Today we're happy to welcome author Molly O'Keefe to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Molly's newest release, Crazy Thing Called Love, tells the rekindled romance between two formerly married people. So today we've asked her to come discuss bad marriages in romance novels. Thanks, Molly!
(See the bottom of the post for a comment sweepstakes!)
My four-year-old daughter has become obsessed with my wedding album. Her sighs of delight over my dress and flowers stroke my inner princess. But a month ago when my six year old son had friends over, she insisted they play wedding. The boys declined, choosing to do their own thing—she dressed up anyway and waited for one of them to “win” and then announced that getting married to her “was the prize.”
I thought, “I need to put a stop to that.” But then realized I write the grown-up version of that same mythology. And while romance novels have evolved past the heroine waiting on the sidelines while the hero wins her love, marriage is often the romance novel end-game, the proof that the love the characters feel is real and will last. Marriage is a big part of the promise romance novels keep.
I began to wonder if the romance genre's treatment of marriage was relevant anymore. Or had it slipped into the fantasy land of sheiks, princes, waxed chests, and instant orgasms? Granted, many romances have eased away from the HEA=marriage and into the more realistic Happy For Now, but the door to marriage is wide open.
USA TODAY best-selling author RaeAnne Thayne who has written over 40 novels tackling many tough and relevant topics, believes in that promise:
“That's part of the magic of a romance novel to me, that these two very different people have overcome all obstacles and are willing to completely bind their lives together without hesitation.”
I think most romance readers agree with this magic, despite having experienced divorce or being close to someone who has. Which I believe is a powerful testament to the willingness of the human heart to love, despite heartbreak. (Put another check in the column under reasons why I love romance novels. )
But all this marriage rumination made me think of one of the most popular romance tropes; reunited lovers, or second-chance at love and its success in opposition to the nearly taboo subject that is marriage in jeopardy. Or—gasp—infidelity.
Part of the appeal of reunited lovers is the fact that one of the major stumbling blocks to a HEA is one character is undoubtedly going to have to forgive the other for something that might be very unforgiveable.
Karina Bliss wrote the fantastic second chance at love story, Second Chance Family, about a divorced couple brought back together by orphaned children, understands the powerful appeal of forgiveness in love stories.
“Second chance at love stories are often to do with outside forces undermining the relationship. Or maybe the couple were young and immature, not capable of dealing with the issues that pulled them apart. One of the noblest things to give is forgiveness. Which is why these romances can resonate so powerfully.”
Soraya Lane, whose Back In The Soldier's Arms was a powerful rule-breaking Harlequin Romance about a woman coming back from the war to deal with the fact that her husband had cheated, says that exploring forgiveness was one of the reasons she wrote that book:
“I also wanted to explore the idea - that marriage isn't always easy, and walking away from the person you love isn't always the right decision. Also that being honest, talking about your feelings, and asking for forgiveness is something to be encouraged.”
If forgiveness plays an important part in a successful reunited lovers story, then a marriage in jeopardy story should be the ultimate realization of that fantasy. In the historical world—absolutely. And no one does marriage in jeopardy or marriage of convenience better than Sherry Thomas.
According to Thomas,
“An aspect of the marriage-in-distress plot that appeals to me is what happened to put the marriage in distress in the first place. There must have been mistakes and I'm deeply interested in mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes—a given. It is what we do in the wake of sometimes catastrophic mistakes that determines the shape of our future. And I am also fascinated by second chances. In real life, not everyone deserves a second chance; but in a literary context, the ability to forgive and move on and forge a new life together despite past mistakes—that is what I love to explore.”
But in the contemporary world, romance novels set within marriage are rarely seen. In large part in fear that the fantasy of true love will get worn down by all that ugly reality.
Robyn Carr, who has written with grace and humor about nearly every aspect of marriage and relationships in her Virgin River Series, agrees:
“In most of the romances I've read, if the marriage is in serious trouble it's the precursor to the hero or heroine moving into a new, better, more exciting relationship. That seems to set the stage for the 'Oh I've never felt this way before!' concept along with this ”I've never been this happy before!“ idea. That fits the HEA promise better, more easily. And in fact, it's a better fantasy for readers.”
The push-pull between fantasy and reality was something I wanted to explore in Crazy Thing Called Love. Maddy and Billy are a couple who married very young and divorced not long after only to be reunited ten years later. Can they forgive? Do people change? Can they find equality in their relationship? Can old love be new again?
These seemed like hugely relevant questions to me.
The truth is romance walks a fine and tricky line between fantasy and reality on a number of topics, marriage being at the top of the list. Many readers and writers who hold the idea of marriage and life-long partnership in high regard - want to keep the fantasy intact. And even as more reality seeps into our fantasy, the Happily Ever After, marriage or not, is the promise our books make. And I'm good with that. And so is my daughter.
To enter for a chance to win 1 of 2 copies of Molly O'Keefe's Crazy Thing Called Love, make sure you’re a registered member of the site, and then simply leave a comment about the post below.*
*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A purchase does not improve your chances of winning. Sweepstakes open to legal residents of fifty (50) United States and the District of Columbia, who are 18 or older. To enter, fill out entry at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/blogs/2013/01/author-molly-okeefe-on-bad-marriage-in-romance-novels beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) January 28, 2013. Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 a.m. ET on February 4, 2013 (the “Promotion Period”). Void outside of the 50 US and DC and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules at http://www.heroesandheartbreakers.com/page/official-rules-the-crazy-thing-called-love-comment-sweepstakes. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010
Molly O’Keefe published her first Harlequin romance at age twenty-five and hasn’t looked back. She loves exploring each character’s road toward happily ever after. She’s won two Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice awards and the RITA for Best Novella in 2010. Originally from a small town outside of Chicago, she now lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband, two kids, and the largest heap of dirty laundry in North America.