A Call To Arms, A Defense of Romance

Bitchery ScholarDr. Frantz sent me a link to Erica Jong’s call to arms from an April 2007 Publisher’s Weekly directed at talented but marginalized female writers:

Critics have trouble taking fiction by women seriously unless they represent some distant political struggle or chic ethnicity…. But deep down, the same old prejudice prevails. War matters; love does not. Women are destined to be undervalued as long as we write about love…. We may glibly say that love makes our globe spin, but battles make for blockbusters and Pulitzers.

Jong (I just typo’d “Jung” – oops!) doesn’t necessarily offer battle advice, though she does offer some possible reasons why American women writers are marginalized based on subject matter. But there’s no path to eradicating the prejudice.

I would like to see the talented new breed of American women writers—my daughter’s generation—protest their ghettoization. We need a new wave of feminism to set things right. But we’d better find a new name for it because like all words evoking women, the term feminism has been debased and discarded. Let’s celebrate our femaleness rather than fear it. And let’s mock the old-fashioned critics who dismiss us for thinking love matters. It does.

Certainly, as Dr. Frantz points out, Jong’s call for action matches Robin’s assertions as to why Romance matters, and Laura’s examination of Rev. Melinda’s sermon on romance novels, love, and personal sense of worth.

Now that is a lot of reading-and-thinking material for a day off, eh? I think what makes me most pleased and causeth me to bounceth in my chair with glee is the growing number of vocal people who eloquently and intellectually defend and discuss romance novels as being important and equally worth critical analysis as any other subject of literature, despite or because of the many facets of prejudice leveled against them. It’s one thing to point to the sales figures; it’s another to be able to classify and examine individually the literary, historical and societal strengths of romance as a genre, and the latter defense of the genre is very very powerful – sort of the literary analysis equivalent of throwing the tea in the harbor.

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  1. 1
    Monica says:

    Oh Lord help me from pointing this out on a romance blog, but while I can’t fault romance feminists getting up in arms about discrimination against women—how valid are they really when they tolerate marked discrimination against an entire race within the genre?

    I just blogged this:

    Take the RWA for example. We are going to shell out our money and go to their big award ceremony that omits one of the largest distinct romance sub-genres there is–AA romance? We might not want to be a sub-genre, our content is admittedly not different, but we ARE treated more as a sub-genre than most other romance sub-genres are. There is no practice of separating out paranormal or historical romance from the other romances for the most part. Indian (native american) romances don’t get shunted to the Native American Studies area. Nobody trolls for Asian-tolerant reviewers to read Asian authored romances. No romance sites or blogs tell Asian authors they have nobody willing to read their Asian-authored romance because it’s by an Asian. Black romance is treated as a sub-genre by almost everybody in romance as a whole, yet black romance authors are ignored in this romance award for excellence.

    I mean, really.  Personally, I’m not going to shell out my money to go to the Rita award ceremony nor am I going to shed much tears over the discrimination romance experiences against women (and they do experience it) while they practice discrimination just as readily against blacks.

  2. 2
    Nathalie says:

    Sarah (and no, I’m not sucking up, I’d gain nothing in return eh!), you make my day. This here is the only online place I hang out. Reading your article today reminded me why.

    The Peoples, please, put these two women in charge of something. Anything!

  3. 3
    Najida says:

    Thank you guys very very much for the links.  I’m saving the next time I run into a “Harelquin” snub.

    Again, while there is some garbage out there (Humper County Vampires?) I still say that most of the best and the brightest write in the Romance Genre’.  Like diamonds being mistaken for broken glass, that is what those books are to me.

  4. 4
    jetso says:

    Well, I know this is going to be contravertial, but this is my take on it:

    To be considered “Literature” something need do something besides providing gratification of the reader’s desires. Romance novels, old school fantasy novels and “genre” fiction (as well as porn) as a whole used to fall into this category. It serves to gratify. One opens a book with expectations and those expectations, be it a happy ending or the solving of a tricky mystery, are met.

