Friday, September 09, 2011

Snooty Toots and Catty Pants

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?


Anne Gallagher said...

OH. MY. GOD. That story, your story is what I encounter ALL THE TIME where I live in my little hokey community in North Carolina.

Yes, Bless your heart, is what I always hear when I tell people I write historical romance. Then they give me the withered face and walk away. It has been on the tip of my tongue to ask their retreating backs "Well, what did you ask for?"

When I lived up north, in Rhode Island, where I was born and brought up, people were a little more tolerant. At least I'd get asked if there was a plot, what it was. There were a few questions as to WHY I wrote that particular genre. At least I had the answers and could carry on at least 10 or 15 minutes of conversation.

Some days down here when people ask what I do, I usually tell them I'm a stay-at-home-mom. They know what that means. And I don't have to deal with their look of censure, as if I'm writing trash or porn.

Then again, some days if I'm feeling particularly snarky, I tell them I'm in the middle of a dissertation on the societal mores of the Regency era, most notably the early 1800's with a particular focus on the reign of Prince George as Regent and his relationships with the architectural, musical and political giants of his day. Booyah!

Bless their little hearts, they never bother me again.

Donna Cummings said...

Great post! I typically tell people I write romantic comedy, which I do, but I avoid the discomfort that results from telling non-romance-readers I also write historical romance. I like Anne's dissertation comment though. LOL That might be worth a try next time!

Lexi said...

Anne, I like your style. You get'em, girl! The truth is, good writing is good writing, although most folks may not realize that. People have preconceptions about romance and they have NO idea how hard it is to write ANYTHING!

Lexi said...

Yes, Donna, I think Anne's dissertation answer is a beaut. I shall have to come up with something similar to use myself!

Lisa Dunick said...

I encounter that kind of reaction all the time, but the funny thing is that I also get a similar reaction about my old life. The one where I got a PhD and thought I was going to be a professor.

It's funny how people can be just as put off about that. They can put down difficult books as intellectual snobbishness, make snide comments about how they're not going to call me Dr, because I'm not a real one, and generally look down on what I did during my 20s, because who do I think I am? I mean, it's fine to read The Help--that's a "literary" novel, but Morrisson? She's just pretentious with all those big words.

But I think having the two sides to my background--the deep knowledge of so-called "great" literature and a broad knowledge of romance helps me know that the people who put down what we write are just plain misinformed. I've read the really hard stuff, and I've read the wonderful, wonderful hot stuff, and I can tell you (and anyone else) that they both have literary merit. I think having those two parts helps me ignore the nay-sayers. I figure when they've read half as much as I have, then they can judge.

Lexi said...

Wise words, Lisa, and it just goes to show you that people are notional about EVERYTHING! At some point in life, you just have to say bump it, do what flutters your flag, and pooh on the rest. ;-)

Laura Hayden said...

Best story I heard about proper comeuppance. A friend was mailing a manuscript and while at the PO, ran into an acquaintance.

Acquaintance said, "Oh are you still writing those little books?"

My friend smiled and said, "Yep. I just mailed one." Then she patted the hood of her car and added, "Those little books generated not so little paychecks." Then she rode off in a new 'Vette.

Now mind you, he was her DH's car and not necessarily purchased with her royalties. But still, the opportunity to shut up an idiot was timely and priceless.

Lexi said...

Love your story, Laura. I have a friend who encountered a similar attitude from a woman who asked her what she wrote. My friend replied, "Historical romance," and the woman dismissed her with a "Oh, I see. You don't write REAL books."

Katherine Bone said...

This is such an interesting story. I'm still nervous when people ask what I write, but I believe we are our biggest advocates. If we cannot stand up and proclaim that we write about love, we do ourselves a disservice, don't we? In other words, believe in what you do and that confidence will win over readers.

Whether people we talk to like what we write isn't for us to care about. What we care about is whether or not they are sneaking our books into their home. Because you know that 84 year old woman does. And meeting you probably made them all curious enough to buy your book. ;)

They're just too southern to mention that unmentionable truth. ;)

Lexi said...

Katherine, I think there are a lot of closet romance readers out there. Have to be, if the sales numbers are correct. I have received fan mail from two MEN who've read Demon Hunting in Dixie and said they enjoyed it. I'm sure they aren't the ONLY guys that read romance, by a long shot! We will wear them down and win them over. They don't know what they're missing! Hee hee.

Kat Jones said...

Great post Lexi! It's unfortunate that there's a part of the population that just doesn't get it. As you said, it takes the same amount of skill to write a good romance novel as any other kind.

TerriOsburn said...

I love this blog. I've been fortunate in my Romance reader life (which also started around 13) to either not face much derision or I didn't notice it. Also had a coworker pick up a book and start reading a random page. Happened to be a love scene and he embarrassed himself way more than anyone else.

