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Perceptions of Romance

Wednesday, December 27, 2006
I'm writing an article for an e-zine called Spinetingler. It caters primarily to crime fiction readers, but Sandra Ruttan, one of the editors, asked me to write something for them about Perceptions of Romance.

I figured this would be a good place to have some discussion about it, seeing as how most of my visitors are not only writers, we're writers in the red-headed stepchild of genre fiction. Doesn't matter that romance pulls in the big bucks at the bookstores, many people -- readers and writers -- dismiss us and the books we love.

What I want the article to focus on, however, is how the people around us percieve us and our writing. What have your experiences been -- with strangers, with family and friends, with other writers? Positive, negative and everything in between.

What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people that you write romance? Do you tell people? Are you in a position where you hide what you do because of other people's reactions? I know some of us work in places that, should it become known we write romance, it might deter our professional advancement. Do you think it would be the same if you wrote sci-fi/fantasy? Or military adventure? Or horror?

I know I also have plenty of visitors who don't write romance -- what's your opinion? Would you ever write a romance, if you had the right story in you? Do you read romance at all? If not, why not? I know most people read across genres and I've read most everything in my time.

And last, what can we do as writers, not publishers, to change people's minds about the "bodice ripper, bored housewife" stereotype of romance novels?

I also asked some of these questions at Romance Divas, so check out those responses, if you like.
12/27/2006 01:06:00 PM : : Sela Carsen : : 11 Comments


People are weird! Some family members have completely unrealistic expectations about my writing and they're a bit put off by the sex, but that's their problem. My cousin tried to break into Nashville for years so I know she's honestly proud of me no matter what I write. Out of all my family members she probably has the best idea of just how hard it was/is even if I didn't talk about it much.

I'm very lucky in that my boss is also a writer so she knows exactly how hard it was to get published.

I don't tell a whole lot of people (that I don't know well) but the few I have told have responded possitively.

I don't feel like it's our job to (try and) change people's minds directly, but I also feel that if we are possitive and honest (IE it's hard work) and maybe a bit no-nonsense in our responses, we'll at least get a little respect and if we don't they're not worth our time.

Good luck with your article!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:46 PM  

Ah, bon-bons and romance novels.
I have, at one time tried the genre, found that it was incredibly tough work and turned the whole thing into a kind of gothic. Always helps to have a creepy dude (in these novels, usually Italian)trying to lure the loved one into a dungeon downstairs.
I was trapped between Whitney Strieber and good old Harlequin.
Actually, the hero, naive, slightly incompetent and emotionally volatile-- was somehow a perfect match for the vampire.
Polish peasants know the vampire's vulnerabilities?
The trouble with writing this kind of book is that you don't know what you're doing till twenty years later when some unknown author nails exactly what you were trying to do.
A practical reference: I was hired as a psychic researcher by the National Enquirer and told to look for vampires.
"There are no vampires," I'd protested.
"Of course there are no vampires, said editor Maury Breecher.
"But here is how you start:

'The residents of Barry's Bay, Ontario are plagued by marauding vampires.
'And they are taking precautions.'"

A story did emerge of a man in love with a vampire,found out, had to do the stake number on her and made sure the stake remained secure after his demonic lover was in her coffin.
But this is totally outside the romance tradition, at least for me as a nonfiction writer trying romantic fiction.
Romance novels almost always have happy endings.
When I visited the fifth- generation Polish community of Barry's Bay, Ontario, they told me I was no vampire hunter, but a vampire myself, a paparazzo, and that they would stake me for sure.

What a friggin' way to make a living!
And I never did write my romance novel.

By Blogger ivan, at 7:03 PM  

I tell people and usually I get, "Oh really? How exciting!" Than they seem to lose it after that. It doesn't seem to be a real big deal to the general public I've spoken to. Family are anxious to read what I've wrote (when I get published), but don't criticize my efforts if they don't approve either. My church family are resered in their responses so far. I think its because they are happy for me, but as Christians we are expected to 'keep the door closed on sex' and I'm not doing that. They can't outwardly cheer me on as a romance writer, but let me know they do support me and that God will be able to use my talents to His will.

How can we change people's minds? Why do we have to? Even if we get some to look at it differently, there will be more who don't like it. If we start spending/wasting our time trying to change people, I think we begin to lose the concept of why we write in the first place. At least for me, I don't write to please those who don't like what I write. There is enough variety written to satisfy everyone that I will continue to write what I like and let them read what they like.

By Anonymous Lisa, at 10:11 PM  

Hey Sela. It'll be great to read the responses.
I've been lucky. For the most part, people have been very supportive of the genre I've chosen. One of my professors still asks every time he sees me if I'm still writing and he reminds me of the literary writers who were rejected numerous times before selling.
The teachers I work with are all supportive and even volunteer to read my work. My students want to know what's going on and even ask for help with their submissions.
The only negative reaction I've had was from my ultraconservative mother, but she's still supportive of my dream.

By Anonymous mary beth, at 11:08 PM  

I'll be honest. My family has always been supportive of my writing. And I don't pay attention to what any one else says/thinks. I know others can get miffed by it..but I'm happy, and I refuse to let anyone else ruin it. :)

By Blogger Sasha White, at 2:12 AM  

I'm a cross-genre reader too.
I think every genre is improved with a bit of romance, overt or not.
People tend to expect me to write, ie. not surprised, but seem relieved/more interested that it is not "pure" romance.
Think the attitude is not so much anti-romance, but the idea that the best stories contain action, drama, adventure, mystery, as well as romance - that they prefer a broader brush in their fiction.
That they see the romance genre as limited or somehow limited.

By Blogger Bernita, at 8:33 AM  

Last should have been "limiting"

By Blogger Bernita, at 8:34 AM  

Excellent attitude, Anon! I'm glad you've had such positive experiences!

Ivan, you've had the most interesting assignments. Why is it hard to write that happy ending, do you think? Although it doesn't surprise me a bit to find you'd write a gothic horror romance. *gg*

Lisa, I'm glad your family is so supportive. I know what you mean about church, though.

MB, that's great! Many other people have had much worse reactions from their professors, so I'm glad you found some that are open-minded about the genre.

Sasha, you go, girl! I'm not saying we should let other people's perceptions change us -- I just want to know what they think of romance and why.

Bernita, you've made an excellent point. In fact, it's a component of a thread being discussed at RD right now. How the movies we love often aren't seen as romances, yet they almost always have a love story at the heart of them. Lethal Weapon, anyone? Star Wars?

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 10:22 AM  

Hi Sela,

I don't know if you read her blog or not but check out "No Rules Just Write" http://brendacoulter.blogspot.com/
She writes quite a bit on the subject.

As someone who doesn't read or write romance I can tell you that I would write it if I had the right story in me, but I don't see it ever happening. I don't know why I think this, maybe because I'm a bit of a pessimist? Maybe because it just isn't me? I'm not sure. Good on people like you who can pull it off though....writing a good story of ANY kind is a damn hard thing to do!

By Blogger H.E.Eigler, at 11:13 AM  

Thanks, H.E. I haven't been to Brenda's blog in quite a while -- I'll go check it out! Appreciate the response, too.

By Blogger Sela Carsen, at 11:26 AM  

I would LOVE to act if I had the time, and one day, when I can breathe again, I plan on filling my creative tanks that way.

Meanwhile I lovingly drive dd to her acting classes* and beg, "Oh look what they're putting on! Wanna audition?"

*She wanted to act all on her own, I did not entertain the thought at all for her.

By Blogger Eva Gale, at 6:23 PM  

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