I always like to describe myself as a writer of love stories rather than as a writer of romance. The two terms may appear to be more or less synonymous, but I see a definite distinction between them. I believe that love is far more powerful than romance and that we can sell ourselves short as writers if we are content to write romances at the expense of telling true love stories. A great deal, of course, depends upon how those two words are defined.
Romance is that wonderful aura that surrounds a couple as they meet (even if they initially feel hostility to each other) and interact and fall in love and finally commit themselves to a life together. It’s the growing sense of rightness we feel about the relationship, and the joy we get out of watching the irresistible attraction these two people feel for each other on the journey to their happy ending. It’s a powerful reason for reading any book, and when it’s well done it can pull us in and leave us thoroughly satisfied at the end and sighing for more. It can be pure magic. It is certainly an essential component of any love story, and a great deal of effort must be put into creating it. It’s not an easy thing to do, by the way.
But even a good romance is not necessarily a love story.
Love is greater than any romance. Love is also greater than any words we might try to use to define it. Even the great religions and spiritual movements of the world have never quite explained what it is or exactly how we should deal with it. And yet vast numbers of people down the ages have agreed that it is there, that it is both central and necessary to life, that it alone can make our relationships with others deep and precious and meaningful. It can make our romantic relationships explode with passion and wonder.
I see love as creating three basic needs in us, and these needs must be met if we are to be happy, mature, loving people. They are (a) the need to love, (b) the need to be loved, and (c) the need to love ourselves, to feel ourselves lovable. Most of us find it easier to give love than to accept it. Many of us don’t even recognize the third need and suffer as a consequence. Indeed, many of us are taught as children that it is wrong to love ourselves.
What does it mean to love ourselves? I am not talking about vanity or narcissism, or any competitive need to prove that we are better than anyone or everyone else. I am talking about the need we all have to like ourselves, to accept ourselves for what we are despite all the warts, to feel comfortable in our own bodies and minds and emotions. If we don’t love ourselves, then we can’t really love anyone else, and we can’t believe that other people will love us.
When I write my love stories, I use these ideas about love to create complex, often wounded characters who must learn, usually the hard way, to satisfy these needs in themselves, to confront whatever it is that is holding them back, to work it out in the developing relationship with their romantic opposite. Often it is the meeting of the lovers that somehow provokes the soul-searching and the healing. And the process and the result of it all can be a passionate, realistic, deeply satisfying love story. Often it can be a story of redemption, a type I love to write. It can convince us at the end that this couple will live not only in a romantic happily-ever-after, but also with a realistic chance of living a meaningful life of hope and joy together—provided they continue to put in the effort.
It is hard to name just a few of my books that best illustrate my approach to writing love stories since they all do to a greater or lesser degree. But some reader favorites are THE SECRET PEARL, THE NOTORIOUS RAKE, A SUMMER TO REMEMBER, DANCING WITH CLARA, SIMPLY LOVE, THEN COMES SEDUCTION, AT LAST COMES LOVE—and the newly republished Dell historical, A PRECIOUS JEWEL.
A PRECIOUS JEWEL is one of my personal favorites and one of my most passionate love stories. It took me two weeks to write. We often hear of readers who cannot put a book down. But sometimes it happens to the writer too! Priscilla Wentworth has been wounded by circumstances—she has been forced into working for her living at a brothel. Sir Gerald Stapleton has been wounded by life. Of average good looks and average intelligence, he lost all his self-esteem as a boy, at the hands of a father who was openly and contemptuously disappointed in him, and at the hands of a stepmother who betrayed his love and trust. He is afraid of close relationships. He is afraid to love and does not believe himself to be lovable. Priscilla and Gerald meet when he becomes her “regular” at the brothel. It does not sound like an auspicious beginning for a romance, but it quickly becomes what, according to my definition, is a passionate affirmation of the power of love to redeem and heal.
It is a romance, yes. More than that, it is a love story.
For more information, and an excerpt from the book, see my web site at www.marybalogh.com
For Priscilla Wentworth, the path leading to Sir Gerald’s bed had been as filled with misfortune as it suddenly seemed charmed. But Priss couldn’t allow herself to believe she’d ever be more to a man like Sir Gerald than a well-cared-for object of pleasure. Now, despite Gerald’s deep distrust of marriage, neither scandal nor society’s censure can keep them apart—only the fear of trusting their hearts.