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Monday, February 16, 2015

Dr. Romance Novel, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love "Those Books"

I’m a romance novel convert.

Yup, I write romance, but I haven’t always been a fan of it. In fact, I didn't pick up my first romance novel ever until three years ago. I fell in love with the genre hard and fast after that.

I was still living in Germany at the time and had just finished writing my first novel (the one that shall remain in the drawer). In English, to boot. While researching how to publish it on English-speaking markets, I realized I had to label my story as fitting into a certain genre (oh, the naïveté of yore! How precious little I knew of the publishing world back then…). And, as it turned out to my surprise, it fit into the romance genre, paranormal romance, to be precise.

Up until that point, I'd never once read a romance novel. So, as 90% of the people who have never picked up a romance, my first thought was, “Those books?” Complete with a scrunched-up nose and haughty attitude, of course. Since I kept reading the advice “know your genre,” I decided I had better start sampling other paranormal romances out there, before I dared publish my own. So I picked up Thea Harrison’s Dragon Bound, as I'd read a lot of recommendations for that one.

I have been a die-hard PNR fan ever since.

I devoured the rest of Harrison’s Elder Races series, as well as Larissa Ione’s Demonica books, Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter novels, and many more, branching out into other romance subgenres too. The revelatory feeling I had could best be described by, “Where have you BEEN all my life?”

Well, there are reasons why it took me 27 years to begin to appreciate the romance genre. For one thing, my love for paranormal once trumped my love for romance in a story (for the longest time, I totally rooted for Lady Amalthea in The Last Unicorn to turn back into an awesome unicorn and leave Prince Lir and her wimpy human self behind).

For another, romance novels have a bad rap in Germany, much like in the US. Beside the term Liebesromane, which is a pretty good equivalent to the English “romance novels,” we sometimes call them Groschenromane, which translates to “dime novels” or “cheap novelettes.” Even more pejorative is the word Schundroman – something even worse than “trashy novel” in English. So, like the English “bodice ripper,” there are terms in German which belittle and deride romance novels, as well as the people who read them.

It is certainly ironic that the one genre that centers on love is subject to the most hate and ridicule in the literary world. Growing up with these prejudices, I was surprised to find that not only do I love to read those books, I love to write them as well!

I have come to see romance as the essence that holds the world together. A story without love in it, to me, lacks life itself. Romance is about the deepest connection between human beings, and how that connection is forged and develops is the most interesting part to me in any story. I am proud to write and read books that show how two people transcend themselves and, together, grow beyond what they each were on their own.

I’m a romance novel convert, and I love it.


How did you become a fan of romance? What was your first romance novel? Let me know in the comments, and share your favorites!

8 comments:

Diana McCollum said...

Big fan here, of Romance, Paranormal romance and pretty much any book with romance, except erotica. I don't remember which book I read first. Favorite authors are Theresa Meideros, Brenda Novak, Nora Roberts, Marie Harte 'the trouble maker next door'series of four books, Catherine Anderson and etc, etc, etc. Too many to name. I became a fan because in my early twentys recovering from childbirth a friend gave me couple of books to read. :)) Great blog post.

Sarah Raplee said...

I read my first romances in high school. Don't remember the first one. I read widely - science fiction, historical fiction, high fantasy, coming-of-age stories, paranormal stories, mysteries - you name it! As I matured, I found those books with romantic elements or pure romances were my favorites, although I was slow to admit it due to the stigma attached to romance stories in the US.

Interesting that that prejudice exists in Germany as well.

Great post!

Nadine Mutas said...

Thanks, Diana! I bet the romances helped you a lot during that recovery time. I find it incredibly comforting to read a book by my favorite romance author in times of trouble. With life being so tough sometimes, it's great having a HEA to look forward to. :)

Thanks, Sarah! It really is interesting that this stigma seems to be pervasive across cultures and countries. The feminist in me says it's got something to do with patriarchal structure and the denigration of topics that matter to women, but a discussion of that is a whole 'nuther can of worms to open. ;)

Echo Ishii said...

I was a late romance fan. I do remember reading a handful of romances in high school-and I wrote a letter to Harlequin asking why there were no romances with black heroines. Believe it or not, the editor wrote back a very nice letter(not a form letter), a free book with a black heroine, and that made me want to be a writer. There are some incredibly kind people in the industry:)

I still didn't read romances that much until paranormal romance became big and then I started to love the HEA aspect and the possibilities that romance offers. I think it is looked down on because of some deep rooted issues surrounding sexism. I noticed that SF romance gets criticized for not having enough 'real science' and being ignored; yet comic books have goofy science all the time and is embraced by the same crowd. Definitely a gender difference.

Judith Ashley said...

I don't remember reading any romance until 1997 - 1998 when my dad was dying from lung cancer. When I joined The Wild Women Writers in December 1999, my goal was to turn a workshop I'd created into a self-help book.

Concentrating on serious topics when my mother's health was failing and my younger brother was diagnosed with end-stage emphysema, I knew it was important to continue reading and writing something that had hope and joy and love throughout.

I don't remember the first romance I read by title but it would have been in the gift shop at the hospital. In the dim recesses of my memory I think it was a Nora Robert's book - and most likely a reprint of one of her earlier books.

I totally agree, Nadine, that the world needs more stories of love, of two people who figure out how to overcome obstacles and have their HEA.

Nadine Mutas said...

The story about Harlequin sounds great! My experience with people from the industry, and especially romance writers, has been so overwhelmingly positive. The community is fantastic, with such a sense of solidarity.

And I agree about sexism playing a vital part in the devaluation of romance and its readers. I think there's an inherent threat to patriarchal privilege and culture in a genre by (mostly) women for (mostly) women, in a world where most everything else is guided by the male gaze and male enjoyment as the goal. So, romance needs to be belittled to keep it little. Seeing as romance is the #1 bestselling genre in the literary world, that is quite ironic, too.

Nadine Mutas said...

Oh, I can only imagine how tough it must have been for you, Judith, being faced with such devastating health news for your loved ones. It times like those when we truly remember how important love and hope are, and yes, romance novels provide those two in abundance. If I brighten someone's day with my stories, I'll be overjoyed. :-)

Pippa Jay said...

I've also never considered myself a romance reader or writer, although looking back I see now that a lot of books that weren't classified as romance were, in fact, romances after all. I didn't realize I was writing romance until I was pitching my debut novel (scifi along the lines of Doctor Who) and one of my betas said 'hey, this is a romance'. I was all 'really?!' But now I mostly write and read scifi romance, and I love it!