April 9, 2013

Oh, You Write...Romance?

It happens virtually every time: someone asks what I've been doing with myself, and I (humbly, of course) say that I am writing a book, or, more recently, just finished my first book. Responses vary from politely curious to incredibly impressed. People ask about publishing timelines, how querying works, and whether I have considered self-publishing; some offer criticisms about my lack of practicality under the guise of advice on aspects of publishing I clearly never considered (except, of course, I have). Still, to a certain extent, people take my intent to publish a novel seriously. 

Until I mention that I wrote a romance novel.

Suddenly all that interest or "helpful" criticism is replaced by a somewhat similar expression of shock, followed by polite tolerance, and in some cases jokes about writing sex scenes. You wouldn't believe how many times I've heard the comment that I'm simply, well, not the type to write a romance novel. Besides wondering what the "type" would be, I'm somehow always finding myself trying to explain that:
  1. Erotica and romance aren't the same. Also, romance isn't porn in written form, or even porn for women.
  2. Sex scenes do appear in romance novels, but, in quality romance novels, not in the form of a manual for what goes where and when.
  3. 50 Shades of Grey is not an accurate representation of all romance novels or of the quality of writing within the genre. 
    • For the record, Pride and Prejudice, which is now required reading in many standard curricula, is a romance novel. Think about that!

Okay, rant over (for the most part). I am not going to defend romance novels or their readers, because I don't believe I can truly change the mind of people who believe that all romance novels are smut, or at the very least not more effectively than the many articles out there, such as these:
Now, for the reason I actually began this blog post...

Why I Write Romance Novels:

To be perfectly honest, I'm not surprised that people who have known me for years are shocked to find out that I wrote a romance novel—not because I consider this information to be shocking, but because I am well aware of how I am perceived by those people. I pay attention to tiny moments of interaction and offhand comments, not only between myself and those around me, but between the various individuals around me as well, focusing on them as though I was reading a book for the wealth of information those moments provide. In a whodunit, a small twitch can give away the mystery—if we bother to notice it. To illustrate:
While at a wedding, I recently spoke to a casual acquaintance about his happiness with a new girlfriend, and the topic turned to a previous relationship of his—one that had been with a former coworker of mine, years ago, and had in their minds been a secret. Likely, in fact probably, it had been successfully kept secret from the majority of people. But despite the fact that I barely knew either of them at the time, it had been absolutely obvious to me. He was shocked to learn that I had known about the two of them.
This sounds mildly stalkery, I suppose, but I promise, I did not make any attempts to find out private information or overhear conversations; I merely observed the two of them interacting, in plain view. What does this have to do with romance novels? (Especially since that romance clearly did not reach happily ever after?)

Despite my rampant curiosity for most subjects, what I find interesting above most other topics is relationships among people: the moments, glances, and touches that convey more than conversation can—to an aware observer frequently better than to those involved. Relationships grow, change, stretch, snap, coalesce, and sometimes congeal, and those metamorphoses are fascinating. That is why I write romance novels.

Romance novels are by no means the only valid literary avenue for examining relationships, but they are all about relationships. It seems like an obvious point, and yet there is more to it than what immediately springs to mind. Romance novels examine romantic relationships, of course, but they also highlight platonic, work, transient, and family relationships, as well as the many types of intimacy. Any and every relationship can be examined in a romance novel, and the best ones describe and establish many types of relationships because they in turn define us, and therefore our characters. 

Of course, there is also an element of escapism in writing (and reading) romance, as one of the few rules for this genre requires that, unlike in real life, at least the primary relationship ends in happily ever after.

Have you read any romance novels? What drew you to them? Or, what keeps you away?


  1. Well put! I have read romance novels and sometimes those that are a mixture of a romance and something else. And yes, I have read my dosage of Jane Austen as well.

    A good romance novel is good to read. Similarly as any good book is good to read. That's pretty much all I have to say about the subject. :)

    1. Thanks, Mervi! It's tough to have an entire genre judged by a few (usually poor) examples.

  2. I never quite understood why romance novels get such a bad rap. It certainly doesn't help that many best-selling authors pump them out in cookie cutter fashion, watering down the genre as a whole.

    As with any genre, there will be great works and bad; yet I think the problem goes to readers who've read a few of those predictable 'best-selling' books, or unfortunately, judged the whole by a bad read of a one-hit-wonder, and never delved deeper into the myriad of gems the Romance genre holds.

    1. I think many people genuinely believe that they are porn on paper, and there are indeed books which have the ingenue being 'sexually awakened' by a rather forceful sexual encounter which would be considered rape except she likes it (oy) and as a result becomes sexually avaricious. But you're right, many people hear 'romance' and jump to the negative things they've heard about best-selling 'romance' novels / authors. It's also true that some romance authors reach a point in their career when they essentially rewrite the same story with different characters (possibly unintentionally).

      Strangely, we've moved beyond considering nudity or sex as something dirty in an otherwise artistic movie, but romance novels are still treated as if they can only be smut, which is like saying all movies with any sex or touching are porn. (Not to mention the small fact that not all romance novels even have sex!)

      Anyway, thanks for the comment! & for sharing :)