Thursday, April 14, 2005

I'll take romance

From today's Guardian, a timely defense of romance novels:

Is romance really such a dirty word? Readers happily own up to enjoying "relationship" novels, but balk at the suggestion that they read romances.

Yep, that's what I've been hearing. "I don't read romance", a woman might say as she reaches for a Danielle Steel novel at the grocery store checkout counter.

Right. Then, sweetie, you don't want that book.

Not all romance novels declare themselves by featuring shirtless Fabio wannabes on covers emblazoned with raised gold letters screaming titles like Love's Throbbing Desire. For example, the cover of my first romance novel features no people at all--just a vase of flowers and a teapot on a kitchen table. And the title is Finding Hope. People have written to me saying they picked it up without realizing it was a romance novel.

But it is. Very much so, and I'm not ashamed of that.

Many people who make fun of romance novels don't even know that "quieter" books like mine are part of the genre. Now, don't jump ahead of me, because I'm not saying "my kind" of books are real romance and the other stuff is not. I'm merely pointing out that calling romance novels "silly" or "trashy" demonstrates a profound ignorance of the fact that the genre encompasses an enormous range of styles and attracts a broad spectrum of readers. Some romance novels are light reading and some are quite literary. Some are "sweet" and some are steamy. Some are about vampires finding their soul mates. Some are about divorced couples correcting the mistakes of the past and making a new start. And that doesn't even begin to describe what the genre offers to readers.

I can see people making fun of a cover or ridiculing a title or disparaging a particular author's style. What I don't understand is people who dismiss the entire genre when they know absolutely nothing about what the genre is.

I'm not likely to pick up a book called Love's Throbbing Desire (that's a made-up title, by the way--at least I hope it is), but that doesn't mean I'd think less of you for reading it (or writing it) because in the end, we're fellow travelers on the romance road. We may be starting from different places, but our journeys are remarkably similar and we're headed for the same destination: all romance novels are about the search for and the ultimate discovery of real and lasting love. If you're reading or writing those kinds of stories, you're a romance lover and I have a lot in common with you.

It is about time romantic novelists got angry, reclaimed the word's proud tradition and celebrated good writing that makes the pulse race as much as the mind.

Even if you don't want to read the complete article right now, you must go see the scary picture of novelist Barbara Cartland. She wrote almost 700 romance novels in her lifetime, and good for her. But bless her heart, was she kidding with that eyeshadow?


Robyn said...

Brenda, I see from your comments that you've noticed the same thing I have. Romance readers are remarkably flexible. Historical, contemporary or futuristic; paranormal or inspirational; g-rated or ultra-steamy; light and funny, suspenseful and scary, or dark and tortured; romance does it all. The number of genres it spans is enormous! I can't think of one other genre that encompasses all the others the way romance does. We must be doing something right.

But I'm still embarassed to read a book with a Fabio cover on a plane.

Chris said...

Brenda said: "you must go see the scary picture of novelist Barbara Cartland."


Fess up Brenda, this is the real reason for the new dark-shades photo isn't it? A make-up experiment gone horribly awry.

I'm not much for the romance genre, although the missuz enjoys it. Still, the relationship genre? I'd fly with Fabio before I went there.

Me ... guy ... oog.

--Chris (dFm)

J. Mark Bertrand said...

I found this section of the Guardian article particularly interesting: "Crime writing is judged by the best of the lot, romantic novelists smeared with the same cheap rouge as Mills & Boon." It's true: some genres have more cachet than others, and crime is king these days.

"Romance" is a fluid term: I have a shelf full of romances, but they're by Alexandre Dumas -- the Louvre Edition of the "Romances of Alexandre Dumas," including The Three Musketeers and the Man in the Iron Mask. I think they were dubbed romance then because of the historical setting and adventure plots, suggesting that two things rather separate today used to swim in the same stream.

Brenda Coulter said...

Robyn, in talking with other authors I've learned there's a hilarious catch-22 happening with those sexy covers. Women are attracted to the covers and want to buy the books. Except that sometimes they won't buy the books because they don't want to be seen with the risque covers. What's a marketing executive to do? ;-)

Too right, Mark. If I had any talent for it, I'd turn to a life of (writing) crime. And it's been too long since I've heard anyone refer to the classics as "romantic" novels. I wonder how many people even know that "romance" was once used to describe books full of adventure and heroism--books that were written by men.

Note to self: Block Chris's IP address from accessing this blog. He comes here only to heckle. (Wait a sec. Isn't that why I visit his blog? Uh....)

HerWryness said...

I began reading the naughty ones in my teens. Shame, shame. I don't think Mom had any idea what was really happening in the pages, it was just "great that I was reading", a highly valued activity in our household.

A bit later in life I began putting these paperbacks in a bookcover as I read on the bus to work and had experienced some pervy old men making assumptions. You'd think that would have set off warning bells, but I was addicted. Until a woman at work said, "yeah, the crotch novels." That was it for me.

What a horrible name - I will never be able to think of them in any other context. But, I must say the descriptive passages and historical research could stand on its own.

I simply can't imagine living up to that high expectation of "love" anymore, but maybe I'm just too tired when I go to bed.

Sela Carsen said...

A friend of mine, , made some similar comments on her blog today about the RNA awards. Interesting reading on both your blogs today!

Chris said...

C'mon by and heckle any time. I'm surprised (and a little bit sad) when no one does. My current "wrong pie" post is an easy opportunity.

--Chris (dFm)

Neal said...

Brenda, I freely admit that I know little about romance novels, and I'm not particularly interested in the genre. (Perhaps, as a man, that's a failing in me, or a failing in the genre to appeal to my gender, but I digress.) However, I do know a lot more about science fiction (hey, must be that man thing again), and I know how exasperated I get when people do exactly the same thing with THAT genre. What you say about romance novels is equally true of science fiction, so what I'm really saying is, I'm with you all the way. I know nothing about romance novels, but I know exactly what you're saying here.

Perhaps everyone should be forced to go to a "brown paper bag" sale every once in a while: go to a book sale, pick up a book in a brown paper bag, and buy it. You have no idea what you're getting, not pre-conceptions.

Brenda Coulter said...

Crotch books? Ick. Your Wryness, I really wish you hadn't shared that! ;-)

Sela, thanks for the link.

Chris, I saw the pie post, but that was just too easy. I like more of a challenge.

Neal, it's true that most romance is written by women for women, but a few of the authors are actually men, and 10% of the readers are. In fact, one of my favorite reader letters was from a middle-aged man who said he and his wife had enjoyed my book together. He read it aloud to her as they lay in bed at night. Is that romantic, or what?

I don't know much about science fiction, having read only a few Heinlein books (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is my runaway favorite--that whole throwing-rocks-at-the-earth thing was pure genius) and the Dune books and a smattering of LeGuin, but I haven't read any of the recent stuff. Maybe I should grab one of those paper bags of yours....

Lay-la said...

Hey, guess what? I just Googled "Love's Throbbing Desire." Guess what the #1 result was? This blog post.