Happy Valentine's Day. Let's Talk About Romance Novels

Feb 14, 2019
Originally published on February 14, 2019 7:59 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

To get in the mood for Valentine's Day, we're going to hear a bit about romance novels with Vanessa Zoltan, who is launching a podcast this spring called Hot & Bothered.

VANESSA ZOLTAN: I had such a profoundly positive experience writing my romance novel that I asked 10 of my friends to write their own.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi, Vanessa.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Hi, Vanessa.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Hi, Vanessa.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Hi, Vanessa.

INSKEEP: Zoltan told Rachel Martin that she turned from other books to romance novels after the 2016 election.

ZOLTAN: I was too distracted to read, and so I started reading romance novels. And I just found that that took all this pressure off of reading for me 'cause I knew no matter what trials and tribulations the characters went through, they would end up happy and healthy.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Right. Love prevails in the...

ZOLTAN: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Romance novel.

ZOLTAN: An HEA - a happily ever after - is required.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ZOLTAN: You know, I just found that, like, trying to imagine a happily ever after every night was so healing to me. And then you start reading statistics on romance novels, and they basically subsidize literary fiction. They are read in nursing homes and prisons, and doctors read them. They're incredibly diverse. They're all about consent in the #MeToo movement moment. It's lovely to read about good men who just keep asking permission to touch women.

MARTIN: They didn't always used to be that way, did they, though? I mean, romance novels are not exactly what you think of as a feminist kind of genre.

ZOLTAN: Right. But over the last 10 to 15 years, they've become more so. And then in the last few years, because they're written so quickly, they can really respond to the moment that they're in. And even when they're set, you know, 200 years ago, 300 years ago, the issues are still present issues, which is just - it's a lovely community to be a part of.

MARTIN: You have said that to make something sacred, it needs three things: faith, rigor and community.

ZOLTAN: Yes.

MARTIN: You just touched on what the community looks like. Can you say a little more about where the faith and rigor come in?

ZOLTAN: Yeah. So I think, you know, writing is always an act of faith. You stare at a blank screen or at a blank page, and you really have to believe that the more time you spend on the thing, the better it will get. Even when you're deleting whole pages and paragraphs, it can feel like an old-fashioned torture chamber of, like, digging a hole and filling it back up. But - so you really just have to have faith that you'll get somewhere great with it. And then the rigor is - you know, writing is about having your butt in a chair.

And it can feel terrible, right? But it's just the rigor of saying, I'm going to write for 20 minutes, and getting your butt in that chair and writing for those 20 minutes. You know, writing - it's not like baking. You can't put it in the oven and it'll do something on its own. It's really about effort.

MARTIN: This is not going to be a podcast where it's just a one-way street. It's going to be interactive. Can you describe how it's going to work?

ZOLTAN: Yes. So my favorite romance novelist, Julia Quinn, will be giving everybody writing assignments at the end of every episode. So our first season will be 20 episodes. So the assignments will be broken up into small, manageable chunks. And we are inviting people to write romance novels with us. And we're hoping that people will gather across the world and meet with friends and write their romance novels together and with us. And we just can't wait to read what everybody writes.

MARTIN: Vanessa, thanks so much for talking with us. Happy Valentine's Day.

ZOLTAN: Thank you. You, too.

INSKEEP: Vanessa Zoltan is the host of the podcast Hot & Bothered. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.