Author Archives: clancy

The Legend of Great Love: A Look at the Great Romances We Remember and Why They Work

heart 1With this title in mind, I began researching the topic looking for trends as well as doing a little soul-searching since I am a romantic at heart and write romance. I freely admit I am in love with love. In book, movie, poem or song, old or new, happy or tragic, requited or not.  I love love.  And this topic could not have been more timely on a personal level.

Over the weekend I had a discussion with my sweetheart about the word “love’ and while I don’t want to bore you with my life, I do want to explain the filter through which I am currently perceiving this word.  We love our pets, our cars, our friends, and the steak we had for lunch. How can one word cover so many things and hold its meaning? And how does that impact Great Love? The higher love of John Donne’s A Valediction Forbidding Mourning? The enduring love of Shakespeare’s Sonnets? Great Love covers more than common feelings and an over-used word.

When I am told that what someone feels for me is so much more meaningful than what the common word “love’ can possibly convey, I feel Greatly Loved in the capital G, capital L, Great Love kind of way.  That one incredible human being refuses to tell me he loves me because it does disservice to the depth of his emotions regarding me, well… I can tell you I have never been told anything so romantic or heartfelt no matter how contradictory it may sound.

Yet with all the grand  ideas of love and the ideal of Great Love, there is a trend I’m seeing in some of the great legends that bothers  me. I am practical, intelligent and have a firm belief that stupidity is its own reward. So, as I looked at lists of the “great’ romances (a couple sites I perused – Best, 10 Greatest, Top 20, Top 100) I became a little frustrated with how much rampant stupidity was involved.  Perhaps a harsh term, but we’re going to run with it for now. Before you get your big girl or boy panties in a twist, let me say I love most of these stories – rampantly stupid or not. It was just a trend I saw. I will explain. Stay with me.

First, why do these stories endure? I think it’s because they  lead us to a belief in something greater than ourselves. Something selfless and more meaningful than our happiness, than physically being together, than even life itself occasionally.  Something transcendental and eternal. So, while I love (there’s that word again) these stories, I would like to add a counter-balance thought to some of them.

heart 1We’ll alternate between the happy endings and the not-so-happy endings.

♥ Odysseus and Penelope – Time and patience pay off.  Yay. Great Love has no limits. Storms and travels and suitors abound, but Great Love stays the course.

Romeo and Juliet – Happy for the willingness to overcome all obstacles including family and friends’ disapproval to be together. Sad about poor communication.  Warning: Lots of bad communicating ahead and usually in the ones ending tragically. Maybe a lesson to be learned? Communication = Good.

♥ Jane Eyre and Rochester – Disparities in social standing, marital status, money and family situations cannot conquer Great Love. Neither can physical impediments. With time and clarity on what’s important, Great Love will triumph and our lovers will live happily ever after. I love that.

Antony and Cleopatra  – Stormy relations involving love, power and politics.  Something’s got to give and can you really separate them? I don’t know.

♥ Marie and Pierre Curie – Smarts and dedication combined with Great Love can lead to scientific break-throughs and a life well-lived in honor of the Great Love you shared.  Death of one does not have to mean an end to that Great Love.

Lancelot and Guinevere – Again, we have power and politics involved (always messy), and although they didn’t live together at the end, they both lived. As romantic as death seems in the abstract, in reality, I don’t think it’s much of a solution.  And really, relationships founded on cheating on current spouses rarely end well. There’s a lot of this too.

♥ Queen Victoria and Prince Albert – Another Great Love that brought forth greatness in both people when together and the survivor when one died. Sure, Victoria grieved all the rest of her very long life for Albert, but she was a great monarch and paid tribute to her Great Love by continuing on in his memory.

Tristan and Isolde – Kings of any type get the short end of the Great Love stick as their wives keep falling for other guys. I’m gonna say that the risk of jeopardizing a solid relationship as Queen is a pretty big sacrifice to make in the name of love, not to mention it usually also runs the chance of being killed or stuck in a nunnery, you know… for cheating on the king. For the guys too – you risk your life when you fall for the King’s woman. Sacrifice + Risk = Great Love. I guess.

