Flying the Romance Flag With Pride

flying_books Think about this: According to Romance Writers of America, in 2009, romantic fiction garnered the largest share of trade book sales, outselling mystery, science fiction/fantasy, and religion/inspirational books. In physical books sales, only general fiction sold (by less than one percent) better. Currently, romance is the fastest-growing segment of the e-book market, beating out general fiction, mystery, and science fiction. So, I have to ask, why all the derision of the genre?

You know what I’m talking about. There is a real stigma attached to reading (and writing) romance. As academician and historical romance author Eloisa James points out the genre is critically perceived as “the very bottom of the heap in low culture.” Romances are dismissed as “trash” by many—few of whom actually read romance. The bodice ripper (itself an outdated and uniformed label) is assumed to be little more than tacky chick porn. What undergirds all this scorn for the one of the most successful realms of publishing? I think it’s sexism combined with a deep cultural discomfort with expressions of female sexuality.

So today, I’d like to praise romance for the feminist, empowering, marvelous genre it is.

When was the last time you read a romance that wasn’t based on the premise that the heroine—and by extension the reader—is entitled to a caring, passionate, serious relationship? Romance novels, especially those written since the 80’s, have smart, independent, and productive heroines. The women in these books are intellectually and physically curious—they want to understand the truth of who they are and be prized for just that. The men they love, even those with macho personas, value these women as partners—both in and out of the bedroom. Romances explicate the most basic of all desires—the need for emotional and physical connection.

I know of almost no one who doesn’t want a good, long-lasting, happy relationship with a partner. Almost 75% of Americans over 18 are or have been married—and many more cohabitate. Romances not only celebrate the desire to be amorously coupled, they offer insights on how to get and stay that way. When we see the men and women in our favorite books hurt and love one other, we muse on the consequences of such actions in our own lives. When we read about the passion of entranced lovers, we become more open to physical love ourselves. (Studies show that women who read romance novels are happier with their sex lives and make love with their partners twice as often as romance-less readers.)

Romances are stories about building relationships. They aren’t permeated with death, destruction, and gratuitous violence towards women as is much of entertainment in America today. Jennifer Crusie, a feminist scholar and successful contemporary romance author, writes on her wonderful blog that romances entertain, empower and enlighten. They are about women—and men–who strive to have fulfilling lives shared with caring, committed partners. The genre offers a vision of life that is both possible and positive—happiness is attainable if one is true to oneself and to those he or she loves. What’s not to enjoy—and respect—about such books?

I’m proud to be a romance reader. And the next time someone snickers at the book in my hand (or on my Kindle), I’ll straighten my shoulders, look them in the eye, and then smile. I’m reading a great book—one that they, and so many misguided critics, are missing out on.

– Dabney Grinnan

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62 Responses to “Flying the Romance Flag With Pride”

  1. Jane AAR says:

    Amen! Once I had a literature professor ask me if romance novels were worth reading, since aren’t they about women finding a man to take care of them? Sigh.

    I’m so happy there are such wonderful writers out there doing scholarship and showing the academic elites that there is merit in our genre of choice. Major props to Eloisa James, Jennifer Crusie, Lauren Willig, and any others.

  2. I’m an academic studying romances and I don’t think the whole of this enormous genre can be described as “feminist, empowering.” It’s just too big for that kind of generalisation to be true. I’ve come across some explicitly anti-feminist romances, for example, and recently Heather Massey mentioned that

    “Sometimes I suspect that even in the romance genre, there’s a default assumption in operation that perpetuates the myth that an extraordinary heroine translates to an emasculated, less-than-desirable, and/or all too ordinary hero. Is that why such heroines are sometimes promised but then watered down as the story progresses?”

  3. dick says:

    I don’t think it’s the subject matter of romance fiction that brings on the opprobium so much as it is the strictness of its requirements. If a story must have a happy ending, it’s almost impossible to make that story reflect real life in the way that “literary” fiction does, for everything in it, from characters to events, is controlled by the HEA. Even committed readers of romance fiction recognize that, too often, the formula dictates the content to such a degree that even they cannot accept the fiction.

    It’s difficult for me to see romance fiction as “empowering” women, except perhaps in a very traditional sense that they “civilize” the hero. In the great majority of romance fictions, even the most powerful of women succumb to the traditional roles of wife and mother, with perhaps the latter taking central role as symbol of that “civilizing” power.

    • dick: I don’t think it’s the subject matter of romance fiction that brings on the opprobium so much as it is the strictness of its requirements.If a story must have a happy ending, it’s almost impossible to make that story reflect real life in the way that “literary” fiction does, for everything in it, from characters to events, is controlled by the HEA.Even committed readers of romance fiction recognize that, too often, the formula dictates the content to such a degree that even they cannot accept the fiction.

      I disagree that the romance novel is unnaturally constrained by the requirement of a happy ending. It’s a term that gets flung around a great deal, but without much definition. What do mean by “happy”? And what do we mean by “ending”? I believe that the best romance novels end as happily as they can under the circumstances– which doesn’t necessarily mean that all problems are resolved and it’s going to be hearts and flowers for the protagonists forever after.

      Nor can I accept the blanket notion that a happy ending to a story (however we choose to define that term) is of necessity unrealistic. It all has to do with how one chooses to frame one’s story. Every life has ups and downs. In romance, the story cuts off at the high point, the “I love you”, the wedding, the defeat of the evil gang of crazed werewolves. In that sense, the term “ending” applies only to the book itself, not the ongoing trajectory of the characters. Their stories may not end happily in the long; the book does.

  4. Dabney AAR says:

    Laura-
    I agree you can’t define the whole genre. That said, I believe strongly that the dismissal of romance by the cultural elite is at its heart uninformed and sexist. All genres have good and bad books within them and romance is no different. I think it also just depends on what your version of watered down means. Too often women are dismissed as less than men if they invest in marriage and children more than they do their work.

  5. Dabney AAR says:

    Dick–

    Your point about the HEA is a good one. Jennifer Crusie points out that across all genres the happy ending has been out of vogue since the late 19th centure. That said, mysteries and thrillers have their own requirements–crime solved, killer brought to some sort of justice–and those genres are denigrated in the way romance is.

    I think romance is empowering to women in that it validates their sexuality outside of the madonna/whore rubric. Additionally, it treats with respect the choices that many women make to put family ahead of or equal to career. And lastly, it empowers women to ask for more from men relationally and sexually.

