The Dirty Parts

Romance novelist Connie Brockway wants to know why people can't look past the unbound bosom and love-swollen member

Brockway's other books explore similar themes of empowerment and role reversal. My Surrender (2000), the third book of her Rose Hunters trilogy, showcases the spirited Charlotte Nash, a spy in Napoleonic England. She must pretend to have been "ruined" by fellow (dashing) spy Dand Ross in order to pose as an enemy's mistress. It's a coy twist on the concept of a woman's reputation as something that must be protected, as Charlotte herself is determined to inhabit the character. Naturally, Charlotte and Dand fall madly in love, and the naughty charade becomes reality. Who, exactly, is ruining whom?

 

Padding around making Earl Grey tea in the kitchen, Brockway may appear less glamorous than Dizzy or Charlotte, though she's every bit as engaging, with a sense of humor that hints at the series of rakes that parade through her storylines. She resembles any well-to-do suburban wife and mother, but her fluid, proselike conversational style suggests a life spent conjuring tales of more dramatic times.

Connie Brockway: "I think it's interesting that in romance, the relationships are always totally monogamous. Once the hero and the heroine get together...that's it."
Diana Watters
Connie Brockway: "I think it's interesting that in romance, the relationships are always totally monogamous. Once the hero and the heroine get together...that's it."

Sounds like it's all about throbbing cerebrums these days, but have no fear--there are still plenty of bodices being ripped in every subgenre of romance. Even the juggernaut of political correctness can't squash the popular fantasy of lady-ravished-by-brute, and today's romance reader isn't afraid to cop to it. Says Brockway, "In spite of the fact that a certain percentage of the readership is always trying to jam PC stuff down the romance readers' throats, they're saying, 'Nope, I don't care.' Across the board, readers are saying, 'This is a fantasy, and for whatever reason, it works for me. And I'm not going to be apologetic about it.'"

Brockway is staunch in her belief that politics have no place in the labyrinthine boudoir that is the subconscious mind. "Just like you can't legislate morality, you can't tell people what fantasies should or shouldn't work for them."

And sometimes, what works is downright alien. "There's this huge surge now in fantasy romance where the heroes and the heroines are not human," Brockway reports with a gleam in her eye. One of her favorite examples of the extraterrestrial-turned-sexual occurs in a popular series of books by romance writer Sherrilyn Kenyon. "She writes about this group of people called the Carpathians. The men are a dying race, and once they meet a woman they're bound to her forever. Before they meet this woman, they see everything in shades of gray," Brockway explains. "But once they meet the woman, the world becomes colorful. Their senses awake. They can smell, they can taste. And it only happens after they meet their soulmate. A friend of mine, a very good writer named Eloisa James, had a really interesting take on [the Carpathian books]: They speak to a women's maternal instincts."

It seems odd that reproductive longing would manifest itself in escapist literature. After all, don't women read romance novels to quell the tedium of marriage and family? Not so, according to Brockway. In fact, stability is practically fetishized in most romances. "I think it's interesting that in romance, the relationships are always totally monogamous," she says, refilling our teacups. "Once the hero and the heroine get together--if we're talking romance, not erotica--that's it. There's no one else in the world."

Why would a fantasy be such a faithful reflection of many women's day-to-day reality? "I think it's sort of a biological imperative," Brockway says simply. After all, even headstrong Dizzy Carlisle is a blushing bride by the end of As You Desire, albeit in scandalous Egyptian-influenced garb.

However, monogamy isn't a form of surrender for modern romance heroines, even those who exist in Victorian times. "In the historical novels that I'm reading now, the hero is as conquered by monogamy as the female. He's probably had a little more sexual experience---talk about a double standard!--but in the end, she's not left at the homestead to raise the kids while he's out having a good time. In a lot of these books she's either running the estate or she handles his finances or she has an integral part in running his life." In other words, she's a power wife.

 

To hear Brockway talk, her world is as satisfying as those lived by her heroines. She just signed a contract to do a contemporary women's fiction novel, set in Minnesota. When asked how she continues to find inspiration in an environment that's often characterized as glacial and passionless, Brockway chuckles. "The winters are damn long! I hate winter and I hate being out in the cold, so you sit around and read and watch movies and listen to music and read articles, and soon you're living a rich internal life. It's either that or you turn into an axe murderer."

In her spare time, Brockway is more a romantic in the Thoreauvian sense: She enjoys the outdoors, is a "master gardener," and serves on the board of directors at the Minnesota Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, where she has volunteered for the past nine years. "I consider myself a Renaissance person," she says.

Though her imagination may tilt toward the past, advances in publishing have forced her to keep up with the modern machine world. "I've had to teach myself a lot of technical stuff," Brockway says. But she fears that fansites and increased internet exposure could have an adverse effect on authors, who, with the exception of corseted fan favorites like Anne Rice, typically haven't relied on their public image to sell books.

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