Why do you read Romance?
Myself, I have a fundamental interest in how two people with totally different objectives, backgrounds, lifestyles, personalities--you get the picture--can come together and make a relationship work. The higher the conflict and the stakes the better. Maybe this is why I love reading and writing enemies-to-lovers stories. The harder they fall the bigger the emotional payoff for me as a reader.
Some people read Romance for the sex, or so I've been told. As an author and reader, I've delved into my fair share of the steamier stuff. I'm going to admit here and now that this was usually, though not always, at a publisher's insistence. My favorite scenes to read and to write are the first kiss and before. Sexual tension and anticipation on the page is far more interesting and laden with potential for me than the act itself.
Sure, the sexy stuff can be fun, but I usually skim the intimate scenes. I've read so many books in the genre that there's only so much an author can do to surprise me. Shock isn't really my thing as a reader or a writer. I've tried it, and it comes off as fake and shallow because I don't believe in it.
About the sex though? Since Romance is written predominantly for and by women, I absolutely don't discount the sex positivity that the genre has offered its readers. We've gotten better at writing sex and respecting women's bodies since the 1980s bodice ripper (of which I was a giant fan in its day), but the fact that we opened that dialogue with ourselves and explored the question of our right to feel pleasure is a genuinely good thing. Romance is a place to carry out that dialogue, and to experiment as well as evolve our understanding of its merits.
In the pages of a Romance I saw my first female heroes fight for and win positions equal to men. I watched them triumph over real life struggles that I have since faced in my own career in a male dominated profession. They say our psyches tell the stories, whether in our dreams or on the page, that we most need to work through . I read Romance for comfort and for confidence.
The Romance genre is a place where women and relationships triumph over the forces that try to tear them apart. The pages of a Romance are full of adversity, yes, but they are also full of hope. Romance is the genre of the optimist. Or, in our sometimes too-dark world, it's the genre of those who wish to hang onto the belief that a happy ending is theoretically possible.
Romance is the place where I go, too, to be transported and to escape. The genre is a balm for the disappointments of the real world and a vacation from life. We can tell a Romance against the backdrop of other genres: urban fantasy, paranormal, the contemporary, science fiction, fantasy, or history. The Romance can be imbued with art, politics, and the first subtle shot across the bow of a social movement. Our spoonful of sugar in the telling is the Romance--and oh what a lovely medicine it is.
Romance has a tall order to fill. To be a good read it must transport, entertain, uplift, inspire, impress, and tell a damned good story about a conflict that both emulates and steps outside of our everyday existence. Writing all of this is about as difficult as scoring all 10s during an Olympics gymnastics routine. Especially when you consider that the only given formula about achieving this feat is that the relationship must triumph.
Yes, there are shallow books in the Romance genre. There are shallow books in any genre. The reason Romance gets a bad rap is because of misogyny, both internalized and externalized. No one ever scoffs at a Western. Of course, not all books or genres are for all people. Undoubtedly, some people will simply prefer a CIA Thriller, sans relationship entanglements, to a Romance. It's the biting, sarcastic, wink-wink-nudge-nudge commentary that calls into question the socio-political prejudices of the critic.
You don't have to enjoy Romance in order to believe that it cultivates readers who are strong, intelligent, creative, empathetic, and brave. Their entertainment reflects these traits. If anyone ever tells you differently, and they will, they've either never read a Romance or they don't like or understand its readers. In which case, is it really worth engaging them at all? You could be doing better things. Like reading.
Tell me about your favorite reasons to read Romance? What was your first read? What drew you to the genre and what keeps you coming back for more?
Have you noticed how much women-led film and television seems to be changing and taking off lately? The Crown, Victoria, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to name a few.
What has struck me about these shows and films versus some of the others that have come before is the way they address women's history and women's power. Positively, unflinchingly, and without shying away from the problems that women had to surmount in order to achieve their dreams.
I mention The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in particular because their historical context enhances rather than detracts from the determination and unique strengths of both of their protagonists. Also, they're both female creative types, and I'm nothing if not a sucker for stories about people trying to make it in a creative profession.
Both Miriam (Midge) Maisel and Juliet Ashton experience relationship difficulties, are confronted by male power structures, and limited by the social strictures of their day. Yet, to use a modern phrase, they persisted. So many other shows that feature women protagonists showcase how the women only truly succeeds after she realizes she's a bitch, or she realizes she really wants a husband and children--that elusive relationship that will finally supplant the empty career that she'd used as a surrogate for the Romantic Thing she thought she couldn't have.
For example, let's take films like The Proposal or Bridget Jones. I adore both of these movies, but I hadn't realized before being exposed to the richly drawn Midge and Juliet how much less layered and alive these other films are. Sandra Bullock (again, love her) in The Proposal has to find fulfillment by realizing her career isn't everything and that being driven and hard (e.g. man-like) is the barrier to her ultimate happiness. While Midge realizes the opposite--that being the perfect wife to her husband, while something she actually enjoys, doesn't have to be all there is to who she is. Her happiness is not dependent upon her husband.
I won't spoiler these shows for you, but I wondered if you'd noticed the change in tone and inflection of these newer films and shows too. It's not just me, is it?
For my own part, I'm also viewing my own female characters through a different lens. It's as if someone has shown me a whole new row of colors in the crayon box that I hadn't realized existed. It's strange that I didn't see them before--surreal even. I mean, they were right there in front of me all along. We're not talking about revolutionary concepts, but rather the revolutionary application of those concepts in a way that women aren't made to apologize for.
Do you have other shows or movies that you'd like to share? I am on the prowl now for super well told and strongly drawn women-centric film and television!
Coloring outside the lines since 1969,
These are the musings of a cynical romantic. Heroes on the page may be closer than they appear.