Monday, April 9, 2018

How I Learned to Embrace Romance: A Personal Romance Evolution (Guest Post with Karissa Laurel)

Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey everybody!  Let's give a kindly Boarder (Boardie? Boardigan?) welcome to today's guest, the extremely talented Karissa Laurel!  Let's meet her briefly then jump right in to the festivities.

About Karissa Laurel:


Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her son, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Her favorite things are dark chocolate, coffee, super heroes, and "Star Wars." She can also quote "The Princess Bride" verbatim. Karissa is the author of two novel series: THE NORSE CHRONICLES, an urban fantasy trilogy from Red Adept Publishing; and THE STORMBOURNE CHRONICLES, a young adult fantasy series from Evolved Publishing. The first two books, HEIR OF THUNDER and QUEST OF THUNDER are currently available, and Book 3, CROWN OF THUNDER, is coming soon. To find out more about her books and writing, visit her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

How I Learned to Embrace Romance: A Personal Romance Evolution 

I just signed a publishing contract for my first romance novel (TOUCH OF SMOKE, from Red Adept Publishing.)  It’s not the first book I’ve ever published, nor the first with romantic subplots. It is, however, my first novel with a storyline dedicated solely to the development of the romantic relationship between the two lead characters. TOUCH OF SMOKE is a romance in the sense that satisfies the major definitions of the genre:

1. If the romance is removed, the story falls apart; or there’s no story at all.

2. The novel ends with a Happily Ever After (or at least a Happy For Now) resolution for the two main characters.

Why is the fact that I wrote a romance novel worth mentioning when there are already thousands on the market? Because I want to talk about how long it took me, as both a reader and an author, to reach the level of confidence and understanding required to write this novel. Not because I doubted my writing skills, but because I had, for so long, held the belief that romance was a lesser genre. Something to be talked about with a blush, shifty eyes, and the disclaimer of “guilty pleasure.” It’s fluff. It’s forgettable. It has no lasting impact.

Boy, was I wrong.

I don’t remember the first romance novel I ever read, but I’m pretty sure it was one by Jude Deveraux back when I was in high school. I was immediately hooked and read her entire catalogue—whenever I could find her books at the local second-hand book store or library. Add Nora Roberts, Fern Michaels, and Diana Gabaldon’s OUTLANDER series, and you could probably say most of my leisure reading was devoted to romance in one form or another.

After college I set out to rediscover my love of reading, having abandoned most for-the-fun-of-it books during those years of academic study. I found myself devouring John Irving and Margaret Atwood novels and Che Guevara biographies—all highly recommended, but, you know... “serious.” Many of those post-college reading years blurred together. I’m sure I mixed in plenty of commercial fiction, but nothing stands out in my memory as much the moment that a co-worker put TWILIGHT into my hands.

To be clear, I’m not discussing the merits, or lack thereof, of TWILIGHT. I’m only saying that novel marked a benchmark moment, a clearly defined instant when a single book triggered my re-connection to romance. In fact, because of TWILIGHT, I was reading more of everything, particularly books in the speculative fiction and YA genres. And when I set my eyes on my first urban fantasy novel (DARKFEVER by Karen Marie Moning), given to me by the same friend that gave me Twilight, I knew I had found my genre heart-song.

Intermixed with my romantic reads during high school, I was also sucking down Christopher Pike, Stephen King, V.C. Andrews, and Dean Koontz. Looking back, it makes sense I would be drawn back into a love of books with paranormal elements, but it had not consciously occurred to me that anyone could successfully combine paranormal with romance. The results of mixing those genres by authors like Moning, Ilona Andrews, and Richelle Mead were so compelling that I found myself eager to write my own stories.

But even then, I wasn’t quite willing to go all the way. I was still hearing voices in my head saying romance wasn’t legitimate or respectable. Intent on honing my craft, I dove headlong into writing short stories for professional, speculative fiction markets. Those markets leaned more towards the literary, and, in my mind, there was no place for “common” romance among the more erudite offerings. Meanwhile, I published my first novel, MIDNIGHT BURNING, which relied heavily on Norse mythology, magic, and adventure. I allowed my characters to pursue romantic sub-plots, but never at the cost of the main story. I was still reading plenty of romance, but writing it was a line I couldn’t allow myself to cross.

But around that same time my network of writing friends was expanding. I started spending more time on Twitter, stalking other authors, reading their threads, their links, their opinions and experiences. I was looking for advice in general, but found myself paying attention to what some of those writers had to say about romance. Thanks to those influential Twitter accounts (particularly Bree Bridges aka one-half of the author team called Kit Rocha, Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, and The Ripped Bodice), and critique partner/mentors Mary Fan and Erica Lucke Dean, my views and understanding of romance—in both the literary world and in the feminist movement as a whole—evolved.

Many things to which women have devoted their time, money, and passion have been regularly dismissed as irrelevant or less-than, and it was a trap I had fallen into. Why couldn’t something mostly written by and for women be as legitimate as any other genre? And was I going to allow myself to perpetuate that stereotype?