    This is not a criticism, but that is where I see the line being drawn. This is not to say that all books in genre fiction gratified only the reader. There are books that break the mould and work on a variety of levels. “Lord of the Rings”, for example, which pretty much founded Fantasy as a genre.

    A lot of genre fiction is starting to come out of this state. The Fantasy genre as a whole have more novels which are no longer just about a Hero overthrowing a Dark Lord and becoming king. These books, crutially, are stilly being recognised as Fantasy (it’s a bit difficult to disguise, all the magic and all).

    However, with Romance, there is a measure of stagnation. Books that venture too far from the accepted conventions of Romance are not recognised as such, possibly quite simply because the defining feature of a love story occurs in other stories as well, but one can speculate about other reasons as well, such as there being a certain measure of stigma to being a Romance. (But is this stigma is more than that of being any other sort of genre writer, before that genre evolved?)

    I’m not saying Romance isn’t important; I believe it is very important.

    I’m probably going to get into even more trouble now for comparing it to Action films…

    What I’m trying to get at is that the Romance genre stagnates. I’m not blaming the writers or the publishers or the readers. But that is why literary interest remains elusive. The simple love story is anything but. There is a desire to keep things the way they are. Defining romance as between a man and a woman, or a reader getting irritated about the lack of a Happy Ending and other such things is partially symptomatic of this.

    But that said, the genre is starting to evolve. It is taking steps in new directions. But many of these steps lead to a place that is Not Romance. Such as the lack of a Happy Ending. When George R. R. Martin wrote a book challenging Good and Evil (one of the staples of fantasy fiction), his book isn’t branded as Not Fantasy. It is embraced. Jacqueline Carey reimagined “Lord of the Rings” in a non-morally absolute universe. Again, this challenge is embraced as Fantasy.

    I’m not saying that Romance is a simple genre, or that it isn’t Good. But there are deficiancies (Connie Mason, oh God! Lifetime achievement!). I’m just don’t think it’s as simple as a marginalisation of women writers or a dismissing of the importance of love. Jong’s rally of arms is rousing, but it’s too simple.

    Romance, I’m tempted to say, doesn’t show a complete portrait of love, warts and all. Unrequited love doesn’t stay unrequited forever. There is a certain rosiness to its view. I’m not suggesting that it must or should change, but it is possibly this deficiency that the genre’s critics come back to. And if the Connie Masons, Karen Kays and Cassie Edwards outnumber the Loretta Chases, the fight may just be a little stacked against us.

  5. 5
    Joanna says:

    I don’t think that romance is depised just because the subject matter is love though.  I think a huge part of the reason is the way that romance novels are presented and marketed.  Quite frankly, it would be very difficult for anyone who hasn’t read romance to take it seriously.  The covers of many many romance books suggest – indeed, promise – that they are full of complete rubbish.

    For example, Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale is an amazing book that transcends genre.  The hero has a stroke and spends the novel gradually regaining his speech and comprehension.  The way Kinsale shows this is masterly.  Some of the passages in that novel just awe me.  And what does the cover show?  A half naked man with a mullet holding a bunch of flowers.  It’s just so very very bad!  If that book had been printed by a different publisher and marketed in a different way, maybe it would be appreciated by a lot more people.  Ok, maybe it would have to lose the HEA to win a literary fiction prize, but at least it might be read by a wider audience.  I read it because it was widely praised in romance websites.  I would NEVER have picked it up based on the cover.

    My local bookshop has a small area dedicated to romance.  Frankly, I am embarrassed to browse there.  The covers are just a shrine to mantitty.  And whilst there is undoubtedly some truly purple prose there, there is also some very good writing. That is why websites like this are so very important to romance readers.  They help readers to find the good authors and avoid the poor ones.

    When I think of those romance shelves at my local bookshop, I can only wonder why someone who had never read romance want to dip their toe in the water.  It looks so utterly uninviting. 

    It may not be fair to judge a book by its cover but I for one think that at times it is entirely understandable.

