Susanna Kearsley – Loving Love at First Sight

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The Joy of the Thunderbolt: Love at First Sight

It seems to be one of those things people find unbelievable: Love at first sight.

I can write about psychics and reincarnation and ghosts and my readers will generally Desperate Fortunegive it a pass and suspend disbelief for the sake of the story, but any time I have two characters look at each other and know  ̶  simply KNOW, beyond any conceivable doubt, that their world has just changed, I know some of my readers (and maybe a lot of them) will roll their eyes and sigh heavily and call it “unrealistic”.

Now, I never argue with readers. It’s their book, too, and it’s their right to sigh heavily all that they want to. Each reader brings to the book their own experience, their own beliefs, so if they don’t think thunderbolts happen, I can’t change their mind.

But I still hope that, once in their own lives, it happens to them, because it’s pretty wonderful.

In Italy they know it as the “colpo di fulmine”, and in France it’s called the “coupe de foudre”  ̶  quite literally “the lightning-strike”  ̶  because it’s just that rare, that unexpected, and that powerful.

It’s been around at least since Isaac and Rebekah, in the Book of Genesis, first lifted up their eyes and saw each other in that field at eventide, and it’s been a central trope of storytelling ever since.

Even Louis L’Amour’s tough-guy heroes aren’t immune to it, as clearly shown in this named of the dragonmoment when the hero of his book Westward the Tide first sees the heroine step down from a stagecoach:

“He was lifting a match to the freshly rolled cigarette when he saw her, and he looked past the flame into her eyes and something seemed to hit him in the stomach…Something had happened. The thought disturbed and irritated him. He had known many women, but none until now that he knew he had to have. Always before he could mount and ride away, and while he would often remember, he would never feel the urge to go back. Now, he knew that was over. This time he would not ride on.”

Unrealistic?

To some, I suppose. But I’d humbly suggest that the reason something gets to be a central trope of storytelling in the first place isn’t because it idealizes real life, but because it reflects it. Because we relate to it. That’s why the trope survives.

Let me illustrate:

I can still point out the high school stairs my first boyfriend was walking down, as the friend standing beside me was saying, “Hey, let me introduce you to…” And I just knew.

I can point to the place in another friend’s kitchen where, in my late twenties, I casually turned round to greet a guy I hadn’t seen for a few years. And at the moment he walked through that door, something hit me so hard and from out of the blue there’s no way to describe it EXCEPT as a thunderbolt. (Reader, I married him).

So when my characters look at each other and realize their world has just changed, roll your eyes if you must, I won’t mind. And I won’t argue, either, if you say it’s “unrealistic”.

I’ll just say that sometimes, as writers, we write what we know.

Susanna Recommends:

I’m going to go off-course here and give in to my Museum Curator side, and instead of recommending new writers I’m going to recommend a couple of older writers whose books are hard to find, which puts them in danger of being forgotten, and that would be a shame because they’re both amazing.

Lucilla Andrews (Read her Wikipedia article here) wrote medical romances drawn from her own experiences as a nurse in wartime and post-war Britain. My favorite of her books is The First Year, but they’re all good.

And anyone who knows me knows my love of Jan Cox Speas ( jancoxspeas.com ), whose Bride of the MacHugh and My Lord Monleigh set the bar for all Scottish-set romances to follow. Keeping the voices of those who’ve come before us in our genre alive is as important, in my view, as encouraging and amplifying the voices of those who are just emerging, so keep an eye out in used book stores and libraries for these older romances. (It looks like she has an ebook of My Love, My Enemy for $1.99 ~ Bobbi)

Questions for the Author:

Tell us about a moment in your life when you experienced sheer joy. 

Well, my favorite author is, and always has been, Mary Stewart. So naturally when I went to Greece several years ago with my mother (who is responsible for passing on her Mary Stewart love to me), we had to make a stop in Delphi, to explore the spots where Mary Stewart set scenes in her book My Brother Michael. We took turns standing at the center of the ancient theatre in the ruined Temple of Apollo (Stewart fans will understand that one), and wandered round the winding streets, and lunched beneath the same tree where the hero and the heroine had shared a meal. And while I sat there, drinking wine and looking out across the gorgeous valley, it occurred to me that Mary Stewart must have sat in that exact same spot, to get the details she’d have needed to create that scene. That little realization, and the way it made me feel connected to my favorite author, knowing we had shared this view across the years dividing us, just filled me with a sense of joy and awe and wonder. It still does.

Tell us about a place that brings you joy, or is attached to a memory of joy.

I spent weeks doing research for one of my early novels, The Splendour Falls, in the SPLENDOURmedieval town of Chinon, in the Loire Valley of France. Every day I spent in Chinon brought me joy, and one of the most beautiful, romantic moments of my whole life happened there. So both the place and all the memories that I carry of it hold a special place within my heart.

Tell us about a sound that brings you joy.

Waves on sand. I’ve spent a lot of my life at the edge of an ocean or one of the Great Lakes. The sound of waves coming to shore is a sound that can instantly center and calm me, and one that I miss when I’m too far away from it.

What recent book have you read that brought you joy. (Or a book you read in your life that brought you so much joy you’ve never forgotten it.) Why?

OK, this will probably sound crazy to anyone who’s not a writer, but one of the things that I gradually lost when I made the transition from being a reader to being a writer wasbitten-kelley-armstrong-paperback12-med1 the ability to completely lose myself in a story. The more I learn of my craft, the more I’m able to see the man behind the curtain, so to speak. When I read, I tend to read as a writer, so if I come across a line that makes me shiver, my first response is usually to flip back in the pages to see what technique the author used to DO that. Which doesn’t mean I no longer enjoy books, only that I read them differently.

So when I picked up Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, several years ago, and settled in to read a chapter before bedtime, I was unprepared. I couldn’t put it down. At every chapter ending I just told myself, “OK, one more…” And when I’d finally finished it was after sunrise, time to wake the children up for school. It had been YEARS since I had read like that, been caught up in a story so completely I lost track of time and place. So even though I spent the next day sleep-deprived and bleary-eyed, it brought me so much joy to know that I could still find books that let me feel like that again, that let me simply be a reader.

And for fun, the joy of choice ~

Pick your Chris! Chris Hemsworth, Chris Pine, Chris Pratt, Chris Rock, Chris Evans or Christopher Plummer (circ. 1964 aka Capt. Von Trapp?) – trying for a little diversity! ;o)

I’m going to be an outsider here, too, because although I’m fond of all of the above, my very favorite Chris of all remains Chris Cooper, who stole my heart ten years ago with his role in the movie Lone Star.

Susanna is generously giving away four signed copies of her latest book, A Desperate Fortune, two to US readers and two to international readers. To enter leave a comment on this post, on the RARM Facebook post or both (you can find that here) before  Sept. 7 11:59 pm CST. International readers, include your country in the comment.

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