Not all the stories are romances, but some are, and the variety certainly produces some interesting juxtapositions. For example, we have Sandra Barret's contemporary American-set lesbian romance short story One on One alongside Rachel Brown's contemporary Australian-set Christian Inspirational romance Pelican Point.
There were actually a lot of similarities. Both writers have other short stories available on their websites, for one thing, and both of these stories make reference to religion (though Barret's heroine is a Catholic, and Brown's a Protestant), and depict characters who struggle to do the right thing. What really struck me, though, was how both of the heroines assume their dating choices are limited, and that it's unlikely they'll find the right partner in their current setting. In Pelican Point Claire muses that
her feet were too firmly planted on the ground to expect that anyone she met outside of her church circles would be likely to share her strong commitment to God. And as far as she was concerned, it was entirely irrelevant how attractive any man was if he wasn't a Christian. (Chapter 1)and later Cameron admires how 'she boldly owned her Christian faith' (Chapter 4) rather than hiding it. Claire herself says that 'my belief in God is the most important part of my life, and it affects everything I do and say, so it's much easier if you're aware of that right from the beginning' (Chapter 1).
I'm not sure whether committed Christians have more limited dating options than lesbians do, or whether they face more prejudice from others about their faith than lesbians do about their sexuality. And one would perhaps have to assume that Claire, who tells a suicidal man that if he goes ahead he'll end up in Hell (Chapter 11), would offer similar advice to the lesbian heroine of Barrett's story. Nonetheless their feelings, in the case of one heroine about her religion, and in the other about her sexuality, make them hesitant, uncertain that they will be accepted for who they are. It seems to me that this is perhaps much rarer in other romances, where, although the characters may worry that they're not beautiful or rich enough, or that they lack some other quality (such as social status) these aren't such fundamental aspects of who the characters are, compared to one's faith or sexuality. Appearances can be changed - and there are plenty of heroines who, with a quick makeover, are rendered stunning. Both of these romances are about heroines who know that there is something about them which is non-negotiable, essential to who they are, and which any potential partner must not just accept, but also fully share, in order for the relationship to work.
Another of the short stories was Selah March's Dark of the Day, which is described as an 'Erotic Paranormal Romance'. What I found interesting was that this story dealt with suicide, one of the secondary issues in Pelican Point, but instead of the would-be-suicide being dissuaded by a discussion about God, Hell, fire and brimstone.... well, I'll let you read it. But it's interesting that both stories are very spiritual in their own way, both argue against suicide, and yet the methods of persuasion, the individuals doing the persuading and the theology behind the stories are very, very different. I wonder how many paranormal romances are, in fact, erotic Inspirational romances, just not Christian inspirational romances? Is New Age spirituality perhaps having an effect on the types of spirituality depicted in romance?
A theme that was at the heart of all of these romances was the characters' feelings about their own lovability. As Jenny Crusie has said:
Romance fiction is the most popular, elastic, exciting, and creative genre in publishing today, but it's also the hardest kind of fiction to write. All you have to do is convince the modern, jaded, ironic reader that your heroine and hero have not only fallen in love and surmounted all the barriers in their path, but that their love is unconditional and will last throughout time. (Crusie: Emotionally Speaking)Believing that finding unconditional love is even possible for them is something that many of these lovers find a struggle. They don't believe that someone could love them despite certain aspects of their personalities, the truth about their pasts and/or their less-than-perfect bodies. In the erotic romances acceptance of, and enthusiastic participation in, the other's fantasies is an indication not just of sexual broadmindedness and physical compatibility, but of emotional connection and trust. In Charlene Teglia's short erotic vampire romance Night Rhythm, for example, the heroine thinks that:
it hadn't been a purely sexual fantasy. She'd felt like there was a bond between them, a connection that went far beyond the physical. She'd felt happy. Secure. Loved. She'd felt confident and relaxed, as if she could trust Valentine with anything, and that level of trust had led to the freedom to enjoy the physical without any reservations. [...] What man had she ever trusted enough to play kinky games with instead of sticking to basics?
While Pelican Point is extremely chaste (kisses only) and Amie Stuart's erotic romance The Big Girl's Guide to Buying Lingerie is not, the issue of acceptance and trust is of central importance to both. In Pelican Point the heroine has a very difficult relationship with her father, whose personality was not unlike the hero's father (now deceased) in TBGGTBL and the family background of the hero in Pelican Point reminds me somewhat of that of the heroine in TBGGTBL. The heroine of TBGGTBL thinks she's too fat, and the hero of Pelican Point thinks he's too disabled to find love. And of course, despite the obstacles that these secrets and worries place in the path, true love triumphs in the end. As Jade, the heroine of TBGGTBL says, 'Love isn’t about control, or making someone into what you want them to be, but about appreciating them for who and what they are' (297).
Despite the variety of sub-genres, then, it's clear that these romances have a lot in common beyond the focus on the romantic relationship and the happy endings. Whatever the sub-genre, romances seek to make sense of many of life's most challenging problems, particularly the doubts and fears that stop individuals finding true emotional intimacy.