....I wish I could say that I don’t feel shame when I tell people that I read and write romance.
I can’t, and the industry isn’t helping me.
You want to know why romance novels aren’t taken seriously? Because we (romance professionals, however you fit into the scheme) don’t take them seriously. We consistently present an amateur, unsophisticated image. And then we make excuses for it. If we can’t treat romance novels as grown-up fiction, we’ve lost the battle.
I find it downright embarassing that nearly every time romance writers gather--whether in person or online--the conversation invariably devolves into endless gushing about "hunky heroes" and steamy sex scenes. Why do so few appear to understand that it's ludicrous to expect the world to accept romance novels as serious literature when the women who write the stuff persist in acting like giggling schoolgirls peeking through a window of the boys' locker room?
I still cringe at the memory of an incident at the Romance Writers of America Conference in Denver in the summer of 2002. I believe it was just after lunch when a large group of romance writers headed to their rooms in one of the hotel's towers. We were stopped in the elevator lobby after a fire alarm had sounded and we were compelled to wait for some fifteen minutes until the fire department gave the all-clear and put the bank of elevators back into service.
Standing in a circle about twenty feet away from the bunch of stranded romance writers were five or six firefighters. Very young, nice-looking, and polite, the men talked quietly among themselves. By contrast, the romance writers were breathtakingly obnoxious. The passel of middle-aged women gawked, snickered, pointed, whispered, and giggled about how "buff" the men were and how "hot" they looked in their firefighting gear. From the looks on the young men's faces, I knew they could overhear the comments that ran along the lines of, "What do you think about that tall one--boxers or briefs?" "Neither--and that's just how I like it!"
This went on for the whole time we waited in the lobby. Apparently secure in the anonymity of the crowd, the women grew louder and bolder, making utter fools of themselves as they objectified the group of serious, professional young men.
It was not a proud moment for me, standing with that bunch of romance writers, all of us members of a professional organization that is working to gain respect for our genre. Why is anyone surprised that we haven't come very far?
Visit an online romance community or attend a romance-writers' conference and you'll quickly begin to understand that the behavior I witnessed in Denver was no aberration. This is how romance writers talk and act every day. Sure, I can take a joke, and I'll admit to laughing at the occasional "ornery" comment. But this constant focus on the "naughtiness" of romance novels isn't cute.
Kassia Krozser complains about the embarassing covers of romance novels, but that's only part of our problem. If romance novels have any literary merit at all, if there's something more to the books than heroes to drool over and overwrought sex scenes, shouldn't romance writers stop behaving in ways that continually suggest otherwise?