Used to be that few if any historical romances were set in France, particularly prior to the Revolution. I remember an article from the RWR a few years back titled along the lines of, “What’s Wrong with France?” If I recall correctly (and I likely don’t) the article talked about taking risks that could pay off – no one wrote about sports figures as heroes until Susan Elizabeth Phillips came along, so who knows if you’ll tap into the next big thing?
French settings for historicals, however, were different – because if you know your history, you know what happens to many of the royals of France. Same with other historical revolutions and tragic events. In the end of a romance set in Rome, the hero and heroine go off to live in Pompeii and my first thought was, “Y’all need to move!” It’s like throwing cold water on my nice warm fuzzy happy ending.
France and sports aside, I had an email from a reader who had an interesting question about a similar risk in characterization and setting. Emily asks:
I’m formulating an idea for romance novel at the moment, but I’m wondering if I’ve shot myself in the foot right out of the starting gate in deciding to make my heroine HIV+, and aware of the fact. Given that I’ve yet to see a romance novel that so much as winks at herpes or even something curable like gonorrhea, I was wondering if it was pointless to even begin to tackle the idea. I’ve heard of True Love overcoming all odds, and I’d like to see that theory tested. COULD love overcome something so massive as Lingering, Painful Death in a Thong and Holding Champagne? Granted I’d already begun working on how I would or could justify ANY sexual contact, and there’s definitely no simple answer in sight.
What are your thoughts?
My thoughts: HIV status and STDs are two different matters entirely, and oddly enough, in my opinion, the former that’s presently incurable is more of a possibility for a romance novel hero or heroine than the other, cured or not.
I think there are a few HIV+ heroes in gay romance, but in the gay community, being HIV+ is less likely to be read as an automatic Death Sentence. There are many who have been HIV+ for decades, and I’m willing to bet that there are some romances wherein one of the characters is HIV+.
However, no matter how you slice it, HIV+ status gets in the way of a guaranteed happy ending, because there’s an implication that the person will die and the reader knows the likely how and why.
That said, I know one of my very favorite movies, Jeffrey, starring Steven Weber, is about a gay man who finds love with an HIV+ man – after he decides that sex is too complicated in the age of AIDS and decides to give up on love and sex entirely. That movie had multiple couples dealing with HIV status of varying severity, and it is still a poignant but absorbing story with a wonder set of romances in it. And I believed in the happy ending without hesitation.
But as for STDs, like gonorrhea or chlamydia, I’d say that much harsh reality gets in the way of the happy ending even more, both in the sexual sense and the conclusion to the novel. The mental image of pus or weeping sores or a little burning when you pee? So not romantic. Even if it’s curable, even if it’s in the past, that kind of mental image wouldn’t work for me – and it would taint my perception of the hero and heroine.
This is all speculation, however, because I haven’t read a romance wherein the hero or the heroine had a tango with some antibiotics after a night with Mr. or Ms. Social Disease. I am curious what ya’ll think – is this an insurmountable romance taboo? Or has it been done and in the hands of the right author, anything’s possible?