Uncategorized, Writing romance

Writing and Empathy

The last time I visited New Zealand was several years ago. I am scheduled to return there this year for work.NZ - Hobbiton and Bree

Hearing about the mosque shootings by a white supremacist terrorist this week broke my heart.

I don’t want it to be true that the horror of this past week hit me so keenly because it happened to people and places I’ve seen. But to a certain extent, it’s true.

It can be difficult to experience empathy for others with urgency or depth of conviction when the others are different from us, and different to the extent that we don’t have a way to imagine them, to imagine their ordinary lives. Martha Nussbaum, in Poetic Justice (1995), 226712explains that one of the most dangerous realities in “today’s political life” is that “we lack the capacity to see one another as fully human.” Reading novels can intervene in our collective empathetic dullness. Novels are “disturbing in a way that history and social science writing are not,” she says (5).

Why? Because when we can easily imagine a person’s ordinary life, disruption and pain to their beautiful and utterly human self is more shocking, more devastating.

More specifically, I read romances because I want to walk into the worlds of others to learn the most fundamental truth about them: who they love, and how they love.

This week, I want to give a shout out to romance authors who I love who draw us into beautiful worlds that aren’t just telling the same happy ending-story for the same privileged white, cis-het white folks.

Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, and KJ Charles are burning up my bedside table with their wonderful romances. I could talk about them forever. Go read them. For a place to start, Milan’s Hold Me (Cyclone #2) is one of my all-time favorites, and a really nice romance in which the girl being trans is part of the story, as who we are is part of all of our stories, but it isn’t “the story,” because being trans isn’t a plot device.

And let’s talk neurodivergent–an issue that we just can’t seem to figure out how to talk about like humans on public media. Read Glitterland by Alexis Hall, whose hero has bipolar disorder and depression, and the Mnevermind series by Jordan Castillo Price whose hero is on the autism spectrum (and makes brilliant use of futuristic technology to discuss digital media and possibilities for neurodivergent-neurotypical communication).

I want to fall in love with places and people all over the world, in my own community and others, and I want to walk around with pieces of their stories in my heart so that every human tragedy in this world can break mine in an instant.


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