Thursday, May 2, 2013

IWSG: Genre Shame

Insecure Writers Support Group

There are many things I love about being a romance writer. I love watching a relationship unfold between the pages of my story. I love considering all the ways love can blossom in inhospitable surroundings.

But the thing I most hate about writing romance is having to tell people that I write romance. People will lean toward me, their eyes sparkling and ask, "So what do you write?" When I tell them my genre, their shoulders pull back, the eyes glaze over and their entire being radiates disappointment. They mutter a vague, "Cooooool" and change the subject.  They thought I meant that I was a "real" writer.

I'm going to digress for a moment (because I love a good digression). Have you ever watched the show, The Big Bang Theory? I love that show. The main male characters are three astrophysicists and one engineer named Howard. Howard takes a lot of guff for being the only one without a PhD. They scoff at the idea that his job has value because in the grand scheme of things, he is simply an "Oompa Loompa of science".  What's weird about this kind of snobbery is that the disdain is saved for the person who offers the most external value. It's a lot easier to see the value of an engineer because we see what they do, whereas with physicists (especially theoretical physicists) the work is only known and understood by a small and elite group of people.

You may be wondering where I am going with this. Well it's been my experience that the things that are the least accessible to the masses are often treated having the most value. Any weighty tome, any lofty philosophy. Any physicist with his head in a particle cloud generator.  And it's true that sometimes those things are incredibly valuable, but it always sucks to be the one near the bottom of the hierarchy.

For writers, being a literary novelist is gold standard. The denser and more complicated your tome, the less your average person wants to read it, the more certain circles of white tower academics will laud you for your genius. Then you get the worker bees, the folks who write Literary/Genre fiction and from there, more traditional genre fiction: Mystery, Sci-Fi, Fantasy. Now it's true that most genre writers take a load of crap for being too readable, too easily accessible and therefore not as cool as that lofty Literary writers. You would think that the other genre writers would band together and support each other but my experience, even the other genre writers treat romance novelists a bit like the scudge you'd find on the bottom of your shoe after walking across a filthy parking lot in the ghetto. Truly, we are the Howard Wolowitzs of the writing world.

Romance novels account for more than half of all the book sold in the world. How is it that my genre is the most read genre in the world and yet, I sometimes feel ashamed to tell people what genre I write? Well it's because I've been beaten up by everyone over it. I'm not exaggerating to say that people feel free to let loose with the most painfully insensitive words when they find out that I write love stories. Some of the comments/phrases I've received from my friends (most of them repeatedly);

"Your silly little love story"
"your cute little novel"
"Maybe when you are ready you'll write a real book"
"Have you ever thought about writing real books?"
"Do you think you should be spending your time working on something more serious?"
"Your goofy book"
"Oh so you write porn huh?"

 And these are from people that actually like me. Strangers are even nastier. I went to a writer's workshop and I asked a young, strange guy what he wrote and he gave me a detailed list of all the interesting genre combos he writes. He says he has never finished a story but he writes Norse/Sci-Fi and other cool things like that. He asked what I wrote and I hesitated because I already sensed this was gonna go badly for me. But I plowed ahead and said, "I write funny romance". He looked me dead in my eyes and said, "Aren't they all funny? I read one and I couldn't stop laughing because it was so stupid."

Right in my face. I hadn't left the room or turned invisible or anything like that.

I sat right there while he called my genre stupid and did nothing. What I should have said, was "Oh yeah butt-wad? Well your genre combinations are nonsensical! That zit on your nose is grossing me out. Also your hair is lank and greasy and I bet you jerk off to that really gross anime with tentacles and stuff."

Alas, I kept all that razor sharp wit to myself. But even though he is just some weird guy I'll never see again, his attitude really bothered me. I've found myself becoming shy about telling people my genre. Someone asked me recently what I write and I hesitated and considered just saying, "fiction" and save myself the embarrassment of their disinterest. I didn't. I couldn't.

It pisses me off that I even have to feel that way. I'm part of a huge collective of people from all walks of life, from all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, who have the same driving desire; to tell the story of how a relationship came to be. How love happened. How can that not be deep and meaningful? Love is one of the most important aspects of our lives. Our relationships often shape the course of our lives and cause us the most pain and pleasure of anything you'll ever experience (outside of having kids I assume). What is more awesome than love?

So I guess this meandering post is meant to ask my fellow writers to consider that even if you don't understand the genre someone writes, respect the hard work they put into their craft, which is no less valuable than the work you put into your own.

So quit picking on the Howard Wolowitzs of the world. Don't forget that he became an astronaut. Also he ended up being the first guy in his group to get married and not just to a cute bimbo, but to an awesomely smart girl who makes a ton of money and has huge sweater yams and probably has a few romance novels on her shelf. 

Don't count us out.

Heehee, sweater yams.


  1. I have to admit that I've sort of played to the judgy people by replying that I write "girly stuff" or "silly romance novels." It seemed easier to place myself and my chosen genre at the bottom of the Writing Pyramid before they could. Shame on me, eh?

    BUT! I've stopped doing that.

    Also? That boy was a douchy douche bag with greasy hair. He was probably just jealous because woman would rather read novels like ours than date him.

    1. Yes, I too have downplayed it by sweeping it aside with my hand or saying, "I JUST write romance". It's a bad habit and it defeats us. I do the same thing with my day job, "I'm JUST a receptionist". Because I'm a little embarrassed to be one and I hand that shame to anyone who asks about my job.