Yes, not all romance is good (What genre is always good?), but when it is, it can be powerful. Oh, the things one can do under the guise of a “simple love story.” Oh, the messages of empowerment, equality, and respect that could be shared among women in a medium dedicated almost expressly to us. Studying those authors also showed me how much work still needed to be done to expand our understanding of women’s sexuality, agency, and consent, and how romance novels could be a critical tool in that endeavor.

I also learned that if a romance offers nothing more than the comfort of a guaranteed happy ending, that’s okay too. More than okay. Happily Ever After is sometimes the perfect balm to the soul of the tired and weary. Comfort and pleasure are legitimate reasons to both read and write—a validation I believe in, but am still working to internalize.

So, yeah, in TOUCH OF SMOKE, a boy and a girl fall in love and go on to live happily ever after. This novel has, I hope, all the things that make any story compelling such as the innate conflict that arises when two people start a new relationship and explore complex emotions and universal themes like trust, loyalty, respect, and forgiveness—with the added tension of will they or won’t they fall in love. TOUCH OF SMOKE is a romance, and I’m finally proud to admit it.

For more thoughts and theories on romance that have recently influenced me, see:

· A [Twitter] Thread on the Notion that Romance Readers Need to Be Challenged by Tessa Dare.

· “Romance as Resistance” by David Canfield (Entertainment Weekly, November 03, 2017).

· A thread on how romance novels subversively teach women to have sexual expectations by Bree Bridges:

· Trashy, sexist, downright dangerous? In defence of romantic fiction by Dr Elizabeth Reid Boyd.

· The Romance Novelist’s Guide to Hot Consent by Kelly Faircloth (Jezebel, February 14, 2018).

· It’s Still Complicated: Romance Publishing by Betsey O’Donovan (Publisher’s Weekly, Nov 10, 2017).




Solina Mundy lives a quiet life, running the family bakery in her small North Carolina hometown. But one night, she suffers a vivid nightmare in which a wolfish beast is devouring her twin brother, who lives in Alaska. The next morning, police notify her that Mani is dead. Driven to learn the truth, Solina heads for the Land of the Midnight Sun. Once there, she begins to suspect Mani’s friends know more about his death than they’ve let on. Skyla, an ex-Marine, is the only one willing to help her.

As Solina and Skyla delve into the mystery surrounding Mani’s death, Solina is stunned to learn that her own life is tied to Mani’s friends, his death, and the fate of the entire world. If she can’t learn to control her newfound gifts and keep her friends safe, a long-lost dominion over mortals will rise again, and everything she knows will fall into darkness.


Alone and exhausted after her month-long sojourn as a shooting star, Solina Mundy flees to southern California to lie low, recuperate, and plot a survival strategy. The one person she trusts to watch her back is her best friend, Skyla Ramirez. But Skyla has been missing for weeks. The arrival of a dangerous stranger and the discovery of a legendary weapon of mass destruction force Solina out of hiding and back into the fight for her life.

Solina knows she won’t last long on her own. She must find out what happened to Skyla and unite her contentious allies if she hopes to track down this devastating weapon before her enemies use it to burn the world to ash.


While recovering from a devastating betrayal, Solina becomes increasingly drawn to Thorin as he helps her hunt down Skoll, the mythical wolf who vowed to kill her. If she can find and destroy the beast, she’ll bring a swift and brutal end to her enemies’ schemes. But nothing ever goes as planned in Solina’s strange new world.

During her search for Skoll, Solina uncovers a plot to unleash a battalion of legendary soldiers and launch an apocalyptic war. Before she and her allies can locate the fabled army, several ghosts from her past return to haunt her. Solina must fight for life and the fate of the world, or her hopes for love and a peaceful future will go up in flames.


Brenda St John Brown said...

Welcome to Across the Board from a fellow romance writer! I've thought a lot about why romance is bashed so much and I have A LOT of thoughts. Definitely too many for a blog comment. But romance is also powerful -- women know what they want and aren't afraid to ask for it. AND they get their happy ever after. That can be awfully empowering. And threatening. Congratulations on embracing the romance genre. I think it's a pretty fabulous place to be. :)

Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks for visiting us this week, Karissa! Great post. I read a lot of different genres and find that with romance I'm either 'all in' or 'on a break'. I've been trying to change that by slipping in a romance between other reads, or reading one while listening to an audiobook in a different genre. It's not that I don't respect the romance genre, but I do find it can get very repetitive. For me, it's been difficult to find romance books with unique story lines or ones that don't hit me over the head every couple pages with the reminder of how 'perfect' every character in the book looks. I'll keep reading and searching though, because they can be very good for my soul when I find one I can connect with. I'm looking forward to checking out your work!

Karissa Laurel said...

Thanks so much for having me. I could talk about Romance and all the rights and wrongs of the genre for many, many, pages, but I'm undoubtedly a huge fan. I look forward to writing (and reading) more romance in the years to come.

Karissa Laurel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karissa Laurel said...

Thanks for letting me post. I completely agree with you about the formulas, the repetition, the perfection. Some fans love the tropes and formulas, but I'm like you and tend to want to find themes that are a little more original. My friend Katy Rose Guest Pryal writes Romances that focus on characters with mental illness. She's a disability advocate and it shows in her books.I highly recommend her Hollywood LIghts series.

Blogger Template by Designer Blogs