Please welcome to the site today author Karelia Stetz-Waters, whose newest release, a Contemporary Romance entitled For Good (Book #2 in her Out in Portland series), just released on July 5th! Just before we get to her post, check out a little more info on the book:
In this too-small, dusty town, brand-new district attorney Kristen Brock knows she’ll never fit in. Still, the job will look great on her résumé—if she can just keep her head down and play by the rules. Because in a town run by a self-serving, powerful family, the last thing Kristen needs is trouble . . . but one kiss from the beautiful ex-rodeo queen Marydale Rae turns her world upside down. And Marydale is definitely trouble.
Marydale didn’t intend to hide her past from Kristen, but the prospect of a friend who doesn’t know she spent time in prison is too tempting to pass up. Add in the passionate night they share, and Marydale never wants Kristen to know the truth. But small towns don’t keep secrets, and the powerful Holten clan is determined to destroy anything and anyone who makes Marydale happy.
And now, Karelia, on Three Ways Socially Conscious Romance Can Change the World:
I see you Romeo…shaking that ass! Wait. That’s now how the line goes. My Shakespeare’s getting rusty now that I’ve plunged into the world of genre fiction. Romance, no less.
One of my academic colleagues told me she hoped I’d be able to get back to writing meaningful literature. “Karelia, you’re so talented…” she trailed off mournfully. I think it was a compliment. I didn’t bring up the nonlinear, staccato, trans-generational epic poem she’d been agonizing over [but not actually writing] for ten years. Why be mean?
I loved writing my first romance novel, a lesbian version of You’ve Got Mail in which I challenged myself to employ the old Harlequin Romance sex equation: a sex scene within the first fifty pages and then every seventy-five pages after that. And I got to do some crazy research for my most recent release, a kind of Orange Is the New Black: Parole Edition, about a paroled felon and a district attorney who fall in love. The result is a fast-paced, poolside read, that’s cheaper than a mocha Frappuccino and just as easy to consume.
I’m not ashamed.
My colleagues in the greater world of the academy have yet to recognize romance as a meaningful literary art form, but romance is the language of hope. And it sells. People read romance. And I believe a well-written, socially conscious romance (my wife coined the term “so-ro”) can do three powerful things to change the world.
SoRo Gives the LBGTQ+ Community a Vision of Happiness
I spoke on the plenary panel at the Gay Romance NW Conference last year. Someone posed the question: can romance novels have tragic endings? The consensus was no. “…All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” That is the contract.
Romance imagines happiness. It paints a picture. It draws a map. With violence and prejudice still part of the LBGTQ+ community’s experience, we need those portraits. And, yes, of course, we need artists to bear witness to suffering and injustice, but we simultaneously need to surround ourselves with pictures of health and hope.
I recently watched Jane McGonigal’s TED talk “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” In it, she mentions one special trait possessed by gamers; they believe in epic wins, wins so great, so sweeping they change everything. True love is an epic win. Believe!
SoRo Breaks Down Gender Stereotypes
And I think romance, when done well, can do more than just comfort and uplift our community. LBGTQ+ romance is gaining a following among heterosexual readers. When I ask straight readers why, the answer is almost unanimous. They want to see love without gender roles.
I recently started a blog called “Ask the Girls: Lesbian Love for Straight Couples.” The premise is this: excepting the fact that it took me and my wife fifteen years to be legally married, our marriage is easier than our heterosexual friends’ marriages. My wife and I may have absorbed all the same gender stereotypes, but we don’t live by them. We can’t. Taking out the trash may be the man’s job, but if we wait around for a man to do it, we’ll be waiting a long time.
SoRo Teaches Compassion
Finally, let me step out of my role as blogger and back into my comfortable, everyday English-professor clothes. The quiz is closed book, closed notes, no Wikipedia:
Who were the Montagues and Capulets and why were they feuding?
You don’t remember, do you? With Juliet’s hair loose across her shoulders and Romeo’s voice rising up through the filtered moonlight, we don’t care. They could be Republicans and Democrats, Muslims and Christians, “East End boys and West End girls.” Love takes our differences and casts them in the gentle twilight travelers crave, that soft glow that erases what we’ve been taught to loathe and lets us view the world as it is, imperfect and beautiful.
When else are we more open to the beauty of the stranger than in romantic love? We love our family, our neighborhood, our children, but they are a kaleidoscope of ourselves. A lover is the other. And through love we come to see without criticism, to make the stranger’s plight our own.
While researching my latest release, For Good, I attended a poetry reading at a maximum security prison. I was ushered through several security checkpoints and into a bleak, all-purpose room. I assumed the incarcerated men would look like monsters. But they offered me cookies, and they read their poems. Most clutched their poems to their chests, reading with their eyes down and their voices flat, earnest, and nervous. They looked like my students. I couldn’t see their sins.
And I’m not about to say that I’d like them released in my neighborhood, but I did see a part of their story that was never in the newspaper. That vision inspired the way I wrote about Marydale Rae, the paroled felon in For Good. I hope that it will inspire my readers to pause, at least for one poolside moment, and consider the greater societal issues that underlie the book.
Romance has been called the backbone of the publishing industry. We have reach. We have market share. We can paint a picture of hope for our people. We can teach love that defies gender roles. And if we are careful with the way we portray the “other,” and avoid the stereotypes that have, admittedly, plagued this genre in its previous incarnations, romance can teach compassion for the stranger, for the wanderer who arrives at our door in tatters.
Isn’t that who we all are in that tremulous moment when we first feel love?
My wife recently dubbed my writing “so-ro,” short for romance with a social conscience. I guess that’s what I do. Whether I’m exploring the problems of gentrification or the evils of human trafficking, every book I write has a lesbian romance at its heart and a social issue in mind. They’re the kind of books that read like fun, lazy-Saturday page-turners and yet leave your unexpectedly enlightened. That’s two for the price of one and way more fun that keeping up with the news.
When I’m not writing, I’m being inspired by my amazing community college students and hanging out with my lovely wife and my charming spuglette (that’s a technical term for spaniel-pug mix). I’m a fan of snakes, corn mazes, popular science books on neurology, and any roadside attraction that purports to have the world’s largest ball of twine.
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