For the past week, I’ve been thinking about his blog post, about romance writing, and happily ever afters. I had the post loosely sketched out in my head and then yesterday something happened. I was scrolling through Twitter on my lunch break and I saw a post about romance writing and happily ever afters and how a story wasn’t a romance if the story did not end that particular way. I wanted to comment but scrolled past, then I went back, I was compelled to comment, against my better judgement. Side note, I like to think I usually have better judgement. I commented with the utmost respect, in fact, I even said in my tweet, “I mean this with the utmost respect.” Then it happened, I had voiced my opinion on the subject, knowing it’s not popular. It took all of twenty seconds later for the backlash to start.
Now, I know that when you participate in social media you had better put on your big girl pants because not everyone is going to be nice. I was told that if my work did not have a happy ending then 1. it’s not romance, 2.I’ll never get an agent, and 3. my work will never sell. Ouch! Maybe it’s true, maybe it isn’t and I will say the majority of my works end happily. I had intended to write an opinion piece about romance and stories that end happily, but instead, and probably equally as unpopular, I want to talk about genre.
I know some stranger on the internet really shouldn’t have mattered to me so much but, the comments were not kind, and written from a fellow romance author. I was under the impression that we romance authors stuck together, and stuck up for each other. Another commenter on the thread felt compelled to direct message me the definition of romance according to the RWA (Romance Writers of America, the national organization for romance writing) and to let me know that I am not a romance author if all of my work does not end happily.
I tried to shrug it off and go about my day. After an impromptu dinner date with the hubs, he suggested a trip to the local bookstore. I am always game for a trip to the bookstore! As we walked through I made my way to the romance section, which has grown considerably over the past few years. I took a seat on the small stool used to reach books higher on shelves and studied the covers. There was your alpha-male, cowboy adventure, a cartoonish woman on the front, and then your erotica all on the same shelf. (Note: I am NOT knocking any of these subgenres!) As I looked at the shelf I began to wonder, “am I a romance author, does my work belong on this shelf?”
Before I could a full-blown existential crisis, my husband wandered over with his book choices under his arm. I turned to him and asked him flat out, “Am I a romance writer, or do I write fiction with romantic plots,” as another tweeter had felt compelled to tell me. He stood there for a minute, I could see he was perplexed by the question, and I wondered if the tweeters were right. I felt the pit of my stomach begin to burn as I waited for his answer. Like the amazing man that he is, he gave an amazing answer. “Your work belongs on that shelf,” he said as he pointed towards the romance section, “or any other shelf you want it to in this whole damn store.” Then he asked me, “do you think Stephen King lets people tell him, that he doesn’t write fiction, or his books aren’t scary enough to be classified as horror? No, he writes what he writes because he loves it. You write whatever stories are inside you, and don’t let someone else tell you who or what you write.”
Guys, I was speechless. Now my hubs is a pretty smart guy and occasionally he says something resonates with me. I say occasionally because we’ve been together for almost twenty years at this point, it takes a lot to really shock each other. What he said last night will be imprinted on me forever! I woke up this morning with a smile on my face thinking to myself, that my stories and all writers have their own way of telling their stories. Gatekeepers do their genre a disservice in curtailing what should or should not be classified. Writing is an art, sure your work can be classified as different types but at the end of the day, art is unique.
At the end of the day, I write the type of romance I want to read. I like writing and reading dramatic, high-stakes romance that sometimes has a happy ending and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my time, reading a romance novel if it doesn’t end happily. In the end, I ask my self two things, first, was there a great love story, and two, did it make me feel for the characters? If I can answer yes to both of those questions then to me, I’ve just read and or written a great romance novel.
As Patrick Swayze said in dirty dancing.
“ nobody puts baby in the corner”
That was a romantic movie for sure in its time. Listen to your wise husband. Don’t let anyone box in your creativity. Especially the sewer dwellers on Twitter.
Stay off of that forum for your own self preservation. Lol
Terry Brewer says
It’s a battle that been going on forever. To me, by definition, a romance must end with HEA/HFN. I did not consider MP a romance.
The comments on Twitter were along the lines of if you call it a “romance” and it doesn’t have HEA/HFN, readers and agents will react badly to it. That doesn’t reflect on the work. Just the label.
“Anna Karenina” is no romance. It’s a great book that speaks of romance, but it’s not a romance by that definition. If the main character in “Mansfield Park” were Maria, it wouldn’t be a romance. Though many would consider it a superior novel. What was the line in “Moonstruck”: “I knew she was sick. I didn’t know she was gonna die.”
[SPOILER] Had you pitched MP as a romance, I would have been pissed. Instead, I thought what happened made for a better book. Perhaps that puts it on the Crime/Mystery shelf. Or simply general Fiction without a genre.
In the end, though, just write what you want to write. Write what the characters tell you their stories are. The label is only for others’ expectations.