Every so often, some author or journalist or academic will get it into her head that the world needs to be educated about romance and why it’s demeaning to women/not literature/insert other negative thing here. Most recently there was an article posted over on The Mary Sue about gender roles in romance.
Now, you’d think these people would stop writing these sorts of articles because all it does is stir up the romance author community and cause them to fire back with their own (better researched) response. In this instance, Heidi Cullinan wrote one, and so did Book Riot. Someone also found an old post of author Olivia Waite’s that fits the bill perfectly.
I’m not here to defend the romance genre. There are others who do a much better and far more eloquent job than I do, and honestly, I don’t want to waste my time defending my choice to people who don’t give two shits about it in the first place. Because if they’re making those sorts of comments, and defending those comments, the likelihood they’ll be open to hearing about all the good points about romance is slim.
Instead, I’m going to talk about me.
I used to be one of those people who thought romance was for people of low intelligence and it shouldn’t be considered literature and deserved to be made fun of. Never mind I secretly read Nora Roberts for years. I shunned romance because I thought it made me lesser somehow to read them.
It wasn’t until I expressed some curiosity over Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire books that my opinion started to change. A friend loaned me the first couple of books, and I devoured them in single sittings. She then gave me a stack of paranormals (most of which were actually urban fantasy) and recommended a few more that I was well and truly hooked. One of those recommendations? Karen Marie Moning’s original Fever series. I read the first book in two days, and then promptly checked books 2-4 out of the library and read them in 48 hours. Talk about a book hangover.
I can’t remember the exact point where I started reading more contemporary authors besides Roberts, but I do know I read urban fantasy and paranormal romance exclusively for a good while (it was during that time I saw a recommendation in the Barnes and Noble Weekly Review for Nalini Singh’s Kiss of Snow. And we all know what happened after that). When I joined Twitter, Victoria Dahl popped up in my feed (I think because she was friends with Karina Cooper) and I read Good Girls Don’t. Victoria Dahl led me to Cara McKenna and Skin Game. Following various book reviewers and editors turned me on to Kit Rocha, Anne Calhoun, Em Petrova, Delphine Dryden, and several other authors I now consider favorites.
These days, the number of romances and urban fantasies with strong romantic elements I read far outnumber the other genres I read. I’ve read stories that made me laugh, made me cry, made me think. They’ve done all the things that the non-romances that I’ve read have done as well, and some have done it better.
I don’t regret the years I spent avoiding romance. I might never have read Random Family by Adrian Nicole Leblanc or glommed onto James Ellroy’s backlist if I hadn’t gone years trying to find books that entertained me and kept me up past my bedtime that weren’t romance. I may never have read In the Woods by Tana French and found a new favorite author. I likely wouldn’t have woken up in the middle of the night, scared the walls were closing in on me because I was in the middle of reading Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves and the way the house in the story shifted and shrank and grew just…screws with your mind, the way it screws with Johnny Truant’s.
But reading romance has actually pushed my boundaries in ways I wouldn’t have expected, especially because there’s no direct correlation between the two. I’ve read more young adult novels over the years. I raced through Alice Close Your Eyes by Averil Dean. Robert Levy’s The Glittering World was a perfect blend of fantasy, thriller, and relationship angst and quickly became one of my favorite books so far this year. Carolina DeRobertis’ Perla still haunts me. And it’s all because romance opened my eyes to plots and tropes and twists I would have normally passed over because it wasn’t my thing. These days my thing is dark and labyrinthine and full of such honest emotion you find yourself gripping the book (or your Kindle) in your hands tight enough you feel physical pain and have to remind yourself to relax. These days I find my thing across genres – Skye Warren’s capture romances; Chevy Stevens’ latest, Those Girls; Black Chalk by Christopher Yates.
A friend of mine had a housewarming party a while ago, so I stopped by for a little bit. While we were talking, he asked how the writing was going, and then he said something that made my night, and every time I think of it, I get a little joy from it. “I bought a few romances,” he said. “Not sure they’re my thing, but I’ll give them a try.”
And really, that’s all you can ask for. Try something before you demean it. Learn if it’s not for you. And if you can’t be bothered, for fuck’s sake, keep your mouth shut, or you’ll have a whole lot of angry authors ready and willing to bury you under an avalanche of grief.