Romance novelists are a secret, epic army

Let it be known: we men must rethink our natural manly instinct that romance novels are something to ignore or avoid, like SEX AND THE CITY 2, which is indeed worthy of scorn, and woe unto any man whose girlfriend or wife coerced them into wasting two hours of their life to see that stupid thing. No bribe is sufficient.

Romance novelists are not only smart and funny, but many can write circles around most writers I know. These women are more talented than many folks writing about serial killers, elves or dinosaurs in spaceships (yes, this is a thing, try the googles) simply because there is so much freaking competition with romance novels.

Are there bad romance novels out there? Sure, just like any genre. But with so many books and writers, it’s like throwing 10,000 authors into the Thunderdome, tossing in a single chainsaw and refusing to unlock the door until there’s only one woman left. That woman is going to kick tail. She will be a writing goddess.

And the message is good. Romance novels don’t want men to be to be office drones, worried about TPS reports, or moody, over-educated basket cases like the men you read about in literary novels.

Romance novels want men of action and charm, packing swords if not guns, and sometimes guns and swords. Any man can learn this from hitting checking out romance novel covers. IT IS AN EDUCATION.

romance novels, fabio, romance novelists, rwa
Fabio and a sword is all you need. Shirts are optional.

Another bonus: romance is the largest part of the book business, which we need more than ever. If you care about books, literature and ideas instead of whatever is on the glowing tube today about the Kardashian idiots, you want to keep a healthy foundation of romance in the world’s fortress of books.

If we are truly men of action, we should band together, pool our resources and give romance novels serious tax subsidies. I’m not kidding here. Because romance authors and readers are a secret army doing a $16.5 billion public relations campaign for men everywhere. And, yes, the genre is bigger than that. It’s a big push for love of all stripes, which is a good thing, damn it. Life isn’t about having the biggest pile of dead presidents. It’s about family and who you love. As a husband and father, I get that.

So, romance novelists and readers, I am holding a mug of Belgium beer, which I raise your direction. Keep up the good work.

Zooming on das Autobahn to Belgium, the friendliest place IN THE WORLD

random thursday crazy kittteh meme

So I’m driving on the Autobahn from Frankfurt, Germany to Goze, Belgium on zero sleep for about 36 hours, which is not the wisest thing in the world when you’re going 160 kilometers per hour, seeing how closing your eyes and napping for half a second will be fatal.

But I do not nap, and the Citroen of Itty Bittiness does not slam into the guardrail and burst into flames.

Frankfurt is a big city full of skyscrapers, the Manhattan of Germany, and this is because after World War II, cities razed by bombs had citizens vote: (a) bulldoze the rubble and start over or (b) rebuild on the ancient, narrow cobblestone streets and painstakingly restore all that was destroyed.

The people of Frankfurt picked “start over.” And you can tell, with just a glance, how any random city in Germany voted after the war.

Goze, Belgium was not bombed to rubble during the war. It’s a tiny little town full of brick homes and brick business and stone churches.

If you’re not familiar with Belgium, let me give you a primer:

  • The Netherlands (Holland) is to the north, Germany to the east, France to the south and Luxemburg also hidden nearby, so people in the north speak Dutch / Flemish and those in the south speak French, though nobody really speaks German
  • Belgium is home to European parliament, NATO headquarters and 72 other important things, maybe because Belgium is friendly and has the best chocolate and beer IN THE WORLD
  • They are NOT French fries, but Belgium fries, invented right here, and the one thing that will make Belgium peoples unfriendly is to repeatedly ask for “French fries,” which I do not do

Just like three years ago, we stayed with my wife’s host family from when she lived here as an exchange student. I lived in Holland and Germany as a kid, so this whole area feels like home.

Battle of the beer: Germany versus Belgium

There’s a huge difference between Germany and Belgium when it comes to beer.

Back in 1516, a German king got tired of people going blind, getting sick or dying from moonshine and bad beer.

This king wrote the Reinheitsgebot (food purity laws), which said the only ingredients allowed for beer were water, barley and hops. He also set the price of beer and standardized things. Today, you can also use yeast, which is quite important, though they didn’t know about yeast back in 1516. Also: wheat malt and cane sugar. But you can’t use unmated barley anymore. NOBODY KNOWS WHY.

The Germans do a lot with those few ingredients. I drank many beers in many towns. Despite the lack of variety, they were all smooth and good.

