Romantic Shame – Why isn’t romance afforded the same respect as other genres?

I am a romance writer and reader. And I’m not ashamed to admit it.

Most romance writers will tell you they’ve all had some experience with derogatory remarks or comments aimed at the genre as a whole. To those who don’t love romance – often the same individuals who have never actually read a romance – it’s women’s literature  (which somehow seems to mean it’s less meaningful or important), it’s smutty (because of the sexual content many have), it’s fluff (again, perhaps something to do with being about love). In fact, I could go on and on. Even readers of romance have for some time been told there is something “wrong” with their reading preferences, making them desperate, ill-educated women, or other nonsense.

I first decided to look into the idea of Romantic Shame when I was studying English for a BA program. I was in a class investigating popular culture reading, and one of the topics was reading and analyzing the romance novel. Boy was I excited – get to read something I wanted, and consider it for credit? The response, though, was dismally similar to the prejudiced readings I’d heard before. Such, indeed, was the entire tone of my degree, as to study English is to read anything deemed “important,” real “Literature” with a capital “L.” I was at this point already writing romance, and had long enjoyed reading it. And yet, I noticed myself and friends frequently turning over the book so the cover wasn’t obvious, perhaps so we didn’t have to “justify” our reading choices.

Why was this? I wondered. What was it that caused such prejudice? Did I find a definitive answer? No. I probably could have gone on to my PhD investigating this with no clear solution. While I do suspect it has something to do with the sexual connection – romance is often considered smut and covers with writhing or half-naked couples often don’t detract from this – it’s probably a combination of all of the above. It takes a long time for prejudice to be reduced, and there is a potential “happy ending” ahead.

The good news? This is starting to change. Romance is one of the few genres in the publishing industry that thrives during a recession, and folks are starting to recognize this. Thanks in part to organizations like RWA (The Romance Writers of America), further research is starting to show up which is proving what romance writers and readers have known for years: we’re an educated, interesting bunch offering quality writing and stories. Finally it’s starting to be recognized that even some of the real Literature classics belong to romance. I am thinking, of course, of Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, even Shakespeare had a few works which could be considered romance but are usually classified as comedies.

I could go on ad-nauseum about the rotten things some people have to say about romance, defend it, etc, but many others have done the same. Instead, what’s good about romance? Why should it be celebrated?

1)      It’s about love. At heart, isn’t this what most people list or feel is the most important thing in their lives? What could be better.

2)      All romances have a happy ending. The happy ending is requisite in romance. While real life may be full of lots of unhappy endings, romances offer the hope that no matter how bad things get, there is light at the end, happiness and joy.

3)      The industry is full of sub-genres which grow all the time, meaning whatever your reading interest, you can probably find a romance sub-genre that correlates. From sci-fi, contemporary, paranormal, to newer ones like steam-punk, it’s all fair game.

4)      Romances offer adventure, action, escape into another world. It’s quite rarely just boy meets girl and they fall in love. Instead, they battle foes, search for treasures, fight wars, all at the same time they begin to explore the greatest adventure of love with each other.

5)      They touch readers’ emotions. Some books will make you cry, others will make you laugh until your stomach aches. It’s a very rare thing if they leave you unchanged or feeling you haven’t somehow experienced or felt something after the last page.

6)      These are smart books by smart authors. Are there books that are better or poorer than others? Certainly, as you’ll find in whatever genre you read. But on the whole, a lot of research, thought, wit, and heart is poured into every page of every book.

7)      Romances offer an exploration of every facet of human relationships and developing love, and aren’t shy when it comes to intimacy. This is a part of the human experience, changes us, scares us, comforts us, and is necessary for continuation of the species. While other genres sometimes likewise explore human intimacy, in romances sensuality is always tied to the love story, meaning as a reader, it shouldn’t feel uncomfortable, but merely a part of the development of character and romantic journey you and the characters are on.

