I grew up in a ramshackle house in small-town Alaska that overflowed with books. My siblings and I even played literary card games, matching four-of-a-kind Shakespeare, Stevenson, Hawthorne, and, the only woman in the set, Louisa May Alcott. When I was a child it didn’t even occur to me to wonder about the lack of other female authors in the deck.
Now I’m an author in a genre written and read primarily by women, and I think that’s pretty amazing. Sometimes at parties a woman I’m speaking with will get that look in her eyes when we’re chatting, the “oh THOSE books” look, and then I hit play on the romance genre defense mixed tape in my brain, citing all the examples of smart romance out there. Or not. Sometimes I just smile and wax enthusiastic about romance as if I take it for granted that she’s on board. As if I’m talking to a die hard romance fan girl who will squee! with me over the new Sherry Thomas Lady Sherlock series.
Even though the tired dismissal of the genre as “trashy” persists, it’s an exciting time for romance! The very first romance-only bookstore, The Ripped Bodice, opened last month in Los Angeles. I love how sister owners Bea and Leah Koch cheekily proclaim themselves “Purveyors of Fine Smut.” And I’m also excited about other forward progress: a romance recommendation column in the Book Section of the Washington Post, more coverage by NPR on romance, the Smart Bitches romance podcasts (you can support those here), an increasing number of MFA programs with specializations in writing genre and popular fiction (like this one from Seton Hill University), and the list could go on and on.
The romances I read and write feature strong women who possess tons of agency and seek fulfillment on their own terms with confident, sexy partners. No jerks tolerated. And that makes me happy. When I read a romance I want to get all tingly. I want to laugh. Out loud. With abandon. So the other people on the train look up and wonder what I’m reading. Sometimes I want achingly beautiful prose that makes me cry. And I definitely want to sigh with pleasure when the hard-won happily ever after is finally achieved.
While I’m no expert on the romance genre, I do know that the little girl who played with those literary heavyweight cards is super proud to be a romance writer. So deal me Dickens and Shakespeare, but I’ll be drawing some James as well…Eloisa James. And throw in some Kinsale, Quinn, MacLean, Jenkins, Dare, Ivory, Heath, Dev, and Milan.
I draw love. Love over hate. Hope over fear. Inclusion over exclusion. I read THOSE books. Open those doors. And keep them wide open.