Susan Stradiotto thinks about love, a lot, and with good reason. As an author whose writing ventures into the romance genre, her task is to create a novel that depicts realistic relationships while still capturing that “swoon-worthy” feeling of love.
Eden Prairie News asked Stradiotto about writing, romance, and making a relationship work. She would know; Stradiotto and her husband, Reno, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary this year. The key, she said, is balancing romance and friendship.
Stradiotto writes from her own experience, and it’s not uncommon that a friend or family member will pick up a book and later identify parts of the author’s own life in the pages.
“Almost every character has something that I’ve been exposed to through various relationships in my life,” she said. “You write what you know.”
What makes a moment romantic in Stradiotto’s opinion is when one character can provide another with something they lack in other areas of their life, or when they demonstrate “how they round each other out.”
“You have to show the reader enough of the need in the character and how the other person is going to fill it, and that’s when it pays off,” she noted.
Other genres have a lot to learn from romance writers, Stradiotto said. While some genres lean heavily on science-fiction concepts or dramatic action, romance writers let their characters lead the narrative, which makes for a more engaging read, she said.
“At the heart of a romance, you’re writing two characters’ stories,” she said. “That’s going to make someone feel, rather than see.”
That’s not meant to be a dig at other genres; Stradiotto herself writes fantasy too, though she publishes under different names: Susan Stradiotto for fantasy, and the pen name Julia Greene for romance.
“I admire fantasy writers probably more than anybody else because they build so much,” she said. Her two branches of writing are “not a secret, it’s just a branding technique,” she added.
In her latest book, “An Orchid Falls,” Stradiotto is tackling something she hasn’t experienced: divorce.
Friends’ experiences with separation and her own parents’ marriage informed the writing process, Stradiotto said. Even without firsthand experience of divorce, getting into the main character’s head in order to write is an emotional experience.
“To get yourself in that spot is heartbreaking,” Stradiotto explained.
In her own relationship, Stradiotto emphasized the need for a connection beyond the “sizzle” of first attraction.
“If you don’t have the friendship with the romance, it’s not going to be an enduring relationship,” she said. “Sizzle comes and goes.”
She and Reno met through their service in the military. Reflecting on their relationship, she observed that romantic films and other media often leave out the broader lives of the characters − their career, friends, family − and don’t show much beyond the “happily ever after.” For the Stradiottos, there was a lot of “storming and forming” as they grew together as partners.
“I don’t think we ever stop learning or changing or growing,” Stradiotto said. Her advice to her three children, ages 21, 19 and 17, is to find someone they can communicate openly with “who makes you want to be a better person.”
There is one thing, though, that Stradiotto agrees is just as intense and dramatic as it’s portrayed in media, and that’s when she sees Reno for the first time after he’s returned from a deployment.
“It gets me every time I see that on the news,” she said. “You want to laugh and cry all at the same time; you relax and tense all at once. It’s a confusing, elating high, almost. I am not doing it justice.”