8)      Romance novels make you feel good. When they’re well-written, you should be left feeling uplifted, perhaps changed, and hopeful. Romances are the promise of hope and happiness.

9)      They’re not just for women. There are men who read romances, and there should be more – many women and writers have described romances as the guide for what women really want, but certainly men want love and romance, too. There is action, adventure, love, and intimacy that more than just women can appreciate.

10)   Romance reflect the changes, hopes, and fears of our society. As women’s roles in society changed, these were often reflected years earlier in romances. To read the future, perhaps you need only read romance.

If you’re a lover of romance, why do you read them? What do you love about them? If not, would you consider changing your mind? Have you learned anything about romance that might inspire you to at least pick one up to try? I welcome comments and your thoughts down below.

Otherwise, thanks for reading, and have a happy week.

Why write? On writing, saving lives and the world

I love to write. But, I do not expect my writing will change the world or save lives. My dearest friend is a doctor. While I can’t say for sure that she saves lives every day, she probably saves more lives in a week than I will ever save my entire life long. Sometimes, this can be a bit intimidating. You think, wow, and start throwing around words like important, significant, and heroic. It can make what I do seem pretty insignificant.

I only write about heroes. I am truly significant in the world I create, where I am ruler, creator, the fates and gods combined. In real life, I’m a story-teller. What is the import of being a story teller?To me, story tellers are those who record what was, imagine what will be, and sometimes let us escape from what is.

Oh sure, I know there are those out there who think we have it made, being able to stay home, wear pajamas to work, set our own hours and work schedule. And there is some truth in this: we are pretty darned lucky. We’re also lucky because we have the ability to imagine and see a world that’s sometimes different from the one we live in, one where newspapers report disasters, murders, financial ruin. I write romance, where the happy ending reigns supreme, and I like it this way. Sure, I like to torture my characters and they have difficulties, but it’s always knowing in the end, everything works out fine: the mystery is solved, true love is attained, the bad guys lose. While some might argue this is part of what divides us further from reality, I think it makes reality better. After all, if you can’t ever imagine a better reality, how could you hope to work for one? Sometimes, perhaps, we can even dream for those who aren’t as good at it.

Not that writing is as easy as dreaming and using your imagination, of course. Can’t let those folks who plan to take up the “hobby” and maybe write a novel in their spare time from whatever they really do think it really is so simple. Because often, it’s not. No, we’re not fighting for people’s lives – not real ones at any rate – but we’re fighting for increasingly limited attention spans, trying to weave together something original, interesting, something that tugs at emotions, and breathe life into dimensional people who exist nowhere other than our heads and the written page. Then of course there’s the discipline involved to keep at it, to go through rewrites and edits when the first draft is finally done, and then to start all over again.

Whenever I get too whiny about this process, I think again of my doctor-friend, of stanching blood, performing surgery, lots of other things I can’t do (nor in all honesty have any desire for – too squeamish). I’m just writing words. I’m sharing a story.

And there’s the heart of it: we’re creating a story. Connecting, perhaps, to a larger narrative constructed of all stories, all myth, all imagined worlds. Stories are how we understand the world, how humans explain it, and how we understand and continue to build it. In some ways, I like to think of stories as a way we’re connecting and creating both a picture of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed. Religious stories are stories, and they certainly change the world. Genre fiction especially has a tendency to reflect changing values and beliefs sometimes even before these are accurately echoed in society at large, like the position and power of women in romance novels. Today we write strong, powerful females, some who can and do change the world, where once this would have been unimaginable. Does what we write, the stories we tell, help to shape and form reality, or simply reflect it?

Both, perhaps, or neither. And while it’s interesting to think of it this way, I still don’t think my writing is saving the world, changing or saving lives. Which in the broader spectrum of things, does perhaps make me less significant or important than my life-saving friend.