♥ The Dashwood SistersSense and Sensability… Let’s start with Marianne and Willoughby  – stupid.  They may have been in love, but it was a wimpy love with no backbone.  All surface and no substance. Col. Brandon on the other hand, his love is substantial. It waits and is understanding of youth and immaturity.  Once Marianne pulls her head out of her ***, this is a Great Love. Elinor and Edward’s relationship certainly tests friendship and honor and generosity in the face of utter heartache. These two have a Great Love and a happy ending  they’ve earned the hard way.

Scarlett and Rhett – They were a hot mess. But they kept trying and maybe that’s the enduring quality here. Or maybe it’s that despite being a calculating, manipulative, shallow, difficult person, there is someone still willing to love you. No matter what. And if he leaves… well, he’s come back before and tomorrow is always another day. I’m not going to go into the whole Ashley/Melanie aspects. Triangles and trapezoids and daisy-chains of unreciprocated non-sense are not Great Love. I do think Ashley and Melanie had a Great Love that is more honest and worth noting than Scarlett and Rhett’s, but conflict is at the heart of story-telling, so…

♥ Rick and IlsaCasablanca. No, they didn’t end up together, but their sacrifice of Great Love was for the greater good and I can respect that.  Their acts of selflessness mean they can sleep at night knowing they did what was right and not convenient. Rarely is Great Love easy.

Pyramus and Thisbe – Wow for misperception and jumping to wrong conclusions a smidge too soon. This is one of those “stupidity is its own reward’ stories for me. I don’t see the romance in this one unless you want to say that life is meaningless without your Great Love.  Whatever.

♥ Nickie and TerryAn Affair to Remember. When all hope is gone, you discover you were wrong and love may not be waiting for you atop a building, but it is pretending nothing is wrong when it wants to run to you and can’t. If you don’t get it… watch the movie. I cry every time.

Cathy and Heathcliff – So, Scarlett and Rhett had nothing on Cathy and Heathcliff as hot messes went. They are both completely flawed and selfish. Neither gives two hoots about anyone but themselves and their Great Love. That could be the enduring trait – Great Love at all costs.  Including other partners, siblings, parents, children and let’s throw in some animals and servants for good measure. Why not? They completely destroyed themselves and everyone around them. And not that the other people are blameless, they didn’t have to stick around for it. Everybody involved seemed to think love was a weapon of mass destruction. For the record, I still love this one… just pointing out some alternate thoughts.

♥ Charlie and RoseThe African Queen. Great Love is not always handsome or beautiful. It is not always romantic in the traditional sense. Sometimes, it’s a lonely alcoholic running a crappy boat up and down a river building something with a high-handed sanctimonious spinster. Building something out of strength and respect and courage.  Hell yeah, sometimes Great Love endures because it fought to survive.

There are many reasons these stories endure, many reasons we want to cling to the idea of Great Love. Maybe I touched on some, maybe not. I’m open to discussion. Anyone got some other Great Love couples they want to mention and why? I’d love to hear about them.

The Heart Wants”¦


… what the heart wants. Right? As a kid, fairy tales were the reading fare. You know – Rapunzel (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after), Sleeping Beauty (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after), Snow White (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after), Cinderella (prince saves girl from evil witch and they live happily ever after). The list goes on. And as a kid, I thought that was the height of romance.

So, when I hit my teen years, I had a firm foundation of romantic beliefs built up. What did I read then? I read Harlequin Romances (boy and girl have struggles, fall in love and live happily ever after). My allowance money went to belonging to a Harlequin book club.  I chose the Historical club. Every month I got a box of four to six novels that were some combination of medieval romances, western romances and regency romances.  I’d start with my favorite, the medievals, move on to the westerns and then read the regencies.

I read them voraciously and then would have to wait weeks for the next box. Back then, I’m not sure if my library carried romance novels or not. I don’t remember looking.  Libraries do now though, I’m happy to say. In between, I’d read fantasies, sci-fi, biographies and whatever else my parents had sitting around. But it was all on hold once I got my new box of romances.

I’m grateful for Harlequin romances for taking up where my fairy tales left off and providing me and millions of women with stories that give us what our hearts want. Not to mention being a major market for romance writers for decades. I still read Harlequin’s and my first dreams of writing included being published by them.

