Romance behind closed doors: this Mormon author writes romance in her own way

Courtney Willis is not a well-known author. And she’ll be the first to admit it – when I originally approached her for an interview, she called herself “little beans” and nearly declined.

But Willis is part of an interesting, and perhaps necessary, wave of writers. While ‘Bridgerton,’ full of acted-out history and heartbreaking bodice, is one of the most-streamed shows on Netflix, there’s a cast of writers carving out space for sweet ‘behind-closed-doors’ romances. .

Yes, we are talking about the romance genre. And yes, Willis is a romance writer. But she keeps it clean. Every bodice in Willis’ stories remains intact. And if there is a rift of any kind, it happens strictly behind closed doors.

What is a “closed door romance”?

Where does the term “closed romance” come from? “It’s highly debated,” Willis tells me on our Zoom call. It’s an acquaintance – we did the same travel abroad program in the UK at university.

Willis sits in her Florida home, wearing a t-shirt that lists all of the popular tropes from the book. “Completely unintentional,” she laughs.

When discussing the term “camera romance”. Willis admits it can be “a tough line to walk.”

“People don’t want to say sex is dirty, but (mainstream novelists) sometimes use the term ‘sweet’ when writers behind closed doors try to save the word for our own little bubble of cleanliness,” says Willis.

So what is a romance behind closed doors? Imagine all the traditional components of a romance novel: lingering touches, exchanged glances, maybe a few stolen kisses and passionate embraces. So what? “Then the door closes,” Willis said.

There is no nudity, sex or sexual situations. It might be implied, but readers won’t read about it.

Some might find the idea of ​​sexless romance novels unfathomable, if not impossible to write, but Willis says it actually makes her job a whole lot easier. “I think I meet readers’ needs in this way. So they don’t have to worry about, ‘oh my God, am I going to get graphic, self-explanatory stuff?’

From “The Work and the Glory” to Regency romance

So far, Willis has self-published five short stories and five novels, with more on the way. Surprisingly, his passion for romance didn’t start with classics like “Romancing the Stone” or “Titanic.” It came from an unexpected place: the series “The Work and the Glory”.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Willis was introduced to “The Work and the Glory” novels by her parents at a young age. “I became obsessed,” Willis says. “…There was a touch of romance throughout the story.”

Willis began to delve into the history of the church. As she continued the book series and in her research, Willis thought to herself, “I can do something like this.”

But Willis didn’t write her first romance novel until college. She spent a few months studying abroad in the UK in 2013. “It was an amazing trip,” she says. “Just being in those places where so many stories have happened.”

Willis has spent time exploring historic British sites, including Chatsworth Housethe estate used as Pemberley House in the 2005 film version of “Pride and Prejudice”.

“When we were walking (Chatsworth) I thought about how a relationship would blossom here,” Willis says. “How can I incorporate this into a book? How can I encapsulate everything I see and capture that feeling? »

Unsurprisingly, Willis wrote her first Regency romance after her trip to the UK. But it hasn’t seen the light of day yet — it needs major overhauls, according to Willis. But she plans to see him again eventually.

While Willis’ first novel was set in Regency England, his time in Utah after graduating sparked his imagination. She wrote an unfinished series of Utah-based Western romance novels called the “Little Creek” series.

Being from Florida, Willis found Utah’s dry heat and rugged mountains “unusual.”

“In the beginning, it was difficult for me to be in Utah,” says Willis. “I really had to find the beauty of the moment and find things that made me happy. I went driving in the mountains, looking for places where I could explore the beauty.

Willis found herself exploring places like Big Cottonwood Canyon, Cache Valley, and Park City, and learning about Utah’s history. She remembers a specific trip to Park City Museumwhere she discovered the mining town.

“It’s not a typical story – the mining story of a place,” Willis said. “So I was inspired by that and the beauty of that area. It made my brain spin in a story about a town like that, with people like miners and cowboys and dairy farmers, and all other types of people.

Willis’ “Little Creek” series has three books so far: “The Miner’s Bride”, “The Cowboy’s Daughter” and “The Widow’s Hope.”

Believe it or not, the romance is still going strong

You might not see many romance novels in your local grocery store these days, so it’s easy to assume that the romance genre is dying out. But romance novels are still going strong – and they’re evolving.