Unlike my best friend, I will not change the world or save lives. But I may be able to cheer someone up, or take them somewhere else for a little while. Best of all, maybe real-life heroes like my friend can find a break and escape from the occasional harshness of reality to my books. That, a chuckle and a smile, a warm and happy feeling, these are what I give the world as a storyteller, and I’m good with it. If I happen to inspire a change in reality and the dreams I sow become the future, hey, that’s pretty cool, but as a storyteller, I can’t let it interfere with the story.

Why do you write? Do you think stories can change the world? Please, share your thoughts on comments on writing, and saving the world.

Embracing and Celebrating Your Passion … Especially when you can’t

What makes you happiest? What drives you, brings you joy, feels like a purpose?

Some people search their entire lives for their real and true passion. For those still searching, it may feel like everyone around them has found it, or is “living the good life.” In reality, a lot of people are living the life they’ve settled for, which is necessary, or which gives them something they may need or want (like money) but may not actually be their true passion. What is this passion? For some, this may be a thing, perhaps, or another person. In this article, I’m talking more about the passion that fills your life, leaves you fulfilled and happy, perhaps we may also call it a “calling.” For me, most days, I’m lucky enough to know this is writing. According to friends, this makes me lucky to know what it is, to have identified my dream and calling, and to be working towards it.

How do you come to this understanding? You try lots of things, and you pay attention. Sounds easy, right? It is … and it isn’t. Your passion is what makes you happy, what you couldn’t imagine your life without … or at least, that’s how it is for me. This is both a very private understanding and decision – because choosing to follow it or recognize it is a choice – and possibly a public one if you decide to try and follow this passion, and perhaps make money doing it.

Okay, so let’s say you’re among the lucky few who know what your passion is. How do you follow it? How do you thrive on it? And most of all, what do you do on the days when as much as passion fulfills us, it can be a driving task master or just feel boring? It is at those times, perhaps, we need to cling to it tighter, or at least the knowledge that usually it does bring us joy and satisfaction. The difficult times are, after all, the topic for today’s article. Here I offer a few tips that work for me, and hopefully will help you out too.

1)      Remember what your passion is. Whether it’s writing, acting, painting, photography, whatever, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is remembering you do love this, it is important to you. Just because you love something, just because you’re lucky enough to have found your passion, it won’t be easy all the time. Hold on during the hard times, when self-confidence gremlins attack, harsh criticism comes in, or all of the above, and remember, there are good times too. The bad will pass.

2)      Remember you are lucky. Some people spend their whole lives searching for something that drives them, a purpose to their life. You’ve found yours! And while your passion may not be your purpose, remember how fortunate you are to know what makes you happy, to have recognized when some wonderful collusion of the universe, you, and whatever else came together that makes your passion fit.

3)      Particularly if you are trying to make money with your passion, remember why you really do it. Is it to be rich and famous? Then perhaps your passion is wealth and fame, not whatever you create. Try to remember and recapture the wonderful high you felt the first time you knew “yes! This is it!” That knowledge, that moment, your reasons are precious. They may change, but let there always remain at their core a seed of where you began.

4)      Remember to be brave. Following your passion, turning your dreams into reality … it isn’t supposed to be easy! If it was, the reward at the end wouldn’t be so great. With each dark day, you know there will be a doubly bright one to make up for it. If everything was perfection, always sun and light, how could we appreciate or differentiate the good times from bad? Success from failure? Each are compliments of each other, and if you’re brave enough to recognize that, to keep pushing forward, to hold tight for a better day, you will have one, guaranteed.

5)      Hold on for “someday,” and be ready to embrace it when it gets here. Someday is the day when everything you’ve wanted comes to pass, or perhaps it’s simply when you’re old. Either way, when you come to a point, and you or perhaps someone looks back, don’t you want to be the one who was brave enough to recognize and embrace their passion? To choose something different than everyone else who contents themselves with the mundane, with ‘okay’ or ‘satisfying’? You will be the one who reached for a dream, who found a purpose and forged a place for themselves, and maybe somewhere along the line, you’ve inspired someone else to do the same.

