Wednesday, September 29, 2010

You Gotta Love It

By Therese Fowler

When people learn that I’m an author, they ask, “What do you write?” These days my answer is “domestic drama.” It’s an answer born of trying to find a description that’s simple and brief, yet accurate enough to head off the kinds of misinterpretations I used to get. When Souvenir, my debut, was first out, my answer was “Love stories.” But I found that a lot of people equated that term with “romance,” and if you’ve read Souvenir or my second novel, Reunion, and you’re familiar with actual romance novels, you know my books are not that.

I do love a good romantic tale (Pride and Prejudice tops my list). I love the tension and the conflict, the slowly unfolding answer to “How can it possibly all work out?” A romance novel follows a prescribed path that leads to a happily-ever-after ending, whereas the stories that come to me, the ones that snag my writing imagination and refuse to let me go, refuse to take that path—or any path that’s genre-determined.

If I’m feeling loquacious, I might say, “I write dramatic stories about difficult situations, families, and love.”

But really, in my mind the answer is still, simply, love stories. Stories about love. All kinds of love: sibling love, parental love, romantic love, filial love. It’s the force that motivates all of my characters, for good or ill. It leads them to poor choices. It leads them to redemptive choices. Heartache, heartbreak, hope, happiness—not necessarily in that order. Love is like that.

In Exposure, my newest book (set for release next spring), eighteen-year-old Anthony, who is madly in love with a girl named Amelia, muses about the subject:

The world needed less cynicism, more love. Love was the answer. Love made the world go 'round. Love was all you needed. Love, actually, was all around.

(If an engraver will kindly put this excerpt in the present tense, I would be glad to have it on my grave’s headstone when that time comes.)

As you may know (especially if you caught wind of the Picoult-Weiner-Franzen-inspired debates of recent weeks), in the literary world, such “soft” themes as romance, domestic drama, and love aren’t given much respect, no matter how artfully they’re written. You might wonder how, then, those folks account for their reverence for Jane Austen. Well, apparently she didn’t write stories about those themes, she wrote about “manners and morals.” O-kay.

When I set my sights on a writing career, I was ignorant of literary politics. Had I known, or if I could go back and do it over again, well, I wouldn’t change a thing. I write fiction in pursuit of truth; and what’s true is that at the heart of the matter (whatever that matter may be) we are all, even the most sophisticated or jaded among us, motivated first and always by either the love we have or the love we want.

To celebrate love stories, I’d like to give some away! One winner, drawn at random, will get three books: a copy of Souvenir, a copy of Reunion, and a third love story of their choice (provided I can get hold of it easily). All you have to do is leave a comment naming your choice, then check back Friday morning to see if you’ve won.


Therese Fowler is the author of three novels: SOUVENIR (2/08), REUNION (4/09), and EXPOSURE (coming 5/11), all from Random House/Ballantine Books. Her fourth novel, tentatively titled Escape, is under contract and expected to publish in early 2012. Her books, which are also published internationally, have been featured by IndieBound, the Borders Book Club, the Barnes & Noble New Reads book club, Target’s Bookmarked Breakout program, and were selected as Featured Alternate titles for the Literary Guild, Doubleday, and Rhapsody book clubs. She loves buttered popcorn, and has four cats (one of which shares this love, except no butter for him). For more information, go to


  1. Hi Therese! I completely agree with you here, and I love that you call your books domestic dramas. That's such an apt name for them! I find those stories the most interesting (which I suppose is why I also write what could be called the same). The complications of relationships and love and family are more than a genre, they are life.

    I don't suppose a copy of Exposure is up for grabs, eh? :) Barring that...Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos. Loved her second book, but never got around to reading the first.

  2. Hi Heidi! If I had the AREs for EXPOSURE, I might be tempted to offer one up. Unfortunately, they aren't done yet. Maybe with my next post...

    As for LOVE WALKED IN, no doubt you'll enjoy it whenever and however you get a copy, especially if you loved the sequel.

  3. I have to agree with you about the term "romance". Some of the novels that I read have a romantic element to them, but would I class them as "romance"? Probably not. I love the term "domestic drama". I read a lot of those, and I would love to read your books. If I win I would choose "Good Enough To Eat" by Stacey Ballis as the third book- I'm intrigued!

  4. Therese,

    I love the phrase "domestic drama". And you're right about the term "romance". There is a difference between romances and novels with romantic elements. If I were to win the third book I'd choose would be Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette.

    Debra S.

  5. Therese, I can't think of anything more complex and yet nuanced to write about than love and relationships. It's kind of like writing humor, which is far trickier than people think (especially the ones who don't and have never tried it). And I totally agree that the world needs more love! So keep writing about it, brilliantly and without apologies!!! :-)

  6. Therese, you have such lovely covers and I love that your titles are all one word. Thanks for a great post.

  7. I never know what to call my books either!! We're not supposed to say "chick lit" anymore, so I end up saying that they are romantic comedies, the sort of thing that would star Drew Barrymore if it was made into a movie.

    Maybe I can start calling my books domestic comedies?! Or maybe you can help me come up with a new term for smart, funny, (and at times) silly books about women and the choices they make....

  8. Hey Therese,

    I love the term "Domestic Drama"--and you're right, it's really all about love. I always said my first book was really a love letter--to family and friendship.

    Can't wait to read EXPOSURE.

