Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Open Letter to Those Who Ask: “Why Write/Read Romance Novels?”

Starting with the uproar in February over Paypal’s arrogance in deciding what I could use my Paypal card to purchase and read, and those who presumed to talk down to me when I spoke out against my debit card’s right to censor me, through the discussions taking place over the Fifty Shades of Gray phenomenon, I’ve been asked one question countless times. “Why write romance?” My friends and family say things I’m sure they don’t mean to hurt, like, “I don’t read those kinds of books. Why don’t you write real novels?” This article in the Huffington Post finally prodded me to answer publicly.

To answer the question, I’ll first need to explain why I read romances.

In addition to the catastrophic events that resulted in my husband’s becoming a quadriplegic, discussed elsewhere on this blog, I lost the core of my family in a seven year span. I buried my husband, both grandparents, the odd cousin or two, my father and finally my mother. In short, almost everyone I cared about except my children died, and a close friend committed suicide. Another close friend’s seventeen-year-old son killed himself and trying to share the weight of her grief was my final straw. I withdrew from socializing; spending my time instead trying to process what seems to me now to be a form of PTSD.

Eventually I grew tired of trying to answer the unanswerable, and reached for a book. It wasn’t a romance novel, but in chewing through my TBR list, I did find a romance novel in the pile. I read it, I read it again and I bought the next one. In a two-year span, I read well over three thousand romance and erotica stories. Yes, you did read that right, over three thousand romance or erotica titles, one right after the other, as fast as I could read them.

Why? Because in those pages, I found hope and joy and the simple delight that a sexual connection can bring. The gut-wrenching moment of break-up and the tummy-turning instant of realizing you’re in love—all present and accounted for.  Though those emotions were a damn long way from my reality at that time, I still felt them, and through feeling them again, was able to reconnect. I discovered that today’s romances had little in common with the ones my mother let me read at twelve and thirteen, those by Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss.

Not that I’m knocking those two authors, nor their work. The article itself in the Huffington Post is merely the tip of the iceberg. Like any online article, the real meat is in the comments. Those works are being brutalized by people—like the author of the article-- who don’t understand their appeal. Ah, hell, let’s be fair, romance novels in general got bashed, as did the women—and men—who read and write them.

So here’s my official response: Why do you put down what you don’t understand? I’m fed up with the implication that reading romances fries brain cells and that writing them is less than I could aspire to. I watch baseball too, and although I enjoy the hell out of it, I never left a game feeling smarter. But I will submit that to denigrate the romance/erotica genre has a lot in common with those who say watching baseball is like watching paint dry. You clearly don’t understand what’s taking place.

The sexuality of a woman is complex. For men, not so much. Men are visually stimulated. If you want to turn me on, you’ll need to do more than drop your shorts. I’ll need to know why you’re into me, or at a minimum, I’ll be wondering why the hell I’m into you. A romance novel will help answer those questions. Behind every good romance story is an insight into the sexuality of a woman. We need those insights, we crave them, because as we go through life, we change. Our wants in the bedroom change, and the divorce rate can surely attest that our wants in a mate change. Yet we don’t always know why. Each well-written romance has a piece of the answer.

We cannot trust the mainstream media on the topic. Often, we cannot even trust our closest friends. We must go to the romance/erotica genre to find the validation for our fantasies. To see that we’re not strange or weird, but that there are other women in the world who feel and think the things we’re supposed to be ashamed to feel and think. Or to want from a man.

I’ve come to view the romance and erotica genres as collective wisdom on what it means to be a sexually-functioning female.

Read that again, slowly. Yes, I’m stating that romances help us process what it means to be female, what’s happening in our heads, and in our bodies and in society, as it relates to us. So if you’re waiting for me to apologize for reading romances, much less for writing them, I recommend you get real comfy, because you’re gonna have one hell of a wait.

Does that mean I feel every romance I’ve ever read to be stellar in some way? No. In fact, it was the bad ones that prodded me to take the plunge and write one myself. I learned a lot in doing so. The first thing I learned is that it’s damn hard to write an elegant sex scene. All those hands and legs and aching members must be accounted for. I’ll bet you my favorite pair of boots right now a murder scene is more easily written.
But in reading the bad ones, I decided what kind of romances I wanted to write. This is my promise to anyone who chooses to read a romance or erotica story I write:

I will respect the concept of love, even when pursuing the purely erotic.
I will give you fully-drawn heroines and heroes with motivations you can respect.
I will give you plots that are believable, even if/when I venture into the realm of the paranormal.

In short, I’ll never imply in any way that you’re stupid for reading a story I write. So please do me the courtesy of not asking me why I waste my time writing them.

And here is the link to my reply to the article, buried under the avalanche of condemnation and defensive responses.  

Nothing's more fun than a rollicking debate, so step in, grab a seat and speak up; now's your chance. Why do YOU write erotica/romance, or read it?


