Thursday, September 23, 2010

Genre Shame

I want to blame Nicholas Sparks for this.

On an intellectual level, I know it's not his fault. The implication that romance novels are not "real" writing and that "serious" writers write about a full breadth of subjects is not a new one. I doubt the shame that is publicly associated with loving and writing romance was quite so much in the general consciousness before his "I write love stories" spiel earlier this year.

It bothers me. No, that's inadequate. I think it's fucked up. Vulgarity seems the proper response to what I feel is the outright shaming of the genre by popular authors thought to be a part of it. In a recent interview, writer Danielle Steele says she does not write romance, she "think[s] of romance novels as more of a category, and I write about the situations we all deal with. Loss and war and illness and jobs and careers, and good things, bad things, crimes, whatever. And I really write more about the human condition."

And none of those things can exist in romance novels?

Forgive me for feeling stupid after watching her interview, but aren't all those things a part of many romance novels? The good, the bad, the true life tragedies - I don't think they're exclusive to mainstream fiction. To be blunt, if romance novels consisted of nothing but character A and character B find each other and live happily ever after, there'd be a whole hell of a lot of short stories with no context floating around. The genre itself wouldn't be worth reading if there weren't elements of real life (or life in context for the characters) exerting influence on the events of the story.

Or maybe it's the term romance some people balk at. The word connotes images of flowers and candy, wooing a reluctant love interest or taming a previously wild heart with some over-the-top gesture. Excuse me while I roll my eyes. While there are books that seem simplistic on the surface, I refuse to believe romances are in any way inferior to other books because they happen to focus on personal relationships. I don't let other people's ideas (especially those who do not read romance) force me to feel shame about what I read and write. I refuse to play into the idea that romance is the unwanted stepchild of literature that readers only pick up when looking for some drivel to pass the time on a long flight or other such nonsense.

Loving romance novels is not something anyone should be ashamed of. Ever. What I do find shameful is authors who have become famous because readers of this genre love them and the stories they've let be promoted as romance. If it's good enough to get your foot in the door, sell to the masses or make movies from, you as an author should own up to what you write, even if uninformed opinion puts you out of favor. After all, where would you be if romance readers didn't like reading about the way you write the human condition?

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