Friday, April 27, 2007

"So, what do you write?"

I'm ashamed to say that on more than one occasion I have hesitated before answering that I write romance. Lately the hot topic in Blogland seems to be the belief that romance writers are saddled with Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome. That in the great otherworld of "literature", they get no respect. Over at Romancing the Blog today there is a post dedicated to this topic that is worth a read if you've got a hot second. Again, like so many other times before, I was going to post a comment there, but then my comment became so long I figured I might as well blog about it myself.

So. We romance writers get no respect because our books are "cookie cutter" easy to write, and every one of them is a bodice ripper. We don't belong on the same shelf as the Melvilles of this world, we aren't doing "real" writing, we all have our minds in the gutter 24/7, etc...

In the words of Sherman T. Potter: Horse Hockey!

I will agree that once upon a time, romance publishers like Harlequin had some pretty strict guidelines that made writing a romance formulaic, or "cookie cutter". And that the art departments went a little crazy with the passionate-almost-impossible-angle cover embraces (see some of the back issues at Snarkling Clean for reference here) complete with the ta-ta's spilling from the conveniently open bodices (look closely and you'll see they're not ripped, just unbuttoned) on almost every heroine.

However, time has marched on. Even in the romance industry, folks. And while the foundation for a romance novel has basically stayed the same--just like the foundations for mysteries or sci-fi have--the book that builds up from there is unique to who writes it.

It's like housing developments. I happen to live in an older one full of 1950's brick ranches. On the surface, they all look alike. But on closer inspection, the bricks may be a different color, or the pitch of the roof is different. This neighbor added a sunroom. That one got some really nice landscaping or a new deck out front. This one likes hedges, that one has a fence. And I'll guarantee you that inside of each one of these "cookie cutter" ranches is a home unique to the people who live there.

It's not easy to write. You're putting yourself out there, vomiting your soul onto paper and hoping someone somewhere will stop and say "Wow." It's the same for everyone, whether you're writing a romance or the next Great American Novel or poetry or paranormals. Writing demands the same attention and sacrifice from everyone involved in it.

Romance novels aren't the "B" list--"if you can't hack the real world of literature, go write a romance"--but I think that people look at the formula (Boy meets girl, etc.. to the HEA) as so everyday that they completely take it for granted. We live in a society constantly barraged by bad news, where angst is the word of the day, where everyone has a problem, where it's always someone else's fault, where the drama goes on constantly. Living happily ever after just isn't good enough anymore. I suppose that's part of the reason that we're not quite up to scratch, which inevitably leads to disrespect.

But where does the dissing begin? For me it began in youth, with my mother telling me that writing isn't a real job. With my teachers and professors proclaiming that real literature is full of angst and difficulty and really long words. And, unfortunately, with myself, reading under the covers with a flashlight, hiding my books between the mattress and boxspring, tucking my writing away where no one could see it and make fun of it.

Respect begins at home, right? Right. So folks, I'm standing up this morning and proudly announcing that I LOVE ROMANCE NOVELS, I READ THEM ALL THE TIME, AND I BELIEVE IN HAPPILY EVER AFTER. ROMANCE ROCKS. AND I WRITE ROMANCE.


1 Comment:

Robyn said...

Me too! I would rather be happy reading and writing a trashy romance than wrist-slitting depressed reading an important piece of literary fiction.

But here's the thing- we're not alone. Romance, in all its forms (it's really the only genre that touches all the others- there are historicals of every period, contemporaries, mystery/suspense, comedies, sci-fi/fantasy, paranormal, etc.) comprise something like 55% of the market.

Romance not only rocks. It SELLS. So literary critics can bite me.