by Julian Keys
It might seem like a no-brainer for an erotic romance writer to come up with a story for Valentine’s Day, but readers expect to see certain things in such a story: hearts, flowers, wine, poetry, cupids, candy and cards. Infusing new life into these old tunes is not so easy. Nor is coming up with a champagne-and-fine-chocolates’ plot. A romantic tale celebrating the day of romance has to be a little more extravagant and delicious than the standard boy-meets-girl fare.
Which, in the context of how I came up with this story is a bit ironic, as the first thing that popped into my mind were those childhood candies (invented in 1860!) with text messages like: “luv u!” One can’t get more plebeian. The other things that came to mind were treasure hunts and secret admirers. What, after all, is more “Valentine’s Day” than a secret admirer?
That idea took hold; I liked the thought of writing up a mystery that didn’t ask “who done it?” but “who is it?” My initial image of a man or woman following a trail of candy hearts to their beloved, however, didn’t seem feasible. Valentine cards with room for longer and more cryptic messages, on the other hand, could work very well. So I did a little research on valentine cards. Interestingly, the Victorian/Edwardian ones with elegant paintings and belabored poetry kept catching my eye.
It occurred to me that I found them fascinating because I’d never gotten or given such a valentine–so old fashioned, so romantic-era-romantic. Maybe… maybe that was the way to go with this story? Instead of trying to modernize the Valentine’s Day staples, make them old school, so old school that they seemed “new” again? The valentines, the dozen roses, the chocolate candies, the wine, jewelry, poetry…even the gods of Love.
Once I hit on that, it all came together. I knew that my hero, for example, had to be so archaically romantic that he no longer felt he had a place in today’s world. And I knew his journey, his hunt, had to be not only to find his one true love, but to learn that romance, even the sort considered passé, is timeless.
My title for this story of an outmoded worshiper of Love and forgotten love gods? Valentine Prayers. It has since become one of my all time favorite titles. What took me most by surprise, however, is when I gave this story to male readers. I thought they’d dismiss it, but most wrote back to thank me. There are some very romantic gents out there who feel under-represented in Valentine stories. They were overjoyed to see an avatar of themselves as the hero of my tale.
And so I found my own revelation at the end of this metaphoric trail of silly candy hearts, flowers and poetry. And it is this: it doesn’t matter if you give or are given a hand-made card for the day or a diamond ring, a bag of pastel colored M&M’s or a dozen wine-red roses…they all translate to the same, most wonderful message, the heavenly message of Valentine’s Day: that you are loved.