Thursday, November 20, 2008

Romance, or Love?

(Please indulge me as I talk about my own book.)

It's been a whirlwind of a week in my journey toward being a published author. I had submitted my first three chapters to an agent in September, and on Monday of this week, I finally heard from her - she wanted to read the full manuscript! Naturally, I was quite excited. I got the manuscript to her on Tuesday and settled for some waiting. As it turns out, I didn't have long to wait - I heard from her this morning. She said, "I have decided not to take your manuscript at this time, although I would definitely reconsider it if you decide you would like to address the following concerns...." She then goes on to say that the first 150 pages are "very engaging" and that she "loved" the "initial development of the characters" and the "young love" between those characters. However, she said, once they start on their pioneering journey (this is historical fiction, of course), "all the strong characters, tensions, concerns, and issues...got left behind." She said the relationship between the characters was central to the plot in the first part of the book, but that it "takes a second seat to many of the external events in their lives" once they start traveling.

I've pondered this on and off (well, OK, mostly "on") all day, and I think I understand our differences: she wants romance, and I wrote love.

In the first chapter of the book, the hero and heroine meet and get married the same night through a set of unusual circumstances (that I won't go into here, because this isn't really about my book). It's a marriage in name only, though, and they plan to dissolve it as soon as they get an opportunity. But over the next five chapters, they begin to be "in love" with each other. Not to flatter myself, but I think the reader can sense the sexual tension of those characters being around each other, becoming more and more attracted to each other, drawn together by a desire to protect each other from angry and unfair parents. Finally, they give in to that tension and decide they will stay married. The very next day they leave on their trip. And that's about the time the agent says she lost interest.

Throughout the rest of the book, that sexual tension is not so intense. They are married, after all, and now they can have sex whenever they feel like it. But now their challenge is to learn to love each other, with all the flaws that they sort of didn't notice during that period of infatuation. So they fight sometimes. They have to figure out how to deal with problems in a way that takes into consideration the needs and wants of two people instead of satisfying only themselves. They hurt each other, and they have to face up to that and to decide if they can get past that pain to continue on as husband and wife, or if it's time to give up.

Personally, I find those kinds of struggles interesting. It's part of what I liked so much about Hannah Fowler. But....it's a different kind of thrill than reading about/experiencing infatuation. Now that I think about it, Forged in the Fire (which I loved) seemed to lose some of its drive once Will and Susanna married. The same is true once Baudoin Bras-de-fer spirits Judith of France away from the captivity the father has imposed on her. Heck, even in television shows like Moonlighting or Scarecrow and Mrs. King or Remington Steele (ok, now you know how old I am, ha ha ha!), once the two main characters got together, the thrill of the show was gone, and it didn't last much longer. I haven't read the Twilight series yet, but I read a comment about it the other day that made the point that the writer deliberately maintains that intense sexual tension for three books precisely because she knows it's necessary to keep people interested.

So, I guess I made an error in plotting my story, if I wanted to be commercially successful. Are we as a culture so in love with the idea of being "in love"? Is love only interesting when it is fired by infatuation? Do we turn off when passion has burned down to a warm, steady glow? Does marriage bore us?

The agent told me she would be happy to reconsider my book if I made some changes. She wanted a total re-write of the second half of the book, to change the entire reason I wrote the story in the first place. I'm not going to do it. Maybe it won't be a commercial success. But at least it will be what I want it to be, to explore issues I think matter. I hope somebody else thinks they matter, too.