Reader Encounters: Accidentally Hilarious

WTF street signJenny D. wrote me this email a few months ago, and I asked if I could share her story with you because it made me laugh so hard. Sometimes the way in which people who aren't familiar with the romance genre approach it can be unintentionally hilarious. 

I had a hilarious/infuriating romance novel-related interaction today, and needed to share it with someone who would appreciate it. =)

So my eight-and-a-half months pregnant self is waddling through the bookshelves at Goodwill and when I'm browsing the romance section, an older gentleman (mid-sixties, maybe?) stops me. The conversation goes something like this:

“Do you read a lot of romance?”

“Well, yes.”

“Could you recommend some of your favorite authors?”

(Note: At this point, my inner librarian-self is doing an enthusiastic happy dance at the thought of doing a Reader's Advisory interview in Goodwill. It should be noted that my inner librarian-self is not eight-and-a-half months pregnant and so can actually still do a happy dance.)

“Are you interested in reading contemporary romance or historical?”

“Oh, I don't really want to *read* romance. I just want to write one.”

(Note: At this point, I'm working really hard not to raise the Right Eyebrow of Doom. I manage to keep a straight face and say something vaguely encouraging like “Oh” to get more information.)

“Yeah, this Danielle Steel person is REALLY popular and has written lots of books. It can't be very hard. I'm going to figure out the formula and write some myself. If she can do it, so can I.”

(Note: At this point I'm trying to keep the Glare of Death that has been passed down from woman to woman in my family off my face and am struggling to find a reply of any kind, so I go back to the original question.)

“Well… one contemporary author I enjoy is Jennifer Crusie. She started out writing straight romance and then moved more toward romantic suspense, so she's a good example of some variation within the romance genre. And then of course there's Nora Roberts. She's been very popular for a long time and has written in multiple sub-genres.”

“I don't want to read more than two romance novels.” (Here he waves the Danielle Steel book at me.) “And there's only three Danielle Steel books here, and TWO SHELVES of Nora Roberts. Clearly, people don't like or her want to keep her books, so I don't want to read her. But I'll look for this Crusie person. Thanks.”


And then I walked away fast before I could let him know what I thought his chances of writing a bestselling romance novel without actually reading romance or wanting anything to do with much of the genre… So yes, at once hilarious and infuriating. I'm still shaking my head…



Have you ever had a funny encounter with a reader who thought they knew all about romance? Share share! 


Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Dread Pirate Rachel says:

    Oooh, I have the Left Eyebrow of Doom! Jenny D. and I should get together and glare at people.

  2. 2
    Maria says:

    Jenny D you are a much better person than me, no way I could have avoided the glare of doom. And he’s going to use Steele as his template? O_o

  3. 3
    SarahW says:

    I am one of several people who post on our library system’s facebook page, and for my day I posted about Read a Romance Month. Almost all of the comments were negative, which is funny because romance is actually the most popular genre in our library system. But the funniest comment was the guy who said “Why don’t we encourage people to read something worthwhile…like maybe the Constitution? You know, that thing that is being subverted and violated at every turn these days?” because really everything is about politics—and people should never read anything but the constitution.

  4. 4
    Patty H. says:

    I loves me my romance! My own sister (who is a miserably unhappy person with no love interest in her life—no surprise) said to me,“I think people who read romance are missing something in their sex life.  They want what they read, which is unrealistic.”

    Just fyi, I am happily married 25 years and think my sex life is pretty damn good. Irony, I haz it.

    My response to her, “Yep. And when I read a mystery, I want to be a detective and when I read true crime, I want to kill somebody.” :)

  5. 5
    jimthered says:

    I’m always amazed how many people think a lot of used copies by one artist means no one likes them.  It’s like going into a used cd store (a few still exist) and saying “They have a lot of albums by the Rolling Stones but almost nothing by Cake.  So I guess the Rolling Stones are really unpopular and Cake is loved by all.”

