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
*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.
What are you?
Let’s hear it.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.