Oh my goodness, guys, it’s February and love—or something—is in the air. That said, I have a question. Romance…why the hate? I say this to the not-so-imaginary people who’ve given me That Look when they see me reading a kickass paranormal romance, or a Regency with Darcy-esque cover-candy, or anything that is not literary or grimdark or SRSBIDNESS fiction. I’ve said this, at times, to myself. NOT COOL.
A friend once grumped (with a really awesome scowl on her face) that readers of romance fiction are privy to the same kind of are you serious? scrutiny that–her words– ‘basement trolls with their comic books’ get. I couldn’t really argue. I’ve been on the receiving end of this on both counts. As a college/grad-school educated, self-realized woman (according to one colleague), I “shouldn’t be reading that stuff.” Definitely not writing it. And oh right, there’s NO room for romance in serious fiction. Romantic fiction, according to him, was not empowering. Was insulting. Wait, what?
Back to the comic book analogy for a minute. Do the struggles of Batman or…uh…Namor in his gleaming mankini accurately reflect reality? My goodness, I hope not. Batman (and I love Batman movies/comics) is a sociopath and Namor makes some seriously terrible fashion choices. But are these heroes’ stories empowering? Hell yes. Hero’s journeys abound in these universes—and we all need heroes. It’s a human drive to seek out the powerful, the conflicted, the ultimately victorious and apply those cathartic journeys to our own existence.
You know what else is human and empowering? Romance. That’s right. I, as a human, have been known to be motivated by love stories. And some of the first books I ever read that featured powerful, odds-beating, believable heroines were…wait for it…romance. Romantic suspense, mystery, and even straight-up bodice rippers. Sure, there were alpha males and Namor-esque horrible fashion choices in those, too, but the stories were so often about women who kicked fate’s ass to realize their dreams and personal power. And my colleague’s assertion that only dummies read romance? Kind of NOT true. The RWA consistently notes in industry statistics that romance readers are smarty-pants women with money to spend. Women who like to read about people fighting for love. Women like me and my friends. Romance in whatever form it takes, whatever the type of relationship–these stories are about love triumphing are yet another type of hero’s journey.
As for romance not belonging in serious fiction, I have to disagree. When I read, I want to believe the characters. I want—I need—for them to feel real. Stony, unaffected protagonists don’t do it for me. People feel stuff—powerfully. They are motivated by these feelings. Love and attraction? They’re big part of what drives us and fiction without this facet of humanness leaves me cold. A lot of my favorite speculative fiction has strong romantic elements. Sharon Shinn in her Samaria books, Robin McKinley’s masterful Sunshine—love, attraction, and even fascination all play integral parts in masterful narratives full of strong and believable characters.
A lot of people dig romance or romantic elements. Not just women. Men account for a growing percentage of romance readership in recent RWA industry statistics. Look at popular culture—every song seems to be about love or attraction and this has been true for forever. I don’t know that I’ve seen a TV show or movie bereft of romance or at least themes of attraction and the fallout of said attraction. Even gaming–BIOWARE games, ya’ll! Romance is a huge part of these iconic franchises. I love hanging out with my guy friends and having protracted conversations about difficult in-game choices—who will Commander Shepard go for? Will he/she stay faithful to that lover, or has saving the galaxy taken a toll on Shepard’s loyalties? I had one dude commiserate with me recently about how, yeah, Garrus is a really badass guy and all but holy crap, if Thane is in the picture too, how can you even choose?
In summary, it’s good to love love. It’s good to celebrate what makes us human—whether it’s longing to save the world like Superman does, or squee-ing about HOW CAN YOU SAY NO TO ALISTAIR IN DRAGON AGE. So, readers…do you love a little love in your narratives? Any particular games, books, shows, or movies that fill the need? <3