Friday, August 26, 2016

Why Do We Read Romance Books and Write Them? by Roz Denny Fox


I wanted to blog about something more fun this month than life advice. I started thinking about all of the people I meet who ask why I read and write romance. I’m usually slightly offended and tell them rather soundly that it’s a genre I like, and that generally ends the line of questioning. However, I do ponder why it’s something people ask. I wonder if they think I don’t look like a romantic. If that’s the case, why not? Or do they feel the genre is less than—say mystery or sci fi, or even nonfiction? If so, what wrong impressions do they have? Some I sense stop short of asking why I don’t write a “real book”. (Grrr!) Those people I want to stomp on their toes.

But I decided to reflect on my reasons for reading and writing in the romance genre. My reasons may be very different from any of yours. If you’ll indulge me today, here goes:

I grew up in a rural Oregon farm community where reading was more than a pastime. It was a way to escape a fairly unexciting life. It was a way during pre-television to explore the world. Today’s kids would probably think I lived a hard life. My dad was a logger, a machinist, and a farmer. He didn’t give my sister or me spending money. We earned it. I hoed rows of onions under a hot sun, or strung miles of poles for pole beans to climb. We’d get up at four a.m. to do outside chores like water gardens before catching a bus to go to fields where we got scratched picking blackcaps, boysenberries, raspberries, or crawled down wet rows picking strawberries. The next crop was bush beans. We filled metal buckets then dumped them in gunny sacks. Dragging full sacks to the end of the row was backbreaking. The same was gathering walnuts, filberts, or prunes in rainy, pre-dawn hours before school days in the fall.

And yet because we all did the same thing, there were sing-alongs on the bus, laughter and fun. And looking back I see these were jobs that didn’t interfere with my daydreams.

My friends and I talked about finding the perfect mate. We talked about traveling to exotic places. We imagined meeting a man of wealth. Someone who’d love us as we wanted to be loved. Yes books fed those dreams, and yet I can’t think of anyone in my circle of friends who didn’t know the difference between a pie-in-the-sky dream and reality. (That’s what some people think romantic fiction does. Feed young, impressionable minds with impractical whimsy.) Naysayers really think readers can’t distinguish fact from fiction. Really? Baloney.

Love stories can give readers a respite from normal lives. Or they can show that the readers that their lives aren’t so bad.

Yes, wouldn’t it be fantastic if a white knight rode into my kitchen today and swept me away? Since I know there’s a fat chance of that happening I can smile and enjoy it when he saves a worthy heroine from her hum drum existence.

In truth most of our characters are mature, savvy, average people. They suffer with and wrestle quite ordinary or complex problems. Romance heroes and heroines could be our neighbors, or our ancestors. I believe love extends a global connection and has worldwide appeal.

Because I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t think love is attainable, that brings me back to not understanding why some question my wanting to read and write in this genre. I happen to think the universality of love is what keeps readers pulled time and again into stories with similar plots.

I do know some of the questioners think romance books are formulaic. Bah humbug. They should check out the variety of romance sub-genres. I’m happy to write for a broad market. I’m equally glad to read in that same broad market.

So if you’ve ever had anyone ask why you read and write romance, I’d like to hear if you answer them, and if so, what do you tell them?

41 comments:

  1. Yayy, Roz! You're absolutely right. I think women read romance because they have and are happy and love to read how it comes to other women's lives, or they long for it and have it vicariously through the romance writer. I think I'm repeating myself, but I think love and romance and FEELINGS are hard for some people to express and that makes them suspicious of those of us who can write about it in detail, or want to read it in detail. I always feel like I'm working for the nurse with sore feet, or the frazzled teacher, or the executive who wishes at times that her live was more about what she needs. Jayne Ann Krentz wrote a wonderful book along with other author friends about this subject. Will try to find the title before the end of day. It's a must-read for all of us who are asked those questions. Great stuff, Roz! (And, you poor thing! Inner city living was a lot less hard on us.)

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    1. Because they have love! Geez. I've got to remember to edit!)

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    2. Muriel, you are writing for those very women you mentioned and many more. I guess I wonder if writers of other genres get asked the same questions we do.

