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Saturday, May 18, 2013

In Defense of the Romance Novel



On a recent trip to the library, an acquaintance walked up to me and said, “I heard you write romance novels. Do you really read that stuff?”
Mmm, I mused, how often have I heard that question?

Taking my usual bold stance—on quivering legs—I replied, “Sure, I do. Why not?”

I’ve learned one important thing in my mature years. If I don’t particularly like the question, I’ll ask one of my own. It’ll throw the person off track every time. Well, usually.

Why not?” my casual friend asked. “Well, for one thing,” she stammered, “they’re…trite, with the same plot in every single book. A learned person wouldn’t waste time on them.”

Of course, by the time I arrived home, my busy brain had made a list of “why I read that stuff, and particularly why I write it.”

Answer Number One: Defending romance novels falls in the same category as defending myself. If I probe the question, "do you read that stuff?", the person might really be saying, “A reader of romance usually doesn’t have a life of her own, or a poor love life at best, or she reads to live vicariously through a character.”
My reply might be, “Statistics show that 75 million people read at least one romance novel last year. So, you’re saying you know how all these readers feel?”

Answer Number Two: Some romance novels are better than others. True, the first romance novels were written differently from those today, but one might say that about all fiction in general. Advice to my friend-of-the-moment:
“Try a romance novel. Begin with a few of the tried and true authors: LaVyrle Spencer (my all-time favorite), Susan Wiggs, Penelope Williamson, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Judith McNaught, Kathleen Eagle, and Karen Robards. Neither you nor anyone else needs to waste time on any bad book. That applies to romance novels, as well.”

Answer Number Three: Perhaps readers and writers of romance are actually readers….period. To my detractor, I might reply:
“Oh, by the way, if you’re looking for a good book, you might want to try the 450 page Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Societies, or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, or Plainsong, or The Dust Bowl Years: Voices From the Past. I highly recommend them.”
Would that be tacky of me?

Answer Number Four: A simple statement.
"Reading and writing romance novels are my inalienable rights under the constitution."
After all, this is a free country.

Answer Number Five: I’m easily entertained. When I choose a movie, I do not need to select one that has garnered critically acclaimed praise over the entire globe. The same is true with my reading material.

Answer Number Six: In response to the statement “Romance novels are just fairy tales, stories that never happen in real life.” Maybe, maybe not, but I might reply:
“Sometimes, I like to escape reality.”

Or: "I happen to believe in fairy tale endings. My Mother and Daddy had a special fairy tale romance. In 1932, she was 16 and he was 18. They attended a dance for young people in Mineral Wells, Texas. She wore her prettiest blue dress, and her black hair that was so long she could sit on it, was pulled back with pearl combs. Her black eyes were shining.
He wore his one good suit, the same one he wore to church on Sunday, and his thick, curly blond hair and bright blue eyes sparkled.
Many years later, Daddy liked to tell people, "Another fella brung her to the dance, but I took her home." 
Sigh. I almost cry everytime I think of that. God rest their precious souls. 

I realize the question, “You don’t read that stuff, do you?” has been asked many times.

Everyone has a right to his or her own chosen reading material. I won't quarrel with a soul about that. What I would take issue with is that such a person who would ask this question, seems to think that's all I read--or any other reader who enjoys romance.

(I just finished Defending Jacob, a very long book that will hold you riveted to the page. This is in case anyone reading this needs a good book recommendation and you like crime and courtroom drama.)

Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas

14 comments:

  1. Great article, Celia. And while we shouldn't have to defend reading or writing romance novels, I'm glad you did. LOL When I was a pre-teen, and had read everything else in the small school library, the young librarian loaned me her copy of "Celia Garth". I was hooked on the sweet romance of it and couldn't wait to read more. I quickly went through her stash of Phyllis Whitney (which hooked me on romantic suspense) and on to Grace Livingston Hill, and I've never stopped.
    When asked "Do you really read that stuff?" my answer now is "Doesn't everyone?"

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  2. Great replies. I'd add one more, which is, "What do you read?" Because I do find it odd that people aren't 'attacked' for reading about mass murderers (mysteries) and spy novels. Sure we want romance, just as much as a guy wants to think he's James Bond or Jason Bourne. Somehow, it's okay to live vicariously through a murderer/rapist or spy, but not through romance.

