Saturday, January 7, 2012

Judging books by their covers

(Note, this work does not belong to me.  However, I would definitely recommend this author and this book--one of my favorites of 2011.)

When someone asks me what kind of books I read, I used to have a stock answer:  everything.  That wasn't necessarily true, however.  When I walked through bookstores, I used to deliberately avoid the romance section.  One look at the covers of women swooning into the arms of scantily clad men made my cheeks flush in embarrassment.  I wouldn't have been caught dead reading one of those, especially with titles like "Chasing Amelia" and "Love in the Saddle."  I used to think that romance novels were as dumb as their covers and titles seemed to advertise.  The words "trashy" and "romance" seemed intertwined.  If someone had asked me if I would ever have written a "trashy romance novel," I would have laughed at them, or considered it something along the lines of a really easy way to make a buck.

Anyone reading this who is currently slapping your forehead and shaking your head:  I know.  Wow, was I clueless.  And I would probably still be clueless today, if it hadn't been for the Romance Writer's of America (RWA).  I joined RWA because I felt like I needed to join a writing group, and they were the only organization I could find in my area.  I joined not really believing that I had much interest in writing romance, but I figured I could fake it, and at least I would be around other people trying to publish.  Right?

Well, on a vacation, I decided that I really needed to at least pick up a romance novel, since I was going to be joining this writer's group.  I found a copy of one of the Nora Robert's Stanislaski books.  That was the end of my vacation.  I tore through it.  And then I read the next one.  And the next.  Rather than insipid and weak, the heroines were strong.  Some were fierce mothers, others independent career women, business owners, accountants.  The dialogue was funny, the images vivid.  I realized that my prejudice had blinded me to a branch of literature that not only was well-written, but also deeply satisfying. I didn't have to worry about my favorite characters dying, and frankly, the women in the romances were a hell of a lot tougher and smarter and more capable than some of the characters in the male-dominant fantasy I'd trudged through.

It was like coming home.  While I can't say that all romance novels are perfect, or that I necessarily enjoy being seen in public with a book that has a close-up of a man's chest, I wish I hadn't been so stubbornly ignorant.  Now, when I hear people scoff at the romance genre, I smile and try not to laugh--odds are, they haven't actually read a romance.  If they had, they'd know that they are a hell of a good time.  And I wonder where I would be and what I'd be writing if I hadn't had the crazy notion to join the RWA.  Not only have I gained humility, I gained a writing community and a trove of good books I finally feel comfortable exploring.

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