  9. Therese, I read the first chapter of Souvenir the other day while in Borders and was blown away--gorgeous writing, intensely emotional, and such sense of place. Brought the book right home and can't wait to finish. Looking forward to reading the other one and the new (I love the title Exposure).

    As for another book I want to read, I'd love to get my hands on anything by Karen White.

  10. I'll jump on the bandwagon with applause for the term "domestic drama" ... perfect.

  11. Jonita and Debra S., you're both exactly right that "romantic elements" don't make a romance. Good book choices too!

    Susan, I'm sure writing humor takes much more work than it appears to--making it all the more significant when someone like yourself can do it so well that you can do it professionally. Wouldn't it be great if we could make all the haters in the world attempt the very thing they're so critical of?

    Karin, thank you. I was iffy about this cover for SOUVENIR--loved it but worried that it was a little light, considering the content. I can't wait to see what people think of EXPOSURE's cover. It's a bit of a departure, yet perfect for the book.

    Brenda: "chick lit" is one of those terms, like "women's fiction," that describes the supposed audience rather than the book's content, so for that reason I've never liked it. Whereas "romantic comedy" or "domestic comedy" seems to pin down the content perfectly. I think you've got it just right!

    Judy, ALL THE NUMBERS was exactly that. *So* heartfelt--which I think is one of the things that critics have trouble with but that readers respond to most.

    Melissa, wow, thank you! (Praise from another writer always feels like such a surprise, doesn't it?) Now that you mention it, I'd like to read something by Karen White too. : )

    Thanks, Beth. I may be onto something here...

  12. Hey, my friend Pam L. turned me on to your books and I read Souvenier and really enjoyed it. Don't let anyone tell you that love stories are not a valid form of literature! I complete agree with you about Pride & Prejudice. The thing that makes it a story of manners and morals is that theirs are so different from ours that they become characters on their own.
    My favorite love-story-that-isn't is Bel Canto by Ann Patchett but I already have a copy so if I'm a winner surprise me!

  13. Hi Susan! Thanks so much for taking Pam's suggestion. :-)

    I like your taste in books: BEL CANTO is one of my favorite books of any kind.

  14. I find it very hard to answer questions like what do you write or what is your book about. It took 89,000 words to express the complex variety of themes and ideas. So hard to reduce to a representative sound bite!

    I'm so glad to meet you here and learn about your books. As I have not read them yet, I would love either of them.

  15. Cindy, I agree, boiling it all down to a soundbite is difficult, to say the least.

    Thanks for your comment; I'm glad to meet you too.

    p.s. just to clarify: the contest winner gets both my books, plus a third book of their choice!

  16. What a generous giveaway! No better subject than love.... and can I just say you need to put a video up on Youtube of your cat eating popcorn? I'm picturing the two of you watching TV, feet up on the couch, passing the bowl back and forth.

  17. You know I was wondering about the whole Picoult-Weiner-Franzen debate and the fact that one of the most prized and beautiful writers, Jane Austin wrote such "chick lit" books. And until today and your comments I have yet to hear about references to Jane or any of the other beloved writers of her time. Today her novels are read, are still best sellers, TV and motion pictures have been made of her stories and adapted so many ways. I myself read Pride and Prejudice at least once a year just to reconnect with Elizabeth and Darcy (who can not get excited about Darcy)!

    Anyway on to the point of why I am writing this today. Thank you for mentioning the wonderful Jane Austin. And to be honest Literature is Literature should it be about love, espionage, politics, family, the dogs or even cows. You can like it or not.

    and I don't need to win copies of your books as I am already the proud owner of two signed copies because I am a lucky duck!

    Thank you Therese!

  18. Make that Jane Austen of Englihs Literature not she of Austin TX!

  19. Ah--could it be that you, "Anonymous," are the same enthusiastic person who's had great luck in book giveaways lately? ;-)

    I love this: "Literature is Literature should it be about love, espionage, politics, family, the dogs or even cows. You can like it or not." Thanks so much for your comment!

  20. Anyone who's a Pride & Prejudice fan is an automatic friend of mine ;). Thanks for your lovely post, Therese, and for writing love stories -- I don't think there can ever be enough of them on the shelves! And I love the way your titles -- Souvenir and Reunion especially -- evoke memories of the past...

  21. Thank YOU, Marilyn. And you're dead-on about the titles (and stories) evoking the past; that's a nice observation, and something I hadn't really thought of quite that way before.

  22. And Sarah: I made popcorn last night, but couldn't get Leo (he's the one) to sign a disclaimer--so no video to share this time. I'll keep working on him, though. ;-)

  23. The winner is:

    Cindysjones. Congratulations!

    Send me an email at and we'll coordinate a plan for getting the books to you.

    Everyone else: thank you for your thoughtful and supportive comments!

  24. Therese you got it right...Tis me! LOL Contgrats Cindy!

  25. I love this post! I have not yet read your books but they are on my ever-growing to-read list. So many books so little time...
    I really like it that you think of your stories as love stories, even if they aren't traditional. To be honest, when I think of love stories, I think of them as so much more than romance. When someone says they've written 'a love story', it sounds somehow bigger and truer than just a formulaic romance. I think you should stick to that label! :-)

  26. Hi Melissa. Thank you! It's true, romance plays only a small role in a love story.

    "Bigger and truer" is a nice description. I trained in sociology and cultural anthropology before deciding to try to write professionally, and you can see the influences of those interests in my stories.

    I hope you'll enjoy them when the time comes!