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  3. Well said, Celia!
    Agreed Anna!
    Like the answer, Rebecca!

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  4. Rebecca--Good reply to those naysayers, those who want to criticize. I want to laugh when someone says to me, I hear you write romance novels, as though they're asking a question. I answer yes, I do. Several times, the other person quickly says--I only read mysteries.
    You'd be surprised at how many people read only mysteries, and if ever there was a formulaic genre, it's mystery. It has to be to please readers--true mystery lovers know a wanna-be mystery right away--and they don't like it.The begin alike, the middle is the same, and the ending is always the same...yes, just like a romance.
    I remember reading all of Phyllis Whitney's novels, too.
    Thank you for the comment...

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  5. Great comment, Anna. I'd never thought about it, but you are so right. Readers who love a good murder mystery might very well be living vicariously through the novel--well, at least we can HOPE he's only living vicariously.

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  6. Great answers, Celia. I think some people like to believe they don't need love or happy endings and they also believe it doesn't take hard work to write a romance. Some people like to seem high brow about their reading like they are just above all that trashy romance stuff because they only read Aristotle and biographies. Spare me.
    Frankly, I get a heaping dose of reality every day all day long with all the negative things happening in the world. I deserve--no, I demand a chunk of happiness and a happy ending in the books I read. There's nothing like a good romance story to give a person a better attitude.

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  7. Celia,
    I love this post! It's so true. I've had people ask me that before, too, and my sister gave me the perfect comeback, along the lines you mentioned of surprising them with a question of your own. "Do you really read that stuff?" Your response, with a very cool smile..."Why do you ask?" If they respond with "I just wondered..." then you say, "Hm. Why?" LOL

    Romances are so entertaining to me--as Sarah says, I just want to read about someone else's life for awhile and get away from mine. LOL

    Cheryl

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  8. Great post, Celia. I read to escape, and if there's a happily-ever-after there to make me smile, all the better. :)

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  9. Sarah--I think you have it right about those high-brows. Those who feel superior to others in all ways, and perhaps our writing, love to disdain romance novels as trash. True...I do think some of them were trash!
    When I was a teenager, my mother told me "never, never, ever read a True Romance magazine.' Oh, well, of course I had to then! My friend smuggled one to me, and yes, I read them late at night when my parents were asleep. I didn't like them, though...I think even then I realized they were a little...something...trashy? What did that mean, anyway?
    Like you, when I finally sit down at night to watch something on tv with my husband, most often we don't find anything very good. But we choose something...and then both of us begin to read. That's when I also love the romance of two people and their adventures. In a well-written book...what can be better?

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  10. Cheryl--you know we can always think of something clever to say...later. In this case, I did...much later. When confronted, I can't think of anything. Strange, though, Cheryl, now I can Now that I have numerous books out,anyone who talks to me wants to say how much she enjoyed the book. So. That all evens out.
    I don't understand a person who wants to tell you why she doesn't read romances--"I read Mysteries." Okay. Weird.

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  11. Karen--I read to escape, too....99% of the time. Our book club reads one non-fiction and one classic a year, in addition to more entertaining novels. In those cases...I feel like it's a class assignment...I do it...so I can discuss the book. But I cannot wait to get back to romances!

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  12. Hey, Lindsay--thanks for stopping by!

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  13. Celia, I'm late getting online as you know but wanted to say that I did enjoy this blog post. And yes, I've been asked the question. But now that I have so many books out, I don't hear it anymore. Maybe my would-be detractors assume that someone must be reading my "romance" novels!

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  14. Linda--same here. I don't hear it anymore. For one thing, romance has become not only big business, it's become "acceptable," and with the eReaders--those scoffers who really wanted to read one? Now they can and no one will know. Sneaky, isn't it? I've started conversations with several people in airports and waiting for my car check up as they read on their Kindle--it's always a Kindle. Casually, I ask...are you enjoying your novel? Invariably, with a teensy bit of prodding, the woman will tell me "it's so-and so's newest romance novel." Always a romance.
    I'm so glad to see you back!!!!

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