Yesterday, I attended the wedding of the son of a dear friend, followed by picture-taking and a lovely luncheon. The father of the beautiful young bride had compiled a sweet video of the couple growing up, meeting, dating, the proposal—their love story. The groom stood, looking down into the eyes of his new wife, and announced to those assembled that she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. It was all incredibly romantic—in a PG kind of way. And then they left in their highly decorated car to go on their highly anticipated honeymoon—and I was very glad I wouldn’t be watching what transpired in the honeymoon suite.
Give me curtains billowing in the wind any time, because I think romance is what happens before the honeymoon. Wedding cake, not edible undies. Unfortunately, far too many authors and Hollywood studios want to give us wedding cake with the undies baked in—sex scenes, F-bombs, bondage, hookups. Romance? I don’t think so. (I know some of you will disagree, and I hope those of you who do will be classy enough to do so in your own blog posts explaining why you read/write what you do and not in negative comments here. Thanks.)
I didn’t always feel this way. When I was younger, I read some racy novels. But I’ve come to treasure the pure romance more and more—falling in love, not consummating.
I’ve always loved movies. I even owned a video store (laugh if you remember those) for five years in the ’80s. I love movies of all genres (okay, horror, not so much). I especially love romantic comedies and Disney animated movies. As a young mother, sometimes I even had to talk my children into going to the newest Disney movies with me; after all, who wants to be the only adult there by herself?
What made those “cartoon” movies so great? What was the appeal? After watching action adventure and car chases and thrillers and dystopians and romances and yet another comic book hero remake, what was it about these “kid” movies that drew me in?
I think Walt Disney answered that question with a statement that has deeply influenced my writing and still resonates with me: “Over at our place, we’re sure of just one thing: everybody in the world was once a child. So in planning a new picture, we don’t think of grown-ups, and we don’t think of children. But just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us, that maybe the world has made us forget.”
I’ve had many fans thank me for writing PG-rated books that they can read and enjoy and then pass on to their daughters and best friends without a twinge of guilt. Many readers who, like me, want to read entertaining books without the parts that make us cringe. Especially when I’m listening to audiobooks and my family can hear, I don’t want an F-bomb exploding out into the air or a body part throbbing!
In this world that is such a scary place (now we’re back to real-life genres of thrillers and horror and car chases and identity theft and sex slavery and race baiting), books are an escape. I know others might not agree, but I don’t want realism in my books—there’s already far too much of that in real life. I can see more than I want just by logging onto Facebook. What I want is to escape the ugliness for a brief while, preferably in witty dialogue with just a touch of snark, fun characters, and situations inherently funny.
I want to read—and choose to write—about men and women as the best they can be, not the worst. So, yes, while my heroines and heroes are flawed and damaged because they are “human,” they are also striving to do the right thing. If they were abused as children—as was I, as were many of my readers, as was my hero in my latest book, Fifty Shades of Greystoke—I want them to turn around and not pass that abuse on. I want my readers to be able to read a book where people overcome the abuse, not replay it in other forms. I want to see people in real life and in my books break the cycle of abuse as they heal toward a happy ending.
If my fan mail is any indication, a lot of other people feel the same way.
One of the first reviews I ever received was from a woman who said she’d been reading lots of “dark” books—urban fantasy and the like—and feeling down. When she read my book, she felt better, “even though it was cheesy.” Cheesy?!! What?!? I was offended, ranting, incensed—until my critique partner reminded me that we love cheesy movies and books, romance and happy endings. So, okay… “My name is Heather and I write PG-rated, cheesy, funny romances and mysteries.” (“Hello, Heather.”) I guess I can live with that.
Another reader told me she’d been depressed for months, not knowing why, but as she read my book, she laughed all the way through, and then felt better.
That is why I write lighthearted books with happy endings.
My job, like Walt Disney’s, is to make people laugh. And I take that job seriously. In my fluffy, cotton-candy silly, even cheesy romances and mysteries, bad things do happen, but my hero and heroine are not going to tie up and smack other people around, they’re not going to use profanity, they’re not going to have sex before marriage—and if they are married, I’m not going to show their bedroom activities. I love keeping the honeymoon alive in my own marriage, but I certainly wouldn’t throw our bedroom doors open to the world; I respect my characters enough to shut the door for them, too.
Any movie or book worth its salt deserves a great soundtrack. Remember in The Emperor’s New Groove when Kronk supplied his own theme music? Wait? We get to choose? All right! Then I choose the music from Disney’s Electric Light Parade (I’m listening to it right now as I write). When I’m listening to that bouncy, happy music, I feel like I can accomplish anything.
So let me rephrase Walt Disney’s quote, replacing pictures with books and we with I...
“So in planning a new book, I don’t think of grown-ups, and I don’t think of children—but just of that fine, clean, unspoiled spot down deep in every one of us, that maybe the world has made us forget.”
With my books, I hope to put my readers in touch with that unspoiled spot again—a spot of wonder, a spot of joy, a spot of light and lightheartedness.
When I wish upon a star for my real life, I wish for joyful things and not dark ones. I wish them for you, as well. Which is why I write PG-rated happily-ever-afters—to share the joy of true romantic love.
Many authors and studios are happy to serve you edible undies. Look to me for wedding cake with lots of frosting flowers, hearts, and whimsical curlicues.
Walt Disney’s pictures brought light, laughter, and music into the world. I hope my books do, as well. And I hope that you also have a way to shine your light into the world while bringing you joy.
I hope that we can each be a point of light within the greater light, gathering together to brighten an increasingly darker world.
Let’s illuminate that clean, unspoiled spot in each of us, and remind people it’s there.