6)      And finally, if you’re tired of your passion, if all else fails, take a break. Step back, and re-evaluate. What is it you love about it? Do you still love it? What did you love about it? Can you re-capture the love? Can you fall in love with your passion all over again? Will it just be a new project or idea to inspire you, or is it time to move one? We spend our whole lives changing; some things we are passionate about may not be meant to travel forever with us.

Have you found your passion? What led you to recognize it as such? Was it a grand epiphany, or a gradual awakening? What do you do during the hard times, when things are far less than fun? I’d love to hear from you! Please, leave a comment and share your own passions, and how you hold tight.

Why Being Kind Matters: On Author Karma and other kind people

While attending my first RWA National Conference last year, I first discovered the idea of “author karma.” This is the idea that basically, in the romance industry, despite being massive, it can also be very small, and by saying something unkind about another author / agent / editor, you never realize who you might be talking to, like the author’s best friend, or the agent’s business partner. A few poorly considered or mean-spirited comments can drown a career, or mark an author as an unkind, difficult to work with individual, especially in the world of instant-communication we live in. Negative people are draining, which is why most are avoided.

But it’s not the negative side I wanted to focus on. It’s the positive side. The entire idea of author karma mattered to me because, while I try to be a kind and professional person, I have also met so many others in the industry and otherwise who are like this.

Which leads me to my little gush about Kelley Armstrong. If you’re not familiar with this author, she is a Canadian writer who writes modern paranormals with a few series, as well as a series of books about a female assassin. While she’s a wonderful author, and one of my favorites, she’s also a very kind person. I came into contact with her through a strange interconnection of my best friend meeting her half-way across Canada, and Ms. Armstrong being kind enough to say she’d accept an email with questions from me. This was already so encouraging, so wonderful, that come the conference, I just wanted to thank her in person for this when I saw her at a signing. Which is when she asked if I wanted to meet her for coffee, and chat a little more. She probably doesn’t know this, but I was over the moon (though of course, I tried to play it cool). She proved again and again how kind, genuine, and generous a person she was, so when I “grow up” (ie: if I’m ever as successful as she and in a position to help others) I know I want to be like her.

So with this highlight and talk of author karma at the conference, and my considering how I wanted to be like Kelley Armstrong, it occurred to me: wait a second, I kind of already had. Because the month before, I’d been contacted by a much younger writer who had just won a contest in high school for her writing, and she contacted me for information about how one went about going published. I had sent her back a long email with (in brief) the kind of things she needed to know, a brief overview of the steps it required / were involved (all without trying to scare her, I promise!). Now, I can’t claim to have been as helpful, nor do I feel this calls everything “even,” but it did start me thinking: who says you have to wait until you “grow up” to start spreading the author karma? We all know other writers, other artists.

And even if it’s not author karma, what about just generally being kind anyway? Who says we’re too busy to smile at someone? Have you ever been having a lousy day – if you’ve ever worked retail, particularly over Christmas, you know what I mean – and one customer or person who took the time to be kind, to remember you were human, made all the difference? What about the agents I’ve been querying who were kind enough to send me a quick, unsolicited note to say they had indeed received the material I sent? It is small things like this (particularly when you’ve just slaved over something or fretted over the pressing of the ‘send’ button) that make a huge difference. You think, wow! Aren’t they nice? Or someone who sends out information or offers a helping hand you never expected? These I met aplenty at the conference as well, and even before.

So what’s stopping you? Or, what kind things have you tried to do? I am trying to be more encouraging to others both in my private and personal life. I don’t expect I will change the world, but then, it was never my plan to do so. What I might change is someone’s outlook, or just their mood that moment. Besides, being positive generally makes you and everyone else feel better, so why would you want to be otherwise? Please share what kind things you have done, your experiences with author karma, or why you think the concept has merit or could be important. I look forward to hearing from you, and hope you’ve enjoyed the read. J