  6. I believe strongly that the dismissal of romance by the cultural elite is at its heart uninformed and sexist.

    I’d agree that it’s often extremely uninformed (i.e. based on reading few, if any romances), and that sexism does play a big part in marginalising women’s writing.

    Too often women are dismissed as less than men if they invest in marriage and children more than they do their work.

    There are pretty pervasive double standards in the romance genre, though. How often is a romance published about a male virgin who redeems the rakish woman who’s slept with half of London? How often is the heroine a CEO who marries her male secretary? How often is the hero a human who falls in love with a thousand-year female vampire?

  7. Dabney AAR says:

    Laura–

    I tend to only read historical and contemporary romance so I can only speak informedly about those genres. Historical romances, were they to have any historical accuracy are going to have virginal heroines when the heroine is young. I have read many historicals recently, however, where the heroines (or secondary female romance character) is older and sexually experiences. Many contemporary romances have heroines that are just as sexually experienced as are their male partners. As for fantasy, if you look at some of the best selling adult novels, the heroines are often very experienced–Kresley Cole’s books, for example.

  8. The real historical context does have to be taken into account when assessing the extent and nature of the heroine’s empowerment in historical romances, but hIstoricals can be rather selective with their history. How many of the rakes have historically accurate syphilis or gonorrhea?

    if you look at some of the best selling adult novels, the heroines are often very experienced–Kresley Cole’s books, for example.

    I haven’t read any of Cole’s novels but, perhaps not coincidentally since it was in the context of a discussion about strong heroines, I did read a comment about her Kiss of the Demon King recently:

    So Sabine. What an interesting character. I’m told that she’s the queen of illusions. A master of seduction, of political intrigue. A powerful female who has experienced death multiple times. [...]

    Can you imagine how I felt when I learned that she’s a virgin and that she didn’t take the initiate on her own but because the villain decided it was time. That’s not a “real” powerful female, that’s a romance heroine. Anything that happens isn’t her responsibility because she was blackmailed into making the inciting incident.

  9. AARPat says:

    Since Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Pride and Prejudice have long been staples of the literary canon (the bible of the academic community), I don’t see romances per se as the problem. The problem is “modern” romance by which I mean books published in the last 100-150 years not the setting of the book.

    I’ve always contended that publishers who put “romantic” covers on their books are perpetuating the idea of romances as women’s (and only women’s) fiction. Look at the covers to the right. Which scream “romance” to you? Which look like they might “pass” into the literature column? By looking at the covers, you are making judgments about the books. No shirt on that guy? Steamy, must be erotica. Stetson and gun? Western.

    It doesn’t matter what’s inside the cover.

    For those who don’t like erotica or Westerns, those two books have already been rejected. For someone who’s read one substandard (meaning below everyone’s standard of proficient writing) erotica or one substandard Western, these books are automatically castigated as substandard, marginally readable.

    Combine this with the fact that new editors are often overloaded with genre titles as their first step in the business, the idea being that it didn’t really matter how well these books were edited because there is a built in market for them. What you get is a group of books less well vetted than mainstream fiction.

    What happens then? Genre authors fight to become mainstream authors. The writer who began as a romance, mystery, sci-fi, Western, or fantasy author, becomes a mainstream author, and their work is no longer romance, but a fiction book with a hint of romance. We get Georgette Heyer who has become a fiction writer, not a romance writer.

    It’s not WHAT you read that’s the problem. It’s what’s covering what you read that is.

  10. Dabney AAR says:

    I too hate the covers. I have a 70′s copy of Sweet Savage Love and it looks exactly like many of today’s covers. It’s time for a new look! I suspect one reason romances sell so well on eBooks is that there isn’t a cover!

  11. dick says:

    @AARPat: And yet the on-line romance community gives covers a great deal of attention. Even AAR, I think has a cover contest, and a number of threads about covers appear on the boards. Although I do agree that the reputation of romance fiction isn’t helped much by them.

    I’m not certain that, had Austen not written the other novels, P&P’s position in the canon would be very secure. Even though all Austen’s novels follow the accepted pattern of romance to a degree, it’s not easy to equate the endings of Mansfield Park, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, even P&P and Persuasion, with the HEA, even though the endings are “happy” endings. And when the content is taken into account, their relation to romance fiction becomes more distant. In none of them does the relationship of the H/h serve as the absolute center of the book as it does in romance fiction. Even in P&P, Austen seems far more interested in Elizabeth’s development than in her relationship with Darcy, who is more a pivot upon which that development turns rather than the kind of hero we encounter in romance fiction.

  12. AARPat says:

    If that’s the case, Dick, (Even in P&P, Austen seems far more interested in Elizabeth’s development than in her relationship with Darcy, who is more a pivot upon which that development turns rather than the kind of hero we encounter in romance fiction.) why does Austen begin the novel as she does? She’s not just beginning haphazardly but pointing her reader’s attention at something specific.

  13. If you look at Pamela Regis’ “Natural History of the Romance Novel”, she uses P&P as her model of the elements of the romance, a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship of one or more heroines. There’s a much more detailed point by point breakdown of the fundamental romance novel elements as seen in P&P in Regis.

  14. chris booklover says:

    Laura Vivanco:

    Can you provide some examples of “explicitly anti-feminist romances”? I would particularly like to know why these books should be considered anti-feminist.

    I must respectfully disagree with your examples of double standards. The reason why there are few examples of women CEO’s marrying male secretaries in romance novels is because such an event VERY rarely occurs in the real world. It’s not just that there are few women CEO’s and male secretaries (although that is certainly a contributing factor) but also that high status women seldom marry lower status men – they either marry high-status men or remain single. Male virgins and rakish women are unlikely to have much appeal to each other. Men who are virgins are either unattractive to women or have strong religious commitments that would make them uninterested in marrying sexually experienced women. And it’s not obvious, to say the least, what double standard is involved in being a thousand year old vampire as opposed to a human.

    If anything, it seems to me that many of the double standards in romance novels operate in the other direction. Consider violence, for example. If the hero hits the heroine the book would become an automatic wallbanger for many readers. There are, however, many novels featuring far more serious violence by heroines against heroes. We are not talking slaps here. The heroines of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, Cheryl Holt’s The Way of The Heart and Karen Robards’s Scandalous all shoot the heroes, causing, in each case, serious injury. And the hero is often expected to be willing to make grand gestures of self-sacrifice to show his love for the heroine, such as changing his religion (as in Pamela Clare’s Carnal Gift) or giving up a dukedom (as in Courtney Milan’s recent Unveiled). If a heroine did these things she would be labeled a TSTL doormat.