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    3. Muriel, The book you're thinking of is probably Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann and including authors such as Sandra Brown, Cathie Linz, ad Elizabeth Lowell. It was pubbed by the U of Pennsylvania Press in 1992.

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    4. That's it, Linda! Thank you! What a book.

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  2. I always, always, always want a Happily (or at least a Hopeful) Ever After and I want people I can identify with. Romance and women's fiction fulfill these needs admirably!

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    1. Liz, I like your suggestion of even a "hopeful" ever after. Personally I think we need more hope and love in this old world.

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  3. Roz, I hope somebody asks me that VERY soon -- because then I can say "you'll find the answer over at the Heartwarming Authors blog. :)

    And I like your distinction of pie-in-the-sky dreams and reality...even if a few people DO confuse 'em because their everyday life is so unbearable, I'd a lot rather see those readers emulating what happens in a romance novel than what happens in a murder mystery.

    As always, thanks for another thought-provoking start to the day!

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    1. Laurie, thanks for stopping by since I know you're blogging today about braiding a story. It's something we all do unconsciously I guess.

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  4. You hit the nail on the head, Roz! Well said, indeed. My stories come from my heart which might have too much love for some. Excellent post!

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    1. Jill, your stories are wonderful. Can we really project too much love where a lot of folks need it?

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  5. Isn't life about love? Love touches every aspect of our lives. It comes in different forms, but the bottom line is, everyone wants to be loved. So when asked why I write romance, I tell people, love is the greatest gift of all.

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  6. Tara, that's a great response. I really wonder why people ask that question. Do those same people ask friends why they became a teacher or a nurse, or an engineer?

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  7. I've been asked when I'll write a "real" book and why I write trash. I always wonder what's wrong with writing positive books about people developing solid relationships while falling in love! I think they just haven't tried the romance genre. They're certainly missing out. Good post, Roz.

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    1. Leigh, I'm actually relieved that it's not just people I know who ask those silly questions of us. I agree, they are missing out if they don't read a variety of books.

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  8. Terrific post, Roz! Sometimes we forget that we do make a difference in people's lives and sometimes help them get through difficult times. It means so much to me when a reader sends me an e-mail or a handwritten note to say that one of my stories helped them in some way.

    Recently, my husband gave a couple of my books to a woman who was in the hospital because her abusive husband had hurt her. Not only did she write me a personal note, she sent my husband a text said that although she was struggling personally, my books were helping her through it. As you can imagine, I was deeply touched, and I pray she's able to get herself out of the relationship.

    I believe this is one of the reasons we write romance. If we can make someone's day a little brighter, it's well worth it!

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    1. Kate, your books are so uplifting even while they deal with gritty parts of life. I hope the reader gets strong enough to make a break. I used to help out at a woman's shelter. So many keep going back because they don't see a way out.

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    2. Thank you, Roz. BTW, like Anna, I've never been asked why I write what I write.

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  9. I think my love of romance, both writing and reading it, stems from the promise of a happily ever after. That doesn't mean there won't be problems, real life, or conflicts along the way (in fact, there should be), but with a romance you know it's going to end on an up note (something we sorely need). I read across the genres, too, and always prefer those that include relationships or an element of romance more.

    I don't think I've ever received the "when are you going to write a real book" comment, mainly because I've always stated this was the genre I wanted to write (so there!), but I always ask them what their favorite movie is and most of the time, it's a movie where the romance element was integral to the story. And what happens if you take that part out? Then they seem to get it. At least a little. Romance rocks! Thanks for a great post, Roz! <3

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    1. Anna, I'm glad all of the folks you know accept that you write what you love and that it's a good thing to write about love.

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  10. Reading was always an escape for me, too, Roz, and books took me to distant lands far removed from my small Arizona mining town. Reading and writing romance has always been about the characters and the happily ever after. Those two things still resonate with me even after the thousands of romances I've read and the dozens I've written.

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    1. Patti, that's so cool. Each story is different and each gives the reader a lift at the end. I still love books set in places I've never seen and may never see. Thanks for your insights.

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  11. I love a happy ending, and I know that's a guarantee with romance.

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  12. That's what first drew me to reading a romance, and the richness of the stories keep me going back.

