On the importance of romance novels

Something I’ve heard a lot from various authors who write “genre” fiction is the idea that they aren’t doing anything important. That their books don’t change the world. I’ll tell you the truth, when my favorite authors make the switch to writing fiction that’s “important,” I tend not to follow them. I read stories. And I find stories to be incredibly important.

In our current culture, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy continues to thrive. Walking this morning, I heard a man blasting music from his truck. I heard a lyric about “She’s not Cinderella as she gets undressed / cuz she rocks it like a naughty Wicked Witch of the West,” and wondered (not for the first time) why she couldn’t be both. Every actress who has thrived on Disney, from Annette to Miley, has taken control of her world by claiming her sexuality publicly, causing criticism about “what happened to that sweet little girl,” because of course sweet little girls don’t twerk.

Or for the most nefarious example that’s hit close to home recently, my friend Stacy was walking home after a theater performance a few nights ago. It was late, it was dark, but we live in a fairly sleepy little town. She was on the phone with her boyfriend as she walked, and a car pulled up beside her. The man inside began trying to talk to her, keeping pace with her as she tried to speed up. He began to shout. She began to run. Thankfully, there was an open store on the corner, and she booked it inside. She is one of the strongest women I know, an advocate for feminism and female equality, the kind of amazing person who can make me laugh until I snort milk out my nose, but also call me on my privilege and my bullshit in a way that makes me rethink what I’m doing instead of just getting defensive. And yet, when the clerk at the store offered to call the police, she thought to herself what good will it do, he hasn’t done anything illegal. She thought, did I do something to make this happen? She thought was this my fault in some way?

The beauty of romance novels is that they are read. They are read by scores of men and women, and they, I truly believe, have the power of offering an alternative to the porn-star poses found in magazines and certain movies. Romance writers write about heroines who are not perfect, either physically or emotionally, but still deserve to be treated properly, and be loved. Romance writers write about enthusiastic consent being incredibly sexy and hot. Romance writers include safe sex in a normalizing way.

One of my favorite moments in my freelance erotica career was when I was writing a scene where the very Alpha male ended up asking for consent from the woman he was with. The client objected to his asking, and told me that the man should just, you know, take what he wanted, and the woman would just submit.

I spent about an hour boiling over with rage, and then wrote back and politely informed my client that I did not write non-consentual encounters (negotiated non-con is a different beast, but we’ll leave that for now), and perhaps i had misunderstood him? And if I had not misunderstood him, well then we could talk about whether he wanted to give me a partial payment for what I’d already done and find another freelancer, or just call it done.

He backtracked quickly. I did rewrite the scene to make the Alpha more Alpha-y, but he asked for and got his yes before he laid a finger on the woman in question. Thank you *very* much.

Another of my friends likes to say that I’m saving the world through porn by writing what I do. I write about broken people who manage to tape themselves back together again, and get their happily ever after, even if it doesn’t look like they thought it would. I write about poly families establishing long-term couples that are happily ever after for everyone. I write about women who are strong, and make their own choices. And, maybe even more importantly, I write about partners who love how independent their women are, who don’t view it as a challenge to be conquered, but as an asset in their joint battle against the forces of the world.

My friend Stacy did end up letting the clerk call the police. The police were very respectful. They never once asked what she was doing out so late, on her own, or asked if she thought she should be out by herself. They didn’t blame her, or accuse her, though she still found herself explaining why she was out alone. The guy who shouted at her was, of course, long gone by then, but she got home safe. She gave me permission to tell the story here and use her name, because, as she said to me this morning, “What good is freedom and autonomy if using it puts you in mortal danger?”

To every romance writer out there: don’t believe for a second that what you write isn’t important. What you write is read, and it matters. It helps women see that there is hope, that we can demand more from the people around us. That’s crucial, if we’re ever going to change this world, and make it better for our daughters and our sons.

Keep going.

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13 thoughts on “On the importance of romance novels”

  1. Thank you for this. I so needed to read this today. I write romance and sometimes go through the traumas of thinking my work is worthless and frivolous, but I write this kind of stuff because I need to believe in happy endings, even if they don’t always happen in real life. That’s why some of us read books…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Susan, I’m incredibly glad this was there when you need it. And yes, more than one of the short pieces I’ve written have been because one or another of my friends has gotten in touch and said “tell me a happy story.” I send hugs.

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  2. Awesome post. You’re totally correct: the romance is a powerful instrument to society. We should never dismiss the most “superficial” (or, at least that’s what so many people believe romance to be) of things. Personally, I’m not a fan of romance simply because it’s not my cuppa tea, but you have really valid points and I’ll reblog your post on the weekend πŸ™‚

    Just curious, though: I want to learn more about your freelance career! Did you write personalized stories for people? That sounds like the awesomeness thing ever. How did you get started?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, T.K.–thanks for reading, and reblogging! I happened into freelance erotica writing totally by chance. I went to oDesk looking for blogging jobs, and found that the erotica blogs paid better! My experience there was pretty good; I did have one client who ended up stopping communications and never paying me, but that was my only negative experience with the site, and the oDesk staff did everything they could to help me. I believe that oDesk recently changed their policies, and people are no longer allowed to post jobs for erotica–now they’re looking for “steamy romance” or similar keywords.

      Some jobs involved clients asking for “a 5000 word erotica story with an Alpha male,” some knew they wanted a paranormal story involving shifters, and some clients sent me an incredibly detailed outline of how the story should go. Those last ones in a way, were the most entertaining to write. You haven’t lived as a writer until you’ve written a magical girl cuckolding story, you just haven’t. πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for this. I write stories about people who sometimes have romances πŸ™‚ Stories about relationships are far more satisfying to me than the big, important books. While I enjoy an IMPORTANT book now and again, I go back to relationship driven books for comfort and enjoyment .

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    1. I think one of the things that people forget is that all books are driven by relationships–whether they’re relationships between people, between people and their world, between people and their environment. Stories are people in relation to other things. Deciding that only THESE SORTS of relationships are valid is nonsensical, once you start really thinking about it. In general, I think the really good IMPORTANT books know that, but the people who walk around patting themselves on the back for only reading literary fiction tend to forget.

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      1. Yes, I think that’s what I was getting at. I love literary fiction. I actually don’t like how humans always have to put things in boxes–literary, romance etc.

        Maybe more to the point is that if I fall in love with a character I tend to love the book–even if nothing happens. Genres don’t hold me back and fantastic but cold writing doesn’t keep me interested.

        Of course great books have great writing and lovable (or interesting) characters.

        Liked by 1 person

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