In honor of Aromantic Spectrum Awareness Week, I’m thrilled to have Emily Victoria on the site today with a guest post entitled The New Love Equation: Writing Books With a Lot of Love, and Not a Lot of Romance. Emily’s the author of This Golden Flame and the upcoming Silver in the Mist (coming November 1, 2022 from Inkyard Press), both of which are standalone YA fantasies with aroace protags. Before we get to the post, here’s a little more on the upcoming book:
Eight years ago, everything changed for Devlin: Her country was attacked. Her father was killed. And her mother became the Royal Spymistress, retreating into her position away from everyone… even her daughter.
Joining the spy ranks herself, Dev sees her mother only when receiving assignments. She wants more, but she understands the peril their country, Aris, is in. The malevolent magic force of The Mists is swallowing Aris’s edges, their country is vulnerable to another attack from their wealthier neighbor, and the magic casters who protect them from both are burning out.
Dev has known strength and survival her whole life, but with a dangerous new assignment of infiltrating the royal court of their neighbor country Cerena to steal the magic they need, she learns that not all that glitters is weak. And not all stories are true.
And here’s the post!
It will surprise no one when I say that young adult books as a whole are full of romance. This makes sense. After all, the teen years are a time of exploring new romantic relationships and feelings. However, for me, an aroace teen who wasn’t really interested in any of that who became an aroace writer who still wasn’t interested in any of that, all of the emphasis on romance made it seem as if my stories would never find a place on that young adult shelf at the bookstore.
Reading about couples like Bella and Edward, Tris and Four, or Katniss and Peeta instilled in me the early lesson that no matter how much action, magic, or space exploration were in between the covers of a book, a central romance was still an absolute must for a young adult story.
So, I decided that I too would write a romance. I had written other things I hadn’t ever experienced or even seen, like dragons, or magic, or people getting all stabby with knives, so why not romance too? I managed to sign with my agent with a book that had a central romance. Although it didn’t sell, we even had positive feedback from some editors.
And yet something wasn’t right.
When I dreamed of being a published author, a large part of that was being able to write the stories that I needed when I was young, in order to understand myself and my place in the world. And what was worse, by writing a book with a central romance, I felt like I was playing into the larger societal narrative that romantic relationships were always stronger, more heartfelt, and more important than any other relationships, whether that be platonic or even familial.
Unfortunately, I think this idea does hold true for society. I can’t count how many times I’ve come across an amazing friendship depicted in a book, movie, or TV show that was well-written, complex, and full of feeling, only for someone to come along and say it would be better if the two characters were just making out. Different in an equally good way, sure, but better?
Now, don’t get me wrong. Books with romance are important. This is especially true now that we’re finally seeing shelf space for more diverse romances, including queer romances. It is so vital for queer teens to see their own relationships and identities portrayed in books (and all media), and I hope that we see more and more of these. Even I, an aroace individual, enjoy a good romance. But I also know that family relationships and friendships define the teen years too.
So, when the book that originally went out on submission failed to sell, I made a decision: I wasn’t going to force my characters into a romance. I wanted my stories to highlight friendship and family as the primary relational forces. For the first time in my life, I wrote a character just like me, Karis, who was determined to find the brother she had lost. I paired her with my cinnamon roll automaton, Alix, in my debut novel, This Golden Flame. And though there is a romance between two of the secondary characters in Flame, the relationship between Alix and Karis is a friendship; one that has its complexities, its ups and downs, and one that goes horribly wrong and has to be worked at to be fixed.
(And since I’ve had messages from aro folks who were originally concerned Karis would be forced into a relationship or that her male best friend Dane would try to impose romantic feelings on her, let me assure you: Karis is 100% romance-free in the book)
In my next book, Silver in the Mist, there is no romance whatsoever. Only a spy, who has to decide if she’s willing to risk her whole world for a friend who begins to mean everything to her.
These are the stories I needed when I was a teen. Stories that showed that the family relationships and friendships that were core to my life were just as valid as any romantic relationship. That as first a teen girl and then as a woman, I could be complete without a romantic partner. And I’m so grateful to this industry that has allowed me to write that.
My books don’t have romance. But they have so much love.
And I hope you feel that from them too.
Emily Victoria is a Canadian prairie girl who writes young adult science fiction and fantasy. When not word-smithing, she likes walking her over-excitable dog, drinking far too much tea, and crocheting things she no longer has the space to store. Her librarian degree has allowed her to work at a library and take home far too many books.