Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Smart Woman: Dr. Debra Holland, psychologist

Welcome back to another day in defense of romance, where we feature smart women (and men) who tell you why they read (and write) romance. Today, our guest is Dr. Debra Holland, a practicing psychologist and former RWA Golden Heart winner and two-time finalist. Dr. Debra is the epitomy of a kick-butt romance novel heroine: blond, beautiful, brilliant, and a black-belt in karate. She'll give us her unique perspective on the whole "smart people read romance" thing after these words from our sponser (me) about today's prize:

I'm giving away a signed copy of my historical debut of THE LEGACY along with one of three whip-smart romances by uber-intelligent historical and paranormal romance author Carolyn Jewel, tomorrow's guest. Yes, one lucky person will win both THE LEGACY and Carolyn Jewel's donated copy of INDISCREET, so be sure to leave a comment to be eligible. See my contest page for eligibility rules. If your name is chosen, you must claim your prize by e-mailing me at tjb @ tjbennett . com (no spaces) by February 14, 2010, or I will award it to someone else. Be sure to check back to see if you have won, and let your subject line be the name of the prize.

Oh, and how about another snappy comeback regarding romance fiction for your naysaying friends, hmmm?

Your naysaying friend: "Romance? That's just another word for chick porn."
You (after removing your fist from his face): "Apparently, you have no idea what romantic fiction is. Two basic elements of a romance comprise every novel: it has a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. According to RWA, a Central Love Story means, 'The main plot centers around two individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.'* Love story. Get that? Playboy is about porn. Romance is about relationships. 
Oh, and by the way, RWA also defines an Emotionally-Satisfying and Optimistic Ending as one where 'the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.' So, good triumphs over evil and love wins out in the end. Additionally, 'romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction,'* everything from Christian inspirationals to erotica. So there."
Uh-huh. That's what I said. 
*Definitions from RWA's pressroom.

Let's welcome Dr. Debra!

Dr. Debra Holland: One of the reasons women read romance is because the heroines in the stories are good role models. They are women who are facing challenges, both inside themselves as well as in their business/work lives and/or family lives. They change and grow, overcoming the obstacles to their goals and to a loving relationship. They are women to admire.

It’s true that most heroes in romance novels are idealized versions of “real” men.

Whatever hard edge or dark past he might have, the hero is (or he becomes) a good man. He is intrigued by the heroine, treats her well, pays attention to her, and works to really get to know her.

I’m a proud reader of romance, and I try to spread the joy of reading romance every chance I get. For example, I passed TJ Bennett’s The Legacy around to the ladies of my Lutheran church because I knew they’d appreciate a story set in Martin Luther’s Germany. I figured they’d love the story enough to buy TJ’s The Promise on their own, and then move on to other historical romances.

A few days ago, I was talking to the (gay male) manager of my office building, and the talk turned to books. I was in the midst of reading Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series, and I started telling him about them, especially the character of Jules, a gay FBI agent. Jules appears in some of the stories, and actually has his own book—All Through the Night. I’ve just finished the whole series, and I’m going to lend the manager the first one. Let’s see if I can hook him.

When I introduce a man to romance novels, I choose the subgenre that most closely relates to the type of reading he already enjoys. For men who like science fiction, I’ll recommend a paranormal romance or a science fiction romance. Susan Grant, Catherine Asaro, and the writing team of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller are favorite choices. For thrillers, I’ll try giving the man a romantic suspense such as one by Lisa Jackson or Suzanne Brockmann.

I think exchanging books is a good way to get to know people better. Talking about a book you both have read is an interesting topic of discussion. This can also deepen relationships. When you read your mate’s science fiction novel, you may have a whole host of questions that can help you understand him. Why did he like that particular book/hero/plot/subject? What did he learn? What did it make him think? You can debate the merits of a particular plot point, or say how you’d make different choices if you were that hero or heroine. And in reading your romances, he learns more about you. You’ll be able to discuss with him why this particular book was so important to you, not to mention learning more about your romantic needs and desires.

So go ahead and share your favorite romances. Who knows what will happen?