  6. 6
    CM says:

    Monica,

    The “they” who practice discrimination is not the same “they” that experiences discrimination.  Keep talking about it, and keep educating people about the problems and what they can do to change things.  But don’t assume that we’re all out to get you.

    We aren’t.

  7. 7
    jetso says:

    Just to add, that I don’t believe that Romance isn’t worthy of critical study. I was on the verge of a dissertation on the topic before I decided instead on something in Old Norse. I’m not trying to argue that Romance is devoid of literary merit, but one can’t dispute that certain swathes of it is at least dubious on that front.

    But I do think one would study it in a very different way than classical Texts. There is a certain facelessness to genre fiction that makes the study of individual books more difficult. Still, there is a lot one can learn from them, through analysis. Their proliferation and the recurring themes (daddy issues, viriginity, secret babies…) are fascinating and telling of our culture. To know a people by their dreams, perhaps.

    Romance matters.

    But that doesn’t make what it isn’t.

    (On the sidenote, yes, I do believe Romance is akin to porn, in that they gratify similar needs in women that porn does in men, only that the needs in women are differet. Man wants sex, quite simply and for women there needs be emotional fulfilment. This is not a criticism of Romance, merely an observation, since I’ll be the first to argue that porn matters and deserves study on a similar front.)

    Romance gratifies, yes. In that it is “fluff”, but those needs are important and how they are gratified equally so… It is a good thing, but crutially, it is still different.

    Am I making sense here or have I just offended everyone?

  8. 8
    SB Sarah says:

    I think I am offended that you picked Old Norse over Romance.

    “Old Norse” would be a great nickname for a hero’s schlong.

  9. 9
    Najida says:

    Joanna,
    You’re right.

    I think a lot of problems in perception would change if they just changed the damn covers!  I mean, yes, there some great reads out there, but the covers make you want to ductape the front so you can read in public.

  10. 10
    jetso says:

    The Woman Scorned in Old Norse Literature, to be exact. Brynhildr and Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir mostly. The women who got dumped by the Hero and got even, essentially. So not that far.

  11. 11
    SB Sarah says:

    Now THAT sounds COOL.

  12. 12
    jetso says:

    I think a huge part of the reason is the way that romance novels are presented and marketed.  Quite frankly, it would be very difficult for anyone who hasn’t read romance to take it seriously.  The covers of many many romance books suggest – indeed, promise – that they are full of complete rubbish.

    The marketing is very much part of the genre definition. Books that are borderline Romance (say, Crossfire, which its author claims to be anything but) often get new completely un-Romance-y covers and get reshelved in Horror or Fiction or Fantasy. To strike an parallel with Fantasy, there used to strict cover requirements of having dragons on covers even if there are scarce in the book which are now more relaxed with evolution of the genre.

    Problem is for everyone the silly covers drives away, there is someone who is attracted by them.

    On the sidenote: Squeeeee! My dissertation topic gets SmartBitch approval!

  13. 13
    bookworm says:

    The romance genre novel that transcends the genre has yet to be written. I’m waiting. I’ve been waiting a very long time. Maybe it has been written, and has been stashed in African American literature. Maybe it’s got a deplorable cover. I just know I haven’t been able to find it. The science fiction genre threw away its conventions a long time ago. Romance genre has not, and maybe never will. For the most part readers and writers like it the way it is. It’s like Brittney Spears complaining that her (lightweight but popular) music don’t get no respect. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a song for the ages in her somewhere, doesn’t mean she hasn’t given a lot of people a lot of pleasure with her music. But is it sexist or anti-feminist to not have much respect for her music? When I find the great romance genre novel, and it’s being ignored purely because it’s a genre romance novel, I’ll be the first one up on my feminist soapbox.

  14. 14
    jetso says:

    Damn, bookworm said it all more succinctly than me.

  15. 15

    Monica, it seems to me that if the RWA had had an AA romance category, that could have been considered a form of segregation and/or an acceptance of segregation on the basis of race. But I would be interested to know how many AA authors submitted romances to be considered for the RITA. If there weren’t many then maybe this is something the RWA needs to think about. They need to ask themselves why AA romance authors might feel excluded from the organisation and/or might not bother to enter the contest. If the authors did enter their novels but there was a pattern of them being given low marks, then RWA might want to consider why this might be and what they can do to ensure that AA romances are marked fairly and will be perceived by AA romance authors to be marked fairly.

