Shop Talk: ‘Accidental Romance’ and RIVER ROAD

I had another topic planned for today, but instead I wanted to talk about reader expectations, reader interpretation, and “accidental romance.”

I wonder if, as readers, we’re hard-wired to look for romance in our stories, and perhaps to find them in places where the author never intended. If you read a book with a female protagonist and an attractive male character, do you automatically assume there’s a potential for romance?

Because that, I realize, bothers me. It’s sort of like buying into the idea that men and women can never truly be close friends because the potential for sexual involvement is always there. Believe me, I have a lot of male friends and I don’t think any of us have given that a single thought.

The whole notion of “accidental romance” came to me yesterday when reading a review of River Road.

It was a terrific review, and I was certainly pleased with it. But the reviewer talked about the merman Rene Delachaise as a new suitor for DJ, which kind of made me do a double-take. ย I’d never considered Rene in that light. (I mean, for God’s sake, DJ has WAY more suitors than she needs already and that number’s about to go down, not up.)

Rene and DJ do have an emotional journey in River Road. Their relationship starts out antagonistic, because mers, as a species, do not like wizards. DJ and Rene end up as good friends because of shared loss and a growth of mutual respect. But there are no benefits. If there were even hints at benefits, it wasn’t intentional. They don’t have any desire for benefits. There’s no serious flirting between them–they might joke or tease, but not with serious intent.

In fact, Rene’s bonking somebody else through most of the book.

So I started to wonder what I might have inadvertently done to make a reader think Rene was a potential love interest for DJ? Did making him attractive, as seen through DJ’s eyes, automatically translate to “love interest”? If he’d been unattractive, would he have been a love interest? If he’d been older? Less likable?

Or do readers just see attractive male character and attractive female character, both unattached, and automatically assume romance might be around the corner?

And, by the way, just for the record, to dispel that notion right off the bat: DJ’s neighbor Quince Randolph, who becomes a major series character in Elysian Fields, is extremely attractive. He’s interested in DJ. His interest is not returned. He is not a romantic interest, at least from DJ’s point of view, because heย annoys the crap out of her and she doesn’t like him. So if you read EF and assume Rand is another potential suitor, that’s entirely on your head–LOL.

What do you think? If you read RR, did you consider Rene a potential suitor for DJ’s affections? What made you think so? Do you think we’re hardwired for romance?

As always, a comment on Shop Talk gets you in the running for a $10 giftcard to your online bookseller of choice (or equivalently priced book from Book Depository if outside the U.S.).

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

35 thoughts on “Shop Talk: ‘Accidental Romance’ and RIVER ROAD

  1. Huh, I did wonder if Rene was a possible romantic interest, but ruled him out. Maybe it is that “attractive male character = possible love interest” is hard wired in my brain since I read more romance than UF. I didn’t think Quince was a love interest because we meet him while he’s dating DJ’s friend and DJ found him annoying. I have my theories about his interest in her, but I’m waiting till Elysian Fields comes out to see where that goes.

    • I’m thinking it’s the way I introduced Rene, through DJ’s eyes, and he is attractive. Robert was on the phone, so Rene was the one described. And even though DJ and Rene started out in an antagonistic manner, that’s also the way she began with Alex, and Alex obviously IS a romantic possibility. I also read a good bit of PNR and maybe if I’d read it instead of writing it, I might have reached the same assumption. Not sure! It really doesn’t matter, in the end, because Rene is in Elysian Fields quite a bit and is still not a romantic interest. And yeah, you’re right, I think no one’s seeing Quince Randolph as a love interest because he’s dating Eugenie and DJ has such a negative impression of him from the get-go. He’s not EXACTLY a bad guy, and in fact has some good qualities. But boy, is he not a romantic interest ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I did not ever think of Rene as a romantic interest, maybe because of the merman thing [mers and wizards do not mix?]. I did not think of Quince as a romantic interest, because D.J. was annoyed by him and I thought of him as a bad guy from the start. I did read a review of River Road that brought up an interesting point, three years had passed between Royal Street and River Road and D.J. still had three suitors, and not sleeping with anyone. I do not think automatic romance in the books, maybe because I read more UF than paranormal romance. Although even in UF I want the female protagonist to get a HEA.