Bio: Debra Holland is a psychotherapist, corporate crisis counselor, and trainer. She received a master’s degree in Marriage, Family, and Child Therapy and Ph.D in Counseling Psychology from USC. Dr. Debra writes fiction and nonfiction. She is a one-time Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and a two-time GH finalist.

Dr. Debra is the author of a forthcoming book, Rules of Engagement: How to Set Boundaries with Difficult People. Order it on her website:


Jane L said...

Good Morning Debra!

My husband is a hoot, he doesnt come right out and read romance novels, but he will pick up whatever one is sitting on my table, that I am currently reading and open it to the middle and start reading for a few chapters. I like to watch his reaction. Usually he just shakes his head and sets it down. I get a good laugh out of it.

I have always passed around my books without a second thought. Until one time I gave my best friend a book htat was well more erotic than normal and she was a little put off by it. I apoligized and now I tell my friends what they contain, just to be on the safe side. I respect everyones comfort level of romance novels!! But it was fun to see her face!! lol!
TJ, Please dont enter me in todays drawing, since I had won a copy of your book before! Thank YOU!

Lise said...

Thank you, both, for the feisty defense of romance, and your humorous and creative take on how to gain converts!

Colleen Thompson said...

Dr. Debra,
I loved your take on/defense of romance. I think so many readers, male and female, are attracted to the relationship arcs in books, movies, and TV series of all genres - people who would never admit to loving romance. Many readers come to romance through the "other" part of the plot, whether its Western historical, suspense, paranormal, or some other area. I know I hear from a lot of male and/or mystery readers about my romantic thrillers, and you can bet that many more are reading Nora Roberts/JD Robb and Janet Evanovich, among others.

I've noticed that many publishers remove the word romance from the spines of their big sellers. It's a shame that they have to, but whatever gets folks reading...

Anonymous said...

I think men could become better lovers just by reading some sex scenes in romances. One thing to try... put a Post It note on a favorite scene. Then give him the book and ask if he'd be willing to role play it with you. :)

Anonymous said...

I know "hot" romances are popular nowadays. I do have to confess to enjoying traditional romances that aren't explicit. I often skip or skim the sex scenes because for me, they aren't necessary. But I know that's the favorite part for many readers. You can enjoy reading a romance either way and also recommending them to others, especially, like Jane says, if you let the reader know how "hot" the book is.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr. Debra (I love using the first name with the Dr; hope you don't mind!)

Thanks to TJ for having you; I really enjoyed your post. I wanted to comment on this statement that you made: 'most heroes in romance novels are idealized versions of “real” men.'

I find this to be true, which, on some levels, might make it hard for the real men in our lives to live up to it. For example, I always used to be attracted to the "bad boys" (still am, but at least not dating them so much anymore). As a reader of romance, I find that almost all bad boys are redeemable in the end, with the love of a good woman to bring it out in them. Me being "the good woman," of course I would think I'd be able to have my own success story along those lines!

Alas, my romantic history is littered with a few of those unsuccessful attempts, although it was fun sometimes, in the attempt.

However, the benefit to me of the romantic novels where the heroine is more successful can also serve as a sort of guide to what I *do* want. An idea of what I'm willing (or not willing) to settle for. Not idealized, but pratical hints, if you will.

As a psychotherapist, have you ever had occasion to recommend any books (romance or not) to some of your patients who may be struggling in relationships, to serve as a sort of "wake up call"? I'm thinking of a book a male friend once recommended to me when he knew I was struggling in an early relationship: "Women who Run with the Wolves." I found that a couple of the allegories mirrored aspects of my relationship at that time, which helped me look at it with different eyes, and to realize that it was time to end the relationship.

Neringa said...

Two partners who are equal and grow and compliment each other is what I get when I read a well written romance. After 41 years of a successful romantic marriage, I know a good book when I read one. Some of the best have been romances.

Thank you romance authors!

The Scarf Princess said...

I agree that certain romance genres would be more appealing to men than others. And the Troubleshooters series is a good pick as are the scifi and fantasy authors you mentioned.

And lending books to any of my friends is how I convert them. There's so many good books out there that some get lost in the shuffle. So I'm always happy to point people to new, good reads.

joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

Bart said...

