Clearing the Air
Sometimes, when I say “I tried writing Romance, but decided to move on”, people assume that this is because such attempts were just about the money (the more judgmental listeners might have concluded I was selling out) and that I stopped because I became less concerned about money (judgmental: moving towards artistic integrity).
So I just wanted to get this out into the open: I love Romance novels (capital “R” for genre and works within the genre). At their best, they’re stories of conflict and of hope. Sure, there are some that aren’t very well-written, with terrible characterization and gender stereotypes that make me wince. But there are also a goodly number of beautifully written, amazingly characterized, fabulously engaging Romances out there.
It’s like saying “I like opera” or “I like comic books.” No, I don’t like every opera ever written. There’s a ton of them that seriously suck and are never performed. There’s a second ton of other ones, that are performed regularly and loved by many, but that you couldn’t pay me to sit through. There are also a ton of comic books that aren’t great. But the great ones… ah, the great ones take you somewhere. They move you and do amazing things. They provide insight into yourself or your life, or even, occasionally, a moment or two of transcendence.
And good Romances, like any other good works of art, do the same thing (yes, I use the word “art” here with intention. Writing a good Romance, just like writing a good book in any other genre, requires both artistry and a strong grasp of craft). So yes, not every Romance is good. As well, most Romances are about light diversion, for when it’s been a hell week, or a tough day, or I just feel totally fried and want to unwind and lose myself in a wonderful story, well told. But then, every now and then, rather than just enjoying the stories, I do get lost. The pages are no longer pages–the characters are speaking, emoting, moving right in front of me. And it’s wonderful. I come back to those ones (Mary Jo Putney’s The Rake is one such book. Read it years ago, loved it, still come back to it, like an old friend, from time to time!).
There are those who shower contempt upon romances. When I’m chatting with them, and tell them “there are good romances out there–amazing ones” I see the shutters already in place. They’re not listening–or at least not hearing. And yes, it’s their loss. But it also means that Romance as a genre–and the amazing, skilled and wonderful writers, so many of whom I was lucky enough to meet, while I was writing within the genre–will, to my great sorrow, continue to get short shrift.
There’s only so much I can do about that. One thing I can do is to refuse to participate–and to speak up about why, and about all the really amazing, intelligent and talented writers who are out there writing Romance and redefining the genre, not because they can’t get published elsewhere, but because they want to write Romance, and because they love the genre.
Which I do.
The other is to try to clarify that no, I didn’t stop writing Romance because I found my artistic integrity on the road to Damascus. I stopped because I got tired of knocking on that particular door. I wasn’t selling the novels I wrote. The free download is the closest I got–the one book that had enough positive feedback from the agents who read it for me to suspect that if I just shopped it around some more, and found the right person to read it and represent it, it might actually sell.
So I might have been close, with that one. But between a major crisis in my personal life, and the insights that provided, I began to realize that I was restless and chafing within the genre. I needed to work on other things, different things. I wanted to write outside of the boundaries (ambiguous ending, rather than happy ending) and structure (wanting to include all sorts of other things that intrigued me with the story, rather than focussing on the relationship) of the genre.
But this isn’t meant to be a negative reflection on the genre–it’s just another indicator that the fit wasn’t right for me. I love happy endings. I love reading books that focus on well-wrought, complex twists and turns in a developing relationship between two people. I feel sad that it wasn’t the right fit for me. But I had to face facts eventually: I wasn’t succeeding.
And I was selling short stories in other genres. That in itself is a pretty clear message about where my “voice” and “talents” resided, and I eventually started listening (and don’t get me wrong I also *love* SpecFic! Love it love it. I cannot tell you how exciting it was to get that letter of acceptance, when my first SF/F short story sold–though I may try someday. And I love literary novels–though I don’t write those. Love them.).
But I’m hoping that one or two people who glance through this post might just think twice before talking about “trashy Romances” and “penny dreadfuls” and all the other derogatory terms I’ve heard used about Romances through the years. I’m hoping that they will consider opening their minds. Maybe they won’t end up reading a Romance, but maybe they’ll hold back on writing them off. Or maybe they’ll have read one of the more hackneyed ones–which would be as offputting as being exposed to a terrible example of any art form, like reading an absurdly pretentious “literary” novel that is all about the trappings, without having the amazing substance that the best literary novels contain–but won’t write off an entire genre on that basis.
This is also by way of a caveat: though people (strangers–always a good sign) have told me that this Regency Romance of mine is good, I’ve never sold a romance. For fellow devotees of the genre, I’d say this book is closer to the “Regency”, rather than the “Historical”, end of the “Regency Historical” spectrum. Take that as you will…