by Mina V. Esguerra
Sad and tired truth: Romance is, despite its popularity worldwide, one of the genres that “serious readers” and “serious writers” find acceptable to diss. The put-down can be as innocent as “I prefer to read challenging books” or as alarming as “Teenage pregnancies are on the rise because of books with kissing!”
Much has already been written about why this is wrong, and how difficult it is to engage a critic who disses a body of work without having tried it. And no, giving up on an entire genre because you couldn’t stand the one page of the book you browsed doesn’t make you an expert. Sigh. I’ve encountered these people in real life and my personal rule is to smile politely and move on.
Let me share with you some comments I’ve heard through the years:
1. “Romance is fluff that doesn’t reflect the realities of life.”
Romance as a genre requires that the main plot be: 1) about a relationship and 2) that it ends with the possibility of true love, which is the “happily ever after” or HEA.
As an author, I don’t mind these two basic requirements; readers have come to expect them. Obviously, it has not stopped authors from providing thrills, tears and giddy feelings set in various time periods, countries, fantasy worlds, alternate universes, space. Romance’s sub genres like fantasy, contemporary, historical, mystery, suspense, medical and so on are a response to readers acknowledging they can have their feels~ with something else. It’s not that much of a leap; they’re readers after all.
Many romance novels begin with a main character experiencing one of life’s harsh realities or will be facing them as the story progresses. But this is simply a rule of storytelling and applies to all. We find weak conflict and “shallow” characters in any genre. The story of someone’s journey is not less valid just because it is not about the worst possible suffering.
2. “Romance readers are led to temptation by these books.”
While, as a rule, I step back and let romance readers like what they like, I do want authors and people involved in publishing to work responsibly, and in a professional manner. Assuming that everyone down the line—from author to publisher to bookseller—did their jobs… and a reader is still drawn to a book she’s not supposed to be reading?
Let’s think about this for a second and remember who we were as young readers and how we started reading: We were curious. We were imaginative. We were readers, so we looked to books to find answers adults wouldn’t—or can’t—give us.
There are thousands and thousands of romance books, hundreds of new titles per month. It is easy to be lost and forgotten. Calling out a “bad book” is the same as promoting it; otherwise, it would have been lost and forgotten. If you are concerned about the content of the romance novels being read by someone in your life, read them first and have a mature conversation with them about why they like this. Because if a natural curiosity is there, banning a book is not going to remove it.
3. “Romance is only for women.”
I used to think this, too, until I began to meet more and more guys who tell me they have read and liked my books. I wouldn’t have believed it but I’m ecstatic they’ve begun to get over the societal labeling of “This is for girls.” There’s a discussion about making romance books to be more gender-neutral, both in content and packaging, and maybe it will work for some and not for others. I sure wouldn’t want all books to look the same—or, god forbid, less “pretty”—because for some reason we’ve associated feminine pretty with inferior. If you read it and enjoy it, own up to it. Guys are welcome. Girls, too!
One more, applicable to writers: “Romance is a ‘stepping stone’ genre and ‘serious writers’ should be writing a ‘real book’ eventually.“
Once upon a time I considered myself a serious reader and downplayed the importance of romance genre favorites that influence my writing to this day. When I was published finally as a writer of romance, I downplayed this achievement as well, because I didn’t want to brag. The message this sent to people and even to my subconscious was that, I was going to “do better” than romance once I had more practice.
Chances are, the writer who feels this simply wants to please a reader she respects. A mentor, a teacher, a friend. This of course implies that readers of romance who already consume and appreciate her books are not part of this group. Romance readers love their books for what they are and respect the authors, but will not necessarily support one who genre-hops, and throws shade at them while at it. Also, who are we to say that our mentors, our teachers and our friends aren’t fans of romance as well?
Thanks for sitting with us through this comeback edition of Crossed Wires here on Pillow Talk! We’ll see you next Tuesday with a post about Historical Fiction.
Anything to share? :)