Oct 14 2013 3:15pm

Romantic Attractions: The Thrills and Spills of the Reader’s Theme Park

Today we're delighted to have two authors joining us to talk about great romantic fiction. Heidi Cullinan writes primarily m/m romance, and her latest release, Love Lessons, tells the story of a shy freshman and his Casanova roommate. Damon Suede also writes m/m romance, and his upcoming title, Bad Idea, is about a reclusive comic book artist who meets an FX makeup artist.

Damon and Heidi have teamed up to share how they believe reading romance is like riding a great amusement park ride. Buckle up! And thanks, Heidi and Damon!

“Disneyland is often called a magic kingdom because it combines fantasy and history, adventure and learning, together with every variety of recreation and fun designed to appeal to everyone.” - Walt Disney

Like an amusement park ride, great romantic fiction must be both safe and exciting, balancing risk and reward for maximum enjoyment. Climbing aboard promises two certainties: a central loving relationship and a positive outcome. We don’t know how the love will happen, but we expect a moving experience that’s surprising and satisfying. Just as we know a well-designed rollercoaster won’t stall or jump the tracks, we know a romance always looks towards a happy future, possibly with marriage, babies, and multiple orgasms. It’s why we keep coming back. We want the the thrills without the spills.

That ride doesn’t happen by accident. Even the most plot-phobic author knows that canny fans arrive with high expectations and jaded tastes. Readers quickly learn which writers build the rides which push them right up to the margins of their comfort zone without trespassing beyond.

Any genre fiction adheres to basic patterns, but romance in particular presents a unique challenge because it has only two pillars: an amazing connection between the main characters and the hopeful ending. That kind of latitude encourages rampant modification and invention, which in turn makes for enough wacky variety to satisfy any visitor. Anything from gentle inspirationals to raunchy paranormal kink can become an attraction in the Romantic Kingdom—as long as it gives its readers the promised ride.

The Gate & the Wait

Alluring covers, beloved tropes and intriguing blurbs lure us through the gate along with our friends. Pre-ordering or wish-listing a title is the equivalent of getting our hand stamped at the gate and beelining for the ride we’ve been dying to try. We commiserate with our gang, wallowing in anticipation and fascination while bemoaning the wait With familiar authors we hope for new turf, and for new authors we hope to be the first to discover something dazzling. Savvy riders learn to spot winning attractions at a glance, to beat the rush and stake their claim.

People choose rides at a theme park by weighing risks against rewards. You spend time and money to be entertained the way you prefer. Parents with toddlers amble toward the slow, bright carousels, free of jolts or shocks. Not thrilling perhaps, but much less traumatic at naptime. Rowdy teens who love being hung upside down and whipping around at barf-velocity race for the scarier rides because conquered fear makes the payoff sharper. Anyone who has hit a theme park with a posse has seen this in action: the easy-breezers catch a break from the daily grind while adrenaline junkies flirt with heart attacks. Factoring in the risk-reward factor for each ride drives patrons to their favorite options—the name and style of the ride makes a promise and we only stand in line because we expect it to deliver.

Romance novels are more fun if we take the ride together, so we can shout and wave at each other...which is why cons and signings become such an amazing time for devoted readers and why book groups and blogs have become such a huge part of fan culture. We scan the bestseller lists and the recommendations the way we’d browse the “lands” at Disney World on a family vacation. Mapping our TBR pile, we rely on all the guarantees of an untested good time: rave reviews , favorite categories, and gleeful word of mouth. If the ride sucks, our participation turns to exasperation; we’re less likely to take the same chance again. If its amazing we can race back to the start fast enough.

Motion & Emotion

“I don’t want the public to see the world they live in while they’re in Disneyland. I want them to feel they’re in another world.” - Walt Disney

Is there any moment better than finally settling in with the long-awaited novel, reading the opening pages and setting off on the ride? Anticipation is still high, because the whole story lies before us, but the time for waiting is over: now the ride is actually happening. We tweet it, we update our social media with favorite quotes and initial impressions. It’s thrilling to be here.

Again it comes down to risk and reward. As soon as you crack the book open, you’re strapped in, anxiety and anticipation amping the pleasure. Sometimes the risk is large: a new author, a new subgenre, a wild departure from your usual outing. On the other hand, for gambles that pay off, the reward is even larger. Sometimes we need to take on the crazy six-loop inverted coaster: some nights the comfortable ferris wheel gets us where we need to go. Sometimes we want the illusion of risk: the ride is new, but we know who built it, and they’ve never steered us wrong before. Maybe this time they promise new thrills, but there’s security, trust built between the writer and the rider.