  1. I love you Eden Connor. Well fricken said and about time. ooraha!

    Eden Glenn

  2. Great blog!
    I have a little twist on it from my own experience. I'm lucky to have family who still supported my writing even if it wasn't "there thing." My husband's aunt purchased my first erotic romance novel and at first thought it wasn't her cup of tea, but she finished the whole thing. She told the the sex was HOT and she liked that part, but she didn't like my heroine. She couldn't understand why so many people in the book were all "gaga" over her as she put it. Another relative told her the heroine was loosely based on my own life. To that the aunt said, "Oh, I like Tammy, but Quinn...not so much!" LOL

    Those people who keep knocking romance books and writers will continue to do so no matter what we say about it. Those of us who write and read romances will keep enjoying them and continue to dominate the markets.

    So who has the last laugh now? LOL

    1. Oh Lord, that is funny. I know my relatives have never read the first word of mine, else they'd be burning torches on my front lawn...I do poke some fun at them along the way.

      I just choke on the idea that reading murder mysteries, or police procedurals is somehow 'better' than reading, or writing a romance. It's the condescension and lack of logic all rolled into one that makes me grit my teeth. Perhaps if they were saying they read only non-fiction, I might overlook them, but...nah, I'm at the take-no-prisoners point.

      My new comment's going to be: I'll cheerfully beta read your WIP any time, but you might want to get on with writing YOUR better, loftier book before my brain rots away altogether :p

  3. I agree completely with your very well written piece. I haven't read romance per-se for years, what I did read back then were "she rose to the highest mountain top and shattered into a million pieces as ecstasy rippled through her" type of romances, not realizing there was MORE out there. I soon got tired of the mountains and valleys and throbbing members, and got my romance elsewhere, where it seems quite okay in society to read a suspense/thriller/mystery that is heavily laced with throbbing members and wet why is it wrong to read a book that tells me a story and makes a true connection between two characters that leaves me feeling good after I read it? Why does society make women feel like they need to buy those pretty little book covers so no one on the subway can see what they are reading? Since I've met you, you've opened up a whole new world for me to explore again. I confess, I believed romance or erotica to be as they were when I first read it - two dimensional cardboard cutouts that either fall in love and have sex, or just have sex, then fall in love. I've learned through you, and others in your genre, that there is so much more to it. And you're right. I tried to write a sex scene, but I couldn't. It's the hardest thing I ever tried to do, and I scrapped it immediately. I admire your skill in both developing intelligent, enjoyable characters who manage to make love without falling out of bed, and your ability to make me feel.

    1. You can blame paternalism for some of the so-called 'shame' attached to reading/writing romances, and you can blame feminism for some of that as well.

      When the purple prose romance novel had its heyday, courtesy of Ms. Woodiwiss and Ms. Rogers, that kind of language was the only way to get the content in print. I can only imagine their editors, shaking in the boots and wondering whether or not a particular passage was scintillating enough, yet obscure enough to get past the censors.

      I feel the point is that those books SOLD, they resonated with women. The bodice-rippers speak to what many women fantasize about, and while I dislike the term 'rape fantasy', it's the one we have at the moment. A significant number of women fantasize about being 'taken' by a man they're attracted to, to be so alluring to him that he'd push aside all convention to have her. That is NOT rape. Rape is violence, period.
      I cannot help but laugh to think that it's somehow more acceptable to fantasize about having money or political power than it is to fantasize about having sex.

      Reading romances is like talking to people in jail...everyone is innocent: "I would never, yadda, yadda"..and yet, romances outsell all other genres put together, so someone's lying, aren't they?

      And...I feel that a good number of those knocking the genre just need to get laid.

  4. Great post, Eden. I like to read and write romances because of the happy endings. In a world that is full of violence, it's good to know that no matter what the problems between the characters, they'll get a happy ever after. If I want gritty and real, I can listen to the news.

    1. Amen to that. Last I checked, watching the news didn't make people smarter either, just sadder and more stressed. Thanks for dropping in, Shelley :)

  5. I loved your blog and agree with you completely. Though I don't read erotica I do read romance. Why do I write romance? Romance came to me and took over my mind, my imagination. I had not choice. When two characters landed in my head, they were the start of my romance writing career. I love what I'm doing, have never been happier and my books have some fans. So I should thank them for demanding my attention and bringing me to the place I'm meant to be. I love romance and can't imagine my life without writing and reading it.

    1. Thanks for dropping in, and for posting Jean! I agree, my muse hurls characters into my head too, and the only choice I'm given is to write their stories.

      I believe that at some point in every woman's life, she's going to seek out the genre. Whether or not the stigma that's been attached to reading the genre will ever go away is anyone's guess, but speaking up cannot hurt.

      Nice to see you here :)

  6. I am really new at reading and writing, no, I am not young. I have been so busy with life, being a mother for over 40 years. With 25 years between my oldest and youngest. Then I became disabled and had cataracts. I loved to read before that, bombs could go off etc. Last fall I wrote my first story and when I realized I could "lie", I started to have fun. Nobody liked it. I put it away until late this winter. Have been a goner ever since! I haven't settled on a genre yet, they are all so tempting. I try to write spicy, but seem to get too clinical. Yes, after two husbands, I still haven't experienced anything worth writing about. I agree, reading (or writing) about it is a definite turn on that I didn't know could happen!