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  13. Regarding the formula of writing romance: There I was with a group of college professors. One whose name I have thankfully forgotten, noted for his expertise in classical poetry, sniffed when I said I wrote romance.
    "Hmm...formula. What a waste."
    I asked him if he wrote sonnets.
    He clamped his mouth shut; his face turned red, and he stomped out the door!

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    1. Good for you Sam. I've given up trying to change the minds of some folks who are really biased against the romance genre.

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  14. I have been asked what I write and sometimes I feel the need to defend myself before I even answer. But I do find that most people think it's pretty cool that I write at all. So I am thankful for the positive response!

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    1. Amy, those are probably true readers who can see that any book takes hard work to get published.

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  15. Roz, I absolutely love this post. I try very hard to resist the urge to defend myself because I feel like that gives ammunition to those who might criticize. I have been asked if I'll ever write a "real book." At the time, I was working on Heartwarming #3, so I said "Yes, I'm working on ANOTHER real book right now." I think my response was kind of lost on this person, but it made me feel better.

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  16. Carol, I love your response. It amazes me that anyone could look us in the face when they know we are writing or have written a book and think that question wouldn't offend. I told one person that every book in print anywhere or in any manner is a real book.

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  17. I loved this post and the comments so much. Thank you for writing it. As a reader of romance and one who has been blessed to feel what it's like to be in love, I enjoy reading about how others fall in love. All of the various ways it happens for each one individually is so satisfying to read about, and to watch. People who ask writers why they write romance, have they never watched a romance movie and been moved by it? Every time I watch The Best of Me, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel, I cry over the deep love the couple shared. If folks are not interested in reading books and experiencing that, they're missing out.

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  18. Laurie, thanks for your lovely, thoughtful comment. I've that that movies with a central romance, no matter the other plot points, do well at the box office. And how many other sub genre books also have hero and heroine characters who fall in love. Not all are like our books that end in HEA, but many depict a secondary love story.

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  19. Great topic Roz and I can so picture you as a child on that farm. I bet you were adorable. smile
    I love reading and writing romance because I like the happy endings and I love romance. I love love. I love great heroes. I love great heroines. And I've always been like you--a daydreamer. And I guess romance is what I daydreamed about. I read my mom's books and my favorites were the romances. I read romances while working for escape--a respite from the job and a relaxing fun romantic frolic. That's why I love Harlequins because I could read the whole book before bedtime. Thanks for sharing this. Fun fun fun.

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  20. Sandra, thanks for stopping by. I remember a reader who worked in the prison system who told me one time that she loved reading romance because after seeing the down side of life she liked picking up a book and seeing that life could have positive outcomes. I think people today have all said romance books provide escape and relaxation. Thanks again for your input.

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  21. Ohhhh! I LOVED this blog post, Roz! Romance novels, to me, are about hope. We can dive into a story and for just a few moments, we can forget about the dirty dishes or the sick kids we just got to sleep, and fill our brains with something thats joyful. For someone to think that these stories are filling peoples' heads with unrealistic expectations? Hmmm, sounds as if they haven't even picked up and read a romance. ;-)

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    1. Shannon, I think you are onto something. Maybe the people who are naysayers really have never tried a romance. Preformed opinions and all. Thanks for the post.

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  22. I loved this post, relating as well to all those gibes about writing a 'real' book. I also love to read murder mysteries but no one has ever asked me if I was disturbed by this attraction!

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    1. Janice, I wonder if there are people who ask mystery readers if they think their stories prompt readers to do unrealistic things? Hmmm---we have some mystery writers in our group I'll have to ask. And I wonder if people only think of a real book as one in hard cover? What do you think?

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    2. I have sometimes said I write real books and earn real money. That often stops the talk. Lol.

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  23. I'm late to reading this post, Roz, but so glad I did. Excellent as always and even the comments are helpful. As someone who has been asked when she'll write a read book (I've gotten the eye rolls too etc...) by people who've never read my books or romance in general, I'll be using some of the answers here! Laurie mentioned romance movies and I've pointed that out before. When asked what I write, when I say romance, they say 'oh I don't like romance'. I'll go on to ask if they watch movies like...(I go on to list famous romance titles that everyone has seen and loved). That leaves them thinking ;).

    So honored to write with a group of brilliant authors and genuine, good souls. That includes you, Roz!

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