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In the name of love: This Valentine’s Day, romance authors reflect on the genre's importance

Left to right: "People We Meet On Vacation" by Emily Henry; "The Heart Principle" by Helen Hoang; "Beach Read" by Emily Henry; "The Kiss Quotient" by Helen Hoang. (Courtesy)
Left to right: "People We Meet On Vacation" by Emily Henry; "The Heart Principle" by Helen Hoang; "Beach Read" by Emily Henry; "The Kiss Quotient" by Helen Hoang. (Courtesy)

Can you smell love in the airwaves?

On this Valentine’s Day, Here & Now thought it would be fun to take a little trip to the wonderful world of romantic fiction.

While romance novels are often dismissed as “cheesy,” the genre has provided a much-needed escape to many bookworms during the pandemic. And in between the stolen glances and witty banter are thoughtful discussions of everything from dating with a disability to sex and consent.

New York Times best-selling authors Helen Hoang, author of “The Kiss Quotient” series, and Emily Henry author of “Beach Read” and “People We Meet on Vacation,” discuss all things love and romance.

Interview Highlights

On writing about sex and vulnerability

Emily Henry: “I don’t think romance novels are embarrassing. I need to say that right off the bat. Obviously, I love them, but I think that writing them there is an innate vulnerability because falling in love is kind of an embarrassing experience. You don’t really want people witnessing it like, you know, it’s embarrassing. There’s so much awkwardness, so much tension.

“I think when I’m writing [sex scenes], it’s the one time in the drafting process that I really have to convince myself no one will ever read this because otherwise I’m coming out of the moment too much, and I’m thinking too much about how it will be received instead of really trusting the characters and trying to make them as vulnerable as possible.”

On exploring grief, family and loss in romance 

Helen Hoang: “I started reading romance in eighth grade, and for a long time it was all that I wanted to read, so I can genuinely say that I love romance. But as I’ve been writing it, it’s become really important to me to make it deeper, because it’s my life’s work. I want it to have more depth than only being about people falling in love. I want it to be about people growing, about people experiencing different facets of life.”

On writing love stories that center autistic Asian American characters, like Hoang herself 

Hoang: “I didn’t understand … initially that I was doing something new. I just had an idea that felt very organic to me, and it was exciting. And so I wrote it that way. And it wasn’t until I was done and I was putting the book out there that people were telling me things like, ‘I don’t know if you’re crazy because you wrote an autistic heroine and a prostitute for our hero or if you’re a genius.’

“I’ve been very proud of what I’ve been able to do in terms of representing autistic people, representing Asian people and getting them out there, especially in this day and age when the political climate is just so difficult for people, especially Asians.”

On why society undervalues romance as a genre

Henry: “I think, looking back on the history of women making art, our world has historically been, you know, different from a man’s world. And so women’s art has often been seen as domestic. And that’s been used against us for all time and kind of used to denigrate what we make.

“But it’s just a joy and a relief to realize that the things that we spend so much time thinking about and that really matter to us are valuable and that the pieces of a very small life are worth exploring and that that’s the life that most of us live.

“Beyond that, it’s also revolutionary to say that women’s pleasure is not embarrassing. …There’s a reason that we have been told to look down on these things and to treat them as silly and superfluous. … And it’s just kind of powerful to give that the value that I think it’s due.”

Book recommendations

If you’re looking for a good romance novel to curl up with, never fear because we have recommendations!

From our authors:

Hoang recommends Chloe Liese’s romance novels for fun love stories that feature autistic and neurodivergent characters.

Henry recommends The Fastest Way to Fallby Denise Williams. The book features a plus size heroine, and Henry says it’s “the kind of book that will just obliterate all of your stress and make you warm and fuzzy.”

From producer and resident romance fan Kalyani Saxena: 

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne for a delightful enemies to lovers office romcom.

Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert for anyone who feels like they don’t know what they’re doing with their life. Featuring laugh-out-loud banter, steamy sweet romance and autistic characters.

You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle if you like a slow burn, second-chance romance with an abundance of petty pranks and sexual tension.

The Love Hypothesisby Ali Hazelwood for the fake-dating trope, excellent and hilarious pop-culture references and a STEM centered romance.

Battle Royalby Lucy Parker if you love the Great British Bake Off, the grumpy/sunshine trope and fluffy romance.

When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn for the historical romance lovers out there. (Un)objectively the best of the “Bridgerton” series this book has it all — forbidden romance, angst and a touching exploration of grief and loss.

Saxena is also a big Henry and Hoang fan and personally recommends Henry’s “Beach Read” and Hoang’s The Bride Test as her favorites.

Happy reading!

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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