Tuesday, April 29, 2014

R - E - S - P - E - C - T

Sing it, Aretha !

Everyone has their own definition of "respect" just as everyone has their own gauge of and desire for it. Much of what I hear connected to the word "respect" these days makes me want to smack young people in the back of the head and say if you want respect, earn it!

 And the initial step to earning respect is to respect yourself first.

Let's face it, romance writers are often seen as the Rodney Dangerfields of the book world. (For those of you too young to know who Rodney is, Google him. Or watch an old but funny movie - Caddyshack.)

We've made a great deal of progress, but in many quarters of the literary world we are still seen as our readers' dirty little secret. E readers are touted as a way to indulge in an addiction to romance without flaunting THOSE covers for all the world to see. You can be a closet "bodice ripper" fan and tell your friends you are reading the latest John Grisham novel or perhaps The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (it just won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.) They all look the same on an E reader.

The romance genre DOMINATES the book market and has done so for a number of years. Romance is projected to take in 17% to 19% of the market in 2014. The next genre in profitability, Mystery, will take half as much. And guess what? Some of those mystery authors happen to write romance as well. So there!!

Do these facts get us the respect we deserve? Not so much. We're still seen as the chick who shows up at the debutante ball in lingerie and thigh highs. (Hey, I'll bet we go home with more than just a wrinkled dress and a droopy corsage!) Our books are seen as candy for lonely, frustrated women who are either unhappy in their marriage or can't get a date in the first place. SNORT! If only they knew! Today's romance novels are read by smart young adults, ambitious teens, happily married women, lawyers who eat Wall Street types for lunch before dancing the night away with handsome young studs, and every type of woman with which God has decided to grace the Earth. 

Yes, they are also read by lonely women who have experienced heartache or perhaps have never even had a date. And some of those women are doctors, lawyers, teachers, nurses, EMT's and soldiers defending our country.


Romance readers don't fit a mold, because baby, we break it at every turn. Those literary critics and uber-feminists, and comedians who make fun of romance novels, who put them down as formulaic, unrealistic junk food for readers have no idea who reads our work. What they have is a complete lack of respect for the three things romance readers have in abundance.


In spite of everything they see in this world on a daily basis, romance readers have a deep abiding faith that love can change things, can make the world a better place, can make us better people. And they have hope - if their lives are good they have hope they will always be so, no matter what life throws at them. If their lives aren't good, they have hope that if they persevere things will get to good, that good is always possible. 

And they have self respect. A famous talk show host was once asked why she never featured a romance novel as her book club selection. Her response? "They give women unrealistic expectations when it comes to romance." EXCUSE ME?  Who made her the arbitrator of what I have a right to expect from romance? You remember at the beginning of this post I talked about the first step in earning respect? Well here it is, sisters.

A hero who loves me enough to let me be myself. - I deserve that.

A hero who loves only me and will until his last breath. - I deserve that.

A hero who will take care of me and my children, but isn't afraid to share that responsibility with me. - I deserve that.

To be swept off my feet by a man who cannot live without me. - I deserve that.

Great sex with a man who sees me as an equal and for whom sex is a spiritual as well as physical experience. - I deserve that. 

Happily. Ever. After. with a man who will ride out life's troubles with me because I make the ride worthwhile. - I deserve that. 

Unrealistic expectations? No, ma'am. I expect nothing less than I deserve. Every woman should because her self respect demands it. Because she has too much damned self respect to settle for anything less. Romance novels don't teach women to believe in fantasy. They teach women to set the bar for a better reality, for the reality they deserve. They enable women to spot a hero when they see one. Not because he's incredibly handsome or ripped like a cover model. These critics must think we're really stupid. Heroes, like romance readers, come in all shapes and sizes. Romance novels enable us to measure a man by the conduct of his character, by the little things he does and says, by the way he treats us every single day.

Romance readers and writers are smart, capable women who know the difference between reality and fantasy. We choose to read and write romance novels because they entertain us, empower us, teach us, make us laugh and cry and believe. We are the keepers of hope, faith and self respect. We believe in the power of love. We believe in the power of forgiveness.

"Of course she'll forgive you. The future of the human race depends completely on the ability of a woman's heart to forgive. Always has. Always will."

In case you're wondering this quote is from a romance novel. I know. I wrote it. I am a romance writer. I write the stuff dreams are made of and I make no apologies for it. I write about faith, hope, love, triumph and tragedy, sex and romance, adventure and danger, elegance and grace, power and self respect and the belief we all deserve the very best life has to offer.


Have you ever experienced as a reader or writer of romance novels disrespect, derision or even subtle teasing by those who don't understand or even those who completely disregard romance novels as "real" books? What has been your response? Do you prefer to read on an E reader because people can't see THOSE covers? Are you a proud reader or writer of romance? Lets talk! 


Ali Hubbard said...

I admit that I am a romance convert (I was never really exposed to it as a teen). I loved science fiction though, and Diana Gabaldon's Outlander brought me over to romance! I found myself analyzing that book and realizing that the romance was so REAL and amazing. I began reading other romance books and have been hooked ever since. By the way, can't WAIT for the TV series this summer. *fingers crossed it's awesome*

There are such wide varieties of romance, that I don't know how anyone could say "they create unrealistic expectations." Using that logic, we would never read any fiction...or watch most TV shows. You are right: romance is not one size fits all.

