Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sharing The Genre-Joy: 6 Reasons Why Romance Rocks

by Lucy Marsden

Granted, I’m not exactly an impartial judge: I’ve been reading Romance for thirty years, and writing it for the last six, so it’s fair to say that I’ve drunk deep of the genre Kool-Aid. Nevertheless, Romance—and the cultural dialogue around it—have grown and evolved in ways that I’d argue are worthy of appreciation, even by folks whose usual reaction to a book covered by bulging male pectorals (hereinafter referred to as man-titty) is something akin to anaphylaxis. So without further ado, here are 6 great reasons to celebrate the Romance genre:

Reason #6: Romance Kicks Market Share Butt. A lot.
Romance represented the largest share of the consumer market in 2009, at 13.2 percent. It was the second top performing category on the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, surpassed only by books with movie tie-ins. Romance fiction garnered $1.36 billion in estimated revenue for that year, up $100 million from the year before, which is pretty impressive, no? And these high sales and indications of profitable growth (which appear to have continued into 2010, if Torstar/Harlequin’s first quarter earnings were any indication), deserve even more applause when you consider the overall decline in many other areas of publishing during the same period.

Reason #5: Have RWA, Will Travel—It’s The New Writer’s Secret Weapon
The mission of the Romance Writers of America “is to advance the professional interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy.” My take, as someone who came to writing fiction from a completely different professional background, is that RWA membership is one of the fastest ways for a new writer to get up to speed with craft and publishing—whether they write Romance or not. Romance intersects with a lot of other genres, and the breadth of the RWA resources is huge: national and chapter conferences on publishing, craft, and the writing life; regional and special interest chapters (145, at last count); and the monthly professional journal The Romance Writer’s Report, where the latest information on deals, agents, and publishers is available. Is membership in the RWA necessary in order to write a great book or have a healthy publishing career? No—but it provides the tools and the company to make meeting these challenges a lot more fun, so why go it alone?

Reason #4: The Academy Has The Hots For Romance
And it’s about time. From Princeton University’s 2009 conference Love As The Practice of Freedom: Romance Fiction & American Culture, to Depaul University’s Romance Scholar Digest: A Listserve for Scholars and Teachers of Romance, to the popular blog Teach Me Tonight (Musings on Romance Fiction From An Academic Perspective), Romance is establishing itself in academia as a genre worthy of analysis. It’s an acknowledgment of the popularity of Romance, certainly, but it’s an acknowledgment of its significance and relevance, too, and that’s beautiful to see.

Reason # 3 : Heaving Bosoms and The Smart Bitches
Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan say Smart Bitches, Trashy Books began in 2005 “as a community of romance readers eager to talk about which romance novels rocked their worlds, and which ones made them throw the book with as much velocity as possible.” Since then, the site has become a magnet for readers, writers, academics, and spectators addicted to the blend of thoughtful, incisive, and howlingly funny commentary the Bitches provide on every aspect of the Romance industry. Their book, Beyond Heaving Bosoms, The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance, was published by Touchstone/Fireside in 2009, and it truly is an A—Z tour. From the provenance of the “Old Skool, rape-tastic” romances of the late '80s/early '90s, to a discussion of the significance of “The Magic Hoo-Hoo,” and “The Heroic Wang of Mighty Lovin',” Tan and Wendell celebrate everything that’s awesome and absurd about Romance, and they do it with wit and verve.

Reason #2: Within Romance (And Erotica!), Sex Gets The Respect It Deserves
Let’s face it: sex is still trivialized and exploited in the wider culture. We value sexiness in women, with its emphasis on objectified performance, but still treat actually being sexual as something taboo. Men, on the other hand, are expected to always be ready for and interested in sex, even if they’re not emotionally engaged. Sometimes it’s a WTFBBQ for everyone concerned, so thank heaven things are different in modern Romancelandia, where a woman’s sexual agency and satisfaction are key, and men are allowed to acknowledge the human need for intimacy. I’m not going to tell you that the sex is always well-motivated (or even well-written), but as a genre, Romance usually invests sex (and the emotion that accompanies it) with significance and power. Sex scenes are important turning points for both character and plot in many Romances, not because we writers are obsessed with Tab A and Slot B, but because we duly acknowledge the impact of sex. It can be tender and reverent, or edgy and explosive, but sex raises the stakes for people—in stories, as in real life. (By the way, if you haven’t already done so, please read Jen Lopez’s post: An Erotica Writer’s Manifesto. It’s fucking marvelous—pun absolutely intended.)

And Finally, The #1 Reason to Celebrate Romance: An Emotionally-Just Universe
Always-amazing author Jenny Crusie talks about this on her website in her essay, “Let Us Now Praise Scribbling Women.” Though genre fiction in general makes the promise of some form of justice—moral or intellectual, Romance fiction makes the biggest promise of all, she argues:

“It says that if you truly open yourself to other people, if you do the hardest thing of all which is to make yourself vulnerable and reach out for love and connection and everything that makes life as a human being worth living, you will be rewarded; it promises, in short, an emotionally just universe.”

I love that. I love it because that’s the universe that I inhabit, and contrary to some pundits’ criticism of Romance, it’s not a deluded fantasy dimension full of pink candy-floss. I’m quite aware of the fact that bad things happen for no good reason—that’s why the act of choosing to create beautiful things and love people anyway is such an act of everyday heroism. Thorton Wilder said as much in The Bridge of San Luis Rey: “There is a land of the living, and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love; the only survival, the only meaning.” Romance privileges loving relationships to a degree that no other genre does, putting them at the center of the story, and testifying over and over again to their power and possibility.

And that, my friends, is why Romance rocks.


Jennifer Merritt said...

So true! RWA is fantastic resource as is this blog.

Luce said...

Thank you, Jennifer!

New writers have to juggle so much in terms of Craft and Publishing, and RWA has a ton of resources all under one roof. It's such a worthwhile investment.

So glad you stopped by!

Amelia James said...

I've been reading romance since junior high, and no matter how many times my mom hid my books from me, I just couldn't stop. Now I'm writing it and I've never enjoyed anything more. Thanks for this post!

Luce said...

Hey, Amelia--

Isn't it cool that you get to enjoy the genre at a whole different level as a writer? I LOVE the depth and intensity that goes with that, and I hope it never changes--for either of us. Thanks for sharing the Kool-Aid!