Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Genre Prejudices

For some weird reason, I woke up this morning thinking it was Sunday. It's not because it was a holiday yesterday that felt like a Saturday because I probably did more work yesterday than normal and didn't take it as a holiday. I forgot to set my alarm last night and woke up thinking I was going to be late for church. I guess my brain is just being wacky, but I still can't get used to the idea that today is Tuesday. It's right up in the corner of my computer screen, next to the time, and yet everything I've read online today about it being Tuesday has given me a shock.

It's a gray, cloudy day, which is usually good for writing, but I'm not entirely sure what I should be working on. There is a lot of uncertainty in my life at the moment, so I suppose it should be no surprise that I'm not even sure what day it is.

Speaking of uncertainty, I'm right out of questions about writing to address, and I have a writing post scheduled for tomorrow. Is there anything you're dying to know about the craft of writing, the process of writing, the publishing business, etc.?

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to write about today, but I've got a minor rant bubbling beneath the surface, so I might as well let it out to play. I often talk about the reading "shoulds," the way the Literary establishment often acts as though there are "worthy" books that we should be reading and "trash" that shouldn't even be published. The worthy books are about things like injustice and death, have supposedly realistic endings where nobody is happy and are most likely to be reviewed in newspapers or magazines. The unworthy books are anything genre or anything with a happy ending that involves the good guys beating the bad guys or people falling in love. That kind of snobbery bugs me, and I think it has a lot to do with why more people aren't reading for pleasure. They were force-fed a diet of "worthy" books in school and turned off reading, and most efforts to encourage people to read involve more "worthy" books, then there are all the sneers you're likely to get for reading non-worthy books, and it's little wonder that a lot of people don't see that reading can be fun.

But there's a certain amount of reverse snobbery at work. I suppose those of us who write or read genre fiction, who are used to getting our reading choices sneered at by the literati, can get a trifle defensive. The romance genre really gets smacked around a lot, with the term "bodice ripper" being used to describe all romances and "Harlequin romance" being used as a generic term for a trite, bland love story (or, quite often, for something that has zero to do with anything Harlequin would publish). But within the romance world, there's this weird kind of groupthink going on, with the attitude that if you don't read romances, then you're narrow-minded and ignorant and probably have a terrible sex life or aren't into sex. After all, they say, you can find elements of just about every genre in romance -- there are fantasy romances, futuristic/science fiction romances, romantic suspense, etc., etc., etc., so whatever you like to read, you can find a romance novel like that, and you should, therefore, be reading romance novels.

While I do agree that it's silly to assume you dislike an entire genre out of prejudice or misconceptions, and I agree that it's also silly to decide that just because you don't like something, that something is no good, I also think that you can be a good person and still dislike romance novels. I don't even think you have to read a number of them to decide that they're not for you.

I don't like horror. I haven't really read horror, but I don't have to read it to know I probably won't like it. I know that I don't enjoy being scared or grossed out, so I'm probably not going to like a genre that's all about being scared or grossed out. I don't think it's ignorant of me, or that I'm too uninformed about the genre to be able to decide that it's not for me. There may be individual horror novels I might like, but the odds of me wandering into the horror section of a bookstore and finding a book I'd like are slim. The only way I'm likely to find the books I'd like is if someone whose taste I trust and who knows my taste and my interests recommends a specific book.

So, I think it's perfectly reasonable for someone to know that they're not likely to enjoy romance novels, even without having read one. If you're a person who finds the romantic relationships in stories to be the least interesting part, if you skip over kissing scenes, if you're an anti-shipper for TV shows, you're probably not going to enjoy romance novels, even the ones that fit into a romance subgenre that maps to a genre you like. That's because, by definition, a romance novel focuses on the development of a romantic relationship, even with all the other stuff going on. So if you like mysteries or police procedural series but you want the man and woman working together to just be partners and to never get together romantically, a romantic suspense novel about a man and a woman falling in love while solving a mystery probably won't be your cup of tea, and I don't think you're being narrow-minded to think that without actually trying to read one.

I'll go even further out on a limb and say that even if you do find relationships interesting, you may not like romance novels because there's a very particular way of presenting the relationship in a romance novel that may or may not be what you want to read. I like love stories woven into other plots, but I have to admit that I don't really like romance novels, especially as they're written today. I want more subtlety in the development of the relationship than romance novels allow. I love science fiction but haven't really liked any futuristic romance I've read. I love fantasy, but the only fantasy romances I've really enjoyed were those published as fantasy rather than romance. I love relationships that develop over time between characters in a mystery series, but I'm not a fan of romantic suspense. And, yes, I've read all of the above. I've even had five romance novels published. I think, perhaps, to some extent I've changed, but I also think the genre has changed, and it's changed away from me.

So I kind of get riled up when romance writers post blogs about how stupid people who don't read romances or don't think they'll like romances are. And I'm seriously thinking about whether or not to renew my RWA membership this year. On the one hand, it's the only major writing organization that seems to get into craft and education, and I know I don't know it all. But while just about everything I write contains some kind of romantic element, I can't imagine myself writing anything that would be published as romance, and the organization as a whole seems resistant to opening up to much genre evolution.

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