The fabulous writers of StoryBroads have invited me to tell you about Meet Me In Manhattan, my new book—and the first of a brand-new subgenre in romance fiction: reality-based romance.
Reality TV is popular right now. You’ve probably viewed TV shows featuring real people trying to lose weight, prepare gourmet meals, design high-fashion clothes, build customized motorcycles, sell antique daggers to pawn shop owners and—of course—win the hearts of gorgeous bachelors and bachelorettes. If people love reality TV, might they also love reality romances? Specifically, romance novels about real, live people falling in love?
That was the question HCI Books asked a little over a year ago. HCI is best known for publishing memoirs and the phenomenally successful Chicken Soup for the Soul series. When HCI decided to branch into romance publishing, they thought about what kind of romances would best fit their brand of based-on-reality books and came up with True Vows, a new line of what they called Reality Based Romance™. And they asked me to write one of the launch books.
They were looking for well-established romance writers to carry out this experiment, and with eighty-six published romance novels to my credit, I fit the bill. But those eighty-six novels I’ve written were pure fiction. I made up everything: the characters, the conflict, the black moments and the happy endings. Could I write a book based on living, breathing people pursuing an actual romance?
I thought it would be easy, and it wasn’t. I thought it would be fun, and it was. I thought it would offer an exciting new reading experience to romance fiction fans, and I believe it does.
In the pages of my book, Meet Me In Manhattan, readers will read about Ted Skala and Erika Fredell, high school sweethearts whose teenage love affair was too much too soon. Ted and Erika broke up, headed off in different directions and convinced themselves their love was truly dead…until they both wound up in Manhattan sixteen years later, met for a drink and discovered that they’d never quite gotten over each other. But a lot had happened to them in those sixteen years—a lot of baggage accumulated, a lot of trust broken, a lot of wounds in need of healing. Theirs was a classic reunion story, and because I love reunion stories, I was thrilled to turn their love affair into a novel.
Real life doesn’t always provide the elements readers expect in a romance novel, though. It doesn’t always have a neat dramatic arc, well-paced crises or a black moment. I recognized that I was going to have to make sure reality didn’t get in the way of a good story. I invented characters, imagined scenes and gave Ted and Erika dialogue much sharper and wittier than any of us can manage in real life.
The result was a kind of synthesis. I captured the truth of Ted and Erika’s story, even though I played fast and loose with the facts. In a sense, I was like the director of a reality TV show, using editing, pacing and other creative techniques to spin a compelling narrative out of the raw material of people’s lives.
I felt an enormous responsibility while writing this book: to Ted and Erika, who were trusting me with their lives; to HCI Books, which has invested a great deal in making the True Vows line a success; and of course to readers, whose bottom line is: is this story worth reading? Will it hold my interest? Will the ending make me happy? As I wrote the book, I never lost my awareness of my readers, my publisher, and of course Ted and Erika. Would they like this scene? That moment? Is this something they wouldn’t mind their family and friends knowing about?
In my next blog post, I’ll discuss the actual process of spinning a real-life romance into romantic fiction. For now, I’ll simply say that if you read Meet Me In Manhattan, you’ll experience the book as a passionate, emotionally gripping romance novel—and then you’ll think, hey, this is based on real people, living a real romance. True love really does happen.
(For a sneak peek at the first five chapters of Meet Me In Manhattan, visit the True Vows website: http://vows.hcibooks.com/, click on my cover and find links to the chapters on the right side of the page.)