Fluff with Stuff: Rom-Coms that Tackle Serious Issues by Farah Heron

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[Note from Frolic: We are so excited to have author Farah Heron guest post on the site today. Take it away Farah!]

*taps mic…* Is anyone listening?

Yes?  Okay.

My name is Farah Heron, and I write romantic comedies.

That phrase means everything to me. Seriously. EVERYTHING. I’ve wanted to write rom-coms probably since I read my first one and learned that a book could give me the same warm fuzzies as my favourite romantic movies could. And now, thanks to my debut novel, The Chai Factor, I can officially and proudly call myself a writer of rom-coms. But in the immortal words of Poison (only one of the greatest hair bands of all time), every rose has its thorn. Because as I have been proudly stating the above line to everyone who will listen to me (sorry, UPS guy!) some reactions I’ve received don’t match my own enthusiasm. Because unfortunately, not everyone loves this genre the way I do.

I was at a party recently, and was excitedly telling my friends about my book. For the most part, the news was met with excitement, encouragement and support. Some even offered to help brainstorm future projects with me. But the happy moment was ruined because “that guy” was also at this party.

You know “that guy.” The one who thinks cynical snark is somehow the way to gain respect in public settings. The guy who spits out the word rom-com the way some would say phlegmy mucus. “That guy” found it hilarious to mock my chosen genre with derision in front of my friends and my children. “Rom-com,” he said, “What does that mean? How many of these things did you actually sell?”

I’ve encountered many of “that guy” in the months since my book was announced. Some disparage anything with the word “romance” in it. Some think comedy is a low-brow art that anyone can do. Others are incapable of saying anything positive about something made primarily for, and by women.

When someone scowls while saying they don’t like the genre, I always ask, have you read any rom-coms? If they have, and respectfully say it’s not their cup of tea (or cup of chai, if you will), then fine. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and I am here for people who make honest, educated appraisals about what they don’t like. But most of the time, I hear “I don’t like fluff.” Or “I like books with substance.”

Well holy hell, am I ready to tell those people that they are missing out. Yes, some rom-coms are “fluff”. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that! I love fluff! There is a real need in the world for escapist reading. But if you think all rom-coms are low on issues, and high on Louboutins and mimosas, you are in for a treat. Because my favourite little corner of the Rom-Com genre is filled with books that combine swoony romance and hilarious laughs, all while tackling serious life issues.

My book, The Chai Factor is a rom-com about an engineer desperately seeking silence to finish her grad school thesis, but instead finds that her grandmother has rented the basement to a barbershop quartet. As one does. Hijinks and battles over noise levels are inevitable, but what she doesn’t expect is falling for the sexy baritone in the plaid shirt. All your favourite rom-com devices are featured: an adorable meet cute (on a train!), lots of snarky banter, and brain-melting kisses. And of course, a great big, shiny, happily ever after.

But I never describe this book as fluff. The book is about fighting against intolerance in an uncertain world. My characters deal with Islamophobia, homophobia, and sexism, all while navigating complicated family issues, and working through the subtle nuances between right and wrong. I wrote the book to explore the challenges that modern Muslim women face in their daily lives while the world around them in turmoil.

Combining humour with weighty topics is no easy feat, and when done well, it always hits that perfect sweet spot for me. I cut my teeth on late nineties chick-lit (I’m showing my age a bit here), and many of the writers excelling then managed to make readers laugh and cry loudly in the same chapter. It was these rom-coms with serious backbones that inspired me to write my own. And although I love my lighthearted reads, I will always have a weakness for these weighty rom-coms.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes

If you’re willing to go back to vintage 90s chick-lit, I highly recommend Marian Keyes. To me, she’s the queen of romantic comedies with serious themes. Rachel’s Holiday and Sushi for Beginners are two of my all-time favorites, but the one that I think really nails the fine balance between funny and swoony, all while dealing with a very serious topic, is a newer of her titles, This Charming Man. Major content warning here: this book deals with domestic abuse.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

A more recent recommendation is One Plus One by Jojo Moyes: This isn’t her most popular book, but the romance in this story just worked so well for me. A single mother who makes her living as a cleaner, and the fallen millionaire whose office she cleans, go on a road-trip together to a math Olympiad for her daughter. Bring along a math-genius girl, a troubled, and bullied teenage-boy, and of course, major sparks as the attraction builds. This sweet, touching book tackles serious topics with gentle humour.