    Finally, your arguments for realism in the portrayal of sexually transmitted diseases would be more persuasive if they applied to heroines as well as heroes. The prostitute/mistress/courtesan heroines featured by authors such as Mary Balogh, Anna Campbell and Loretta Chase would be more likely to have STD’s than rakish heroes, for the simple reason that they can less afford to be discriminating in their choice of sexual partners. Yet complaints regarding the lack of realism in the portrayal of STD’s are always made exclusively about heroes, not heroines. Why?

    • Jessica says:

      chris booklover: The reason why there are few examples of women CEO’s marrying male secretaries in romance novels is because such an event VERY rarely occurs in the real world.

      Thanks for this. It explains perfectly why there are so few simultaneous orgasms, monogamous relationships that last forever, and virgin widows in romance.

      Oh, wait …

  15. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by All About Romance, Jessica Tripler. Jessica Tripler said: Lauren Willig and Laura Vivanco, talking some sense at AAR: http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=5980 [...]

  16. Can you provide some examples of “explicitly anti-feminist romances”? I would particularly like to know why these books should be considered anti-feminist

    By “explicitly anti-feminist” I mean romances in which the heroine makes negative comments about feminism/feminists/women’s lib/the idea of equality between men and women. Here’s an older example and a more recent one is Miranda Lee’s A Scandalous Marriage in which the heroine had “never thought of herself as a women’s libber. And she didn’t like the tag one bit” (2005: 65).

    the reason why there are few examples of women CEO’s marrying male secretaries in romance novels is because such an event VERY rarely occurs in the real world. It’s not just that there are few women CEO’s and male secretaries (although that is certainly a contributing factor) but also that high status women seldom marry lower status men – they either marry high-status men or remain single.

    There are huge numbers of romances about relationships which “VERY rarely occur[...] in the real world.” How many billionaire sheiks decide to marry the blonde foreigner who’s temporarily working in their kingdom? How many billionaire tycoons marry their cleaning ladies? Paranormal protagonists don’t occur in the real world at all. So I don’t think the fact that something occurs rarely (or never) in the real world would necessarily deter authors from writing about it.

    Male virgins and rakish women are unlikely to have much appeal to each other. Men who are virgins are either unattractive to women or have strong religious commitments that would make them uninterested in marrying sexually experienced women.

    Oh, I don’t know. I think a rakish woman might find the seduction of an innocent man rather an appealing challenge, and I don’t see why, in a contemporary, a male virgin should be any less attractive or more religious than a female virgin. They do exist in the genre, so it’s obviously possible for authors to make them into convincing heroes.

    And it’s not obvious, to say the least, what double standard is involved in being a thousand year old vampire as opposed to a human.

    The question of a double standard arises if the protagonist who has super-human powers, greater life experience, and, often, vast wealth accumulated is generally male, and the one who is much weaker, younger and poorer is generally female.

    Consider violence, for example. If the hero hits the heroine the book would become an automatic wallbanger for many readers. There are, however, many novels featuring far more serious violence by heroines against heroes.

    And yet, there was a period when it was common to find romance heroes raping heroines. That was a very obvious form of violence. Nowadays that’s not common, but there are still quite a lot of plots in which heroes seek revenge and abduct the heroine, or force her into marriage, so one can still find physical coercion and emotional violence perpetrated by heroes. I read a review of a recent romance in which

    When they [the hero and heroine] first meet, she kisses him (as part of an elaborate plan which I won’t go into) and just that one public kiss apparently licenses kidnapping her (“she’d never felt so afraid in her entire life … the panic had not subsided”), holding her hostage, and surveilling her for the rest of the book. After he literally drags her back to his apartment, they talk, and then she finds herself “being dragged down the hallway… her wrist still his prisoner … she had to follow where he pulled…”.

    “complaints regarding the lack of realism in the portrayal of STD’s are always made exclusively about heroes, not heroines. Why?”

    I’ve not seen many complaints made about “the lack of realism in the portrayal of STD’s,” and I can’t comment on why other people might make such comments but I do think there’s an imbalance in the way that sexual histories are presented. Rakishness in male characters is often depicted as something which actually adds to a hero’s attractions. As Kyra Kramer and I have written elsewhere, romances often express a

    group of cultural beliefs about masculine sexuality known as the

    male sexual drive discourse […]: sex is a male performance; the man is responsible for orchestrating sex; a man always wants and is always ready to have sex; for a man, all physical contact must lead to sex; and birth control is the woman’s responsibility. Similarly, Reinholtz et al. […] included the following in their list of common themes in communication about sexuality: male sexuality as uncontrollable, female responsibility for male sexuality, sex as a force of nature, and men as dominant and women as submissive. [...] (Gilbert, Walker, McKinney, and Snell 755-56)

    The “male sexual drive discourse” perpetuates gender stereotypes about men’s sexuality.

    • MarySkl says:

      Laura Vivanco: Can you provide some examples of “explicitly anti-feminist romances”? I would particularly like to know why these books should be considered anti-feminist

      Romance novels are a huge market as well as a huge genre encompassing many different beliefs. I think that you will find most attitudes towards gender and sexuality reflected along the spectrum. There is a fairly substantial market for Christian romance novelists and their attitudes will be vastly different from a Jennifer Crusie in regards to gender stereotypes.

      Historical romance writers receive criticism if they stray from the norms of the period and make the characters too “modern.” They also receive criticism by portraying the H/h’s mores as close as possible to the historical era. Kind of puts them in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t position. Having read literally thousands of romance novels, I think I can state with some degree of competency that romance novels reflect our society in their bias. 90 years after female suffrage was passed in this country, we are still struggling to define the roles of both genders. At the extremes of the spectrum you have the man-haters and the women who emasculate. The largest portion of the population falls somewhere in the middle. Perhaps an unintended consequence of romance novels is to reflect on how to find some kind of balance in male/female relationships that allows each to come together without sacrificing their personhood.

  17. [...] In other news, here is a great interview with Mary Bly a.k.a. Eloisa James about romance fiction, genre stigma and anti-romance prejudice and her relationship with her parents from The Southeast Review. Found via All About Romance. [...]

