Offended & Bewildered

It’s not the first time I write a blog about the many frustrations of being a romance writer and not be taking seriously. This is one of them.

I recently attended a writing event as a panelist where I was once again reminded of what people (including or especially other writers) think a romance is. They conveniently forget that the great ones of literature such as Jane Austen, The Bronte sisters, and even–gulp–the Great Bard were all romance writers.

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Yes, the genre has gone through some significant changes throughout the years (some good, some bad) and I’ll be the first one to admit that there are a lot of really bad romance novels out there. This, however, can be said about any other genre today. There are excellent high fantasy books just as there are some absolutely awful. Same can be said of mystery, science fiction, and everything in between. Even high-brow literature has its winners and losers. I can think of at least one Pulitzer Prize prize winner who wrote a book that made zero sense whatsoever.

So to bundle up every romance book and label it “porn” is not only offensive but totally incorrect.

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Anyone who knows me well will tell you I abhor porn. To me, porn objectifies people of every gender (but especially women) and trivializes sex. Don’t get me wrong. There is sex in my romances, heat level depending on the plot and the characters. These are love stories and where there is love eventually, and in most cases, there will be a communion of bodies as much as of hearts. But a loving sex scene should not be confused with porn. If you think my love scenes are porn, then you must have led a very sheltered life.

When someone at this writing event insinuated (quite loudly in a  room full of people) that I wrote porn and therefore what I wrote would not make its way to the group online page or anthology, I was extremely offended. It’s been boiling just under the surface since then and I’ve considered posting something to the effect, because I feel that by not defending my writing is admitting that I do indeed write porn. Which I don’t.

This reminds me of when the Harry Potter books were first released. There was such a fuss made by certain religious groups about the evil nature of such stories. They called for boycotts of the books and other extreme reactions to a wonderful fictional world that depicted good against evil. I was shocked to find out that many of the people running their mouths about the books had never read as much as the first chapter. How can you judge something if you’ve never read, or at least sample parts of it?

This person who accused me of writing porn has never read any of my books, so how does she know what my writing is like? Why didn’t she refrain from making assumptions before sampling one of my books? All she did was show how ignorant she is about the genre. One silver lining though: I am now determined to show up to a book open mic event and show everybody that my books are well written and have depth. I want to prove to all who have sneered at my books that romance is not the sex fest they think it is. Not my type of romance and not a lot of romance I read and love. Let’s not judge a whole group of authors and their books by a few.

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What do you think? Are you a reader that believes romance to be a low-form of literature or are you willing to set your assumptions aside and give romance a chance? Or any other genre for that matter.

For those who still think romance is the black sheep of the literary family and a mere venue for pornographic voyeurism, here are some readings that may make you change your mind:

Inventing Human Rights: A History by Lynn Hunt

Where Are Romance Novels Headed (Chicago Tribune)

Standing Proud – Fighting Romance Novel Stigma

I’ve written about book signings before, mostly about how depressing these events can be for a writer who nobody really knows, especially one who writes romance–the most popular and yet, also most snubbed genre in literature.

I spent this weekend in a signing, except this time it was one exclusively for romance writers. What a difference that made. The fact that I’m not well-known didn’t change, but the attitude of the general public was definitely different.

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How refreshing to be addressed and asked questions about your books instead of avoided or ignored. I don’t pretend to write high-brow literature and do not aspire at winning a Pulitzer prize, but I’m a good writer who writes fun and somewhat insightful stories that both entertain and excite the reader’s emotions. Very few people have read my books (a fact painfully evidenced by depressingly low royalties) and I don’t expect a horde of fans to descend upon my table at such events like a crowd of shoppers at a Best Buy on Black Friday. But I love being asked about my stories (the introvert in me won’t volunteer the information), having smart conversations about books (even about other people’s books), and generally just being acknowledged as alive and breathing.

Kudos go out to romance readers. They are amazingly welcoming and easy to talk to. They are also so enthusiastic about meeting authors, they make you feel like celebrities. I’ve been to quite a few events mostly attended by people who–by their own admission–only read “good” literature, or nonfiction, or–my favorite–anything but romance. Generally speaking, those crowds make you feel as if writing romance is some heinous crime for which you must feel terribly ashamed. They also lump all romance novels into one giant bundle of 50 Shades of Grey type stories when in fact the romance genre is widely diverse, both in styles, sub-genres, and quality.

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At one point I was embarrassed to admit I wrote romance, but no longer. I’ve “come out” of that closet and I now proudly stand as a romance writer. If you’ve never attempted at reading a romance, you should give it a try. It is not everybody’s cup of tea, I understand, but with the overwhelming number of authors and books out there, there is a very good chance you may find a new favorite.