I’ve been reading romance since the age of thirteen, when I discovered Georgette Heyer. From there, I moved on to Kathleen Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers and Johanna Lindsey, authors whose writing was a little more . . . shall we say, warm. They had SEX in them; actual hotty totty he-ing and she-ing and I LOVED them!
In my twenties, when I was a sparkly new lawyer, I will admit to being a little embarrassed at reading ‘that trash,’ as some people called it. Some part of me whispered that I ought to be reading something more intellectual, something more literary. Your mother’s an English teacher, for God’s sake, my inner nag would scold.
I shoved a hanky in her mouth and kept reading romance.
Thanks to a certain mischievous male colleague, I used to hide my romance novels in my desk. If I forgot and left them lying around, he would snatch up whatever book I was enjoying at the moment, and give a dramatic reading. To embarrass me, of course.
I cured him of that nasty, little habit by planting a Shannon McKenna book in my office. You should have seen his face when he opened up THAT one and launched into his usual theatrical recitation. My friend is a trifle staid, and Ms. McKenna’s works are closer to lava hot than ‘warm.’ Lots of ‘c’ words and damp,moving parts and . . . well, you get the picture.
But, by the time I was in my thirties, I figured, to heck with it. I like reading romances. This is who I am. Call me a mental midget or a silly romantic or sexually deprived. Whatever. I love romance, so booyah.
So, it was something of a surprise when I smacked headlong into the same old prejudice against romance and romance writers when I was recently invited to speak to a local book club. The meeting was held at a member’s home and there were 15 to 20 women present. Most of them I knew; some I didn’t.
When I arrived, the hostess ushered me onto a porch where a group of women were drinking festive beverages. No one offered me anything to drink, so I eventually helped myself to a glass of wine from the table. We had dinner, and then I spoke. It was an informal gathering and very off the cuff. Now, I love to talk about writing, so it was no strain on me to run on for an hour about my favorite subject. A number of people asked questions and the time quickly passed. At the end of the meeting, everyone got up and left without a word.
I departed with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. While I hadn't expected to be greeted with a great deal of fanfare, folks had acted a little odd and standoffish. Had I talked too much? Too little? Were they bored? As I drove home and thought back over the evening, it hit me. I’d been dissed. Big time.
Oh, it wasn’t anything overt. Heavens, no! Outright rude to someone? Perish the thought! These are Southern ladies we’re talking about here. It was a subtle thing, a pervasive atmosphere in the room, a curl of the lip, a blank expression, a general lack of enthusiasm.
"Well, this is the first book like THIS I’ve ever read . . . I read historical fiction, you see. Not historical ROMANCE. Oh, my, my, NO. I like to LEARN something when I read. But, . . ."
"I must say, your book is remarkably free of typos . . ."
"You’re a good writer. Why do you write THIS?"
And the piece de resistance, from my across-the-street neighbor, a seventy-year-old widow with a cultured drawl you could cut with a knife:
"Ah’ll say one thang for you, you sho’ do know mo-ah about sex than Ah do . . ."
Really? Really, Miz Sophy? You were married 45 years and have two grown children. The sex in my books is pretty straight forward: insert tab B into slot A and proceed until the denouement. What the heck do you think I do over there at my house, anyway? Dress up in a bunny suit and roll my husband around the yard in a wheel barrel and have hot monkey sex under the dogwood? Lord.
It’s called imagination. Fantasy. Escapism. Having a good time with a story about love and happily ever after.
I am from a small town in South Alabama with one gas station and a blinking light. I am NOT the Happy Hooker. I’m sure my poor husband wishes I were, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin.
And, while I do own a wheel barrel, the tire is flat and I’m fresh out of bunny suits.
In short, I was the turd in their bucket of literary buttermilk. They tolerated me because I’m a local author in a town so small you can fold it up and put it in your back pocket. I’d been published, which must be a kind of big deal, right? But, having determined that I write romance—ew, icky icky ninny poo—they dismissed me. After all, anybody can write that stuff.
In Southern terms, I got a big old 'bless your heart.'
What about you? Have you encountered prejudice against the romance genre, either as a reader or a writer?