I have an opinion twirling in my gut.
Like a ballerina on meth, it’s been gnawing on me for awhile. See, I fell in love with romance before I was taught what to think. The butterflies of a first kiss, the gut wrenching agony of two people who should be together but can’t, captivated me. It was raw. To me, life without love was hollow, and romance echoed that feeling.
Then I was taught romance was lesser.
Romance just wasn’t…literary.
It wasn’t what real writers wrote. Never mind that some of the greatest writers in history wrote romance, but real writers just didn’t write romance. It was trash, smut—a dirty word. I went through a period where I read what I thought I was supposed to read. Books that were labeled literary—and there is nothing wrong with these books. These books are beautiful in their own right, but they didn’t speak to my soul. I started and stopped so many books during this time, and if you’re like me, you HATE not finishing books. I started to think maybe I didn’t like to read anymore, and that was really depressing. It wasn’t until on a whim, I picked up a romance for free on Amazon.
I was sucked back in.
I read the entire seven book series in two days.
I was reminded why I fell in love with reading in the first place. I struggled with that, because these books weren’t “literary”, but fuck, I actually liked reading again. And you know what? They WERE literary. The prose, the characters, the world building, was magic.
So I started to notice the ugly lies that the world says about this beautiful thing I loved.
Since writing romance I’ve been privy to all kinds of derogatory statements about my favorite genre, and honestly, people don’t even realize they’re saying it, because it’s so ingrained in them. I was having a conversation with another writer I briefly met, so excited to pick brains, but the minute she found out I wrote romance I was met with, “Yeah, I used to read romance, but then I went to college.”
[Insert awkward laugh]
I didn’t finish college, but I don’t think the last semester held the magical “anti-romance” classes. Not to mention I know plenty of amazing, college educated women who write or read romance (and both!).
Just recently I went to a dinner and was asked what used to be a dreaded question: “what do you do?” Not because I hate what I do, but because I can pretty much predict the response.
“I’m an author,” will be met with interest.
“I’m a romance author,” will be met with stiff frozen faces and wide eyes as everyone holds back their real reaction. I used to shy away from the genre question, but fuck that. Not anymore. I’m a fucking romance author. So that’s what I said—minus the expletive.
“I love romance,” said a man—a respected man, and instantly their faces changed.
“See,” another said, “smart people can read romance too.” And they laughed. Yeah I’ll admit I fought the urge to go into my feminist rant.
I could have said that romance has pushed the boundaries for feminism. That it’s a genre that has historically given women voices when they had none, have allowed women to take control of their sexuality, and given many other outcasts a foot in the door (and that’s just the tip of the feminist freaking iceberg, man) but when it comes down to it, the people not reading romance are the ones missing out.
Also it was a dinner party and though it sounds great to say in my head, I mean who wants to hear that while they’re trying to eat?
I still struggle with my “need to be literary”. It seems like every day someone is in the news bashing romance. I’m writing my next book right now and it’s going to be pure romance. All the stuff that made me fall in love with the genre. The heart flutters, the swoon, stuff that grips you and tugs on your chest and just makes you feel. The stuff LOVE is made of. Yet even as I write it, I have this voice in my head that sounds suspiciously like some dude on the street tryna give me his opinion on my outfit.
“But is it literary?”
And seriously, shut up.
Just shut up.
I don’t know if my books are literary but I do know that this is my favorite genre. It’s filled with my favorite books and my favorite writers. It’s the genre that has moved me literally to the point where I can’t get out of bed. It’s the genre I’m most proud to be writing. If that doesn’t constitute a great, literary book, then maybe it’s time I stop caring what other people think of it.