Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Shameful little secrets

I don't think I'm the only writer who admits only under extreme duress that she writes... [looks around furtively] ...romance. The few times I foolishly admitted to the fact that, yeah, I do a bit of scribbling, I was bombarded with 'Oprah' comments, and talk about 'the great West Indian novel'. Romance was nowhere to be spotted amid the thronging expectations of literary outpourings.

In my circle, few admit to even reading romance; writing it is beyond the pale. Those who read it don't do so openly, and if caught in the act mumble some shame-faced excuse about having 'confiscated' the book from a student. (Borrowed, more likely!) I've seen that scenario played out countless times.

And what about the overwhelming response to romance novels from the male half of the population? Dismissal, snickers, 'girl porn' comments, and the general opinion that no woman with half a brain would read (or write) the stuff. According to the popular mythology, romance novels are the preserve of:
  • The girl behind the counter at the drugstore, twirling a lock of purple hair and snapping her chewing gum, maybe.
  • Gauche schoolgirls, definitely.
  • The old spinster librarian with parchment skin and wattles, glaring over her glasses at the boys and girls flirting instead of doing their research, and hiding a lurid bodice-ripper under her copy of Dostoevsky.
  • The downtrodden wife trapped in a miserable marriage.
  • The anti-feminists.
But mature, smart, professional women? Never. They - we - don't stoop to such lows.

Well, surprise, surprise. We do. And after decades, or centuries rather, of being treated with scorn and ridicule by the literary establishment, the romance genre seems to finally, finally be coming into its own. It's becoming so respectable, in fact, that men are jostling to join the ranks of romance writers and many popular authors, formerly hidden behind their pseudonyms, are coming forward and revealing that they're smart, professional women. Some are young. Some are happily married, and feminist to the core. Some are college professors. Some are all of the above. They read romance - and they write it too.

You don't believe me, do you. Well, take a gander at this USA Today article: Scholarly writers empower the romance genre. It's all about college professors working undercover as romance authors and attending Princeton University conferences on the genre. Smart women have always read and written great stories, including romances. The difference now is that, more and more, they're not ashamed to admit it.

Liane Spicer


Anonymous said...

Romance is a mental explosion. It can be sappy but always exciting. Or is that sex? Romance is the thing that we (men) all crave but some never admit to because it exposes our weakness. Not even in a suitcase would a guy carry a romance novel out of fear of being exposed by airport security. "Yes sir, the drugs belong to me, but I have no idea about the romance novel. It must have been planted." But times are changing as men, even real ones, buy and read romance novels online and via Kindle, but still, never in public places.

KeVin K. said...

50% of the fiction market -- that's all fiction -- is Romance. I'm a man who reads and writes romance novels (don't sell them, yet, but I'm working on it). Like many men who write romances, I will market under my wife's name. Market research indicates that all those smart women who read romances don't believe men can write them.

Genella deGrey said...

Thanks for posting that article, Liane!

I stand proud when I say I'm a romance author - but then I snicker at people who are addicted to reality TV.
(Hey, I'm aloud to - I work in the industry.)


Stefanie Worth said...

I look the look on people's faces when they find out I write romance. I get genuinely tickled because it seems I've instantly altered their perception of reality: quiet, laid back Stefanie writes...love books? When I tell them it's supernatural stuff, too, that's when the fun really begins.

Jewel Amethyst said...

That was why I never told my family members (except my baby sister) that I wrote romance until my first book was published when a someone "leaked" it to the rest of the family. It's also why I never used my last name -- I was hoping for anonymity. But anonymity doesn't sell books that well. So I guess I can come out of the closet now. I am an educated woman with a PhD who writes romance.

Phyllis Bourne said...

The "is that porn?" question always throws me, and I have to restrain myself from choking the crap out of the person who asks.

A neighbor asked what kind of books I wrote, when I told him romance he said, "Is that porn?" I wanted so, so bad to say, "Yes, you @#%!, it is."

Then there was the lady who practically screamed at me, "Your books aren't nasty, are they? Because I"m a good, Christian woman." It was soooo hard not to quip, "Yeah, I'll bet your night job involves a stripper's pole."

Sigh. Good thing they can't read my mind.

Liane Spicer said...

aka, LOL! You're right, of course. A man caught reading a romance novel might be perceived as a softie, and better a drug mule than that! :)

KeVin, I don't think gender has much to do with writing any kind of story. And I'm looking forward to reading yours.

Genella, I still have some way to go when it comes to making proud declarations about writing romance, but I'm learning. And I shouldn't mind other people's biases because I've got a few - including the disdain for reality TV addicts!

Stefanie, that's exactly how people who don't know me well perceive me: quiet and laid back. It's wicked fun watching them try to do a mental shift when we say something that doesn't fit their construct, isn't it?

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, my little sister and my son were the only ones I told at first. But secrets will out, as they say. I also wanted anonymity. Not sure how that's working out...

Phyllis, I can just picture you squeezing the life out of that guy... :D And if anyone ever asks me if my book is nasty I'm not going to be responsible for my actions.