Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How to Know You Aren't a Romance Writer

A student recently brought me a copy of Forbidden Passion by Marilyn Cunningham. Yes, it's one of those romance novels: A Candlelight Ecstasy Romance from Dell. Copyright 1987. ISBN: 0-440-12660-6. You can pick up a used copy through the Amazon marketplace for a penny (plus shipping). I wouldn't recommend it, of course, but in the interest of full disclosure...the student purchased it for 49 cents at Goodwill as a joke.

From page 117:

"She felt the night crowding around her."

Oh good, I think, suspense...tension...horror.

"The damp smell of moss came sweetly to her nostrils..."

Wait. Sweetly? Damp smell of moss came sweetly?

"...and the water bouncing over stones blended with the moan of the wind that was tossing the tops of the pines in a haunting melody above her head."

Okay. Stop.

What the #($@&!

"...moan of the wind that..."

Moss doesn't smell sweet, folks. It's rotten, fetid, murky, foul. Not sweet. The wind doesn't moan through the trees...not in that way at least. It whispers. It says dark things. Haunting, maybe, but not that kind of melody.

My horror/romance hybrid:

"The moss, reeking of rot and decay, became a bed for their lustful lovemaking."

Stick that in your Forbidden Passion and smoke it. I just don't do romance.

By the you think Marilyn Cunningham was the author's real name?


Barry Napier said...

You could make it even darker by stating that "The fetid decaying moss became the unwilling playground for their demon-monkey-sex."

Aaron Polson said...

Wow...that's good, Barry. Don't know that I would have been able to say that in front of my students...but very, very good.

Jamie Eyberg said...

I love dissecting books, but you just took it to a new level. Of course, I have never read anything by the alleged Marylin Cunningham.

Aaron Polson said...

Romance novels are so fun. On page 118 "she felt him stiffen"--of course, that is in reference to his shoulder.


Jamie Eyberg said...

that's what they are calling it nowadays. makes you wonder how some of this crap got published in the first place.

And serious romance writers (I am not saying that in jest, I know there are a few) wonder why their genre gets a bad rap.

katey said...

HAHAHA! Oh man, what a way to start my blog rounds today. Brilliant!

Crappy romance is so awesome. I've never read one of this kind, but my friend offloaded some Anne Rice erotica on me and demanded I read it, so I think I'm going to go about it in this fashion.

I do love romance novels, actually... but like Jane Austen. The only thing stiffening in Regency romance is someone's back. Or maybe some guy's ridiculous shirt points.

Catherine J Gardner said...


When I was a teenager I read the entire back catalogue of Victoria Holt romance novels - same formula in every one: girl falls in love with bad guy, bad guy locks her in a crypt, cellar etc etc, bad guy is really the good guy and they fall in love. Excuse me while I stick my fingers down my throat and retch. I must have read at least 20 of them... Now I'm rebelling by writing stories where I leave people in crypts until they die and then I open the doors.

Aaron Polson said...

Katey - some people live and die by this crap.

Cate - I prefer your method.

Natalie L. Sin said...


I bought my sister a romance novel for her birthday. The real gift is letting her think I'm stupid enough to actually think she would want such a thing.

Can you tell I'm the older sibling ; )

K.C. Shaw said...

When I worked at a used book store, on slow days one of my coworkers would sometimes pick a romance book off the shelf and read the dirty parts out loud. The florid writing was funny enough to start with, but he read it with a mixture of enthusiasm and incredulity that still makes me giggle to think about it.

Moss should never be described as "sweet-smelling" in any way!

Danielle Ferries said...

The hybrid is so much more entertaining.

Aaron Polson said...

Natalie - how naughty of you.

K.C. - as kids, my friends and I used to ride our bikes to the supermarket (only a very small Christian bookstore in my hometown) and read the pulpy romance outloud until the manager chased us out.

Danielle - slipstream is the wave of the future. ;)

BT said...

I'm toying with the idea of writing a good dark romance. It's kind of like toying with the idea of writing a porn film with a story. A noble thought, but may be impossible to actually achieve.

Still, good writing should always win in the end, so if I take the major plot points in all these formula romances and add a dark twist, with a real story, then shouldn't that stand out from the herd and sell?

If nothing else, it would give me something to use my erotic writing skills for...

Aaron Polson said...

BT - I have zero erotic writing skills. Good luck if you take that route; there is a market for that kind of writing.

Rebecca Nazar said...

I've written two fantasy romantic comedies and I'm currently working on a third. When I attempt any serious romance genre writing, I find myself chuckling and realize--"oh geeez, I can't pull this off unless I'm totally irreverent."

Aaron Polson said...

Rebecca - I think that is the only way I could pull it off...serious romance...ha.