We’re three short days from the release of Little Bird and I’m a basket case. It’s a little bit scary to think about. I want people to read and enjoy it, of course, but it’s intimidating to think about them doing so. And, to make matters worse, Mr. Gaines is out of town this week for work so it’s just me and the dogs, wallowing around in my neurosis.
This is Lola-dog’s “get over yourself” look. She’s been giving it to me a lot lately.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about over the last few days is why I write romance. When I first sat down in front of my laptop with that terrifying cursor blinking at me in contempt, I thought, “Okay, Liza, what are you going to write?” I was asking myself what kind of characters I wanted and what kind of plot could I throw at them. But the question of genre never even occurred to me. I just knew I would write romance. Why is that?
An easy answer would be that romance is the top selling genre. By a lot. Of course, I realize writing romance is no guarantee of success just because the genre as a whole is wildly successful. But it can’t hurt. It’s an economic argument and, thinking about it now, it makes a lot of sense. But at the time, when I was first getting started, it never crossed my mind. Romance could be the worst selling genre and it’s still the genre I would choose.
For me, I think a lot of that has to do with my long history as a voracious reader. In a good week, I can read seven or eight books. In a bad week, it’s still at least two or three. While I do read a bit here and there in other genres, I primarily read romance and it’s been that way since I was a young teen. Okay, I just checked the publication date of a Danielle Steel book I remember stealing from my Mom and reading as a new release. It was published when I was 13. The first romance I remember reading was a Kathleen Woodiwiss that I’d plucked off my Mom’s bookshelf. After that, I progressed to Mom’s Danielle Steele and Julie Garwood collection and Jennifer Blake novels borrowed from my Aunt C. There was no turning back.
My cousin CC (Aunt C’s daughter) and I tore through books as fast as we could get our hands on them, reading and rereading them and incessantly talking about it. Before long, we were writing fan fiction (although we didn’t know that’s what it’s called) about boy bands and movie stars. (Steven Seagal? Really, CC?) I was a romance writer even then!
I loved the books but I equally loved that I was part of a community – even if it was population 2, CC and me. The books were great but what made it even better was that I had someone to talk about them with. CC and I swooned over hero’s, analyzed plots, and reimagined some of the stories in whole new ways. My reading experience was so much richer for having someone to enthusiastically share it with. This kind of experience is also common in other genres, especially SF/F, but romance was the bug that bit me.
And guess what? Not much has changed. CC and I might live 600 miles apart now but when we talk the conversation always comes around to romance novels. Even as I write this, my author pal Vanessa North is nagging me to hurry up and finish reading a book she recommended to me, so we can talk (okay, let’s be honest, gush) about it together.
It’s always irked me that some people are so dismissive of romance as a genre. And now that I’m involved in the larger romance community, interacting with other authors and readers, it’s even more irritating. Romance is full of flat out amazing books that are sex positive, challenge boundaries, and explore a wealth of complicated and complex characters.
Do they sometimes have problematic themes? Sure. But even then, there is open dialogue in the community discussing those issues. I think the depth of conversation that goes on at places like Dear Author and between authors and readers on Twitter would shock the hell out of people who easily belittle the genre as porn. Listen to this podcast and then tell me, with a straight face, you think romance is shallow. More than once, I’ve walked away from a book examining my own thoughts and feelings on sex, gender, race, class and any number of other topics. It might or might not change my mind but it gets me thinking and that can only be a good thing.
So, after all of that, the ultimate answer to the original question is twofold. I started writing romance because it’s what I read and I will continue to write romance because it is a thoughtful, dynamic, nuanced genre full of incredible books and people.
I think next time someone asks me why I write romance my answer will be, “Why would I ever write anything else?”