Indie author Kim Fielding considers her BookLife Prize win to be not only an honor for her book, but a victory for the romance genre. Farview, a love story between a pair of atypical heroes set in a fantasy land where dragons pull carriages and imps dwell in the garden, is the first romance to win the BookLife Fiction Prize.

“It’s an especially sweet victory because, traditionally, romance has gotten such a bad rap,” Fielding says. “A lot of people are dismissive of the genre. I’ve heard even fans of romance refer to it as trashy or smut or a guilty pleasure. This may, in part, be rooted in misogyny and a general disdain for work associated with women. But think of how many pieces of classic literature are romances at heart! Love stories are important. Romance has spread its wings far beyond the tired old tropes to give us diverse heroes, intriguing plots, and surprising settings.”

Gruff, socially awkward loner Oliver Webb rolls into the fishing village of Croftwell behind a brace of dragons, hoping to bury the pain of his shameful secrets in the isolation of a tiny cottage he’s inherited. But his hopes of being left to live and die in peace are thwarted by Felix, an outgoing, talkative, confident ne’er-do-well, jack-of-all-trades, and master storyteller, who’s determined to break through Oliver’s defenses. Alternately irritated and charmed by Felix, Oliver finds himself beguiled into sharing his deepest fear—intimacy—with another man.

“I think one of the keys to a successful romance—or really, most stories—is that the characters experience personal and emotional growth,” Fielding says. “Of course, there are a lot of catalysts that can make that growth happen. In this particular book, the setting itself is what spurs Oliver to develop.”

What a setting it is. Sun-soaked Croftwell—with its sparkling sea teeming with waspfish, its rainbow-hued garden sprites, and the thousand-year-old ancestral ghosts that hang about the Farview cottage dispensing advice—would transform anyone who’d fled its counterpart, the grim, industrialized city of Greynox.

How did Kim Fielding imagine and build this enchanted world her characters inhabit? Croftwell and Greynox, she says, are “places that aren’t really Cornwall or Victorian London, but are close enough to those real places to ground us a little before we take off into a story where curses are real and your grandfather might be a wizard.” Moreover, “the magical elements of the story provide the conflict that connects Oliver to Felix, but also threatens to drive them apart.”

Oliver and Felix both harbor secrets that cause them shame, and their eventual openness with and love for one another help them heal. Does Fielding think this is the romantic ideal: to be able to be fully exposed and vulnerable, with complete trust that the other will accept you as you are? “I absolutely do!” the author asserts. “Nothing good ever came of hoping to ‘fix’ a romantic partner’s weaknesses..”

Fielding, who has been married for 33 years, knows whereof she speaks. “About a dozen years ago I started writing fiction, but for a long time I didn’t tell my husband. I was afraid he’d think it was weird, especially since I was writing primarily gay romance. So I was a little secretive about it. Eventually, I came clean, and he was immediately totally supportive and even enthusiastic.”

Her husband’s faith in her is well-founded; Kim Fielding has more than 60 books in print, the majority of them self-published. Her latest, due to be released in April 2022, is a space opera called Potential Energy, a story she’s been working on for years with characters that include a sentient spaceship named Molly.

“When we stumble across something unexpected, at least if it’s done well, I think we’re drawn to keep on reading and see what the author has in store for us,” Fielding says. “Since I’m also a fan of a lot of genres, I find it especially fun to mix them up in what I hope are fresh ways. If I can immediately immerse a reader in a story so that they don’t even bother to come up for air and remember that they’re reading, I feel like it’s a job well done.”

Farview—a romance for adults in a fairy-tale setting, a tender love story containing forthright scenes of sexual intimacy between protagonists Oliver and Felix—is certainly an example of Fielding’s successful genre mixing. But is the truth that lies within a fairy tale the oft-repeated nostrum that love will save us from the ugliness and perils that beset us? The author says no.

“I don’t think that love by itself is a magic cure-all,” she adds. “That’s not realistic, and if I were to write a story in which falling in love solved all the problems, it’d feel like a cop-out. However, learning to love ourselves is a critical early step in conquering our demons, whatever they might be. And when others love us, they give us a powerful tool to help us deal with whatever’s troubling us.”

“In other words,” Fielding says, “love alone can’t fix everything, but we can’t fix anything without love. I think almost all fairy tales acknowledge this. In Farview, Felix says, ‘Nothing is truer than stories,’ and I believe this with all my heart. We connect with fiction because it is true, and because of that, stories have enormous transformative power.”

Karen Clark is a freelance writer, editor, and tutor who received her MFA from the City College of New York after owning an antiquarian bookshop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side for over a decade.