My son had this past Friday off from school. Imagine me, standing before the calendar and thinking to myself, “Only two weeks into school and already the teachers are shipping them home?” Haven’t they a care for my poor nerves? to quote the always quotable Mrs. Bennett.
And since it was only the littlest hero and me at home, we decided to bake cookies. He loves the measuring and the mixing, and we all love cookies, so it’s a win all over the house. The first step was the debate over what sort of cookies to make: Chocolate chip? No, Nick doesn’t like those. Sugar cookies? No, not Dad’s favorite. Quite frankly, I’ve never met a cookie I’d turn down, but go figure that my house of men are picky about such simple things. We finally settled upon an old favorite recipe for gingersnaps, which everyone in the house loves but then we had to make sure we had all the ingredients.
And it was about then, as I was hunting around the cupboard for molasses, that I realized how much baking cookies for one’s family is like writing romance novels for your fans. I smiled as I pulled out all the familiar ingredients: the flour, the sugar, the baking soda, the salt, the things that go into nearly every cookie one can bake. Elements as essential as the hero and heroine, the happy ending and the conflict that keeps them apart for most of the pages. And while there are always these stock elements in every book, it is the molasses, the ginger and cinnamon that give a gingersnap its distinctive flavor, and the author’s own mixology as she writes that makes every story different.
I suppose when an writer adds something new to the mix and you bite into what you think is going to be sugar cookie, with its sweet, mother’s hug of vanilla, and you find your senses being filled with hints of licorice or cardamom, you wonder what the heck your author was doing as she was writing that book.
I know this is true, since I did just that with my Marlowe Wish series. I added paranormal elements to my usual Regency romance. Imagine Jane Austen meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was how I pitched my new book, Tempted by the Night. Now some readers rejoiced and loved the differences, (they are probably your basic cookie-holics, just like myself) others curled up their noses, rather like one of my little heroes when you try to get him to eat a chocolate chip cookie. A Regency is a Regency, thank you very much.
To probe this peak inside human nature a little further, I tried to get the little guy to put something outside the recipe into our batch of cookies, and he looked at me as if I wanted him to commit heresy. “That is not what is says here, Mom,” he said, stabbing his finger at my grandmother’s faded, yet firm handwriting.
Ah, the lessons you learn when the kids stay home from school. There is nothing wrong with writing outside the lines, I know, but romance readers have their recipes for a great story, just as cookie recipes are written in exact terms for a reason. So the finished product comes out exactly as we expect it—to comfort us, to feed us, and to touch our hearts in a way that is familiar. And there is nothing wrong with that.