    Romance, I’m tempted to say, doesn’t show a complete portrait of love, warts and all. Unrequited love doesn’t stay unrequited forever. There is a certain rosiness to its view.

    No novel or genre shows a ‘complete portrait’ of life. Fiction isn’t reality, and authors always choose which parts of the ‘complete portrait’ they will include in their novels. That said, I think that romances do show different types of love, sometimes through the backstory of the protagonists and sometimes through the experiences of secondary characters.

    I do think one would study it in a very different way than classical Texts. There is a certain facelessness to genre fiction that makes the study of individual books more difficult.

    While it’s certainly true that one can approach the study of romance through its ‘recurring themes (daddy issues, viriginity, secret babies…)’, the diversity of the genre, and the speed at which it changes, means that generalisations about it are usually going to be precisely that and will miss many of the counter-examples and the nuances present in many romances.

    My personal experience is that it’s not particularly difficult to find individual romance novels which repay closer study of their imagery, symbolism, social commentary etc.

    I do believe Romance is akin to porn, in that they gratify similar needs in women that porn does in men, only that the needs in women are differet. Man wants sex, quite simply and for women there needs be emotional fulfilment.

    I blogged about this topic a while ago and I’d be interested to know what ‘need’ you think romance satisfies for women. It seems to me that different readers look for very different things in the romances they read. It also depends how you define ‘porn’.

  16. 16

    The romance genre novel that transcends the genre has yet to be written. [...] The science fiction genre threw away its conventions a long time ago. Romance genre has not, and maybe never will.

    What are your criteria for determining what constitutes a ‘great’ novel and which conventions would you like to see thrown away?

    Would Jane Austen, with her happy endings and central love story meet your criteria?

  17. 17

    I think you’re making some good points, jetso.  There is some quality writing going on in Romance novels, but as long as we define a romance novel as a novel about two people working out their issues/falling in love and arriving at some kind of ending where we believe they’ll live contentedly, if not happily ever after, we’ve limited what the genre can do.

    And let me just add for the record that I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with that definition.  I want a romance novel to be about romantic relationships and have a HEA/reasonable expectations ending.  If it doesn’t, it’s not a romance novel.  It’s women’s lit or gay lit or a mystery or something else. 

    There is nothing wrong with saying we read and write damnfine books that may not make it into the literature canon because of their narrow structure.

    Or at least, that’s my opinion.

  18. 18
    jetso says:

    No novel or genre shows a ‘complete portrait’ of life. Fiction isn’t reality, and authors always choose which parts of the ‘complete portrait’ they will include in their novels.

    True. But Romance novels are very selective, possibly too selective in the genre box, which is what I’m trying to argue.

    When I say “needs”, I admit I’m being very vague. I’m not saying romance novels are porn for women in that they contain sex, therefore titalation/arousal and therefore this is bad. I’m not arguing that romance novels are softcore porn for women.

    I see porn as something that gratifies sexual desire in men, loosely speaking. Romance novels gratifies emotional desire in women, loosely speaking. This emotional desire can be seen as corresponding to the sexual desire, loosely speaking. Men and women generally speaking. And I don’t see this as a condemnation.

    I know I’m perpetuating the “women like emotions and fluffliness” stereotype (and that “men want mindless sex”) in suggesting this. I’m not suggesting that women read this exclusively or that all women want “emotion and fluffliness” in excessive amounts. The crutial point is that men and women don’t only these things. But I do feel that the stereotype isn’t completely foundless.

    My personal experience is that it’s not particularly difficult to find individual romance novels which repay closer study of their imagery, symbolism, social commentary etc.

    As bookworm says, I’m still looking for the One.

  19. 19
    jetso says:

    Would Jane Austen, with her happy endings and central love story meet your criteria?

