One of the sessions I attended at RWA was ‘Why Professors Love to Study Romance: Ten-Year Anniversary of RWA’s Academic Grant.’ Most of my favorite romance scholars were there. Among them were Joanna Gregson (my daughter’s name is Joanna, too) and Jen Lois (both of whom I met in Orlando and have seen at every conference since – love those Romance Sociology ladies), Jayashree Kamble, and Sarah Frantz Lyons. Sadly, Pam Regis, my project adviser and romance scholar extraordinaire, was not there, but her book is listed on the Resources for Romance Writers that was handed out. Consuela Francis, Stacy Holden, Madeline Hunter, and Catherine Roach were also there, and although I was unfamiliar with them at the start, I will definitely be reading their articles because they fall into the same category as the ones I am familiar with. They are uber-smart women who happen to like a story that is strong on character arc, plot, motivation, and back story, that also happens to have an emotionally satisfying happy ending (gasp!).
They like to read stuff that shows the writer’s love of the genre and the characters, the writer’s grasp of their particular core story, and the relevancy of their stories to our lives. No, they aren’t looking to live vicariously through the ‘sexual oppression of women that typifies the romance novel’ as someone wrote (when did he/she last read a romance novel?). They like stories that are about empowerment. They like stories with strong women choosing their path and their partner. Empowerment versus oppression.
Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a romance writer. She’s a smart romance writer. She doesn’t have the letters after her name like romance writer Eloisa James or the Ivy League cred of romance writer Julia Quinn (great article a couple years ago on this), but she is a five-time Rita winner (RWA’s award of excellence), was inducted into the RWA Hall of Fame, and has written some of the best romance fiction out there. I like Dream a Little Dream (it took a second read and I exclude most of the Gabe/Edward interaction from the ‘like’ part but the Gabe/Rachel relationship is FAB) and Match Me if You Can the best. Her tag line is “Because life’s too short to read depressing books.” So true. I read the headlines. I don’t need to read fictionalized stories of death, destruction, and the carnage that results from mental illness. Plus I lived a serious drama/trauma situation myself (who hasn’t?). I don’t need to spend my down-time reading all about it. I like happy endings.
So I read and study and dissect romance novels. The story might be sexually arousing. Sometimes, the story is arousing and the bedroom door is firmly closed in the reader’s face before the characters get to second base. Why? Because most well-written romance novels aren’t about Tab-A-Slot-B mechanics. They generate a great deal of the excitement because the reader is invested in the characters and their feelings for each other. And, for me, the best stories are the ones in which the two main characters in the romance see beneath the other’s identity to the true self and love the other person anyway. Sometimes, the romantic hero is a guy whose identity is a man with a PhD who is a college professor with a bookshelf full of stuffy research tomes, but whose true self is a guitar-playing rocker with five guitars hanging on the basement wall and a secret yearning for a Gretsch White Falcon. It’s the heroine’s job to see the true self. And love it.
I got some good-read recommendations out of the session as well. Of course, Jenny Crusie’s Bet Me. Fabulous story. Joanna Bourne (The Spymaster’s Lady was recommended on the NPR list), Farrah Rochon, and Jeannie Lin (The Lotus Palace is on the NPR list) came highly recommend in more than one session. And then NPR posted this about 100 Swoon-Worthy Romances. My To-Be-Read list just got longer.
The International Association for the Study of Popular Romance is a good scholarly reference for romance as is the RWA page listing all the recipients of the Academic Research Grants. The romance genre is a worthy genre. And the world is noticing. About time!
Why do you love romance? And do you have any old-favorite or newly-discovered authors to recommend?