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Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Quest for Respect in Romance Writing



It continues to puzzle me why romance writers aren’t afforded the same respect as other genre writers in the literary world.

Routinely, I hear disparaging remarks about romance: Anyone can write it; it’s so much fluff; it’s nothing but sex, and on and on.

The last I heard, romance is one of the bright spots in this dismal economy. Bookstores are folding at an increasingly rapid pace. Sales figures are anemic. But romance endures.

Literary snobs would probably attribute it to the old adage: “There’s no accounting for taste.” As a writer of contemporary, erotic, and erotic paranormal romance, I’d say it's because of the emotions evoked in a well-written romance. The hope engendered. The smile or tears the plot and characters produce.

Qualities found in any excellent novel. So why then is romance so maligned? Why isn’t horror equally trashed?

One of my favorite Stephen King novels is Carrie. Not because it was particularly frightening, but because it caught the essence of what it’s like to be an unpopular teen who desperately wants to fit in – to be liked – to be accepted. At times in high school, I was that teen. That’s what made the story special to me. In looking at the reviews it received, critics couldn’t praise it enough.

So why doesn’t the same happen with well-written romance?

One of the best love stories I’ve ever read was in Emma Holly’s The Top of Her Game. It wasn’t the sex that captivated me – it was the romance between Julia and Zach. The end was so delicious and sweet tears welled in my eyes. That’s awesome writing. And yet, Holly’s novel didn’t get the same red-carpet treatment as any of King’s work. I suspect even if she’d sold zillions of copies and became a mega-star with that one book, critics would have dismissed it because it’s erotic, because it’s romance.

And yet, romance – or a love story, if you will – is what makes this genre special as evidenced by the current selection of books all the way back to the Brontë sisters’ Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Those novels have endured because of the emotional bond between the lead characters, the emotions evoked by the plot. Contemporary romance writers do that every day. Hopefully, one day others will ‘get it’. If not, oh well, we’ll just keep on writing. :)

Tina

Tina Donahue

“Heat with Heart”

THE YEARNING (BESTSELLER)
SENSUAL STRANGER (BOOK OF THE YEAR 2010)
IN HIS ARMS (SIX - 5 Star Reviews)
ADORED (award winning - 4 Stars RT)
DEEP, DARK, DELICIOUS (5 Stars NOR - 4 Stars RT)


Website: http://www.tinadonahue.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/tinadonahue

36 comments:

Amber Skyze said...

I agree, it's a shame that romance doesn't get the same recognition as the other genres. Great post.

Tina Donahue said...

Thanks, Amber. I believe most people don't realize that it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to write an emotionally moving scene and to make it sound believable.

sable hunter said...

Tina - thanks for saying what we've all been thinking - and saying it so well. Romance writers - especially erotic romance - get treated a little differently. I faced hardship in my hometown over it - but decided it was their problem not mine. wonderful post
sable - thanks for linkedin too!

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Sable - if the ones criticizing knew just how difficult it is to effectively portray human emotions, they'd be stunned. And writing erotic scenes isn't easy either. :)

Judy said...

Amen sister. But I would blame love for all that. YOu see Love is powerful and it brings souls together. So those not comfortable with Love struggle and insult Love. But who can resist love? They lose.

Tina Donahue said...

So true, Judy. Too many people are afraid of intimacy and I would assume romance makes them uncomfortable.

Anitra Lynn McLeod said...

I think part of it is fear. By respecting writers of romance, more people would have to admit they read it, and that makes some people very uncomfortable. Clearly, a lot of people are reading romance since it dominates the market, but if you did a poll on the street, you wouldn't get nearly that number. Still, it's okay. People can read my books in secret. I don't mind. :)

Melisse Aires said...

I think we still live in a culture where men are more valued than women, when men's interests are more important. Women writing stories that appeal to women are outside that equation and so not valued.

How many times do you hear of a romance writer getting flack from family and friends for the time she spends writing? If she spent that exact same amount of time on a traditional male approved activity like marathon running or rock climbing she'd be in the newspapers and asked to be a guest speaker at Rotary club.

Katalina Leon said...

This question is all about respecting and valuing ourselves and holding our ground until others see the light. I feel truly sorry for anyone man or woman, who can't see the positive social value of healthy emotional and sexual expression and the feminine desire for adventure and fantasy.
XXOO Kat

Sandy said...

Tina,
Some day, one of our stories may be classics like Gone With the Wind. These same people don't malign the classics you mentioned because they aren't considered romance by their readers. heehee If they only knew.