    I adore Jane Austen. I’ve also done excessive amounts of my degree on her. And the Brontes for that matter.

    And yes, they do transcend their age. Austen shows love (rather, marriage, some could argue), warts and all. Though I would argue that she is most satifying when she is ambiguous. The problematic ideal of Mansfield Park and the vivacious Mary Crawford is far more fascinating than the rather inspid Fanny Price.

    But they aren’t “Romance Novels”. In that, they were not written inside the genre. Therefore they do not transcend the genre; they aren’t in it. One can argue they founded the genre, and that the genre comes from immitators that see only the neat love story and the happily ever after and don’t see the ambiguities and the complexities the same way Tolkien founded Fantasy and his immitators saw only the trappings (elves and swords and lost kingdoms) but not the depth of his world.

    I think you’re making some good points, jetso.  There is some quality writing going on in Romance novels, but as long as we define a romance novel as a novel about two people working out their issues/falling in love and arriving at some kind of ending where we believe they’ll live contentedly, if not happily ever after, we’ve limited what the genre can do.

    Indeed, but the genre (publishers? authors? readers?) does not see it that way. There are many books with two people working out their issues, calling in love and arrivng at a not unhappy ending which are brilliant. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is wonderful in this, but whilst Fantasy can accept it with open arms, (as one can argue it lies equally in both) Romance can’t.

    When I criticise the Genre, it is that construct made by publishers with their covers, authors with their conforming, readers with their mental categorising, bookshops with their shelving. I don’t doubt that it is artificial and rather problematic in that it excludes much. The “braindrain” effect, if you will. The definition of the genre is more complicated than a relationship and a reasonably happy ending. And these stated or unstated rules further the stagnation.

    I have read excellent examples of Romance, but something that transcends it but is still accepted as within the genre, I have yet to find.

  20. 20
    Najida says:

    Can someone explain ‘transends the genre’?

    I fear that the book that does gets that laud will be a horrible read…..but a ‘great’ book.

    Never the twain shall meet I fear.

  21. 21
    Robin says:

    I have read excellent examples of Romance, but something that transcends it but is still accepted as within the genre, I have yet to find.

    What do you mean by “transcend the genre”?  If you are referring to the ability to mainstream fully, then I agree with you.  If you mean that you haven’t read a Romance that subverts its own conventions, then I don’t agree.  Judith Ivory’s Black Silk and Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and To Hold are two examples that come to mind of Romance novels that IMO transcend the generic boundaries of genre Romance.

    As to the idea that the central love story “limits” the genre, I don’t agree, either (I actually think it may have been Darlene who made this point originally).  I think it’s all the other “rules”—rules of the *industry* not the genre—that limit Romance.  And sheer lack of imagination, frankly.  And fear that Romance readers won’t accept certain things.  That is, the informal *moralities* within the publishing/writing aspect of the genre that circumscribe the broader generic boundaries.

    As for Erica Jong’s argument, I’ve been pondering it since Sarah linked to it on her journal, and while I like it a whole lot better than Jacquelyn Mitchard’s IMO borderline mysoginist (with hints of xenophibic hysteria) rant on Paper Cuts, I find so many things unsettled in these approaches that rely purely on gender to explain trends that may themselves not be well-represented to begin with.

    Like, what do you do with some comments in the Romance community that lit fic is all about depression and death and therefore not meaningful?

    What do you do with the fact that authors like Joyce Carol Oates (whom I adore) are dissed sometimes by both male and FEMALE critics for being too consumed by seemingly nihilistic episodes of identity-erasing violence?

    Or with the idea that it’s not just lit fic crits who disdain Romance, but mainstream women who embrace romantic comedies in films without question?  Internalization of patriarchal assumptions or disgust of clinch covers, hot pink store displays, and Mr. Romance?  Because the one thing I love about Romance is its woman-centered aspects, but there was no way in hell I could begin to see that or take it seriously before someone steered me carefully into the genre, past all the mantitty to the stand out books. 