Fast forward thirty years and what do I read and write? Romance. Despite three failed marriages, and the occasional jaded cynic’s hat I wear, beats the heart of a die-hard romantic. My favorite movies are romantic. My favorite storylines in other genres are the romantic ones. Even when dramas and stories end on a sad or bad note, I always think – we just need one more chapter, one more scene and this can be fixed. They can have a happy-ever-after. I know it.

Is it naïve? Maybe. But what I love about romance is that no matter the journey I go on – thrilling, sweet, harrowing, magical, tragic – I KNOW that at the end, everything will be okay, the couple will be together and all will be right in the world. Okay, it probably is really naïve. I don’t care. I’m a happier person because of it.

This may be a really strange analogy, but bear with me. Romance is like a good natural disaster flick (2012, The Day After Tomorrow, Armageddon) which I also love. They’re hopeful. They end on a positive note. And I want that.

Natural Disaster:

  •  Everything is going wrong (global temperature shift/giant asteroid is about to destroy earth)
  • We rise to the occasion and fix the problem (mankind joins together in global effort to save earth)
  • When all is said and done, regardless of the fact that maybe the majority of mankind has died horrifically, mankind triumphs and earth survives. YAY!


  •  Everything is going wrong (boy and girl have conflict – internal and external)
  • We rise to the occasion and fix the problem (boy and girl each overcome their own character flaws and whatever else is preventing their relationship)
  • When all is said and done, regardless of the problems encountered, love conquers all. YAY!

This is why I write romance. My heart wants happy endings. Now though, I want modern fairy-tales where boy and girl save themselves and each other from bad choices/tendencies and work to keep their happy-ever-after  happy. That seems more realistic, less naïve and still hopeful.


What do ya’ll think?


It’s More Than Just Sex

Woman Reading a DiaryThere was a time when romance was mostly identified as housewife porn and bodice-rippers.  Those days are long gone, let me tell ya. Romance has evolved and is more popular than ever.

Nowadays, there are many sub-genre’s within romance. To name just a few:

  • contemporary
  • multicultural
  • suspense
  • action
  • religious – which could include Christian, Amish… maybe Druid (I saw a guest post that had a Druid book albeit not romance, but what the heck.)
  • the paranormal / fantasy range – which could include vampires, witchcraft, shape-shifters, time travel, mythology, futuristic  and sci-fi
  • historical – which could be western, regency, medieval and specific to regions like Scotland, England, Ireland… even Rome and Greece are starting to make appearances
  • young adult
  • the clean / not-sexed up variety – not to say these aren’t fraught with chemistry and  tension, but any sex would happen behind closed doors and the reader is not privy to it
  • erotic – which could include BDSM, all manner of gender pairings and threesomes plus (although, please do not confuse this with erotica… it’s a pet peeve and others can disagree with me, but IMHO Erotic Romance is about the romance and happens to have explicit sex scenes while Erotica is primarily about the sex. One is not better or worse, they just have a different focus.)

So, with all the sub-genre options out there, how does one know it’s a romance rather than a (Pick your genre) with romantic elements?  Well, it’s not just sex. There are rules to follow and elements that can’t be ignored.

First, as L.L. Muir mentioned in her post on YA Romance, a romance needs to be at least 51% about the relationship and its journey to a Happy-Ever-After (HEA).  The other stuff (like action, history, sex, etc..) is nice but in a romance, you should be able to take those elements out and still have your basic story of persons meet, persons fall for each other, persons have bumps along the way to HEA.

Last month, I talked about the characters and their traits that go into a romance: the hero, the heroine, the sidekick and the antagonist or villain.  We need them, we need to love them, we need to root for them to get together.

We also need conflict. Internal and external.  Our lovers need to have internal issues that keep them from having successful relationships, thus far.  Issues they will resolve or come to grips with in order to be with each other.  Maybe our hero has trust issues, maybe our heroine can’t commit.  They’ll realize through their journey that the other is worth the effort to overcome these personal problems and they’ll be better people for having each other in their life.