  6. 6
    Lizzie B says:

    Recently I visited the friend who got me hooked on Historical two years ago. We made our traditional pilgrimage to the Friends of the Library used books sale. As we were cruising the aisles and chatting this middle aged man with a very full basket approached us. I immediately cringed and was prepared to ignore him but my friend is pathologically friendly.

    It turned out to be a delightful encounter. The guy runs a blog where he features terrible covers. He just wanted us to give him a heads up if we saw any awful ones since we clearly looking at every book in the place.

    Afterwards I turned to my friend and I agreed that we were impressed that he “so non-creepy.”

    I’m clearly a terrible person. :)

  7. 7
    pooks says:

    There is nothing new under the sun, unfortunately. I have met so many of these people in the past twenty years, and they have no idea how insulting they are, nor how clueless they are.

    But I loved reading about this one. Misery loves company to laugh with!

  8. 8
    azteclady says:

    Extremely infuriating most of the time.

    One that sprung to mind as I was reading this post was when my current boss looked at the book I was reading and then said, “so you don’t have a boyfriend, I take it?”

  9. 9
    DonnaMarie says:

    No particularly funny encounters.  Mine usually end in the Death Stare and snark- I did respond to someone waving an Edgar Allen Poe collection in my face with ” I read that in grade school, what’s taken you so long?”.  I generally equate conversations with the haters with that old analogy about teaching pigs to sing.  I experience it a lot due to the fact that I also have to deal with people who question the decades of X-men comics in my spare bedroom.

    Although, there was that time I was flying out of Logan after my father’s service reunion, and I let my inner librarian out long enough to guide the two young(er than me) women perusing a rack of themed books away from the 50 shades of WTF banality to the Megan Hart books shelved with them.  I was rewarded for my good deed by noticing as I returned to my gate that our flight number was on different gate than the one where we’d been directed when we checked in and where I’d left my dad while I stretched my legs. Sure, enough, they’d announced the change, but failed to notice that the speakers at the original gate were turned off.  So, I arranged transport for my 83 year old father and even older ship reunion friend who happened to be on our flight AND got us boarded first.  Oh, the power of the elderly disabled vet.

  10. 10
    laj says:

    About ten yrs ago my Mom moved from a big house in NoCal to a small condo in Az. OMG she had bookshelves full of HQ’s and romances from as far back as the 60s. The estate seller said they wouldn’t sell and we should just toss them. HA! I had taken out additional ads and posted stuff about the sale in places readers might see.  Those books flew… woman bought over 200 without a glance. It was so great to see the look on the agent’s face. I think some of those old Mills and Boone are very rare and valuable.
    My Mom has always gotten grief about her HQ’s…..even from me when I was in college and very serious about my reading……she just says “buzz off” and continues reading the Billionaire Sheik and his Virgin American Secretary. LOL.

    His48: my hubby is 48 in Oct.

  11. 11
    Gillian B says:

    Many, many years ago, I had the idea of writing romance myself. Ok, I was young and idealistic – 16 – but who wasn’t, once upon a time?

    Anyway, my English teacher caught me reading a romance. She was of the ultra-feminist type, and immediately blew me up. How dare I read such rubbish? When I stammered out that I was “studying the genre to write some myself”, she told me I could never get anywhere writing that junk, and should aim to write something worthwhile – a classic, in other words.

    It put me off writing for 30 years, seriously, until I finally realised that a) there’s nothing wrong with writing Romance, b) it’s actually not a bad place to start and c) considering how much terrible stuff has been published, I really should have tried.

    So there you go. When my world-beating novel takes off faster than “50 Shades of Twilight”, I am going to dedicate the second edition to Mrs Romer. Wherever you are, Mrs R, I hope you’re proud of stifling a young author – and how many other dreams did you break?

    Actually, I think I need to employ the Sayers revenge. Mrs Romer needs to be a character in my novel, a bitter old woman who regrets the chances she never took… Now where did I put my manuscript?

  12. 12
    laj says:

    @Azteclady: Did you imagine yourself as Kate Daniels and kick him in the kidneys while jou pulled out your sword?