    • Yes, that was the same review–but to me it was totally in character that DJ and Alex hadn’t slept together. Jake was off dealing with his personal issues and mad at DJ, and Jean was stuck in the Beyond for the most part while the treaties were all being done, which left DJ and Alex during that time–and I thought it was in their character not to have sex. First, DJ values Alex as a friend and doesn’t want to risk screwing it up (no pun intended!), plus at heart she’s a big chicken where men are concerned. And Alex is such a straight-arrow, follow-the-rules kind of guy he would not sleep with a co-worker.

  3. First off, I have to say I almost exclusively read YA, so maybe my opinions are completely geared to that genre and age group. BUT I have read River Road and Royal Street, so here’s my take on it:

    I think most of us look for a little romance even in stories that are more action-packed or thrillers. Honestly I think it humanizes characters, and gives even the bleakest stories hope. Which means yes, I do look for romance between characters. But I don’t think a girl describing a guy as cute or hot or totally not her type means he’ll become a love interest. I mean, let’s be honest, we all kinda have that initial reaction when we first meet someone because the physical stuff is the only thing we have to go on when we first meet someone.

    I didn’t think DJ and Rene were into each other when I read her thoughts – mostly because there were other guys that were contenders, and also because it’s not in her nature to just do it with someone for fun.

    But the thing is, the most interesting romances do begin between people who either are physically completely different from each other’s usual types or who begin by getting on each other’s nerves (Rene!!) but it’s all about what happens after that. What does their relationship become? When they talk, have fun, is it just banter or is there a whole lot left unsaid under all that?

    That’s the key – what’s left unsaid. Because there are some awesome boy-girl friendships in novels, but you know that that little joke, that little tease is just that, a surface joke. It’s when it takes on something else, something more meaningful, and the other person wants it to mean more, that you get a love interest.

    So yeah, I think it’s normal for a physical description and subsequent opinion to be there when they meet. And lots of readers might be looking for something to come out of it because sometimes it’s also wishful thinking, readers trying to rewrite the story in a direction they want it to go in. It would be interesting to see what would happen if stories were interactive, like those build your own adventure stories, but with romance it’s really what happens after that. Basically when the guy opens his mouth;)) It either makes your day or turns you off:))

    • Really, really good points! The reviewer did like Rene, so there might have been some of that. I adore Rene myself ๐Ÿ™‚

      And since I read the review yesterday, I was thinking hm….DJ and Rene….but nope. Not right now, anyway. They make really, really good friends. And you’re so right on the “unsaid” part. DJ and Alex, especially, leave a lot unsaid. Jake as well. And God only knows what Jean Lafitte is really thinking.

      Rene, at one point in Elysian Fields, says “Never done it with a wizard, babe,” and he doesn’t mean it for a second. And DJ knows it ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Haven’t read it yet, but consider potential matches based on how an author writes the characters

  5. Hmm did you not write a post for Valentine’s day, where DJ’s suitors gave her gifts? And was not Renรฉ one of them? So perhaps that is why he is stuck in my mind as a potential lover. Or perhaps because I don’t like the dog, do like the werewolf, and do like the pirate, and as DJ cannot choose, none of those is right for her, so she needs to meet new prospects.

    I have to say, I actively dislike Rand, and suspect him of really bad intentions towards DJ.

    • Ha! Yes, I certainly did. So I’ve been giving mixed signals on Rene myself! Ack. I don’t know how people will feel about it, but DJ does make a choice of sorts in Elysian Fields. I don’t know how long it will last, but we shall see ๐Ÿ™‚

      Your instincts on Rand are EXCELLENT. *must not say more*

    • Rand hasn’t gotten an active riole already and he is already hated or higky disliked^^ poor man ( go dj crush him, burn him we won’t mind)

      as for the st valentine gift post, for me it was a little joke i never saw rene as a suitor ( and in several country st valentine celebrate love in all form, friendship too not only romantical one)

    • Ha–it’s amazing how everyone hates Rand already! I will be VERY interested in seeing how people feel about him after reading Elysian Fields.

  6. I thought Rene might be a potential suitor for, perhaps, 5 seconds. The story line quickly changed my mind. You are such a tease with all the DJ makes a choicing! lol.

    • LOL–DJ does have some options, for sure ๐Ÿ™‚

      Originally, I hadn’t planned to bring Rene back for Elysian Fields but there was a role my editor suggested he might be able to play and after I wrote him in, I really liked his interplay (make that non-romantic interplay) with DJ.

