Thursday, September 24, 2009

Two Fist Bumps and a Snap

I hope Wells-y will forgive me for missing his birthday on Monday. National Geographic News has a great article on the staggering number of H.G. Wells's far-off, science-fiction predictions that have come to fruition over a century later. Maybe his time travel machine is, in true science-fiction form, far more elaborate than necessary. But no contraption for temporal travel will ever be as sexy as his. Hmm?

So in thinking of today's post; and given the number of red-blooded American males who've mentioned dabbling in romance writing of late (for which I give two fist-bumps and a snap) and those faithful blog readers whom I love with all my heart but think romance is trash, I'm pulling out my soapbox. I can picture Wells-y tugging on his lapels, saying, "Here, here, now, let the lady speak! Quiet your grumblings. She will not be speaking on the subject of Fabio, though he would look good on my time machine, no?" Ahem...

I am a fairly recent romance novel convert. I was a good little Catholic girl who did everything I was told, grew up oblivious to the birds and the bees (I had nun leaflets, people), and treasured books, just not the ones near the Safeway check-out line. You remember those, right? The nurse with the phallic hypodermic needle and the man running away from her on the cover? Whew! Those Harlequin Medicals had some covers that would put King to shame, but I digress. I grew up a sheltered optimist who believed everyone knew and witnessed love as I did.

When the writing bug bit, I hadn't considered romance. I started with middle-grade fiction and mysteries but my critique partner noticed I kept hooking people up in the literary sense.

CP: What about a romance?

Me: Pshaw. Right. I don't think so.

CP: No, really. Have you ever read one?

Me: Those trashy novels? Not for me.

CP: Just read one. Then you'll know.

My dear, sweet critique partner must have known the secret. Start someone with the right romance novel and they're hooked for life. Kathleen Woodiwiss was like the first hit on a Geiger. From that book on, I was forever calibrated to writing romance.

Let's get some basics out of the way. Romances are not written to a formula, though they do have one thing in common: a happy ending. Nicholas Sparks and Robert James Waller do not write romance. They write love stories. There is a difference. Tragic endings are not inversely proportional to how awesome the characters' love is. This seems to be a guy-writer thing, like they don't trust themselves to dig in and get their nails dirty with the innards of a relationship conflict, so they inject death. Any writer can write death, decay and destruction. Those are the easy roads. And please don't stand behind the "real life" placard. My grandparents and parents have seen their share of tragedy, but they all found their happily ever after. That's "life", too, baby.

And, just as any genre in publishing has boundary-pushing tomes, romance has fringe exceptions to the one-man, one-woman monogamous relationship. Some romance novels contain more sex or more explicit sex than others. I liken this to a candy store. One customer might go for the old-fashioned lemon drops. Another, licorice whips. But in the end, they all leave satisfied customers. Yes, the term bodice-rippers had its much-deserved genesis in the 70's, but last time I looked that was nearly forty years ago. Show me a science-fiction book written back then and I'll show you a cover even more egregious than a woman's bodice clutched by a man in tight breeches and a bad mullet. All genres evolve, though I'll be the first to defend those early works responsible for my love of romance.

I crack as many Fabio jokes as those silver-tongued lashers in the Safeway check-out line. But when I'm asked what I write, I no longer shy away from saying it. "Romance." Sometimes the lashers look at me as if I broke wind, but it feels good to own it now. I write stories that remind our ever-pessimistic society that there is hope. Love can and does endure. My readers' lives may be filled with tragedy, but I can think of no greater gift to give them than four hours of remembering the heroism and love we are all capable of. Are romance novels escapist? Yes. Is Jim Butcher or Dan Brown's work escapist? Hell, yes. Escapism is intrinsic to fiction.

Romance novels consistently out-sell every other fiction genre in the publishing industry. It is fertile ground open to many, but tread lightly. Successful romance authors know they cannot chase numbers without a healthy respect for the genre and its readers. Our reader might be a mother in line at the Safeway check-out. She might be a soldier in the Army or a brain surgeon looking to restore her hope after she lost a patient. Our readers are different races, creeds and stations, but they all open our pages seeking that one thread of humanity that can overcome anything: love. (And if that doesn't work, a mental picture of Fabio on a time machine might.)
So continue to make bump and grind jokes or strike a righteous pose when you open Oprah's latest pick. I might even laugh along with you at the line that compares a Ford F-150 to a black stallion, but make no mistake: your disdain for romance novels is more an indiction of your ignorance of the genre than any story on the page. Read one. A recent one. Ask me or a dozen others on this blog for a recommendation. Then, and only then, will I respect your informed opinion.
It's Soapbox Thursday, apparently. I'm stepping down. Anyone else Wells-y can help onto the soapbox? Air your biggest injustices. Discuss how wrong it is Fabio chose to endorse butter instead of, say, hair products. Tell us your favorite romance novel so that we may fight the good fight. Or just pop up and say hello.


