|Atom Araullo, ladies and gentlemen. (Not my inspiration for Daniel, but you can see why he would.)|
My love of writing romance is well-documented on social media; I’ve been quite honest about how much I love writing swoon-worthy heroes and happy endings. But it wasn’t always that way.
As a creative writing major in my early twenties, I had been obsessed with writing The Great Filipino Novel–one that would launch me as a major player in the literary scene. Problem was, I was too lazy to read, and I couldn’t manage to fit my Mary Sue-laden short stories into a structure that promised something satisfactory in terms of plot and characterization. As a result, I was savaged in my writing workshops, which…well, now that I think of it, I wish I’d taken what they’d said a little more seriously, than crying over being criticized.
I think about my attempts of being taken seriously, while my classmates delivered solid stories that I thought were too simple to write. (Up until now I think fondly about the adventure story that a classmate of mine wrote about the night marchers of Hawaiian mythology, and I wish I could’ve written something so unpretentious.) I think about the clueless, self-destructive young writer that I used to be, and I don’t know if I want to laugh or slap myself in the face for trying so hard. Then I think about the common thread that ran through my crappy writing, and it always boiled down to one thing: the romantic subplot that ends happily for all involved.
But it hasn’t stopped me from wanting other things, either.
As early as two years ago, I’d mentioned that I’d wanted to write in another genre–cozy mysteries, something along the way of the Agatha Christie books that I’d consumed at the tail end of my stay in Honolulu along with my well-loved romance novels. I threw around many ideas, and even bought a few mystery novels for me to read for research.
I never found anything that made my soul soar quite like romance. Granted, my romantic leads are less perfect than they used to be (I don’t even make a big deal about abs anymore) but I like the thought of two people coming together, forging a connection that couldn’t be denied by circumstance. I write happy endings, not just because they’re rare, but they don’t always happen to the people who deserve them when they do.
Which brings us, then, to the topic of sexuality.
You see, I don’t drool easily when it comes to hot men. I can appreciate the beauty of a human being–why else would I follow male models on Instagram?–but I’m not the kind of person to covet that kind of beauty for myself, you know? I’m at the point in my life when fidelity, intelligence, and human decency is more important to me than wicked good looks. It’s the reason why my heart flutters whenever Justin Trudeau speaks highly of his wife. It’s the reason why I don’t cry over Channing Tatum being married or Dev Patel having a girlfriend–and it’s the same reason why I got even more turned off when Jeremy Renner got divorced, because how cowardly can you get with that?
I can blame this on the way I grew up, and the lessons that I’d taken to heart from being Catholic–but that would shortchange the other experiences that had shaped my view of men. I know how it feels to have my heart stomped on by beautiful men with six-pack abs and perfect teeth. I know what happens when I limit my searches by race and body type. I’ve fallen, I’ve settled, I’ve done everything in my power to hold on to love–and it had only left me confused.
It hasn’t stopped me from writing about the spiritual disturbance that comes from love–not just falling in love, but staying in love, and fighting for love, and choosing love every time.
My definition of love, after all, isn’t fluffy; it’s about the little moments of reckoning when two people realize that their lives will be changed forever through the presence (or absence) of the other. I know it’s not what everyone wants in a romance novel, and I get it–people want sweetness and light with their reading. But I’m drawn to the complications of human relationships, the ambiguities and messy realities. It’s just that I’m drawn to the payoff of happy endings more than the exquisite pain of deliberate sadness.
And if a reader can find at least a little bit of joy and comfort in my stories, then I can be sure that I’ve done my job.