The external conflict may be that they have diametrically opposed goals and one of them is going to have to change something in order to overcome this barrier.  Think You’ve Got Mail. Meg Ryan wants her little bookstore to continue, but can’t in light of Tom Hank’s big box book store opening around the corner.  This is a problem.  How will they overcome it?  That’s the journey.  We have no doubt they will (cuz it’s a romance), we just don’t know how.engaged couple holding on hands - view from backside

Which brings us to that HEA.  Yes, we know the persons in question will end up together. We take great satisfaction in that.  We crave that happy ending.  What we also crave is the optimism that comes along with it.  Sure, they struggle.  Sure, they may even hate each other at some point, but love and hate are a very thin line apart. Sure, they have ups and downs and bumps and bruises. But – and it’s an important “but’ – we know when we turn that last page, they will be together, love will triumph and Happy-Ever-After is achievable.

I know that optimism, that hope, feeds me. I can relate. I can believe that despite my own dubious history of relationships that love can conquer all. I just haven’t found Mr. Right … yet J

Love is, after all, universal.

What did I neglect to mention?  Or what about romance appeals to you?

Calling all Alpha Males”¦Romantic Character Needed

heart 1

In romance, we have fairly specific types of characters running through our pages: The hero (probably alpha, could be beta), the heroine, the best friend or side-kick, and perhaps a villain or antagonist.

Let’s look at these characters in terms of romance because romance is almost always a character-driven tale of ups, downs and eventual happy-ever-after (HEA) togetherness.

I’m not discounting any combination of relationship (male/male, female/female or anything else) because to my mind you’ll still have at least one person who is more or less portraying the hero and one the heroine, regardless of gender. So, with that disclaimer let’s start.

While many heroes are alpha males, there is also the beta hero.  What’s the difference?  For me – it comes down to ease of emotion and sensitivity.

Alphas are strong – they ooze confidence and strut arrogance.  They’re über capable and may even be abrasive because they don’t really care if they offend anyone.  They don’t worry about their emotions or being sensitive.  They don’t need to.  They’re too busy kicking-ass.  If they were a doll (action-figure, for the guys), they’d be G.I. Joe.   Guys want to be them and girls want (desperately) to be with them.

Beta heroes are more subtle.  They’re often funny and charming.  They may be able to kick ass, but they’d rather reason or humor their way out of any conflict.  Mother’s love them.  They bring flowers just because and remember anniversaries.  They’re in touch with and willing to express their emotions.  They can (and do) plan candle-light dinners and know what present will bring their lady-love joy.  If they were a doll/action figure, they’d be Ken.   Happy to hang out in Barbie’s dream house for romantic weekends of long talks and walks along the beach.

I love both types of heroes.

Our heroines need to be smart and capable. No one wants to read about a lead character who is too stupid to live (it’s a thing… really).  We want our heroines to perhaps need rescued from a situation but not from their lives.  They need to be able to stand on their own two feet just fine without our hero, so they don’t need the hero, but they want him.

The key is that our hero and heroine are both better people for having the other in their life.  And as a reader, we need to love them both.  If we don’t, we aren’t rooting for them to get together and find their HEA.  Through this identification with and love for the characters, we are invested in their path to happiness, and that’s what a romance is all about – the emotional journey.  Next month when we discuss genres, I’ll go into more depth on the whys and what-fors that make romance … romance. Right now, let’s continue on with the people inhabiting our stories.

We may also have the sidekick/best friend characters. Like other genres, these people can be a huge amount of fun because they don’t have to be heroic. They get to have a lot more flaws and we don’t have to love them.  They can be cowardly, obnoxious, slightly stupid, clumsy… a whole host of things that our heroes do not get to be.  They are perfect foils for our leads characters.

Our villains and antagonists in romance may or may not be actual bad guys/gals, they may just be the wrong guy/gal for our hero/ine.  How far this character is willing to go to keep our leads in their lives determine where they fall on our villain – antagonist spectrum.   Or they may be someone (a well-meaning, or not, relative?) who feels these two should not be together and will do whatever it takes to keep them apart.  Often though, what is keeping our lovebirds from their HEA isn’t a who so much as a what – their flaws or internal conflicts.  I’ll discuss more on this next month as well.

What traits do ya’ll think are necessary for our hero/ine to be identified with and loved?