As a teenager, I wouldn’t have been caught dead reading anything romantic. I mean, I had romance novels. I had a stack of romance novels as high as my knee. I just would have rather faked anaphylactic shock than have admitted that to anyone.
I was a tomboy, I played AD&D, and read Elric of Melnibone and the Stainless Steel Rat. My fragile adolescent self-image couldn’t reconcile that with the fact I also devoured Amanda Quick and Johanna Lindsey (ok, they weren’t just romances, they were bodice rippers!). As I grew up though, it took me years to lose that faintly apologetic cringe over the fact I enjoyed a good romance. I would read on the bus with the book folded in half so no one could see the cover, at the library I’d bookend my Jean Plaidy guilty pleasures with some nice, reputable JT Edson* Westerns sourced from the local prison**.
It isn’t just me either – or, at least, I don’t think so! There’s a bit of class system with books, with literature at the top of the pile and romance squashed down the bottom just under fantasy. SF, meanwhile, is a bit a social climber, alternately being all ‘hail fellow, well met’ with literature or polishing up their wrong side of the street cred. I don’t agree with it- and I think it’s changing – but I don’t think I am imagining it either.
Romance is viewed as a silly woman’s genre. Even M/M romance (or F/F, M/F/M, M/F/F…all the different interlocking variations!) gets tarred with that brush. Look at the way fanfic writers get sniffed at for writing a romance into crime or SF dramas? Or the way that 50 Shades of Grey sold a frankly boggling number of books, yet got mocked for being a sexual primer for middle aged women. (There are a lot of reasons to dislike 50 Shades of Grey, I’m not providing a link for a reason, the fact women like it shouldn’t be one of them.)
Ebooks have freed many of us from the horrors of buying novels decorated with heaving bosoms (men and women both ;)), or trying to stop a man on the train reading a sex scene over your shoulder. Why, though, did we have felt bad in the first place?
Read romance, or write romance, and there are those who’ll make the assumption is that it’s because you can’t really cut it with something ‘more challenging’. Or that there is something missing in your life that you are compensating for with romance. As a friend of mine said, ‘No one looked at my Pern books and thought I was making up for my lack of dragon-riding skills, but put a Cecilia Tan book on the counter and suddenly everyone thinks I just need a good bonk. Or that’s what it felt like.’
Well, I think it’s time to say ‘nuts to that’. Writing a believable romance is no easier than writing a believable crime. In fact, in some ways it’s harder. The romance writer doesn’t just have to take apart a good puzzle, they have to deconstruct a chemistry formula and turn an Ikea booklet (tab a into slot b, twist socket c, repeat) into something hot and original. Not to mention convincing. Most of us will never commit a crime but we will have had a crush, or been in love, made love, or had hot, sweaty, passionate sex and we know what we want when we read it. We have expectations from our love scenes, our sex scenes and a romance writer has to meet those expectations..
Besides, seriously, what’s Great Expectations or Tale of Two Cities if they aren’t romances? Or Othello, Taming of the Shrew or Midsummer’s Night Dream? What’s the big conceptual difference between Dirty Kiss by Rhys Ford and Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy? Not quality – I love Rhys, but I’m not pitting her against Tolstoy’s ‘flawless as a work of art’ novel – but the framing of content..They are both about romance and family and society, is it just that Anna Karenina doesn’t have a happy ending? Or is it just that one of them was written by a man?***
So, in conclusion, my name is TA Moore and I love romance in all its varied shades (and especially …in space!). I might never be entirely comfortable flashing Scottish man bosom covers on the train, but I’ll try and get there.
(And thanks to my friend Penny, for admitting she occasionally worries strangers will think she needs a good bonk.)
* I am not quite as old as that makes me sound! Our local library just had a limited selection of faintly musty books.
** I have no idea why Westerns were so popular with Northern Irish prisoners. However, when I went through a phase of aggressively reading Westerns, all of them came from prison libraries. So, there was a thing!
*** I know men write romances, but I also know a couple of men who write Mills and Boon novels under a female pseudonym and would be mortified if anyone knew.
TA Moore is the author of Labyrinth of Stone from Torquere Press. Now there’s a man bosom that you’d show off on public transport!