Thursday, March 19, 2009

Musings on romance novels

Because the baby has decided to not nap and wants lots of attention, so my brain is fragmented...

Why is it that so many people are so snide about the entire romance genre? It's a shorthand for bonbon eating moron to admit to reading a book whose main focus is the love story.

And yet, there's a romance in about 75% of other books you read.

Romantic comedies are big business at the box office and though guys roll their eyes for the most part, men and women who sneer at romance novels will shell out their $10 per ticket to go out to a movie.

Even obnoxious movies about getting laid are usually about getting laid with the right person.

Tragedies spring from romances going sour. Dramas spring from love that isn't going smooth. Shakespeare wrote romantic comedies.

Most of the songs you hear are about love - finding love, impossible love, losing love.

So you can see love stories everywhere except in a book that is a love story?

Why are books about love such an anathema?

Even sci-fi and fantasy and thrillers and mysteries and other oddball genre books get more respect than romance novels do. Is it because they are, in the majority, written and read by men? I don't want to play the gender card, but I will if I have to.

And so there's a sort of middle ground that is rather amorphous, called chick lit. It's sneered at too, because it's about women who are trying to find themselves and who learn life's lessons. Most of them have happy endings with them finding love.

Erica Jong wrote a piece a few years ago sneering at chick lit. But isn't Fear of Flying.... chick lit? Oh, but it's a work of art, of course! It's LLLLiterature! It's erotic! A woman with a heart-wrenching past who is looking for a romantic/sexual ideal, who cheats on her husband and finds that mindless, "zipless f****" aren't all that great and goes back to her husband, who takes her back. That's not chick lit? Back in the day, it was wild and crazy - a woman cheating! A woman saying f***! And she doesn't die a horrible tragic death! But today? Chick lit.

Which is to say that chick lit books can be good, they can be bad, they can be awful, they can be extraordinary.

And the woman who wrote Time Traveler's Wife (sci-fi love story) just got paid $5 MILLION for her second novel. Whose plot sounds like about 20 romance novels currently available at a book store near you.

And how many times have I read a LLLLiterature book and thought "romance novel" or "chick lit", especially if it's a classic novel. Jane Austen (what is Sense and Sensibility but romance for the main character, Eleanor, and chick lit for her sister, Marianne?), the Brontes (well, not Wuthering Heights because the happy ending came because those awful people finally died, thank goodness), the Tale of Genji, here people - considered to be the first novel EVER.

Typically, a romance novel that is published as a romance novel doesn't have a cheating wife as the heroine (though some do) and focuses on the love story aspect (though some don't) and has a happy ending (though some are a bit more up in the air).

That's it. That's the definition. So yeah, some of the romance novels are awful. Some, however, deserve a lot more respect than they get. So many of the LLLLiterature novels out there are much worse, and they don't even have a happy ending, so you've just lost X hours of your life to wade through something by someone who thinks s/he can write prose poetry about bad stuff happening AND you are left feeling glum. But they get nominated for awards and Oprah recommends them.

Basically, you need a good hook and you need to pretend that it's not a romance novel. Then you can get respect for your romance novel.

So I'm not writing romance novels anymore. I am writing historical fiction about the role of women and of science and of education and of poverty in Victorian society, as a mirror for our modern society.

If I start writing really strangely, the way that no one actually talks and that makes your brain hurt to find the verb, then it will be LLLLLiterature.

And if I kill everyone off, Oprah will read it. Yay!

But if I call it romance, then people will wrinkle their noses and get snooty.

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