I admit I have strong genre bias. I’ve often boasted that I’ve read 1.25 of a romance novel. It was in middle school and I was temporarily parked in Sweetwater, Tennessee. All the girls carried around Harlequin Romance paperbacks. The books were a status symbol. They traded them, loaned them and carried them prominently on top of their Trapper Keepers for everyone to see. I begged my grandmother for one, and then read it in an afternoon.
When I finished I felt… empty. I liked books that changed my perspective, took me somewhere new and shook my world. I wanted to weep with villians, vanquish them and then possibly date them. I was a teenage girl, after all, with hormones. The Harlequin romance I’d read was just a lot of predictable plot that seemed to pivot on whether or not he was going to kiss her. So I begged my grandmother to get me another.
The second one was worse than the first. A quarter of the way in I started comparing the books and decided they were just about the same. Only the fanciful names had been changed. Otherwise the lovers met in a similar fashion, feel in and out of passion the same and still seemed to focused on if he was going to kiss her. I continued to carry the book around for another week to show I was ‘normal’ and then gave it away. That was when I first started thinking that perhaps ‘normal’ wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
From this, I developed a bias against romance. Never mentioned it again unless I was using it as an example of a terrible book, lazy writing or as an insult. Yes, I have actually used “maybe he needs to write romance instead…” as an insult. I’m not proud of this bias. I was convinced that anyone could do it, and more than a little jealous of how romance flies off the shelves while horror… appropriately, skulks.
When I started working at the library I had to hide my bias, of course. Intellectual freedom is an important part of our culture as Americans and a founding principle of a public library. We aren’t supposed to judge each other on race, religion, ability, sexual orientation or genre preference. That’s the whole schtick about freedom we so cherish. My bias hadn’t gone anywhere but underground. And then an 80 year-old-reader changed my mind last spring.
She’s a regular, consuming 7-8 romance books a week. In my mind, a waste of time. Reading romance, in my opinion, was like surviving on Twinkies. You’re going to make it for awhile, but eventually you’re going to be malnourished. She hobbled up to do her weekly return and check out ritual, and I kept my opinions to myself, as usual. Then she smiled at me and smashed my bias into tiny bits.
“Thank goodness for all these romance books,” she said. “I think I would just die of sadness without these stories to keep me entertained… especially now with this pandemic. It’s a great comfort to know everything will end happily, at least in the story.”
Did I feel like the biggest jerk ever? Yes, yes I did. I will rail against prejudice against race or species (leave the Pitbulls alone!) but here I was, literally judging a segment of people based on the covers of their books. I have been an ass.
So I started learning more about romance and found out that not only have I been an ass, but I’m a hypocrite as well. It was a point of pride with me that I’d not sullied my intellect with vapid romance (please read with sarcasm) but that wasn’t true. I’d just been too ignorant to realize I had been sipping the same Kool-Aid, just a different brand.
Great Expectations, Gone with the Wind, Pride and Prejudice… I had read, and loved, them all. All are considered great romance novels. Anna Karenina is a romance?!? I went into shock and then I felt very foolish. All these books are very obviously romance—how could I not see that before? Oh yes, bias blinds.
The next logical step for me, of course, is to write a romance. I’ve probably voiced my opinion of the genre 50,000 times, so now I will try to write 50,000 words of penance and apology. I’ve chosen to write a romance for Nanowrimo. Here’s my profile and progress.
Because I have to enjoy writing this, I doubt there will be any delicate heroines to faint or strong, brave men to catch them. I doubt very much there will be any sex and the passion may not be as picturesque as a Harlequin Romance. It may actually come across as more of a black humor, or satire… and I may not even finish it. 50,000 words is a lot of ink to spill without blood.
I can promise I will do my best to hush my bias and learn some new things. What is Nanowrimo for if not to experiment? So with that, I leave you to go write about if she is going to kiss him, or her, or them... or it. I’m using my short story “Soft Deadlines” as the jumping off point. Originally published in Trickster’s Treats #3: The Seven Deadly Sins by Things in the Well, you can find the whole anthology on Amazon here.
It features a chunky, middle age budding occultist named Naomi and the worn out incubus she just conjured. He’s big, blue and when Naomi calls him up, fresh from a decade or two date with a succubus. His name is Duncan. And now… to see where they are going.