Kirkus Reviews refers to my novel Crazy Time as having “a side of romance,” which gave me a jolt when I first read it. I don’t write romance! I don’t read romance, and romantic comedy is the one genre of film I categorically avoid. I respect romance writers quite a bit, as theirs is a competitive market and the industry standards have a significant learning curve, but that’s just another reason why I’m not one of them… except… I did put a love story pretty near the center of Crazy Time. Since Crazy Time is crazy Biblical anyway, I’ll echo the Song of Solomon and say it’s one of those “love is strong as death” love stories, if not “love is stronger than death,” as the verse is often misquoted. My novel is primarily the story of Lily Henshaw, secondarily the story of Lily Henshaw’s relationship with Burt Wells, her boss who becomes her lover, as well as someone who protects her and whom she must protect on her quest.
I introduce Burt with the flames already kindled, at least on his side: he and Lily have had a long employer-employee relationship, and he has long been attracted to her, but he has always behaved appropriately. She is aware of his feelings but has never made a move beyond friendship, but when her life starts falling apart, she finds she can turn to Burt, and she does, repeatedly, and he is there for her, even when doing so gets him in trouble (even leading to his arrest at one point). He stays by her side through behaviors and events that would make almost anyone abandon her, and he believes the impossible when she needs him to. After they become intimate, a horrific incident makes Lily’s apartment uninhabitable, so she goes to stay with him—and realizes they are now a couple. Her reliance on him becomes something more, and when, in time, he needs her, her response is passionate. That’s all I’ll say. Read the book to find out whether my lovers achieve the ending romance novels are supposed to have.
Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say one thing more. That Lily and Burt are an interracial couple (Lily white, Burt black) becomes important in several ways. First, there’s the arrest I mentioned: Lily has just been assaulted, Burt arrives to help moments before police, and when the police arrive, they arrest him basically because he’s black, despite Lily’s objections, which leads to other plot developments. More important, though, is Lily and Burt’s battle against the corporation Mansworth Futures and Securities, which is very, very white. They treat Burt dismissively and, later, violently… I’ll sum up by simply saying that in the “working world” to which Lily Henshaw becomes “ambassador,” race is a concern that Lily’s choice of partners helps to highlight.
So, the romance storyline serves multiple functions, but mostly, it raises the emotional stakes, and it makes the characters more compelling. Their need to survive might make you turn the pages, but their need for each other—that might make you hold your breath.