      We need to quit downplaying the thing that is so very important to us. We (and our genre) deserve better.

    2. Amen, sister. Also -- I know exactly what you mean about job shame and it suuuucks.

  2. You make so many great points, Mencara. Geeze, people can be such idiots. I admit I've bashed Nora Roberts out of pure jealousy. And some of it is garbage, but so is some of it from every genre. I had a friend suggest I write romance novels. I dismissed the idea. It'd be too challenging for me. So keep ignoring the butt-wads and keep doing your thing.


    1. Definitely, some of it is terrible. But I've read some literary fiction that was terrible too. It's very easy to dismiss a genre but how silly is it to do so? It's like saying all cars are bad because some of them break down sometimes. Well yeah, but overall cars are awesome!

      Norah Roberts tells an interesting story in the book, "Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance" about the time in her life when she transitioned to writing mystery novels and how a fellow mystery writer slapped her on the back and congratulated her, saying something like, "How does if feel to be a real writer now?" Nora had sold millions of books, was a household name, comfortably well off and won tons of awards for her romances but this mystery writer really felt as though none of that counted for anything because of the genre.

      I will keep right on ignoring the buttwads.

  3. *giggle* Sweater yams. Go, you! Stick up for yourself.

    People understand Sci-Fi, but oh my God, when I tell people I write Fantasy, I watch their eyes glaze over with confusion or disinterest. One person even said, "Oh, like Star Wars?" NO, that's Sci-Fi. That was a 5-minute conversation of trying to explain the difference. -_- So maybe Fantasy writers are the Rahjs?

    I also think it has to do with when other black people ask me what I write, they expect me to say stuff like Zane (who I've never read) or someone, and that stuff doesn't interest me. My mom even asked me when I got a rejection from a major company, "Have you ever thought of writing normal stuff?" Never felt so misunderstood until then.

    I'd never count out romance because I'm a romantic. The covers often turn me off, but I'll blame the artist on that one.

    This became longer than I wanted. XD

    1. "This became longer than I wanted." LOL, that's what she said?

      But seriously, perhaps you are the Rajs. Valuable, misunderstood, difficult to articulte your awesomeness. Fantasy is awesome! Phooey to normal! Where is the challenge in that? I imagine lots of extraordinary people had folks trying to tell them to quit being so unusual. But who does history remember? The normal or the extraordinary?

      I think the covers you are talking about are the old school romances, the ones in nightmarish bright hues where the couple are wrapped in an embrace that isn't physically possible and the guys have mullets and the wind is blowing from three different directions? Did you know those covers were created to attract men? Males ran the bookstores back in the day and in order to get them to order romance novels, the publisher would put those garish, too sexual covers on and the men would order them. A lot of the covers now are much more discreet and intriguing than they used to be.

  4. Romance has come a long way since those old cheesy titles and covers I remember reading as a preteen (just for the sex scenes at that age!). I think a lot of people who disparage romance have never actually read one, or haven't read one in a good long while. They probably don't even know there are sub-genres within romance, like sci-fi, historical, sweet, Christian, contemporary, and Western. Good romance and erotica is an artform just like any other genre.

    I'm amazed at some of the amateur erotica I've seen on writing sites, and am glad when people comment and say that good romance/erotica needs a real storyline and character development, not just a rush to the sexy bits. Some of these amateur writers I've read aren't just lacking in writing skills, but haven't even done basic research for their own genre! I was so embarrassed for the writer of one recent erotic story I read, where s/he described the G-spot as being outside the body!

  5. Amen and high fives!! Thank you for your thoughtful and wonderful comment on my blog. Robyn sent me right to you and I'm very happy she did.

    It's just amazing the disparaging comments we get. How easily dismissed we are. I've sat on a guest panel and had been mocked whenever I attempted to answer questions. That my six stories and one novel, all published, were not relevant when compared to the unpublished works of the three mystery writers, the one sci fi writer who had book being looked at by an agent and the Christian writer who thus far only been published with her church. They all knew better than me the publishing industry, even scoffing at my publisher as being nothing more than an on-line porn site. Well, I cheerfully replied that my work was available on Amazon, that I had an actual author page there and when was the last time they received a royalty check for their work. Ignorami! Or is that ignoramuses?

    Keep going strong, my fellow Wolowitz and cool points for sweater yams. ;)

    1. Thank you for the high fives Melissa! I'm so sorry that anyone ever treated you like that. There is so much snobbery and sexism that still exists and people don't ever stop to question why they behave that way. Everyone says it's a bad genre so it must be, right? Idjits.You were brave to sit up there and take that. I would not have been very cheerful about it.

      If it isn't ignorami, it should be. Though that also sounds like a kind of fish.

      Thank you for your kind words.

  6. great post, I feel kinda similar about fantasy. I'm not a big fan of 'literary fiction', so you'll get no jibes from me. If it's written well and with heart, I'll like it. I used to be a mills and boon / Harlequin woman, same as I used to be a mallory towers/famous five/pony club girl. My tastes shift every so often, but I have a soft spot for past loves. Keep writing and don't let the begrudgers get you down (they're only jealous that they can't write it) :)

    1. Thank you! That's sweet of you to say. My tastes shift often too. I get into literary fiction kicks, romance, urban fantasy, Y.A. and even true crime. I like a good story and I'm not a snob about it.


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