After 20 years of writing romance novels, Joanne Rock knows a thing or two about love. Rock began her career as a romance-novel writer when she was a graduate student looking for an escape from the seriousness of her studies. Since then, Rock has published 50 romance novels for a variety of Harlequin lines. After spending many days and nights scheming up different ways to get her heroes and heroines to meet each other and fall in love, Rock offers singles a ton of great insider scoop on what brings two people together — and what makes them stay in love — in our one-on-one interview.

Q: What have you learned about relationships over the course of your writing career?

A: I think my heroines have gotten stronger and smarter through the years, or at least, I hope they’ve grown as I’ve grown! I am better able to peel back the many layers of conflict in order to find deeper emotions now than when I first started writing, and I think that’s because I’ve waded through more conflicts within my own life. I’ve learned that it’s okay to reveal yourself completely to the one you love. Romance has taught me that being vulnerable is a risk, but it’s one worth taking in any good relationship.
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Q: What have you learned from the research you’ve done for all of your books?

A: I research many aspects of my books, but some of the most relevant research I’ve ever done has been in regards to personality profiling, because that helps me to understand how and why different people become attracted to each other. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (INFJ, ESFP, etc.), the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, astrology, enneagram personality types — all of these have helped show me how some personalities can come into conflict with others, as well as how each personality can benefit from being in contact with others. I find this helpful for formulating more authentic romantic relationships — both in generating conflicts between my characters (conflict being a key element of any novel, and a very real factor in any relationship), and as I find ways to bring each couple together in a lasting and believable happily-ever-after way. Personality profiling helps me see why a staid Virgo (like me) can be attracted to a fiery Aries (my husband), as well as what we can do to let our differences strengthen our relationship instead of undermining it.

Q: How do your female protagonists know when a man is definitely interested in a romantic way? What are the signs?

A: Readers usually know when the hero is interested before the heroine does! Sometimes the heroine’s confidante will clue her in, just like our friends in real life help us figure out if a guy is interested or not. It might be helpful to have a friend’s opinion on this issue, since it can be tougher to objectively judge someone else’s level of attraction when we really want someone to be attracted to us. But the signs of male attraction are usually physical: a locked gaze (is he looking your way most of the time when you look at him?), showing up wherever you are, squaring his body to yours, finding excuses to be near you, touching you or helping you in some way.

Q: What could single men learn about how to find and keep the woman of their dreams from reading your romance books?

A: Romance novels show men the way women wish to be treated. The heroes make mistakes and they have conflicts with the heroines, but they are not cheaters and they know how to keep their tempers in check when they’re around women. Maybe it sounds basic, but it’s a constant for the heroes I write about. Other than that, the real secret is to let your guard down every now and then. Women appreciate male strength — physical as well as emotional — but every once in awhile, we need a glimpse of a guy’s true heart so we know what’s important to him. Ideally, it’s us! That knowledge — feeling that warmth that comes from deep inside our guy — will keep us by his side for the long haul.

Q: What could single women learn from your books about finding and keeping the man of their dreams?

A: Don’t settle for anything less than what your heart demands. But when you know you’ve found a great guy, be willing to compromise in order to make your romance work. Romance novels are full of conflicts; non-readers of the genre envision the books being full of wine and roses, nothing but good times from start to finish. This isn’t the case at all! Romance novels are full of obstacles to finding a happily-ever-after with someone, and the heroines have to battle it out to forge a future with their heroes. Sometimes that means overcoming long distances apart, or meddling relatives, or long-held insecurities. But those battles are worth fighting for to have a fulfilling relationship with someone.

Q: How has your writing affected your own approach to marriage?

A: Writing romance novels has made me a more understanding wife. Every marriage has its obstacles — and some years, there are more than others! But I know that you have to work for mutual happiness in any marriage. Marital bliss is not given to us on a silver platter by some mystical, perfect soul mate. Marital bliss is something we work hard to achieve by making sacrifices, occasionally giving up some things we want, and continually feeding the flames of the original spark we felt during those early days of courtship. With this kind of hard work — respect, thoughtfulness and attentiveness — comes the deep reward of a romance that is far richer than mere attraction to each other. It’s the abiding love that lasts a lifetime and inspires your children and grandchildren to seek the kind of happiness you’ve found together.

Q: Do you have any advice for singles currently looking for love?

A: Be open to life! Put down your cell phone and greet the people you meet in the world. Join groups. Pursue interests of your own. Sign up for a class. Network online. These things help you meet new people, which is the most important facet of finding love. They also help keep your social skills sharp and give you things to discuss while you’re dating. Dating takes effort and patience, but if you approach it with an open heart and a willingness to simply enjoy spending time with the people you meet, you’ll have more fun in your search for that one special someone who makes your pulse race, your heart flutter and your cheeks flush. That doesn’t just happen in romance novels! Those are all wonderful symptoms of falling in love that everyone deserves to experience.

Q: Where can readers find you online?

A: I blog regularly at the Blaze Authors Blog and my website is Joannerock.com.

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen magazine.