For my birthday a few years ago, a friend of mine gave me a Vera Bradley book cover that is just the right size to hide the cover of a mass market paperback. (It’s really cute; it has pink elephants on it.) At the time, I was still doing most of my reading on the subway ride to work, out in public view of everyone. I assume most straphangers judge my reading material, because I totally judge theirs. And even the most beautifully written, engaging, delightful romances often have awful covers. So hiding the clutch cover under the pink elephants was one way to trick other subway riders that I was reading Anna Karenina. Or probably they thought I was overcompensating and assumed I was reading something trashy anyway. An e-reader kind of solves the problem, because they’re ubiquitous on the subway now, and you don’t know, I could be reading Freedom. (Although I sometimes worry that when I’m reading something smutty, everyone on the train can tell, like it’s written all over my face. On a recent subway trip, I started a new novel that opened with a really graphic blowjob, and I’m pretty sure the guy sharing the pole with me [hurr, not like that] was reading over my shoulder.)
I’ve been thinking about romance reading and shame. The genre is still much-maligned, considered trashy and fluffy and not “literary.” But of course there are plenty of really smart, talented people who read and write romance. And this is a genre that I have come to really love and care about. I want writers to succeed. I want the genre to gain respect. (All of romance, I mean, because I read the high-brow ones, and I love brainy historicals, and I love mysteries and romantic suspense, and I read m/m and f/f and m/f and every now and then a menage, and I even still occasionally read those Harlequin Presents about the Virgin Sheikh’s Secret Baby’s Mistress or whatever, too, because I am a total sucker for an over-the-top ridiculous plot. Not all books are for everyone, but each has its passionate fans.)
A lot of things came together for me this past Monday night. I’d been thinking a lot about the situation with the More than Magic contest and RWA.
Aside: I usually stay away from controversy on this blog, but I do tend to be someone with very strong opinions. I’ve been following this particular issue somewhat obsessively but not really commenting on it publicly. Part of this is just a lack of time (it’s taken me two days just to write this blog post because I’m so busy with other things) but I also didn’t want to knee-jerk. At the same time, I’m a fairly upbeat person, so I thought, well, I want to write about this, but I can stay positive.
So, as to the More than Magic fallout, there were good things that came out of it. My local chapter, RWANYC, announced on Sunday that they would enthusiastically accept all romance to their Love and Laughter contest later this year. As president Lise Horton said, “Love, after all, knows no boundaries.” The membership of RWANYC is really diverse, both in terms of the people themselves and what they choose to write, and they accept everyone. That’s a refrain I’ve heard a lot from other writers—most have had really great experiences with their local chapters. RWI is not representative of the organization as a whole, is the impression I have. There’s been some lively discussion among the members of the Rainbow Romance Writers, too, although plenty of other people have talked about that more eloquently than I can.
Bottom line is that I’ve been really encouraged by the discussion and I’m optimistic about what we can accomplish, and I feel now that choosing to stick with RWA was the right decision. It took me a while to figure out what RWA could do for me, but THIS, this is what it can do.
So with all that on the brain, I went to Lady Jane’s Salon on Monday night. Lady Jane’s is a romance reading series that serendipitously takes place at one of my favorite bars in NYC, Madame X. (Lauren Willig, Eloisa James, and Sarah Wendell were the readers.) Over the course of the night, I had several conversations about romance as a genre with a pretty wide array of attendees. Everyone there was really friendly and enthusiastic about the genre. (I met a woman, for example, with whom the conversation basically went, “Hi, I’m ____.” “I’m Kate.” “Do you love romance novels?” “Of course!” and that was pretty much the tenor of the evening.)
My friend A and I have been going to pretty much every romance-novel-related event in NYC that we’ve come across in the last two or three months. What I’m learning is that New York has a really incredible community of romance writers and readers who are really fun to hang around with. These are really smart people, too.
Romance has the problem of being a medium that is (mostly) created by, produced by, and made for women, which I’m sure contributes to its reputation. But one of the things that Lady Jane’s Salon does, and one of the things that RWA and its chapters can do, is lend legitimacy, recognition, and respect to the genre.
So if you love romance, support the genre. Go to readings in your area. Talk up books you like. Celebrate what you love to read.