    I like the Jong talks about “prejudice,” because I think that’s really the right word, and I think it applies not just to women’s fiction, but to fiction in general—and to readers in general.  Jong resorts to it in her assertion that there are certain “man” subjects (where would that put Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha) and “women” subjects.

    I’m not averse to the idea that gender assumptions play a role in all this—perhaps even a substantial role.  But what I’m not so sure of is whether it’s the assumptions about gender or assumptions ABOUT those assumptions that are more problematic.  In other words, how much of this is due to the vestiges of patriarchy, and how much is due to certain assumptions about patriarchy?

  22. 22

    >>Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series is wonderful in this, but whilst
    Fantasy can accept it with open arms, (as one can argue it lies equally in
    both) Romance can’t.<

    <

    Now I

    am going to disagree with you.[g]

    The reason Kushiel is fantasy, not romance, is that it’s really about Phaedre’s journey, not Phaedre and Joselin’s (sp?) love story.  That makes it a classic “hero’s journey” fantasy as opposed to a romance novel, no matter how strong the romance element is. 

    The central story is not the love story, but the story of one woman’s growth and development, finding love along the way.

  23. 23
    bookworm says:

    Laura: Entire books have been written about what constitutes a great novel. Having sifted this through my mind for many years I think I can say that what constitues a great novel is one that stands the test of time, though even that could be argued on a book by book basis. Jane Austen, for me, would absolutely meet my criteria, though as has been pointed out she is not actually “of” the genre – more like its midwife. My favorite romance authors are Jennifer Crusie and Loretta Chase – I love and enjoy their work. But for the ages? I don’t think so. And as Darlene noted earlier many writers (and their readers) are entirely happy to be excluded from the canon. As for throwing out the conventions, well, that’s another huge question. I’ve certainly got plenty of pet peeves. I like to see (and do see) the conventions trampled on, turned upside down, inside out, etc. Tricky to pull off, though, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.i.e. highly unconventional, but still recognisable as a romance genre novel.

    Jetso: Although I’m still looking for “The One” there are more complex romance novels out there, complete with “imagery, symbolism, social commentary”. But they’re not the norm.

    Monica: What is the best African American romance novel you’ve ever read? This sub-genre you describe – is it for AA writers only, or any romance with AA characters?

  24. 24
    jetso says:

    I did read Kushiel as profoundly romantic, though I can see your point and am willing to stand corrected on the Kushiel series. Though I’d remark on the haziness there as to a certain extent one can argue that for many of Austen’s novels, since the heroines take the spotlight and it is about their growth rather than the hero’s.

  25. 25
    Nathalie says:

    The very term “genre fiction” gives me a rash. As though when a book is about *something*, it’s a genre. So is literary fiction about nothing? It reminds me of the year I tried to apply for a grant through the Canada Council for the Arts and was turned down because I wrote scifi and erotic romance…in the (gasp) SAME BOOKS. I was politely (fuck, not even politely, she just didn’t use any curse words but was rude as hell) told me that writing grants went to authors whose works had more literary merit than “genre fiction”. Yes. She wrote that. I kept the e-mail—it’s always nice to have a goal in life. Mine is to one day rule the world and when I do…

    Mwa. Ha. Ha.

    Wasn’t it Chesterton who said literature is a luxury; fiction a necessity?

    Or something like that.

  26. 26
    Kerry Allen says:

    “…as long as we define a romance novel as a novel about two people working out their issues/falling in love and arriving at some kind of ending where we believe they’ll live contentedly, if not happily ever after, we’ve limited what the genre can do.”

    I don’t find two rules to be all that restrictive. I think there are infinite possibilities to built around “essential love story” and “HEA,” and I think the subgenres (contemporary, historical, inspirational, paranormal, suspense, and any combination thereof and any I’ve overlooked) attempt to explore those possibilities.

    If you do away with the two things that define the heart of the genre (love and at least “hopefully” ever after, as Lynn Viehl puts it), it’s no longer Romance, and I don’t think killing the genre is the way to achieve respectability with its critics.