  18. Barbie says:

    Well I like all of u guys argue ments but thing is that I enjoy a romance novel that can make me connect with the characters. I m 22 and I have studied the feminist movement some what in a class I wanted to take and I would have to say as ” long as the woman isn’t crying that the Hero dislikes her for her brains, wits and body I m willing to read it. ” I personally like JC books because you can tell her characters are independent enough to say “yes I m a feminist but I also need you(hero) in some way. yes I have a high power mover career but I m a woman i need that male energy” Guys we should be happy that romance novels in any genre are a reflection of how far as Women we have come . I mean can any one of you define the role of today’s women in society? She is everything to everyone she not just a house wife, she is teacher, researcher, dancer ,artist. Women can be and are everything in today’s society .
    think in mad men 1 season Would u want to be in the roles those women are / were?

  19. JMM says:

    “Can you imagine how I felt when I learned that she’s a virgin and that she didn’t take the initiate on her own but because the villain decided it was time. That’s not a “real” powerful female, that’s a romance heroine. Anything that happens isn’t her responsibility because she was blackmailed into making the inciting incident.”

    That’s because heroines are rarely allowed to make decisions that give them something they want; especially if that choice makes someone else unhappy. In a “love triangle”, the Other Man must become a psycho so the heroine won’t have hurt a good person. If the heroine loves someone who her parents don’t like – again, parents must be psycho. Because a heroine can’t hurt mummy and daddy!

  20. “In a “love triangle”, the Other Man must become a psycho so the heroine won’t have hurt a good person.”

    Possibly the other man MAY become a psycho, although I think you may be exaggerating just a teensy bit. But I would suggest the motivation may not be so much as to avoid hurting a good person, as it is to raise the stakes all round. Let’s face it, if the “other man” is just a regular nice guy, then she can say, “Sorry. You’re a really nice guy, but I’m in love with someone else,” and he’ll do the nice guy thing and stop hassling her. At which point the author has to come up with a new conflict and the reader throws it at the wall anyway because what was the guy there for if he wasn’t going to cause trouble. Generally we like to see characters (in a book) take a risk for love. At least that’s my take. Where’s the risk in nicely telling a nice boy to go away because you fell for the OTHER guy? It’s like the guy I know who told me I should write his parents’ story. Because they had this gorgeous romantic courtship with flowers and moonlight and never had an argument and it was all absolutely lovely and wonderful with never a bad moment. And I’m thinking, “So where’s the story here??”

    Also, as far as NOT making the “other man” a really obvious baddy, the very real danger there is that readers will identify with him rather than the man the heroine chooses. Doesn’t matter how well you write it, some of your readers are going to insist she chose the wrong man. It has been done and the result was dissatisfied readers.

  21. Magdalen says:

    Not to get all meta on you guys, but the problem I have with this discussion is, basically, the same problem I have with the larger perception of the romance genre. Romance fiction not a monolithic entity, it’s not homogeneous, and it has neither an Ur-text nor a universally acknowledged classic or prototype that we can all point to, like an anatomy chart, to dissect the various elements of “the romance novel.”

    Bad books are out there. Some of them are romances. They’re badly written, the characters are absurd, the situations are ludicrous, and the resolutions defy both logic and common sense. I am uncomfortable holding up any single book or any author as evidence that covers the entire romance genre. Yes, Kresley Cole’s heroine may not promote a feminist agenda, but does Kresley Cole’s book represent the whole genre?

    Furthermore, there are mitigating circumstances, larger contexts, and subtexts that apply to some books. I read, with great pleasure, the “sweet” romances by Betty Neels. She herself led a remarkably feminist life, particularly for a woman born in 1910. But when she sat down to write books about women like herself, she didn’t have them enjoy the adventures she enjoyed not endure her financial deprivations following WWII. She gave them the happy ending she hadn’t gotten: marriage to a rich man so that money is never an issue again. A Neels heroine is good at her job but equally good being a wife and mother. She is never “a career girl.”

    Anyone reading a Betty Neels romance could decry the anti-feminist values that book represents, unless it was seen both through the prism of its author’s own life and as a fantasy of what that heroine’s happiness might be. No Neels heroine is denied the right to work after marriage, she simply doesn’t want to. Her “happy ending” isn’t the “happy ending” I’d like for my characters, but why should it be?

    Of course, no one has to like all romance authors or all romances. It’s a huge and sprawling genre with enough variation to suit a very large number of readers. But whatever adjectives can be used to describe romantic fiction, monolithic is not one.

    Personally, I think that’s one of romance’s greatest strengths: it supports a lot of different notions of what is a happy ending.

    • MarySkl says:

      Magdalen: Not to get all meta on you guys, but the problem I have with this discussion is, basically, the same problem I have with the larger perception of the romance genre. Romance fiction not a monolithic entity, it’s not homogeneous, and it has neither an Ur-text nor a universally acknowledged classic or prototype that we can all point to, like an anatomy chart, to dissect the various elements of “the romance novel.”

      Well said. I just finished reading a Deidre Martin book where the book ends with the H/h having worked out their relationship by having Mom work in the City for 4 days a week and Dad stay home with the child in the country. Money was not an issue. Self fulfillment was. Making any societal judgments about romance novels as a whole would be wrong in my opinion. There might be “trends” or certain segments of romance that can be linked to a certain viewpoint, but the genre is too varied to be cast in a single light.

      I also think attributing motivations to the reader about WHY people read romance is kind of a slippery slope. I like to read. I read almost anything. I have been known to pick up a Field and Stream in a waiting room because there was nothing else to read (and I do not care anything about fishing). I read Science Fiction, Fantasy, Literature, Suspense, etc. What I look for in a book is writing that pulls me into the story and either entertains me or makes me think. I like characters I can find empathy for even if I do not like them. I read romance novels back in my teens and then stopped for about 30 years. I accidentally got pulled back in when I picked up a Diana Gabaldon book. I read Breath of Snow and Ashes first – did not realize it was part of a series until about 30 pages in and then I just went ahead and finished it. After going back and reading the rest of her books, I looked around for more like that. That is how I discovered AAR. I am glad I did because there are so many very good authors out there writing in the romance genre.

  22. Wendy says:

    To be fair to the people who have bad opinions about romantic fiction, there are more than a few authors who have work that’s been in reprint for decades, which I avoid like a disease. Perhaps if these critics read the newer (good) romances out there, their opinions would change. An example would be a film student seeing one very popular 80s era fart humor movie and deciding that all humorous movies are garbage.

    I tell anyone who asks me (usually snobbishly) why I read romances (often said with a sneer) that other genres don’t have enough violence, sex, drama, angst or humor for me.

