Friday, September 28, 2007

Guilty as Charged!

I'm so pleased to be added as a regular contributor here on Tote Bags n' Blogs! And I thought I might as well start with a post about something near and dear to my heart...the fundamentals of why I read, and write, romantic fiction.

Yesterday on BBC Radio 4, Mills and Boon was the subject of a show called GUILTY PLEASURES. As a Mills and Boon author, I, and several other authors, were waiting with bated breath to see if it would perpetuate all the old stereotypes around category romance or if the times were changing.

And there was a bit of both and it was, for the most part, balanced. Many of the interviews and bits, especially with authors Sharon Kendrick and Gill Sanderson and editors Jo Carr and Meg Sleightholme, did a lot to dispel the negative connotations that go with reading popular romantic fiction.

But fight as we do, try as we may, there are still those that consider what we do a teeny step above gum on their literary shoes and it burns my bottom to see supposedly well-educated, intelligent women demeaning their own sex.

I actually laughed at Celia Brayfield’s assertion that it’s all clichéd and yet we try to remove the clichés and you can see the holes. Seriously? I actually had a mental image of a book with huge chunks missing where we’d slipped in those pesky things! And another of my frantic editor ripping out massive blocks of text. (I’d have a hard time making word count then, wouldn’t I!) Moreover, we write to a target audience. Are there expectations? Of course! You know what you’re getting with a Mills and Boon story – a happy ending. And ask any author of category romance, and they’ll tell you that finding new and fresh ways of meeting that expectation is what keeps us on our toes.

Mary Evans, a Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Kent, goes further and asserts that actually nothing happens in our novels. There is no relevance, no “discussion.” And I say to that…well, I won’t type the word here. But I can say that my next release is very relevant. It is timely and it is about real problems…problems like coming home from war a changed man, and having to deal with real feelings of guilt and grief and how to actually relate to people who have no idea what you’ve suffered. We tackle real-life issues and guarantee a happy ending.

Why does it need to be a book of some higher and greater purpose? I went back to a passage in my book STORY by Robert McKee: “When your premise is an idea you feel you must prove to the world, and you design your story as an undeniable certification of that idea, you set yourself on the road to didacticism. In your zeal to persuade, you will stifle the voice of the other side.”

I don’t want to write didactic tomes. I want my characters flawed and messy and with lots of gray area…just like people. What more personal and relevant thing is there above exploring our own motivations and what makes us the people we are? I’d actually argue that MORE people should read romance novels. Romance novels are about good people who have had their share of problems and growth…overcoming those obstacles and finding that ONE PERSON to share their lives with. A committed, monogamous relationship! So far I’m not seeing the downside. I think if more people read books with hope for the future we’d see a more caring society. There, I said it.

As far as comments made about the readers of romance having “two neurons” and being “just” able to read…my dear ladies. I have a university degree in English Literature. I can assure you that I can read. More than adequately. Moreover I can actually be discriminating. My degree actually taught me to have an open mind.

What really burns me is when people act like they are speaking for an entire gender when they are not. There is a new feminism in this millennium and it’s not about pitting male against female, it’s about a woman’s right. A woman’s right to be exactly who she is. Her right to become who she wants to be and celebrate that, whether it’s a stay at home mum or the President. It’s about embracing the choice. So don’t you dare adopt a patronizing tone when you chastise us for exercising our choice just because it doesn’t match up with your rhetoric.

I think Faye Weldon put it best, so I’ll close with that. She said she might not read it, but she will “fight to the death for the rights of the readers to read what they want.”

Amen, sister.


christina said...

Hi Donna
I agree with every word you say - and choice is everything. One day I might feel like dipping into King Lear, the next 'Almost a Family', another day it could be Terry Pratchett. I think some people who criticise Mills and Boon have never actually read any of the recent books.
Sorry we didn't get to chat last week, btw!

Charlene Sands said...

Hi Donna,
I relate reading with my mood. Most times, I'm so fed up with what's happening on the news, that I want a good book, with lots of emotion that will lift me up. Some books are such downers. Our romances are about real issues and how to solve them and come out on top. It's a great journey and a positive reflection of how to deal with life's problems. As romance writers, we are constantly on the defensive, yet we still sell more books to more people than the other genres combined. So it must be working!

Lois said...

Yeah -- life is all about choices, and if we all liked or disliked the same things, then we sure wouldn't need those choices. LOL But alas, we do, and darn it, if I want to read romances, and the types I like within there, I'm going to gosh darn it! :)


Donna Alward said...

Christina...I KNOW. It seemed like there were so many people and so little time...

Charlene, I agree. When romance were described as an unsatisfied, depressed, jaundiced lot I think my jaw hit the floor. I can tell you for sure that the people I met last week are the warmest, UNjaundiced people I've ever met! LOL

Personally Lois I think that life would be pretty boring if we were all the same, and that's why even within the romance genre there's something for nearly every taste. :-)

Maureen said...

What a crazy society we live in where stories of love, fidelity, hope, personal growth and happy endings receive so much scorn.

Lily said...

Of course having the choice to read what you like is amazing! I wonder how people did when authorities repressed their readings.

Nathalie said...

Well siad Maureen. It is pathetic that when you say loud and clear that you like to read romance people look at you and think you are just inferior or less smart! Thanx for writing such nice category romance :)

scifibookcat said...

Amen! Nothing angers me more than ignorant snobs who denigrate those of us who prefer Genre Fiction (Romance, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mystery, Horror) over "Traditional" Literature (Yes, I do have BA in English Literature...graduating high school and college Summa cum laude and Magna cum laude.)

Contrary to their beliefs, I think it takes more talent and skill to write in genre fiction than traditional fiction. Not only do authors have to create new worlds, where our current rules no longer exist, but they also come up with new and interesting storylines. Not to mention how depressing most "Lit" books are (alcoholism, drug use, physical, sexual and verbal abuse, indiscriminate sex and cheating on spouse/partner, and any other horrible thing the author can throw at the characters).

When my customers in the book store ask for Lit books I'm knowledgeable enough to recommend authors that they'll enjoy based on previous authors they've read. When they ask if I've read a particular book, I usually explain that I have an extended family like a soap opera, and between that and what's going on in society today, when I want to be entertained, I'll chose something with HEA (happily ever after) or at least an adventure story set in an alien/fantasy world where the authors don't torture the characters just because they can. So give me my Paranormal Romance and my SciFi/Fantasy and I'm happy (Beth who reads 20 to 30 books per week and started out reading Mills & Boon and their American counterparts Harlequin as well as Georgette Heyer).

deseng said...

I think these people have narrow minds! Gosh, I read a historical romance novel called WHEN SEDUCING A SPY by Sari Robins and it was filled with all kinds of historical details and mannerisms of that time. She filled it with the right touch of detail and wove the story around it so it was an utterly fascinating novel!

Also, I am reading right now THE SMOKE THIEF by Shana Abe' which is a paranormal/fantasy romance novel that takes place in the 1700's. It is filled with wonderful rich details of that time period. It is remarkable the lengths authors go to for their stories. The story absolutely grabs you and takes you on a wonderful journey through a made up world of shapeshifters and humans coexisting with one another.

I have read numerous romance books, fantasies, mysteries, etc. and I always learn something from each and every one of them. Authors always take the time to reasearch their locations and historical details. Romance books should not be knocked. There is so much to learn in anything you read!


Donna Alward said...

You see these sorts of informed opinions are what I think need to come forward more often.

I'm darned proud to be doing what I'm doing. Full stop and no apologies.

Thank you everyone for your wonderful reponses!