In the HEA Theme Park, authors (and publishers) are our amusement park engineers. Enormous, unconscious trust goes along with the purchase of that ticket.The best rides and the best parks require staggering work, while appearing effortless: designers, builders, custodians, artists collaborate to generate Disney-level polish. and comfort Publishers advertise, craft covers, and tirelessly edit the author’s blueprint for emotional rides. Readers know certain publisher’s “parks” are safe simply by the name above the gate, and some author-engineers are so beloved it doesn’t matter what remote subgenre corner of the park they claim: riders can’t resist their attractions.

Romances are made up of two kinds of action: motion that changes the external landscape and emotion which alters the internal landscape. Great romances novels unite motion and emotion in ways that transform the characters and their world. Books are more than simply stories: they change our lives.

Hijacks & Climax

Familiar forms (tropes and archetypes) make people feel safe and identify expectations. Authors promise that they’re going to reinvent those golden oldies so that the ride is more roller coaster than escalator. They provide rails and ramps, curves and loops, imagineering possibilities without boring or mangling anyone—and fans know the difference between a read that keeps you on the edge or goes off the rails.

A vast gulf separates imagining a fifty-foot loop or hairpin turn rather than experiencing it personally. Books are the same. Even if we’ve read advance reviews or heard spoilers or recommendations, our personal interaction with the novel is a ride no one can duplicate secondhand: each lift, each twist, each thrilling revelation. No sooner do we plummet than we’re cranking up again, this hill canted differently, a new chasm before us. Each moment of the ride is another opportunity for breathlessness, for excitement., for relief woven into a single unforgettable trip.

Ending a ride is always bittersweet—who wants fun to finish? At the same time, the exit frees you up for the next…. except unlike real-life roller coasters, taking the romantic ride again comes as easily as flipping back to the front cover. without lines or delays. The Amazing Romantic Kingdom is a park that never closes and never stops expanding.

Back to the Map

“Whenever I go on a ride, I’m always thinking of what’s wrong with the thing and how it can be improved.” - Walt Disney

With every ride that ends, your expectations change.

Lois McMaster Bujold once said she didn’t know what her books were fully about until her readers read them and let her know. Most authors feel the same way: the potential thrills and spills guide every stage of the design and construction. Our ride, our reward, is the camaraderie and community built by sharing what we've built: welcoming patrons and learning from their feedback so we can take things further on our next outing.

We don’t stand beside the ride expecting congratulations. We want to lurk in the distance, watching the reactions, hearing reports from our publishers, agents, and publicists on how our efforts were received. We don’t do this for the accolades but for the chance of adding to the manifold attractions of the Romantic Kingdom. As best we can, we all honor the master craftsmen that taught us our trade and try to appeal to the most skeptical first-timer. Over the centuries, blueprints and models have grown into a moving world millions will pay to enter.

Authors want the amusement park to grow; we each do our part to keep it fresh and fun. by writing for the riders Anyone can make a slip-n-slide out of a plastic tarp and a hose, but a water park takes a different kind of craziness and vision. The minute we get lazy our bumper cars become parking lots and our rollercoasters become escalators . We need to dream big because all writers start out as riders first.

The reader’s job in all this? Come to the park and take a risk that seems rewarding. Share your excitement. Be the excitement, because without you all our magic kingdoms would be empty, silent maps and models instead of motion and emotion. We craft the cars, we weld the track, but in the end, without the riders, our greatest works are squiggles on paper.

And that’s the ticket: your heart must be at this tall to ride this ride.


Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren't enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn't writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and ten-year-old daughter. Heidi also volunteers frequently for her state's LGBT rights group, One Iowa, and is proud to be from the first midwestern state to legalize same-sex marriage. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks and most recent releases, at

Damon Suede grew up out-n-proud deep in the anus of right-wing America, and escaped as soon as it was legal. Having lived all over, he’s earned his crust as a model, a messenger, a promoter, a programmer, a sculptor, a singer, a stripper, a bookkeeper, a bartender, a techie, a teacher, a director…but writing has ever been his bread and butter. Though new to gay romance, Damon has been a full-time writer for print, stage, and screen for two decades. He has won some awards, but counts his blessings more often: his amazing friends, his demented family, his beautiful husband, his loyal fans, and his silly, stern, seductive Muse who keeps whispering in his ear, year after year. Get in touch with him at

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Lege Artis
2. LegeArtis
Really interesting post, Heidi & Damon!

Ok, if choosing romance book is like amusment park, then I guess I go for challenging, difficult ride,scary one where you sign several papers. :)
That means I love angsty, doomed love stories. The bigger obstacles lovers have to overcome, the more I cheer for them and more I'm invested in.
Heidi Cullinan
3. HeidiCullinan
That's great, LegeArtis! Do you think you're drawn back because you're an invention addict, or is it because you secretly hope it's disaster that brings you back? Or as Damon says, "Do you like to love dangerously?" ;)
4. SandyM
Most excellent post, Heidi and Damon.
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