    And the variety is incredible. If I want to read high science fiction I can pick up any book in the Skolian saga by Asaro. If I want humor I can read Nonie St George. If I’m in the mood for violence and sex, there are any number of authors and books ranging from a millenia ago to millenia in the future. If I want to read a humorous book about vampires in a fantasy setting with a historical bent, well, those are out there too.

    And it all comes with a HEA. What’s not to love?

    What gets me is that the people who denigrate romantic fiction are the same people who’ll spend a weekend reading and then later crowing about books that I think are garbage. Dan Brown? Eugenides?

    Give me a break.

  23. Cindy says:

    Great discussion.
    I have come to accept that romances are like soccer and country music. I love them all. Millions of people love them all. But there are many self-proclaimed experts in literature, sports, or music who have very loud opinions and are quick to sneer and scoff. I have gotten into heated discussions in the past, but now I pretty much let things slide off my back. When reading is discussed, I certainly say that I like to read romance, but if people are rude I try to just shrug it off. You aren’t going to change a closed mind.

  24. Dabney AAR says:

    This has been a great discussion and I’ve enjoyed reading all the differing perspectives.

    My husband–a big non-fiction reader–and I are on a romantic weekend away where we have time to do whatever we want to. He spent much of the past two days reading Joanna Bourne’s “The Forbidden Rose” which he thought was superb. He said to me, “It’s not a romance novel, it’s a great novel with romance in it.”

    I had to smile.

  25. dick says:

    @Lauren Willig: I think, though, that if an author sets out to write a romance, the HEA is determined even before the writing begins, and that is not realistic in any way. A relationship between two people, the central feature of a romance, can, in real life, go any of a dozen ways. The formula for romance fiction prevents all but the one–the HEA.

    • MarySkl says:

      dick: @Lauren Willig:I think, though, that if an author sets out to write a romance, the HEA is determined even before the writing begins, and that is not realistic in any way.A relationship between two people, the central feature of a romance, can, in real life, go any of a dozen ways.The formula for romance fiction prevents all but the one–the HEA.

      I disagree in a way Dick. Having been married for nearly 27 years, I have had LOTS of HEA moments. Many romance novels have their characters go through some trying moments during the course of the book. While the author may choose to end the book on one of the happy moments in time, I think it is implied that that couple will still face challenges in the future and they will hopefully have many more HEAs ahead.

  26. dick says:

    @pat: But doesn’t he irony inherent in that opening line, and its being followed by Mrs. Bennet’s querulous complaint to Mr. Bennet, set a different purpose than depiction of a single central relationship, as a romance novel would?

  27. AARPat says:

    Dick, you said it yourself: The ending is HEA. Pride and Prejudice? HEA.

  28. Mark says:

    As a male reader of romances, I was self-conscious in bookstores for the first few years I was buying romances, but I never heard any comments from bookstore employees. I eventually developed a WYSIWYG attitude. (What You See Is What You Get. I’m not going to worry about ignorant opinions. If you don’t like it the problem is yours, not mine.) Before I switched completely from paper books to ebooks, the folks at several local romance-friendly stores knew me and gave me recommendations based on my preference for romances with humor.

    I can think of the following groups of people who don’t read romance:
    People who don’t read at all (illiterate, aliterate, too difficult because of severe dyslexia, “no time”, etc.). As someone whose primary form of recreation is reading, I find non-readers slightly alien, but I know there are a lot of them out there.
    People who never read fiction.
    People who never read “popular” (genre) fiction.
    People who only read in one genre (SF, fantasy, mystery, thriller, Western, etc.).
    Some members of each of these groups express opinions about the romance genre based purely on hearsay. Some of these people are willing to test the evidence for themselves, but many are not interested in facts that might change their opinions.

    I get tired of the assertion that an HEA ending makes romances formulaic writing. I suggest that formula isn’t the right word—romances follow a recipe, not a formula.
    Anyone who cooks knows that you never get exactly the same result each time you follow a recipe. Each instance of using a recipe will produce something recognizably similar to each other instance, within the limits of the skills of the cooks, but each cook adds unique touches.
    So, the basic recipe for a romance is:
    Ingredients:
    1 hero
    1 heroine
    Love
    A dash of conflict
    Mix ingredients thoroughly and let simmer for several thousand words until love produces a Happily Ever After ending.
    Optional ingredients after mastering the basic recipe: sex, marriage, relatives, friends, rivals, enemies, external dangers, secrets, adventure, exotic locations, humor, angst, secondary couples, ménages, etc.

    I sometimes describe the plot structure of many romances as a sine curve or roller coaster, since most romances have ups and downs, especially a down slope toward the end before the final upslope. A point about the HEA “ending” is that most genre romances are stories of courtship, so the ending is really the end of the beginning. Think of the end of the story as the end of a ski jump: the skier (couple) has just launched into the air after the last downward dip. The story doesn’t actually describe the landing, it just strongly suggests a good landing.

  29. Carrie says:

    @Mark~ Well said all the way through.

    @Dick~ As stated several times above, people read for different reasons, and I read for pleasure and relaxation. Plus, most genres have some sort of built-in expectations about the ending. For a mystery novel to be satisfying for most mystery readers, the mystery has to get solved. The perpetrator may or may not get what they deserve, but they are unmasked. Military thrillers resolve the central conflict, spy novels complete the mission, suspense novels have the resolution to the main conflict or situation, fantasy novels make it through the grand quest, etc., etc. A romance novel without a satisfying resolution to the romance isn’t romance, it’s general fiction. In fact, if you want “romance” without the guaranteed HEA, read women’s fiction. Even literary fiction has it’s own guidelines: no happy ending! Any hint of fulfillment and peace is a sell-out.

    I stopped reading “serious” mysteries as much because of the fact that no matter what, the main character wasn’t allowed to be happy. At the end of the books, he or she might have solved the mystery, but they were alone and often melancholy. I’ve read some fantastic mysteries, and rarely gotten a happy main character. I think I love Dorothy Sayer so much partially because she gave Lord Peter is Harriet! Fantasy and sci-fi were similar–tragedy, despair, death of main characters, struggles and a very qualified resolution.

    I have plenty of angst in my life and I *choose* to read books that are going to give me satisfaction. Sorry, Dick, but I want the HEA. And while I know real life causes heartache, lasting love isn’t fantasy.