HOWEVER: Belgium crushes Germany into powder when it comes to beer, because they have 250 different beers that are all excellent. Want a chocolate beer? Done. An IPA with hot chile peppers? They probably have it.

Belgium also has trappist ales — beer made by monks — with many recipes unchanged for almost 1000 years, which is longer than Joan Rivers has been alive. Chimay is probably the most famous. If you haven’t tried Chimay, hit Trader Joe’s and buy some. The stuff is as smooth as silk. If your lips ever touch a can of Budweiser again, you’ll spit it out and say, “Put it back in the horse.”

Things to do in Belgium

The country is small, flat and pretty, with all kinds of beautiful old villages and green fields. Do you like riding bicycles? Ride all over the place with a camera and a picnic basket. Go crazy.

It’s one of the friendliest places, too. People greet you with three kisses (right cheek, left cheek, right cheek) when they first meet you and one kiss whenever you see them again or say goodbye. This is much, much better than standing around or an awkward handshake. Everybody does it, and this breaks the ice.

Also helpful: everybody is handing out beer and wine like it’s going out of style, though they don’t binge. I never saw anybody staggering around, drunk out of their mind. They are professionals with the alcohol, and drink slowly and steadily rather than breaking out beer bongs and losing their heads like a college freshman who’s just discovered Bud Light comes in keg size.

So: ride around the countryside, meet people – and have dinner, which is not 20 minutes at the dining room table while people play with their iPhones. Dinner is a big social event that takes hours. Breakfast is a social event.  Also, lunch.

Basically, people in Belgium prefer the company of OTHER PEOPLE rather than televisions, iPhones and romance novels involving men in kilts.

This is refreshing and fun, despite the fact that I don’t speak a lick of French — because the secret is to listen rather than talk. In Iceland, Sweden, Belgium, France, Germany and elsewhere, people tended to talk to me in Icelandic, Swedish, French or German, as long as I (a) walked around like I knew what I was doing and (b) didn’t say anything.

This came naturally from being a kid in Germany and Holland, and from not speaking at all except to my sister for many years. She was my diplomat: “Guy is hungry for breakfast” and “Guy wonders if we can paint the dog white” and “Guy has just declared war on Syria.”

Over in Europe, I walked around not saying anything, pointing at stuff I wanted to buy and handing over monies. This works great. Try it sometime. If they ask, tell them Guy sent you, and that in solidarity, you also are cutting off diplomatic relations with Syria.

Difficult doesn’t make it good

While in the Belgium, home of the world’s finest chocolate and 250 types of beer — 250! — I saw something that made me think.

No, it was not the beer. Though the beer was excellent.

This is what made me think: a concert on BBC or PBS or whatever with a violinist doing an insanely difficult piece.

Now, that wasn’t the exact piece. This YouTube video is something close, though it’s far less technically difficult and far more enjoyable. You should’ve heard the crazy thing, and seen her beat that violin like a dirty rug.

Was her technical skill amazing?

Oh yes.

Did she make faces like she was passing a kidney stone?

You have no idea.

Did the music move me at all?

Not one bit. Hated it.

The forest for the trees

Here’s the thing: creative people tend to focus on developing the most difficult technical skills WHILE IGNORING THE BIG STUFF.

  • Journalists learn all about headline counts and press law, but nobody questions whether the inverted pyramid is the right structure for the next 12,023 stories they’ll write.
  • Writers spend months or years cranking on novels, but if you put a 9 mm to their head and counted down from five, they couldn’t boil that novel down into four-word pitch — or logline, tagline or headline.
  • Figure skaters put all this time and effort into triple-axles and whatnot, despite the fact that only professional skaters and judges can tell the difference between a triple toe loop and a triple lux-whatever. The only thing we average people know is  (a) whether the skating is fun to watch and (b) how many times they fall down. Also, (c) how you can consider this a sport when the winner is determined by faceless judges, not who runs the fastest or scores the most points?

Now, I’m not saying that you should ignore your technical skills, whether you’re trying to break into Hollywood with your zombie high school musical or become the next Johnny Rotten.

The point is, technical skills come into play late in the game. Without working on the stuff that nobody teaches you — the short, pithy, publicity side — nobody will see your amazing technical wizardry with words, film or electric guitars hooked to amplifiers that go up to 11.

Here’s little kids playing Metallica, with far less technical skill. (Metallica is secretly easy to play.) Yet I enjoyed the heck out of this and would happily listen to it again, while you would have to deliver suitcases stuffed with purple euros to get me to listen to the violin craziness again.