where the writers are
In Defense of Romance
jane austen.jpg

I have a feeling (when my self esteem is low) that other writers imagine that romance writers sit in their offices dictating stories into a microphone.  I know, I know.  Barbara Cartland did that and I think a very famous San Francisco writer supposedly does that.  And maybe other writers do, but my feeling is that people have this idea that we just throw a story down, type it up, and send it in.  That's it.  No other work.  There's this structure see--boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back--and all we have to do is fill in the spine.  Nothing to it!  Three or four books a year, presto!  A career.

We're hacks, by god.  It's almost criminal.

And then because it is so easy for us--we simple yarn spinners--we can be made fun of.  Everything is formulaic.  It's not art; it's not hard work.  It's barely a story.  It's something to be sold only in Wal Mart or at the airport.  Somewhere, anywhere but a "good" bookstore.  Please, keep that schlock out of there.  And god forbid any of it should be reviewed in the newspaper or More or O magazines.  No one really admits to reading that stuff, do they?

Now I know I'm being a bit defensive, but I feel I am in a good position to defend romance writers because I've written around the genres.  I started as a poet, worked my way into short stories, and then contemporary/literary novels.  I've tried my hand at screenplays (and I will admit, they were not very good).  I write essays--and I can pull a wicked synopsis out of my writing hat.  I've taken classes, seminars, workshops on just about every writing topic you can imagine.  I've sat with the serious folk who believe writing is the thing nearest to whatever god it is you might believe in.  I've studied the "great writers" while finishing my graduate studies in English literature.  I've taught in writer's workshops, read at many readings, worked in writing groups.  And here's the truth:  any writing that is good is good.  The heavy lifting is the heavy lifting.

So--there is bad writing everywhere.  It doesn't just pool up in the genre sections at Barnes and Noble like spilled oil.  I have thrown many a "fine" 20 dollar hardback against the wall in frustration.  I have rolled my eyeballs at phrases in mysteries, romances, and historical fiction.  I have closed up the cover of Harper's, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic Monthly because I just couldn't read one more sentence of an essay.

And I have read a romance novel in one day because I couldn't put it down.  I've re-read Pride and Prejudice (and yes, P and P is a romance.  Sorry, lit folks.  It's true.  Read it closely) 400 times.  I think Beloved is the best novel ever written--that and The Great Gatsby.  I finished Into the Forest by Jean Heglund in two days because I wanted to know what happened to the two girls and couldn't stop until I did.  Sometimes, I can't believe that The New Yorker isn't read by everyone, each and every essay and article and poem and cartoon perfect.  Juno is an amazing screenplay, sharp and mordant and funny.

Heavy lifting.

Romance fills a need, just as Beloved fills a need.  Certainly, you could say that Beloved is doing more heavy lifting than Nora Roberts' latest book, but I have a feeling there are Nora fans out there who would say that her latest has fulfilled something for them.

And why make fun of love, of the need to believe that it can be found?  Has it touched a sore spot in you?  Have you built up a shell around that need in yourself?  Are you scared to read a story where love does happen because you aren't sure you will ever find it yourself?

It's not funny, this need we have, and we all have it.  Romance just takes us there in 300 pages.  Kind of handy, I think.

And along the way, you can have a blast.  And you can be moved and maybe turned on.  There are some wonderful practitioners of the language, too, working that old love story.  So why not give it a go?

When I wanted to learn how to write a romance, I spent a summer reading romances.  I think I read more than 100.  Some weren't all that great, but some were amazing.  Some created new worlds I hadn't imagined.  Some nailed that chemistry thing, that thing we all are amazed at, no matter our age.  Like all the stories I'd read in my literary lifetime, some were good, some were bad, some were amazing.  Some were kind of ordinary.

But all weren't trash.  All weren't a waste of bookshelf space.

And can I say this last thing?  Romance is a huge business, bringing people into the stores, keeping them on amazon.com, where they just might pick up Beloved on their way out the door.  Like Harry Potter brought them in, so does Nora. 

So thank you all, bestsellers out there!  Thank you Danielle and Stephen and Nora and John and Tom and J.K.!  Keep writing!  Keep making the money that supports me, the mid list girl, who just wants to write a story or two, a story about love.


6 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

Not on the defensive

This is the least defensive defense of a knocked-around genre I've ever read. Most apologias for science fic tion, mysteries, westerns, or whatever have this hurt tone that sounds a bit like covering up for shame. As you say, it's about loving reading, no matter what. And that's what we all share, right?

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

Comment Bubble Tip

Thank you!

You know, I worried later today about this one, thinking I'd gone off the deep end.  But you found what I intended.  A story is a good story, regardless of form. 

You are steely, by gum!  Sharp, too!


Comment Bubble Tip

Jessica: Bravo. Ever since

Bravo. Ever since I've decided that I meant to write YA/middle grade fiction, there have been people who look at me and say: "Oh. You mean you're going to write books like Sweet Valley High?" Um, yeah, that's my plan, to write abou twin girls in a midwest town. How did you know?
Speaking of romance, have you ever read MaryJanice Davidson? She writes paranormals as well.

Comment Bubble Tip

I Didn't KNow!

You have to read Into the Forest, then.  It's post-apocalyptic, but so good, such a true, hopefully impossible story.  The story is set in Northern California, which was fun for me to read, the setting so familiar.

Yes, I have read Mary Janice Davidson--I read many paranormals, and that's why I decided to stick with them.  I liked the ability to tell a love story AND make up a world, too.

Write that YA fiction!  Thanks for responding.


Comment Bubble Tip

I read INF years ago, in

I read INF years ago, in fact Anne Lamott has a funny story about it: She read it when it was still with a small press and she thought about calling her agent up to see if it can get with a bigger publisher. Then she realized "No way! That will give her more troubles than she'll want!"

Comment Bubble Tip

It did get picked up by a

It did get picked up by a bigger press--I think it's been in print since it came out, which is a very nice thing.