Elizabeth: What are you?

YoungRomanceIt’s Wednesday and normally we’d be talking about what we’ve read over the past month, but that will have to wait until next week; today I have something else to talk about.

This past week I went to a fancy dress-up event for my day job – evening gown, sparkly earrings, professionally styled hair – the whole shebang. One of my co-workers referred to it as “prom for adults” and that’s pretty close. During the meet-and-greet cocktail portion of the evening (thank goodness for the free champagne) I was talking with my brand new manager and mentioned that I generally attend two fancy dress-up events each year – this business-related one, and one personal event. When she asked what the personal event was, our conversation went something like this:

Me: It’s for a writer’s conference?
Her: Oh my gosh – you’re a writer? That’s fabulous. What do you write?
Me: *Head down, mumble* I’m a romance writer.
Her: Why do you say that like you’re embarrassed?
Me: Some people mock when I say I write romance.
Her: Oh my gosh, my sister and I love romances. We can’t wait for the newest Harlequins to arrive in the local book store every month.

So why the embarrassment?

Although my friends and family are all very supportive of my writing, whatever the genre, I’ve encountered a fair number of other people who do the eye roll or make comments like “don’t you want to be a real writer” when the topic of romance comes up. In the first post-graduate writing program I attended, when we were going around the room introducing ourselves and telling what kind of writing we did, one woman commented that she wrote romance and asked if that would be a problem. She got this answer from the instructor:

“No, as long as you don’t write stuff with a bunch of sex in it.”

I chickened-out and said I wrote “historical fiction.” The text books for that first class definitely were not romance-fiction friendly. To be fair, the authors seemed to have disdain for ALL genre fiction, not just romance. I was there to study craft, which I did, and when I wrote a story that I had to read aloud in class, I made sure there wasn’t “a bunch of sex in it.” Frankly though, I think it would have been a nice change of pace from the other students’ murder, disaster, and dysfunctional family stories if I had.

My hesitance to admit that I read, let alone wrote, romance novels started far earlier than grad school. In high-school I made sure to cover whatever book I was reading to reduce the amount of ribbing I got from my friends. As proof that I didn’t imagine it, I found this quote in my old high school yearbook recently when I was going through some boxes in the garage:

“. . . the only thing I can’t forgive you for is your reading of romance novels. Why can’t you read science fiction and join the ranks of the honoured cosmic flame of knowledge? I did notice you reading Fountains of Paradise, but that was only one book!” ~ High School Friend (really, it was a good friend too)

Most recently, I’ve come up against a bias against romance fiction while researching publication opportunities for my short stories. The vast majority of publications I’ve found, and a number of short story contests, clearly state “no genre fiction” – lumping romance fiction in the same boat with science fiction, mystery, fantasy, and whatever else they consider outside the bounds of “literature.” Their loss.

Obviously not everyone is in the “no genre fiction” camp though.

“Romance novel sales total more than a billion dollars a year. They sell as much as sci-fi, mystery, and fantasy combined.” ~ Huffington Post

A few days after my fancy work event, I came across a post about creative living from author Elizabeth Gilbert that felt very relevant to my head down/mumbled “I write romance” admission.

“Don’t be afraid to call yourself whatever you are — or whatever you long to be. . . . Announce yourself, then. Just stand tall and say it aloud. I’ll start: ‘I’m a writer.’” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert, Facebook post 10/11/2015

Okay then.

*stands up straight, shoulders back, head up, clears throat*

I’m a romance writer.

There, that wasn’t so hard, though the cat was not at all impressed.

Your turn.

What are you?

Let’s hear it.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

10 thoughts on “Elizabeth: What are you?

  1. I’m a romance writer!

    I, too, have had the opportunity to have distant relatives be all sniffy about romances. Then one of them read something I wrote—not really a fully functional romance, I’ll admit—and evidently (I wasn’t in the room to witness it) laughed out loud at something in the book. And then at the next family reunion, asked me with interest all about it. So—progress!

    Jenny, Eloisa James, and others have written fabulous essays on the shaming of romance writers and how to stand up to it. I like to look for one every now and then, because although everybody reads romances, the shaming is everywhere. Good for your manager to come out to you.

    • Kay – yay for progress, even if it is only one reader at a time. Romance mocking/shaming seems to be very popular in certain circles. It was indeed good to have a manager admit to being a fan, right out there in public with other peers within hearing distance 🙂 I’m hoping this bodes well for a good working relationship.

  2. I’m a romance writer!

    Really, how people can dismiss one of the most important things in human development, a thing that can entangle people for two-thirds (or longer) of their natural lifespan, something that causes so much joy and sadness, tragedy and comedy . . . how people can dismiss all that is a mystery.

    When I was younger, I thought romance was not important, and actually a bit of a burden for a free-thinking woman. Then I grew up.

    Grow up, lit crits, grow up and realize that the world isn’t full of dystopia. People who want to wallow in shame and pain without doing anything to fix it in the real world are the ones who should be shamed.

    • Michaeline – I often wonder whether all of the people who disdain romance novels have ever even read one. It seems some make their judgements based solely on those old Fabio covers, not on the actual stories. I consider the fact that there are now several big-name universities where one can study romance fiction to be a step in the positive direction.

  3. I’m a romance writer!

    I’ll tell anyone who asks, and I’d say I get about 80% supportive/interested reaction to 20% sneer. My friends and family are all in the supportive camp, which is great. I just wish I had a book or two published as the next questions are inevitably along the lines of ‘what’s your author name/have I heard of you/where can I buy your books?’ I’m longing for the day I have a better answer to that question 😉

    • Jilly – yes, my friends and family are very supportive now too. They are also nice enough not to ask questions like “haven’t you finished that book yet?” Having a book or two published would help me feel more confident about the whole “I am a writer” statement though 🙂

  4. I’m a romance writer!

    I was talking with Jilly about this as we toodled around London today. I think maybe *once* I got a not-so-nice/snobby reaction to it, until I said that I was writing in the most lucrative genre as far as sales go. For the most part, I’ve always gotten a very good, very interested response, particularly regarding historicals. Admittedly, when I tell people I write romances, I say it with my head high and my shoulders back. I’ve never been shy or afraid to tell people what I do. I think if you deliver it with confidence, it makes a difference.

    A few days ago, on Jilly’s post about historical novels, Rachel Beecroft mentioned a new book by Maya Rodale (“Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained”) and I started reading it. Fascinating book! I think it should be required reading for all romance writers, in part so we know where all the negative vibes came from, but also because there are good ways to talk about romance (or, I should say, there are ways to talk about romance that take away the negativity). Anyhow, it’s a great read and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. She even quotes Jenny and Pam Regis, AND makes reference to the McDaniel program!

    IMVHO, be proud of what you do. You’re a fantastic writer, Elizabeth. If your family or friends give you a hard time, remind them that you’re doing what you love and everyone should be fortunate enough to do that. And then remind them about the money part. *wink*

    • Justine – thanks for the thumbs up on the Maya Rodale book. I saw it mentioned but hadn’t had a chance to look into it. I’ll have to add it to my list now.

  5. I’m a romance writer!

    I was just going to repost about that Maya Rodale book but Justine has beaten me to it 🙂

    In fact, for me the issue is about telling people I write fiction, regardless of the genre. I couldn’t be doing with all the questions and expectations Jilly mentions above!

    • Rachel – I know what you mean. I’m a pretty private person, so not a lot of people even know I’m a writer. The question I find challenging to answer is “what’s your book about?” – mainly because not a lot of the people who ask that are Regency romance fans. The appeal of that period and the nuances of the story can be kind of lost on them.

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