    If the feeling is that those two rules oversimplify what Romance is, find the General Rules of Fiction Writing and slap them on the end of the list. I consider the GRoFW to be a given in any genre—it’s basic conventions such as The Big Two that create a genre, though.

  27. 27
    Nora Roberts says:

    I don’t write fluff. I don’t write softcore porn for women. Yes, I do find both these terms offensive, to my work, and when used in a generalization of the genre.

    By definition a book that `transcends’ the genre would no longer be IN the genre.

    IMO, there are many Romance novels that do show a complete portrait of love. Others do a charcoal sketch, or a light pastel. And some are poorly drawn with Crayolas.

    Romance is a genre. A genre is defined as a composition characterized by a particular style, form or content. The form of the Romance genre is a love story, usually focused on two characters, that ends happily.

    It is what it is. Execution, and certainly quality, may vary, depending on the author’s talent or vision. Reader reception may vary, depending on tastes, expectations and mood. But the form is the form. The genre is the genre.

  28. 28
    Najida says:

    I LUB YOU NORA!

    (What she said)

    BTW, when I was in CVS on Tuesday I counted 12 of your books titles!  TWELVE of the suckers—- OK, 13 if you include JD Robb (but I’m superstitious)

  29. 29

    Kerry—I’m not taking exception to these “rules” (and there’s still debate on whether there are rules at all), but pointing to them and saying “This is how we know it’s a Romance!”

    That’s what I like about the genre.  When I read a romance novel, I know it’s going to have a satisfying conclusion where the protagonists will be together.  That’s what I want.  But what I want even more than that is to be entertained along the journey—be made to feel the characters’ hopes and fears as they try to get to that HEA.  That’s what separates a good or great romance, like Flowers From The Storm, from one that’s forgettable as soon as you close the cover.

    But FFTS is still a genre romance novel, and I like that too, that I can point to this novel and say to non-romance readers, “Don’t be afraid to try something different.  Read this book.” I’m passionate about quality writing.  I’m not so passionate about defending the genre against the sneers of the ignorant.

  30. 30
    Najida says:

    I’ve oft likened Romance to the dessert of the literary world.

    While we all say you need to eat your veges, or read your classics,
    dessert or romance will usually be the best part of the meal.  What you would want if you’re in need of comfort.  The wonderful romance you tell friends about being like that wonderful bread pudding you take to a pot luck.  Or the Breyer’s you eat when you’ve been dumped ;)

    I have needs when I buy a book…..  I look for entertainment, comfort, laughs, help and most of all, someone who knows humans.  Especially humans like me—- Female, battered by time and circumstance,  more unloved in this life than loved, not sure of what makes a relationship sane, much less good.  Not sure, but still hopefull.  Still wanting to fill that aching gap.  So most of all, I want hope. 

    Someone who speaks in a language that I understand.  Not above me, nor below me, but to me.  And understands why I still hope. 

    I’m not looking for an ivory tower definition of great literature.  I don’t want someone’s political agenda or current trends.  I look for what is necessary, what is going to do me the most good, what will provide the most benefit.  And like most of the songs out there, it seems love, though quite common, isn’t easy.  So the songs can be mirrors and the books can be a help.

    As I understand it, most ‘fiction’ is about the story, while romance is about the characters.  And romance goes a step beyond, to the thoughts, feelings, reasons and interactions of people.  It can be a window into another time, place and most of all, another person.  Which in it’s own way, can be a window into ourselves. 

    Sometimes the greatest gift an author can give is the encouragement that things can work out, that relationships are worth the effort.  Sometimes it’s the simplest paragraph were someone just stops and thinks and you find yourself jolted—- because it’s something you need to do in your own life.

    Sometimes you see yourself and omigod!  They can work things out with another person.  They can survive.  They can be loved and love in return.  Of all the things to be maligned, why is it the most fundemental desire is considered the tritest?

    Don’t we all want a HEA? 

    I often wonder if this isn’t like a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes, where people are being told one thing while they’re seeing another.  To me, the sales receipts, the forums such as this, the smart women I see writing and reading these books just tells me that like many things, what is real ain’t always what we’re being told.

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