no HEA

HEA in the romance writing world is “happy ever after,” the point of all modern romances. And that’s lovely, except it isn’t reality. Rather, it doesn’t reflect reality. I can’t help but think of a relative’s wife who was a romance novel addict and who continuously berated her spouse for not being like the ideal men in the books she read.

I found myself falling into that same trap when I wrote some early pieces featuring my two fictional characters, Mai Fisher and Alexei Bukharin. It was easy to make Mai real; she’s a woman, like me. Writing in her faults and foibles was second nature. Alexei, however, became idealized. Some readers of that early work–most of them women, BTW–remarked that he was too perfect, too tolerant of Mai’s obvious snarkiness, too…ideal. “Give him a flaw or two,” one reader said.

I hesitated to do that. He was my dream guy after all: tall, blue-eyed, gorgeous, buff, mysterious, a little dark, a bad boy. Once I took that advice, however, he took on a life of his own and became a living, breathing person.

Frankly, readers love him. One beta-reader declared to me that Mai doesn’t deserve him because he’s so wonderful, and she doesn’t appreciate that. Obviously, I’d done something right; here was a person bound up in the lives of my fictional characters.

As I’ve written more about Mai and Alexei and brought them up into present day, people have asked me if their up-and-down relationship will have a HEA?

I don’t know. I’d love for them to have one, but, in my “reality” of spies and intrigue, would that happen?

Let’s hope so.

A Hint of Romance

Even though it’s quite clear that Mai and Alexei are married and have been since 1978, while on a mission that moves into the background.

Well, it retreats quickly for Mai. Alexei, because of his generation and cultural background, tends to have and express concerns for Mai as an operative. She calls it “patriarchal paternalism”–which pretty much sums up her attitude about a lot of things; another attribute she shares with me.

However, they love each other, even if their emotions are sometimes too constipated to express it. I prefer to keep it in the background, reveal it with banter and innuendo, and provide, for the most part, fade-to-black sex scenes.

Not fade-to-black because writing a sex scene would make me uncomfortable. It doesn’t, but, rather, that’s more typical of their relationship.

Also, I feel that some modern thriller writers throw in a romance, or at least a sexual encounter, because they feel that appeals to a female audience or because some formula somewhere states “insert sex scene every X pages.” Quite often, those sexual encounters are unequal, i.e., the man seduces a woman to obtain information from her or to gain access to another individual, after which he leaves her high and dry or so compromised that she’s eliminated. That isn’t romance, though the seduction and sex scenes may be romantic on the surface; it’s manipulation, using. Great spy tools, of course, when they fit the story.

I also dislike prolonged sexual tension, i.e., a male and female protagonist, both strong and capable, but holding off on consummation because of a litany of silly reasons. Some readers say, “The sexual tension keeps me coming back for more.” I say, “In real life, sexual tension extended over months or years only creates eventual disinterest.”

For example, J. D. Robb also has a married couple as her two main protagonists. She could have opted to have Eve Dallas and Roarke not give in to their sexual tension to keep readers buying books to see if they finally “do it.” However, she had them “do it” in the very first book and had them married, if I recall correctly, by the second book. People keep reading the series because Robb has made Dallas and Roarke real, with a hint of ideal. They squabble, they get jealous, they have incredible sex, they take care of each other, they support each other… Well, that’s what romantic reality should be. And maybe that is a HEA.

I like the J. D. Robb “In Death” series and was thrilled when an author who provided a blurb for my first novel, A War of Deception, said Mai and Alexei reminded her of Dallas and Roarke. My sex scenes aren’t nearly as steamy, but, hey, some things are best left to the imagination.

So, how much romance is too much? Even jaded, cynical me has to reply: You can never have enough romance.

To try out my realistic espionage fiction with a hint of romance, grab some free excerpts by clicking here.

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