Romance authors tell women's stories (predominantly). Romance readers, predominantly women, buy a helluvalot of books. So I find myself continuously wondering, have I missed something? Did we do something to deserve this treatment? Do we truly lack legitimacy? Or is it simply because we're mostly women?
While I think there is valid argument to be made in favor of that last question (which partly explains the huffy tone of this post), there are some oft-stated objections to romance that I'd like to address here.
If you ask people what's wrong with romance, you'll hear a lot about how unrealistic it is. How idyllic these love stories are, and how they'd never happen in real life. How no man can live up to the romance hero ideal. Honestly I used to believe there was some merit to that argument. (But also? Don't care. It's FICTION, and NO ONE gets to make the rules. I don't like literary plots that meander all over the place and where the protagonist never changes, but I don't argue that they shouldn't exist.)
As I've written romance over the last decade, I've come to realize the above argument doesn't actually hold water. Sure romance novels feature raging hormones and either happy-for-now or happy-forever endings. But guess what else does?
Have you ever embarked on a romance that DIDN'T start out with racing hearts, raging hormones, beatific grins, and public displays of affection? (If the answer is yes, I'm willing to bet you got off at the first stop.) "The velcro stage," as a friend of mine always calls it, is not something romance authors made up. We all know about it. Most of us fall into it multiple times in our lifetimes. We know we're a little crazy and a lot deluded during that time, but it's one of life's most awesome rides. Those are some of the most truly "alive" moments we get on this rock.
Is it any wonder we want to go on that ride over and over? And since the majority of us end up in committed relationships, where the velcro stage cannot be sustained without a change of partner, there are only a couple of options for journeying back to that amazing place—fantasy and art.
Why are we so embarrassed about—dare I say ashamed of—this aspect of our humanity? Why is it more legitimate to go on make-believe rides to dinosaur parks—to crime scenes? other planets? the minds of psychopaths?—than it is to visit a perfectly normal, universal, and LOVELY human experience?
Authors of the classics—both male and female—got this. There are precious few truly popular English novels that don't have at least one love story at their heart. It's something we all recognize and identify with. It's not FEMALE. It's HUMAN.
|Ah, Jane Eyre|
Some authors choose not to focus on these aspects. The love story in one of my favorite novels—JONATHON STRANGE AND MR. NORRELL—left me wanting so much more. Jonathon adored Arabella, and yet their passion was such an understated theme in the book. Certainly this is the author's choice. But is it any more *realistic* NOT to provide some evidence of their passion than it would be to include it?
Now there are some who say that reading stories about this facet of our lives becomes tedious and repetitive. I happen to agree with that assessment, and would say the same of ANY type of fiction that is read to the exclusion of all other types. (I've been watching a lot of murder mystery series lately, and let me tell you, I've got that formula down.) I don't know a single romance reader who ONLY reads romance.
And frankly I think this is where speculative romance has an edge. What better way to spice up a love story than by including other-world settings, paranormal events, alien love interests, dragons, spaceships, elves, and dirigibles? (Not unlike taking exotic vacations, or texting your committed partner like he's some stranger you met in a bar.) I know that's why *I* write and read it.
So tell me what you think, because I'm fascinated by this topic. Why is it they still treat us like crap?