I nod then exhale in preparation for the inevitable, “Why?” that is sure to follow.
It does. I play the game and respond with a forced light-hearted, “It suits me.”
After an awkward pause, I hear the same answer I’ve heard dozens of times before: “I just assumed you’d write something more...serious.”
I sigh. Not this again. In defence of romance writing...
First of all, I want to make this clear: it’s not as though I have a choice in what I write. My ideas come to me of their own accord; I do not ‘choose’ them, they choose me.
Second of all, I will argue that the history of stories is the history of romance writing; of love and relationships. For instance, Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus – the trio of great Greek writers– wrote stories about...? That’s right: love (romantic tragedies to be exact). Fast forward to Shakespearean England. What does everybody think of when the Bard’s name is mentioned? Romeo and Juliet – the most famous love story ever told. The 1700’s arrive. The most popular story genre sold is...gothic romance. Who was popular in the late 1700’s-1800’s? Jane Austen, the Brontë’s, George Eliot (the woman who crafted the novel in the format we know it today). What did they write? Yep, romance.
Finally, romance or romantic elements form the plot or sub plot of most stories (whether ancient or modern). That makes almost every story a love story. Don’t buy it? I challenge you to read your favourite novel, then tell me there is no romance or romantic element in there. Tell me there is no hint of love (lost, found or unrequited), a relationship (current or ex) or a love triangle (current or ex).
Go on, I’ll wait...
See. You found it right? Now wait while I pull a smug smiley face...
So, if the majority of novels are, arguably, romance novels, why does the genre cop the accusations I so often hear? There is probably two issues at work. The first is the long-held prejudice that ‘women’s writing’ is trifle. This thinking stems from ancient days and seems to have remained in the psyche of society, in various forms, up to modern times. To this I say – get over it - and read some books written by women, heck, read a romance written by a woman. Start with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen, my favourite.
The second issue stems from societal mores of the early 60’s. A time when, morally, women were being pulled two ways. One part of society was telling them they needed to be virgin’s before marriage, but at the same time, there was a movement occurring: the sexual revolution. As a result, implausible and fantastic story lines had to be imagined in order to integrate these opposing values. These were the so-called ‘bodice rippers’ that many still associate with the genre. But, something wonderful happened in the early 80’s. All of a sudden, the former sexual constraints lifted and, guess what? So did romance writing. Authors were free to write what they’d always wanted: something that was new, exciting and... serious.
Don’t get me wrong, there is still that element of ‘fluff’ where the genre is concerned (hey, we all have different tastes right?), but, the contemporary romance features a variety to suit almost every palate. There are murder mysteries and thrillers (J.D. Robb, Elise K. Ackers and Sandy Curtis), issues relevant to modern women, such as domestic violence (myself, Nicholas Sparks, Anna Quindlen and Rachael Johns), historical, time travel and past life stories (Sussanah Kearsley and Anne Fortier) and fantasy-related themes (Stephenie Meyer, Amanda Hocking and Nora Roberts).
In fact, romance is the highest-selling genre, making up almost 60% of the market. All because of love. Why is this? Everybody – male, female or other – wants to be accepted, supported and loved by another. Stories about love, and the problems we encounter in love relationships, are relevant and serious. This has been the case from Sophocles to Shakespeare and from Shakespeare to modern times; and, as long as we love, it always will be.
As such, stop asking me why I write romance! I speak in defence of romance writing...and you should too.