  7. i’ve read the review and i was surprised to ( though i didn’t think it was a good idea to point that to the reviewer) i never saw rene as a suitor and from my memory he never hint anything at all…all his attitude come from his hate for wizard and how he is changing his view slowy… she could be his friend but nothing more ( and jean would never introduced him if he thought he could be his rival)

    as for dj not jumping in bed for me it was normal, they both had a lot to think about it and yes a man and a woman can be friend ( it the same that bother me in some ya book two boys are best friend, act like brother and then bam it’s secret love etc like friendship is not existing anymore even between two people of teh same sex) i value friendship and i enjoy to see it in book two so yes i love a little romance but it’s not something i’m trying to see in each book
    like roger said it’s perhaps because i have read a lot or urban fantasy and the romance is less center point ( it can happen but more slowly a little step in each book)or none existent

    • I did like how their mutual respect for each other grew through the book. And I like her being able to have male friends who aren’t suitors. She has enough of those!

      I too have read a lot more UF than PNR, so maybe my mind doesn’t go there as quickly either. Although, as Roger said, I do like a happily ever after eventually–but it doesn’t have to be a romantic one.

  8. I never considered Rene as a suitor. I don’t assume that two people are going to be a couple. Sometimes a friendship in a book can be more interesting.

    • I totally agree. Actually, when you take the romantic angle out of a relationship between two characters, there are a lot more ways for them to interact and react.

  9. What an interesting blog. I never saw Rene as a love interest. DJ seems a little skittish anyway, so one more guy to deal with romantically just didn’t fit her character. Now a strong friendship developing is much more her style. I like to see a romance in a story, but I don’t need it if the book is not a “romance” story. I prefer well developed characters whose actions fit the plot and their personality.

    • DJ’s definitely skittish–well, more like a) inexperienced because she was so isolated in her upbringing and b) she’s lost so many people she cares about she isn’t willing to do anything to risk losing another.

      I enjoy writing PNR, where the relationships pretty much have to begin and get reasonably resolved in 300 pages or so, but the nice thing about UF is that relationships can deepen and change over the course of multiple books–a lot like they do in real life.

  10. I think it’s just natural that we, or should I say YA reader mostly, assume that a relationship is around the corner. It’s a hard habit to break. But I do agree, a male female friendship in a book can be much more interesting than the insta love we so often see in books.

    • I think a romance–or a hint of romance–is natural for YA especially, because teenage brains automatically go that route, hyperaware of physical attraction and potential. By the time they’re closer to 30 than 20, I figure the characters can acknowledge a physical attraction but realize there are things in the way that wouldn’t make it practical or desirable. (Like if the mers mostly hate wizards, and one is a wizard who can’t swim, it makes a more entertaining friendship than a love match.)

  11. I never saw Rene as a love interest. I still love Jean! Not necessarily for DJ though. For me! LOL! I’ve fallen in love with a character in a book! but oh what a character! ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Yes, I am totally always looking for romance in my books. But I do think that the idea of a male/female friendship is interesting. I’ve seen it, but often one of the two is interested romantically. Or else one of the two is involved in a romantic relationship with someone else. It would be interesting to have a book where the male and female both have no love interests and are only interested in being best friends.


    • I think people will enjoy DJ’s friendship with Rene. She does have other love interests, whereas Rene doesn’t yet (although those who’ve read “Chenoire” know he will). But they make really fun friends.

  13. Haven’t read RR so I can’t answer about Rene being the love interest. But as a reader, sometimes I think I think I may be hardwired. I don’t go in every book expecting romance (unless it’s obviously a romance book, like say- historical romances) but I’m not surprised when it happens because a lot of the books I read have the h/H getting together by the end of book one.

    • Yeah, after this discussion, I realize that it’s something I also, if not overtly look for, at least wonder if it might happen. I was thinking about the Hollows series by Kim Harrison, and how the camps are so divided on a Rachel-Trent relationship…where this series is obviously not romance at all. Same with Dresden. I’ve been mentally trying to coax Dresden to get with Karin for thirteen books–LOL.

  14. I’ve not read the book yet but I admit to loving romance, even if it’s secondary to the story in any book. The couple needs to “fit” tho with a solid chemistry & not just thrown together for the sake of having a romance element in the story.

  15. Nope. Didn’t see it. Hope they continue being friends because I like his character.

    -Athena W

  16. Oh wow, this post really got me thinking. I realized that yes, I do attempt to “predict” who the heroine will end up with- and yes, I usually think its the first attractive guy she lays her eyes on! And this kinda frustrates me. I dunno why, but I guess its that YA books have made a big deal out of romance, and I can’t help but try to see how the romance is played out, instead of focusing on other plot points.