OK, here goes. I'm a guy and I read and write romance. (ff&p) Got turned on to romance by Roberta Gellis back in the late 70s. She is, in my opinion, one of the great storytellers. It was anything but what I expected. More than enough action and danger expertly woven into the central story of two people forging a relationship, sometimes against their own preconceptions.

Not to say there isn't any bubblegum in romance, but there's plenty of bubblegum in any genre. Sometimes you even want bubblegum.

Anyway, my .02.

Gina said...

Thank you, Debra! What a great post.

I think there are more guys out there than we think who are interested in romance. While visiting my parents for Christmas a couple of years ago, I saw a romance/chick-lit in my brother's suitcase! I was shocked, and I thought it was awesome.

I'm going to try sharing books more often and see what happens!

Unknown said...

My husband doesn't read except for a few computer mag. I do have a friend guy and he reads all the time. I sometimes send him some paranormals and science fiction and suspense books and he is thrilled to get them. Yes they are romance but there is always more then just romance in a story.


Susan Helene Gottfried said...

The Tour Manager reads the same books over and over. All are fantasy, with the exception of Jim Butcher's books. I often wonder why he doesn't want to read something new. Must be comfort in an old friend.

No need to enter me, ladies. I'm dropping in to let you know I've posted about this at Win a Book.

Barbara Sissel said...

Dr. Debra:

I so entirely agree with your comment regarding how the exchange of books can help deepen relationships. And given that all romance is about relationship, especially relationship under pressure, the possibilities for discussion are nearly endless. For my money, whether it be romance, or mystery, or whatever genre, if it provides a means to enhance understanding and communication, then how can it not be worthy?

Debra Holland said...

That anonymous person about is me, Dr. Debra. Must have pressed the wrong button. But if it happens again...

Tai Shan,

I recommend, Women Who Love Too Much, by Susan Forward. Also, Co-Dependent No More, by Melody Beattie.

Thanks everyone for all your great comments.

Debra Holland said...

Oops that about is supposed to be above. Multitasking. :)

Jane said...

I know there are many men out there who read romance, but I don't personally know any(or maybe I just don't know that they do.) I do know people who read suspense novels that have romantic elements in the story.

Maureen said...

I do try to pass on my books, either someone I know or through donating them. The heroines I most enjoy have definitely had some tough times in their lives and worked hard to get through them.

Anonymous said...

I tried this tactic with my husband, giving him Naked in Death to read, because I thought he would enjoy the futuristic stuff. As it turned out, he thought it was dumb. :-\ But he did like the book, except the sex scenes. Silly boy. ;-) -- willaful

M. said...

Hmm. I'm not sure about what type of romance to offer my DH, as the type of reading material he usually prefers is non-fiction...*g* a how-to manual? he'll be insulted!

Sandra Lynne said...

Hi everyone!

I really enjoyed reading this post.
I know a few men who read romantic suspense novels. And some who read sexy romance novels! Most men just don't talk about it much.

And please enter me in this contest! The books that are being given away look GREAT!!

Sandra :)

librarypat said...

Love Suzanne Brockmann's books. We do a lot of audio books at our house. My husband doesn't have time to read. I work at a small county library and it is one more way to read as many books as I can to familiarize myself with as many authors as possible. At first, I gave him just the mysteries (Patterson, Hillerman, Parker, etc.) but I started sending some of the romances his way. At first it was the historicals, then the suspense romances. He has enjoyed most of them. A well written story is just that, whether it is in the general fiction section or the romance section. I get very tired of hearing romances being put down by both men and women. Even y oldest daughter won't try one. She just finished Willig's PINK CARNATION and said it was a good book until the end when they threw the romance in. I think she is missing the point and just doesn't want to admit she enjoyed a romance.

Paranormal and Romantic Suspense Reviews said...

Great post and some great authors were mentioned!

Please enter me in the contest and good luck everyone!

Mystica said...

I loved the post, and I also loved reading the comments. I know some men do read romance and enjoy it as well but not my husband who hardly reads at all.

Please enter me for this really good giveaway.