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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Romance Novels ~ Coming of Age?

Sooner or later, most romance novel readers experience the sting of criticism from someone who looks down on such reading material.
Whether you were caught off guard while reading a romance, or mentioned how enjoyable you found a particular book, you were probably shocked when you saw the veil of judgment descend across your friend’s face.

The self-appointed judge and jury stared at you with a condescending smirk. Or worse, made a cutting remark about ‘silly’ novels, or announced they’d never have suspected you enjoy reading such ‘trashy’ material. 

For those of us who admit over cocktails at a dinner party that we write romance novels, the judgmental looks and comments can take on an even dimmer degree of censure. The slant shifts to, “you must be a millionaire since so many people read that drivel,” or, “anyone can write one since there’s nothing in them.”

And it’s not just men – a fair share of women look down on romance novels. I’ve often wondered what lies behind this attitude. 

The pages of romance novels mirror our lives. They are filled with love, doubts, getting along, overcoming obstacles, loyalty, loss, truth, trust and compromise. They are often about sexuality, whether the bedroom door is open or closed. 

Always complex, they deal with psychology. Two flawed people face their fears and grow. We cheer them on and journey with them. By the end of the story, the heroine is empowered and more self-confident than she was at the beginning. She faced her greatest challenges and also found love.

That’s just the love aspect... we also have all the different genres, locations and lifestyles to choose from. We can time travel to ancient Ireland where we fall for a king, or fall in love with an alien on a different planet. We can learn history from the historical romance set in ancient Egypt or be stalked by a lonely billionaire in downtown New York. There’s a romance for everyone. 

Romance novels are entertaining, but are also relationship teaching tools. We learn from the cause and effect that plays out between the covers. 

Many people believe bodice-ripping covers caused some misperception over the years. 

If so, how do we account for the explosive sales figures of erotic romance, and the lengthy bestseller status of 50 Shades of Grey? Millions of people have purchased it, many of whom aren’t your average romance readers.

It’s been said that people don’t buy 50 Shades of Grey for the sex; it’s the dynamic of the man/woman relationship that fascinates them. Just like men buy men’s magazines for the articles, not the pictures. 

Romance writing has morphed over the past two decades, and this makes it possible for more people to enjoy it. Characters and plots are often more realistic now, and just about anything is possible. Sassy, opinionated heroines who don’t need a relationship are swept off their feet by the guy next door, a poet who is in touch with his emotions and oozes tenderness and strength all at once. Not that the aloof billionaire has sailed off into the sunset in a mega yacht just yet... 

As more readers can relate to these ‘new’ heroes and heroines, it’s likely the public view of romance novels will be more positive. 

What do you think? Have romance novels generally come of age in the eyes of the public? Do you think the wave of popularity surrounding erotic romance has helped shift public perception?


Rose Anderson said...

Interesting topic, Gemma. I wonder where it's all going myself. Only occasionally do I get the sense from friendly acquaintances that writing romance is not writing true literature. As an author whose romance novels have erotic elements, I have felt an undeniable snub on occasion. Mostly from peers, sad to say.

I don't know how it happened, but somewhere along the way the line between erotic romance and erotica blurred. I don't write erotica where sex is the point. My stories are plot-driven romance with adult interaction added. My reviews also show confusion on this. It's odd to get 4 and 5-star reviews with the caveat "not enough sex".

As for 50 Shades...well, as a reader who finds hero manipulation of the heroine a poor example of romantic love, I wouldn't put that in the romance genre at all. But I will say hat's off to the promoter on that book for sheer marketing genius.

Melissa Keir said...

I'm at the point where I'm thumbing my nose at the people who look down at me. I read what I want and write a variety of stories. I figure that if they are being snobs then they don't see the huge amount of money that the romance genre earn (more than any other literary genre) nor do they understand how much romance novels provide to escape from realities but also how to handle difficult situations in not just relationships/couples but life in general. We all deserve a happily ever after and that's the message I love about reading romance.

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Rose, I'm glad you brought up the blur between erotic romance and erotica. I wonder if 50 Shades had something to do with creating that blur. You are so right about the promotion on that book - I've often wondered if the avalanche grew organically or if there was a mastermind promoter behind it. I still haven't read the book although it's on my TBR list.

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Melissa, I'm with you all the way on your point of view. I also love the happily ever after that most romance novels provide. I've known many women who deal with their troublesome marriages by escaping daily into a love story. The power of love is always a 'feel good' experience.

Cara Marsi said...

Great post, Gemma. I am with Melissa. I thumb my nose at people who put down romance novels. Most have never read one and don't understand the complexities of the stories. But I'm reading and writing what I like, so a pox on their houses.

Gemma Juliana said...

Hi Cara, I so agree. At this stage in my life I won't let anyone or anything dictate what I choose to read, or do. Long ago I was a shy girl, but not anymore.

jean hart stewart said...

Rose said it all. I have a couple of friends who are of the romance novels are beneath my notice category. Come to think of it, we've definitely drifted apart.

Tina Donahue said...

I've had so many people disparage romance writing to me, I'm used to it. I also say to them, "If you think it's so easy, why don't you try it?"

Absolutely nothing is harder than getting emotions down on a page. It's a killer. There aren't enough works to convey what's in a person's heart.

I can easily write humor, suspense, action, what-have-you. Deep emotional scenes, the hallmark of romance, are murder to write.

Sandy said...

I get this from my own family, Gemma. Many of them do not read romance. Some of them only read what they call true life stories.

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