Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In defense of romance

Raise your hand if you've ever heard anyone snicker about trashy romance novels and refer to them as bodice rippers.

Raise your hand if you've heard anyone insinuate a romance is easier to write than another genre.

Raise your hand if you've heard anyone say a romance novel isn't a "real" book.

Hmmmm. I see quite a few hands raised, my own included.

I can assure you the novel I wrote was NOT easy to do, and the Silhouette editor who requested it considered it a real book even though she rejected it.

Trashy? Well, I don't read trash and I read romance novels so...

On my recent excursion to the Smoky Mountains I picked up a free magazine at a coffee shop. It featured "stories, poems and ideas" and included two pieces by poet laureates of North Carolina -- one present and one past. The publisher is also the editor and photographer, and she has an ad in the magazine for her editing services.

In her editorial offering, she writes, "Since the release of our first issue of ~name removed~, the most frequent question we've received has been 'What is literary versus non-literary writing?' or variations on that same question. After many discussions with my fellow scribblers and research, here is my own answer: Literary writing examines and defines human emotions, compulsions, actions, etc., the way a diamond cutter examines a rough stone before he strikes the first cut. Authors of literary works create (as in fiction) or report (as in history) the impacts of place, time period, political and social structures on their characters. All those impacts can happen inside one individual head, as in The Yellow Room by Margaret Atwood or in multiple worlds, as in Dune by Frank Herbert. OK, that last one will get me in trouble because Frank Herbert is firmly classed with science fiction authors, but, folks, his work does meet all the criteria for literary writing, so academia, suck it up and reconsider. Maybe there should be some crossover classifications to cover such pieces, but that is a subject for another time."

I dare say this publisher would scream at the top of her lungs that romance novels are NOT literary writing. But look at her definition. Isn't a romance about human emotions (and sometimes not-so-human as in the case of vampires, werewolves and zombies)? Doesn't a romance novel show compulsions and actions of the characters? The romance novels I've read may create the impact of place (I've wanted to visit Scotland ever since I read "Son of the Morning") and time period (Hello! Historical romance!!) I'm sure some have dealt with political issues, and Regency romances show the impact of social structure on the characters.

Since I'm not the argumentative type, I'm not going to write her and get into a spitting contest over this. I feel certain it would be like slamming my head against a brick wall, and I've had enough of that lately in other arenas.

So why DOES romance get such a bad rap, especially since it sells more paperback books than any other genre? What's so bad about books dealing with love and relationships?

Have you defended a romance novel lately? And what would be YOUR response to Ms. Publisher's editorial?

P.S. Remember a few weeks ago when I said I was running away with a biker gang? I won't be running away with them after all. I learned the hard way that people misrepresent themselves online. When I went to meet up with them, I found this! OMG!!


Cheryl said...

Yes, I have had to defend romance writers to my fellow attorney-friends. The females snicker and do call them bodice rippers but I would guess that if you checked their night stands at home, you would find a few racy novels hidden among the legal tomes. My pat answer is usually for them to check the bank account of the more notable writers - money speaks to lawyers. They shut up.

I agree - writing a romance is not so easy. You do have to delve into the emotions and thoughts of your characters making them real persons with real problems. Everything in a romance speaks to the political and social mores of your time period so it is literary. Romance writers get a bum rap but hey, look at the bestseller lists - who tops them all the time? We must be doing something right!

Jean said...

No, I don't defend what I write and what I read. The way I see things, it doesn't need defending and I don't have the time.

I define trash as something that is poorly written. There is trash among romance. The same is true for every other genre, including literary fiction.

I did have a friend who asked me why I didn't write a real book. I told her this was as real as it gets.

I read all kinds of things and, from time to time, I enjoy a story where all doesn't end well. But I am not going to write it. I don't want it in my head 24-7.

Christine said...

I used to be more of a defender of my passion for romance, but now I'm proud. Heck, Oprah had a doctor say that our books actually EMPOWER women (much to Oprah's shock).

Romance gives me hope. :-)

Kathy said...

Ooooo! That picture is so wrong. ;P

Linda Winstead Jones said...

Great blog, PM. You should at least send that editor a link to the page. :-)


Instigator said...

I agree, Kathy. :-)

Yep, I've defended reading and writing romance. Many times. But you know what, in most cases I've decided I could have saved my breath. People who are determined to not like something are just not going to like it. Their loss not mine. I have more important things to do with the limited hours in my day than try to educate someone who isn't willing to learn and broaden their horizons.


DebraH said...

I'm starting an epublishing business ( where readers will choose the books we publish. I went to an event called Startup Weekend at the end of which everyone had to present their business in front of all the attendees and three startup experts with potential to be funders.

One of those experts actually interrupted my presentation to say (he thought he was being so funny), "You mean bodice rippers?" Since I didn't understand him the first time he repeated himself.

I looked right at him and said, "That's the derogatory term for them, yes." Then I went on with my presentation.

Afterwards he came over to me and offered a couple of not-very-helpful tips. I took it to mean he was trying to make amends without actually apologizing.

I was so proud of how I handled that.

Smarty Pants said...

I'd rather write 'trash' and have a bestseller than write some obscure literary work that if I'm lucky, will bore some teenager to death 20 years after I'm dead.

Problem Child said...

Oh, I think you should write her. I love a good letter.

I'm with Jean -- don't defend. No one looks good in a defensive posture. Either educate or snark back, depending on your mood. :-)

(And by educate, feel free to use very small words and a tone that clearly shows you feel you're dealing with a complete idiot.)

Jinky said...

The difference between literary fiction and commercial fiction is that one deals with theory and the other with practical application. So IMO, if I had to classify romance as a whole, I'd put it in the commercial fiction slot. I don't mean that as a slight at all, just that literary fiction is largely tell and romance is all about action. I'd rather read and experience a romance than critically analyze one, wouldn't you?

I have a friend who's a real merde d'tete about this sort of thing. She has an MFA, knows a couple dead languages, and thinks I'm a total yuppy sellout for having gotten bored writing about the "real issues" and moving on to "superficial" ones. She believes that since she spent 12 years in school learning to write well, she should get a golden ticket to the front of the line. Why should you, a lowly romance author, be published while she is still languishing away in obscurity? There's no way you worked harder than she did. It isn't fair. That's how she sees it.

Personally, I think romance gets a bad rap because the world is full of cynics whose insecurities don't leave any wiggle room for those with opposing views. The old "I'm not OK, You're not OK" phenomena, if you will. And while the romance community is definitely more tolerant than some of the others, it has its share of toxic people who openly expressed their disdain toward a certain sub-genre, publisher, or method of publication (hardcover trumps paperback, paperback trumps ebook, ebook trumps self-published ebook, etc). Some people need to feel better than others in order to feel like they're worth anything at all. It's sad, but true.

I know it's frustrating, but you're better off ignoring these people. Believe it or not, you're better off than they are because when you write what you love, you love what you write. I doubt these people can say the same. If they could, they'd have better things to do than to try and relieve themselves in someone else's sandbox, wouldn't they?