A Duke By Default by Alyssa Cole

Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royal’s series are super tropey, super steamy contemporary romances that have some pretty heavy themes beneath the fun premises. The whole series is fabulous, but my favourite is A Duke by Default, because I laughed the most. This book covers everything from serious family issues, neurodevelopmental challenges, gentrification, social-class clashes, and race relations. Throw in a hot Scottish silver-fox who makes swords for a living, and what more could you possibly want?

Wrapped Together by Annabeth Albert

Wrapped Together is probably my favourite holiday romance. I love the combination of one grumpy, introverted hero, and one exuberant, extroverted hero. It’s cute, fluffy, and has all of the holiday trappings to feel like a comfort read. But one of the heroes in this m/m romance deals with pretty significant grief issues, and I loved the way the character’s devastating backstory was handled.

Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Lau

Jackie’s Lau’s books are all hilarious, and many have heavy themes underlying them. Mr. Hotshot CEO is a standout in this regard, with Jackie’s signature humour combined with frank and realistic discussions of major depressive disorder.

Making Up by Lucy Parker

Lucy Parker’s books are all fabulous. Her writing voice never fails to make me giggle, while the chemistry between her characters makes me swoon. Her book Making Up specifically has a character who is trying to find her footing after the trauma of serious emotional abuse. I wasn’t sure this book would work for me knowing the character’s backstory, but I loved the sensitivity that the author brought to the topic, and the sexy hero focused on trying to help her find her lost confidence made this book a winner. Plus, it’s absolutely hilarious, and the snarky banter is on point.

One and Only by Jenny Holiday

Jenny Holiday’s Bridesmaids Behaving Badly series is pure rom-com at it’s finest, and I recommend starting with the first one, One and Only. This is totally fun, fluffy catnip— but the serious stuff the hero and heroine deal with elevate the story. Mental illness, significant family issues, social-class insecurity, and self-esteem problems are all addressed here. Add a scorching-hot kiss at Niagara Falls, and some Xena cosplay and this book has a permanent place on my keeper shelf.

Jab We Met
Jab We Met

And finally, I’m ending with a movie recommendation. The 2007 Bollywood film Jab We Met is a hilarious rom-com about a fun-loving, talkative young woman who encounters a defeated businessman on a train who is dealing with serious depression (I love train meet cutes). Somehow, they end up on a road trip across India. The scenery and music alone are enough of a reason to watch it, but this movie has themes of fighting against family expectations, class conflicts, and mental illness. As the story progresses and the tables turn on their mental states, the chemistry and warmth between them keep you rooting for the couple despite their difficulties. Content warning here for suicide.

I could probably keep going on this topic forever, and I know there are many, many other books and movies that fit here. I hope more of these rom-coms with serious backbones make it into the world. We need these books that make us laugh and swoon, while giving us insight about the world we live in, and how to cope with the curve balls life throws at us. Sorry, “that guy,” you can’t shame me away from this amazing genre that is positively brimming with “substance.” 

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About the Author:

Farah Heron is a Toronto writer and a proud lover of rom-coms. Her debut novel, The Chai Factor will be released on June 11th 2019 by Harper Collins Canada.

Find Her Here:

Website: https://farahheron.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/FarahHeron

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/farahheronauthor/

The Chai Factor by Farah Heron, out tomorrow!

Amira Khan has no plans to break her no-dating rule.

Thirty-year-old engineer Amira Khan has set one rule for herself: no dating until her grad-school thesis is done. Nothing can distract her from completing a paper that is so good her boss will give her the promotion she deserves when she returns to work in the city. Amira leaves campus early, planning to work in the quiet basement apartment of her family’s house. But she arrives home to find that her grandmother has rented the basement to . . . a barbershop quartet. Seriously? The living situation is awkward: Amira needs silence; the quartet needs to rehearse for a competition; and Duncan, the small-town baritone with the flannel shirts, is driving her up the wall.

As Amira and Duncan clash, she is surprised to feel a simmering attraction for him. How can she be interested in someone who doesn’t get her, or her family’s culture? This is not a complication she needs when her future is at stake. But when intolerance rears its ugly head and people who are close to Amira get hurt, she learns that there is more to Duncan than meets the eye. Now she must decide what she is willing to fight for. In the end, it may be that this small-town singer is the only person who sees her at all.

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