According Random penguin houseromance novel sales are up 50% in 2021. And a new breed of rom-com novels, minus the classic misogynistic tropes and full of progressive heroines, are becoming increasingly popular.

Behind closed doors romances also have their place in this resurgence of romance. “There’s a whole realm and spectrum of clean, sweet, behind-closed-doors (romances),” Willis says. “I love seeing it grow and seeing readers enjoying it and wanting it to grow.”

As for why Willis chose to write romance, it’s pretty straightforward. “I’m just a hopeless romantic.”

“I love seeing people come together for the better and change themselves and bring joy into each other’s lives without intending to,” Willis continues.

Willis sees romance as an opportunity to give his characters development and depth. “In all my books, every character has a flaw. There is a lie they believe about themselves that they must overcome. There’s a lot of introspection and learning from the other person.

But as a novelist behind closed doors, Willis faces a unique challenge: capturing the sparks and passion, without sex scenes. But she doesn’t see it as a challenge. “It’s fun,” Willis tells me.

Willis quotes from one of his Regency novels, “Playing the Villain” for example. In it, heroine Emma Follett turns the head of the infamous rake Henry Godwin and decides, essentially, to play him.

“There’s a lot of tension, riding that behind closed doors line while maintaining a non-explicit steam and passion,” says Willis. “It’s not about pushing boundaries and seeing how far you can go, but it’s about writing a good story and staying true to the characters.”

The absence of sex scenes and the emphasis on tension leave room for something that has historically been overlooked in all forms of entertainment: the female gaze.

In an article entitled “How do we define the female gaze in 2018? », Vulture says this: “So what is the female gaze? It’s emotional and intimate. He sees people as people. He seeks to empathize rather than objectify.

The female gaze is not just about sex. It’s not about chiseled abs, perfect hair and a square jawline. It’s all about intimacy: tender moments, gentle touches, and the emotional investment that comes with falling in love.

If you’re looking for an example of the female gaze, TikTok is a particular fan of the famous “Mr. Darcy’s Hand Bending Scene” in the 2005 version of “Pride and Prejudice”.

“The female gaze, and that kind of moment, is really important,” Willis says. “Especially if there’s no sex involved.”

Why are we still so in love with romance novels?

Admittedly, I am not a connoisseur of the romantic genre. As I began to learn more about the genre, I was surprised that there was still such demand for romance novels.

Fewer people are getting married. According Pew Research Center, 38% of adults aged 25 to 54 are single. In 1990, it was 29%. So why, as we as a society become less marriage-focused, do people still read romance novels?

While I’m no expert on the romantic genre, I’m, as always, willing to give my two cents: modern audiences enjoy a romantic slow-burn — the buildup of two people coming together. Sure, we know it’s going to happen, but seeing two people truly fall in love is a delight.

As I continued to delve into the world of romance behind closed doors, I inevitably thought of “Bridgerton.” Specifically, the differences between the first and second seasons.

The highly anticipated first season of “Bridgerton” was littered with explicit sex scenes. But the show’s second season was, by comparison, much more subdued. Yes, there were still sex scenes between the two main characters. But they don’t have sex until the seventh episode – with only one more explicit scene after that.

Instead, the second season chose to focus on the slow burn. The pinching between the two wires created tension. It created sparks, romance, passion, and all the other things behind closed doors romances are all about. (But don’t get me wrong: “Bridgerton” is not a romance behind closed doors).

And that allowed for much more character development between the two leads. By the time they reunite, they are both changed for the better.

For the record, Willis agrees. “I didn’t like (the ‘Bridgerton’ season) either, but there was a lot more character development and relationship development in the second season because there weren’t (as many sex scenes) .”

What could be more romantic than seeing two people meet, against all odds? You don’t need sex for a good romance – you need genuine emotional intimacy.

As for what’s next for Willis? “I’m still a baby author,” she admits. She has another book in the works: a historical and romantic version of “The Parent Trap”.

“Growing up, it was hard to find the exact genre I wanted to read,” Willis tells me. “I’m trying to fulfill that need of younger me and other readers who might be like me who are looking for a very specific type of romance.”

Perhaps Willis and other writers of romance behind closed doors have tapped into the most fascinating part of romance: the act of falling in love itself, and the tension, uncertainty and emotional depth that comes with it. the path.

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