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, Anitra, Melisse, Kat and Sandy - I agree with what each of you has said. When Nicholas Sparks writes a romance - and yes, that's what he's writing - it's art. When a woman writes the same thing - and better I might add - it's just romance.

But we and our many, many, many fans know how great we are. :)

Ari Thatcher said...

It also seems that the sexier your story is, the less respect it earns. Thank heavens for readers who know what they like and don't care what people think!

Virginia C said...

Hi, Tina! I am a lifelong daydreamer and fool for romance. I started out with fairy tales and graduated to Georgette Heyer, Barbara Cartland, and Jane Aiken Hodge, along with quite a few gothic romance authors. Kathleen E. Woodiwiss was the author who really opened my eyes to great romantic fiction. I have really expanded my fiction horizon these last few years, and it's been a fantastic experience! I have discovered some wonderful new authors and genres and come to know some amazing characters. The reception given to story lines with heightened love, romance, sex, and sensuality depends on how comfortable the reader is with their own sexuality. I greatly admire authors like you, Tina, who not only write with fearless flair, but who also express their thoughts through blogs, interviews, social media, and other forms of contact with the public. I love history, and that is one of the reasons that I have been a lifelong avid reader, especially of historical romance. I know that some readers state that they want a romance, not a history lesson, but I think the two go hand-in-hand. The setting of the book, the era, culture, social mores, religious beliefs, fashion, art and literature of the times all affect the way the characters would develop as people. Therefore, they are very important elements of the story line details. I appreciate the amount of research and love of subject an author invests into a well-written contemporary or historical romance. Love, romance, and passion have been around since cave dwellers drew stories on the cave wall. I am glad to say that we have progressed somewhant, and I don't think that sex, and writing about sex, will be going out of style any time soon. We should embrace the fact that we have freedom of choice, and celebrate the fact that so many wonderful choices are available. Brava!!!

Tina Donahue said...

No kidding, Ari - and again, it's extremely difficult to write an erotic scene that's not only sensual but moving emotionally. :)

Debra Glass said...

Anybody who trashes romance writing is not a romance reader. Their loss!

Nice post Tina!

Tina Donahue said...

Hey Virginia - I absolutely love Woodiwiss - one of my all time fav authors.

And I agree with you - sensual romances - erotic if you will - won't be going away anytime soon. :)

Tina Donahue said...

So true, Debra - if they'd read even a fraction of the wonderful romances I have, they'd be hooked for life.

Cryselle said...

I think it's partly because romance is more about the journey than the destination -- you already know before you crack the book that the couple ends up together. But how- that's the burning question.

Sandy Sullivan said...

Exactly, Tina! I get tired of hearing the romance writers aren't real authors.

Let the sales numbers speak!

~ Sandy

Tina Donahue said...

Absolutely, Cryselle - and writing that journey, making it emotionally satisfying, moving a reader to tears, laughter and joy takes talent. The romance genre is filled with extremely talented authors.

Tina Donahue said...

So true, Sandy - romance is one of the bright spots in publishing during this economic downturn. Numbers don't lie. We're being read and we're being read a lot! :)

Anonymous said...

Great post Tina. I agree with what is being said. I think one of the problems is the "Christian" up bringing and the general moral attitude that greatly contribut to the problem. It also has a lot to do with the porn industery. Yes I know erotica is not porn. I have an erotic vampire romance that has been published. You are so right when you say that erotic scenes are hard to write. Those scenes were that hardest thing I've had to write and make it sound and look right. When people found out I'm an author I used to tell them I write Sci Fi and vampire romance. I know I've written a great story from the feedback from my beta readers. My publisher liked my book enough to published it. So I finally decided to stand up for my work. I'm proud of what I write so why should I try to hide the fact that I write Erotica. I was actually shocked at the reaction I got when I recently started telling people what I write. Some said really and others would ask where they could find my book. So I guess my change in attitude about what I write has helped to some degree change other people's attitude about what I write.
G W Pickle

Tina Donahue said...

Hey, GW - I think part of the problem stems from readers not knowing the difference between an erotic romance and pure erotica. An erotic romance is the same as a regular romance, except for the inclusion of sensuality and detailed love scenes. Erotica, on the other hand, tends to be more about the sexual journey of the characters - the focus is on the sex.

liana laverentz said...

It's fiction written mostly by women, for women. Who runs the world? Not women. 'nuff said.

J.S. Wayne said...

