Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Guiltless Pleasures & An Apology to Authors of Romantic Fiction

Because I am a middle school teacher, I've long restricted the majority of my writing to middle grade and young adult writing.  Don't get me wrong, I love the reading and writing of both of those categories of fiction.  But, to be honest, it's not where I do the majority of my pleasure reading.

Yeah, I know.  How do you have time to read other things when there are so many great YA and MG books out there that you could read and recommend to students, contemporary adult fiction books to read that are destined to become classics, and non-fiction and professional books that will push your thinking and reflection about the world and your teaching practice?

Really?  I don't.  I read fast, but I'm not a machine.  At last count, I average just over 200 books a year that I finish.  Reading is my main form of entertainment.

Let's examine that statement: Reading is my main form of ENTERTAINMENT.

I read romance novels because they entertain me, divert me, give me a lovely emotional rush of fantasy happiness - kind of like eating great chocolate.  They serve the purpose of taking me away from my world of work completely like no other reading can.  I intentionally read books that I can munch like bonbons because they feel GOOD.

They say "write what you know" and "read to be a good writer" and "be familiar with your writing genre by reading it closely."  All of that is great advice, and if I'm honest with myself, I'm probably more of an expert about romantic fiction than I am about the other genres based on the sheer number of books that I've read!  But for so long I've avoided writing romantic fiction because I fell into the classic genre snobbery that so many widely-read folks do.

We denigrate the quality or value of the work because it IS so popular. We pooh-pooh the time spent writing romantic fiction because it is pure entertainment.  I poke fun at my massive collection of romance novels by calling them my "Cheesy Romance Novel Collection." I do those authors disservice by underselling the value of their hard work.  I know at least one author of romantic fiction, and she's an incredibly intelligent, talented, funny woman who happens to be a great storyteller.

I owe her, and the rest of those authors whose work I treasure but don't celebrate openly, an apology.

I'm sorry.  I was wrong.  My appreciation of your work goes much deeper than I show the world, and I engaged in the worst kind of snobbery.  Mea culpa.

Retrospective of
 "The Singing Butler"
by Jack Vettriano
Truthfully, I have a list of authors of romance novels and series that I consistently seek out because of the quality of their writing.  So, if I'm being honest with myself - what IS the value in the reading of what people consider literary cotton candy?  Here's the secret - it's not frippery, light and airy.  Sometimes, it serves the story for the writing to reflect lightness and humor and a happy ending, but there's no wrong in that.  I submit that tons of fiction use humor, lightness, and happy endings as a part of what makes them engaging to readers.  They are all keys to reader's escape.  While there are so many other reasons to read, isn't THAT what life-long readers use reading for to continue their reading journey.  No one reads Dostoevsky ALL the time. (Sorry, Fyodor!)

With that in mind, I have decided to table my other works in progress right now, and enjoy telling a romantic story.  I have at least as many ideas for romantic fiction as I do for all the other genres put together.  All my favorite romantic authors don't just use the tool of storytelling to get to a happy ending, they use their writing to evoke an emotional response in their readers.  They don't shy away from dramatic emotional moments in their writing.  They structure their writing to have exciting emotional twists and turns, and that's what I hope to do, too.

Am I going to be able to share this writing with my students like I would with my YA or MG pieces?  Maybe, maybe not.  Certainly, there will be parts of it that I will be able to share my struggles with, but others, not so much.  This could be said of so many genres, but I don't think I'm going to hide it.  I don't want to be a closet romantic any longer.  I don't want to hide my addiction to romance novels - I want to tell my own stories!

Vive la Romance!

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