I tell people I write Romance if they ask and have yet to get a bad reaction. I'm sure my day is coming. :) Thanks to these comments, I'll be ready!

Suzanne Johnson said...

LOL. Great post--I think I've met some of those ladies. I can't wait for people in my one-horse North Alabama hometown having heart-failure as they read about my merman with his bottle-nosed dolphin tattoo in an, uh, interesting spot. Bless their hearts.

Lexi said...

Thanks, Kat. Those of who do get it, are better off, IMO. Life without romance? Perish the thought!

Lexi said...

Terri, I think it's best to smile and be gracious. You know the old saying about horses and water, or was it something else about culture and thinking . . .

Lexi said...

Suzanne, the horse in our one-horse town died. A tattoo on his mermaid winkle, huh? That ought to get them talking. Hee hee.

Chris Bailey said...

As I recall, our poetry writing professor LOVED hot sex. He just wanted it composed into free verse. Discovering what he desired is what got me an A in that class. And an advance to the graduate workshop. Where my erotic verse ran into a brick wall. So, yeah, I'd say I've had some experience being dissed.

Like you said, it's a matter of owning who you are and loving what you love. My nephew is a wine importer. I like cheap white over ice with a twist of lime. He's dying to help me develop my palate! I've tasted loads of other wines. They're good. I still like crushed ice and lime with my white. And in a pinch, I don't mind Fresca or club soda as a substitute.

After reading your story, here's the note to self I'm tucking into my writing hope chest--do not agree to perform for my sister's book club.

Louisa Cornell said...

Isn't it amazing that those people who have so much trouble with the love scenes in romance novels have no problem with some of the graphic rape and torture scenes in some of the books featured in Oprah's book club. I read a number of them because some of my more "literary" friends thought I needed to read "classic" literature written after Truman Capote and William Faulkner. It was some of the most depressing, violent and preachy stuff I've ever read. My reading time is too precious to spend on self-indulgent wallowing in how tough real life is. I already know that! I live it every day! I want some escape, some romance, some adventure. Romance novels give me that and more.

In my writing I've been very fortunate. My store manager has been very supportive of my efforts. And after she read my Between the Sheets winning entry out loud to a group of my female coworkers (I was not present, thank goodness!) all she said was "More, please!" She is STILL in love with my hero, Tristan! LOL

Carla Swafford said...

LOL! Chris and Lexi, I say bring'em on! I'm proud of what I write and it's very hot. So far I've had a couple raised eyebrows and some chuckles, but I laugh right along with them? Why? Because when I laugh, I know they start wondering, "What does she know about romance (making love) that I don't?"

Several people have said, "I don't read romances..." Bless their hearts. What a sad life they lead. "But I'll read your book." Boy, are they going to be surprised.

I believe I mentioned a time or two on this blog about how I stopped a male co-worker from making remarks about the book sitting on my desk that I was currently reading, but here it goes. The last time he said, "What dirty book are you reading today?"

I lifted my eyebrows and said, "That's so sad. I feel sorry for your wife since you think sex is dirty." He's never said another word about any of the books sitting on my desk.

Lexi said...

Sorry I've been MIA. I've been with family since this afternoon!

Chris, I remember that teacher. He loved your stuff. Mine, not so much. At my house, we drink what we call hole in the handle red wine. My nephew, a native Californian accustomed to good wine at inexpensive prices, was genuinely pained when he learned of this. It was like he'd just discovered I was a cannibal, or something.

Lexi said...

Louisa, I still remember reading As I Lay Dying in high school. Talk about depressing. And one whole chapter, front to back, consisted of these words: My mother is a fish.

I've never forgotten that. I got it. The dead fish represented his mother's death, but really? Give me happy, any day. I read criminal transcripts for a living, for Pete's sake!

Lexi said...

You tell 'em, Carla! That was the perfect way to shut him up! Here's my take on the raised eyebrows thing. You can't live your life to fit someone else's expectations. Know what happens if you don't follow your dream because you're afraid of offending someone? You get to the end of your life with lots of regret. And chances are, the person or persons you worried about offending are dead. Life is short. Write what you love!

Lisa Dunick said...

Awww-- but "By mother is a fish" is the one great line from that book :OP

Also, I'm really never going to be able to pull off telling someone "bless your heart," am I??

Louisa Cornell said...

Probably not, Lisa. LOL !! But only we Southern Women know the code!

Lexi said...

Lisa, you are right. I still remember that line today, and I read that book in the eleventh grade! Louisa, there's another code word, used pretty much universally, I think, in the U.S., and that's ma'am, a pejorative used by sales clerks everywhere. As in, "Be with you in a moment, ma'am," in tones of disdain. I know what they're really calling me. . .