  30. dick says:

    @Carrie: I agree completely with what you said, but I don’t think it negates my point, which is that, for many people that very requirement makes the genre less “worthy,” because one always knows that it’s going to occur regardless what happens preceding it. And, as the rest of your post points out, other genres do not have that absolute requirement of the HEA. Mysteries may remain unsolved and still be considered mysteries; sci-fi may tell of the destruction of worlds and still be considered sci-fi. Without an HEA, romance is not romance.

    • MarySkl says:

      dick: @Carrie:I agree completely with what you said, but I don’t think it negates my point, which is that, for many people that very requirement makes the genre less “worthy,” because one always knows that it’s going to occur regardless what happens preceding it. And, as the rest of your post points out, other genres do not have that absolute requirement of the HEA.Mysteries may remain unsolved and still be considered mysteries; sci-fi may tell of the destruction of worlds and still be considered sci-fi.Without an HEA, romance is not romance.

      I really don’t think the HEA requirement has much to do with the denigration of romance novels. In fact, I would guess that the vast majority of those who snub their noses at the romance genre may not even be aware of this requirement. They just think it is about sex/love. While romance novels have been around since the novel came into being, romance as a genre really only took off in the 1970s. Those first novels were kind of over-the-top epics with covers to make the repressed blush. Look at the covers of Diana Gabaldon’s books. Not a hunky man or heaving bosom in sight. I think that is one of the reasons her books crossed over and appealed to a wider audience (they did not know they were reading romance). The taint of the covers has led to the judgment that romance is “porn for women” and most people never get past the cover to discover the great writing that in contained in many of these books. Many of the newer authors have covers that deviate from the stereotype and I think that bodes well for romance in general. The faithful will continue to seek out new authors (as well as read old ones), but discarding the cheesy covers will do much to widen the audience even further IMHO.

    • Kaetrin says:

      dick:And, as the rest of your post points out, other genres do not have that absolute requirement of the HEA.Mysteries may remain unsolved and still be considered mysteries; sci-fi may tell of the destruction of worlds and still be considered sci-fi.Without an HEA, romance is not romance.

      I’d rate a mystery with no solution as a wallbanger. I’d HATE to read a police procedural where the crime isn’t solved.

      I can see from a later comment that you also say that romance is limited to 2 people. It is not. Check out Samhain, Ellora’s Cave, Dreamspinner Press and Loose ID just to name a few – they may not be “mainstream” but there is no “limit” to 2. Also, romance doesn’t have to be believable – or at least, it doesn’t have to be “real”. Fantasy isn’t real. Paranormal romance isn’t real. I think most people would agree that any fiction needs to make sense in the context of the story in order to be enjoyable, but I don’t think that is limited to romance.

      I think it is possible (if one was so inclined) to pick pretty much any genre and assert it is less “worthy’ by various of the genre’s (perceived or real) limits. It doesnt’ matter much to me. Worth is subjective anyway. However, if worth is measured in sales, then romance must be doing something right.

      It’s okay not to like romance. You don’t have to have any other reason than that.

      Personally, I think “literature” is (to use a sweeping and very possibly unfair generality) boring, dry and dusty and I’d rather eat dirt but that’s okay because it’s horses for courses. Thankfully, there’s enough people with different taste than I to buy/read those books I’m not interested in.

      Me? I love romance. If it doesn’t have a HEA/HFN, I’m pretty much not interested. I know there are great thrillers, fantasy books, non-fiction books and all the rest out there – I have limited time and I choose to read the thing I like best when I read. And for me, that is romance.

      “without a HEA romance is not romance”. Hooray and Amen to that. :)

  31. Mark says:

    The requirement of an HEA ending is a CLASSIFICATION requirement. Most readers consider story focus on the relationship and the HEA ending the two characteristics that must be present to CLASSIFY the story as a specimen in the romance genre. Those two elements still leave everything else wide open. THEY ARE NOT A FORMULA!
    There must be a mystery in a story to claim it is in the mystery genre.
    The setting must be in the American old West (or a cultural parallel) to be in the Western genre.
    See my essay on the AAR Wild West board under the “Genre labels” topic for a much longer discussion.
    I read the WHOLE BOOK, not just the ending. The HEA ending is the emotional payoff in a genre romance, and a book with an unconvincing HEA ending is an unsatisfactory romance (for me), but insisting on claiming that having the HEA ending is limiting or lessening or devaluing is silly.

    • MarySkl says:

      Mark: The requirement of an HEA ending is a CLASSIFICATION requirement.Most readers consider story focus on the relationship and the HEA ending the two characteristics that must be present to CLASSIFY the story as a specimen in the romance genre.Those two elements still leave everything else wide open.THEY ARE NOT A FORMULA!
      There must be a mystery in a story to claim it is in the mystery genre.
      The setting must be in the American old West (or a cultural parallel) to be in the Western genre.
      See my essay on the AAR Wild West board under the “Genre labels” topic for a much longer discussion.
      I read the WHOLE BOOK, not just the ending.The HEA ending is the emotional payoff in a genre romance, and a book with an unconvincing HEA ending is an unsatisfactory romance (for me), but insisting on claiming that having the HEA ending is limiting or lessening or devaluing is silly.

      You also have novels that have multiple classifications. Frank Herbert’s books can be classified as Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Then there are sub-genres: contemporary fantasy/paranormal, historical fantasy/paranormal, romantic suspense, futuristic romance, etc. As I have said before, I do not think that the HEA in any way limits the romance genre. The ending is a snapshot in time in which happiness prevails. The reader’s imagination determines what happens after the book ends.

  32. dick says:

    @Mark: Exactly. A classification “requirement,” without which a book cannot fall into the class, romance fiction, in the same way that a triangle falls into that class because it has three sides forming three angles.

    • MarySkl says:

      dick: @Mark:Exactly.A classification “requirement,” without which a book cannot fall into the class, romance fiction, in the same way that a triangle falls into that class because it has three sides forming three angles.

      If Romance is “limited” by the HEA, then every other genre is limited as well. What distinguishes some romance novels from “Literature?” Is it the absence of a HEA? If so, does that limit Literature as well? I agree with Sandy. I think the MAIN reason romance novels are dismissed by critics and portions of the public is that they are primarily written by and for women. I know statistics show that most readers are women. I would imagine given the size of the market taken up by romance that a significant percentage of authors are also women, yet many women still put down an entire genre as not deserving of critical review.

      I do find it encouraging though that romance is gaining a more prominent role in academia.

