Don’t Knock It Till You’ve Tried It

Leslie's Avatarby Leslie Jones

Romance writers face a wide-ranging stigma: they write “mommy porn,” “bodice rippers,” and “trashy novels.” Smutty, schlocky, cheesy, and, somehow, not “real” writing. The literary establishment looks down on genre fiction in general; but romance novels somehow are the bottom of the genre heap. Why is this?

According to Romance Writers of America®, the romance industry is a $1.4 billion subcategory of genre fiction. Yes, I said billion. It outsells every other category of genre fiction combined. That means romance novels outsell James Patterson, Tom Clancy, and David Baldacci. And still it’s viewed with contempt.

And surprise of surprises – most of the snobs curling their noses scornfully at the romance genre have never read a romance novel! In other aspects of our society, this would be viewed with shock.

“I prefer wine to beer, even though I’ve never taken so much as a sip of any beer.”

“I’ve never so much as switched on an iMac, but I don’t like them because they’re too hard to use.”

“I hate wearing shoes, but I’ve never put a single pair on my feet.”

“I hate your brand of deodorant.”

“Have you tried it? Can you smell it on me?”

“No. I just know I don’t like it.”

It sounds ridiculous, because it is. So why do so many feel perfectly justified in denigrating something they’ve never tried? True, there are poorly-written romances, just as there are poorly-written spy novels, children’s books, and literary fiction.

Romance writers are well educated. They are surgeons, project managers, financial analysts, and lawyers. They have MFAs and other advanced degrees. Their readers are equally educated. Women make up 82% of romance readers, which means that 18% are male. They read the classics. They read John Grisham. And they read romance.

Romance novels cover the spectrum of other genres: mysteries, suspense, thrillers, time travel, futuristic/sci-fi, comedy, and historicals. They have strong but flawed hero and heroines who grow and learn and achieve their goals, and find a happily-ever-after to boot.

I write military romantic suspense. That means that I not only write fast action and knuckle-biting tension, but I have the additional task of growing and maturing my characters so they can find happiness with a worthy partner. A lot of the nay-sayers I’ve spoken with don’t understand that I’m pulling double duty as a writer, so I’ve drawn a correlation between romance novels and popular movies.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith: Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie. Assassins John and Jane must survive while they uncover the reason their employers are trying to kill them. In the process, they rediscover their love and achieve a happily-ever-after.

The Tourist: Johnny Depp/Angelina Jolie. Elise targets Frank, an American tourist, as her decoy lover. Not only must they evade the police, but also the mobster whose money her real lover stole. In the process, they discover their love and achieve a happily-ever-after.

The Bourne Identity: Matt Damon/Franka Potente. A man is picked up by a fishing boat, bullet-riddled and suffering from amnesia. He soon realizes that he is being hunted and enlists Marie to help him elude the assassins and regain his memory. In the process, they discover their love and achieve a happily-ever-after.

Speed: Keanu Reeves/Sandra Bullock. A young cop must prevent a bomb exploding aboard a city bus by keeping its speed above 50 mph. Annie, the bus driver, had her driver’s license suspended for speeding. In the process of solving the mystery of the terrorist targeting the bus, they discover love and achieve a happily-ever-after.

Mission: Impossible II: Tom Cruise/Thandie Newton. A secret agent is sent to Sydney to find and destroy a genetically modified disease called “Chimera”. In the process, he reconnects with old flame Nyah. They rediscover their love and achieve a happily-ever-after.

The same people who sneer at romances love these movies. So my challenge to them is, “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.”

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