Although I agree that romance, erotic or otherwise, is predominantly female-oriented, I don't agree that to be a romance writer of any stripe takes away from the value of the writing.
When I first decided to submit an erotic romance story for publication, I was nervous about it. Being a male, there are any number of unwelcome stereotypes I was afraid I might be inviting.
But you know what? I can write erotic romance just as readily as horror, as urban fantasy, as whatever. And I'm not ashamed of it, because it means I put myself out there in a way that a lot of other male writers wouldn't dare.
So let the literary snobs rant. When they take a swing at it, then they can think about telling me about the relative merit or value of what I write.
Until then, they've got nothing to say that I'm interested in hearing. If you're good at it and it makes you happy, go with it. Let the haters do what they do; they're going to anyway.
Good writing and best to all!
J.S. Wayne

Phoebe Conn said...

I've received fan letters from men who teased their wife about reading romance and were dared to read one. They're amazed to find my books are so exciting they can't put them down either! They might compliment the description of Ireland rather than the wonderfully romantic sex, but still, they loved the books. I'm always proud to say I write romance.

Tina Donahue said...

liana - true, but we women are gaining. :)

Right on, JS and Phoebe - I'm also proud to say I write romance.

Janice said...

My BIL after hearing that I got my first book published, dismissed it as, "Oh, I'm sure she just wrote a romance book, filled with sex."

Keep writing, Tina, someone is getting it or the romance genre wouldn't be the best selling genre there is.

Janice~

Tina Donahue said...

Absolutely, Janice - and congrats on your sale!! :)

Lisa Kumar said...

Fantastic post, Tina! I couldn't agree more. More than once when buying romance novels, the checkout person will send me a look and say something about how his father called these books 'porn' or 'smut' books. In no other genre is a buyer raked over the coals in such a way.

CJ said...

Yes, it is shameful that romance is not recognized as top of the line. Specially that this genre is probably the highest sale on a monthly basis. The downsize is that if you look at the cover, people (women and men), do not like to be seen handling these book. The Publisher's Art Dept. are still treating the cover has beneath them. There is still the notion of trashy novels, bodice reaper of the 70's. Journalists are only recently giving recognition to the Romance authors, but they have to brake out of the genre and be well diversified

Ike Rose... said...

It's interstig that even withing romance, we're split. The "straight" romance authors sneer at the erotic romance writers, although that market is rapidly overtaking the "traditional" romance market where things end at the bedroom door.

And although a number of mainstream media articles have reported that m/m or gay erotic romance is the fasted growing segment of romance literature, with straight women the main audience. (That still puzzles me), some romance websites ignore the genre.
This year I had a m/m romance published in a Valentine Romance anthology called "My Sexy Valentine" Two of the sotries (the center of the book) were m/m stories. The last story was strictly heterosexual, The first story was a menage story in which there are quite a few bisexual and m/m sex scenes.

TWO major online reviewers wrote reviews of the book that ignored the 2 center stories, not even mentioning the names of the stories, and glossing over the non-heterosexual material in the first story. Both reviewers were stuck mentioning the authors of the to missing stories since the FULL name of the book is "MY SEXY VALENTINE - Four Sensual Encounters on the World's Most Romantic Holiday"

But not one word about the stories.

Maybe it's time for some reviewers to re-examine their homophobia, given that most o the readers of this genre are straight women.

We're all i this genre together, folks.

Phillipa said...

Tina - great post and well said. From a British perspective, I'd say that romantic fiction gets more respect in the US than the UK. There was a talk by publishers at the last RNa conference suggesting that we have to present our romance by 'stealth' to the public here. In the US, the romance reading community is huge and voracious - romances make it to the NYT and USA Today best sellers all the time.

I used to get mad at romance being referred to as fluffy and brainless (I read English at Oxford) now I just feel bored. I suspect the people who say it, often go out and buy loads of it secretly.

Tina Donahue said...

Lisa, CJ, Ike, Phillipa - agree with your comments. I suspect if men embraced romance, it would elevate to lofty levels. After all, when a woman prepares a meal, she's a cook. When a guy does, he's a chef. Go figure.

Fiona McGier said...

Hey Tina, et al, men DO write romance...but they couch it in other terms, like cowboy stories, or historical novels, or stories about practically anything, with the romance just tossed in as a seasoning. That makes the romance part of the story particularly unsatisfying for the female readers, because as much as we enjoy reading good sex scenes, we are not about a perfunctory, "Tab A fits into slot B", then the action moves somewhere else. Just like in real sex, we want the foreplay, the build-up, the explosion, then the after-play/glow. Men think of all of that nonsense as a waste of time. Pity...

Tina Donahue said...

Hey,Fiona - yeah, men do write what they consider romance. Trouble is, women will never see 'romance' that way.

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