  33. AAR Sandy says:

    I’m going to agree with Magdalen here. Sweeping generalizations about the genre — or about anything — are almost always full of holes.

    Whenever political or social issues are injected into novels and I don’t agree with the position, it pulls me out of the story and makes me want to hurl the book somewhere where the sun don’t shine. Feminism, politics, abortion (don’t get me started on Barbara Freethy’s anti-abortion tract, Daniel’s Gift) are best kept out of the story. SHOW don’t tell me that a woman is independent and confident in herself.

    Romance certainly can be empowering for women. And sometimes it’s anything but.

    Personally, I think the dismissal that the genre gets is almost exclusively due to the fact that romance is primarily written by women for women. And most of those who dis it have never tried it.

    And I don’t give a rat’s ass what they think.

    • chris booklover says:

      AAR Sandy: I’m going to agree with Magdalen here.Sweeping generalizations about the genre — or about anything — are almost always full of holes.Whenever political or social issues are injected into novels and I don’t agree with the position, it pulls me out of the story and makes me want to hurl the book somewhere where the sun don’t shine. Feminism, politics, abortion (don’t get me started on Barbara Freethy’s anti-abortion tract, Daniel’s Gift) are best kept out of the story. SHOW don’t tell me that a woman is independent and confident in herself.Romance certainly can be empowering for women.And sometimes it’s anything but.Personally, I think the dismissal that the genre gets is almost exclusively due to the fact that romance is primarily written by women for women. And most of those who dis it have never tried it.And I don’t give a rat’s ass what they think.

      I agree that the romance genre is too broad and diverse to permit sweeping generalizations, and that the genre is often unfairly dismissed because it is largely written by women for women.

      Note, however, that many of the critics are themselves women, and some of them are from the feminist left as well as the cultural right. It seems to me that many critics want romance to reflect THEIR values and no others. Many of the tropes that critics object to exist because they appeal to some subset – perhaps even a majority – of readers. If they did not, the supply of such novels would quickly dry up. Critics disagree with the cultural preferences of many of the women who read romance, but are rarely forthcoming enough to say so.

  34. dick says:

    @MarySkl: The HEA is not the only limiting factor. The recipe for romance fiction limits the major protagonists to two; the recipe for romance limits the plot, because the events in that plot have to be structured in such a way that the ending–the HEA–is at least probable; the recipe for romance limits the subject, for the central story must be the relationship of the two allowed protagonists. But the HEA imposes, I think, the greatest limitation because the fiction cannot be called romance without it. There are romances–such as Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Abelard and Heloise–which cannot be called romance fiction of the kind we are discussing, even though they tell of a couple as the central story, because they do not have an HEA.

    Literature is far less limited in subject matter, as a quick glance at a list of novels shows. Literature can have one, two, or even twelve protagonists. Literature can end happily, unhappily, indeterminately, or simply end. The plots of literature thus have few constraints. Other genre fictions–recipes–have constraints as well, but none of them have the absolute necessity of the HEA. A mystery without a solution will still be a mystery; a sci/fi that ends with total destruction will still be a sci/fi. That’s not true of romance fiction. A romance without an HEA cannot be a romance.

  35. Carrie says:

    Dick, I have to disagree in part–as a long time reader of mysteries, a mystery BOOK without a solution is NOT a part of the mystery book genre …it becomes “literature.” ;-) A sci-fi might be sci-fi without an HEA, but it wouldn’t be sci-fi without the accoutrement of the genre- space, technology, etc. ALL genres have “formulas. Now, if you want to say “literature” doesn’t, then I might go with that. And people can be high brow about it and think that less is more in that case. But like any art, writing can be beautiful and satisfying with or without structure and formula. Saying romance is more limited because of the HEA is like saying Vermeer’s paintings are somehow less worthy because of his strict realism. Jackson Pollack has his place, but so does Vermeer. ;-) Another example is free verse and structured poetry, say a sonnet or a haiku. Both have their place, but whose to say which is more “artistic” or takes more talent. Writing an exciting, entertaining novel within the structure is also art, and a challenging form of art at that.

    So, sneer at the HEA all you want. It only limits the genre in that it defines the working parameters and constrains writers to create beauty with a form. GOOD literature has always had a form, like proper grammar and the story arc, the climax and the denouement. Modern literature is often not that good. In fact, without some of the constraints of form (like commas, quotation marks, and capitalization) it’s irritating and unreadable.

  36. dick says:

    Hey, everybody. I’m not anti-HEA. Like everybody else, it’s one of the things I like–and expect–about romance literature. In short, I’m not sneering at the HEA nor romance when I insist that it’s a factor that keeps romance from being accorded the same respect as literature. I think anyone who examines the recipe for romance fiction would have to agree that it has limits, much stiffer requirements than any other genre fiction, and the HEA is the stiffest of all, for without it, the book is not a romance. Those limitations, the HEA in particular, impose a sameness on romance fiction which lends itself to easy derision, deserved or not.

    I like romance fiction, but liking doesn’t keep me from examining it in the same way I would examine a sonnet, another strict form whose severe limitations I recognize as well.

    • MarySkl says:

      dick: Hey, everybody.I’m not anti-HEA.Like everybody else, it’s one of the things I like–and expect–about romance literature.In short, I’m not sneering at the HEA nor romance when I insist that it’s a factor that keeps romance from being accorded the same respect as literature. I think anyone who examines the recipe for romance fiction would have to agree that it has limits, much stiffer requirements than any other genre fiction, and the HEA is the stiffest of all, for without it, the book is not a romance.Those limitations, the HEA in particular, impose a sameness on romance fiction which lends itself to easy derision, deserved or not.I like romance fiction, but liking doesn’t keep me from examining it in the same way I would examine a sonnet, another strict form whose severe limitations I recognize as well.

      I guess I just don’t see it the same way you do. As a reader, I have lots of choices. If I am in the mood for a “chew them up and spit them out” kind of book, I am going to buy a Grisham or maybe a Clancy. If I am in an academic frame of mind, I will be looking for non-fiction having to do with my current interest. If I feel the need for a good cry, I will read Steinbeck. Wanting to be scared in the safety of your own home? Choose Stephen King. Romance novels (that are well written) typically leave me feeling energized about the characters and in the case of historicals, more interested in the era. Historical fiction does the same thing…it makes me want to do more research on the people portrayed or the period in history described. I believe that people naturally want to classify things. All that does (IMO) is help in narrowing down the search when there are so many books to choose from.

