Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Defending romance . . . or not

There's an interesting post over at Romancing the Blog this morning. Author Wayne Jordon writes:

A few days ago, I met a friend I had not seen for several years. Of course, during the conversation, I mentioned I’d signed with a major US publisher and my first book would to be released in November. And then the dreaded question popped up. “What’s the book about? What kind of story is it?” Deliberately, I told him that he’d have to wait until November to find out, since it would be in the local bookstores.

A few minutes later as I drove away from the mall, I realized the significance of my response. After thirty years of reading romance novels, I still felt ashamed about what I read and write.

I think Wayne's being awfully hard on himself. There's a difference between being ashamed of what we write and indulging a very natural impulse to avoid ridicule. When Wayne opted not to tell his friend he had written a romance novel, it was because he had a pretty good idea his friend would hoot at the announcement. Did Wayne disgrace himself by not speaking up? Did he let the genre down by not seizing that opportunity to defend its honor? I don't think so.

It's up to each of us to decide whether and when and how to stand up for romance. Romance readers and writers who insist that all of us should pledge our bodies and our swords to the defense of the genre are every bit as oppressive as the outsiders who jeer at our books. I'm not comfortable with the current trend to get in people's faces and say, "I write romance. Wanna make something of it?" Other professionals don't behave that way. They just get on with their work.

Why do so many in the romance community appear to believe that if we are proud, we must be loud? I always consider the individual and the situation and my own mood before confronting someone about her prejudice against romance novels. Sometimes a polite but firm response is called for. Sometimes a quip. Sometimes a friendly argument. But often I'm just not sufficiently interested in the romance-basher's good opinion to bother making any answer at all.

And whose business is that but mine?

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Anonymous said...

I think it was easy for me to be upfront about enjoying romances because I'd been an eclectic reader previously and had two college degrees. I wasn't going to be taken NOT seriously, in other words. I began reading the genre in earnest in 1987, was a romance freak for 11 years, often reading 2 to 3 books a day on days off, and only tapered off in the late nineties and today I read about a dozen or so a year. I still enjoy the genre, but not with the fervor of the new convert. I think after you've read a lot, you see too much repetition of plot, and the freshness goes out of it. I've had other friends who went through the romance fever with me also taper off, so it's not just me going through that sort of cycle. :-/

And the thing is, I still keep the hope that I'll run across that romance novel that will rekindle the relationship with the genre, that maybe the new Kinsale or the new Kelly or the new Garwood or the new this or that author will do the trick. Ilike the genre. :)

And for me to be open about liking it was at first an act of defiance: "Just try and make fun of me!" I got a bit of ribbing here and there. My sister would make jokes at first, then learned better. When you're the "smart sister" with a library full of volumes on all subjects, including history, art, theology, literary criticism, poetry, archeology, Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning fiction, and science, they can't really say I have dumb taste in reading. I like to think that by standing up for romance (the genre) to family and friends, they had to think, "Well, if the family smartie likes romance fiction, it must be pretty good."

I know that when Jennifer Crusie and Jayne Krentz and others started writing academic essays and articles on the genre, all of us who wrote/read it felt like we were getting that pat on the back of credibility. It never hurts to have the "professorial brainies" reading your genre.


Brenda Coulter said...

It never hurts to have the "professorial brainies" reading your genre.

No, indeed. Thanks for posting.