Fantastic Reality, or Realistic Fantasy?
I love Disney. Lifetime movies make me blubber like a baby. Heck, if they’re gooshy enough, Hallmark cards turn my eyes all shiny and moist. I’m a romance author, which means I have to be a hopeless romantic, right? Yeah, but, but...
But in my day job, I teach sociology. Not just any sociology: social inequalities. You want to know statistics about gender income equalities? Interested in discussing looksism? Dying to hear all about racial microaggressions? I’m your woman.
Given my two very different vocations, it’s inevitable that I experience some workplace confusion and ambivalence. For example, in the classroom, I have been known to say, “Jews report the highest rates of hate crimes perpetratedagainst them.” Silence. “Hey, you want to look at pictures of puppies?” Is it any wonder, then, that I constantly grapple with how much reality to stick in my romances? I’m a huge fan of escapism, of romantic conventions, of the predictability and simplicity of happily-ever-afters. Fan? I rely on them; they’re my old faithful, my constant comforts and joys (along with pictures of small, fuzzy things, of course). Yet, I’ve also devoted my life to stripping away cultural myths and encouraging my students to kick complacency to the curb and effect some kind of difference in their communities and worlds. How can I shave the real world from my literary one? Should I?
These are questions I ponder every day while clacking away on my latest novel. I want, I need the romance, the love that defies all studies and statistics. At the same time, the social scientist in me demands a measure of reality, of accountability for the crazy things we humans do to one another and to the planet. I know some reality is necessary, of course; a total fantasy that doesn’t map onto realistic human interactions would be neither relatable nor interesting. And who can disagree that a little bit of grittiness makes the fantasies feel slightly more attainable?
Escapism and gritty reality: how to balance these? What does a mashup look like, or, at the least, how much of one to include versus the other? I imagine this is a question we all face, particularly those of us who write about romance, one of the most fantastic and earthy human emotions.