  37. DabneyAAR says:

    One of the things all this great discussion has made me realize it that it is kind of silly to talk–or write–about romance as though it is a monolithic art form.

    Reading all that youall have written makes the rethink what it is that I was trying to get across initially. I think I wanted to speak so proudly of romance because as a writer, reader and daughter of a librarian, sharing good books with others is one of my all time favorite things to do. I want more people to be open minded about romance not so that my choices are validated but rather that theirs are expanded.

    Right now my surgeon husband is finishing up the Joanna Bourne series–those out thus far–and he has loved it. He found the books to be spy thrillers with a great deal of history and romance thrown in. It is my hope that I can get more people to read the books that I love because I think it will enrich their lives.

    I have loved reading all that has been written here!

  38. “One of the things all this great discussion has made me realize it that it is kind of silly to talk–or write–about romance as though it is a monolithic art form.”

    I agree. It’s certainly not monolithic, and I suspect that critics of the genre don’t appreciate quite how diverse it really is in terms of settings, protagonists, word-counts, quality of writing, tone (from humorous to serious, light to heavy, escapist to realistic) and the attitudes expressed about a vast range of issues.

  39. Hmm. Reading back over what I just wrote, I realise I shouldn’t have made a generalisation about “critics of the genre.” They’re not monolithic either. ;-)

  40. Eire Sarah says:

    I’m fairly new to AAR, but I’d like to throw in my two cents, mainly to chime in with the posters above who think that the covers really do no favours for the genre. To me it seems like there’s a big disparity between the quality of whats between the covers and what’s on them, and I really believe the covers must drive away a lot of potential readers.

    I read some Mills & Boon books back in my teens, and after wandering away from romance for most of my twenties, I’m suddenly back on the romance buzz with a vengeance, but I’ve graduated on to full length novels (some contemporary and lots of historical). The only reason I’m back reading romance is because a friend pretty much forced the first book on me and I got hooked. The thing is, I only agreed to read it because we’re fairly like-minded and I trusted her judgement; had I seen the book in a bookshop, I guarantee I’d have kept on walking (at speed).

    The same friend has now given me a pile of her books, and only last night, before I even read any of this thread, I was looking at the stack thinking to myself how awful the covers are. Quite apart from being embarrassingly tacky, they look SO dated. The swirly fonts, the bare chested heroes and swooning heroines, really who wants to be seen holding that? Several people above have noted that the genre has evolved and changed, but man oh man, the covers seriously need to evolve in step. I’m pretty sure they don’t look much different to the ones I remember seeing in the 80′s as a kid.

    I agree with Dabney’s theory that the ebooks are selling so well in part because they don’t have the cover problem. I guess the covers are a useful shorthand for telling romance fans “this is a romance book”, but AAR readers are the target market, so if even WE hate the covers, the publishers are getting something seriously wrong.

    Can’t we petition ‘em?

  41. DabneyAAR says:

    I am so there with you Sarah. I wonder what RWA (Romance Writers of America) thinks about this. It’s interesting to note that many of the publishers of romance keep pricing the e-book version of a book higher than the paperback. I never buy paperbacks unless the book is not available on Kindle. The covers aren’t the only reason–I’m a big re-reader–but I sure do enjoy not having to carry around books that are much more than their garish covers would suggest.

  42. Eire Sarah says:

    I had a quick peep at previous discussions about the covers on the site here and it seems some readers do actually like the “clinch” covers, so I suppose that muddies the waters a little, but (and I’ll hold my hand up and admit I’ve never seen a single stat on this) I’m convinced the amount of people put off by the covers would be a lot bigger than the number drawn in by them.

    I also noticed that some of the clinch-fans think that the reason people don’t like the covers is that they’re ashamed to be seen with a romance book, and that we should be more defiant against judgements on our beloved genre. I don’t agree, I still say the cover is the problem, not the genre. I think I’d be perfectly happy to carry a book that was very identifiable as a romance novel but had a cover with a modern aesthetic. As I mentioned above, my “ugh, those covers!” moment was in my own bedroom, not at a park bench.

    That really is interesting about the ebook versions being priced higher Dabney… I’m moving past the borrowing-my-friend’s-books stage and buying my own (she really was an effective pusher!), and I’m sort of torn between electronic and hard copy. I’ve bought both and don’t know which I prefer. I got my ebooks via the Kindle app on my phone, and because it’s my phone I always have it on me, i.e. there’s no such thing as being left with nothing to keep you amused if you’re unexpectedly stuck in a queue/waiting room etc. On the other hand I hate not being able to swap books with others. I’ve gotten another friend hooked on romance now, and there’s a Lisa Kleypas book I reeeeeally want her to read too, but as my copy is on my phone, I can’t lend it to her!

  43. DabneyAAR says:

    Kindle has started a loan program and some romances are on it and I hope more will be. I am loaning my Louisa Edwards books to my sister-in-law and she is reading them on her Kindle. That said, publishers who charge more hoping the e-book revolution will go away are misguided. I read in the NYT today that three new tablets as well as the 2nd generation iPad will be released within the next few months. One of the biggest things people do on them is read. And that doesn’t count the millions of Kindles and Nooks out there.

  44. DabneyAAR says:

    By the way, five of the top ten Audible books “customer favorites” for January 2011 are romances.

  45. Claudia says:

    Talking about the covers, I don’t like to generalize. I agree with most of the comments here that there are some covers with real potential to embarrass you in public but there are others with really beautiful artwork too.
    I personally prefer my privacy when I am reading whether it is a romance novel or a scientific book so I tend to like the covers with double art work where you have to open the page to see the picture. If you value your privacy you can also use a book cover, that also limits the number of interruptions when people what to know if the book is any good or what is it about ;)

  46. Darryl says:

    This might not be a mainstream perspective, but as a man, I’m totally pro romance novels. In terms of literary merit, just like any fiction there’s a story arc including a conflict and a resolution, it just happens to focus on a relationship. And just like any fiction quality varies within the genre. I would argue a Stephen King or Tom Clancy book is just as, if not more formulaic, so I agree there should be no stigma around romances. I think a big factor in so many men ridiculing them comes from the covers of some of the racier romance novels… frankly, the chiseled abs make those of us who aren’t male models a little defensive! However, having read a few, I realized the cover is just a sales tool, and the content is really helpful for most guys: heros are never perfect and are often pretty deeply flawed. Score one for the less than perfect guys!

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