  13. 13
    Julie B. says:

    I not only read, I write romance. I have many, many stories of interesting encounters with those who feel they’re going to set me straight, but here’s one of my favorites.

    My husband’s former boss had a girlfriend. A loud, overbearing, know-it-all girlfriend. When the girlfriend found out that I had spent several years taking workshops, studying the genre, submitting to agents and writing, writing, writing, she said, “Oh, those books are all so formulaic. I could write one. What are they, 100,000 words?”

    “Yes, they are,” I said. “It’s not as easy as it looks.”

    “Oh, yes, they are. I could knock one out before lunch.”

    It’s been a few years. Many, many people have said the above to me during those years. I have always responded by smiling and saying the same thing.

    “Wow, Julianne, that’s great. I’d love to see your first chapter when you finish it.”

    I have never had anyone come back to me with even a first page, let alone a chapter.

  14. 14
    DonnaMarie says:

    @Azteclady, I never realized you were posting from prison. I mean, you did stab him in the eye, right?…

    @laj, I think your mother and mine were separated at birth! Although, truth be told, I was the one who got her addicted when I came home from college. Bad daughter, bad.

  15. 15
    Charon says:

    I have a better idea. Bill Gates is richer than Nora Roberts and Danielle Steel put together. I’m going to buy a copy of Windows, and then put out a computer OS myself. How hard could it be? I mean, Gates didn’t even finish college.

  16. 16
    Appomattoxco says:

    Long before e-readers I would go 40 miles away every couple of weeks to a used book store. I had my usual pile of romance and SF trade-ins and when I went to check out a big stack of cash only new SF/kids books/classics/mysteries.  Keep in mind I always spent a lot on books there and I always brought others with me because I can’t drive.  I got a speech from the owner this time about how romance addiction was a blight and they were going to stop taking them in trade because they were LDS. How could I read Dorothy Sayers, Ray Bradbury,  Louisa May Alcott AND  HQs by Nora Roberts and Loveswepts by Jenny Cruise?

    I left my pile of books and never came back. I’ve since compiled many, many replies to that BS in my head. Also wondered what they think of Twilight & Carla Kelly.

  17. 17
    Anne Tenino says:

    Well, here’s on person who hopes he writes and submits it, then receives the Rejection Letter of Utter Condescension. Or fifty of them.

  18. 18
    Dellani Oakes says:

    The people I love are the ones who think that just because you write romance, you’ve DONE all that stuff that the characters do. Uh—no…. I have a very good imagination. It’s called a novel for a reason, all that is, for the most part, fiction. At my age especially, if I did some of those antics, I’d break a hip—or two.

    Do they ask murder mystery authors how many people they have buried in their backyards? I think not.

    Jenny D. was much more polite than I would have been. He and I would have been toe to toe over that issue. I’d love to see what schlock he came up with. :)

  19. 19
    Sveta says:

    Danielle Steel? SERIOUSLY?! I used to love her books back in middle school, and realized few years back that I couldn’t stand her writing anymore. Before this website, I used to look down on people who read romance, but when I used to work and a coworker said something disparaging about romance novels, I got offended actually. While due to personal reasons I’m not a fan at all of happily ever after or happily ever after for now, I do enjoy reading books with romantic elements and seeing heartbreaks and stuff.

  20. 20
    Jody says:

    Lol, lol, lol.  While I haven’t had a romance novel encounter like Jenny D.‘s, I am a community theater veteran and had a lovely conversation with one of my husband’s friends as follows:
    He:  I’ve always wanted to be in a play.
    Me:  Oh, you should be in one!  What’s your favorite role?
    He:  Well, I’ve never actually seen a play, but I just know I’d be good.

  21. 21
    Gry says:

    Now, my brother hasn’t actually said anything, but I’m sure he mentally gags every time he sees my books. On the other hand, I can’t say I care much for his taste in books either (when/if he reads at all). He gave me one, probably meant as a birthday present – a horrible thing that I haven’t even dared to crack open, that is supposed to teach managers to manage better, or something like that – titled something like “How To Screw People Over By The Numbers”. Well, not really, but I sort of feel that the title ought to have been something like that.
    I think I’ll stick to my own books.

