Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Back Talk

What does it take to make a book "good?" Does it have to be an Oprah pick? A New York Times Best-Seller? A hardback? Does it need to be a social commentary, a mystery thriller, or an epic Science Fiction? Or does it just need to entertain? To take you away from your everyday problems and stress?

As a lover of romance novels for more than thirty years, I've been on the receiving end of more than my share of sneers and jibes. You'd think I was reading pornography from some of the comments I've received. Of course, these comments usually come from someone who wouldn't stoop to the level of actually reading one.

The old view of romance novels as "bodice rippers" no longer applies. Today's romance novels are about feisty women who know what they want and go after it. They are all about love, commitment, and happily ever after. They are about women who stand up for what they believe in, who have interesting careers, and who can stand toe to toe with a man and hold her own.

If you like mystery and suspense, you can find that in a romance novel. If you like sci-fi and paranormal activity, you can find that too, as well as medical dramas, comedies, and family sagas. So why is there such prejudice against romance novels?

I think the feminist movement was part of the reason. At a time when women were struggling to be seen as equals, the romance genre was still a step behind. The novels of the seventies featured a quieter, meeker heroine than you'll find in current novels. She was still submissive and often taken advantage of. Not so today. Any hero who tries to hold a romance heroine under his thumb is very likely to end up with a black eye!

Like it or not, romance novels are big business. In spite of its undeserved reputation, Romance is still the biggest selling genre, comprising 54.9% of paperback fiction sales. In comparison, mystery novels hold about 29.6% of the market, Science-Fiction a mere 6.9%, and general fiction about 12.9%.

Romance authors like Nora Roberts, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, JoAnn Ross, and Jennifer Cruisie consistently dominate the Best-Seller lists. Many people don’t realize that Janet Evonovich is a romance author, as are Suzanne Brockman, Linda Lael Miller, Lisa Jackson, Sandra Brown, Lisa Gardner, Tess Gerritson...the list goes on and on. And not all romance authors are women. James Patterson and Bob Mayer have recently joined the ranks of the Romance Writers of America.

Romance authors are often perceived as bored housewives who lounge at their computers in their satin dressing gowns, munching Godiva chocolates as they pen their stories. Not true. (Well, the Godiva chocolate part might be true.) Today’s romance authors are doctors, dentists, lawyers, college professors, scientists, CPA’s, FBI agents, CEO’s and CFO’s of major corporations, just to name a few. With backgrounds like those, they can’t help but have great stories to tell.

So, I’m issuing a challenge. If you haven’t read a romance novel in the last three years, pick one up. I challenge you to read Lisa Gardner’s latest and not stay up half the night to finish it. I challenge you to try any one of JoAnn Ross or Allison Brennan’s books and not look under the bed before you turn out the lights. I challenge you to be truly well-read by including romance in your daily fiction diet.


Meg Allison said...

Very well stated, Tori!

Recently I took some editing with me and an acquaintance asked if it was a book I had written.

"Oh, what kind is it?"
"A romance."
Eyebrows raised to her hairline. "Oh."

Made me want to smack her, honestly. But I just smiled. Yes, the prejudice is there and I don't think it'll go away any time soon.

Tori Scott said...

Go ahead and smack her, Meg, from all of us. :)