Write Byte

Romances with a Twist

(April 22, 1998)


Barbara Freethy is known for her contemporary romances with a mystica flair. Angel, ghost, and other sub-genres continue to be popular with romance readers. Sometimes Write Bytes editor Holly Fults asked Barbara to talk about this. Here's what Barbara had to say:

I like my single title contemporaries with a twist - a twist of magic that is. The magic can be of any form from a bold, audacious angel like Jacob in Daniel's Gift, or a ghost like Isabelle in Ryan's Return, or a wizard in a crystal ball like Mariah in Ask Mariah. In my upcoming book, One True Love, a baby's bracelet and a robin play very special roles in a story about love and forgiveness.

Although many writers delve into "magical elements" in full force, I like mine on the side. The magic always influences the story, but it's never the whole story. And the hero and heroine are usually far too pragmatic to believe in magic until it hits them over the head. In fact, in several of my books, the magic is experienced by the children, leaving the reader the option of believing or not. For instance, in Daniel's Gift, the only person to see the angel is twelve-year-old Danny, and he's in a coma. Is Danny's experience simply induced by medication and dreams or is there really an angel? I'll leave that to you to decide.

In One True Love, the hero and heroine are reunited eight years after a tragedy tore them apart. The story of their love is paralleled by the story of two robins who mated that same spring and had babies and then vanished, leaving the empty nest behind. Of course the magic of the robins helps bring our hero and heroine back together again.

I look at these elements as a way of enhancing the story. It's like adding that bit of whipped cream to the hot chocolate, not essential, but oh so delicious.

One of the complaints I've heard about contemporary stories is that it's hard to disappear into a world that's so familiar. In historicals you're taken away to another time and place and it's easier to become involved in the story. However, I love modern tales of love and adventure. But one of the reasons I like to use magical elements is to enhance the escape factor.

We're surrounded by reality with the news, the laundry, the carpools, the kids, the bills well, you get the idea. When I read a story, I want to be swept away into another world, and I want to feel as if there is something about that world that is magical. Perhaps a better word would be hopeful. I think most people yearn to see a miracle or maybe not even something that big, but perhaps just to feel a spark of hope or revel in the sense that anything is possible. I expect that is why so many people read romance, not just for the happy ending and the warm feelings, but for the hope that life could be that great, that fun, that romantic, that loving.

In fact, I was touched by a bit of magic in my own life. Before my father-in- law died of cancer, he would often muse that one day after he was gone, we would be sitting in a park somewhere and look up and see a bird and that would be him. A charming tale, of course, but at the funeral, in the middle of the service, a tiny bird flew in through the huge doors of the church and buzzed around the altar before settling near the family pew then flying out the back door. I have to admit to experiencing a few goosebumps that day.

So, while I love to capture the essence of real life in my contemporaries, I do like to imagine something unusual as well. I tend to write more about every day people than the millionaires and socialites that at one time seemed to be the only characters worthy of a single title book. Fortunately, that's not true anymore. Single title contemporaries today offer a breadth of characters, and more and more authors are creating memorable heroes and heroines, people we know, people we love, even people we hate.

Putting ordinary people into extraordinary situations is one of my favorite things to do. A few years ago, when my children were preschool age, the other "moms" I'd come to know encouraged me to write a book for them, the moms at the park, who all desperately wanted and needed a little bit of magic in their lives. In One True Love, for instance, a secondary character gets to be a "runaway" mom for just a little while, so if you've ever had that thought of vanishing for a day or two or three this one's for you.

The market for contemporaries has grown quite a bit in the past couple of years. If you haven't tried one in awhile, I hope you'll explore the myriad of offerings now available. My publisher, Avon Books, is putting out one single title contemporary a month and the books are all varied and interesting. I'm really pleased to be part of a program where writers are encouraged to push their boundaries and explore their own individual voice.

Some of my own favorite romances with a twist include these:

  • A Cottage by the Sea by Ciji Ware
  • The Starry Child by Lynn Hanna (due out this fall)
  • Breath of Magic by Teresa Medeiros
  • Embers and Emily's Ghost y Antoinette Stockenberg
  • If I Can't Have You by Patty Berg

Barbara Freethy

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Read a DIK Review and an AAR Review of One True Love
Read an AAR Review of Almost Home
Read an AAR Review of Golden Lies
Read an AAR Review of Just the Way You Are
Read an AAR Review of Love Will Find a Way
Read an AAR Review of Some Kind of Wonderful
Read an AAR Review of Summer Secrets
Read an AAR Review of The Sweetest Thing