  22. 22
    Ginny Sherer says:

    Some years ago, I GAVE a male friend a romance book I had really enjoyed (don’t remember the title or author, unfortunately) that was also a VERY GOOD science fiction story…He “couldn’t get past the “romance genre” cover…I still feel sorry for him. It had all of the stuff that made me love Asimov and Heinlein back when, and he loved them too, so I’m sure he would have enjoyed it.

  23. 23

    I would love to read the manuscript he comes up with, truly. I’m sure it would be a howl for a girl’s night in :)

  24. 24
    cleo says:

    I had a similar experience – a male friend of mine who’s an aspiring writer (mostly science fiction) told me he wanted to write a romance novel and make a lot of money.  We were car pooling when he told me thsi – he was in the back seat and I was in the front passenger seat so I couldn’t give him my famous death stare, but I did tell him that I thought it wasn’t that easy and went on to give my usual speech about while there’s certainly a lot of crap in romance (like all genres), the good stuff is really good, and then I said something like I really hoped he wouldn’t add to the crap (I think I was more polite than that). We talked more and I realized he was sincere, if a little misinformed, so I later emailed him a list of books to read, including Beyond Heaving Bosoms, and a ton of links.

  25. 25
    hapax says:

    I had a dear friend (another librarian!) who told me, as she saw me reading at the lunch table, that she “never read fiction—why would I waste my time reading a pack of lies?”

    Well, she’s now … a little less dear.

  26. 26

    A couple of my coworkers at Le Day Job know I write romance, and no one’s really given me any grief over it. One of them did say that writing sex scenes had to be really easy, so I challenged him to write a 500-word sex scene. The next time I saw him, he said he didn’t know how to do it and he had a new respect for romance authors.

    I always wanted to be a writer, and when I was a teenager I wanted to write horror and sci-fi/high fantasy. I was hassled by teachers a lot more for that than I ever have been for romance.

  27. 27
    jekni says:

    @22 Ginny:

    I wonder if it was Lois McMaster Bujold’s “Cordelia’s Honor” That would certainly fit your description perfectly. There are very few authors who can combine genres as well as she can.

  28. 28
    Tabs says:

    I overheard a couple in a bookstore the other day where the female half derisively asked “Paranormal romance? What that?  Like, sex with ghosts are something?”  I almost butted in to say “sometimes, but usually it’s vampires or werewolves.”  I just smiled to myself and continued to peruse the taudry “sex with ghosts” shelves.

  29. 29

    I was too young to have a smart comeback to the romance put-down I remember best. I was in a long and slow government class—senior in high school—seriously, spent more than a week learning the parts of a 1040 EZ tax form. Afternoons. So I had a romance tucked behind my stack of books b/c I’d already been in trouble for sleeping, as had most of the class.

    The male teacher stomped to my desk – back far right – grabbed the book – and turning purple, said basically “You’re reading this? You’re reading this! Well you can read it in the office!” He ran to the door and threw the book down the hall, sort of a sideways fling like a Frisbee so it went really far. “Pick it up on your way to the principal!”.

    I did. And read it on a chair in the office. But the incident was pretty humiliating, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have abused any other genre quite so much.

    (on a side note, his wife was the health teacher who taught us how to put condoms on bananas)

  30. 30
    Aziza says:

    Within the last year or two, I was reading a magazine article (Bazaar? Elle? Marie Claire?) where the author was writing about her recently-deceased mother. One of the mother’s friends made a comment to the daughter about the romance novel she (friend) and the mother had written. This was news to the daughter. IIRC, mother and friend did in fact write a manuscript together and submit it (to Harlequin?) in the 1970s or 1980s but it was not accepted for publication.

    After reading the article, it took me back to the beginning of the 1990s when a friend decided she was going to write a TEEN romance. I have some vague recollection of “how hard could it be” reasoning.


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