Charles Gramlich said...

I've read five or six romance novels, mostly by folks I know. The first I read was Woodiwiss's "The Wolf and the Dove" and I thought it was superb. I read a couple of others I didn't care for at all. I figure romance writers and romance novels are much like any other genre. Some are very good, others pretty good, and some not so good.

Marilyn Brant said...

*giving you a standing ovation for your speech*

Well said, L.A.

I take the judgmental attitude toward romance as evidence of fear, as well as ignorance. People who are merely uninformed don't resist new ideas when they're presented. People who are scared fight them.

And the Fabio-butter thing...? Hmm. :)

the walking man said...

So uhhhh which freaking gauntlet are you throwing down? Read a romance novel or write one? I've read a couple just because they were there when something to read was needed and an unrecognized place for an hour or three.

Now which glove is the lady casting to the ground from her pretty perch?

Jen FitzGerald said...

Hear, hear, L.A.

I recommend any of Suzanne Brockmann's Navy Seal Silhouette books.


Robin said...

OMG, Kathleen Woodiwiss and Jim Butcher in the same post? I've died and gone to heaven! Love them both!! I haven't been reading romance for very long either, L.A., but now that I've started I don't ever want to stop. I adore happily ever afters and by God, Harry Dresden better get his.

Have a great weekend!

Todd Wheeler said...

Having enjoyed "Love, Texas Style", I'll take the challenge. Please name three can't miss Romance writers I may look for.

Sandra Ferguson said...


Wahoo, to the gal with grit in her gullet. That's a Sandraism for 'well said.'

This is an article for the Fort Worth Star, or Dallas Morning News.

LET ME BOLD ENOUGH TO STATE: For those who haven't read romance, you can't have an opinion. Rather like the non-smokers who wants to discuss giving up the nasty habit. Okay, I'm not comparing smoking to romance novels, only saying . . . that until you've actually walked walk, you can't have a VALID opinion. Opinion, yes. Valid, no!

However, that point made, romance books aren't for every reader. Some folks just don't like happy endings. The don't like stories about relationships -- wait, I think every story I've read is about relationships. Okay, don't tell the shoot-em-up-action-types that those books still have relationships on board. Some folks don't want stories about trust, or betryal, or desire (yum), or suspense, or time-travel. Uh-oh, I've scared the opossum out of the tree, haven't I?

Romance is about real-life, in all walks and fashions. It just so happens that romance writers, and readers, believe in happy endings. Most are even living their own HEA story in 'real life.'

Thanks for totally making my day with this awe-inspiring post.

BTW: my 2nd go round on the first page is on my blog. Do stop by and give me your VALID opinion!

Sherry Davis said...

You go, LA! Well said, my friend.

And as for romance, the good, bad and ugly; it's subjective. That's why the genre is so wide open. It's also why the longevity of the genre cannot be measured. Romance continues to evolve.

And I, too, hope Harry Dresden gets his HEA!

laughingwolf said...

i've read a few, and been bored, for the most part...

i don't go for sappy/happy, contrived endings... but there are some great writers in the genre like you say

i'll take the 'love story' over the 'romance' any time :O lol

L.A. Mitchell said...

@Charles - You're absolutely right. There are gems and stinkers in every genre.

@Marilyn - thanks *bows* Or are you clapping for Fabio and his non-butter?

@Walkingman - the lady casts both. But mostly, if you wish to write it, you must respect it. Men and women look very differently at romance. None of that dirty little poet you're so fond of around here. ;)

@Jen - great suggestion, Jen:)

@Robin - Thanks for stopping by. He'd *better* get his HEA.

@Todd - Taking one for the team, eh? LOL. I think your open-mindedness is honorable. First, you must tell us your flavor:
inpirational/spiritual romance
paranormal romance (sci-fi/fant)
historical romance
Regency-period romance
Contemporary romance
Romantic Suspense

@Sandra - I'm headed there now. I have been guilty of the passing-judgement quitting smoking thing *hangs head*

@Sherry - If only we had a crystal ball, right?

@laughingwolf - I just watched "Knowing" yesterday--the movie with Nicholas Cage. If that isn't the most contrived ending, then I don't know the meaning of the word. I wish you a HEA, even if you don't like to read them.

Todd Wheeler said...

A writer should be well read in many genres.

Forgot that I'd read Georgette Heyer (historical/regency).

Deal me in for Contemporary.

Miladysa said...

The Wolf and the Dove is one of my favourites - Wolfgar and Aislin?

My all time favourite has to be Forever Amber though - what a man that Bruce Carlton was for walking away. I never did like a happy ending LOL