I haven't experienced any problems when I say I write romance, other than perhaps confusion. I recently left a 20-year career in manufacturing. When I told people I was going to write, the most common response was, "Oh! Children's books?" Um, no. lol. But, I know it happens too often, even to the best. And I'm probably just too oblivious to notice it has happened to me. haha

I was lucky enough to catch Eloisa James speak in Tuscaloosa recently. She indicated that she has experienced this over the years. I always wonder if those people ever read her? Because she puts poetry and beauty to page.

We can take it. We know what these books mean...to us and to others!

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

I tell people that you teach others how to treat you. I think romance helps us know where to set the bar.

That was a wonderful post, Louisa. I tweeted and shared on FB.

Louisa Cornell said...

Exactly, Ali. We know what romance novels mean to us as writers and as readers. And hey, being oblivious to insults isn't a bad thing. It helps you to rise above and ignore the negative nellies in life!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you so much, Ella. And you are so right. We do teach people how to treat us and we have every right to set the bar high.

Carla Swafford said...

Do I hear an AMEN, sister?! AMEN!!

Love e-readers, but while at the doctor's office today, I held my romance novel high enough for me to read and anyone to see the back.

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Carla! I do use my E reader, but I truly prefer paper books whenever possible. I love to read them in the break room at work because invariably, while some of my coworkers poke fun, one or two will look at the cover, ask it it is any good and WHAM! I have just hand sold a book for one of my fellow authors. I keep bookmarks in my bag as well. That way if someone asks me for a suggestion I can whip one out and they have an instant visual.

Beth Trissel said...

Louisa, what a fabulous post! I totally agree, and yes, I've received some of the criticism you've covered so well for being a romance author. I love this and am sharing!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you, Beth! You are such an amazing writer no one has the right to doubt you and your books are part of a wonderful affirmation of love and its power on this earth.

Marie Campbell said...

Hear, hear, Louisa! Wonderful post!

Louisa Cornell said...

Thank you so much, Marie!

Anonymous said...

I've never been shy about reading my books--any books--in public. (This includes the 60s Harlequin Romances I took to the gym after my sister picked up a box at a garage sale.)

I can think of two occasions when people have put down romance in conversation with me (in both cases, not knowing I write romance). When I said I wrote romance and asked them a couple of questions, they backed up very quickly. I'm a nice person, but it's rare for me to run into someone with more firepower for a books & literature discussion.

Robert E Lee said that reading fiction weakened the mind. I think anyone who complains about how romance novels affect women would have to hold that position: all fiction is destructive. I think fiction--stories of all types--are a good thing, so I'd just disagree with someone who took that point of view.

I have noticed, since joining RWA 10 years back, that there are a fair number of articles on what to say when people put you down for writing/reading romance. This makes me sad.

Louisa Cornell said...

It is sad that we have to have a plan for supporting our love of reading and writing romance. I hold the position that in reading fiction our horizons are broadened, our prejudices are eroded and sometimes even destroyed, our hearts and souls are fed and our minds are opened to the idea of endless possibilities.

robertsonreads said...


I tried to leave a comment yesterday but my iphone acts crazy sometimes...

Reading romances gives me an opportunity to learn spelling of words, meanings and how to use them. I am one of the best spellers that I know and reason being is because of reading.

I was a very poor reader when I was young but after taking ACT test, the counselor talked to my about it and to encourage me to read. The summer before entering high school I picked up my first Harlequin and game on.

Reading has seen me through divorce and many court dates after, unemployment for 2 years & during this time frame of 6 months I lost my dad, 1 of his brothers & an aunt. Through a hysterectomy during the same 2 year period.

And, what I don't understand is if I were reading a western, mystery or such, it's okay but a romance novel is smut, trash,...

Funny how romances are the number 1 selling genre out there. I'm so glad that I have a Kindle and can read to my heart's content.

Thank you for such a wonderful article.

Ginger Robertson aka robertsonreads

Louisa Cornell said...

Ginger, readers like you are the reason I love to write romance. And like you, reading romance has helped me through every sort of personal crisis a person can endure. Life is tough sometimes. Reading is the perfect escape. Reading romance isn't just an escape for most of us. It is an affirmation of the power of love and a beacon of hope that our lives can and do always get better. Thanks so much for stopping by and for your support of the romance genre!

Cari Hislop said...

I'm feeling the self-respect! Great post! People who sneer at romance novels (and writers) are pathetic. Is there any great story from any age that isn't at heart a romance of some sort? Sometimes when I tell people I write romances they look at me funny (I can see in their eyes they assume I'm some sort of nymphomaniac, maybe I am - who cares what they think either way?). If anyone ever tries to tell me to my face that romances are pointless they'd better have time for a lecture on the history of the development of western literature because I can give them one (as long as my memory hasn't been sucked into the mental void - but that's another subject).

Most of the last two weeks I've been ill in bed feeling like death warmed over - they took me off my thyroid medication and left me in free fall to see what would happen (to try to figure out what to do next) - splat! All my brain allowed me to do was read (I couldn't even bear to listen to music). I've been gorging on these Vampire romances (which my brain has slurred into Virpance (a new genre). I worked my way through most of Christine Feehan's Dark series and then somehow came across Kesley Cole's Lore series (she's such a brilliant writer) and thanks to Cole I've spent days laughing myself sick. But all the stories have really resonated with me and made me thinking about deeper issues - which is what good stories do (no matter the genre). At the end of the day all stories are about developing as human beings and anyone who thinks it's intelligent to subtract "romance" from the equation is clearly in need of some psychiatric aid. Without romance...there's no freaking people to write or read "Literature" or design rockets or sing or wander around looking important in expensive suits on Wall Street!

Louisa Cornell said...

Preach it, Cari! Life IS romance !!